So as I am in DC, I managed to spend part of the evening in the company of truly evil people, i.e. Republican congressmen and staffers at a reception that someone suggest I attend, probably as a comedic social experiment. For many reasons I will not go into detail except to say that I was a fish out of waters that support terrible lives for Americans. Also there was 1 minority in a room of at least 150 people, not counting the servants who of course were almost all black. Welcome to the Beltway. Anyway, this seems appropriate this evening:
So it is with unrestrained glee that we share the news of the recovery of a long-missing portion of the greatest pie-throwing fight ever recorded, far superior to the pastry melee of “In the Sweet Pie and Pie,” a 1941 Three Stooges short, or the baked-goods battle in “The Great Race,” a 1965 comedy with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon.
That, of course, would be the epic custard conflagration in “The Battle of the Century,” a 1927 Laurel and Hardy short that dispensed with 3,000 pies, thrown not with abandon but with slow-burn precision, heightening the comedic effect.
For several decades, the 20-minute, two-reel classic has been missing its second reel, which provided most of the logic for why dozens of people were pelting one another with pastries. Film historians have puttied the gaps in “Battle” with explanatory title cards, but these could never replicate Laurel’s look of thought-free innocence, Hardy’s frown of eternal exasperation.
More pie throwing in DC would raise the intellectual discourse of the city significantly.
So I finally watched Selma. A few observations long after the debate has dissipated.
1. The main issue in the Selma debate was the portrayal of Lyndon Johnson. Critics said the portrayal was too cynical and didn’t give LBJ his due. Phooey. First, this isn’t a documentary. Second, at the core of the LBJ defense was pointing out how much he did and how much we should honor him. That’s fine, but it also borders on the hagiographic. LBJ was a politician with a lot on his plate who really would have preferred not to deal with any of this, as the film effectively shows. By thinking of Johnson as a hero of the civil rights movement, it reinforces the unfortunate way progressives look at political leaders (Obama primarily) as the people who should guide us and then are disappointed when they don’t. That’s our problem, not the politicians. The film effectively shows how politicians respond to intense political campaigning. That’s the lesson of the film. And it’s a valuable one. No politician will ever be a solution.
2. The film does an effective job of delineating the factions developing in the civil rights movement by 1965. But it does give short shrift to the radical SNCC ideas that will quickly become prevalent under Stokely Carmichael’s leadership.
3. The film really underplays the amazing grassroots work of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth in Selma and that’s unfortunate.
4. The film also could have done more with Diane Nash and the role of women in the movement.
5. I thought the film actually soft sold the hatred of whites, largely making the violence look like an official response than a popular one. The only time the word “nigger” was actually spoken during the film was when the white priest from Boston was beaten to death. This was telling. The film did pull some punches in making connections to the present as well.
6. As a U.S historian with a pretty deep, although not expert-level background in the civil rights movement, I was frustrated early in the film by the characters saying so many obvious things that the actual people would have already known. But then my wife, a Latin American historian with a reasonable background in these issues, didn’t know all the details. So it’s hard being an Americanist watching films about American history. But what can be done?
7. David Oyelowo was very good as MLK. And I’m glad the casting went to a relatively unknown actor.
8. I laughed out loud when Tim Roth was playing George Wallace. Great casting. Had I seen it in the theater, it’s unlikely my fellow patrons would have laughed alongside me.
9. The only explanation for Ava DuVernay not getting a best director nomination in the Academy Awards is the racism/sexism combo. You have got to be kidding me.
10. I would love to see a movie about King after Selma. The failures of the Chicago campaign, the growing tension in the movement, coming out against Vietnam, the move toward economic justice, and the final days in Memphis, could, in the hands of the right director, make a fantastic movie. Not sure it would supply the myth-making American audiences require though.
I just watched Marjoe, the 1972 documentary about an ex-child preacher turned hippie who supported himself by going back out on the preacher circuit even though he believed none of it. It’s pretty great. If you want to understand why the current wingnut world is a giant grift, this is a good place to start as he gives out all the secrets. This film won Best Documentary at the Academy Awards. He then went on to appear in 17 episodes of Falcon Crest in the 80s. Here’s an excerpt.
I had a whole bunch of stuff to write about today and then it didn’t happen for a number of reasons. But I still found time to watch Les Blank’s 1978 film about the culture of New Orleans, Always for Pleasure. It’s not available as a whole film on YouTube; I watched it on Fandor. But there are a couple clips available. It’s pretty great. I know the New Orleans of 1978 is not the New Orleans of 2015 in many ways. But it still made me want to go to New Orleans again.
The only thing to say after that second clip is NOT ENOUGH CAYENNE!!!!
About four months ago, I screened a beautiful 35mm print of the picture for my daughter and her friends. “Why do we keep watching this?” I suppose it’s [Joseph] Cotten and [Alida] Valli – that’s the emotional core of the picture. For instance, the scene where Holly Martins (Cotten) finally goes to her apartment. He’s a little drunk, and he tells her he loves her and he knows he doesn’t have a chance. That’s when she says, “The cat only liked Harry.” So that leads right into the great revelation of Harry Lime in the doorway with the cat – which is iconic. But it’s more than that – it’s one of the great epiphanies in movies: the cat turning the corner and nestling itself on those wing-tip shoes, and then Harry Lime being revealed when the light is turned on in the doorway and it shines in his face.
Remember Walker Percy’s great novel The Moviegoer? He refers to that moment in such a beautiful, special way. It became a moment internationally, a shared experience for a vast audience seeing that film. It’s not just a dramatic revelation – there’s something about Orson Welles’ smile at that point that shifts everything to another level, and it sustains no matter how many times you see it. Welles comes into the picture about halfway through. That’s the first time you actually see him, after you’ve spent so much time picturing him in your mind because everyone has been talking about him and thinking about him. So that might be the best revelation – or the best reveal, as they say – in all of cinema.
The Third Man is of course amazing, but I’ll leave discussing it to Scorsese. What makes Scorsese so great is two things. First of course are his films. It would be nice if he stopped making pointless projects to the late era Stones because when he sets his mind to a story, he still almost always makes a good film. But at this point can do what he wants. Second is his effusion about film, a joy that is truly contagious. Part of this is his natural manic energy but much of it is his pure love for film that has influenced his whole career, yet not turned him into Brian DePalma, ripping off scenes from his favorite movies and sticking them into his own. That might be fine once such as with the famous Battleship Potemkin into The Untouchables baby carriage, but this has turned into a schtick. Anyway, Scorsese isn’t going to be around forever and when he’s gone, there is no possible replacement.
The legendary producer of Woody Allen’s 70s films and incredibly influential figure in the comedy of that era has died at the ripe old age of 100. Among his many achievements was working with Woody Allen to make him into the brilliant comedian and director he became.
It looks like Maggie Gyllenhaal has had her Last Fuckable Day at the ripe old age of 37:*
Maggie Gyllenhaal, an Oscar nominee getting Emmy buzz for her work on the Sundance miniseries “The Honourable Woman,” reveals that she was recently turned down for a role in a movie because she was too old to play the love interest for a 55-year-old man.
“There are things that are really disappointing about being an actress in Hollywood that surprise me all the time,” she said during an interview for an upcoming issue of TheWrap Magazine. “I’m 37 and I was told recently I was too old to play the lover of a man who was 55. It was astonishing to me. It made me feel bad, and then it made me feel angry, and then it made me laugh.”
Leaving aside the fact that Maggie Gyllenhaal being 37 makes me 103, it’s amazing how deeply institutional Hollywood sexism runs. How on earth is 37 too old for a 55 year old man? The only solution for this is to pair up Clint Eastwood and Emma Stone as a couple. Now that makes sense.
*Let’s hope this post isn’t too forthright about sex for Google.
There was a time in this country when a movie like The Life of Brian which, I just read — thank God the theaters in Little Rock decided not to show, but it’s showing all over the Fort Worth–Dallas area, which is a mockery, which is a blasphemy against the very name of Jesus Christ, and I can remember a day even as young as I am when that would not have happened in this country or in the city in the South.
I wonder if there’s anything else the 1979 version of Mike Huckabee can nostalgically remember not happening in the South of his youth?
But friend, it’s happening all over and no one’s blinking an eye, and we can talk about how the devil’s moved in and the devil’s moved in but what’s really happened is God’s people have moved out and made room for it. We’ve put up the for sale sign and we’ve announced a very cheap price for what our lives really are. We’ve sold our character, we’ve sold our convictions, we’ve compromised, we’ve sold out and as a result we’ve moved out the devil’s moved in and he’s set up shop. And friend [he’s] preying on our own craving for pleasure.
I for one crave catchy songs while being nailed to the cross.
I just watched Mario Monicelli’s The Organizer and was blown away by it. One of my favorite leftist films. Then I wondered what the best leftist films are. I brought this up on Twitter today and thought it would be a good conversation here.
What are the best leftist movies? These come in 2 basic forms I think, which are films that display left activism and films that analyze left activism from a perspective that is basically sympathetic. Obviously people are going to define what makes a leftist film differently, which we can argue about.
Anyway, here are 20 I like a lot, more or less in order.
1. The Battle of Algiers
2. The Organizer
3. Modern Times
4. The Battleship Potemkin
5. The Grapes of Wrath
6. A Generation
8. Man of Marble
9. I Am Cuba
11. Punishment Park
12. The Baader Meinhof Complex
13. The End of St. Petersburg
14. Que Viva Mexico
15. Grin Without a Cat
16. The Times of Harvey Milk
17. The Decline of the American Empire
18. The China Syndrome
19. Norma Rae
20. The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks
Interestingly, when I think of the greatest leftist directors, Ken Loach is one of the first to come up. But his most overtly political films are often his worst (that terrible SEIU Justice for Janitors film with Adrien Brody) while his relatively apolitical portrayals of the English working class are his most powerful (Sweet Sixteen, Throwing Stones, etc).
What am I leaving out?
I tend to believe that events have their roots in structural causes rather than the actions of a single individual. And I confess to not thinking too much about nail salons. But who knows, maybe the actions of Tippi Hedren in having Vietnamese refugees trained to do nails is why the Vietnamese play such a large role in this industry today.
I will also use this space to say that The Birds, starring Hedren, is my least favorite major Hitchcock film.
I really object to this analysis that calls Sullivan’s Travels “reactionary” toward the poor and poverty. Evidently the writer actually wanted to see “Oh Brother Where Art Thou” or that film Sullivan shows at the movie’s beginning about capital and labor fighting and dying on the train. What Preston Sturges did was make the depiction of poverty and its horrors palatable enough for the public that people would actually watch it. Laughing through poverty for the actual people suffering through the Depression meant Sturges was touching their lives. As the studio executives point in the film, the people who watch hard political intellectual films are politicized intellectuals. And that’s fine–I love Salt of the Earth and I Am Cuba and The Battle of Algiers as much as anyone (in fact, the latter is one of my top 5 all-time favorite films), but there’s no doubt that Sturges represented a truer version of poverty to popular audiences than any of those films. And not just through Sullivan’s Travels either, but in Christmas in July and in Easy Living, which he wrote but did not direct. These are all really sad stories that resonated with people. If they didn’t have the explicit goal of turning people into socialists, that doesn’t mean no viewers thought about their lives in new ways after seeing them. There were several such films in the 1930s. You could say much the same about Gold Diggers of 1933, which might be an absurd fluffy film but which also legitimately portrays poverty and has an entire final scene about the Bonus Army. I guess by these standards because it wasn’t calling for explicit class battle, it’s a reactionary film, but I don’t see it. The author clearly wants a certain kind of political film (he’s writing a book on anarchism and film) but that doesn’t mean a film that doesn’t have an objectively leftist agenda is a reactionary film.