On the prowl in this locale since 22 June 2008:

Website counter

30 December 2007

OPINION - A Tale of Two Rapes

A young woman, in the company of men other than her family members, is raped. She is treated like a criminal. Only by appealing to a higher paternal figure does she get help.

In the case of one woman from Qatif who was 18 at the time, she was attacked at knifepoint and raped by seven men. She had broken Saudi law which segregates the sexes. She was riding in a car with a man who was not a relative in conservative Muslim Saudi Arabia. Her rapists were sentenced for the incident that happened in 2006.

In the case of an American woman, who was married and abroad, working with other Americans at an American company in Iraq, she was drugged and gang raped. Now over two years after the incident, the men are unlikely to be punished by their employer or by the civil courts.

Jamie Leigh Jones, a young woman and employee of KBR, the biggest military contractor in Iraq was 19 in July 2005 when she arrived a Camp Hope in Baghdad's Green Zone. During her first week there, she reportedly accepted a drink from a group of company firefighters. What happened next, was inexcusable. She woke up the next day and because she was bruised and bleeding between her legs, she went to a military hospital. There a doctor took photographs and prepared a rape kit that would be passed to KBR security police.

A day before her rape, Jones had requested safer housing feeling that living on the second floor in a coed barracks where she was subjected to catcalls and the women's bathroom was on the first floor was a "sexually hostile living environment." Her supervisors were unconcerned. Jones at 19, had already suffered sexual harassment from a supervisor stateside, Eric Iler, according to her lawsuit against Halliburton and KBR filed on May 2007. Only 19 at the time, she had done the responsible thing: She had reported it with evidence and requested a transfer. That transfer took her to Iraq.

Jones reported being taken to a shipping container under guard, without food or water or medical treatment. She was later able to contact her father when a sympathetic guard allowed her to use a cell phone. She spoke with her father who then contacted his US Congressional representative, Ted Poe, who contacted the State Department.

Her rape had been so savage that her breast implants were ruptured and her pectoral muscles torn. She required reconstructive surgery.

Since she went public, her Congressman Poe, R-Houston, said three other women have contacted him. Ten others made similar reports because Jones has again done the right thing: She formed a foundation to help other women. Unfortunately, KBR made arbitration a part of its employee contract and the evidence collected in Jones' rape kit which resurfaced in May, show signs of being tampered: photos and the doctor's notes are missing.

According to accounts by the Houston Chronicle the arbitrator found in favor of KBR 82 percent of the time. That coupled with the tampered rape kit makes Jones and the other cases likely to be a battle fought in vain.

This means, although Jones can name one of her assailants and the rape kit might have used DNA analysis to indicated who the other men were, it is unlikely that these men will be punished at all.

There was a great international outcry against Saudi law because the rape victim, nameless and only referred to as the Qatif girl, rising from the predominately Shiite-populated area of Al-Qatif in the Eastern province where she's from, was sentenced to six months in jail and 200 lashes for being in the company of the unrelated man. On Dec. 17, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia pardoned her and the man who was with her.

The Qatif girl had appealed the initial decision in 2006, but the judge had only increased the severity of her sentence. The rapists themselves were at first sentenced to one to five years for assault but that was also increased in November to two to nine years. If there had been witnesses or if the men had confessed, these men who have received the death penalty.

The Qatif girl's husband has praised the King's decision.

While we as Americans or as women can rage at the thought of a victim being punished, although not for the rape--so it isn't a case of punishing the victim--we must also wonder what happened to the American system? In the case of Jones and the other women with KBR stationed in Iraq, they claim they were threatened with employment termination if they reported their assaults. More than two years after the incident, Jones hasn't seen justice. Poe told the House subcommittee: "Iraq is reminiscent of the Old Western days and no one seems to be in charge. The law must intervene and these outlaws need to be rounded up and order restored."

It was during that time, the time of the Old West when it was the victim's fault and the common wisdom was: She asked for it. In America, we like to think that Islam is backwards and unenlightened compared to Christianity, that modernization, justice for women and democracy are impossible under Islam. Yet the international community might see it differently when they see how Americans in an American company that isn't under Iraqi/Muslim civil law treats its female employees and how much these women must fight for justice.

Before we criticize another country, perhaps we should imagine how we look to the international community, and then we should consider how KBR and its men in Iraq are treating the Iraqi women.

This tale of two rapes makes it apparent that the world isn't safe for women in the company of men because some men still feel that they have a right to rape a woman for whatever reason--and this is despite the differences between Christianity and Islam and the nation states that are predominately guided by those respective religious principles.

29 December 2007

REVIEW: Rich Boy Angst Ends in Alaska: Into the Wild

In January 1991, I began working in Downtown Los Angeles, close to the Union Mission and near St. Vibiana. I walked through a kind of war zone, where the homeless (drunks and druggies and mentally deficit mostly I thought at the time), the parking lot attendants and even visiting businessmen thought women walking alone were fair game. I learned to put on a hard urban face and stride through town. In early February, the rainy season in Los Angeles, Christopher McCandless came to Los Angeles for an I.D.

Watching Emile Hirsch as McCandless walking those familiar streets in scenes from "Into the Wild" came as a bit of a shock. Had I passed this man on the street? Like McCandless, I had recently graduated and this was my first real job. Certainly, I had and have angst that still creates a wide gorge between my mother and I, but I had more mundane worries. I had worked myself through college; my parents didn't have the opportunity nor did they have the ability to extend financial support. I could hardly imagine, having, let alone giving away $24,000 to OxFam.

In this way, the movie about McCandless, based on Jon Krakauer's best-seller, is about a privileged young white man wanting to experience poverty and the so-called freedom it gives him. It is also the movie about a young man's dream.

As cool as "King of the Road" sounds or as people find Jack Kerouc's "On the Road," poverty and powerlessness can make it less fun. I think of Carlos Bulosan's 1946 "America is in the Heart" road tale. A minority and poor, his tale wasn't about the romance of the road, but about becoming American. He recalls a young girl and her even younger brother waiting until the railroad detectives are gone before, along with Bulosan and other men looking for work, they board a freight train in hopes of getting to California. During the night, the girl was gang raped.

I sat back in my corner and tried to sleep, brushing off the obscene conversations of the men around me. Then in the middle of the night, isolated in the corner of the box, I was awakened by the young girl's whimpering. She was desperately struggling with someone in the dark, breathing as though she were being choked to death. Then I heard her fall heavily on the floor, and she began to sob hopelessly. Her assailant dragged her to my corner. I could her the man fumbling at her. He was tearing hungrily at her clothes. ...After a while the girl did not struggle any more. She turned lifeless toward me, and in the dark I could hear her agony...With a sudden revulsion, I got up and felt for the man. But someone struck me on the head, and I rolled on the floor. There was silence for a long time; then as I returned to consciousness, I heard the stiffled sobbing of the girl again. Another man approached her...

Not everyone is so unlucky as that girl and her brother, and men don't have to worry so much as women. Perhaps what fueled McCandless' dreams was his good fortune and director Sean Penn emphasizes this. In his screenplay, Penn shows us at the very beginning how angry McCandless is with his parents and instead of being delighted at the offer of a car, he becomes angry. There are many people who would never and will never be able to afford a new car. Turning down a new car as a gift, would be unimaginable. Yet this was part of the privileged life McCandless led.

While Penn doesn't take us on McCandless' previous forays into the wild where he would return to be restored to health by the parents (William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden) he would later distance himself from, he has the young man beginning his journey driving into a flash flood area and parking his car as he sleeps inside. The desert, as anyone native to the Southwest knows, is unforgiving. The flash flood doesn't kill him, but it encourages him to leave his car. He burns his money and begins walking and hitchhiking. Penn shows this because, in a sense, Candless thought it was important. According to Krakauer, McCandless took photographs to commemorate the occasion.

McCandless pushes his luck again, taking on white water with little experience and only a used kayak and life jacket. He survives and evades the officers patrolling the Colorado River to make it to Mexico in January 1991. At this point, he goes to Los Angeles. In the downtown area, he is also lucky. A year later, civil unrest would make the downtown so dangerous troops would be stationed down there.

In this respect, McCandless seems to share a kinship with Timothy Treadwell as documented by Werner Herzog in the 2005 "Grizzly Man." Treadwell, who was born in 1957 and therefore older than McCandless (born February 12, 1968), was born Timothy Dexter. Like Treadwell, McCandless took on the name Alexander Supertramp.

Treadwell didn't start filming until the last five years of his life. When he died in October 2003 he had spent 13 seasons in the Katmai National Park in Alaska. McCandless likewise had photographed himself and documented his big Alaskan adventure. In the Penn movie, there's also the intimation that McCandless wanted to go back and tell tales about his grand adventure and he did keep a journal.

Yet there is a downside to poverty, inside a city or out. Desperation for food is one and eating what you can and not what you really need is another. Moreover, experts will always tell you never hike in the desert, kayak or camp without telling someone where you're going and your schedule. And the list continues, including never go without a map or compass (or GPS). A cell phone could prove handy as well.

Penn also makes clear that although people tried to save him, from the hippy woman (Catherine Keener and Brian Dierker as her companion) whose own son was lost to her to the old man (Hal Holbrook) who wished to adopt him, McCandless in his singular determination and even arrogance could not be saved from himself. One thing you learn from skid row is that you can't save these people. Grace Lee Whitney is one such famous survivor of skid row.

You can give them food, but for whatever reason--drugs or confused ideas--you can't save them by giving them money. For most of them, their deaths will not make national news or become a major motion picture.

In my own family, my father's elder brother disappeared around a time when the life of a minority was cheap and Asian Americans were still the enemy and not the so-called model minority. More recently, my cousin disappeared and has not been heard of for years. How his mother, who died only a few years ago, must have grieved.

Keener and Dierker give sensitive portrayals of individuals who have dropped out of the urban path to follow their own lifestyles, forming a non-traditional functional family. Keener's motherly concerns are particularly touching since we know how McCandless' saga ends. Holbrook, as a fully functioning member of society who has dropped out of social relationships, stuck in mourning for the wife and son he tragically lost in the 1950s, is heartbreaking as he finally reaches out to to doomed young man. As McCandless, Hirsch gives us a sense of the vibrancy of this man and his arrogance is not boastful, but characterized by quiet determination.

They estimate that McCandless weighed less than 80 lbs. at the time of death. Penn suggests that after weeks of suffering from starvation, he passed away in a kind of euphoria, forgiving and even longing for his tortured parents. He was discovered two weeks later and you can view the actual bus on YouTube. Penn has faithfully recreated the bus.

McCandless made the news and became the subject of a book. He became famous for fatally playing a hobo or as he renamed himself, a super tramp. Penn shows the agony of the parents, perhaps unimaginable for most people unless you too have had a child die senselessly and needlessly. Penn's choice to use grainy color film, suggestive of old home movies, gives us a more intimate feeling about McCandless and his family.

Penn leaves no doubt that McCandless left a gapping hole in his family that will reverberate for generations. McCandless' story, his idealism and his foolhardiness have given him a place in modern pop history as a well-to-do white boy who wanted to play at what so many of us struggle against every day.

26 December 2007

MOVIE REVIEW: Music, Gore and More: Tim Burton's "Sweeney Todd"

The great surprise in "Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street" is not that Tim Burton can handle a darkly, gothic tale--we've seen that already in "Edward Scissorhands" and "Sleepy Hollow". Nor is it that Stephen Sondheim's musical is sublimely witty--he has garnered enough awards to prove it. The great surprise is that Johnny Depp can sing.

Who knew? Not only does he sing, but his voice harmonizes nicely with Helen Bonham Carter. As fellow muses to Burton, they bring a great gothic classic to film.

"Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street" isn't the first musical by Stephen Sondheim to be filmed but it certainly took a long time to get to the silver screen. "West Side Story" which made its Broadway debut in 1957 was the first of Sondheim's works to be made into a movie.

Sondheim worked as a lyricist to Leonard Bernstein's music (book by Arthur Laurents) on the Romeo and Juliet story that was eventually made into a 1961 movie starring Natalie Wood, Rita Moreno and George Chakiris. That movie went on to win best picture, with a supporting actor award for Chakiris and Moreno and a directing award for Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise. Sondheim himself would go on to be the winner of a 1990 Academy Award for "Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man) from "Dick Tracy," a 1985 Pulitzer Prize in drama for "Sunday in the Park with George," six Tony awards for best score (1971, 1972, 1973, 1979, 1988 and 1994),

He would, as in the case of "Sweeney Todd" also write his own music. "Sweeney Todd" debuted on Broadway in 1979 with Angela Landsbury as Mrs. Lovett and Len Cariou as the murderous barber. Winning a Tony for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, Best Actor in a Musical for Cariou, Best Actress in a Musical for Landsbury, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Scene Design and Best Costume Design.

With all those awards, it's a wonder it didn't hit the silver screen sooner. Yet perhaps people weren't ready to tackle the gory story itself. In long ago London, a young barber, Benjamin Barker (Depp) with a beautiful wife, Lucy (Laura Michelle Kelly), is framed by a Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) and his toady, Beadle Bamford (Timothy Spall), and deported to Australia. He has now returned, under an assumed name, looking for his wife and daughter only to be informed by his former friend and neighbor, Mrs. Lovett (Bonham Carter), that the judge raped his wife who committed suicide. The judge then adopted the daughter, Johanna (Jayne Wisener), raising her as his ward and future wife. When a former associate (Sacha Baron Cohen) recognizes Todd and threatens him with blackmail, Todd murders the man. But what to do with the body? The resourceful and economical Mrs. Lovett suggests that it would be such a waste to not use fresh meat, when it is so expensive in Victorian England.

Bus'ness needs a lift,
Debts to be erased...
Think of it as thrift,
As a gift,
If you get my drift!


Seems an awful waste...
I mean, with the price of meat
What it is,
When you get it,
If you get it..

Her pies become famous while Todd culls the local population, waiting for his chance to take care of the judge. Meanwhile, an acquaintance Todd made while sailing back to England, Anthony (Jamie Campbell Bower), catches sight of Johanna and falls fatally in love, but a crazy beggar woman tells him Turpin has imprisoned the girl.

While a stage musical offers immediacy, what a movie offers is a controlled framing of the picture and special effects. You can't easily have squirting blood saturating the stage and clean up in time for the next scene in a theatrical production. You also can't have cockroaches running around in time to the music--at least not in any production I have seen. Bodies falling with a thud, rats running around the basement and meat going through the grinder and coming out in a bloody mess isn't easy to show. And does one really want to go for realism and risk alienating the squeamish?

In the movie, from the opening shots, we have rain falling against a blue-black background of buildings, but some of the drops are suspiciously red, bright red. Blood does not stay bright red for long, nor does it have the kind of viscosity that would make it flow smoothly, slowly and stickily through the cogs of a wheel. Burton's usage of colors suggest animation or comic books or standard musical costuming.

Depp as Todd has a pale white face and darkened eyelids as does Bonham Carter. Unlike Tobias (Ed Sanders), the orphan boy Mrs. Lovett takes in or Rickman's Turpin or Spall's Bamford, the audience sees them behind this modern goth make-up. Their butchery becomes black comedy within an otherwise normal world. They are human cartoons, at times reminding one of both in Burton's previous effort, "The Corpse Bride."

Burton does, of course, give us blood. The victims of the barber bleed bright red blood, but mostly slump over in quiet death. Anyone who's beheaded a chicken knows that death doesn't come so easily, but perhaps the nervous twitching of a body would be too close to reality. Today's audiences have seen gorier, stomach-wrenching stuff on TV in medical soap operas and in recent realistic war movies. Burton elects to keep these killings simple and relatively calm--slit, spurt, dump down the shoot to the basement.

Nothing sexually lurid is visually depicted. That is left to our imagination. Lucy's rape is nothing more than Turpin with a great cape covering her, like a vampire engulfing his victim while shielding the audience from seeing something indelicate.

For all this, if you haven't seen many musicals on stage, you might wonder where the big chorus is or where the big song and dance numbers are. On stage musicals have come a long way since MGM churned out movie musicals in the early 1930s and 1940s. Smaller theaters often have to do with smaller casts due to cost and venue constraints and dark subject matter, while it may not reach a wide audience, are tackled. "Five Guys Name Moe," a 1992 Broadway musical featuring the music and lyrics of Louis Jordan had only six men on stage.

Not all musicals are bright and cheery. In Los Angeles, the 1982 cult classic movie "Eating Raoul" was staged as a musical a (1992 Off-Off Broadway). More famously, the 1996 Off-Broadway musical "Floyd Collins" looked at the struggle to save a man trapped in a cave in 1925. "Sweeney Todd" isn't the only musical about a mass murder; In 1997, "Jekyll & Hyde" opened on Broadway, based on the Robert Louis Stevenson novel.

With all the movies becoming musicals and musicals becoming movies in recent years and the popularity of horror flicks, it's been a long wait to see this Sondheim classic on the silver screen. Burton's vision perfectly suits "Sweeney Todd" and his ensemble are actors who sing well enough to make this a musical and visual delight.

18 December 2007

ACADEMY AWARD ARCHIVES 1929 - The Broadway Melody

This is how the musical began, not with a hummable songbook, but with ho-hum songs and already cliche-ridden story. What the 1929 "The Broadway Melody" did do when it won the best picture Oscar was begin an MGM tradition.

Not only was it Hollywood's first all talking musical, it also was Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer first musical with the story by Edmund Goulding, Norman Houston and James Gleason.

A vaudeville sister act of Harriet (Bessie Love) and Queenie (Anita Page) Mahoney goes to Broadway, but only the younger sister is chosen to be featured in the musical. There friend Eddie Kearns (Charles King) wants them in his number in a Francis Zanfield (Eddie Kane) show. Although initially in love with Harriet, he begins falling for Queenie. Queenie is courted by Jock Warriner (Kenneth Thomson), a member of the New York high society who is looking for a dalliance and not real love.
The original music was written by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown and included the hit "You Were Meant for Me." Director Harry Beaumont was nominated for best director, however, his greatest successes were behind him, in the silent era. (e.g. "Beau Brummel" which starred John Barrymore)

As MGM won the box office battle with this top-grossing film of 1929, the studio quickly followed up with sequels. There weren't sequels in the traditional sense. Instead MGM decided to make movies with similar titles.

"Broadway Melody of 1936" featured Eleanor Powell in her first leading role. You can also see Buddy Ebsen, his sister Vilma Ebsen and Jack Benny. Nacio Herb Brown again provided the music while Moss Hart wrote the book. A young dancer (Powell) attempts to convince her old sweetheart (Robert Taylor) to give her a chance in a new Broadway production. He's taken up with a young widow (June Knight) who's financially backing his show.

"Broadway Melody of 1938" again featured Powell, Robert Taylor and Buddy Ebsen. Powell plays a girl who is concerned about a horse her family once owned that is currently being trained by Sonny (George Murphy) and Peter (Ebsen), a former vaudeville team. She follows the horse to New York City and is discovered on the train by Sonny and Peter and then the talent agent (Taylor) who is looking for talent for a new production backed by a former chorus girl and now rich wife of the horse's current owner. He secretly helps the girl buy the horse back. The girl brings him into contact with the tenants of a boarding house for performers, including the landlady (Sophie Tucker) and her daughter (Judy Garland).

The movie is perhaps most famous for Garland's sequence where she sings "Dear Mr. Gable," addressing her puppy love to Clark Gable in her room after her mother has torn up an autographed photo of him. This role made Garland a star and led to her role in "The Wizard of Oz."
Tucker, who played her mother, was already a Broadway star whose comedic style influenced comediennes such as Mae West and Bette Midler. She sings the finale in the "Broadway Melody of 1938.

"Broadway Melody of 1940"
brought back Powell and Murphy, but the highlight was Powell's partnering with Fred Astaire.

In this movie, Powell is a major Broadway star, looking for a partner. Astaire and Murphy are partners--Johnny Brett and King Shaw--who taxi dance and perform in night clubs. Trying to evade creditors, Johnny claims to be King. As a result, King gets the role on Broadway, but at the last minute, King isn't able to go on.

By this time, Astaire had already been paired with Ginger Rogers: "The Gay Divorcee" (1934), "Roberta" (1935), "Top Hat" (1935), "Follow the Fleet" (1936), "Swing Time" (1936), "Shall We Dance" (1937), and "Carefree" (1938).

Astaire and Powell were both major stars although this would be Powell's last great hit. Plans to pair her with Gene Kelly in another Broadway Melody was scrapped. The film features Astaire and Powell dancing to Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine." Murphy's character might not have gotten the girl in either the 1940 nor the 1938 movie, but he did go on to be a US senator.

Directed by Norman Taurog with a screenplay by Leon Gordon and George Oppenheimer, this was the last of the Broadway Melody series and the best. Taurog had won a 1931 Oscar for "Skippy" and would later direct Elvis Presley in nine movies.

The first movie that started it all, "The Broadway Melody" may not have been the best and by today's standards, it isn't a good movie or a good musical, but it did help start a grand tradition and has its place in history.

14 December 2007


In 1928, the first Academy Awards ceremony gave the best picture Oscar to the black and white silent movie "Wings."Produced by Paramount Pictures, it featured and was written to highlight Clara Bow.

Bow was known as the It girl--It being sex appeal. The film also won an Oscar for Engineering Effects.

While even now, WWI is considered a good war, "Wings" is jingoistic and even a sugar-coated version of the glory of war. This best picture captures motion pictures at the cusp of change.

The beginning subtitles clearly state the reasons for the name. According to them, on June 12, 1927 in Washington, Colonel
Charles Lindbergh
declared that the "feats were performed and deeds accomplished which were far greater than any peace accomplishments of aviation."

The movie then states, that to those "young warriors of the sky, whose wings are folded about them forever, this picture is reverently dedicated."

This is a very straight-forward tale written by John Monk Saunders and directed by William A. Willman, and is about World War I pilots who begin as small-town rivals, Jack (Charles "Buddy" Rogers) and David (Richard Arlen) for one girl's affection, Sylvia (Jobyna Raulston). Jack is adored by his neighbor, Mary (Bow). Jack is misled into believing that Sylvia returns his affection although David knows this to be false. The men train together and become good friends. Jack meets Mary in Paris where she is an ambulance driver. Soon after, the men engage in a battle that ends with one's death.

Historically, the segments showing the training equipment for the pilots are intriguing and there's a quaintness in the innocence and purity of the pilots which contrasts starkly with the braggadocio of "Top Gun." The men's motives are pure. The sexual titillation is a brief glimpse of Bow's breasts. The rest of the movie is squeaky clean, even the death scene is devoid of dirt, grime or gore.

As for Clara Bow's It-ness, it escapes me and by today's standards, she'd be considered fat. Her career was at its peak. In October of 1927, Al Jolson's "The Jazz Singer"debuted, signaling the end of silent movies. Bow's Brooklyn accent didn't mesh well with the audience's image of It-ness.

Yet you can't fault the movie for a certain air of authenticity. Rogers would later serve in World War II as a Navy flight instructor. Arlen would be an Army flight instructor. He had served as a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot during World War I. Arlen and Raulston were married, divorcing in 1945. The talkies also ended Raulston's career as she had a lisp.

Yet there were actors who would move up and onward into talkies. "Wings" also features Gary Cooper in a small role.

In 1997, "Wings" was designated as culturally and historically significant and selected for preservation in the US National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.


The 1971 "The Omega Man," starring Charlton Heston, is severely dated with its hokey music and fashion sensibilities but it provides a window into the psyche of the 1970s and gives startling ecological reminders that are hold true now with perhaps greater urgency.

Set in 1977, John William and Joyce Corrington's screenplay foresees a world that has been destroyed in 1975 by a biological plague during a war between the Soviet Union and People's Republic of China. Neville (Heston) was a military scientist working on an experimental vaccine which he uses on himself. Immune, he continues to live in Los Angeles alone while hunted by a group of plague victims, "The Family," led by Matthias (Anthony Zerbe).

Light-sensitive and transformed into albinos, the Family consider Neville a symbol of a sinful past as well as a murderer. He is, according to Matthias, "One creature caught in a place he cannot stir from in the dark...(with)...his cars, his guns, his gimmicks." He is "that creature of the wheel, the lord of the infernal engine, the machine." Although encouraged by another his lieutenant, Zachary, to use nitro or other weapons, Matthias explains "he will be destroyed not by guns, not by machines, not by the evil forbidden things that destroyed the world."

Finally captured by the Family, he is saved from the Family by a woman, Lisa (Rosalind Cash), a former member of the Family, who wants his help to save her younger brother, Richie (Eric Laneuville) and introduces him to a small group of people, mostly children, who have yet to "go over." Neville attempts to make a serum derived from his own blood as a romance forms between him and Lisa.

Although based on the Richard Matheson's 1954 novel, "I Am Legend," "The Omega Man" diverges in several respects. "I Am Legend" as a science fiction vampire novel set in Southern California in the late 1970s. The protagonist, Robert Neville, in the only survivor of a plague that has turned humanity into vampires and he theorizes that he became immune after because he was once bitten by a vampire bat.

That novel couldn't predict the socio-political landscape of the 1970s. China was clearly on the minds of major political figures. The People's Republic of China replaced the Republic of China in the United Nations in November of 1971. In June, the United States had just ended its trade embargo against mainland China. Of the three Chinas, mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan, the mainland (People's Republic of China) had now become more widely accepted despite fears of communism.

Earlier in the year, Charles Manson and his followers were found guilty in a Los Angeles court and later sentenced. In April, Manson was sentenced to death which was later commuted to life in prison.

Less sensational than those lurid murders, was the growing environmental movement. In 1970, the mayor of San Francisco, Joseph Alioto issued a proclamation for the first Earth Day on March 21 and by the next year, the United Nations was on board. In the same year, US Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, called for an environmental teach-in, or Earth Day, to be held on April 22 and the grassroots response was dramatic, involving thousands of schools and organizations nationwide.

One such public event included protests against the Vietnam War, although this was more of an aberration for the Earth Day celebrations than the rule. In 1970, a documentary film about the 1969 Woodstock Festival was released.

"The Omega Man" is very much a product of these times, with a social agenda rather than a pure slash and gore horror flick. There is no doubt the movie is meant to make a comment on the times.

"The Omega Man" uses some clips from the Woodstock film as Neville visits a movie theater, re-watching a film that he has seen so many times, he has memorized the words as a participant explains, we humans need "just to really realize what's really important...What's really important is that if we can't all live together and be happy, if you have to be afraid to walk out in the street, if you have to be afraid of...violence of somebody, what kind of way is that to go through this life?"

The leader of the mutants, Matthias, a former newscaster talks about something that very much concerns us in 2007. He sees the downfall of the world they knew as directly connected to modern machines and is portrayed as a cult leader, with black robes and talk about "The Family." Movie goers in 1971 could not avoid drawing parallels between Matthias and his family and Charles Manson and his family who had committed the 1969 Tate (Sharon Tate, Wojciech Frykowski, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger and Steven Parent) and (Leno and Rosemary) LaBianca murders.

Manson had participated in the summer of love as an ex-con in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district where he began seducing his first followers. He had already served time for pimping an underage girl and most of his followers were women.

"The Omega Man" also has visual allusions to Neville as a Christ-like figure, a savior dying for the sins of man in order to save humanity. The prominence of African Americans in the movie such as Matthias' lieutenant (Lincoln Kilpatrick as Zachary), Lisa and her brother.

Although he had won an Academy Award for his role in the 1959 "Ben Hur," Heston wasn't new to the science fiction genre. He had already starred in the 1968 "Planet of the Apes" and the 1970 sequel "Beneath the Planet of the Apes."

As a result, "The Omega Man" isn't about fearing other men and even reconsidering what is the norm if the world is inhabited by vampires, but about the fear of communism, war and the summer of love turning into a summer of hate. It also reminds us that the concern about pollution, cars and industry were a hot topic in 1971, even as the environment is today, in 2007.