It's a nocturnal-emission week for history buffs and clip-compilation addicts, as two stellar examples of the form---the civil-rights time capsule The Black Power Mixtape 1967--1975 and Andrei Ujica's hit-parade playlist on Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu---reach theaters after fruitful runs on the festival circuit. Yet their differences are telling: You get a curated, chronologically arranged corrective to Amerikkka's biased coverage of Afro-radicalism in the former. Dip into the latter, and you run smack-dab into a Stalinist dictatorship seen solely through the prism of propaganda. Narration and identifying intertitles are AWOL, and those who don't know their Gheorghiu-Dejs from their Gorbachevs may wish they hadn't slept through that Eastern-European Communism 101 class. You don't need a scorecard, however, to recognize a smiley-face facade.
This is political pageantry as the ultimate panacea, in which Ceausescu's contentious reign is turned into a series of world-leader meet-and-greets, staged spectacles and photo-op theaters of the absurd (party leaders doing the Frug to "I Fought the Law"; a carriage ride with Queen Elizabeth past a marquee advertising Deep Throat). Fellow 20th-century foxes (Mao, Kim Il-sung) who also chowed through proletariat henhouses drop by for cameos, while his country's citizens strain to appear ecstatic as time goes by. An epic indictment of media manipulation, this avant-doc delivers its coup de grce once the camera finally demands accountability---leaving the disgraced despot staring into the lens, and the abyss of history staring back into him.
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