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Friday, December 16, 2011

NYT: Bonds Avoids Prison - Sentenced To 30 Days Home Confinement

Starts with GWB’s attack in the State of the Union, ends with a whimper. Parallels to Iraq at your own risk.

Ephus Posted: December 16, 2011 at 08:13 PM | 217 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: giants

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   101. Monty Posted: December 21, 2011 at 12:55 AM (#4020723)
When it comes to women, Stanwyck has only been broadening her general appeal in the last ten years or so.


I credit TCM's terrific "Forbidden Hollywood" series of pre-code DVDs for some of that. I liked her a lot when the earliest thing I'd seen was Double Indemnity, but her really early stuff knocked me out.
   102. Morty Causa Posted: December 21, 2011 at 01:20 AM (#4020735)
Stanwyck has long been highly regarded by old movie fans, but until recently she was perhaps ranked below Davis and Hepburn and some others. I've been thinking she was the greatest actress in movies for at least 15 years now but recently that view I think has become much more widespread. Those early movies played a big part; it showed a dimension that many were not aware of. Also, the realization, brought about through TCM and first VHS then DVDs which brought many of those movies and others to viewers, showed that she covered all genres and all ranges of roles--from romance to comedy to drama to film noir to western. No actress was as accomplished in so many areas.
   103. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 21, 2011 at 05:55 AM (#4020863)
Morty (#96),

At heart all you're saying is that stature = current popularity within a particular country at a particular point in time, which in turn is in great part the byproduct of exposure. I'm not saying that the actors you name don't have greater "iconic" status bestowed upon them by whatever "mass" audience there is for movies of a bygone era, and I'm certainly not saying that they don't deserve it. But the "reason" that they're rated over many other greats isn't simply because they're "greater" or more "transcendent"; it has mostly to do with who's doing the voting and what sort of movies those people are exposed to and aren't exposed to.

You mention Stanwyck as an example of an actress who's grown in stature over the past 10 or 15 years, and that's certainly true. But why is that? Is she any better now than she was when she was alive? Of course not. As you and Monty rightly point out, the reason she's grown in "stature" is mostly because her movies other than The Lady Eve and Double Indemnity have gotten far more exposure than they had been before, thanks to TCM, DVDs, and major repertory house retrospectives. But start polling movie buffs around the world instead of limiting yourself to the U.S. audience, and Jean Gabin would likely leave Grant and Stewart behind. There's nothing wrong with being U. S. culture-centric, but let's not pretend that Americans are the sole arbitrators of who's iconic and who isn't.
   104. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: December 21, 2011 at 09:21 AM (#4020881)
Example: a billion people took note when Dev Anand died a few weeks ago, and he may not even make the "In Memorium" reel at next year's Oscars.
   105. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 21, 2011 at 12:25 PM (#4020893)
Example: a billion people took note when Dev Anand died a few weeks ago, and he may not even make the "In Memorium" reel at next year's Oscars.

Exactly. Christ, I'd never even heard of Dev Anand** until just now. And that means I'm every bit as qualified to opine that Dev Anand is less iconic (or classic) than Jimmy Stewart as 99% of Americans are qualified to say the same thing about Jean Gabin, Toshiro Mifune, or even Barbara Stanwyck, though in her case it's possible that as many as 5% of Americans could pick her out of a group picture or be able to tell us that she was once a movie star.

**If TCM has ever scheduled any of Anand's movies in the past few years, it's escaped me.
   106. Morty Causa Posted: December 21, 2011 at 07:17 PM (#4021269)
At heart all you're saying is that stature = current popularity within a particular country at a particular point in time, which in turn is in great part the byproduct of exposure.


How do arrive at what is classic in other fields? I asked you that, and you just ignored it. Did I restrict myself to only "mass" audience?

But the "reason" that they're rated over many other greats isn't simply because they're "greater" or more "transcendent"; it has mostly to do with who's doing the voting and what sort of movies those people are exposed to and aren't exposed to.


Well, I asked you, what's your alternative? Is there such a thing as a classic or isn't there? Who is and how is he, she, or it determined to be that?

But why is that? Is she any better now than she was when she was alive?


You don't seem to get the idea of a societal construct? Just as Homer told Marge it takes two to lie (one to lie and one to listen) it takes two to determine what's a great performance (I said this a number of times as it applies to John Wayne)--the actor and the receiver.

Now, you may think X is great, but that alone is not enough to be classic--if words are to have discrete meaning from one another.

But start polling movie buffs around the world instead of limiting yourself to the U.S. audience, and Jean Gabin would likely leave Grant and Stewart behind. There's nothing wrong with being U. S. culture-centric, but let's not pretend that Americans are the sole arbitrators of who's iconic and who isn't.


Irrelevant.
   107. Something Other Posted: December 24, 2011 at 03:59 PM (#4022989)
You mention Stanwyck as an example of an actress who's grown in stature over the past 10 or 15 years, and that's certainly true. But why is that? Is she any better now than she was when she was alive?
This curious question is equally applicable to Jim Rice, Hall of Famer!

Btw, everyman Paul Douglas, the plainspoken cop in Fourteen Floor, was a Yale graduate. I never would have guessed that.
   108. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 24, 2011 at 04:47 PM (#4023024)
At heart all you're saying is that stature = current popularity within a particular country at a particular point in time, which in turn is in great part the byproduct of exposure.

How do arrive at what is classic in other fields? I asked you that, and you just ignored it. Did I restrict myself to only "mass" audience?

But the "reason" that they're rated over many other greats isn't simply because they're "greater" or more "transcendent"; it has mostly to do with who's doing the voting and what sort of movies those people are exposed to and aren't exposed to.

Well, I asked you, what's your alternative? Is there such a thing as a classic or isn't there? Who is and how is he, she, or it determined to be that?


Personally I use my own standard to determine a "classic", which to be redundant, is personal to me. Either you respect that and call it a day, or you then have to throw it up to a vote, in which case you have to go beyond the U.S. audience, either mass or critical.

In "other fields", it depends on the field. In baseball, there's a statistical (or "objective") component. In movies, there isn't any objective component to measure quality, any more than there is in Pulitzer Prizes. If the AFI wants to say that Marilyn Monroe somehow rates above Barbara Stanwyck, then fine, but they're nuts by any standard other than va-va-voom.

You don't seem to get the idea of a societal construct? Just as Homer told Marge it takes two to lie (one to lie and one to listen) it takes two to determine what's a great performance (I said this a number of times as it applies to John Wayne)--the actor and the receiver.

Now, you may think X is great, but that alone is not enough to be classic--if words are to have discrete meaning from one another.


Now you're right back to a popularity contest, dressed up in the fancy words of a "societal construct", and saying that I've been outvoted in my opinion. Fine, no problem, and if you really think that John Wayne or Gary Cooper (or even Gregory Peck) is more "classic" than Jean Gabin, there's little I'll be able to do to convince you otherwise.

But start polling movie buffs around the world instead of limiting yourself to the U.S. audience, and Jean Gabin would likely leave Grant and Stewart behind. There's nothing wrong with being U. S. culture-centric, but let's not pretend that Americans are the sole arbitrators of who's iconic and who isn't.

Irrelevant.


Irrelevant only if you want to rig the jury. Irrelevant only if you think the world of "classic" film is restricted to English language movies and monolingual audiences who don't want to deal with subtitles.

-------------------------------------

Btw, everyman Paul Douglas, the plainspoken cop in Fourteen Floor, was a Yale graduate. I never would have guessed that.

Didn't know that, and since Paul Douglas was nearly pitch-perfect in every role he played, it's a nice factoid to add to the neverending list. To return the favor, did you know that another one of my all-time favorites, Robert Ryan, was an intercollegiate boxing champion at Dartmouth? This helped him greatly in his portrayal (18 years later) of the washed-up fighter in The Set-Up.
   109. Something Other Posted: December 25, 2011 at 09:34 PM (#4023342)
The Set-Up! I came across it entirely by accident one evening and loved it. I didn't know Ryan was a boxer, but he's got that build. He looks like he was carved, not born.
   110. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 25, 2011 at 11:56 PM (#4023364)
From all accounts, Ryan was just an all-around interesting person, completely the opposite of his screen persona, where most of his memorable roles were bigots, murderers and psychopaths on both sides of the law. In the real world he was a one woman man who summarized himself by saying that "In movies, I've pretty much played everything I'm dedicated to fighting against."

"Robert Ryan looked like someone you might bump into in the street at night and wish you hadn't. Those who love him are drawn to that sense of looming hazard, and to the intelligence Ryan mixed in with it."
- Michael Atkinson

"A disturbing mixture of anger and tenderness who had reached stardom by playing mostly brutal, neurotic roles that were at complete variance with his true nature."
- John Houseman

"One of the most particular and remarkable of American actors, a truly frightening man, not so much because of external menace but because of what he was thinking. If some people grind their teeth, Ryan was an eye-grinder."
- David Thomson
   111. Buzzards Bay Posted: December 26, 2011 at 01:38 AM (#4023383)
Strother Martin V. Michael Caine is the opportunity to move the qualitative/quantitative markers
Caine is Enos Cabell is the gateway to a pythagorean application to a larger +/-
Ditka may or may not be Cimino
does Lasorda = Capra
   112. Morty Causa Posted: December 26, 2011 at 11:50 PM (#4023698)
Personally I use my own standard to determine a "classic", which to be redundant, is personal to me. Either you respect that and call it a day, or you then have to throw it up to a vote, in which case you have to go beyond the U.S. audience, either mass or critical.


So, your solution is to adhere to a "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" standard?

You seem to not think much of popularity contests. What's not a popularity contest? A Papal Bull—are we sure? And what else? Even a Supreme Court decision is a vote--true the electorate is very small, but it's a popularity contest with remarkable binding powers. The justices give reasons, though, for their decisions. You, however, don’t feel you need to?

You think that saying that we all have a vote adequately expresses the nature of the process? And all voters can act accordingly. Is that how you really see the process of determining how a thing achieves the level of being a classic happens? Or is it that we all can ignore other people's vote--and the quality of the voter's appreciation of that candidate is irrelevant? That there is no such thing as that collective social value?

You seem bent and determined to reduce the conversations to terms making it not worth having. Why is that?

As for your insistence that I think more highly of others than I do of Jean Gabin, well, yes, I do. But I've already described my limitations in the matter of foreign actors (although as a Cajun I know something of French), and I certainly don't begrudge the French or any other nationals/ethnics their icons or classics. I do begrudge whoever is arguing such and such is one or the other if they insist on their divine right not to explain themselves—that is, if they want me to take them and their opinions seriously.

You keep ignoring the obvious--which is, that there is such a thing, such a “social construct” as classic” in all fields of the arts. It begins with individual opinion, but that’s not the point where you label something a classic. Do you think Shakespeare achieved the empyrean heights because one guy has an opinion, the bases of which he insisted he be allowed to keep to himself?

It begins with an opinion and vote—that’s not where it ends. I’m surprised you go to such intricate fan dancing to avoid seeing that there are such things as classics and that there are reasons for why one thing is a classic and another is not, why one classic is a greater classic than another.

No one is trying to deprive you of your sacred rights to have an opinion. One person’s opinion, however, is not what is decisive. It’s just a beginning.

Irrelevant only if you think the world of "classic" film is restricted to English language movies and monolingual audiences who don't want to deal with subtitles.


What an odd thing to say. Can you really be interpreting my admission that I am not qualified to form an opinion as who should be an icon or what should be a classic in a culture whose tenets and language I’m ignorant of to mean that therefore those cultures can’t have any classics? That’s laughable. That I’m excusing myself, that I don’t pretend to know what I don’t know doesn’t mean that there aren’t those who do know the language and are familiar with the culture. They can do the same to that foreign culture that I and others do in my culture. And in their limited way, if they feel it is vital they do, they can determine if their Jean Gabin or Toshiro Mifune is greater than our James Stewart or John Wayne (etc.). And if they are as ignorant of my culture and it’s icons as I am of theirs, their opinion is entitled to be taken with the same level of seriousness.
   113. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 27, 2011 at 01:38 AM (#4023725)
Taking it (#112) in somewhat reverse order...

Irrelevant only if you think the world of "classic" film is restricted to English language movies and monolingual audiences who don't want to deal with subtitles.

What an odd thing to say. Can you really be interpreting my admission that I am not qualified to form an opinion as who should be an icon or what should be a classic in a culture whose tenets and language I’m ignorant of to mean that therefore those cultures can’t have any classics? That’s laughable. That I’m excusing myself, that I don’t pretend to know what I don’t know doesn’t mean that there aren’t those who do know the language and are familiar with the culture. They can do the same to that foreign culture that I and others do in my culture. And in their limited way, if they feel it is vital they do, they can determine if their Jean Gabin or Toshiro Mifune is greater than our James Stewart or John Wayne (etc.). And if they are as ignorant of my culture and it’s icons as I am of theirs, their opinion is entitled to be taken with the same level of seriousness.


That's certainly spelling it out a lot more clearly than you did before, and that said, I'd agree with you. We're all entitled to our standards and our biases, but I tend to take the opinions of "universal" critics more seriously than I take the opinions of the purely culture-centric who limit their knowledge to the films of their own country. It doesn't mean that I will always agree with the opinions of the "universal" critics, but at least I know that when they say that Stewart is "better" than Gabin or Mifune, or vice versa, they're basing their judgment on actual knowledge and consideration of many films, rather than by one or two long-ago viewings of Grand Illusion or The Seven Samurai vs repeated viewings of dozens of Stewart films.

And yes, as I said above, I'd say the same thing about a foreign critic whose relative exposure to U.S. films was equally limited. Even though the foreign world has long been far more exposed to American movies than our moviegoers been exposed to foreign films, I'm not pretending that all of the overseas critics are as up on our movies as our own critics are.

You seem to not think much of popularity contests. What's not a popularity contest? A Papal Bull—are we sure? And what else? Even a Supreme Court decision is a vote--true the electorate is very small, but it's a popularity contest with remarkable binding powers. The justices give reasons, though, for their decisions. You, however, don’t feel you need to?

You think that saying that we all have a vote adequately expresses the nature of the process? And all voters can act accordingly. Is that how you really see the process of determining how a thing achieves the level of being a classic happens? Or is it that we all can ignore other people's vote--and the quality of the voter's appreciation of that candidate is irrelevant? That there is no such thing as that collective social value?


IMO "popularity contests", i.e. Oscars and other awards, are to be taken into consideration, but they're not by any means determinate of any sort of serious ranking. You know as well as I do that such awards are topheavy with political**, sentimental, and other considerations (including box office receipts) that often have little to do with any considered "classic" quality of the work. To be honest, after having read what you've written about movies since we've been having these discussions, I value your opinion far more than I value any collective opinion of Oscar voters or film critics, especially since their awards come with even less explanation than an MVP award or HoF vote in baseball.

I haven't explained my own standards for determining a "classic" actor or film because every time I try to pin myself down, I see yet another film that moves the needle a bit towards this factor or that factor. But subject to instant change at any moment, here's how I approach it as of this evening.....

To me a "classic" movie has many components, but here are a few that weigh heavily with me:

1. They're realistic, meaning I simply ignore any fantasy / sci-fi / contrived plot movie. Doesn't mean I can't sometimes enjoy the escapist stuff, but the films I enjoy the most are grounded in the real world, preferably in the real world of the 99% and well on down. This is why my all-time pantheon consists disproportionately of foreign films like Angi Vera, Pixote, City of God, Open City, Come and See (a movie I was introduced to here on BTF), or The Bicycle Thief. Films centered on society types or yuppies (as many screwballs are) tend to face a much higher threshold in order to grab my interest. (Again, there are many exceptions to this, but I'm making broad generalizations here.)

2. The actors themselves aren't hamming it up or trying to make themselves the center of the show. Instead, they fit their personalities to the requirements of the script first, and only then try to transcend it. The best of the "hamsters" can sometimes pull off spectacular successes (like Burton and Taylor in Virginia Woolf), and if like Cagney, their basic screen persona is a believable human archtype, it can work for them in almost any movie they choose to exhibit it. But it's a risky business, and when it doesn't work you get the equivalent of Kobe Bryant and the Washington Wizards. And anyway, truly great films (IMO, at least) aren't about just one actor, even though one actor's great performance may be a film's sina qua non.

3. And here we're getting into a point that's so utterly subjective that I won't even attempt to defend it too seriously: AFAIC a movie that relies too heavily on an "outrageous" character usually just winds up with me mumbling "why doesn't somebody just meet this ############ in an alley and make sure to get in the first shot?" That pretty much describes my overall reaction to much of the early Marlon Brando, and as much as I think he's one of the great actors of our time, I often get the same feeling towards Jack Nicholson---there's a fine line between "outrageous" and just plain obnoxious and egomaniacal. Films like Cuckoo's Nest may be "classics" of a sort, but they're not remotely (again IMO) on the same level as (say) High and Low, Pixote, or Heroes For Sale.

4. And when it comes to the actors themselves, the more that their persona corresponds to my sense of real and complex human emotions across the spectrum---voiced by expression as well as words---the more I see in them. That's why I rate Stanwyck, Stewart, Ryan*** and Pacino so high among American actors, and Gabin and Mifune even above them. The Gabin screen persona has been so completely stripped of all excess verbiage and histrionics that he makes (again IMO) even a relatively taciturn American actor like Wayne seem positively sissified by comparison. Though that's in great part because he's working in genres that are far more grounded in the real world of the present of his time than are Wayne's movies, set in the fantasy world of the Hollywood West.

Having said all that, I'm afraid we're almost back to square one, since beneath whatever "objectivity" there may be in these standards, at bottom I won't pretend it's anything more than a matter of "I like what I like". Which puts me in a position no better than that of the average sci-fi, horror, or fantasy movie fan, but I can live with that. Some of my best friends love that sort of stuff, and who am I to say they're crazy?

And anyway, I think we can judge a person's standards more by induction than explanation. What would be your favorite 40 or 50 films you've watched, regardless of category?

**In the broad sense of the word. I don't mean political ideology when I say "political", since the political opinions of Oscar winners are all over the lot.

***The American actor with the world's most expressive pair of eyebrows
   114. cardsfanboy Posted: December 27, 2011 at 02:18 AM (#4023735)
To me a "classic" movie has many components, but here are a few that weigh heavily with me:


Is it really appropriate to term something a classic based upon an individual's definition of what they like?

I mean if you ask people to name classic movies, you'll get Gone with the Wind, Wizard of Oz, The Searchers, Bridge Over River Kwai, Ten Commandments and a host of other movies that wouldn't fit your definition. A classic has nothing to do with your individual taste and it shouldn't. It should be something that you along with the masses recognize as a classic, even if it's not your cup of tea. Classic Rock is the Beatles, the Who, Elvis Presley, Beach Boys etc. It doesn't mean it has to fit into a narrow niche that conforms to your preference.


I think that the definition of classic has one or more of the following components. 1. Mass appeal years later. (and not ironically) 2. widely considered to be great quality by authority in the field 3.shaped or inspire future generations. Just because someone doesn't like Westerns doesn't mean that they had no classics, just as if someone didn't like R&B, doesn't mean it doesn't have any classics.
   115. Morty Causa Posted: December 27, 2011 at 03:04 AM (#4023750)
114:

Thanks. Maybe you can get him to address what I've tried pinning him down on for I don't know how many posts. He seems to think it begins and ends with individual opinions--that there's no such thing as a social value or group "construct". Indeed, he sounds like a libertarian more and more with his individualistic "it's all subjective opinion" anyway.

What's a classic? Not what you think is good or great, but how does a society come to have these flagship personages and works of artistic creation--that's the question. I'm not sure why JOSN wants to be so coy about this.
   116. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 27, 2011 at 03:32 AM (#4023759)
Is it really appropriate to term something a classic based upon an individual's definition of what they like?

Sure, it just means I'd be outvoted if I didn't control the voting pool.

I mean if you ask people to name classic movies, you'll get Gone with the Wind, Wizard of Oz, The Searchers, Bridge Over River Kwai, Ten Commandments and a host of other movies that wouldn't fit your definition. A classic has nothing to do with your individual taste and it shouldn't.

Nor does a classic have to conform to the whitebread taste of a mass U.S. audience that chooses not to expose itself to movies outside the chain theater repertory.

But as I've said, this is all opinion, and certainly when it comes to movies I've never claimed to speak for anyone other than myself. Though if anyone seriously wants to claim that a Hollywood fantasy about the ante-bellum South or a mythical kingdom of Oz** is on a higher level of experience than (say) Open City or Come and See, all I can say is that we're talking past each other when it comes to definitions. And just because Pete Rose and Nolan Ryan were voted onto the "All-Century" team doesn't mean that they were better ballplayers than Stan Musial or Lefty Grove.

I think that the definition of classic has one or more of the following components. 1. Mass appeal years later. (and not ironically) 2. widely considered to be great quality by authority in the field 3.shaped or inspire future generations. Just because someone doesn't like Westerns doesn't mean that they had no classics, just as if someone didn't like R&B, doesn't mean it doesn't have any classics.

What you're saying here is that a "classic" doesn't have to be approved by me in order to be a classic. No argument there, since I'm not pretending for a second that my taste (or Mr. Oscar's) is anything remotely resembling a Voice From On High. All I'm qualified to give you is my own definition.

**I suppose at this point I should add that I've seen both GWTW and The Wizard of Oz several times and thoroughly enjoy them, and yes, they're both absolute, total classics of escapist entertainment. But that's all they are.
   117. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: December 27, 2011 at 03:41 AM (#4023761)
Re: classics/personal preference/etc--
I just gave "Holiday" a fourth chance, and I still think it mostly sucks. Forced zaniness, literal backflips in hopes of hiding the stagey inertia, unconvincing character turns sold with hothouse dialogue, all in service of the profound observation that money isn't everything. Everything this movie tries to do has been done so much better in other movies, including by the people who made this one. How this film routinely makes the lists of best screwball comedies is a headscratcher.
   118. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 27, 2011 at 03:44 AM (#4023762)
He seems to think it begins and ends with individual opinions--that there's no such thing as a social value or group "construct". Indeed, he sounds like a libertarian more and more with his individualistic "it's all subjective opinion" anyway.

What's a classic? Not what you think is good or great, but how does a society come to have these flagship personages and works of artistic creation--that's the question. I'm not sure why JOSN wants to be so coy about this.


Morty, I'm not trying to be coy. I'm simply saying that your definition of a "classic" movie is based on little more than popularity over time among a particular demographic. That's certainly one possible and wholly legitimate definition, but it's not the only one, and it's not one that determines your taste in movies any more than it determines mine**. And until the choice of which films I'm allowed to watch is determined by some ####### IMDB rating or Oscar black ink number, I don't give a rat's patooie about what "society" thinks about anything other than political decisions.

**Unless you rate films based on other peoples' opinions, which knowing you to the extent that I do, I seriously doubt.
   119. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 27, 2011 at 03:49 AM (#4023765)
Re: classics/personal preference/etc--
I just gave "Holiday" a fourth chance, and I still think it mostly sucks. Forced zaniness, literal backflips in hopes of hiding the stagey inertia, unconvincing character turns sold with hothouse dialogue, all in service of the profound observation that money isn't everything. Everything this movie tries to do has been done so much better in other movies, including by the people who made this one. How this film routinely makes the lists of best screwball comedies is a headscratcher.


I like that particular movie (mainly because I love that particular version of the Hepburn persona, for wholly subjective reasons), though not nearly as much as Bringing Up Baby or The Philadelphia Story, not to mention The Lady Eve or Easy Living. But what you write illustrates my point, which is how in the hell is Holiday's near-universally agreed-upon "iconic" or "classic" status supposed to influence your own personal taste?
   120. cardsfanboy Posted: December 27, 2011 at 04:10 AM (#4023775)
Nor does a classic have to conform to the whitebread taste of a mass U.S. audience that chooses not to expose itself to movies outside the chain theater repertory.


Actually, in a way it does. You can't declare a Slim Shady a country song because you came up with a definition of country music that conforms to a rap song like Slim Shady. You can't call softball, football and expect to discuss it with other people, and you can't arbitrarily determine the definition of a classic movie, based upon your own definition. You should know that as well, if not better than anyone on here.

Terms, categories, have to adhere to some type of societal definition or else it's useless to even begin a discussion. I honestly can't say the movie They Live is a classic, because it isn't(unless you expand the term to classic cult film) it's one of my favorite movies of all time, but it's not a classic. I can't stand Woody Allen, but it would be ridiculous for me to claim Annie Hall is not a classic. Just like it's ridiculous to think that Wizard of Oz is not a classic.

Now you can argue some of the fringier movies that fall in the classic definition, just like you can argue hofers, rock gods etc, but you can't have a definition of Mlb hofer that doesn't include Babe Ruth, you can't have a definition of classic rock that doesn't include Elvis Presley, and you can't have a definition of classic movies that doesn't include Gone With The Wind(or Wizard of Oz)
   121. Srul Itza At Home Posted: December 27, 2011 at 04:21 AM (#4023778)
Is it really appropriate to term something a classic based upon an individual's definition of what they like?

Sure, it just means I'd be outvoted if I didn't control the voting pool.


What you've done is re-define the word "classic" to mean "movie that meets my needs." This is such a wholly idiosyncratic definition of the work classic, as to render it meaningless, and to render further discussion useless.

It is not unlike the Hall of Fame discussions, where so many people state what a Hall of Famer should be, based on their own personal preferences and definitions, as opposed to the historical standards and understandings that define the institution.
   122. Morty Causa Posted: December 27, 2011 at 04:31 AM (#4023783)
I don't think that Holiday is so much a rag against striving for wealth and social prestige as it is against not following your star, after first being given space and time to determine what that is. Given all that, I don't consider Holiday screwball at all, although it may be about keeping one's individualistic, even eccentric (thus screwball), views pure and intact if one is to be true to one's self.. To me, in style and structure it's more like Joe Mankiewicz, or Paddy Chayefsky in that it has an overt social point to make, and it's made rather didactically, even framed schematically, although Mankiewicz, like Shaw, can make it seem richly complex. It's not screwball in style or action, though. It's more All About Eve or The Americanization of Emily than it is The Lady Eve or Easy Living. As Gonfalon Bubble suggests, it's certainly not true screwball. (The term "screwball" (and "film noir" being another) is thrown around much too promiscuously._

And I don't consider it iconic or inner circle classic by a long shot, although I like it for what it is a good bit. Like the Chayefsky stuff, I find it interesting and enjoyable as sort of cut-rate Shavianism. (Mankiewicz at his best is much better than Chayefsky.) Other Grant movies like that are The Talk of the Town and People Will talk (written and directed by Mankiewicz). I like them, but they are basically serious dramas with some humor and wit injected, and they're not Grant's top-level stuff. There's a drawing-room comedy quality about them--his late stuff like Indiscreet and An Affair to Remember and The Grass is Greener are like that, too, but without so much the overtones of social criticism. Still Grant's average stuff, performance-wise, is like Ted Williams's average OPS+. That alone makes most of his lesser stuff worthwhile. See Once Upon A Time, where he single-handedly redeems what is an entirely inconsequential bit of nothing.
   123. Morty Causa Posted: December 27, 2011 at 04:46 AM (#4023790)
Yes, there's a difference between personal opinion and assessing what a society's cultural values actually are. If you think that what are represented as values shouldn't be, or that what is deemed classic according to those terms shouldn't be (or something that isn't should be), that is perfectly okay. There can be cultural evolution. But, you need to know the difference, and respect the difference, and what you need to acknowledge is that at every point in every stage of that evolution there is a status that can be pointed to. If you can't see that, or won't acknowledge it, communication becomes really hard.

I tried to make this clear by citing undisputed classics such as Shakespeare or Twain. My opinion of them is one thing; whether they are classic or not is something else. Even though it may begin my opinion, graduate to the opinion of others, then agglomerate with the opinion of many "certain" types of persons, generally the educated, the knowledgeable, and the intelligent in that discipline--you know, those that really care and study the stuff seriously. When did making such cultural determinations become some sort of alien strain to be inoculated against?
   124. Morty Causa Posted: December 27, 2011 at 05:07 AM (#4023796)
Btw, everyman Paul Douglas, the plainspoken cop in Fourteen Floor, was a Yale graduate. I never would have guessed that.

Didn't know that, and since Paul Douglas was nearly pitch-perfect in every role he played, it's a nice factoid to add to the neverending list.


Never that much of a fan of Douglas, but, admittedly, he is good. Come to think of it, I think he would have been much more suited for the role that Broderick Crawford played in Born Yesterday than Crawford was.

Douglas and Linda Darnell (yes, Linda Darnell) were actually the best couple in A Letter To Three Wives. Their verbal sparring is something to witness. I wouldn't have thought that they would make a convincing match--so I guess that says something about Douglas (and Darnell).
   125. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: December 27, 2011 at 10:52 AM (#4023816)
You seem to not think much of popularity contests.
Most surreal accusation leveled at Andy, ever.
   126. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 27, 2011 at 12:37 PM (#4023820)
Is it really appropriate to term something a classic based upon an individual's definition of what they like?


Sure, it just means I'd be outvoted if I didn't control the voting pool.

What you've done is re-define the word "classic" to mean "movie that meets my needs." This is such a wholly idiosyncratic definition of the work classic, as to render it meaningless, and to render further discussion useless.


And what sort of a discussion would you rather have? A discussion of some inspired mathematical formula incorporating smile contours, bust sizes, sincerity, "avant-garde" features, societal values, Biblical values, cinematic gimmicks, etc., that will tell us which proportion of which "objective" characteristics of a movie will enable us to predict the AFI's top 100 list 100 years from now?

It is not unlike the Hall of Fame discussions, where so many people state what a Hall of Famer should be, based on their own personal preferences and definitions, as opposed to the historical standards and understandings that define the institution.

That criticism would be valid if either (a) I were trying to impose my own standards of a "classic" film on anyone else; or (b) I were pretending that the Oscar voters or the AFI voters had been using my standards to determine their choices. Neither of these is the case.

------------------------------------

Yes, there's a difference between personal opinion and assessing what a society's cultural values actually are. If you think that what are represented as values shouldn't be, or that what is deemed classic according to those terms shouldn't be (or something that isn't should be), that is perfectly okay. There can be cultural evolution. But, you need to know the difference, and respect the difference, and what you need to acknowledge is that at every point in every stage of that evolution there is a status that can be pointed to. If you can't see that, or won't acknowledge it, communication becomes really hard.

Morty, of course I both know and respect the difference between my own standards / taste in movies and that of the societal consensus, as represented by Oscar awards, AFI lists, IMDB ratings, etc. As I just said in reply to Srul, I've never pretended that my standards / taste corresponded to any such consensus, although it should be re-emphasized that the "consensus" you've been alluding to here is strictly an American one.

But you asked me several times above to tell you what my standards for a "classic" were, and I replied in a certain amount of detail in #113. If instead, you want me to tell you what "classic" means according to some societal construct or consensus, I'd ask you in return to simply click on these links to Oscar winners, box office receipts, and AFI top 100 movies, and figure out the definition for yourself by empirical induction.

Such an exercise may provide a certain amount of neo-sabermetric interest, but frankly, I'd rather just know what the makeup of your own** top 50 or 100 movies might be, without any initial explanation. Such a list would far better express your idea of a "classic" movie than any explanation you or anyone else has given us up to now.

**or anyone else's
   127. ray james Posted: December 27, 2011 at 01:57 PM (#4023826)
I always think of a classic as a film that achieves the highest combined scores in both commercial and artistic achievement. In other words, it has to be highly entertaining, but also has to be well crafted and have something profound to say and says it in a convincing fashion. For that reason, the screwball comedies, no matter how well they are made, tend to migrate down on my list.

There are people who like Kubrick and there are those who don't but the one thing you have to give the man credit for is that he always tackled important topics and crafted his films extremely well.
   128. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 27, 2011 at 02:41 PM (#4023838)
I always think of a classic as a film that achieves the highest combined scores in both commercial and artistic achievement. In other words, it has to be highly entertaining, but also has to be well crafted and have something profound to say and says it in a convincing fashion.

That's a variant of what I was saying, though I'd substitute "compelling" for "entertaining" at the point when I start narrowing down my list to the very top films. There are "classics" in every genre, but IMO the ones that really stand out are those which go beyond singing, dancing, wisecracking, and spectacularly constructed battlefield scenes.

For that reason, the screwball comedies, no matter how well they are made, tend to migrate down on my list.

Yep. The Lady Eve and Libeled Lady are two of my favorite movies of all time, and I could watch them every year for the rest of my life and never get tired of them, but they're still featherweight flicks compared to an Open City or a Bicycle Thief. I acknowledge and appreciate the rebuttal to this line of thought, as expressed in Joel McCrea's final epiphany in Sullivan's Travels, but that's a whole different discussion.
   129. Morty Causa Posted: December 28, 2011 at 02:03 AM (#4024139)
I always think of a classic as a film that achieves the highest combined scores in both commercial and artistic achievement. In other words, it has to be highly entertaining, but also has to be well crafted and have something profound to say and says it in a convincing fashion. For that reason, the screwball comedies, no matter how well they are made, tend to migrate down on my list.


That's crazy talk. Screwball comedy is the most distinctive genre of the classic age; the one irreplaceable category of movies that make the golden age the great age of movies. .It's also the genre with the most movies of quality. It's the one thing that makes Hollywood movies unique. The best are highly original in story and style, in conception and execution, sometimes even verging on the quirky and idiosyncratic.

They stand out in everything that makes a work of art unique as a work of art. Story, plotting, dialogue, theme, and characterizations--and unlike other genres, the characterizations of the best screwball is memorable from leads to supporting roles. Dialogue has never been better—dialogue in Sturges drives the story as much as images in Ford and Hitchcock. The acting, although never receiving it's contemporaneous just due, represent a disproportionate amount of the best acting—there are no better performances in movies than Grant in both BUB and HGF, Gable in It Happened One Night, Stewart in The Shop Around the Corner (not even getting not Mr. Smith and IAWL. Screwball can incorporate the continental flair as in Lubitsch and American wisecrackery as in Capracorn and Sturges. Great screwball demands perfect aesthetics. The elements of the art must be in exact balance.

It’s also mostly unique to America. There's nothing n movies (substance or style) anywhere like Trouble in Paradise, Shop Around the Corner, Heaven Can Wait, The Lady Eve, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday--not to mention Frank Capra's studied amalgamations of serious drama and high and low comedy in Mr. Deeds Goes To Town, Mr. Smith Goes to W., Meet John Doe, and It's A Wonderful Life. The style and structure of screwball even infects other genres, as in Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (a great screwball without the suspense-thriller element) and The Trouble With Harry (black screwball), Hawks's Red River and The Big Sleep

If it weren't for comedy, especially screwball comedy, the '30s to mid-'40s wouldn't be the classic age.
   130. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: December 28, 2011 at 02:56 AM (#4024156)
There are good things about "Open City," notably Aldo Fabrizi and the film's context/influence... but saying it's better than "The Lady Eve" is a big brown bag of madness.
   131. Morty Causa Posted: December 28, 2011 at 03:14 AM (#4024160)
People tend to overrate foreign films in the same way they overrate mail order brides from foreign countries. They're blind to the unavoidable but intrinsic complications until it's too late.
   132. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 28, 2011 at 12:55 PM (#4024240)
There are good things about "Open City," notably Aldo Fabrizi and the film's context/influence... but saying it's better than "The Lady Eve" is a big brown bag of madness.

I've seen both of those movies at least half a dozen times, and that comment makes about as much sense as saying that Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is a better piece of music than Handel's Messiah.

---------------------------------

People tend to overrate foreign films in the same way they overrate mail order brides from foreign countries. They're blind to the unavoidable but intrinsic complications until it's too late.

Beyond the fact that that last sentence means absolutely nothing without further explanation, you've already said you have a problem with foreign films because of the language, and you're hardly an impartial observer in this matter.

Show me a Hollywood studio counterpart to Pixote, or Angi Vera, or The Battle of Algiers, or Come and See, or Kapo, or The Blue Kite. Movies like that are on a whole different level than anything that Hollywood produces. We haven't---and don't---made movies like that for the very good reason that Hollywood studios don't think they'll make enough money.

Yes, in terms of "entertainment", and the much-overrated factor of "production values", Hollywood leaves all other film industries in the dust, but that's only one part of the question. And if you want to argue that Jimmy Stewart is the greatest actor in history and that screwball comedies are the highest cinematic art form, then you're certainly entitled to that opinion.

But once you get out of "entertainment" and on to a somewhat different level, then the discussion shifts gears, and Hollywood doesn't look so good. Jesus, we've had nearly 50 years to produce a first rate movie about the events of the civil rights movement, and what do we get? ####### Mississippi Burning, one of the lamest pieces of fiction that's ever hit a screen. We've produced many a thrilling war epic, but how many of them show the full impact of war on the life of ordinary non-combatants, as do Come and See or Katyn? And what American political movie has even a fraction of the force or brutal honesty as Angi Vera?

I'm not sure whether the problem (if you see it as a problem to begin with) lies in the fact that our movies are produced strictly on a for-profit basis, or whether it's the "fault" of the American audience for always seeming to favor escapism, but the bottom line is that we're great at producing the world's most spectacular movies, but only at a certain level of imagination.
   133. Mellow Mouse, Benevolent Space Tyrant Posted: December 28, 2011 at 02:33 PM (#4024272)
A couple thoughts regarding classics. In my opinion there are several criteria a classic needs to meet.

It must be popular. This does not mean it has to be popular immediately, the most popular ever, or that more popular = more classic. Simply that the unknown cannot be a classic.

It must influence others. It has to be seen and declared as great by those who are then influenced by it in their actions. A popular movie which is not critically acclaimed and does not influece future criticism and has no impact on future movies cannot be a classic.

It must trancend its time. It needs legs, it cannot be a flash in the pan or so trapped in its own time that it quickly becomes an artifact of its time without meaning to future generations.

It must transcend its own context/culture. More than just greatness within a culture, it must be able to a degree pierce the boundaries of language and culture. This is less concrete than the other criteria, because I think one can have "An American Classic" or a "French Classic" which does not do this, but rather embodies and speaks to that culture. However to be a true classic you must speak to the fundemental human condition in a way which goes beyond a single culture and language.

Due respect to others in the thread, but it has nothing to do with any single persons opinion, realism (The thought something must be realistic to be a classic makes Hamlet, King Lear, and MacBeth cry), what demographic it appeals to or anything similar - other than how those factors influence the criteria above.

I do agree it is not objective - it is gloriously subjective. How could it be with the criteria I laid out? But it is not subject to an individual, though of course every individual can have an opinion as to whether something is a classic.

BTW - I agree foreign films are wildly overrated in general, though there are many foreign classics. I suspect it is a grass is greener phenomena, or perhaps a cooler than thou thing, but I am unsure and unwilling to assign motives in ignorance.
   134. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: December 28, 2011 at 03:15 PM (#4024294)
There are good things about "Open City," notably Aldo Fabrizi and the film's context/influence... but saying it's better than "The Lady Eve" is a big brown bag of madness.

I've seen both of those movies at least half a dozen times, and that comment makes about as much sense as saying that Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is a better piece of music than Handel's Messiah.


It's easier to create an "Open City" than a "Lady Eve." There are many more great, perfectly-realized dramas than there are comedy equivalents. What Preston Sturges did is a much harder feat to do successfully. His skill set is rarer than Roberto Rossellini's.

Not that the AFI "100 This, 100 That" lists are the received word of the Lord (for one, foreign films like "Open City" don't even meet their criteria for consideration). But it's instructive to look at some of the mediocrities and outright junk padding out their "100 Laughs" comedy list, particularly the second half of it, in order to get it up to 100 entries. Then, compare it to their "100 Best Movies" list-- the reliance on filler isn't close. Give me the list of your #201-#300 dramas, even war dramas, and give me the list of your #201-#300 comedies. I promise you the serious list will kick the comedy list's ass.

I realize that Cahiers du Cinema or the Sight and Sound voters value Yasujiro Ozu over Woody Allen. They're wrong.
   135. Mellow Mouse, Benevolent Space Tyrant Posted: December 28, 2011 at 03:22 PM (#4024297)
As an aside, I object to the statement that The Wizard of Oz is "Escapist". I recognize there are fantastic and escapist surface elements to it, but I could argue at length (I and my high school English teachers hope convincingly) that at its heart Oz is a coming of age story rife with symbolism and metaphor. While in the end Dorothy does go home, it is not the home she left. Not because it has changed, but rather she has changed, grown and in many ways become an adult where before she was a child.

On the surface it is a child's story, but in reality it is a powerful fable about the journey to become an adult. I would argue that this coming of age is in fact very universal and that the escapist elements are the "sugar that makes the medicine go down."

I can see how you might get fooled by the singing munchkins though, they are a tricky lot.
   136. ray james Posted: December 28, 2011 at 03:39 PM (#4024304)
That's crazy talk. Screwball comedy is the most distinctive genre of the classic age; the one irreplaceable category of movies that make the golden age the great age of movies.


But Morty, who watches them anymore, except hardcore film buffs? Sure they were distinctive in a certain time and place, in the same way that disaster movies defined the seventies. Would anyone say The Poseidon Adventure or Airport deserved icon status because they defined an era?

I'm also uncomfortable calling that era "the classic age". It is only thought of as classic because it was the earliest time that talkies were the dominant cinema form.

Screwball comedies are to the thirties as sci-fi thrillers are to the fifties. They defined an era because that's what people wanted to see in that time and place. How much you like or dislike a particular genre is all a matter of personal taste. But true classics transcend personal taste.
   137. ray james Posted: December 28, 2011 at 03:49 PM (#4024309)
Great screwball demands perfect aesthetics. The elements of the art must be in exact balance.


But what do screwball comedies actually have to say? Not much usually. They're a pleasant distraction mostly, nothing more. They didn't address any of the burning questions of the day. In fact, I find a lot of them kind of annoying. They mostly involve rich people acting silly, because they can afford to act silly. For instance, in Holiday , Cary Grant is supposedly expressing his individuality by standing on his head? Really? That's what constitutes class rebellion? And not going to work for the family firm and making your pile like everyone else? That's being true to yourself? And this at a time when 25% of the country was out of work and the world was about to transform into a gigantic killing field.

Sure they were well-crafted and well-written. At least the good ones were. But true cinema should be more than just simply saccharine entertainment. It should have depth, meaning, something profound to say and said in a way that only film can express.
   138. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 28, 2011 at 04:22 PM (#4024333)
A couple thoughts regarding classics. In my opinion there are several criteria a classic needs to meet.

It must be popular. This does not mean it has to be popular immediately, the most popular ever, or that more popular = more classic. Simply that the unknown cannot be a classic.


I'd agree, as long as you include those two qualifications, and as long as you're not conflating "popular" with "recognition among American audiences", which would be like saying that an American movie couldn't have been a "classic" during the Chinese Cultural Revolution because few if any Chinese would even know what you're talking about.

It must influence others. It has to be seen and declared as great by those who are then influenced by it in their actions. A popular movie which is not critically acclaimed and does not influece future criticism and has no impact on future movies cannot be a classic.

It must trancend its time. It needs legs, it cannot be a flash in the pan or so trapped in its own time that it quickly becomes an artifact of its time without meaning to future generations.


No argument there, as long as future generations are given reasonable amounts of exposure to it, and are basing their judgments on actually having seen the film. A business decision by a film's copyright owner or a cable network programmer to let a film gather dust has nothing to do with its inherent worth. This comment applies every bit as much to many casually neglected American movies as to foreign films, and the only solution is more exposure. Louise Brooks put my opinion on this rather beautifully in an interview with John Kobal, which I'll post in a separate comment.

It must transcend its own context/culture. More than just greatness within a culture, it must be able to a degree pierce the boundaries of language and culture. This is less concrete than the other criteria, because I think one can have "An American Classic" or a "French Classic" which does not do this, but rather embodies and speaks to that culture. However to be a true classic you must speak to the fundemental human condition in a way which goes beyond a single culture and language.

I couldn't agree more, but again, that's assuming a relatively level playing field of exposure.

BTW - I agree foreign films are wildly overrated in general, though there are many foreign classics. I suspect it is a grass is greener phenomena, or perhaps a cooler than thou thing, but I am unsure and unwilling to assign motives in ignorance.

To the extent that this is addressed to me, whatever "overrating" I've applied to foreign films is limited to a relative handful of films and two actors, Mifune and Gabin. As a subjective opinion that's based on my particular standards of greatness (which don't seem all that different from yours, BTW), I think that the majority of films at the very top of the heap (top 40 or 50) were produced across the two oceans, and that the overall work of those two named actors surpasses that of any American actor. But below that rarefied level, I simply haven't seen enough foreign movies to register an opinion (at most I've seen about 150-200), and it wouldn't surprise me if after watching all of the best movies in all genres from all countries for the past 100 years, I'd give the overall Career Value award to Hollywood. Although I'd put Fernandel's The Sheep Has Five Legs over any American screwball or slapstick, my next 500 comedies would probably have been produced here. Jacques Tati leaves me absolutely cold.

As an aside, I object to the statement that The Wizard of Oz is "Escapist". I recognize there are fantastic and escapist surface elements to it, but I could argue at length (I and my high school English teachers hope convincingly) that at its heart Oz is a coming of age story rife with symbolism and metaphor. While in the end Dorothy does go home, it is not the home she left. Not because it has changed, but rather she has changed, grown and in many ways become an adult where before she was a child.

On the surface it is a child's story, but in reality it is a powerful fable about the journey to become an adult. I would argue that this coming of age is in fact very universal and that the escapist elements are the "sugar that makes the medicine go down."


Good point, as long as you restrict it to films that actually achieve this sort of transcendence and not stretch it beyond that.

-------------------------------------------

There are good things about "Open City," notably Aldo Fabrizi and the film's context/influence... but saying it's better than "The Lady Eve" is a big brown bag of madness.

I've seen both of those movies at least half a dozen times, and that comment makes about as much sense as saying that Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is a better piece of music than Handel's Messiah.

It's easier to create an "Open City" than a "Lady Eve." There are many more great, perfectly-realized dramas than there are comedy equivalents. What Preston Sturges did is a much harder feat to do successfully. His skill set is rarer than Roberto Rossellini's.


To the extent that that's true, it begs the question of which skill set is on a higher level, and what criteria you're employing to judge greatness.

Not that the AFI "100 This, 100 That" lists are the received word of the Lord (for one, foreign films like "Open City" don't even meet their criteria for consideration). But it's instructive to look at some of the mediocrities and outright junk padding out their "100 Laughs" comedy list, particularly the second half of it, in order to get it up to 100 entries. Then, compare it to their "100 Best Movies" list-- the reliance on filler isn't close. Give me the list of your #201-#300 dramas, even war dramas, and give me the list of your #201-#300 comedies. I promise you the serious list will kick the comedy list's ass.

Glad we agree on something. My opinion of those AFI lists is about the equivalent of Ray's opinion of the BBWAA. They're useful as a sort of "cultural indicator", I suppose, but that's about it.

I realize that Cahiers du Cinema or the Sight and Sound voters value Yasujiro Ozu over Woody Allen. They're wrong.

I'm only a mild fan of Woody Allen, but I haven't seen enough Ozu to respond to that, although two of his supposed classics (the silent and sound versions of Floating Weeds) are coming up on TCM in January. It's only been in the past 2 1/2 years that I've had any real chance to immerse myself in movies, and 80% to 90% of that exposure has been in classic Hollywood.
   139. Mellow Mouse, Benevolent Space Tyrant Posted: December 28, 2011 at 04:30 PM (#4024337)

No argument there, as long as future generations are given reasonable amounts of exposure to it, and are basing their judgments on actually having seen the film. A business decision by a film's copyright owner or a cable network programmer to let a film gather dust has nothing to do with its inherent worth. This comment applies every bit as much to many casually neglected American movies as to foreign films, and the only solution is more exposure. Louise Brooks put my opinion on this rather beautifully in an interview with John Kobol, which I'll post in a separate comment.


I think where we part ways is that I think classic is about more than the quality of the movie. Classic is a state that comes from the nature of the movie and also what happens to it "in the wild." The greatest movie ever made might be a home movie shot long ago and lost to history. It is not and cannot be a classic, irrespectiove of its quality, because it is not known and cannot influence. So if a film is left to collect dust it does not impinge on its worth or quality, but could easily make it not become a classic.

The world is not fair.
   140. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 28, 2011 at 04:34 PM (#4024342)
As I mentioned above, Louise Brooks expressed much of my POV about the necessity to expose yourself to all types of films, good and bad, before trying to form an opinion. Here's an excerpt from her interview with John Kobal, which is included in Kobal's People Will Talk. The irony here is that in this case Brooks is talking about the neglect (in 1965) of older Hollywood movies, but the point she's making about not restricting yourself to a particular genre, era or culture is universal.

LB That's the whole terrible thing about this movie cult, these movie curators (she curdles her voice on the word), these film archives ... they go from cult to cult. This year they're mad about Japanese films and everything else stinks, and next year it's Ingmar Bergman and everything else stinks and it's an idiotic, childish way to view ... The films aren't art; it's like the public library, it's full of books from the beginning of printing, and it doesn't make any difference whether they're old or new. Some are good, some are bad, and to be a cult in reading is as idiotic as - well, to be a cult with film, I think, is equally idiotic.

JK In a sense, I think it's because people only rediscover one person at a time. It allows them time to explore their films, their directors ... Still, I agree, cult is stupid. LB Well, that's true about anyone who is inspired and exhilarated and enthralled and enlightened by art. Everyone used to kid me. I remember a blind date, he said: 'Don't talk to Brooksie about anything but Tolstoi, Dostoevsky and Turgenev, she's going through her Russian period and won't listen to anything else'. And then I went through my Dickens period, and my Thackeray. Now, he was making great fun of me, but as these enthusiasms simmered down, I put them all in their places in my pantheon, And I can love them all. They're all unique. Just as each director is unique ... Well, I forgot the point, what the hell am I getting at?

JK How one can appreciate so much more than just one ...

LB Oh, yeah. Every picture is worth something to somebody, and there's always a reason for saving it, for not discarding it, for not going .... I remember in 1943 Iris Barry, who started the Museum of Modern Art Film Department, had me to lunch with a local wolf and she said she wasn't going to get a copy of Pandora's box, that it had no lasting value. That kind of saying, you see; and James Card here at the Eastman House Film Museum, through me and through Marion Davies' nephew, Charlie Lederer, had an opportunity to get the Marion Davies films. That was back in 1958 before she died, and he was too busy collecting foreign films that he could now get for a dime a dozen, all he wants, and in the meantime they've given the Marion Davies films, which are absolutely fabulous because of Mr. Hearst and his supervision ... they've given all of her films to the Hollywood Museum. That is what this prejudice and this silly judgments out of left field ruins; that is why they ruin archives, and ruin the curator's work, and ruin for the viewer, for you and me who just go to look at films: that's why these people aren't necessarily instructive. They should grab everything they can get hold of, for sooner or later it's going to be precious.

JK Isn't it funny? Over in England and France they collect the American films like mad because they realize American films are the most precious gold mine of all cinema history.

LB And the hardest to get because they used to, after they sent in the copyright negatives, they would collect back all the prints and just ship them off to Eastman Kodak here and have them melted down to get back what money they could get out of the silver in the films. They keep talking now about deterioration and how the films are lost. They always forget that the big way they were lost was because the studios themselves had them burned up and melted down to sell for silver content. They used to make $2 or $3 million a year that way, reclaiming the film.
   141. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 28, 2011 at 04:45 PM (#4024353)
I think where we part ways is that I think classic is about more than the quality of the movie. Classic is a state that comes from the nature of the movie and also what happens to it "in the wild." The greatest movie ever made might be a home movie shot long ago and lost to history. It is not and cannot be a classic, irrespectiove of its quality, because it is not known and cannot influence. So if a film is left to collect dust it does not impinge on its worth or quality, but could easily make it not become a classic.

The world is not fair.


Yeah, but that POV is the equivalent of saying that a "classic"'s designation is determined by popularity polls that are both influenced by, and reflected in, business decisions of how much exposure to give to, and keep giving to, any particular film. To call this process "fair" or "unfair" is kind of beside the point.

And of course there are countless "classics" produced overseas that neither you or I nor 99.999% of Americans have ever heard of---are these films to be considered merely the sound of a gunshot in the desert?

My point is simply this: First give the best movies of all countries equal exposure to everyone around the world. Then, and only then, can we begin---using your standards, not mine---to compile a coherent list of film "classics". We can't just say that only Yankee fans get to vote for the MVP award.
   142. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 28, 2011 at 04:47 PM (#4024354)
Side topic: Has anyone else discovered that their bookmarks have been zapped? Mine disappeared overnight. I tried rebooting but the problem's still there.
   143. ray james Posted: December 28, 2011 at 04:47 PM (#4024355)
Marion Davies made marvelous films? Because of William Randolph Hearst' supervision?

Umm...
   144. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 28, 2011 at 05:15 PM (#4024381)
Marion Davies made marvelous films? Because of William Randolph Hearst' supervision?

Umm...


I'm assuming Brooks was referring to Hearst's financial backing. Brooks certainly knew something about millionaires with enthusiasms for actresses, since her all-time Sugar Daddy during the prime years of her acting career was none other than this rather infamous future owner of the Washington Redskins, a pairing that surely made for one of the more fascinating couples in the history of 20th century entertainment.
   145. Mellow Mouse, Benevolent Space Tyrant Posted: December 28, 2011 at 07:02 PM (#4024472)
Yeah, but that POV is the equivalent of saying that a "classic"'s designation is determined by popularity polls that are both influenced by, and reflected in, business decisions of how much exposure to give to, and keep giving to, any particular film. To call this process "fair" or "unfair" is kind of beside the point.


You have said this previously, and I still do not agree. A classic is more than a popularity contest, but it IS a cultural artifact and to attempt to separate it from its culture (and its popularity within the culture) is to remove what (I think) "classic" means. A part of the impact is influenced by happinstance, popularity, and such that is removed from the quality of the film - and that's OK. It is not a bug in the process, it is a feature.

My point is simply this: First give the best movies of all countries equal exposure to everyone around the world. Then, and only then, can we begin---using your standards, not mine---to compile a coherent list of film "classics". We can't just say that only Yankee fans get to vote for the MVP award.


This is idealistic and completely ivory tower unrealistic. Their are too many to give this treatment to, and even the initial filtering is subjective as heck. Plus it defeats the point. If something becomes popular, influences other movies, actors, critics and so on in a way such that it is a classic, then it is a classic. It is not popularity it is reality.

MLB fans get to decide the MVP. They don't have to watch every other league in the world in equal amounts and see every player play. It is not practical and will never happen. If that is the standard for determining a classic then there is no point in discussing it (which seems self defeating).

And yes my bookmarks are gone also.
   146. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 28, 2011 at 07:58 PM (#4024528)
Yeah, but that POV is the equivalent of saying that a "classic"'s designation is determined by popularity polls that are both influenced by, and reflected in, business decisions of how much exposure to give to, and keep giving to, any particular film. To call this process "fair" or "unfair" is kind of beside the point.

You have said this previously, and I still do not agree. A classic is more than a popularity contest, but it IS a cultural artifact and to attempt to separate it from its culture (and its popularity within the culture) is to remove what (I think) "classic" means. A part of the impact is influenced by happinstance, popularity, and such that is removed from the quality of the film - and that's OK. It is not a bug in the process, it is a feature.


Perhaps we can find a common ground by saying that different countries and cultures have different ideas of what makes a "classic" film. What I continue to resist is the idea that one country's set of "classics" has anything to do with another country's set, and that somehow our own aggregated idea about the superiority of our set of "classics" overrides anyone else's.

My point is simply this: First give the best movies of all countries equal exposure to everyone around the world. Then, and only then, can we begin---using your standards, not mine---to compile a coherent list of film "classics". We can't just say that only Yankee fans get to vote for the MVP award.

This is idealistic and completely ivory tower unrealistic.


Of course it is, but so is the idea that people with little or no knowledge of other countries' best films are in a position to make an intelligent assertion that their "classics" are more "classic" than anyone else's. That just gets us into the realm of the "flesh" colored crayon, where our standards are simply assumed to be universal.

Their are too many to give this treatment to, and even the initial filtering is subjective as heck. Plus it defeats the point. If something becomes popular, influences other movies, actors, critics and so on in a way such that it is a classic, then it is a classic. It is not popularity it is reality.

But again, that's American reality, not necessarily anything beyond that. A 1958 poll of thousands of film critics from all over the world chose the top 10 films of all time, and this list included but three American movies: The Gold Rush (# 2 behind Eisenstein's The Battleship Potemkin); D.W. Griffith's Intolerance (# 7); and Citizen Kane (# 9). No Casablanca, no Gone With The Wind, no Wizard of Oz, no High Noon, and no screwball comedies, either. The point isn't whether this list is "right" or "wrong", but only that the demographics of the voting base makes for some radically different definitions and rankings of "classics".

MLB fans get to decide the MVP. They don't have to watch every other league in the world in equal amounts and see every player play. It is not practical and will never happen. If that is the standard for determining a classic then there is no point in discussing it (which seems self defeating).

The problem with that analogy is that while there's a universal consensus about the superiority of the U.S. Major League Baseball product, there's no such worldwide critical consensus about films. Of course there's nothing wrong with discussing it, only with assuming that our discussion constitutes any more than one piece of a larger puzzle.

And yes my bookmarks are gone also.

I sure hope that this is just another technical screwup that can be corrected, rather than some New Coke idea. I wrote Dan & Jim about it this morning, but so far no reply. I'd like to assume that they're working on correcting it.
   147. Mellow Mouse, Benevolent Space Tyrant Posted: December 28, 2011 at 08:24 PM (#4024551)
Perhaps we can find a common ground by saying that different countries and cultures have different ideas of what makes a "classic" film. What I continue to resist is the idea that one country's set of "classics" has anything to do with another country's set, and that somehow our own aggregated idea about the superiority of our set of "classics" overrides anyone else's.


I agree with your first sentence. But I think one country (especially the US) can influence others countries film, and thus can influence what becomes a classic. It is not directly analogous, but much like MLB is superior to the rest fo the world the US film industry has historically been dominat world wide. Note that does not mean that it is best or highest quality, but in influence world wide it is clearly #1. And influence is a component of my definition of classic. If you don't think the US film industry has inordinate influence on the world wide film industry hisorically then I think we just lost our common ground.

And even in the MLB, just because it is the superior overall product does not necessarily mean the best player in the world plays in the US. It is likely, but not guaranteed.

All that being said I am not arguing for a US centric dominance for quality reasons. There are many great foreign films. But just like I doubt any writer will ever (forseeable future) surpase the influence of Shakespeare even if they were much better. Getting there early and having historic factors matters, as does quality.

As an aside, I definitely consider Casablanca a classic and it is certainly in my top 10. Of course 10 is far too limiting, and ANY list of ten will be seriously flawed. Like having a Hall of Fame with only ten members. Basically impossible.
   148. Swedish Chef Posted: December 28, 2011 at 08:37 PM (#4024557)
I sure hope that this is just another technical screwup that can be corrected, rather than some New Coke idea. I wrote Dan & Jim about it this morning, but so far no reply. I'd like to assume that they're working on correcting it.

Read the front page box.
   149. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 28, 2011 at 09:18 PM (#4024577)
Perhaps we can find a common ground by saying that different countries and cultures have different ideas of what makes a "classic" film. What I continue to resist is the idea that one country's set of "classics" has anything to do with another country's set, and that somehow our own aggregated idea about the superiority of our set of "classics" overrides anyone else's.

I agree with your first sentence. But I think one country (especially the US) can influence others countries film, and thus can influence what becomes a classic. It is not directly analogous, but much like MLB is superior to the rest fo the world the US film industry has historically been dominat world wide. Note that does not mean that it is best or highest quality, but in influence world wide it is clearly #1. And influence is a component of my definition of classic. If you don't think the US film industry has inordinate influence on the world wide film industry hisorically then I think we just lost our common ground.


No question about that inordinate amount of American movie influence, as no other film industry has aggressively promoted itself worldwide as Hollywood has. We still, however, disagree on what criteria constitute the definition of a "classic" in anything beyond popularity---popularity which is in turn influenced by the disproportionate** reach of the Hollywood product.

**By "disproportionate" I mean statistically speaking; this is not a criticism of Hollywood for trying to promote its product. If nothing else, it keeps their attention off us DVD archivists. (smile)

And even in the MLB, just because it is the superior overall product does not necessarily mean the best player in the world plays in the US. It is likely, but not guaranteed.

But as you surely realize, there are ways of demonstrating that quality superiority in baseball that are not available in movies.

All that being said I am not arguing for a US centric dominance for quality reasons. There are many great foreign films. But just like I doubt any writer will ever (forseeable future) surpase the influence of Shakespeare even if they were much better. Getting there early and having historic factors matters, as does quality.

That's one way of looking at it, as long as you don't insist on conflating the first two factors with the third, which you haven't. Though I might add that Shakespeare has stood a bit more rigorous cross-cultural examining over the years than Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

As an aside, I definitely consider Casablanca a classic and it is certainly in my top 10. Of course 10 is far too limiting, and ANY list of ten will be seriously flawed. Like having a Hall of Fame with only ten members. Basically impossible.

Yeah, a few years ago my wife and I compiled our consensus top 50 list (on which we mostly agreed, believe it or not), but that was then. I tried stretching it to 100 a few months back, but got so overdosed on too many choices that I've pretty much given it up. Hell, a third the movies I have on any such current list of 100 would be ones that I'd never even heard of, let alone seen, five or six years ago. And once I get past The Killers, Out of the Past, Touchez Pas Au Grisbi and Rififi, about a hundred noirs start clamoring for the # 5 through 10 spots on a list limited solely to that one genre.

That said, the very top ones haven't changed that much, which were Angi Vera leading off, followed by in no particular order Open City, Pixote, High and Low, Scars of Womanhood, The Blue Kite, The Battle of Algiers, All About Eve, The Sheep Has Five Legs and the Garland version of A Star Is Born. But in truth, I can now probably think of at least a dozen others that are on the same basic level as any of these but Angi Vera, which is in a class by itself. As you say, it's just too impossible a task, as the more you know, the more you realize you don't know. I'm extremely lucky that there isn't a foreign movies version of TCM!

Oh, and in that earlier list Casablanca was almost there. But now I'd rather watch The Maltese Falcon. I didn't think it was possible for a movie on Casablanca's exalted level ever to make me say "uncle", but for the time being it has. I think that the unlucky 13th viewing probably did it.

-------------------------------------------

Read the front page box.

Just did, Swedish Chef, and thanks. The bookmarks part of the downtime notice wasn't there earlier, but it's good to know it wasn't a mini-crash that couldn't be restored.
   150. Morty Causa Posted: December 28, 2011 at 10:23 PM (#4024643)
Morty, of course I both know and respect the difference between my own standards / taste in movies and that of the societal consensus, as represented by Oscar awards, AFI lists, IMDB ratings, etc.


The Academy, or AFI, or IMDB, not more confers classic status on a movie than the baseball HOF confers greatness on a player.

As I just said in reply to Srul, I've never pretended that my standards / taste corresponded to any such consensus, although it should be re-emphasized that the "consensus" you've been alluding to here is strictly an American one.

Any standard that has no limits is meaningless. More than that, I would guess that the standards between countries are the same—it is universal. You’re right about that. The rub comes about in deciding what in that foreign context that meets the standard when you are unfamiliar with, even totally ignorant of, the particular context.

I think that the definition of classic has one or more of the following components. 1. Mass appeal years later. (and not ironically) 2. widely considered to be great quality by authority in the field 3.shaped or inspire future generations. Just because someone doesn't like Westerns doesn't mean that they had no classics, just as if someone didn't like R&B, doesn't mean it doesn't have any classics.


I like this. A classic exists outside of my tastes or opinion. It’s a cultural construct.

Yep. The Lady Eve and Libeled Lady are two of my favorite movies of all time, and I could watch them every year for the rest of my life and never get tired of them, but they're still featherweight flicks compared to an Open City or a Bicycle Thief.


No. Art is about truth and beauty, and movies are no exception. And comedies, screwball or other types, deal with that, just as drama or melodrama or “realistic” movies do. For instance, screwball comedy is quintessentially about he the power dynamics between men and war—the war between the sexes. I think that is just as pertinent to the human condition as anything—poverty, war, etc. Art also reflects what a culture demands of itself—again, screwball has something to say about that. Screwball, at its best, in the end, is about the making that sexual dynamic work, and setting the terms of the dynamic that makes it work. I can’t think of anything more basic than that. The sense of superficiality that inundates you is part of screwball’s charm, but in the end it speaks more to you, the viewer’s, limitations, than to the genre’s.
   151. Something Other Posted: December 28, 2011 at 10:59 PM (#4024675)
Just because I found it amusing. From Wikipedia's article on the brilliant The Third Man:

The film's unusual camera angles, however, were not appreciated by all critics at the time. C. A. Lejeune in The Observer described Reed's "habit of printing his scenes askew, with floors sloping at a diagonal and close-ups deliriously tilted" as "most distracting". American director William Wyler, a close friend of Reed's, sent him a spirit level, with a note saying, "Carol, next time you make a picture, just put it on top of the camera, will you?"[2]


Are there any online film clubs where people watch a film and comment on it in real time?
   152. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 28, 2011 at 11:16 PM (#4024692)
Art is about truth and beauty, and movies are no exception. And comedies, screwball or other types, deal with that, just as drama or melodrama or “realistic” movies do. For instance, screwball comedy is quintessentially about he the power dynamics between men and war—the war between the sexes. I think that is just as pertinent to the human condition as anything—poverty, war, etc. Art also reflects what a culture demands of itself—again, screwball has something to say about that. Screwball, at its best, in the end, is about the making that sexual dynamic work, and setting the terms of the dynamic that makes it work. I can’t think of anything more basic than that. The sense of superficiality that inundates you is part of screwball’s charm, but in the end it speaks more to you, the viewer’s, limitations, than to the genre’s.

But the limitation of comedies, no matter what larger themes or "wars" you might wish to read into them, is that they demand almost nothing from the viewer beyond the ability to laugh at funny situations and funny people, and occasionally to root for a happy ending in the form of a production code-required marriage ceremony. Admittedly even that 40-watt demand is beyond the capabilities of people who say that they don't "get" Harlow or Hepburn or Belushi or Fernandel, but it's still a pretty damn low barrier.

By contrast, a film like Angi Vera deals on a dramatically honest level with the psychological terror imposed on a people by its (Hungarian) government (during the year of the post-WWII Communist takeover). It portrays the conflict between conscience and expediency. It shows how these conflicts can dominate the life of an idealistic young girl and her friends. It depicts a chillingly powerful scene of a self-criticism session where an 18 year old girl is forced to betray her lover or lose whatever hope she has for a secure future, and it forces this choice upon her in front of a closed tribunal with little or no warning. Every Hungarian I've spoken to has cited this scene as being so close to the truth of what their country went through during that period as to induce a visceral shudder of recognition. It appeals to the emotions without pandering to them in any cheap shot way; both the nominal heroes and villains of the movie are essentially trapped in a world that's been imposed on them by outside forces they don't fully understand.

And yes, I think that it's a "better" movie than anything I've ever seen Hollywood produce, in any genre. I only wish that we were capable of such art, but perhaps we should be glad that we've never had to be.
   153. Morty Causa Posted: December 28, 2011 at 11:23 PM (#4024699)
Morty, of course I both know and respect the difference between my own standards / taste in movies and that of the societal consensus, as represented by Oscar awards, AFI lists, IMDB ratings, etc.


The Academy, or AFI, or IMDB, no more confers classic status on a movie than the baseball HOF confers greatness on a player.

As I just said in reply to Srul, I've never pretended that my standards / taste corresponded to any such consensus, although it should be re-emphasized that the "consensus" you've been alluding to here is strictly an American one.


Any standard that has no limits is meaningless. More than that, I would guess that the standards between countries are the same—it is universal. (You’re right about that.) The rub comes about in deciding what in that foreign context that meets the standard, and how ell that enterprise does that, when a person is unfamiliar with, even totally ignorant of, the particular context, especially in terms of language and social and cultural mores.

I think that the definition of classic has one or more of the following components. 1. Mass appeal years later. (and not ironically) 2. widely considered to be great quality by authority in the field 3.shaped or inspire future generations. Just because someone doesn't like Westerns doesn't mean that they had no classics, just as if someone didn't like R&B, doesn't mean it doesn't have any classics.


I like this. A classic exists outside of my tastes or opinion, although individuals certainly can have a limited input. It’s a cultural construct.

Yep. The Lady Eve and Libeled Lady are two of my favorite movies of all time, and I could watch them every year for the rest of my life and never get tired of them, but they're still featherweight flicks compared to an Open City or a Bicycle Thief.


No. Art is about truth and beauty, and movies are no exception to that. And comedies, screwball or other types, deal with that, just as drama or melodrama or “realistic” movies do--those movies that wear their seriousness on their sleeve. For instance, screwball comedy is quintessentially about relationships, especially the power dynamics between men and war—the war between the sexes. I think that is just as pertinent to the human condition as anything—poverty, war, etc. Art also reflects what a culture expects of itself—again, screwball has something to say about that. Screwball, at its best, in the end, is about making that sexual dynamic work, and exploring the terms of the dynamic that makes it work or not work. I can’t think of anything more basic than that. The sense of superficiality that inundates you is part of screwball’s charm, but in the end it speaks more to your, the viewer’s, limitations, than to the genre’s.

Show me a Hollywood studio counterpart to Pixote, or Angi Vera, or The Battle of Algiers, or Come and See, or Kapo, or The Blue Kite. Movies like that are on a whole different level than anything that Hollywood produces. We haven't---and don't---made movies like that for the very good reason that Hollywood studios don't think they'll make enough money.


No, they don’t. But, I could say the same—show me something in foreign films like Hitchcock’s best, Ford’s best, Hawks’s, etc. What’s the foreign The Searchers—which is artistically a hybrid of Homer (the Greek epic poet) and Shakespeare (not the fried chicken franchise). Hollywood (i.e., American) film has the broadest, most varied, base, and there’s no serious competition. That they are commercial enterprises doesn’t have anything to do with anything much. Shakespeare wanted to make big money; so did Homer I bet, as well as Shaw; Eugene O’Neil, Oscar Wilde, Tennessee Williams, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Walker Percy and John Fowles, Beethoven, Bach, Degas, Picasso, Dylan Thomas, and Bob Dylan. Demeaning and slandering the commercial for its commercialism is a high school English teacher’s prissy standard that only serves to bolster pretenses of superiority without actually arguing why it's superior. It's basically name-calling.

Yes, in terms of "entertainment", and the much-overrated factor of "production values", Hollywood leaves all other film industries in the dust, but that's only one part of the question. And if you want to argue that Jimmy Stewart is the greatest actor in history and that screwball comedies are the highest cinematic art form, then you're certainly entitled to that opinion.


I do argue it. But more to the point, American culture argues and maintains it. And his name is “James”, not “Jimmy.”

The superficiality, the idea that Hollywood is only “entertainment” is entirely a delusion of your own making. It's not serious criticism. Production values (which is not just restricted to technology), before they can be overvalued, have to be given there great due—and they have immense value.

Jesus, we've had nearly 50 years to produce a first rate movie about the events of the civil rights movement, and what do we get?


Birth of A Nation is a great movie. That its view of race is not yours, and probably offends you, doesn’t change that it’s a great movie. Most good ‘50’s westerns are about race. The greatest western of all time, and a very great movie in its own right, The Searchers, is overtly about race. The thing is, what you want, is doctrinaire partisan art, which is why I suspect you like The Battle of Algiers so much. But what’s distinctive about that movie is that the best, most human character, is the villain—the evil apologist for imperialism. In fact, he really isn't he villain. You want your preaching but you want us to eat it. Which, hey, is your right. Every Age wants its version of stuff like Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. But when you think about it there isn’t much in the way of high art that comes off as social progressivism—at least it doesn’t stay there. It has to elevate itself beyond that, like Dickens or Twain. There’s a reason didactic art doesn’t make the cut for long if doesn’t transcend it’s doctrinarism. It doesn't encompass a total view of the total view of the matter. The best movie about the Civil Rights movement would have to give racism its due—in fact, it probably should be about the racists, specifically and how it’s in all of us. Since many of the “good” racists aren’t ready for that yet, ergo, great art on this score in America has to wait. Although there have been moves along these lines.
   154. Morty Causa Posted: December 28, 2011 at 11:29 PM (#4024702)
Post 133 is generally excellent and to the point.
   155. Morty Causa Posted: December 28, 2011 at 11:46 PM (#4024717)
It's easier to create an "Open City" than a "Lady Eve." There are many more great, perfectly-realized dramas than there are comedy equivalents. What Preston Sturges did is a much harder feat to do successfully. His skill set is rarer than Roberto Rossellini's.


As an aside, I object to the statement that The Wizard of Oz is "Escapist".


And yes, I think that it's a "better" movie than anything I've ever seen Hollywood produce, in any genre. I only wish that we were capable of such art, but perhaps we should be glad that we've never had to be.


First, America would have to be a different country. Just because The Shop Around the Corner takes place in Budapest doesn't make it about Budapest. It couldn't possibly be about Budapest. America (and its film factories) deals with all those issues close to the social activists heart--just not like they want it to. Like I tell women who think Hollywood should make this or that movie about women, or deal with an issue in this or that way, hey, it's a free country--make your movie, or support someone who will make that movie. (Funny how all these women make millions and millions of bucks, and have all this commercial clout, and they still want men to do for them.) If the movie you want is not being made in this country, there just might be a reason that goes further than "Hollywood commercialization.".

That Alice In Wonderland and Alice Through The Looking Glass seems slight and even fragile doesn't mean it isn't a great work of Western literary art. Art in literature doesn't have to be all Dostoevsky or Tolstoy or James Joyce. Because one culture may have as it's signature art one sort or other is no reason to demean either.

Moreover, there are limits to what can authentically grow out of a culture. There are reasons America gave rise to Hollywood and Hollywood specializes in Screwball, Comedies in general, melodramas, film noir, westerns, and now sci-fi. Why the censorious attitude? There are movies about war that have come out of Hollywood, and of the home front in war.

Yes, dying is easy; comedy is hard. As Fred Astaire said, when he was complimented on how easy he made it all seem: Yeah, too bad, I got to work like a ditch digger to accomplish that effect. That JOST and others slight screwball, and the American product, is really a testament to its creative powers.
   156. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: December 29, 2011 at 12:01 AM (#4024724)
But the limitation of comedies, no matter what larger themes or "wars" you might wish to read into them, is that they demand almost nothing from the viewer beyond the ability to laugh at funny situations and funny people, and occasionally to root for a happy ending in the form of a production code-required marriage ceremony.

Wow, Andy, I find this to be spectacularly wrongheaded. By that standard, what do your war films demand from you beyond the ability to recognize man's inhumanity to man and the capriciousness of fate, and to observe with rueful solemnity how good people react in bad circumstances?

Anyone who thinks comedy is weighted under a special set of "limitations" that constrains it from matching or surpassing other genres is using some twisted criteria... particularly if they think film noir is so varied and unbridled that a single list can barely contain it.

That's a castor oil approach to good art, and I reject it. However, you're right that Jacques Tati bites.
   157. Morty Causa Posted: December 29, 2011 at 12:02 AM (#4024725)
But Morty, who watches them anymore, except hardcore film buffs?


That’s who determines what’s immortal.

Despite JOSN’s stubbornness, it’s not just about popularity. It’s about who a work is popular with and why it’s popular with them. Of course, in the larger general sense, it is about popularity—popularity with an elite group. Who was it that said art is news that stays news. And this applies to Open City as much as it does to The Lady Eve. And elites always in all the arts determine what becomes and what stays classic. I don’t think this is some radical concept, yet it seems to be one that forever seems to elude some.

But true cinema should be more than just simply saccharine entertainment. It should have depth, meaning, something profound to say and said in a way that only film can express.


That you don’t think Screwball is substantial enough is really the point. You’ve been fooled. That’s what it set out to do and it works---that doesn’t mean it has no worth or meaning beyond your immediate instinctive perception of it.
   158. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 29, 2011 at 12:10 AM (#4024733)
Jesus, we've had nearly 50 years to produce a first rate movie about the events of the civil rights movement, and what do we get?

Birth of A Nation is a great movie. That its view of race is not yours, and probably offends you, doesn’t change that it’s a great movie.


The Birth of a Nation is perhaps the greatest propaganda movie we've ever produced, on a par with the best of Eisenstein and Riefenstahl. The fact that its "POV" is different from mine doesn't offend me in the slightest. But the fact that it's based on a complete lie means that on a more meaningful level it's little more than adroitly (and spectacularly) produced propaganda.

Most good ‘50’s westerns are about race. The greatest western of all time, and a very great movie in its own right, The Searchers, is overtly about race.

I'm no more qualified to comment on The Searchers than you are about Angi Vera. But fortunately, my chances of finding that Wayne movie in the next two days are a lot greater than anyone's chance of finding Angi Vera. It's playing on TCM on Friday afternoon, and if the thread's still going by then, I'll have something specific to say about it.

The thing is, what you want, is doctrinaire partisan art, which is why I suspect you like The Battle of Algiers so much. But what’s distinctive about that movie is that the best, most human character, is the villain—the evil apologist for imperialism. In fact, he really isn't he villain. You want your preaching but you want us to eat it.

Of course the reason I think that The Battle of Algiers is so great is because of that "Mathieu" character, who was patterned after the French general Massu who performed his role in real life. Without that character, and without the graphic and totally somber depiction of the FLN violence directed against innocent civilians, the movie would have been what you apparently (and quite mistakenly) think I want it to be. I'm not sure where you get the idea that I favor "partisan propaganda", but if a film doesn't transcend that, and gets into falsehood in the service of a "higher truth", then it loses my interest almost immediately. Or I should say that it loses much of my respect.

Every Age wants its version of stuff like Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. But when you think about it there isn’t much in the way of high art that comes off as social progressivism—at least it doesn’t stay there. It has to elevate itself beyond that, like Dickens or Twain. There’s a reason didactic art doesn’t make the cut for long if doesn’t transcend it’s doctrinarism. It doesn't encompass a total view of the total view of the matter.

You're absolutely right---so far.

The best movie about the Civil Rights movement would have to give racism its due—in fact, it probably should be about the racists, specifically and how it’s in all of us. Since many of the “good” racists aren’t ready for that yet, ergo, great art on this score in America has to wait. Although there have been moves along these lines.

No the "best" movie about the civil rights movement would be based on historic truth, which isn't all that hard to find, since it's been well documented both in histories and in memoirs. It wouldn't deify or airbrush, but it certainly wouldn't indulge in some phony moral equivalence between the Connors and the Kings in an attempt to reach a "universal / we are all racists" message, which is at best a sophisticated half-truth in the service of obfuscation. It would certainly deal with black "racism", which wasn't hard to find back then if you were looking for it in every angry speech, but it would show where it came from. Just as it would show that George Wallace's racism didn't spring from a virgin birth. It wouldn't lose sight of the basic right and wrong, but it would let everyone have his unedited say. There are a million stories out there that have yet to be given cinematic form, but they await their cinematic interpreter.

It wouldn't be easy, in fact it would be almost impossible, given the raw sensibilities of all sides. But it could be done. And if it were, it would be a truly remarkable feat if it could achieve the artistic level of Angi Vera.
   159. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 29, 2011 at 12:15 AM (#4024737)
You guys are on me like white on rice, and my stomach is growling. But you keep raising arguable points, and I'll get back to them later. It's certainly a lot more interesting than discussing global warming with little Ray-Ray and his group of fellow deniers---that I leave to the truly masochistic.
   160. ray james Posted: December 29, 2011 at 12:27 AM (#4024745)
That you don’t think Screwball is substantial enough is really the point. You’ve been fooled.


Well, I could make a substantial argument that you think more of them than they deserve. But it looks like you've made up your mind on this and in matters of taste, it's difficult to argue. Let me just repeat that I find screwball comedies to be rather lightweight.
   161. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 29, 2011 at 03:38 AM (#4024868)
And yes, I think that [Angi Vera is] a "better" movie than anything I've ever seen Hollywood produce, in any genre. I only wish that we were capable of such art, but perhaps we should be glad that we've never had to be.

First, America would have to be a different country. Just because The Shop Around the Corner takes place in Budapest doesn't make it about Budapest. It couldn't possibly be about Budapest.


I do think I'm capable of telling the difference between the real Hungary and the Lubitsch version, though of course this has nothing to do with my point.

America (and its film factories) deals with all those issues close to the social activists heart--just not like they want it to. Like I tell women who think Hollywood should make this or that movie about women, or deal with an issue in this or that way, hey, it's a free country--make your movie, or support someone who will make that movie. (Funny how all these women make millions and millions of bucks, and have all this commercial clout, and they still want men to do for them.) If the movie you want is not being made in this country, there just might be a reason that goes further than "Hollywood commercialization."

Again you seem to have this curious idea that I'm demanding some sort of American version of Eisenstein, or a liberal version of Riefenstahl, or that Jane Fonda is my idea of a political philosopher. Yet none those movies I've mentioned are remotely like anything that those first two brilliant propagandists---who had far more in common with Griffith than with Pal Gabor or Hector Babenco---would have produced or directed, given the same material. Eisenstein was interested in "class truths," Riefenstahl and Griffith in "race truths", but what I'm looking more is more like a film that deals in both clarities and subtleties, and knows that both of these are essential in a great movie. Call it the unvarnished truth if you will.

That Alice In Wonderland and Alice Through The Looking Glass seems slight and even fragile doesn't mean it isn't a great work of Western literary art. Art in literature doesn't have to be all Dostoevsky or Tolstoy or James Joyce. Because one culture may have as it's signature art one sort or other is no reason to demean either.

No problem there.

Moreover, there are limits to what can authentically grow out of a culture. There are reasons America gave rise to Hollywood and Hollywood specializes in Screwball, Comedies in general, melodramas, film noir, westerns, and now sci-fi.

Of course there are, and these are also probably the biggest reasons that the sort of movies I particularly cherish aren't produced here.

Why the censorious attitude?

It's not meant to be censorious, merely observational. The best American movies are terrific in their enormous variety, and even many of their lesser ones are marvelous anthropological snippets of a thousand subcultures at many points in time over the past century. See that Louise Brooks quote in # 140 above for a more eloquent expression of this sentiment. All I've saying is that by my standards, the best foreign movies reach depths of observation that very few (if any) American movies ever have, though perhaps I'll find that depth on Friday in The Searchers.

There are movies about war that have come out of Hollywood, and of the home front in war.

AFAIC the American home front movies (The Best Years of Our Lives and Since You Went Away in particular) are superior in almost every way to our war movies, possibly because there was more first hand knowledge of what the home front was like on the part of the producers, and possibly because when your own country has been invaded or under occupation, certain truths about its underlying character are much harder to sentimentalize or simplify.

Yes, dying is easy; comedy is hard. As Fred Astaire said, when he was complimented on how easy he made it all seem: Yeah, too bad, I got to work like a ditch digger to accomplish that effect. That JOST and others slight screwball, and the American product, is really a testament to its creative powers.

Nobody's arguing against American movies' creative powers, but that old (and apparently excellent) pool player Astaire might have also said the same thing about Willie Mosconi, the perennial 14.1 champion who could go hours without missing a shot. But that doesn't mean that Willie Mosconi's creative efforts---or Astaire's perfectly timed comedic touch---are on the same level as someone who uses his creative talents for something more than making people laugh, or making them go "oooohhh" and "aaaahhhhh". You seem to take it as an insult that I don't place great screwball in the same category as great drama, possibly because it seems to be your favorite category of film. But that's why I'll always vote for the inner voice that tells you to absorb everything you can from others' opinions, but in the end, to use your own standards for judgment.
   162. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 29, 2011 at 03:48 AM (#4024874)
Well, I could make a substantial argument that you think more of them than they deserve. But it looks like you've made up your mind on this and in matters of taste, it's difficult to argue. Let me just repeat that I find screwball comedies to be rather lightweight.

I find it interesting that very few if any screwball actors or actresses or directors ever read any great theories about sexual combat into their movies. It's only when the academics and the deconstructionists take over the conversation that it starts to turn to these grandiose claims. But sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and if we start confusing the Marx Brothers** with "subversion" instead of simply sitting back and enjoying the fun, you have to wonder what sort of tobacco is inside that wrapper.

**Yes, I know that they're not "screwball", but you could make a nearly identical point about the Stewarts and the Lombards.
   163. Morty Causa Posted: December 29, 2011 at 02:36 PM (#4025006)
The way I heard that saying of Freud's isn't along the lines of "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." Freud is supposed to have said, "first it's a cigar." I say a great poet, whatever his intentions, can no more not write a great poem than a hen can not lay an egg. It’s hard to believe that at this stage, after about 60-70 years this charge of facile superficiality is reflexively raised against American movie-making. A lot of critics, scholars, and artists, native and foreign, have expounded at great length in vain apparently. No one is trying to ruin anyone's fun. But, if you want to be a serious analyst, you need to know when to switch gears. You need to know that the thing has more than one gear.

Besides, to see what I spoke of above in Screwball isn't much of a strain. It doesn’t take much reaching. It's not ignoring the cigar qua cigarness at all either. The problem, as I see it, is that when some people are presented with an exquisite Julia Child dessert, they want to pretend it's nothing more than Sara Lee. It’s too hard to figure out why Julia’s so much better. This doesn't just apply to Screwball. It works the same with Film Noir or HItchcockian thrillers or any of the genres Hollywood spawned. Psycho and Vertigo (and NBNW and Notorious and....) are great movies, moviemaking of the highest order, whether they were done consciously and in an intentional mode or not. In fact, the subject matter doesn't matter to the great artist. As Hitchcock said in an interview, Cezanne is a great artist--that he painted fruit doesn't change that one bit. Same with Sturges, or Ford, or Hawks or Capra.
   164. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 29, 2011 at 02:48 PM (#4025021)
Morty, once again you seem to think that I'm trying to denigrate screwball comedy merely because on a scale of 100 I put their top examples at around 95 or 96, rather than at 100. Trust me, when it comes to my personal cinematic Hall of Fame, Preston Sturges and Carol Lombard will both be elected on the first ballot. The fact that I consider Babe Ruth a cut above Ted Williams or Joe Dimaggio doesn't mean that I don't hold the last two in absolute respect.
   165. Morty Causa Posted: December 29, 2011 at 03:00 PM (#4025028)
Yes, I realize we're cutting the baloney fine. Still, it is what it is. The charges and the defenses to those charges exist separately from the personalities. The main thrust I'm defending Sturges and company from is their supposed lack of substance. And I'm not just addressing you.
   166. Mellow Mouse, Benevolent Space Tyrant Posted: December 29, 2011 at 03:12 PM (#4025036)
You guys are on me like white on rice, and my stomach is growling. But you keep raising arguable points, and I'll get back to them later. It's certainly a lot more interesting than discussing global warming with little Ray-Ray and his group of fellow deniers---that I leave to the truly masochistic.


Coward that I am I fled that thread a while ago. Willful ignorance is ever so much more annoying that the regular kind.

A pretty good movie about race relations (with perhaps the worst ad campaign in movie history) is Bullworth. Though it has many of the same problems that many movies about race relations in America has.

No the "best" movie about the civil rights movement would be


Um, a great movie first. Doesn't have to be true, or told from a certain perspective, spun sugar or full of castor oil. It can be any of those and more. That is the wonder of movies.

Regarding comedy, well I love a good comedy. I think comedy is very difficult because as they say a bad thriller is somewhat thrilling and a bad horror film might be a bit horrifying, but a bad comedy is NOT funny. However, on the great side I admit I prefer more "lightweight" movies like comedies - as I can only take so much "heavy."

Finally - wow do I depend on bookmarks. Off to search for the other threads I am following.
   167. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 29, 2011 at 05:36 PM (#4025163)
No the "best" movie about the civil rights movement would be

Um, a great movie first. Doesn't have to be true, or told from a certain perspective, spun sugar or full of castor oil. It can be any of those and more. That is the wonder of movies.


Well, I'm not exactly sure how a movie that falsifies history in the name of "dramatic interest" (Mississippi Burning being a good example) could ever be the "best" movie about anything, no matter how well it was made, unless it was a case of a one-eyed king in the land of the blind (The Birth of a Nation). I guess I just don't see any inherent conflict between historic truth and "greatness", but maybe you could explain how a movie about a crucial period of history could be the "best" movie on the subject if it distorted the history itself.

Again, this is not about hagiography / spun sugar / castor oil of any sort, but rather about a well made dramatic representation of people and events in the civil rights movement, warts and all, that both "entertains" the moviegoer while at the same time not giving him a false reading of the time and place. I could give you countless examples of how this could be done, though again, it sure as hell wouldn't be easy to do in the real world of Hollywood.

Regarding comedy, well I love a good comedy. I think comedy is very difficult because as they say a bad thriller is somewhat thrilling and a bad horror film might be a bit horrifying, but a bad comedy is NOT funny. However, on the great side I admit I prefer more "lightweight" movies like comedies - as I can only take so much "heavy."

I watch is a mix of silents, pre-codes, noirs / gangsters, comedies and drama in no particular order, with foreign movies thrown in as they appear on the TCM schedule, supplemented by Netflix. I try to mix the genres, though, and even throw in the occasional musical or American war movie, as I've found that too many in a row out of any one genre gives me visual indigestion. Even the Gabins and the Mifunes have to be spread out over a course of weeks in order not to have their magic get diluted. At some point by 2015, I might start watching my 60+ Bogarts again, but for now they serve as a warning against too giving yourself much of a good thing in too short a time.

Finally - wow do I depend on bookmarks. Off to search for the other threads I am following.

I just use the "History" tab at the top of my page. It's a pain to have to keep doing it once the thread leaves the Hot Topics column, but it only takes a few seconds.
   168. Morty Causa Posted: December 29, 2011 at 08:45 PM (#4025364)
People have been complaining about how art (fiction) treats history since Shakespeare played fast and loose with Holingshead. Probably there were those around 800 BC who ####### about Homer paltering with truth. Indeed, as I remember, The Battle of Algiers is not taken as historical or reportorial truth either by some.

As fiction, a novel that is true to how things happened, and the way people lived and interacted, and that is also pretty fair to both sides (unlike the movie), is Berger's magnificent Little Big Man. I think the movie All Quiet On the Western Front is fairly authentic, even if does have a point of view. So is Pork Chop Hill, for that matter--an underrated movie, too, even though it stars that anathema of yours, Gregory Peck. For that matter, so is Patton, and that's not even getting into John Huston's great American documentaries on WWII and its effects, The Battle of San Pietro and Let There Be Light, Capra's propaganda film series is awesome (yes, it is).

I'm really not sure what you're looking for that makes American films so woefully deficient compared to those stalwart foreigners. Most of those films, not far beneath the surface, have an ax to grind, too. Usually an ideological one. I've always thought Castle Keep was underrated, and Apocalypse Now overrated--but they deal with issues of war fully as much as any you've named. And they certainly have a point of view. Hell, Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln, The Prisoner of Shark Island, Fort Apache, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, and Rio Grande, similarly deal with history honestly while keeping an individual perspective that is ground into mundane reality.

Didn't you recently comment about what a great movie All The King's Men was? You of course know who that is about?

The more I think about it, the more your contention doesn't bear up much. Your main beef seems to be that you want American film to somehow be other than American. The good thing about foreign films is that, not knowing the context or language, you can project all your pet illusions. It's harder when you dealing with your country in your country where people can call you on it. Not only are there no movies on the Civil Rights movement, there are few good movies, if any about Lincoln or Thomas Jefferson, or the Founders and their founding. It’s hard to be true to history when we look to history fro present-day guidance and instruction. As Ford shows in Liberty Valence, history takes a back seat to legend. That applies to George Washington as much as MLK. As Thomas Jefferson put it to those original originalists: the Earth belongs to the living.

What's your idea of a movie true to history in any category? An American movie, please.

I think a historical take (and kind of a Screwball one) on MLK, civil rights icon and inveterate philanderer extraordinaire, would definitely have possibilities, but the odds of a faithful movie adaptation of Hitchens's book on Mother Teresa, The Missionary Position, is much more likely.
   169. Mellow Mouse, Benevolent Space Tyrant Posted: December 29, 2011 at 10:53 PM (#4025444)
Well, I'm not exactly sure how a movie that falsifies history in the name of "dramatic interest" (Mississippi Burning being a good example) could ever be the "best" movie about anything, no matter how well it was made, unless it was a case of a one-eyed king in the land of the blind (The Birth of a Nation). I guess I just don't see any inherent conflict between historic truth and "greatness", but maybe you could explain how a movie about a crucial period of history could be the "best" movie on the subject if it distorted the history itself.


I don't think faithfulness to the source material is a requirement or even an advantage for a movie. Obviously this is a bit different for a documentary, but I think greatness reveals (not to sound too pompous) the inner truth and this can happen by hewing to the source or departing from it - and most often a bit of both.

I am using the word source carefully, because I think the same applies whether adapting a movie from a book, song, video game or real life event. A movie is a different medium than the others and by necessity will not perfectly match the source. Thus I don't think closeness to the source is really a plus. Again in certain circumstances misrepresentations can be damaging (for example propaganda), but setting that aside I think sometimes too literally following the source can really detract from a movie and push the audience away from the point or message of the original.

I guess I did not realize that you literally wanted a historical enactment of a historic event of the civil rights movement. I think I agree with Morty on the subject on how hard that can be.

I think the problem with Mississippi Burning is not the departure from history, but rather the fact that it was not that good a movie. Extremely earnest and more than a little heavy handed, with plenty of "white guy savior" action, none of which (save perhaps the last) was because of the departure from history.

I feel I am not being very clear so I am going to try a story from years ago. Sophomore year in high school an idiot English teacher wanted us to write about how we spent our summer vacation. It was a terrible assignment, and most of us wrote a few paragraphs reciting what we had done. One guy wrote a brilliant essay filled with his fantastical adventures. It was obviously not "true" but it was brilliant because in it he reveled a tremendous amount about his summer, his family, and himself. No literal treatment could ever have captured the truth of his summer like his essay did.

Similarly I don't think a movie has to be 100% accurate to capture the essential truth of an event, and it can often detract. I don't think this is "falsifying for dramatic interest" but rather it is using symbolism, metaphor, imagery and so on to tell the story of the movie and in some cases getting to the truth. That is why I mentioned Bullworth, because it is a fable (in many ways) that I think really does capture elements of race relations - but it certainly is not true or meant to be mistaken for such.
   170. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 29, 2011 at 11:10 PM (#4025452)
People have been complaining about how art (fiction) treats history since Shakespeare played fast and loose with Holingshead. Probably there were those around 800 BC who ####### about Homer paltering with truth

There's a difference here, in that I doubt if 1% of those who attend Shakespeare's plays or movie adaptations are even thinking of them as anything other than drama. Perhaps I'm mistaken in thinking this.

Indeed, as I remember, The Battle of Algiers is not taken as historical or reportorial truth either by some.

It's not literal truth, of course. It changes the names slightly (Massu / Mathieu; Ali Ammar / Ali-la-Pointe), and it states right up front that in spite of its appearance, it contains NOT ONE FOOT of documentary film. But both the events depicted and the biographical details are generally quite consistent with the events of the time. Most critics found it to be a compelling depiction of the motivations of the combatants on both sides of the war, and during the Iraq war the Pentagon regularly showed it in an attempt to understand both the tactics and the motivations of the insurgency. I've yet to hear of any similar professional homage paid to any American war movie, although it's true that Nixon screened Patton in the White House.

I'm really not sure what you're looking for that makes American films so woefully deficient compared to those stalwart foreigners. Most of those films, not far beneath the surface, have an ax to grind, too. Usually an ideological one. I've always thought Castle Keep was underrated, and Apocalypse Now overrated--but they deal with issues of war fully as much as any you've named. And they certainly have a point of view. Hell, Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln, The Prisoner of Shark Island, Fort Apache, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, and Rio Grande, similarly deal with history honestly while keeping an individual perspective that is ground into mundane reality.

I'll watch those particular films before responding, just as I hope you'll watch the ones I mentioned. A POV by itself, even a "partisan" one, is not the problem, it's how honestly the movie confronts the complexities that contradict its overall message. Perhaps the ones you list above achieve this, but I certainly wouldn't say that about The Birth of A Nation.

Didn't you recently comment about what a great movie All The King's Men was? You of course know who that is about?

That's indeed a great movie, and a great story, it's quite compelling in presenting both the promise and the corruption of Mister Huey Pierce Long. Since it's adapted from a Robert Penn Warren novel, I don't hold it accountable to events the way I would a movie that makes any claims to actual history. Bottom line is that it's great entertainment and a terrific job of acting by Broderick Crawford, who was perfectly cast for the part. But fine as it is on its own terms, it's not the sort of movie I'm talking about.

The more I think about it, the more your contention doesn't bear up much. Your main beef seems to be that you want American film to somehow be other than American. The good thing about foreign films is that, not knowing the context or language, you can project all your pet illusions.

Nice bit of ad hominem that can only lead to a dead end. Pass.

It's harder when you dealing with your country in your country where people can call you on it. Not only are there no movies on the Civil Rights movement, there are few good movies, if any about Lincoln or Thomas Jefferson, or the Founders and their founding. It’s hard to be true to history when we look to history fro present-day guidance and instruction. As Ford shows in Liberty Valence, history takes a back seat to legend. That applies to George Washington as much as MLK. As Thomas Jefferson put it to those original originalists: the Earth belongs to the living.

You might note that the (foreign) films I've mentioned all depict events within living memory, where there are more than enough surviving witnesses who have been fully able to vet them for accuracy on many levels. I'm not talking about Biblical epics or movies about Bunker Hill or Gettysburg. And I wouldn't even be mentioning The Birth of a Nation if it had exhibited a second of interest in anything but Dixie propaganda. It's a great film on every level but that.

What's your idea of a movie true to history in any category? An American movie, please.

I've yet to see any American movie that's on the level of the foreign movies that I've mentioned, though perhaps I'll see that tomorrow when I watch The Searchers, which seems to be your pantheonic equivalent to Come and See. But there are plenty of American movies that more or less tag along with historical events or memoirs that I put on a very high level of drama / entertainment. Just to name a few off the top of my head, there'd be Elmer Gantry, Judgment at Nuremburg, Inherit The Wind, Eight Men Out, The Match King, I Am A Fugitive From a Chain Gang, Serpico, and the aforementioned All The King's Men. They're not Angi Vera or Come and See, but they're all easily 10/10 in my book.

I think a historical take (and kind of a Screwball one) on MLK, civil rights icon and inveterate philanderer extraordinaire, would definitely have possibilities, but the odds of a faithful movie adaptation of Hitchens's book on Mother Teresa, The Missionary Position, is much more likely.

Yes, Morty, we get it.
   171. ray james Posted: December 29, 2011 at 11:18 PM (#4025457)
Similarly I don't think a movie has to be 100% accurate to capture the essential truth of an event, and it can often detract. I don't think this is "falsifying for dramatic interest" but rather it is using symbolism, metaphor, imagery and so on to tell the story of the movie and in some cases getting to the truth.


This is very much true and is the art and essence of great cinema.
   172. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: December 29, 2011 at 11:28 PM (#4025465)
Somehow I doubt that Jesus and the Apostles all sat in a row on one side of the table, or that the bombing victims of Guernica had arms twice as long as a horse's body.
   173. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 29, 2011 at 11:44 PM (#4025475)
Well, I'm not exactly sure how a movie that falsifies history in the name of "dramatic interest" (Mississippi Burning being a good example) could ever be the "best" movie about anything, no matter how well it was made, unless it was a case of a one-eyed king in the land of the blind (The Birth of a Nation). I guess I just don't see any inherent conflict between historic truth and "greatness", but maybe you could explain how a movie about a crucial period of history could be the "best" movie on the subject if it distorted the history itself.

I don't think faithfulness to the source material is a requirement or even an advantage for a movie. Obviously this is a bit different for a documentary, but I think greatness reveals (not to sound too pompous) the inner truth and this can happen by hewing to the source or departing from it - and most often a bit of both.


That may make for great drama, but not great history, and whether or not it makes for any "greater truth" or "inner truth" is surely at best a matter of opinion. But as I said to Morty just a minute ago, I'll allow more liberties for events and people beyond living memory. And just to be clear, I'm not demanding 100% accuracy in all incidental details, only a resistance to falsification of the basics for the sake of the convenience of the screenwriter, as we saw in Mississippi Burning.

I am using the word source carefully, because I think the same applies whether adapting a movie from a book, song, video game or real life event. A movie is a different medium than the others and by necessity will not perfectly match the source. Thus I don't think closeness to the source is really a plus. Again in certain circumstances misrepresentations can be damaging (for example propaganda), but setting that aside I think sometimes too literally following the source can really detract from a movie and push the audience away from the point or message of the original.

I guess that would depend on the skill and vision of the filmmaker, wouldn't it. But in any event, I may be unrepresentative in this respect, but even with the relatively limited number of historical events and people I've been privileged to participate in and meet in my lifetime, I've come to the firm opinion that the whole truth about these events and people is far more interesting than fiction. Of course the trick is getting that truth onto the screen without losing the necessary "entertainment" factor (I here use "entertainment" in the broadest sense of the word), but I do think that it can be done. To take one specific example of a person you may or may not be familiar with, a good writer and filmmaker could make a completely compelling drama about Stokely Carmichael, one which would show both his brilliance and his follies as only those who encountered him in SNCC could ever really know. It would surely take a lot of nerve and commitment to make such a movie, but perhaps a group of terminal cancer patients who didn't believe in an afterlife filled with his friends and enemies might give it a shot. (smile)

I guess I did not realize that you literally wanted a historical enactment of a historic event of the civil rights movement. I think I agree with Morty on the subject on how hard that can be.

It wouldn't have to be a literal re-enactment, only an intellectually honest one, devoid of both hagiography or scandal blown out of proportion to its actual importance. Morty threw in his usual gratuitous line about King, but anyone who participated in the civil rights movement, as I did, knows full well that there was an extraordinary amount of tension within that movement that centered around the twin brier patches of gender and race, with of course the added ingredients of sex and previously forbidden fruit thrown in. A friend of mine wrote a fascinating book based on a series of interviews with the women who were involved in SNCC and SDS in the heart of the 60's that was the farthest thing from hagiography, and could easily be made into a pretty damn good movie. There are many stories like this out there, that in the hands of a skilled writer could be brought to the screen successfully. Of course to make any money on it, you'd need to get some big names to go along, but again, what's been lacking so far is "merely" the vision and the commitment.

I'll leave it at that for now, except to say that I think that the problem with Mississippi Burning began with its falsification of history in its quest for drama. It wasn't just an incidental part of its failure, it was at the heart of it.
   174. Mellow Mouse, Benevolent Space Tyrant Posted: December 29, 2011 at 11:44 PM (#4025476)
Somehow I doubt that Jesus and the Apostles all sat in a row on one side of the table, or that the bombing victims of Guernica had arms twice as long as a horse's body.


But Jesus was a Northern European looking dude with long flowing locks and well trimmed beard though right? Right?
   175. Morty Causa Posted: December 30, 2011 at 12:04 AM (#4025490)
Didn't you recently comment about what a great movie All The King's Men was? You of course know who that is about?

That's indeed a great movie, and a great story, it's quite compelling in presenting both the promise and the corruption of Mister Huey Pierce Long.

Then you know that Long had some very fervid supporters and well as rabid haters.

I've seen The Battle of Algiers (and those other movies). I like it (and them). They are still not as sui generis as Sturges (to name only ONE great comic director/writer). And I'd rather be the creator of The Great McGinty or Meet John Doe, to name two when it comes to politics, than that of The Battle of Algiers.. Not that foreign films don't have something to say. See Seven Samurai for war, Throne of Blood for personal corruption through political ambition. But your contention that America (and Hollywood) doesn't deal seriously with those serious public subjects just doesn’t make it for me.

Just to name a few off the top of my head, there'd be Elmer Gantry, Judgment at Nuremburg, Inherit The Wind, Eight Men Out, The Match King, I Am A Fugitive From a Chain Gang, Serpico, and the aforementioned All The King's Men.


Those are good movies, but they are social dramas. You seem to have a social reformer's sense of what is art—that’s not what lives—the Upton Sinclair or James T. Farrell in Dickens is not what is immortal. And I have news for you: The Civil Rights movement you speak of is going on sixty years in the past--it, too, is history. And you're the one who used the phrase true to history. Now, you want it to be true to almost current events. If you think The Battle of Algiers was not criticized for its politics...well, I suggest you do some reading outside the box. "Most of the critics..." is not "ALL." The history of Birth of A Nation is as fully validated in the minds of many (of whom there were historians and social historians) as that of any revolutionary insurgency’s view of history. You know, I bet the best and the brightest in England, as well as the common man on the London streets, had a different take than ours on the American Revolution. The movie Gunga Din may be repugnant to some people’s sensibilities in its promotion of the idea of the superiority of European civilization, but it’s a historical view, one that I, for one, found invigorating.

You might note that the (foreign) films I've mentioned all depict events within living memory, where there are more than enough surviving witnesses who have been fully able to vet them for accuracy on many levels.


You've now so circumscribed your original contention and pronouncements that I don't where this can go. I see it as fatally compromised. Movies like The Battle of Algiers and Come and See and Angi Vera hardly represent a prototype of which there is a flourishing progeny in those countries from which they arise. So, again, what's the basis to find that America is woefully deficient in this area when you only a movie here and there, now and then, anyway? Even if it’s true, to the extent it’s true, that this country has no Come and See or The Battle of Algiers or Angi Vera, the countries those movies don’t have Swing Time, The More The Merrier, Heaven Can Wait, My Darling Clementine (hey, a history movie). The Public Enemy, Scarface Vertigo, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (English movie), Casablanca, and a whole host of movies across an enormous spectrum of categories.

If you are going to watch The Searchers, I hope you watch it as an artistic composition, not for socio-political points.
   176. Morty Causa Posted: December 30, 2011 at 12:06 AM (#4025493)
But Jesus was a Northern European looking dude with long flowing locks and well trimmed beard though right? Right?


You damn right. You know any peoples ever who have not interpreted their Gods, and their men like Gods, as being like them?
   177. Something Other Posted: December 30, 2011 at 12:19 AM (#4025495)
Finally - wow do I depend on bookmarks. Off to search for the other threads I am following.

I just use the "History" tab at the top of my page. It's a pain to have to keep doing it once the thread leaves the Hot Topics column, but it only takes a few seconds.
Why not just open a tab for each thread within one browser window?
   178. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 30, 2011 at 01:52 AM (#4025525)
I've seen The Battle of Algiers (and those other movies). I like it (and them). They are still not as sui generis as Sturges (to name only ONE great comic director/writer). And I'd rather be the creator of The Great McGinty or Meet John Doe, to name two when it comes to politics, than that of The Battle of Algiers.. Not that foreign films don't have something to say. See Seven Samurai for war, Throne of Blood for personal corruption through political ambition. But your contention that America (and Hollywood) doesn't deal seriously with those serious public subjects just doesn’t make it for me.

Clearly this is a case of YMMV and nothing more. I love McGinty (one of my three favorite Sturges movies) and was bored to death by Meet John Doe (way too preachy, even with Stanwyck to draw me in). And I can't stand Mr. Smith Comes to Washington, in spite of the presence of half of my favorite character actors. But all of this random opinionating doesn't mean anything more than the fact that we have completely different ideas of what constitutes a great "political" movie. McGinty's a marvelous lampoon of politics just as Bringing Up Baby is a great comic take on the battle of the sexes, but you'll never convince me that they're on the same level as Open City, let alone Angi Vera. But again, that's only a knock if you think that giving a 95/100 to a movie is a knock.

What's your idea of a movie true to history in any category? An American movie, please.

Just to name a few off the top of my head, there'd be Elmer Gantry, Judgment at Nuremburg, Inherit The Wind, Eight Men Out, The Match King, I Am A Fugitive From a Chain Gang, Serpico, and the aforementioned All The King's Men.

Those are good movies, but they are social dramas.


Then I obviously didn't understand your question, since all of these movies (with the exception of Elmer Gantry, which shouldn't have been in there) are based on specific historical figures or events, including the Muni film.

If you think The Battle of Algiers was not criticized for its politics...well, I suggest you do some reading outside the box. "Most of the critics..." is not "ALL." The history of Birth of A Nation is as fully validated in the minds of many (of whom there were historians and social historians) as that of any revolutionary insurgency’s view of history.

You find me one serious historian who views The Birth of a Nation as anything but a magnificently produced and groundbreaking propaganda film with a mission to justify, or glorify, Ku Klux Klan terror. As for The Battle of Algiers: Of the 78 critics** whose reviews are posted on Rotten Tomatoes, the only negative review was from a critic whose main gripe quickly segued into a mild rant against the hypocritical French for not joining us in our crusade against Saddam Hussein---and even this person closed his review with "If you want to learn about the Algerian war of liberation and/or see an example of quality filmmaking, you might find this worthwhile", advice which the Pentagon apparently took to heart.

**The smaller category of "top critics" was unanimous in its praise: 18 to 0.

The movie Gunga Din may be repugnant to some people’s sensibilities in its promotion of the idea of the superiority of European civilization, but it’s a historical view, one that I, for one, found invigorating.

We get that, too.

Movies like The Battle of Algiers and Come and See and Angi Vera hardly represent a prototype of which there is a flourishing progeny in those countries from which they arise. So, again, what's the basis to find that America is woefully deficient in this area when you only a movie here and there, now and then, anyway? Even if it’s true, to the extent it’s true, that this country has no Come and See or The Battle of Algiers or Angi Vera, the countries those movies don’t have Swing Time, The More The Merrier, Heaven Can Wait, My Darling Clementine (hey, a history movie). The Public Enemy, Scarface Vertigo, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (English movie), Casablanca, and a whole host of movies across an enormous spectrum of categories.

Not that I'm any great fan of some of those particular films (I'll take the 3 Busby Berkeleys from 1933 over the entire Astaire/Rogers repertory), but when have I ever argued that American movies don't excel in every genre but the relatively narrow one that I've been talking about?
   179. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 30, 2011 at 01:53 AM (#4025526)
I just use the "History" tab at the top of my page. It's a pain to have to keep doing it once the thread leaves the Hot Topics column, but it only takes a few seconds.

Why not just open a tab for each thread within one browser window?


I do that when I'm at the desk, but when I'm not I shut down the internet.
   180. Morty Causa Posted: December 30, 2011 at 02:41 AM (#4025553)
(I'll take the 3 Busby Berkeleys from 1933 over the entire Astaire/Rogers repertory),


You are hopeless.

Just kidding. Busby's early dance musicals are more fun than they have any right to be, considering no one in them can sing or dance.
   181. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 30, 2011 at 03:38 AM (#4025580)
Busby's early dance musicals are more fun than they have any right to be, considering no one in them can sing or dance.

Yeah, and it was tough on their mothers, not having any children.

But wait, you didn't love Cagney and Keeler's Shanghai Lil? Now that wouldn't be hopeless. That'd be positively demented.

That Chinee devil---No, she's on the level---she can't hurt you or me...That Oriental...dame is detrimental...to our in-dus-try
   182. Morty Causa Posted: December 30, 2011 at 04:13 AM (#4025590)
I knew you bring that up. It's the epitome of camp.

Keeler is the ingenue of ingenues. Pauline Kael had her pegged exactly on the nose when she wrote that Keeler always played the nice girl--what else could she play? She dances as if she's wearing swimming flippers, and she can't keep from looking down at her feet. Cagney gives the movie all the charisma than it needs, but Blondell has the best line. She tells Cagney's two-timing girlfriend, "As long as there are sidewalks, you'll have a job."
   183. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 30, 2011 at 04:55 AM (#4025605)
Blondell has the best line. She tells Cagney's two-timing girlfriend, "As long as there are sidewalks, you'll have a job."

A great line that anticipated what Marie Dressler said to Jean Harlow in Dinner at Eight just three months later...

Harlow: I was reading a book the other day...

Dressler (looking as if she'd been hit with a bolt of lightning): READing a BOOK???

Harlow: Yes, it's all about civilization or something---a nutty kind of a book... Do you know that the guy said that machinery was going to take the place of every profession?

Dressler: Oh, my dear, that's something you never need worry about...
   184. Morty Causa Posted: December 30, 2011 at 05:05 AM (#4025609)
   185. Morty Causa Posted: December 30, 2011 at 02:46 PM (#4025704)
"It was pretty early on that I come to realize that most serious
situations in life, or my life anyway, were like that time I rubbed out
the Crow: he spared me because I was white, and I killed him because I
was Cheyenne. There wasn't nothing else either of us could have done,
and it would have been ridiculous except it was mortal."
   186. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: December 30, 2011 at 05:22 PM (#4025825)
I don't know whether this thread is winding down, or taking a turn into quoteland. I just want to reiterate that requiring the very greatest of art to be harrowing is an arbitrary restriction one places on oneself. The creativity doesn't care.

It's not a rare premise, unfortunately, but it's one that needs to be slapped down with the existential brutality of the most harrowing scene in "Come and See," "Angi Vera" or "Swing Time."

The same goes for the idea that realism and authenticity are all-important, or even most important. You guys know there's a ghost in "Hamlet," right?
   187. ray james Posted: December 30, 2011 at 05:31 PM (#4025835)
#185 has to be from Little Big Man.
   188. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: December 30, 2011 at 06:12 PM (#4025857)
Similarly I don't think a movie has to be 100% accurate to capture the essential truth of an event


No, but the problems with some films are not that they are not 100% accurate, it is not even that they try and fail to "capture the essential truth of an event"- its that they are lies, sometimes scurrilous lies. In this regard Birth of a Nation is not a Great Film- it is a godforsaken abomination, it is ugly and reprehensible in such a way that whatever stand alone aesthetic merits it may have are rendered meaningless.


What's your idea of a movie true to history in any category? An American movie, please.

excluding war movies?
170 had a good list you dismissed out of hand

Eight men out (not 100% or even 95% accurate, but serviceable)
   189. Morty Causa Posted: December 30, 2011 at 06:24 PM (#4025867)
187: yeah.
   190. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 30, 2011 at 06:55 PM (#4025890)
I don't know whether this thread is winding down, or taking a turn into quoteland. I just want to reiterate that requiring the very greatest of art to be harrowing is an arbitrary restriction one places on oneself. The creativity doesn't care.

It's not a rare premise, unfortunately, but it's one that needs to be slapped down with the existential brutality of the most harrowing scene in "Come and See," "Angi Vera" or "Swing Time."


I still think that you may be reading my point as something that it isn't. In terms of "greatness" within their own terms, the best films of any genre can be every bit as good, and sometimes even more "creative", as Angi Vera, etc. Allowing for subjective taste, I'd include films such as A Star Is Born (the Garland version), The Killers, Goodfellas, Time Limit, Bombshell, The Lady Eve, The Violent Men, and scores of others in that category. The only reason that I place the foreign films I've been mentioning above these is simply because according to my admittedly subjective standards, their aim is higher.

-------------------------------------------

the problems with some films are not that they are not 100% accurate, it is not even that they try and fail to "capture the essential truth of an event"- its that they are lies, sometimes scurrilous lies. In this regard Birth of a Nation is not a Great Film- it is a godforsaken abomination, it is ugly and reprehensible in such a way that whatever stand alone aesthetic merits it may have are rendered meaningless.

I think that The Birth of a Nation is a perfect example of a film that has to be evaluated on multiple levels that don't necessarily cancel each other out, but rather exist independently. By the standards of cinematography and influence, it's right up there at the top. By the standards of historical propaganda and epic melodrama, it's on the level of The Battleship Potemkin and Gone With The Wind. And by the standards of historical accuracy and malicious intent, it approaches The Eternal Jew.

And to only employ one or two of these sets of standards while dismissing the others is to put a big fat thumb on the scale. There is no immutable law that forces a filmmaker to consider historical group slander to be beyond the pale, and there's no law of reason that says that even the most vicious of films like that can't be "great" on its own terms. But there's also no law that says that critics (or we) can't incorporate all three of those above sets of standards in arriving at our overall assessment of a movie that purports to deal with historical events, and place films such as The Birth of a Nation in a lower overall category as a result.
   191. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: December 30, 2011 at 07:17 PM (#4025901)
I think that The Birth of a Nation is a perfect example of a film that has to be evaluated on multiple levels that don't necessarily cancel each other out, but rather exist independently. By the standards of cinematography and influence, it's right up there at the top. By the standards of historical propaganda and epic melodrama, it's on the level of The Battleship Potemkin and Gone With The Wind. And by the standards of historical accuracy and malicious intent, it approaches The Eternal Jew.


A film like Birth of a Nation is an outlier, in that ordinarily one of those three categories can't cancel out the other two. Let say a film rates a 10 for "cinematography and influence" and a 9 for "historical propaganda and epic melodrama" even giving a -0- for its "historical [in]accuracy and malicious intent" average out to a 6 or 7, but something like Birth of a Nation (or The Eternal Jew and other assorted garbage- Pakistan had a "fine" one out a few years ago about an evil blood thirty tyrant named Rushdie) should get a negative number in that last category.
   192. Morty Causa Posted: December 30, 2011 at 08:35 PM (#4025945)
The issue that I initially responded to was not whether one class of cinema is better than another, but rather whether one is a vacuous experience--which is how I took the criticisms of Screwball Comedy--and the other is fraught with meaning that informs our existence.

Both comedy and tragedy have a place in literary or cinematic art. Whether a person is more incline to appreciate one than the other may be a matter of psychology (as Jeeves would put it), a matter of taste--it is, however, not just subjective opinion that shouldn't and can't be analyzed. Some people value a serious take on life. Others are like P.G. Wodehouse (and like P. G. Wodehouse's stuff), who once said, "I'd rather have written Oklahoma than Hamlet."
   193. Morty Causa Posted: December 30, 2011 at 08:50 PM (#4025956)
No, but the problems with some films are not that they are not 100% accurate, it is not even that they try and fail to "capture the essential truth of an event"- its that they are lies, sometimes scurrilous lies.


I object to this characterization of the film to the extent that it implies that Griffith saw his movie in the same way that you do and intentionally promulgated that lie. Birth of a Nation was based on a novel, just as Gone With the Windwas, which seems to make a difference to some people here.

Moreover, exactly what is the objections to Birth of A Nation as a work of art? What was Griffith setting out to do, and how, in your view, did he fail to do that? Are you saying he intentionally and consciously set out to stigmatize a class of people?

Please also bear in mind always the historian's concept of presentism. Everyone in the past did have the advantage of being endowed with these state of the art sensibilities with which we were gifted--an opinion, I fear, our posterity will likewise hold against us.
   194. Morty Causa Posted: December 30, 2011 at 08:52 PM (#4025957)
according to my admittedly subjective

This is not a get out of jail card.
   195. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 30, 2011 at 09:34 PM (#4025977)
No, but the problems with some films are not that they are not 100% accurate, it is not even that they try and fail to "capture the essential truth of an event"- its that they are lies, sometimes scurrilous lies.


I object to this characterization of the film to the extent that it implies that Griffith saw his movie in the same way that you do and intentionally promulgated that lie. Birth of a Nation was based on a novel, just as Gone With the Wind was, which seems to make a difference to some people here.

That's true, but you also can't ignore the context in which Griffith chose to adapt the book into his film, and the fact that the film was a major impetus in the re-birth of the Ku Klux Klan, which used BOAN as a major recruiting tool. Both the novel and the book purported to represent the "inner truth" of Reconstruction and the rise of the original KKK, and they each presented it as a fight of good (white South) against evil (Carpetbaggers and savage Negroes). That doesn't negate the film's cinematic virtues, but it's not something that you can just sweep under the rug and pretend that it's not part of the picture.

Moreover, exactly what is the objections to Birth of A Nation as a work of art? What was Griffith setting out to do, and how, in your view, did he fail to do that? Are you saying he intentionally and consciously set out to stigmatize a class of people?

Whether he intended to or not, he did a pretty damn good job of it.

Please also bear in mind always the historian's concept of presentism. Everyone in the past did [not]** have the advantage of being endowed with these state of the art sensibilities with which we were gifted--an opinion, I fear, our posterity will likewise hold against us.

The idea that "presentism" informs our criticism of The Birth of a Nation would make more sense if the movie hadn't been bitterly criticized at the time of its release, banned in several cities, and widely protested at every point it was re-released after that. There's not a single break in that continuity of criticism from 1915 to today. The only way that the "presentism" critique holds water is if you're assuming that the racial outlook of the Ku Klux Klan (which is what BOAN justifies and glorifies) was somehow the only "present" viewpoint around in 1915. Such a POV, of course, renders the views of the entire African American population of the time invisible and irrelevant, not to mention the views of many contemporary whites who also didn't buy into the film's racial garbage.

**I assume you left that "not" out by mistake, as otherwise your whole point here is garbled and needs to be re-stated.
   196. Morty Causa Posted: December 30, 2011 at 09:59 PM (#4025994)
That's true, but you also can't ignore the context in which Griffith chose to adapt the book into his film, and the fact that the film was a major impetus in the re-birth of the Ku Klux Klan, which used BOAN as a major recruiting tool.


You need get a grip on your own claims and thought processes. The charge that's been made is that it is a lie and it is propaganda. That requires intention.

That the KKK was reinvigorated by the movie (not something that should just be assumed anyway) was not Griffith's intention and is hardly his fault. If people are going to be held responsible for every interpretation and spin placed on their work and ideas....

That doesn't negate the film's cinematic virtues, but it's not something that you can just sweep under the rug and pretend that it's not part of the picture.


I agree. And I think it works both ways.

Whether he intended to or not, he did a pretty damn good job of it.


Really, you say this with a straight face? Moreover, your'e being egregiously non-responsive.

The idea that "presentism" informs our criticism of The Birth of a Nation would make more sense if the movie hadn't been bitterly criticized at the time of its release,


No, that has not been the general view since 1860 to the present. Moreover, that certain organizations and public figures may have made the objections you claim, that did not represent the views of many, if the overwhelming majority, of people.

You're the one who held that it was the general public's view of these matters that needed to be considered.

But, again, you ignore the objections.

I haven't seen Birth of A Nation in ages. I'm doing so now. I recommend it, and not just as the artistic masterpiece it is, but as that propaganda film manque you claim it to be. You may be surprised.
   197. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 31, 2011 at 12:39 AM (#4026044)
If you are going to watch The Searchers, I hope you watch it as an artistic composition, not for socio-political points.

I just finished watching it for the first time. As an artistic composition it's beautifully done. As drama it walks the line between understatement and melodrama quite effectively. Wayne's acting is superb, and his character is about as two dimensional as you can get within the confines of his life experience. It's certainly not "propaganda" of any sort. And with the sole exception of that semi-loony character, there are blessedly few attempts at any sort of diversionary and annoying comic relief. I'm still not much of a fan of the "westerns" genre, and even within that category I liked The Naked Spur and The Violent Men much better, though neither of them were in the same sub-category of Indian fighting as The Searchers, and so it's kind of apples and oranges. I suppose I could try to say that the portrayal of the Comanches was little better than in any generic western, but since the movie was meant to center around Wayne and Hunter, such a criticism would be beside the point. I do wish they'd laid off the maudlin music at the beginning and the end of the film, but given that that kind of schmaltz is so much a part of the westerns genre of the 50's, that's probably asking way too much.

Bottom line for me is that on its own terms it's a terrific movie, though not one that I feel particularly compelled to watch again anytime soon. I'll leave it at that.

EDIT: Just discovered a fun fact about The Searchers: Wayne's pet phrase in the movie was the inspiration for this classic 1957 R&R tune.
   198. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 31, 2011 at 01:36 AM (#4026057)
That's true, but you also can't ignore the context in which Griffith chose to adapt the book into his film, and the fact that the film was a major impetus in the re-birth of the Ku Klux Klan, which used BOAN as a major recruiting tool.

You need get a grip on your own claims and thought processes. The charge that's been made is that it is a lie and it is propaganda. That requires intention.


An intentional lie would require for Griffith not to believe the "inner truth" of his own film, so in the Costanza sense he's off the hook. But that's a lawyer's defense, since the "inner truth" depicted about the period was little more than a crude racist myth.

That the KKK was reinvigorated by the movie (not something that should just be assumed anyway) was not Griffith's intention and is hardly his fault. If people are going to be held responsible for every interpretation and spin placed on their work and ideas....

Do you really need proof that the KKK used BOAN to recruit new members, and that it's been credited by historians for helping to revive the Klan from its previously dormant state? Please.

And it's not as if the Klan and other racist groups (all the way up to David Duke and beyond) just happened to seize upon some incidental segment of BOAN that had nothing to do with the film's "inner truth". The glorification of the Klan as a necessary force to wrest control of the South from the Negro savages was the central message of the movie. To try to disconnect Griffith from how racists used BOAN is completely disingenuous.

The idea that "presentism" informs our criticism of The Birth of a Nation would make more sense if the movie hadn't been bitterly criticized at the time of its release,

No, that has not been the general view since 1860 to the present. Moreover, that certain organizations and public figures may have made the objections you claim, that did not represent the views of many, if the overwhelming majority, of people.

You're the one who held that it was the general public's view of these matters that needed to be considered.


So in presenting a racist view of reconstruction, Griffith is absolved because his masterly depiction of a Big Lie reflected and reinforced his fellow white Southerners' racist POV. Yeah, that's some defense of "greatness". I could make the same sort of defense of Leni Riefenstahl against the charge that Triumph of the Will was Nazi propaganda.

Again, on its own terms, BOAN is a great film, and that's all you ever seem to demand of a movie. Fine and dandy, but that's not the end of the story for many of us.
   199. Morty Causa Posted: December 31, 2011 at 01:49 AM (#4026064)
The Searchers is a simply stunning piece of cinematic composition. People into literature always talk about great writing, how a particular novel has so many passages of memorable writing. The Searchers, in terms of visual imagery is the equivalent of that. Almost every scene has some pure organic pictorial quality that makes it striking, often just little touches, or the cumlative effect of a number of touches--it may be just the way the actors move about within a scene, or entering and leaving a scene (like when the posse runs through the cabin before heading out after the Indian raiders), relate to each other. You could extract and blow up any number of images and create murals or posters from this movie. I once viewed the movie with the sound off, and its visual quality really hits you. SPOILER: As an example, just take notice of how at the beginning of the attack on the Indian camp at the end, how from the moment Wayne hands Hunter over the edge of that cliff to the end of the movie the movie is driven by images, capping the proceedings with that most emotionally image of all--Wayne staring at the open door, then rejecting it invitation and turning away.

And one of its qualities is that it is understated. It's quite allusive, almost evasive it seems, as if the movie dares not tell you too much. That quality makes you come to it--it forces you to collaborate in its creative process to engender a more powerful response. In a documentary on Ford, Wayne speaks at length of how Ford was always cutting lines. He didn't want to say too much. SPOILER: In the original shooting script of the culminating scene between the young girl and Ethan, Wayne had a line that kind of gives it all away as to why his character doesn't do what he set out to do. Ford cut it.
   200. Morty Causa Posted: December 31, 2011 at 03:15 AM (#4026102)
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