Saturday, June 25, 2016

Free State Of Jones: Buried US History Of Righteous Rural Guerrilla Warfare Reignites On Screen

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As foreign and alien a concept as mass uprising and guerilla warfare have been made to appear in official US history - and more recently by its ideological accomplice, the corporate media - a fiery history of such events has existed, however buried but defiantly bubbling beneath the surface. And films, whether documentary or docudrama, have increasingly emerged to bring to life the truth, courage, sacrifices and indeed inspiration of that suppressed past.

And which could not be more vividly and defiantly portrayed at the moment, in the historical drama, Free State Of Jones - a breathlessly captivating chronicle of no less than a guerrilla warfare peasant uprising revolutionary movement in this country back during the Civil War. And yet a film that very possibly could have only been made at the historical moment in time. As seemingly ignited by the Occupy Movement, Black Lives Matter, and the current mass momentum of youth in economic crisis today fueling the newly emerging rebel anti-establishment political impulses shaking up the presidential election period right now - and immune to the enduring post-McCarthyite state terrorism propaganda that previous generations have been steeped in.

The film is directed by Gary Ross (The Hunger Games), son of the late Red Scare blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter Arthur Ross - best known for the Oscar-nominated Brubaker and as co-writer of The Creature From The Black Lagoon. Free State Of Jones resurrects the deliberately deleted history of a rural Mississippi insurrectionary uprising in the South during the Civil War, and led by farmer and Confederate Army deserter, Newt Knight - in a mesmerizing gritty, humble and courageously stoic performance by Matthew McConaughey. And Knight became increasingly horrified and disgusted not only by the senseless and massive slaughter of the war - with over 600,000 deaths, second only to the Vietnam loss of US lives - and in terms of the US population today what would have represented seven million deaths on the battlefield. Along with thirty percent of the Southern white male population wiped out in that war, most of them poor farmers - while plantation slaveholders were declared exempt from the draft.

At the same time as depicted in the film, was the naked brutality of the Confederate Army, seizing the crops, livestock and possessions of terrorized farmers for war supplies - and their male offspring to serve as child soldiers  - consigning the population to virtual starvation. Which leads Knight to amass a fierce and fiery, salt of the earth rural revolutionary guerrilla army staked out in the swamps, with escaped slaves and women warriors as well battling the army and plantation owners alike.

And these swamp guerrillas inspired, not just as anti-war or abolitionist, but in class struggle shaped by a collective consciousness conveyed through Knight's words and ideas - encapsulated as rebellion against a 'rich man's war,' seizing the socialist notion  - along with the confiscated crops of their labor in the fields - that "what you put in the ground nobody can take from you. It's as simple as that.' - and, "we say no man stay poor so another be rich." While the Union Army apparently opportunistically welcomed but later betrayed this Southern insurrection and mobilization of that Free State Of Jones County territory which Newt established.

And if there are insights to be gleaned from this short lived but heroic chapter in US history today, it's not just intimations of Democratic party vote rigging today that ensued during the repressive death squad Klan emergence following the war. But the US government as well, turning against them after exploiting them against the Confederacy during the war - evidently to extinguish a new and dangerous radical notion of social and economic equality sabotaging an emerging capitalism - ideas that just might spread North. As reported by Knight to his disheartened, now men without a country betrayed followers, "It seems we ain't got no country - only inside. So we'll be our own country."

Not that these ideas and impulses were anything new on the world stage. Witness the valiant uprising of that Paris Commune during that same period. And several decades earlier, two young men in their twenties collaborating on a pamphlet that would endure and inflame the masses everywhere, declaring - 'Workers of the World, Unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains!' And those words of Marx and Engels back then, that still today reignite against capitalism - whether in the streets of Paris or on the screen with Free State Of Jones right now.

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Prairie Miller

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