The Final Words of Louis Proyect! Check Out Our Movie Commentary on HERO!


It was the first day of July and our mutual friend/comrade Paul Buhle inadvertently tipped me off. “My pal Lou, Harvey [Pekar’s] pal Lou, has had some very serious health problems and is, now, not holding back.” Over the course of the next few days, I found out it was the esophageal cancer. “Lou could be fading pretty fast, so do not delay,” Paul warned me.

So over two days that following week, Louis and I sat down for what became one of his final long-form discussions about cinema and Marxism, two topics he passionately revered.

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I wanted to discuss a Chinese wuxia film called Hero (2002, dir. Zhang Yimou). The Weinsteins and Quentin Tarantino had imported it to the US for a limited release by Miramax in 2004 and it became a staple of undergraduate Film Studies syllabi. Our friend and sometimes-correspondent Eileen Jones, a fellow refugee from the liberal arts, mentioned the experience of screening it for her classes a few months ago when we recorded our Commentary Track for Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

Hero and other films like it are extremely important. Many China analysts rely solely on dispatches from the Chinese foreign ministry and their PR campaigns, taking the Chinese Communist Party at their word. Others quite embarrassingly rely on a childish tautological argument for their anti-imperialism. All of them fail to recognize the true meaning of the Chinese system, over-determining the “socialism” while under-estimating the “Chinese characteristics.”

Hero made absolutely clear the underlying philosophy and priorities of the CPC. Under its “One China” domestic policy, the ruling party has sought over the past 20 years to institute a homogenous Chinese identity that is heavily-dependent upon Han nationalism at the expense of minorities in the country. When I first watched the film in 2005, I was slightly cognizant of the controversy involving the Uighur Muslims in Western China and automatically understood what Hero was communicating. The film advocates that major sacrifices, including human lives if necessary, must be made in order to unify the polity. The fact that the CPC authorized the production of a script that represents them as the Chinese Emperor in the Third Century BCE speaks volumes and should be seriously considered. Films like this are guides for better understanding the character of the Chinese project. I for one believe that there is a meaningful exchange of ideas and culture that the US can have with Beijing but such an effort can only occur if we are honest about who we are and what we believe and value in this new century.

Louis was rapidly deteriorating when we recorded this. He had opted for palliative care rather than seeking to fry his brains completely with radiation and chemo. Midway through one of our recording sessions, he paused the film to go throw up. He could barely make it through an hour at a time and ended the conversation during our second session with 15 minutes left to go on the film. Some of his digressions are repetitive. In order to make up the balance of remaining time, I stitched into the track recordings of earlier interviews we held over the past 6 years, excerpts that more thoroughly describe his history with the radical movements of the past half century and his own process of radicalization, including a loving description of his mentor Peter Camejo.

But despite all this, what shines through is his reverence for cinema and radical politics. Very little of the track is pertinent to the film and it instead focuses on his own reflections on the past and the struggles ahead, including the pressing issues of ecology that he recognized as a key component of 21st century socialism. In this sense, it might double as a contribution to Buhle’s Oral History of the American Left, an important primary source repository that tells the story of American radicalism over the past 150 years.

Proyect would have loved that part as well.

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This is an .MP3 track that does not contain any proprietary material owned by Miramax. It is created as an independently-recorded Audio Commentary Track that can be played simultaneous with HERO (2002, dir. Zhang Yimou). This is not a pirated copy of the film. We encourage you to obtain the film through legal means. This recording in no way is an endorsement of copyright violation and should not be construed as such in any way.

You should load this file onto an .MP3 player, be it a mobile device or similar system. Then you should cue up your copy of the film and PAUSE it at the start.

The audio file begins with a brief introduction, including audio instructions. At the sound of a BEEP on the audio file, you should push PLAY on the video viewing system you are using to watch the film. Once you do that, sit back, relax, and enjoy the film.

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