Thursday, January 15, 2009
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 — yahoo.com. 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 Hotair.com, 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.]
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.