Bernardo Bertolucci and General Motors

Bernardo Bertolucci (77) died yesterday in Rome, Italy where he had been suffering from cancer. The bigger news was General Motors’ decision to reduce workforce and eliminate six car models, including the Chevrolet Volt rechargeable gas-electric hybrid.

What do they have in common besides their coincidence?

They both hit me where I live.

When I returned from military service I spent time viewing movies I missed coming up, including The Conformist. I became enamored of the film, its director Bertolucci, and its cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. On my cross-country trip from New Jersey, where my pickup truck had been shipped from Germany, enroute home to Iowa, I visited friends Diana and Dennis in Springfield, Illinois. Diana fed us cornbread and beans and Dennis and I went to see Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, with cinematography by Storaro. That night began an infatuation with cinema that continued through my return home and lingered into the early years of our marriage. Of the films I have seen, The Conformist ranks in my top ten.

The Conformist

Partly The Conformist resonated with my short trips to Italy in the 1970s. More, though, it was Marcello Clerici, the vacillating, spineless protagonist who would kill his professor in a woods at the direction of the Communist Party. Who would want to be that? Not me. Not anyone. The impression the film made on my artistic consciousness persists. I will be forever thankful to Bertolucci for his contribution to this formative experience.

The General Motors announcement was a gut punch to anyone who lived and worked in the Rust Belt.

“The reductions could amount to as much as eight percent of GM’s global workforce of 180,000 employees,” Tom Krisher wrote for Associated Press.

What makes this pill tough to swallow is the damage that has already been done throughout the industrialized part of the country. I’ve written extensively about my experiences recruiting truck drivers in Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania during the period 1987 – 1993. I met thousands of people laid off from industry jobs. What makes the GM announcement different is what I experienced then was related to globalization. What’s happening now has to do with board room decisions emboldened by the recent Republican tax breaks.

The Conformist

There is talk unions will negotiate a better deal for workers as GM moves forward with their plans. How has that worked before? It hasn’t. The only union-related board member had been from the UAW health care trust, a position vacant since December 2017. The fund lost the board seat in October after selling a big chunk of GM stock.

Why would a person that drives a 21-year old passenger car care what GM does? When you’ve seen the faces of long-term employees who lost everything after a plant closing or down-sizing, you know what this announcement from GM means to workers. Only a cold, venal, rudderless being like Marcello Clerici could look on and not feel anything.

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