Instapun*** Archive Listing

Archive Listing
April 21, 2010 - April 14, 2010

Monday, January 19, 2009

Part IV:

Understanding America
in 25 Movies...

Black and white and a million shades of gray. In one movie.

NEXT LOT. Well, we've reached the fifties, that decade in America where nothing interesting whatever happened because the Baby Boomers were in cribs and all the people who know everything now share the same smeared memory of conformist idiots doing exactly what they were told, unless they were energized by Elvis and other Top Forty acts to kick authority in the balls. You know, reacting against the moron clowns who raised them and getting ready for the inspired and enlightened sixties. It's possible something interesting might have happened if it weren't for the same old Republican problem -- an old white man as president, who didn't know anything about anything, which doomed the fifties to a kind of cartoonish timeout in which people didn't live their lives (didn't even know they had genitals) and America almost imploded from boredom.

16. The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio

Exhibit A. Unless it's really Exhibit Z. I love this movie. Just as many men who deplore the anger and hostility of feminism love women individually for all the marvelous capabilities that redeem the worst of their chosen mates. In fact, this is the movie I would prescribe for all those men who act baffled at how long their wives and girlfriends spend shopping for the right card for every occasion, including their own sorry-ass birthdays and anniversaries. READ THE CARDS. This is a movie about the lives so many women lead, even today, and what's distinctively American about it is the entrepreneurial possibility our great nation offers to those who are determined to keep fighting as individuals for what matters most in their lives. What is schlock in critical terms can be high art in life terms, and this is the story of a life of artistic genius in a purely fifties American context. If you can watch this movie and NOT fall in love all over again with the whole idea of the women in our lives, you are probably a serial killer. Watch it and you will never again feel a moment's impatience with her meticulous wrapping of gifts that will be torn open in a moment by children or shunted aside by embittered oldsters. You will just love her -- and all the seemingly silly rituals and courtesies she so faithfully executes while caring for everyone more than she does for herself. If she wears your team's football jersey and assembles the tailgate feast while raising your kids on the side, she's not your subordinate. She's the blessing that redeems all the disgusting low points of your life. Back in the fifties, she held the whole country together. Thanks to her, there were two-parent families and homes to go back to. She had the Christian gift of forgiveness. Now that we've worked so hard to turn her into us, and she's just another struggling, narcissistic single-mother household, what are we? Better? Freer? Maybe you and she should talk about it. (clip)

17. The Godfather

Yeah, we've dissed this one, too. But it's still part of who we are as a nation. Not the mob, but the mafia, whose sick code of silence has infected every organization that cultivates a sense of its own specialness. Including the government. All organizations are prey to the accumulated conviction that they are too important to obey anyone else's rules. Show me any large, old organization, and I will show you a mafia. In fact, that why I have always hated this movie so much. The sense of belonging to a privileged, elite group which can thumb its nose at more universal affiliations is what I have always despised about investment bankers and corporate executives quoting lines from The Godfather as life lessons or Rules of Engagement. To an obsolete WASP like me, it teaches all the wrong lessons -- weakness where you should be strong and reactive wrong where you should seek out the hard right thing to do. But here's the irony. All of you who turn your noses up at the fifties, who think that realistic, pragmatic life began in the post-superstitious age of the enlightened, "progressive" sixties -- why do you still hearken back to the "offer that can't be refused"? Because for all your supposed education and rationality, you are trapped in the anti-romanticism of Michael Corleone, the raw display of Machiavellian power that enables you to perpetrate the hoax of global warming, the myth of salvation by a new elitely chosen Godfather, and the lie that a chosen iconic boss can somehow make everything right, no matter how ruthless and hypocritical his methods. Why American intellectuals who have always been free still idolize Castro. They worship the fucking drama of a life-and-death overlord, given how dull life is if you're just an Irish consigliere played by Robert Duvall. Why do the freest people on earth still want (anti)royalty to rule them? Maybe Obama will explain. Whatever the answer is, there is a uniquely American answer. Which, in this case, is headquartered in the boring fifties. I hate it. But it's still part of who we are and have become. (clip)

18. Malcolm X

Never cared for Spike Lee either. But this is a great  movie. Quite free of some of his other, more self-indulgent peaeans to the moral imperviousness of blackness. The subject made him honest. Malcolm X began as a thug. One can understand the extremity of his escape route. In fact, one -- meaning I -- can understand why he became so radicalized. Does this mean that he was right for all black men for all time? No. But it's the American Way that you get to choose. Malcolm X chose. Decidedly. Intellectually. Morally. And he chose wrong. Not Spike Lee's point, I suppose. I think he was after an alternative Christ for African-Americans who sort-of-thought MLK had failed kind of thing. The last-refuge-ofanger kind of thing.

But here's the irony. I admire this movie as a testament of real honesty. I thought Spike Lee created a masterpiece. I thought he was telling black people that the way out of the abyss was education. Which it is. Malcolm X learned how to read and write and speak. Eloquently. That was the lesson. Not the particular politics he advocated. Which are completely at odds with everything I have experienced in the African-American community. His attraction to Islam was an attraction to discipline. Control everything. He realized what made black people a stereotype in the white world and he stood all that on its ear. Except that he was wrong. About everything. He had a bigger dream than MLK. He dared to believe that black people could transcend their heritage and history and be better than the white folk at having families, being faithful to their wives, and being fathers to their children. He was wrong. They killed him for it. In a hail of bullets.

Black people in America remain for the most part slaves, governed by an outlaw, slave mentality. Malcolm X is proof that this is an unnecessary mentality. But the extremity of his philosophy and his sacrifice are a huge part of the burden we all bear. We prefer the much much dumber vision of MLK. Who fantasized that his own people might one day give up the resentments of their past and rely on their own gifts instead. Malcolm X knew better. That blacks had to exceed whites in morality, accomplishment and discipline to win their separate peace, because self-respect was more important than the flattery of debtors.

Idiotic. A fifties delusion. Right? (clip)

19. Bird

Remember how nobody in this country ever even noticed black people before the sixties and the dawn of the Civil Rights era? I mean, like Malcolm X was wrong, and oh go to hell. Except for Jazz. Americans have loved black musicians for several centuries, but they've also cited them as the bad moral examples they've always been. Because Americans prefer delivering sermons over the doomed dead to being energized and enlightened by the brilliant live performances of their social inferiors. (Like none of your friends ever dance, do they? Racist sticks...) Another instance. (clip -- dubbed in Italian, but it doesn't matter)

20. On the Waterfront

Probably the greatest American move ever. The greatest acting performance. The greatest screenplay. The greatest director. The greatest irony between the story told and the story implied. The greatest cultural vindication demonstrated by the greatest industry insult. The movie is great art by itself, and it's also history, and its after-effects are the QED of its point. No artist can ever hope for more than Elia Kazan achieved with On the Waterfront. And no artist can ever recover from the insults deliverately heaped on Eia Kazan for having made this movie. I could explain all this. But I also have the sense that our readers who lionize Reservoir Dogs and Saw IV need to step up and ask what the big deal is. It's a VERY BIG DEAL. Here is the movie that analogizes history, encapsulates history, is history, critiques history, and stands as a personal tragedy that is also one of the sorriest instances of American history you can expect to find in a supposedly free country. Elia Kazan did the right thing. Just like Terry Malloy. He got beaten mostly to death for it the same fashion. That's also part of the American Way.

So, without apologies, here's the final scene of the greatest American movie ever made:

Next up, the Baby Boomers.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Part III:

Understanding America
in 25 Movies...

An American original sounding off... and still echoing.

NEXT LOT. I appreciate the comments and I find some of your nominations interesting, but I won't be responding to any of them until I have finished filling in my complete set. It's the whole that's really the point here, and I reiterate my suggestion that those who are intrigued try to come up their own wholes. It forces you out of your usual boundaries and preferences, which can only expand your perspective. It's also a fun challenge. So let's get back to it.

11. Sea Biscuit

There's more than one decent movie about the Great Depression obviously. It's one of our favorite subjects as a nation and one Hollywood is better equipped to exploit than many others. Of the recent set, I'm fond of Cinderella Man, which immerses the audience more deeply into the common experience of the depression than Sea Biscuit does, but the story of the little horse who captured a nation's heart is much more than another clicheed sports movie. And the characters make it more than just a depression movie, too. With Jeff Bridges as the self-made man who dares to tweak the noses of Old Money, Tobey Maguire as the damaged jockey orphaned by the depression, Chris Cooper as the pragmatic horse-whispering westerner, and William H. Macey as the racetrack tout stand-in for the sporting press, Sea Biscuit manages to interweave the lives of a fair swath of 1930s America. Various minor characters also contribute to this breadth, including Michael O'Neill as the jockey's learned but depression-devastated father and Eddy Jones as the haughty owner of Triple Crown winner War Admiral. The David McCullough narration is over the top at times, and there are too many commercials for FDR for my taste, but the economic context in which Sea Biscuit became a national phenomenon is as important as the story's prime players. Most appealing of all about the movie is its refusal to engage in pity for the real tragedies experienced by its two main characters. They're knocked down hard, but they keep getting back up again, which is about as fundamental a part of the traditional American character as there is. And they help one another, also without pity, but with quiet understanding and humor. That's how we got through the depression as a people, and it's why Sea Biscuit works so well on so many levels. (clip) (and a bonus)

[Before the nitpickers point them out, I'll note the movie got a couple things wrong. It's not true that Sea Biscuit drew more mentions in the press in 1938 than FDR did; nobody and nothing could do that. And War Admiral was not nearly as big (18 hands!?) as he was described in the script. Both horses, in fact, were smaller than average for racehorses. They were also blood relations, both descended from thoroughbred royalty, but who says bluebloods can't also be heroes sometimes?]

12. The Aviator

A great production by Martin Scorsese and a truly outstanding performance by Leonardo di Caprio as the legendary Howard Hughes  The scope of the man's interests and accomplishments was prodigious, and so is the scope of this movie, covering his public and private life from the late 1920s to the late 1940s. As you watch his innovations as a movie producer (Hell's Angels, 1930), his relentless career as a daredevil pilot, and his near-psychotic perfectionism as an aircraft designer and manufacturer and commercial airline executive -- with time out for romancing the great beauties of his day, and the occasional nervous breakdown -- the refrain that keeps popping into your head is "only in America." That a man so driven by crippling personal demons could also be an astute and visionary businessman is an unusual and much needed affirmation of the importance of individuality in our nation's extraordinary history. We tend to think of tycoons and CEOs as gray, dry calculating machines. Many are that way, of course, but there are no epic film biographies of the bold men who built our biggest industries from scratch: not of Andrew Carnegie, E. I. du Pont, John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford, or William Durant. Like Hughes, they were all giants, flawed but ferociously determined creators of wealth which has fed and enabled more people than it has abused or oppressed. And Hughes, in this movie, is the only one we're given a chance to observe and assess for ourselves. (clip)

[TIME OUT:  There was a war Hollywood has covered voluminously, of course. Get out the long knives; everyone is going to have his favorites here. I'm allowing myself three because World War II has been so central to the lives and subsequent history of Americans as a nation and a people. I'll explain my criteria briefly so at least you'll know why some of your picks aren't mine. I left out the Grand Hotel treatments that try to depict an entire epochal battle because in character terms they tend to be superficial -- to my mind -- and distractingly studded with famous actors playing real people who must always be presented in purely heroic terms. Thus, I've cut Tora! Tora! Tora!, The Longest Day, Midway, A Bridge Too Far, and The Great Escape. Sorry. I've also passed up the great biopics, like John Ford's The Wings of Eagles and the much admired Patton, because the greater story of World War II is that it was fought by an overwhelmingly civilian military. How they did that is the point of understanding a movie should seek to provide.

And before I get to my picks, I also want to acknowledge that, once again, television has made some significant contributions. Most people are probably familiar with Band of Brothers; if you haven't seen it, do so. It's magnificent. Fewer will be aware of a modest movie starring Tom Selleck as Eisenhower (I know, I know, but it's good) during the planning phase of the Normandy invasion. It's called Ike: Countdown to D-Day. Even fewer of you will remember the 26-hour long documentary TV series Victory at Sea, which featured scoring by Richard Rodgers and narration by the inimitable Leonard Graves. It's mesmerizing and poignant and heroic all at once. I promise you won't regret buying it.

All right. Let's get on with the show.]

13. Twelve O'Clock High

I've written about this one before. It's not just a great war movie. It's a great movie period. Its subject is the Eighth Army Air Force stationed in England in the early days of America's entry into the war.  They pioneered daylight bombing raids over Germany and suffered casualties so horrendous they rivaled those of the entire Pacific theater. How can they climb into those planes every day knowing that as many as a third of them won't be coming back? Who can order them to do it, day after day and month after month? That's the movie in a nutshell. With a fine performance by Gregory Peck. (clip)

14. Sands of Iwo Jima

Same question. How did they do it? All the U.S. Marines who landed at Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Saipan, and Okinawa. This is the best movie about the WWII marines because it's the closest in time and it doesn't sugarcoat the mean hardness of preparing men for hand-to-hand combat against an implacable enemy. One of John Wayne's few great performances. That's all I'll tell you. If you haven't seen it, git 'er done. (clip)

15. Saving Private Ryan

As you can see, my preference is for the older movies about WWII because despite the limitations on violence and language, they reflect a more intimate understanding of the people of the time. Newer movies have a distressing habit of inserting more modern sensibilities into the past, with frequently troubling discords. (The best example I can think of is the character played by Donald Sutherland in Kelly's Heroes. Funny at one level and just ludicrous at another.) But I'm giving my third spot to Saving Private Ryan because its opening sequence makes you feel as if you really are there on the beach at D-Day. It is incredibly loud, jarring, shocking, brutal, and intense. World War II did not take place on a Hollywood back lot, and the killing and dying did not happen in sanitized soft focus along artfully chosen lines of sight. This movie is the antidote for all that.

I'm posting this clip here because YouTube wants you to prove how old you are,
which could be administratively unacceptable to some of you. So, if you're not 18
don't watch it. And if you recoil from explicit violence, well, you've been warned.

I'll be back with more later.

On Miracles

A miracle? Maybe.

SMIRKS AHOY. It always makes me nervous when people start tossing around the term "miracle." Not because I don't believe they ever happen, but because I can feel the insipid grin of the disbelievers, waiting for any opportunity to restate for the umpty-umpth time the threadbare objection, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" Every purported miracle is, to them, a reminder of all the miracles that somehow didn't occur somewhere else at some other time.

I hate that grin and all the arrogant banality which congratulates itself on knowing the physics of a universe honest physicists know they don't, and maybe can't, fully comprehend. So I'm going to risk the scorn and ridicule of the sophists by proposing an analogy that may help others consider a new way of thinking about the "bad things happen to good people" objection.

In the grand scheme of things, miracles are pretty rare. That is, the kinds of events which even people who believe in them might call miracles are rare. When you think about it, rarity is built into the definition. If every bad thing that threatened to occur were somehow prevented or reversed after the fact (like sudden total remissions from terminal cancer), the outcomes wouldn't be considered miracles. They'd just be the way things work. Miracles are an exception. OR they are subject to particular conditions which are hard to bring about, especially since we don't have much of an idea about what those conditions might be. For example, winning the Powerball lottery is an incredible long shot that nevertheless does occur; however, it does have an unavoidable pre-condition. You must first purchase a Powerball ticket.

On to my analogy. From time immemorial divinity has been closely associated with lightning. Zeus, Jove, Jupiter, and even the Bible's Yahweh have been associated with lightning bolts, and there's no mystery about why. It's an ipso facto perfect symbol of a power from above visibly impacting the earth (and its inhabitants) below. Lightning strikes are pretty common events. Fatal lightning strikes on individual people are less so. That power from above is more or less always there. Its direct connection with human beings is limited by certain pre-conditions. People who know better than to wander around out in the open during a thunderstorm are not likely to be struck. And, generally speaking, lightning is more likely to strike big tall things like trees and church steeples rather than little things like people. But why does lightning strike tall things? Repeatedly. Which it does. Does it know that the tall things are there? And if it doesn't, why wouldn't it just strike randomly all over the place until it happened to connect with something it can light up? Why does it strike the tree more often than the outstandingly conductive bronze lawn ornament 24 inches off the ground?

Why? Because a lightning strike is a two-way process. The lightning bolt reaches down from the sky, and prospective targets on the ground reach up. They send out what are called streamers, which meet up with the lightning bolt and establish a connection. Here are two photos of streamers.

Connection made.

Connection sought.

The streamer is, in our analogy, a pre-condition. It's the act of buying the Powerball ticket. And it helps to be a tall tree or a church steeple or a steel water tower at the center of town when a thunderstorm is in the air.

All of which is a fancy way of saying that miracles may, in fact, be precipitated by their recipients. Not through goodness or virtue alone but because they are also associated with preparedness, mass of some sort, and the kind of sharp focus we see in the streamer photographs.

That's what's so cool about the so-called Miracle of the Hudson. We can actually see a confluence of circumstances that apparently, luckily, resulted in -- but just possibly catalyzed -- an incredibly unlikely outcome. A variety of fortunate circumstances cannot explain away the improbability of the outcome, however much we want to play games with odds and statistics. The fact is, commercial airliners without engines "fly" with as much lift as a falling boulder, and they, well, effectively never land with wings straight and level on the water.

But in this case there were streamers. A pilot who was not only skilled but learned in the split-second differentials of commercial air disasters, who had made a long academic and practical study of air safety under emergency conditions, and who (to be frivolous for a moment) bears a striking resemblance to Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

The Captain of Flight 1549 and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (Commander
Fairbanks's uniform is real btw. He won the Silver Star in WWII.)

He was sending up a streamer. As were the ferry crews and FDNY personnel who responded so swiftly, as well as the passengers who quelled their impulse to panic and responded to the ancient call, "women and children first." Preparation, determination, and cool heads with a fervent desire to do the right thing are all streamers, and there was mass behind the entire effort. The lightning bolt that could have remained in the clouds reached down to make a connection, and the incredibly (impossibly?) unlikely outcome occurred.

Just an analogy. Not even a theory. But if we follow the analogy, we can also glimpse the possibility that just as lightning bolts are chaotic things, so might be miracles. In my own mind, the collapse of the Twin Towers was a miracle for its relatively low loss of life. It could have been upwards of 20,000, as many surmised it was in the darkest hours of 9/11. But how many brilliantly bright streamers went up that day, from firefighters and policemen and gravely unselfish civilians, to connect with the lightning that brought so many thousands of people to safety? I know the grinners would cite that day as a miracle that didn't happen. But you have to remember that they live in an irretrievably drab world of actuarial tables and lottery tickets that win nothing but heartache and ruin.

But when their turn in the storm comes, they too will pray for a miracle. And they might even receive it -- if they're prepared, focused, and united in unselfish resolve.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Right Again

If he can play God in a leather jumpsuit, he can play the Messiah too.

MAKING NICE FUN. Back in October 2008, we looked into our crystal ball and saw the usual idiocy coming out of Hollywood:

With the world eagerly awaiting "W," Oliver Stone's movie treatment of George and Laura Bush et al, it's probably not too early to start anticipating a docudrama about our next First Couple. These things take time to plan, fund, and produce, you know. So we thought we'd help out with a few development suggestions for the movie we're pretty sure should be called "O."

There's no question that it should be another Oliver Stone production. He has a real talent for a creative approach to historical subjects. But it will have to differ in scope from "W," which is timed to coincide with the end of the Bush administration and the election of a replacement president. "O" needs to be released in October 2012 when Obama is seeking his second term, which means that it will have to be devoted less than half to the first term and more than half to the incredible story of how Barack and Michelle -- against all odds -- stormed the gates of power to achieve domain over their racist nation...

You can see that the casting will be critical. We know the picture up top [in the original post] suggests that the lead roles might be played by Whoopi Goldberg and Jaleel "Urkel" White, but this is the movies and it has to be much much better than that. We have some suggestions. There's only one good choice for the part of Michelle... Vanessa Williams of "Ugly Betty" fame would rock as a kick-ass First Lady... And forget Urkel. There's only one man with the cool and the ears to play Barack the Stud...

Guess who we picked. Well, actually you don't have to guess. It's not a prediction any more; it's news:

Will Smith 'to play' Barack Obama as US President in Hollywood movie

Hollywood film star Will Smith has staked his claim to play Barack Obama in a movie about his rise to become US President and America’s first black leader.

Smith has staked his claim to play the role, even before Barack Obama has been inaugurated as president.

Speaking at the premiere of his new film Seven Pounds at the Empire, Leicester Square, in London, Smith laughed about reports that the US President-elect had indicated that he would like the actor to play him if his life story were ever to be made into a movie.

“If I am ordered by my commander in chief to star in a film about him, I will do my duty as an American," he said, beaming.

Now, if they'll just follow the rest of our casting recommendations, they'll have a pretty good movie to romance us with in 2012. We also have a new title suggestion, just in case they don't like "O." How about "The Wild Wild West Wing"? Yeah, we like it too.

I'm sure Larry Kudlow and the other supine conservatives on the massive Obama bandwagon (or is it a bus?) can hardly wait.

Part II:

Understanding America
in 25 Movies...

From zero to the Jazz Age in 10 movies. Cool.

NEXT LOT. For the record, my little experiment predates what's going on right now at The Corner:

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Movie Blegging   [John J. Miller]

What are the best conservative movies of the last 25 years?

This cinema epoch begins roughly with the release of Red Dawn in 1984. I'd like the opinions of Cornerites. Email your suggestions to me at nrorocks — at — Send as many as you like, but please make sure to include at least a line or two of explanation.

The fruits of your labors will become apparent within the next few weeks.

I'd also like to draw a distinction between what John J. Miller is doing and what I'm trying to do. The term "conservative movies" argues a message of some kind. That's not what I'm after. I'm after a fair, as I've said, understanding of the American experience, warts and all. It's a tougher job than picking out a handful of movies that seem to emphasize only those values to which I, or we, or any select set of people, subscribe. In short, I'm trying to be inclusive and fair, not exclusive and partisan. I may fail because I am a partisan, but I'm trying to honor the incredible variety of experience of my countrymen. If you want to see what Miller's call to arms evokes, you can find it at, but I'm not linking to it because I don't want to taint my own selections.

Now. On with what I started yesterday.

6. Gangs of New York. I've had many quarrels with Martin Scorsese's choice of movies to make over the years, but there's no doubt he's a gifted and brilliant director. This is the one "mob" movie I'm glad he made. It illuminates a heretofore invisible part of America's history, the life of urban immigrants at the very beginning of the American industrial revolution. It's ugly, violent, and repellent, but so was life for the millions of Irish Catholics who came here fleeing the potato famine. New York was not always the glittering Manhattan of our self-mythologizing media. What the immigrants of that time eventually acquired they earned with multiple lifetimes of toil and sacrifice. They weren't all good, either. But enough of them were. Now "Irish" is a happy badge worn on St. Patrick's Day. It wasn't always so. And when you've watched the draft riots, how happy are you that Obama chooses to regard Lincoln as the saint who complements his own divinity? (clip)

7. Bite the Bullet

A leap forward in time, even though we're still in the Wild West. Funny how that works. There are still sixguns, but there are also automobiles, and this story of a horse race that resembles the Tour de France includes an astonishing scene describing Teddy Roosevelt at the battle of San Juan Hill. It's not a great movie because it includes, among other things, an "emancipated" Candace Bergen in a paid acting role, but it also highlights a typically American love of animals and the kind of individualism that flies in the face of easy stereotypes. And a dental scene that will chill your bones and remind you of how much we moderns have to be thankful for -- if we can let go of our nostalgia for the, um, wild west. The press is here too, in all its inveterate scummy rapaciousness. Regardless of its nods to old movie western traditions, this movie is a turn-of-the-century slice of life that balances the American competitive spirit with our many better qualities. (clip)

8. The Greatest Game Ever Played

About golf. Frivolous? Hardly. The year was 1913, one of the great turning points in American history. It was the year before the beginning of World War I, the year in which the federal income tax was ratified as a constitutional amendment, and the year of the Triangle Factory Fire which exposed the horrid working conditions of so many sweat shops that exploited immigrant workers. It was also the year in which Francis Ouimet, a blue collar American amateur, upset the best golfers in Britain in the U.S. Open, permanently changing the history of the sport and igniting a huge popular following for what had once been a game chiefly for aristocrats. The movie highlights the class issues as well as the qualities it takes to win against great odds, which is perhaps the most uniquely American trait of all. Guaranteed: You will tear up when Dad, in his hellish job in the tunnels, sees his son on the front page of the newspaper and when Mom impulsively breaches the class barrier to crash the U.S. Open golf course across the street from her home. Sentimental? Yes. True? Probably not far off. (clip -- star interview only)

[YET ANOTHER HUGE HOLE: Hollywood has never done a searching movie about the American participation in World War I, which was unquestionably the most traumatic experience the world has undergone in the last 150 years. So there's no entry here. This pains me particularly because my own grandfather fought with the Rainbow Division in France and never recovered from the ailments he incurred in the trenches during months of vicious fighting. I mean, yeah, I know there was Sergeant York, who was indeed a great hero, but the movie made it look as if you could beat the Kaiser's troops bloodlessly by surprising them at the right angle. The only treatment by an American film director that did some justice to the subject was Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory, which was about, uh, the French. In 1930, Howard Hughes also released Hell's Angels, which is probably a masterpiece on a par with Citizen Kane about World War I aerial combat, but the air war was always a sidebar to the horrific experience of the infantry, where 99 percent of the casualties occurred. As with the American Revolution, the only movie that deals with the reality was made for TV. If you're interested, see The Lost  Battalion.]

9.  Reds

I never liked this movie, but it's still an important part of the American experience. Most people don't know just how early Communism became a serious fixation of the American intellectual class.  Once again we're back to the year 1913 when a radical journalist named John Reed becomes enamored of Marx and the budding revolutionary movement in Russia. The movie is long (very), talky, and annoying, but it fills in a gap in our consensus history that tends to obscure the causes of American reaction to FDR's New Deal and the red scares of the late forties and fifties. To the extent that Warren Beatty is charming in this  cri de coeur of his filmmaking career,  you can see the attraction of the naive and hyper-intellectualized philosophy that annihilated Russia and came close to paralyzing the United States of America. (clip)

10. The Great Gatsby

No, it's not actually a good movie and it doesn't do anything like justice to the book, but the book is so good and important that even a sincere attempt to render it on film is nevertheless worth looking at. What were the rich people doing in the wake of World War I and international communism and the travails of labor, race, marxists, and global nihilism? They were simply being their vast, careless selves. Which is probably the source of today's liberal guilt. It would be easy to recast the whole movie today -- we'd never go for Mia Farrow as Daisy and probably not Robert Redford as Gatsby, but all the lesser roles were spot on, including Bruce Dern as Tom Buchanan, Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway, Karen Black as Mabel, Edward Hermann as FDR before the polio or some such thing, and Scott Wilson as George Wilson, the man who shot Gatsby because his wife was sleeping with Tom Buchanan. As I said, not a good movie, but it reminds us of the book:

One afternoon late in October I saw Tom Buchanan.

He was walking ahead of me along Fifth Avenue in his alert, aggressive way, his hands out a little from his body as if to fight off interference, his head moving sharply here and there, adapting itself to his restless eyes. Just as I slowed up to avoid overtaking him he stopped and began frowning into the windows of a jewelry store. Suddenly he saw me and walked back, holding out his hand.

"What's the matter, Nick? Do you object to shaking hands with me?." "Yes. You know what I think of you.." "You're crazy, Nick,." he said quickly.

"Crazy as hell. I don't know what's the matter with you.." "Tom,." I inquired, "what did you say to Wilson that afternoon?." He stared at me without a word, and I knew I had guessed right about those missing hours. I started to turn away, but he took a step after me and grabbed my arm.

"I told him the truth,." he said.

"He came to the door while we were getting ready to leave, and when I sent down word that we weren't in he tried to force his way up-stairs. He was crazy enough to kill me if I hadn't told him who owned the car.

His hand was on a revolver in his pocket every minute he was in the house - -." He broke off defiantly.

"What if I did tell him? That fellow had it coming to him. He threw dust into your eyes just like he did in Daisy's, but he was a tough one.

He ran over Myrtle like you'd run over a dog and never even stopped his car.." There was nothing I could say, except the one unutterable fact that it wasn't true.

"And if you think I didn't have my share of suffering - look here, when I went to give up that flat and saw that damn box of dog biscuits sitting there on the sideboard, I sat down and cried like a baby.

By God it was awful - -." I couldn't forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy - they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made....

I shook hands with him; it seemed silly not to, for I felt suddenly as though I were talking to a child.

Which brings us, in American movie history, to the time of the Great Crash.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Understanding America
in 25 Movies or Less...

The Romance of America.

. Consider it a distraction from the nauseating mass media buildup to the inauguration and the ensuing Obama adminstration. Consider it an experiment too. Is it really possible to use Hollywood movies to recover our understanding of what America is and what it it means to be an American?

I think so. At the very least, the task of compiling such a list can be revealing about the values and beliefs of those who attempt it. Do you have a friend, family member, or acquaintance with whom it's impossible to discuss politics without the conversation becoming irrational and pointless? Challenge them to pick the 25 movies that best represent their understanding of the American experience. Don't quarrel with their choices; study them and divine the viewpoint implicit in the sum. You might find yourself understanding them better even if you still don't agree with them.

That's why I'm going to perform the exercise here. There's no chance anyone will agree with me on as much as half of the list, but I don't mind objections or replacement nominations. It's called conversation. Feel free to jump in with comments, although I'm going to complicate matters by doling out my list in multiple posts. Until you've seen the whole thing, you might want to confine yourselves to criticizing my nominations and suggesting pertinent replacements. Or not.

There are a few rules I've imposed on myself to make the task more manageable and focused on its purpose. For example, I'm generally (but not always) leaving out what most of us would call "old movies," the star vehicles of Hollywood's monolithic studio system. (John Ford conspicuously excepted.) Partly this is because I don't want to deal with the predictable bias against the sanitized products of the old Hays office, which censored violence, sex, and political expressions to a very dignificant degree. And partly it's because I'm also choosing, wherever possible, to select movies that do not wholly rewrite history for entertainment purposes when history is a key element of the story. Of course, all moviemakers do this to some extent, but not with the cavalier negligence of Hollywood's "Golden Age."  This also means that I'm passing up as candidates what we might call purely cultural artifacts, such as Fred Astaire musicals, John Wayne westerns, and Raymond Massey's portrayals of Lincoln. Yes, they're an ingredient of our shared experience as Americans, but it's impossible to suggest that we also share a common appraisal of their value and importance. Other movies that didn't make the list are movies I haven't seen. For example, Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers might belong on the list, but I wouldn't know and can't say because I haven't seen it.

Other guidelines I've adopted will no doubt become clear as I explain the list, which I'll present now, without further ado. Be advised this is not a Letterman list. There's no ranking of any kind. Number One is not better or more important than Number Twenty-Five. What order there is is chronological, though I'll depart from that, too, where it seems appropriate.

1.  Last of the Mohicans.

We've written about this one before, so I won't try to reintroduce it from scratch. It's the best movie I know of about the colonial American experience and the conflict between our forebears and their European masters. Yes, it's heavily romanticized, but it is also planted in the reality of the time's complex and unscrupulous politics. It's also based on an historically important classic of American literature by James Fenimore Cooper, who wasn't quite as bad as Mark Twain said he was. (clip)

[A HUGE HOLE: Number Two should be a great Hollywood movie about the American Revolution, but there isn't one. The only two serious attempts are Mel Gibson's The Patriot and an abomination called Revolution starring Al Pacino. The former is a grossly fictionalized and romanticized treatment of Frances Marion (the Swamp Fox), while the latter is just misbegotten garbage. Neither exhibits the slightest interest in or understanding of why the Revolution was fought in the first place. The only film productions which shed any light on this seminal moment in our history are modest made-for-television pieces like the George Washington miniseries starring Barry Bostwick, A&E's Benedict Arnold: A Question of Honor, and the recent HBO series John Adams (which I haven't seen and don't trust in today's political climate). Why is it that Hollywood has never been interested in some of the most interesting men who ever lived -- Jefferson (no, I'm not counting this), Franklin, Hamilton, Madison, and Paine? Because they were men of ideas, just as this is a country built on ideas. And Hollywood has never cared a whit about ideas, only emotions and symbols. That's a permanent limitation of this list, just so you know.] (clip)

2. The President's Lady

So we skip forward to the first real post-revolutionary icon of American history, Andrew Jackson. The movie has its weaknesses, but it also features one huge serendipitous strength, the casting of Charlton Heston as Old Hickory. Jackson was every bit as larger-than-life as the actor who played Moses, El Cid, Judah Ben Hur, and the Voice of God. Jackson was himself a theatrical personality who used his charisma, his imposing physical stature, and his intransigent, choleric temper to create the second American Revolution, in which the founding landed elites were at last countered in force by the emerging American dream of common men attaining to wealth, influence, and power. Those who are depressed by the sordid tone of contemporary politics will be perhaps amazed by the ugliness of the smear campaigns Jackson's "hick" presidency" engendered. In this respect, we remain who we have always been, a brawling, contentious nation of uncompromising partisans. Nothing is off limits in our politics. That's a bad thing. And a good thing. Andrew Jackson survived his ignominy to be remembered as one of the greats, flawed but transcendant. What's the purpose of the list? Understanding. (clip. Stills only.)

3. Glory.

All we have to throw into another huge hole in Hollywood's account of America. This single most traumatic event in the history of our nation, the Civil War, is almost a blank in movie terms. (And, yes, I absolutely refuse to count GWTW, that miserable farce of a soap opera, unless it's the other way around) But I don't believe it's an intentional or careless omission. The fact is that given the Hays Office and the technical limitations that existed prior to the last 20 years, Hollywood could never have depicted Civil War combat at Antietam or Gettysburg in its true savagery. It's the same reason there's been no great movie about the Holocaust as it occurred inside the death camps. Not even the most dedicated actors can starve themselves to 60 percent of their appropriate body weight to convey the extremity of the reality. Holocaust movies have to be peripheral to the most extreme events. And until recently, Civil War movies have labored under the same stricture. They have had to be merely mythicsymbolic or, most commonly after the fact. Worse yet is the impossibility of producing an honest script -- one that reflets the irony of troops who really are dying for a principle of union that requires freeing the slaves even as they continually reaffirm their personal beliefs that negroes are an inferior race, requiring protection precisely because they are incapable of protecting themselves.

In this context, the only possibly authentic and realistic script one could film would focus on the other side, the black troops who want to fight for their own freedom and are prepared to endure extraordinary sacrificices to do it. That's what Glory does. It seems to be about black troops, but in its depiction of camp life and the horrors of Civil War combat, it is also about all the troops who fought in that terrible conflict. The poor, the illiterate, the desperate, the proud, the righteous, and the stoically decent. And it's also about race. (clip)

4.  Fort Apache

A reality check for those who think no one in America sympathized with the plight of the Indians until Dustin Hoffman's Little Big Man. The Indian Wars occurred, and the American west has had as complicated a relationship with "Native Americans" as the south has had with African-Americans. But it's not a story of genocide. It's a story of conflict, misunderstanding, and competing visions of what makes for a good life. Look at this "old movie" and realize that even the western pioneers had more understanding of the lot of the Indians than muslims seem to have for the far less alien beliefs of Christians and Jews. And hear the constant diminishing echoes of the Civil War, the post traumatic stress disorder of an entire nation, which remains with us still to one degree or another. Being an American doesn't come without a cost. For those of us who still believe in the originating idea. (clip)

5. Unforgiven.

We've dissed this movie in the past. But only because it's a particularly dark take on a theme that was raised well before Clint Eastwood raised it. (We know he's intensely aware of the legacy of John Ford.) Still. Most of the history of the Wild West is mythology. The truth is that a frontier is a dangerous place, and the process of civilizing a frontier is a messy business, involving good men and bad on both sides of the law. Courage and goodness don't always go together. Nor do law and virtue. Part of the uniquely American experience is what we could call "rough justice," a vigilante strain that has always existed in the American body politic, which is responsible for both lynchings and the occasional overthrow of entrenched authoritarian power structures. Americans don't like to be told what to do, and the more adamantine the authority, the more likely it is to be opposed and overpowered by Jacksonian rage. The value of the Wild West as an analogy is that it exposes the rudiments of American character. Ultimately, goodness did prevail. Law prevailed. That speaks to the fundamental decency of the people, who value law but do not regard it as a total replacement for the concept of justice. There are, were, will always be excesses. But in the end, it is public opinion which decides the outcome. Unforgiven probably shows the west more the way it was than any other movie, but it's a tribute to all Americans that the rough justice of the frontier did give way at last to the Phoenix, Topeka, and Houston of today. Rowdy chaos is in our genes. Civilization is in our hearts. But sometimes, even now, we can all find the Clint Eastwood in ourseves when the Gene Hackman of Unforgiven pushes us too far. (clip)

That's all for now. By all means, make up your own lists. Quarrel with my first five entries. Isn't it better than listening to more corrupt confirmation hearings and sorry-ass inauguration puffery?

I'll be back with more tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Honest Obe

Can't wait to see the new "chin whiskers."

CORONATION UPDATE. Ain't life grand? Who would ever have thought that Abraham Lincoln would become a decorator's "inspiration piece" in the 21st century? But according to inside sources, that's exactly what's happened. Not only will the Anointed One be using the Lincoln Bible for his swearing-in ceremony, he will also be looking to the Great Emancipator for menu and other style tips during the inaugural festivities:

Part of the meal will even be served on replicas of the china picked out by First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln at the beginning of her husband's first term in office in 1861.

The appetizer will feature a seafood stew in puff pastry - including scallops, shrimp and lobster - in honor of Lincoln's love of seafood.

The main course of a "Brace of American Birds (pheasant and duck)" with sour-cherry chutney will be served with molasses sweet potatoes - a nod to the root vegetables and wild game that Honest Abe ate as a child in Indiana...

"It's always good to model yourself after a great president," said Eric Foner, a professor of American history at Columbia University. "The proof will be in the pudding."

Thanks to our own highly placed sources, we can give you proles even more information than that. Here's a look at the official keepsake menu for that luncheon:

And, yes, the fare really will be authentic. An elite detachment of Secret Service agents has been trained to kill all the necessary game with the aforesaid Kentucky long rifle. Kewl.

Noted artists have been engaged to offer every guest a painting
of his game birds as they looked shortly after their demise, just as
they might have looked during the first Lincoln administration do.

As we understand it, guests will also be awarded valuable door prizes for digging out the bullets that killed their lunches. (I'm sure DC dentists are thrilled about this part of the gala.) These will be collected by the period-era waiters who will be serving those in attendance:

The stovepipe hats are a nice touch of livery, don't you agree?
It's how Mary Lincoln did it. So it must be okay, right? Right?

Predictably, though, protesters have already promised to do everything possible to disrupt the most sickeningly unacceptable aspects of this inaugural feast.

But what would a public event be without another nude PETA protest? As
soon as you hear tell of murdered pheasants and ducks, the first response
of any real animal lover is to rip their bra off and hit the high-traffic areas.

Well, that's life in America. Can't please everybody, can you? What everybody is guaranteed to love is the immediate enshrinement of our new president in two important venues. First, the head of Lincoln has already been sawed off the retro sculpture at the old Lincoln Memorial in favor of that of the new Great Emancipator.

Finally. Abe can get some well deserved rest.

AND, the first great public works project that will put millions of stupid, unskilled Americans back to work in the new era has already been decided -- in fact, will be announced via presidential decree during the post-luncheon audience our new leader will grant to the press -- the reconfiguration of America's equivalent of the great pyramids of Egypt.

Of course we predicted it long ago. We know everything.

This is going to be the Greatest. Inauguration. Ever. You heard it here first.

Monday, January 12, 2009

I'm Just Saying...

Thank you, Raiders.

Lately, the Raiders have been made out to be a joke. They're not.

A NEW YEAR. Yes, it's a tricky business not tempting a jinx. But I'm going to risk it anyway because there's a point of courtesy to be honored and a few points to be made along the way. I'll try to be careful about what I say and how I say it. Still, I am going to mention the Philadelphia Eagles and the whispering wings of destiny. And even those of you who aren't Eagles fans or football fans at all might find what I have to say interesting about the nature of life or fate or karma or whatever you use to describe the synchronicities we all experience in the workings of the universe.

I was born an Eagles fan. That is, I was born into the geographical region where the flag of the Philadelphia Eagles flies like some ruling banner of identity. The first professional football game I remember (barely) seeing on television was the 1960 NFL Championship game in which the Eagles defeated the Green Bay Packers. It was the only playoff loss Vince Lombardi ever suffered as a head coach. It was also the last NFL championship the Eagles won in my lifetime (to date). It was an interesting year in other respects as well. It was the year the Dallas Cowboys were founded as an expansion team and the year the football Cardinals moved from Chicago to St. Louis.

After that, the Eagles gradually dissolved into nonentity. In those days, a kid who loved professional football rooted for his home team regardless, but he also developed allegiances to other teams, from among the frequently televised ones, the winners, who could be fiercely loved proxies followed into and sometimes through the playoffs. (I know I wasn't alone in this: that's how the Dallas Cowboys became "America's Team" for a time.) By the late 1960s I had two: the Minnesota Vikings and the Oakland Raiders.

The Vikings were nothing like today's sheltered dome babies. They were truly "The Men of the North," playing outside in the seemingly eternal arctic blast of Bloomington, Minnesota. Their coach was Bud Grant, a taciturn, stone-faced man who banned  heaters from his sidelines and gloves and hand warmers for his players. His Vikings were something out of Valhalla, tough, intimidating, and without finesse. As they first rose to prominence, their quarterback was one Joe Kapp, a brawler with a frightful horseshoe scar on his face and a penchant for throwing knuckleball passes that reached their targets through force of will rather than art or arm strength. His job was to score one touchdown and two field goals, which was all the Minnesota defense needed. Behind the fearsome front four called the "Purple People Eaters" they set a record for the lowest points allowed in a season -- 133 -- less than ten points a game in a 14 game season. They were awesome and I loved them. I remember one Monday Night game when the referees called two successive personal fouls on Alan Page, the leader of the Purple People Eaters. On the next two plays, he personally sacked the opposing team's quarterback for more than the total yardage of the penalties.

But I also loved the Raiders. They were the AFL version pf the Vikings, an offensive counterpart of the same brute defensive toughness I admired in the Vikings. If the Vikes were the immovable object, the Raiders were the irresisitible force, When they were behind late in the game, as they always seemed to be (ah, memory), they had a way of coming back just as ferociously as Alan Page. In the early days, they had the bomb-thrower Darryl Lamonica, who would pass anywhere, anytime, against any defense. But when the game was reduced to a fourth-quarter two-minute drill, they brought in the ancient one, George Blanda, who could seemingly play an entire quarter's worth of football in less than a minute and a half and -- like as not -- kick the winning field goal himself.

By the mid-seventies I had become more Raiders fan than Vikings fan. The Vikings kept losing Super Bowls and their new quarterback, Fran Tarkenton, had become responsible for the latest truism in professional football -- no scrambling quarterback can win an NFL championship. I liked Fran but I agreed (so much for conventional fan wisdom), and by then the Raiders had John Madden as head coach and Kenny Stabler at quarterback. Stabler couldn't scramble. With his beer belly and raffish beard, he was the Old Man of the Pocket, but, boy, could he throw darts. His nickname ("The Snake") had nothing to do with mobility and everything to do with his lightning-quick release. And, under Madden, the Raiders had finally become the living embodiment of their name, with a roster of piratical players more menacing than the cast of Johnny Depp's current blockbuster movie franchise. The Raiders appeared to ignore the NFL draft for the most part. Instead, they signed the misfits and malcontents of the rest of the league, the way Jerry Jones has tried (and utterly failed) to do of late with the Dallas Cowboys, but John Madden somehow made it work. The Raiders were inveterately the most penalized team in the NFL, but they also gelled as a unit, the kind that couldn't ever be counted out as long as there was a tick left on the clock. Stabler. Biletnikoff. Cliff Branch. Jack Tatum. Ted ("The Stork") Hendricks. Gene Upshaw (whose initials presently adorn every helmet in the NFL). Howie Long. Dave Caspar. They kicked ass. They won their first Super Bowl in 1977, after having played in and lost five AFC championship games under John Madden.

Yes, we're creeping up on the synchronicities now. In 1980, my conflicting loyalties hit the fan. The Philadelphia Eagles, suddenly renascent under head coach Dick Vermeil, reached the playoffs in 1980. They were my home team, and they were my first loyalty. But I hated the whole Dick Vermeil Act. (Sorry, Eagles fans. I'm just being honest here.) To get to the big show Vermeil had to get his Eagles past the (as usual) more ostentatiously talented Cowboys. He chose to put on a nauseatng Uriah Heep act that made a mockery of traditional Philadelphia blue collar values -- "We're so 'umble, we can't 'ope to compete with the sheer talent of the Cowboys, and though we've worked so 'ard all season, we're not really an 'igh enough caliber team to give them a good game." Or words to that effect. The Cowboys, to their eternal shame, bought the act and got shocked by a very good Eagles team, who headed to the Super Bowl with all the hopes of Philadelphia behind them.

Meanwhile, the Raiders had scratched and clawed their way to a wild card berth in the playoffs and shocked more than a few experts on the AFC side by winning their way to the Super Bowl. At this point, I found myself doing the Lurch head shake and growl (ref: 5:58 in): This was not good. The Eagles were the hopeful new arrivals; the Raiders were, well, the Raiders. Here's what happened:

And so it transpired that the Oakland Raiders became the first team in modern NFL history to win the Super Bowl as a wild card team. (Actually, the score was closer than the game was. The Raiders crushed the Eagles. As an Eagles fan, I mourned; as a Raiders fan, I experienced a traitorous sensation of "How could anyone not have known this was coming...")

Cut to this season. 48 years after the last Eagles NFL championship. Once again, the Eagles, the Packers, the Cowboys, and the Cardinals are big stories in the NFL. The Eagles for winning with tough play late. The Packers for a promising season that ended in bitter disappointment. The Cowboys for being at Square One (again). The Cardinals for basking (for the first time) in their relocated home. Portentous? Significant? No one can say. And I won't predict ultimate victory on such grounds.

However. There are some echoes and connections worth thinking about. Late in the season, the Eagles started growing their "playoff beards."

And which one coach in the NFL is fatter than John Madden, anyway?

There was also Donovan McNabb's uncharacteristically piratical gesture in drawing an "unsportsmanlike" penalty near the end of yesterday's game, for a totally gratuitous stunt on the opposing sideline during the Eagles's humiliating suffocation of the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants. A quarterback scoring an "unsportsmanlike" penalty? Remind you of anyone?

Stabler and McNabb. Bad boys who throw darts. Maybe it's the beards.

Point of fact: Yesterday was the first time anyone in the NFL audience has ever seen Eli Manning close his mouth. Lower lip met upper lip for the first time. It did. Check the video. That's an NFL record all by itself.

Then there's all the other stuff. The Eagles making the NFC Championship game from the sixth and final seed. Andy Reid's almost affected refusal to select any player in the first round of the NFL draft for two years. The Eagles trouncing the Cowboys as if they really were an expansion team in the final game of the regular season. The fact that the Vikings had to be part of the journey, which was (to me) symbolically significant. The Cardinals still winless in the NFL championship sweepstakes since they first moved from Chicago in 1960. The Eagles no longer "'umble" but confident in a curiously outlaw way that flies in the face of Philadelphia's traditionally neurotic self doubt. (The Phillies, earlier this year, exhibited the same 'We know what we're doing so don't screw with us' mentality, as if they were the Oakland A's [formerly the Philadelphia A's] of the early 1970s.) Truth is, the Eagles are brutalizing other teams at this point in the season. Look at the press conferences. The Cowboys, the Vikings, and the Giants have all had the life sucked out of them. They couldn't match the intensity of the Philadelphia Eagles. None of them were ever really in the game.

And a kicker. None of this would have been possible if the Oakland Raiders, at a lowly 4-11, hadn't risen up out of nowhere to amputate Tampa Bay from its playoff dreams on the last day of the season. Hands across the continent -- and across the generations -- from the team that cost the Eagles their last chance at glory. How fitting. How truly, well, poetic. Hence the title of this post. Thank you, Raiders, thank you. Not just for this, but for all the years of greatness, all the consolation you gave me when the Eagles wore those silly white helmets with green wings and couldn't get out of their own way. Someday, the Raiders will return, and when they do, the whole NFL will quake in dread. Their vengeance for the laughter will be terrible indeed. Until that day comes, I can only be grateful for the crossing and recrossing of the lines of fate. This year, the Eagles have a chance to be the Raiders of old, running free in the unguarded secondary of the NFL, and I can't wait to see what will happen when the raptors descend on the songbirds of Arizona.

And it's okay even if the Eagles lose. Why? Because if we're paying close attention to synchronicities, it took the great and legendary John Madden five conference championship losses before he won his first Super Bowl. So far, Andy Reid's Eagles have played in only four. We could still lose this one and be back for the winning round next year or the next. But I'm liking our chances this year anyway. What with all the beards, and the wild-card card, and the quarterback who's stopped caring what people think, and the deathly resentful silence from New York for the second time this year, and a date in Arizona with a team whose whole reputation is currently resting on a single victory against a journeyman quarterback who plays for the only team the suddenly dwarfish Giants beat in December.

There are rhythms and cycles and echoes. Sometimes they converge. I could be wrong (and it would be okay if I were), but the Arizona Cardinals aren't going to stop the Eagles from reaching the Super Bowl.

It's not a meaningless toss of the universal dice. I have a Brian Dawkins jersey. Enough said.

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