Late Winter Riot Flicks for the Coming Summer Uprising

If this isn’t the winter of our discontent then John Steinbeck can die twice writing shitty novels in an igloo of frozen dicks. This winter has been a toxic cloud of ice fog belched from the bowels of Satan’s vagina. If it hasn’t been continent spanning blizzards, its been exotic and sexy new strains of Covid and vaccines that always seem to be just a week away from making my Lyme disease twerk just so I can eat a stack of goddamn pancakes again without worrying about murdering my ancient carcinogenic parents. I clearly don’t take enough meds for this shit and I take enough pills to choke Elvis. It’s in pre-apocalyptic times like these that you have to cling to the little things just to keep your friends Smith and Wesson out of your mouth. Kittens, springtime, and riots. Oh, the beautiful riots. That was the only thing that got me through 2020. That righteous summer of rage. And I have the sneaking suspicion that we’re in for another one.

That’s because the 2020 Summer Uprisings were bigger than George Floyd and the institutional racism that lynched him. It was about a whole damn nation pushed to the brink by a daughtering old police state that can lock up half of New Africa but can’t manage a goddamn virus. This nation needed to vent fire and it felt good, even to cripples like me who were too damn sick, even before Covid, to join in the festivities. We could shake our canes from our prison cells and shout ‘give em holy hell’ from behind the bars, and holy hell they did indeed give. So that’s why in these loathsome last days of Winter 2021, this veteran agoraphobic couch potato has picked ten movies to prep you for the next uprising. Most are about social upheaval in one shape or form. Some are merely about the factors that create this discord. All are must see cinema for anyone getting through the night with a brick in their hand. Enjoy!

La Haine by Mathieu Kassovitz (1995)  “Its about society in free fall.” La Haine (French for ‘Hate’) may be the greatest riot movie since The Battle of Algiers because it deals so intimately with what inspires just such an uprising. In stark black and white, La Haine follows three young men through twenty hours between a riot started by the racially charged police murder of a friend and another shocking act of violence that will inevitably inspire the exact same results to repeat themselves all over again. The sense of nihilism is thicker than smog as these lifelong friends struggle not just to escape the ghetto but to escape a fate that seems as inevitable as the sun rising. In spite of the glib humor I use to cope with these issues, an uprising of any kind is nothing to take lightly. It all too often leads to a cycle of pointless violence if it isn’t held with the proper perspective on social justice. “Hatred breeds hatred” as Hubert says. Be careful not to fall into this trap and remember always that the abyss stares back.

If…. by Lindsay Anderson (1968)  There is no way in hell a movie like this could ever be be released today, but goddammit if we don’t need it. Lindsay Anderson’s avant garde tour de force about an armed insurrection at a fascistic English boarding school didn’t just make the fabulously cavalier Malcolm McDowell a star, it inspired directors from Stanley Kubrick to Martin Scorsese to make cinema dangerous again. And for those justifiably squeamish about a film that ends in a downright triumphant school shooting, just remember that only priests and generals were harmed during the making of this picture. If that doesn’t make you feel better than your childhood was probably not quite abusive enough to appreciate the jet black irony of teenage rebellion.

Tangerine by Sean Baker (2015)  44 trans people were murdered in 2020 alone, that we know of. Most were sex workers of color just trying to get by in a society that gives gender outlaws few other resources to live authentically. But in our FOSTA-SESTA universe of TERFs and SWERFs, it’s important to remember that these are more than just statistics, they’re people, and the sun shines on the stroll too. Shot completely with iPhones, Tangerine gives us a day in the life of two transgender sex workers who survive largely off the subsistence of each other’s strength. Sean Baker may have directed but co-stars Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor made this movie something warm enough to take home with you. One of the things that engaged a skeptical tranny like me into supporting a mass movement like Black Live Matter was their outreach to and solidarity with trans women of every color, creating a level of lethal Black-Queer synergy not seen since the heyday of ACT UP. Movies like this give me hope for movements like that.

The Battle of Algiers by Gillo Pontecorvo (1966)  The abominable, the classic, the greatest movie on popular revolt ever committed to film. Gillo Pontecorvo’s cinema verite masterpiece on the Algerian Revolution still feels as vivid and gritty as it ever has. That’s because it is a movie about revolutionaries by revolutionaries for revolutionaries. Many of its stars were Algerian amateurs acting out the events they survived themselves first hand. The result is provocatively powerful and shockingly intimate. There are zero attempts to sugar coat this story. Heinous acts committed by both sides are given thorough attention from bombings to torture, but you’d have to be Marine La Pen not to know who the good guys are here, and the good guys often die while the message lives forever. No pain, no gain.

Over the Edge by Jonathan Kaplan (1979)  This may or may not be shocking to the adults in the room but the kids are not alright. During any police state, they always get the full brunt of the truncheon and 2021 ain’t no exception. Hanging themselves after hours of Zoom hell and having a bunch of patronizing adults politicizing their struggle without ever handing them the fucking microphone. Jonathan Kaplan’s tragically forgotten cult classic is the ultimate youth in revolt film for any era but it feels truer now than ever before. After the adults of a stagnant planned community in suburban California shut down their rec center and have one of their own shot by the police in cold blood, the kids get revenge by locking their bitch guardians into the school they imprison them in five days a week and burn the town to the ground as they watch in horror. It’s terrifying. Its beautiful. Hey, teacher, leave those kids alone.

One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest by Milos Forman (1975)  Milos Forman and Jack Nichelson’s masterpiece is still as hilarious as it is harrowing nearly fifty years later. That’s because, as the film vividly illustrates, crazy people are simply people too complicated for totalitarian societies like western capitalism to comprehend. So they lock us up and they pump us full of drugs and they patronize the mess they make us into to make themselves feel better while we die inside. This is the dark underbelly of ‘believe the science.’ What maverick thinkers like Herbert Marcuse and Wilhelm Reich tried to warn us about. When society goes all in on despotism, even the doctors become evil tyrants. Now please stand by while Nurse Ratched prepares your vaccination.

The Warriors by Walter Hill (1979)  If The Battle of Algiers is the Citizen Kane of social upheavel cinema, then The Warriors is certainly The Wizard of Oz. An epic journey through the street fighting post-apocalyptic Emerald City of late seventies New York. More importantly however is the message of the movies first martyr, the Fred Hampton-esque Cyrus, who brings together the cities many gangs to inform them that united they outnumber their cities most heinous street gang in blue, eight to one. Then proto-Proud Boy, Luther, shoots the brilliant bastard because he “likes doing things like that.” The message here should be crystal clear. Whether we are Antifa, BLM, or Boogaloo, we all came to take our streets back. Only together can we succeed. But we gotta stop popping each other off over stupid shit. Cyrus was right, it really is all out there waiting for someone to take it. Can you dig it, suckas?

Do the Right Thing by Spike Lee (1989)  I know, I know, it’s a little obvious, but no movie before or since Spike Lee’s incendiary classic has caught the caged racial tribalism of urban America with such momentum. The saddest thing is how routine the storyline has become over the last few years alone. How many Radio Raheem’s have we had to bury since George Floyd? How many Sal’s Pizza Parlors have had to be torched just to get most of country to temporarily give a damn. But the movie is also the perfect discourse on proper riot etiquette. The moment Sal justified Raheem’s lynching, the will of the entire community can be seen on Mookie’s face as he carries the trash can to the window. It’s the same look he has stopping the crowd from spreading the rage to the innocent Korean grocers across the street. It’s a look of pain. It’s a look of social responsibility. Sometimes revolt is about putting down the trash can and choosing not to start the fire.

The Night Porter by Liliana Cavani (1974)  This erotic thriller about the taboo love affair between a former SS Agent and his ex concentration camp prisoner may feel like an inappropriate fit for this list or any other for that matter, but trust me when I tell you that in the post-Trump era, it’s dead on the money. The main characters are caught up in a world that wants to forget the twisted connection they can’t seem to escape, much like the mainstream media would love to have us forget the twisted love affair they continue to fan with Donald Trump. Promoting and lambasting. Creating monsters at the Capitol just to have them publicly destroyed. When you attempt to bury your past just because it’s painful to look at, that past festers into something truly perverse. And look there’s another child detention center. We cant escape ourselves. We can only confront the night porter in the mirror.

Carlos by Olivier Assayas (2010)  While not technically a movie, Olivier Assayas’ mini series about seventies terrorist extraordinaire Carlos the Jackal is the finest display of radical chic ever caught on film. Edgar Remirez is at once both mesmerizing and terrifying as the enigmatic title character. No other performance has quite captured both the promise and existential moral dilemma of the modern day revolutionary. Does simply carrying a loaded gun make one a man of action or just another pawn in a larger imperial chess game? While Carlos basks in the glories of his radical heyday, he doesn’t leave us like Che, a reckless hero with guns blazing. He leaves us like all too many a modern street fighting man, a bloated and greedy mercenary who turned the struggle into a money pit that became his prison cell. The lesson is to fight the good fight but be careful not to let the good fight fight you because there is nothing honorable about fighting simply for the sake of fighting. The cause must always come first, by any means necessary. Sometimes that means setting the streets on fire, and sometimes that means putting the lighter down. Let your heart speak loudest and the choice becomes clearer. Carlos raised some righteous hell, but he lost his heart somewhere along the way.

Keep fighting that good fight, dearest motherfuckers, and I’ll keep shaking that cane from behind my computer screen. We’re all in this riot together.

Nicky Reid is an agoraphobic anarcho-genderqueer gonzo blogger from Central Pennsylvania and assistant editor for Attack the System. You can find her online at Exile in Happy Valley.