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Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Slate: Baseball’s First Black Player Lived His Life as a White Man

The William Edward White story…

Until she was contacted last month, White’s only grandchild, Lois De Angelis, said her family had been unaware of White’s role in baseball history, and of his racial background. De Angelis, who is 74 years old and lives in Grayslake, Ill., said she knew that her grandfather worked as an artist and had been published in the Saturday Evening Post or another magazine, and that he was separated from her grandmother, who worked as a secretary for Sears. Beyond that, De Angelis said she knew nothing about William Edward White.

White’s wife, Hattie, lived until 1970. De Angelis doubted that Hattie would have known White was one-quarter black, at least before they were married. “My grandmother was very prudish, very English,” she said. Neither Hattie nor De Angelis’ mother, Vera, ever mentioned why Hattie and White had separated, De Angelis said. Perhaps, she speculated, White left the household because Hattie discovered his racial history. “That’s funny when I think of my grandmother,” De Angelis said. “She would die if she knew it.”

So where does that leave William Edward White? Baseball pioneer or baseball footnote? When he trotted out to first base at Messer Street Grounds in Providence, White may have been the only person who knew that a black man was playing in the big leagues. And even that assumes White thought about the fact that he was black, or even partly black. In the racially bifurcated America of the times, “you were black or you were white,” Hobbs says. If no one else knew—if society couldn’t respond and react—it’s reasonable to question whether White should be recognized as the first African-American major-leaguer.

Or maybe that’s a distinction without a difference. American history and its precision-loving subset of baseball history are filled with the sort of ambiguity that complicates the search for convenient, ironclad “firsts.” This much is indisputable: On June 21, 1879, a man born a slave in Georgia played in a major-league baseball game. A black man named White played for the Grays. Factually and figuratively, that seems right. And it seems worth celebrating.

Repoz Posted: February 05, 2014 at 08:57 AM | 740 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history

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   201. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 03:01 PM (#4653317)
Comic relief--how many great artists have had to suffer the jabs of fans on this score. Shakespeare, anyone? I felt about Hunter the way you do, but have come to think more highly of his performance. It's hard playing a hero who is an ingenue without making him a buffoon.

But the main thrust of the story is undeniable. I also find very affecting the way the love Wayne has for his brother's wife, and her for him, is handled, merely alluded to, but never really directly addressed. It adds so much to emotional texture of the movie, and toward redeeming Wayne's character. When the Vera Miles character says that Ethan is going to put a bullet through the child's head when he finds her because Martha would have wanted him to, that tells you so much of the characters and the times. And Hunter's character in response can only go, huh, what?
   202. Monty Posted: February 07, 2014 at 03:04 PM (#4653320)
Do you understand that Griffith and his views are not beyond the human pale? That they embody something both cognizable and defensible (even if you risk your life and reputation if you try to explain that) ?


I'm not sure I do understand that, actually. Are Griffith's views on race, as depicted in The Birth of a Nation, defensible?
   203. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 03:28 PM (#4653335)
Were they ever? Are they now, only with different products being re-labelled? Now we get to it. Why would we think anything human is not artistically defensible? Not deserving of being represented on its own terms (yeah, yeah, I know all about Hitler)? Whether that is Raskolnikov, Grendel, Captain Ahab, or Humbert Humbert? The Roman Empire or the Aztec Indians?

As Renoir famously said, or had a character say, the horrible thing about life is that everyone has his reasons. And it is to art to see the humanity in those reasons. Attaching a label and pretending that's all that is required is not of the highest artistic level. Your '60s sensibilities think you got it nailed now and forever, but it's art's purpose to make you question that. It is not there to only confirm your biases. We never say anything when they bring those Nazi functionaries, foot soldiers, to trial, but, really, there's more to it than well, he's a Nazi. There's maybe, at the least, there but for the grace of...go I. If you can't open up enough for that, then your openness to the full range of human experience may be underdeveloped. I've put this is a number of different ways now; try to at least evade my point in equally new and novel ways.
   204. Bitter Mouse Posted: February 07, 2014 at 03:31 PM (#4653337)
Are Griffith's views on race, as depicted in The Birth of a Nation, defensible?


No. Perhaps back in the day they were barely defensible as representing the worst of humanity, but today, most certainly not.

Hey Morty, do you think great art can leave the world worse off than it was? Can something be great art if it were better for the world to have never been created?

Because the techniques given form in BoaN would have had their first in another movie if not that one.
   205. JRVJ Posted: February 07, 2014 at 03:34 PM (#4653340)
204, since BOAN was released 99 years ago, it is very likely that yes, the techniques given form in BOAN woud have eventually been introduced.

HOWEVER, it could have taken decades for all of them to develop and/or gain acceptance. The history of the cinema and of popular entertainment would have been drastically different from what it was in OTL.
   206. Monty Posted: February 07, 2014 at 03:37 PM (#4653341)
I've put this is a number of different ways now; try to at least evade my point in equally new and novel ways.


I was just asking a clear and simple direct question. I thought you liked those!

And I don't know what "your '60s sensibilities" is supposed to mean. I also didn't know what it meant when you applied it to someone else in 188.
   207. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 03:38 PM (#4653343)
204:

Sure. Probably worse for some, better for others, but as a general principle, why not? Now what? Book burning? And that last sentence of yours also applies to this. The answer: contend with it. But in all its facets--for you like it or not, you will have to some day. Pretending there are no defense, no other ways of looking at something, never makes it go away.

And of course we're back to white hat/black hat.
   208. Greg K Posted: February 07, 2014 at 03:41 PM (#4653346)
Not deserving of being represented on its own terms

I think (part of at least) the discussion going here so far is about determining what Birth of a Nation's own terms are. If it is a propaganda piece (again, not a given but there certainly appears to be a discussion to be had on what that label means, and whether that label fits in this instance), then doesn't judging it on its own terms mean taking into account the argument it is making?

I could be wrong, and I haven't entered the discussion about the movie, because I've never seen Birth of a Nation, but wasn't its depiction of race problematic in its own time? It's always been my understanding that you don't need to move forward to the 1960s to construct a case of the movie being racist propaganda, people were doing it the day it came out.
   209. Greg K Posted: February 07, 2014 at 03:45 PM (#4653347)
204, since BOAN was released 99 years ago, it is very likely that yes, the techniques given form in BOAN woud have eventually been introduced.

HOWEVER, it could have taken decades for all of them to develop and/or gain acceptance. The history of the cinema and of popular entertainment would have been drastically different from what it was in OTL.

I'd agree. I think the "technical developments would have happened anyway" line of argument is a bit too neat. For a variety of reasons, but primarily I'd argue it hints at an inevitability of history (not to get too meta here!) that I'm not sure is helpful in a broader sense.
   210. Monty Posted: February 07, 2014 at 03:45 PM (#4653348)
Oh, and this:

If you can't open up enough for that, then your openness to the full range of human experience may be underdeveloped.


For any work of art, there are multiple valid interpretations and reactions. Why do you feel the need to insult people who disagree with yours?
   211. Bitter Mouse Posted: February 07, 2014 at 03:46 PM (#4653349)
Sure. Probably worse for some, better for others, but as a general principle, why not? Now what? Book burning? And that last sentence of yours also applies to this. The answer: contend with it. But in all its facets--for you like it or not, you will have to some day. Pretending there are no defense, no other ways of looking at something, never makes it go away.


I disagree. If you believe that the nation was harmed by the BoaN, by what it inspired, more than it was helped by it, then to me it is automatically disallowed to be Great Art. That is not a matter of "pretending" anything, it is an opinion. In fact it is my opinion, regarding art and its place in civilization. As to your non sequitur regarding book burning, now you are just being silly. Asserting that a movie is not great art has nothing to do with banning, burning, or censoring expression generally or art specifically. It has to do with evaluating art and its place within the context of civilization.

BoaN may well be a technical masterpiece, but it is not and cannot be considered great art.

And lest you think this is some calcified opinion, it is not. It was arrived at reading this thread and thinking about it.
   212. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 03:47 PM (#4653350)
206:

I do like them. It's not the questions, it's the answers I'm referring to.

"Yeah, you better give me the insurance, because I am going to beat the hell out of this car."
   213. Bitter Mouse Posted: February 07, 2014 at 03:55 PM (#4653355)
I think the "technical developments would have happened anyway" line of argument is a bit too neat. For a variety of reasons, but primarily I'd argue it hints at an inevitability of history (not to get too meta here!) that I'm not sure is helpful in a broader sense.


I am not a fan of the "Great Man" theory of history. However I do not ascribe to inevitability either. Rather I think major trends tell much of the tale, but individuals and chaos theory have a say as well. However, I think it a HUGE stretch to posit any significant delay in advancement in cinema technique had BoaN not been made. This is not Einstein's theory of relativity (i.e. something truly revolutionary), BoaN has many major advancements, but the whole industry was so young, was in its infancy, and there were enough other great talents involved in it, that I feel confident that it would have been much less than a decade before things were "on track". WHich is not to say history would not have been different, because of course it would have, that is the point of the thought experiment.
   214. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 03:55 PM (#4653356)
but wasn't its depiction of race problematic in its own time?

Well, it was problematic for some, not for others. Isn't that interesting?

Labelling it as propaganda disposes of the movie, but an in-dept goes beyond mere labelling or name-calling. What's the movie really about? It's clear from the drama. Or it should be clear. It would be clear if the conflict were about other "kinds", or if we were aliens from outer space witnessing this. BoaN is not any different than scores of dramatic and literary and poetic works of arts. That it has a social connection made really immediate to this culture, in terms of those two "kinds," doesn't change the essential nature of the conflict. They could have been tories and royalists using Scotsmen as pawns.
   215. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 03:58 PM (#4653357)
For any work of art, there are multiple valid interpretations and reactions. Why do you feel the need to insult people who disagree with yours?

Well, maybe because until I do insult them, they don't acknowledge what you just did (because I did insult them/you?).

In fact, that "there are multiple valid interpretations and reactions" pretty much says it all from my side. Thanks.
   216. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: February 07, 2014 at 04:01 PM (#4653359)
I could be wrong, and I haven't entered the discussion about the movie, because I've never seen Birth of a Nation, but wasn't its depiction of race problematic in its own time?


Yes it was very controversial even in 1915.

Also, it's interesting to note that all the non-background black characters were played by whites in blackface- very badly applied and overly visible blackface- the producers wanted the audience to know the actors were white- because they had to interact with white females and god forbid audiences would think for a single second that a black man touched a white women during the filming of the movie.


One thing always struck me as odd- one of the first [criminal/terroristic] acts undertaken by the revived KKK, was the lynching of a white man [Jewish white man], based upon the testimony of a black man (who was likely the real murderer the KKK wanted to punish)
   217. Monty Posted: February 07, 2014 at 04:03 PM (#4653361)
In fact, that "there are multiple valid interpretations and reactions" pretty much says it all from my side. Thanks.


Nonsense. Through this entire thread, you have been insisting that the only valid appraisal of anything is yours. If anyone doesn't like Birth of a Nation or Catcher in the Rye, they're wrong, worthless, and undeveloped as people. No one ever said you weren't allowed to consider it a great movie; you have consistently asserted that everyone who doesn't consider it a great movie is not allowed to do that.
   218. Bitter Mouse Posted: February 07, 2014 at 04:04 PM (#4653362)
Well, it was problematic for some, not for others. Isn't that interesting?


You can find a loon who will buy into literally anything. Moon made of green cheese and the moon landings faked? Sure. That is not in the slightest bit interesting.
   219. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 04:06 PM (#4653364)
217:

Hey, that's, like, my opinion, man.

We're arguing. Get a grip. I'm making my case. I have my views. I addressed your case and your counter-contentions. I am not obligated to do more than that.
   220. Monty Posted: February 07, 2014 at 04:11 PM (#4653368)
all the non-background black characters were played by whites in blackface- very badly applied and overly visible blackface-


That resulted in what I think is a really strange scene. When the blacks have taken over Congress, all the guys in the foreground are white guys in blackface, and they're running around like monkeys. But right behind them are actual black people being used to fill out the scene, and they're mostly just sitting there quietly. This is the scene that's supposed to show how bad things have gotten, but my modern reactions went like this:

1) "Holy crap, they're literally acting like monkeys. What the hell, D.W. Griffith? Had they not invented subtlety in 1915?"
2) "This scene is going on kind of a long time."
3) "I wonder what those black guys in the background think of all this. Were they just happy to get a paycheck?"
4) "Come to think of it, what's going on in this scene is that the black people are all behaving normally and it's the white guys who are acting like monkeys. That's the opposite of what Griffith was going for!"

That's the scene that most stuck with me from the movie. Well, that and the Klan heroically riding out to save the South.
   221. Monty Posted: February 07, 2014 at 04:12 PM (#4653369)
I addressed your case and your counter-contentions. I am not obligated to do more than that.


That's true. I might wish that you were obligated to do it without personal insults, but this is the Internet. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on the scene I describe in 220, though, because I think it looks really weird now.
   222. Greg K Posted: February 07, 2014 at 04:24 PM (#4653373)
I am not a fan of the "Great Man" theory of history. However I do not ascribe to inevitability either. Rather I think major trends tell much of the tale, but individuals and chaos theory have a say as well. However, I think it a HUGE stretch to posit any significant delay in advancement in cinema technique had BoaN not been made. This is not Einstein's theory of relativity (i.e. something truly revolutionary), BoaN has many major advancements, but the whole industry was so young, was in its infancy, and there were enough other great talents involved in it, that I feel confident that it would have been much less than a decade before things were "on track". WHich is not to say history would not have been different, because of course it would have, that is the point of the thought experiment.

Yeah, you're probably right that this instance probably isn't the most apt for the general point I was making (a point I sense we probably agree on). I just believe in credit where credit is due. Someone else could have done it, but this guy did it.
   223. Greg K Posted: February 07, 2014 at 04:31 PM (#4653376)
Well, it was problematic for some, not for others. Isn't that interesting?

I just mean, it seems therefore possible to see race as a problem in the movie without having a 60s attitude towards race.

I'm not sure propaganda is a dismissive term in this case, at least I don't intend it to be one. Whatever word you want to use for it, I mean it as a film which is deliberately making a social/political argument as its primary function. Certainly, most if not all films are making some kind of argument, so I'm not sure this category can be hard and fast.* But something like say...Be Kind, Rewind would fit into this category. Judging the work while ignoring the point it is making seems difficult if not impossible. Did Griffith distinguish between work spent on the historiographical argument the movie presents and the story, characters, or technical aspects of shooting? Why should we?

*EDIT: This is what I was referring to earlier when I said there's clearly a discussion to be had about what we mean by propaganda.
   224. BDC Posted: February 07, 2014 at 04:36 PM (#4653381)
I also find very affecting the way the love Wayne has for his brother's wife, and her for him, is handled, merely alluded to, but never really directly addressed

Yes, that's a beautiful scene.

Funny we're mostly agreed on The Searchers and poles apart on Birth of a Nation, but, "agree to disagree," and all that …
   225. Greg K Posted: February 07, 2014 at 04:36 PM (#4653382)
I'd include Melancholia as another one in that category, as from the best I could tell that was simply 2 hours of Lars von Trier trying to convince everyone that depressed people are inherently superior to the rest of us.
   226. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 04:41 PM (#4653384)
Griffith was probably so immerse in his view that until it was noisily pointed out to him he didn't even realize that his view was offensive to some. That's not at all strange, much less way out there. Like a lot of us, Griffith thought his sensibilities were correct, and this colored the way he presented history or quasi-history. That, too, is not unusual. In fact, nothing here is unusual, except for the idea that there is only one way to look what he offers--well, that's not unusual either.
   227. BDC Posted: February 07, 2014 at 04:42 PM (#4653385)
Certainly, most if not all films are making some kind of argument, so I'm not sure this category can be hard and fast.* But something like say...Be Kind, Rewind would fit into this category

A popular textbook in freshman writing is titled "Everything's an Argument," on the principle that you can't shift positions on a chair without implicitly furthering an ultimate political agenda. But as you note, some artworks do that a lot more than others. Gone with the Wind and The Grapes of Wrath do so more than the novels of Proust or the poetry of Rilke – which is not to say there's no politics in the latter two, just that it's more abstract and philosophical.
   228. Monty Posted: February 07, 2014 at 04:43 PM (#4653386)
I think he probably had some idea that black people disagreed with him.
   229. Monty Posted: February 07, 2014 at 04:50 PM (#4653387)
I propose that there's a point where a work's inherent point of view becomes so important to the work that you literally can't evaluate the work without considering the point it's arguing for. Take Atlas Shrugged, which throws out its narrative entirely in favor of a seventy-page speech. Not only is it almost impossible to consider it as a work of art without reference to the political and social arguments it's making, I don't think Ayn Rand would even want you to. The book is written as a wrapper for the speech. I've never seen anybody argue for Atlas Shrugged as a great novel but hate Objectivism. (Although I dislike Objectivism and I've read the book three times, because I'm fascinated by it)
   230. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 04:55 PM (#4653388)
War is simply the continuation of politics by other means, it has been said, and many here, I surmise, believe that's what the arts are too. (Science, also.) That's certainly one way of seeing it, and of utilizing the arts (and sciences). But when you do that, you are not dealing with truths, or Truth, in a larger philosophical sense. And if that's how you view it, don't be outraged when others do, too, in ways you disapproved. What's sauce for the gander....That's the game. You called it.
   231. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: February 07, 2014 at 05:23 PM (#4653396)
"Avatar" isn't cardboard claptrap; it's just that you weren't there.

Really really pretty cardboard claptrap, that was silly and dumb, but it did move well.

Inner-circle production and visuals. Sub-Francoeur-level story.


Yup. All it's missing is a frail, wronged ingenue being ordered out into a raging blizzard by a hard-hearted minister who orders her never to darken his doorstep again. Add that, and “Avatar” would be Griffithian. (Yes, D.W. really did film that scene.)
   232. A big pile of nonsense (gef the talking mongoose) Posted: February 07, 2014 at 05:44 PM (#4653404)
When I first saw this

Yes, that's a beautiful scene.


I immediately interpreted it as a response to this

When the blacks have taken over Congress, all the guys in the foreground are white guys in blackface, and they're running around like monkeys

& was, well, rather concerned.
   233. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: February 07, 2014 at 05:55 PM (#4653407)
We never say anything when they bring those Nazi functionaries, foot soldiers, to trial, but, really, there's more to it than well, he's a Nazi. There's maybe, at the least, there but for the grace of...go I.

This is similar to a point you made earlier, and while it has some validity, I worry that you take it too far. I think I can understand the mindset of people who simply followed orders and did the least amount of damage possible without risking their own lives. Would I have acted differently if I had been a German in the 1930s (rather than a Jew in the 2010s)? I hope so, but I've never been faced with such an extreme decision in my own life so I can't say for certain.

But artists, particularly prominent ones, are pretty much by definition not just people who keep their head down and follow other people's orders or ideas. They create, they invent, they persuade--how does one evaluate an artist without giving them at least some credit and responsibility for the ideas expressed in their art? It is a complex question, to be sure.
   234. vivaelpujols Posted: February 07, 2014 at 06:03 PM (#4653410)
I wonder if you're even able to conduct a conversation without inventing motives for the people you're talking to. I disliked Holden for the same reason I would dislike an actual sensitive teenager who complained to me about his life for several hours straight.


Yeah right I'm sure you were never a sensitive teenager.
   235. Bitter Mouse Posted: February 07, 2014 at 06:20 PM (#4653420)
But artists, particularly prominent ones, are pretty much by definition not just people who keep their head down and follow other people's orders or ideas. They create, they invent, they persuade--how does one evaluate an artist without giving them at least some credit and responsibility for the ideas expressed in their art? It is a complex question, to be sure.


It is complex, especially since many artists of all types seem to be driven to create. Often it appears they create because they have to, often coming from the pain or other very strong emotions within.
   236. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: February 07, 2014 at 06:41 PM (#4653433)
That resulted in what I think is a really strange scene. When the blacks have taken over Congress, all the guys in the foreground are white guys in blackface, and they're running around like monkeys. But right behind them are actual black people being used to fill out the scene, and they're mostly just sitting there quietly. This is the scene that's supposed to show how bad things have gotten, but my modern reactions went like this:


Back in College we had our WWII prof show us some examples of WWII propaganda films. One that struck me was a German one made sometime after the fall of France, and they were mocking France for claiming that they were the civilized ones and the the Germans were barbarians (Huns)- to dramatize that the opposite was true the film zoomed in on a mass of disheveled French POWs, and in the middle of the group was a (gasp) black soldier, singing and playing a tambourine as other French POWs looked on. The scene then cut to a group of German soldiers marching in formation down a street (No they weren't goostepping, they were in combat unis and were simply marching down a street, they looked pretty grim faced, but were clearly less disheveleed/dirty than the earlier French POWs)

The narrator then tauntingly asked, who is the savage and who is the civilized man, and zooms in on two images (split screen) on one is a frozen image of the black soldier mouth wide open (he was SINGING remember?) on one side and a blonde haired blue eyed German soldier on the other (who looked kind of constipated)...

The Prof said something like this, "I've found most Americans puzzled by this propaganda, we look at it and scratch our heads thinking it proves the opposite of what the filmakers intended... then I taught this class one semester in Alabama..."
   237. Greg K Posted: February 07, 2014 at 06:56 PM (#4653441)
Yeah right I'm sure you were never a sensitive teenager.

I sure was. I disliked that sensitive teenager too!

EDIT: Just kidding, I haven't read Catcher in the Rye, so I don't how I feel about that particular teen. The closest approximation of me as a teenager (and likely 80% of males born between 1980 and 1985) in the arts probably remains Michael Cera is Superbad.
   238. Sunday silence Posted: February 07, 2014 at 07:04 PM (#4653444)
So, this isnt about Jackie Robinson joining the Republican party?
   239. BDC Posted: February 07, 2014 at 07:08 PM (#4653446)
Pierre Bayard wrote a book last year that sounds very interesting: Aurais-je été résistant ou bourreau?: that is, Would I have been in the Resistance, or a collaborator? I don't know the answer because I haven't read it, but Bayard is also the author of How to Talk about Books That You Haven't Read, so what the heck.
   240. Greg K Posted: February 07, 2014 at 07:13 PM (#4653450)
Cowardice is one of my defining characteristics. I like to say I don't know what choices I'd make when the historical hypotheticals come up. But I'm afraid I'm actually fairly sure which way I'd go.

EDIT: I'm having quite a lot of fun reading, and occasionally talking, about a movie I haven't seen here. So that book might be up my alley.
   241. Bitter Mouse Posted: February 07, 2014 at 07:24 PM (#4653457)
Back in College we had our WWII prof show us some examples of WWII propaganda films.


I had a interim (between semesters) class in Nazi Cinema. Fun class. One of the movies did not suck - Romance in E Minor I think it was called (Well that in German). Interesting class.
   242. God Posted: February 07, 2014 at 07:25 PM (#4653459)
Man, I leave for a few hours and I miss a discussion of The Searchers of all things. I grew up in a film-nut family and The Searchers was my dad's favorite movie, so I've basically spent a lifetime watching it and analyzing it. (In fact, I was thisclose to being named Ethan by my parents.) I think it's a masterpiece, but once you watch it several dozen times the flaws become obvious, annoying, and really hard to overlook:

1) The few outdoor scenes that were shot on sets look really fake.
2) Jeffrey Hunter is a whiny little ##### and hard to root for.
3) Natalie Wood doesn't look or dress like someone who just spent several years living in the wilderness as a Native American.
4) Similarly, none of the other Native American characters resemble real Native Americans -- much like the blackface scenes in BOAN.
5) This wasn't a problem at the time the film was made, but became one later: Monument Valley and its location are so well-known now that trying to pretend it's in Texas comes off as ludicrous. Of course, the film is a victim of its own success in this regard as it was largely Ford's films that made Monument Valley so universally known in the first place. Still, it's sort of like watching a movie that claims to take place in Chicago but constantly shows the Statue of Liberty in the background.
5) The whole Look storyline is regrettable and racist. That character never should have seen the light of day.
6) The idiot character played by Ken Curtis is ridiculous and the film would have been better off without it.
7) It's impossible to watch Patrick Wayne (Duke's son) try to "act" without breaking out in laughter.
8) The fact that the film (not the characters, the film) considers white superiority a given; it's accepted without explanation.

Obviously in order to make up for all that garbage, there have to be a lot of stupendous moments, and there are. My favorite is the scene that was copied in Star Wars -- the one where Ethan comes home to find the house burned and everybody dead. Obviously, the very last shot of the film -- the one with the closing door that was copied in The Godfather -- is great too.

I took a college class where this film was viewed and afterward the professor asked us, "Is this film an indictment of racism, or is it racist itself?" To me (and apparently only to me) the obvious answer was "both."
   243. Monty Posted: February 07, 2014 at 07:29 PM (#4653462)
5) This wasn't a problem at the time the film was made, but became one later: Monument Valley and its location are so well-known now that trying to pretend it's in Texas comes off as ludicrous. Of course, the film is a victim of its own success in this regard as it was largely Ford's films that made Monument Valley so universally known in the first place. Still, it's sort of like watching a movie that claims to take place in Chicago but constantly shows the Statue of Liberty in the background.


Also a problem with Close Encounters of the Third Kind. You watch that now, you want to shout at the characters, "It's Devil's Tower! Don't you dummies know Devil's Tower when you see it?!" But that's because Devil's Tower gained a ton of recognizability from the movie.
   244. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: February 07, 2014 at 07:38 PM (#4653469)
Also a problem with Close Encounters of the Third Kind. You watch that now, you want to shout at the characters, "It's Devil's Tower! Don't you dummies know Devil's Tower when you see it?!" But that's because Devil's Tower gained a ton of recognizability from the movie.


Nah, that was my reaction AT THE TIME, of course my school's geology textbook's cover prominently displayed a picture of Devil's Tower (1976)
   245. simon bedford Posted: February 07, 2014 at 07:44 PM (#4653472)
two of my favorite films , where i cant think of any filler off the top of my head "casablanca" and "12 angry men"....some of my other favorite films have kind of strange filler like "ikuru" where sometimes it seems kurisowa is purposely taking a very long time to set up his shots or the character reactions come at odd , elongated times ( especially the young girl who befriends the main character, and the wake scene)
   246. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: February 07, 2014 at 07:57 PM (#4653476)
two of my favorite films , where i cant think of any filler off the top of my head "casablanca" and "12 angry men".


There is one forced/unnatural scene in Casablanca - Rick is drinking, it's late at night, asks himself what time/day it is back home in the US, it's December 6 1941 back home, time for America to wake up.

They also had the good sense to cut out the original ending entirely (Rick and Renault - in uniform on a ship returning to Casablanca as part of Operation Torch)
   247. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 08:15 PM (#4653480)
People here actually think if they were living back then, not to mention around the time of the Civil War, they would nevertheless feel as they do now. It's like those who think if they and their buddy Quentin Tarantino had fought in WWII, those German's would never have had a chance. And if they had been in the German army, they would had a thing or two to say to those Gestapo guys. Then they would have gone back in time and given that racist psychopath Ty Cobb his comeuppance on the field. It's all clown talk, bro.
   248. Monty Posted: February 07, 2014 at 08:38 PM (#4653492)
It's not like Birth of a Nation was universally acclaimed when it came out. People objected to its racism at the time. There were protests and everything!
   249. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 08:42 PM (#4653494)
Yeah, just like the 1964 Civil Rights Act. And, like with Birth of a Nation, there are still complaints.
   250. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 08:46 PM (#4653496)
242:

This all part of what your ninth-grade teacher meant about suspension of disbelief. If you can't rise above stuff like this, you need to fill your time doing something else. Next thing, someone will complain because Charlton Heston's wrist-watch was visible in the chariot race. Picayune objections.
   251. Greg K Posted: February 07, 2014 at 08:48 PM (#4653497)
People here actually think if they were living back then, not to mention around the time of the Civil War, they would nevertheless feel as they do now. It's like those who think if they and their buddy Quentin Tarantino had fought in WWII, those German's would never have had a chance.

I might be missing the analogy, but I think someone with a 21st century mentality travelling to WW2 would be less likely to sign on and fight than a version of themselves born in 1920. I mean, it's not like there was a shortage of young men willing to fight at the time.

Now if you're talking about Germans in the 1930s, or resistance fighters in the 1940s, then yeah, perhaps it is easy to assume from the safety of 2014 that you'd be on the right side of history. But I think that's something most people (here anyway) are cognizant of. It's come up a couple times already hasn't it?
   252. Monty Posted: February 07, 2014 at 08:49 PM (#4653499)
I'm not sure what you're trying to say here. How is the 1964 Civil Rights Act relevant? To be clear, I'm claiming that enough people objected to Birth of a Nation in 1915 that it is not unreasonable to think that I would have been one of those people.
   253. simon bedford Posted: February 07, 2014 at 08:50 PM (#4653500)
there were actual riots that were attrbuted to screenings of "birth of a nation" how many films can you say that about? i find your endless attempt to defend the overt racism in this film a tad disturbing, isnt it suffice to say " the director was a product of his time and deep south background" and stop trying to pretend that it was a widely accepted belief system he was reflecting ( at least outside of the deep south) ?

that alternative ending to "casablanca sounds wretched, i was thinking the one other scene that was a little flabby was between sasha and yvonne(?) when he keeps saying he lovers her...does very little to move the story along or develop anyones character.
   254. Greg K Posted: February 07, 2014 at 08:50 PM (#4653502)
Yeah, just like the 1964 Civil Rights Act. And, like with Birth of a Nation, there are still complaints.

Again, I think his point is you don't need to be a time traveller to have an issue with race in Birth of a Nation. In fact, your problems with the way race in portrayed in the movie can be achieved precisely through the act of putting yourself in the shoes of a person of another historical time - the people who had a problem with the movie then.
   255. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 09:03 PM (#4653506)
You need to be a time traveller to appreciate the full effect--pro and con. And you should be able to put yourself in the shoes of those that didn't--those that were thrilled by it. (And in the hobnail booths of those German soldiers.) You keep reverting to a position where you can deny, ignore really, all positions but one. Why is that?



   256. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 09:06 PM (#4653507)
i find your endless attempt to defend the overt racism in this film a tad disturbing,

The usual suspects never cease to disappoint. What's next? You'd never have sex with me again if I don't get myself together?

Even the swap meets around here are pretty corrupt
   257. simon bedford Posted: February 07, 2014 at 09:13 PM (#4653509)
i much prefer new dansville girl to that tepid remake sir
   258. Greg K Posted: February 07, 2014 at 09:19 PM (#4653511)
You keep reverting to a position where you can deny, ignore really, all positions but one. Why is that?

Well I don't really have any position on Birth of a Nation, I haven't seen it. It just seems like you keep unfairly suggesting that any criticism of race in the movie is based on a post 1960 perspective, and therefore illegitimate. That doesn't seem to be the case to me.

As for the larger scheme of things, I think I've been pretty clear in this thread that I put a priority on sympathizing with people in unfamiliar historical periods. Heck, you could say that is my job (were I not unemployed).
   259. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 07, 2014 at 10:14 PM (#4653517)
You need to be a time traveller to appreciate the full effect--pro and con. And you should be able to put yourself in the shoes of those that didn't--those that were thrilled by it. (And in the hobnail booths of those German soldiers.) You keep reverting to a position where you can deny, ignore really, all positions but one. Why is that?

I've immersed myself in so much Nazi propaganda over the years that "putting myself in the shoes" of Hitler-worshiping Germans (and his fawning American fans like Lindbergh and Ford) is as easy as driving a car. And how many Lothrop Stoddard books or White Citizens Council magazines does one have to read in order to "understand" the racist point of view? How many discussions with campus segregationists and latterday racists does it take? You act as if the only way you can prove that you "understand" the Nazi or the Klansman (or Eisenstein) is by not passing any negative judgment about the non-cinematic aspects of their propaganda films, which is absurd.

Person after person here has fully acknowledged Griffith's cinematic genius, just as Dwight MacDonald did, but for you that's not enough. What you want is for everyone not even to suggest that The Birth of a Nation was "great, but wickedly great"---a line that Farrakhan once applied to Hitler. To you, the mere fact that most of the white people of Griffith's time bought into his racist premises is all that's needed to give him a pass for pandering to those sentiments in triple march time. For someone who constantly ridicules the "that's just your opinion, man" school of thought, you seem remarkably quick to use that tone whenever anyone even points out that The Birth of a Nation was widely condemned at the time it came out. It's as if the only opinions that we're permitted to take into account are the views of the dominant white majority of 1915, to the exclusion of contrary opinions of the time, and even more emphatically to the exclusion of the judgment of history. This is what apparently amounts to "openmindedness" from where you're sitting, where moral fencestraddling is given a pass as long as you can show that Griffith's white contemporaries largely shared his racial views.
   260. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 11:01 PM (#4653526)
I can't help but smile. You still seem to be under the delusion that racist views are a one-way street. Funnier yet, you think if you can stamp something as racist, something has been fixed for all time and purposes.

However, I think you are beginning to understand. You don't like what's becoming clear to you in spite of yourself, but you don't have to like it, for it's a start, Grasshopper.

And I think you are right about me--to some telling, significantly telling, degree, anyway. If you want to make this about me, fine. But that won't solve anything. The dilemma exists outside of personalities. I would only ask that you understand that if this were a board where the opposite view was being given expression by the overwhelming majority, if that white racist/apologist view were dominant and insistently vocal, then I would probably be voicing your opinions and making the same objections that you are uttering now. This is like parallel universes. Both exist and both in some way can be justified. One might have to prime the other as a matter of political policy, but the morality depends on where you are positioned.

Politics demands a resolution necessary for a public policy determination that aesthetics does not mandate. Art can determine and acknowledge that there are irreconcilables, and they must be acknowledged if we are to be honest. That's the distillation of the search for truth. It's also Hamlet's tragedy and Scotty Ferguson's in Vertigo. You want what you want, and can't accept that reality will not accommodate you. Knowing reality is hard, but it's possible; accepting and assimilating it and moving on from there is much more difficult--even out of our individual hands. That's because reality is shared. Don't you disagree?
   261. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 11:28 PM (#4653537)
I doubt if even 2% of moviegoers weren't rooting for Jimmy Cagney in all those gangster movies of the 30's. In fact this was so obvious at the time that it eventually led to the much stricter enforcement of the Hays Code, with a Catholic ideologue named Joe Breen in charge of the censoring. A 1933 book that favored such a crackdown, Our Movie Made Children, went through at least six printings, an early counterpart to Frederic Wertham's 1954 screed against comic books, The Seduction of the Innocent.

Why do you think all those people rooted for Cagney? You think they thought him morally right? That they wanted their children to emulate him? What? And what does that tell you about the way various people, and groups of people, reacted to The Birth of a Nation?
   262. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 11:39 PM (#4653541)
Since you don't answer whether you read the Agee essay I linked, I'll just quote it again:

This was the one time in movie history that a man of great ability worked freely, in an unspoiled medium, for an unspoiled audience, on a majestic theme which involved all that he was; and brought to it, besides his abilities as an inventor and artist, absolute passion, pity, courage, and honesty. "The Birth of a Nation" is equal with Brady's photographs, Lincoln's speeches, Whitman's war poems; for all its imperfections and absurdities it is equal, in fact, to the best work that has been done in this country. And among moving pictures it is alone, not necessarily as "the greatest" -- whatever that means -- but as the one great epic, tragic film.

The discussion started when you said Griffith was only important for his technological innovation and his techniques. That's not what Agee thinks.
   263. BDC Posted: February 08, 2014 at 12:10 AM (#4653549)
I did read the Agee essay. It seems to imply that Agee agreed with Griffith's (and Dixon's) take on Reconstruction, though he's not crystal clear or detailed about it.
   264. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 08, 2014 at 01:57 AM (#4653565)
I can't help but smile. You still seem to be under the delusion that racist views are a one-way street.

I've seen plenty of black racists in my lifetime. I didn't see any of them in The Birth of a Nation. Did you?

Why do you think all those people rooted for Cagney? You think they thought him morally right? That they wanted their children to emulate him?

They rooted for Cagney because he was glamorous and exciting.

And what does that tell you about the way various people, and groups of people, reacted to The Birth of a Nation?

Not much, since there was no political point being made in Cagney's movies, whereas the point being made in The Birth of a Nation was 200 proof political propaganda.

Since you don't answer whether you read the Agee essay I linked, I'll just quote it again:

This was the one time in movie history that a man of great ability worked freely, in an unspoiled medium, for an unspoiled audience, on a majestic theme which involved all that he was; and brought to it, besides his abilities as an inventor and artist, absolute passion, pity, courage, and honesty. "The Birth of a Nation" is equal with Brady's photographs, Lincoln's speeches, Whitman's war poems; for all its imperfections and absurdities it is equal, in fact, to the best work that has been done in this country. And among moving pictures it is alone, not necessarily as "the greatest" -- whatever that means -- but as the one great epic, tragic film.


The discussion started when you said Griffith was only important for his technological innovation and his techniques. That's not what Agee thinks.

So what do you think Agee meant by "all its imperfections and absurdities"?

But in fairness to you if not to Agee, here's another paragraph from that same review:

(Today, The Birth of it Nation is boycotted or shown piecemeal; too many more or less well-meaning people still accuse Griffith of having made it an anti-Negro movie. At best, this is nonsense, and at worst, it is vicious nonsense. Even if it were an anti-Negro movie, a work of such quality should be shown, and shown whole. But the accusation is unjust. Griffith went to almost preposterous lengths to be fair to the Negroes as he understood them, and he understood them as a good type of Southerner does. I don't entirely agree with him; nor can I be sure that the film wouldn't cause trouble and misunderstanding, especially as advertised and exacerbated by contemporary abolitionists; but Griffith's absolute desire to be fair, and understandable, is written all over the picture; so are degrees of understanding, honesty, and compassion far beyond the capacity of his accusers. So, of course, are the salient facts of the so-called Reconstruction years.)


Lots of assertions there, but nothing to back it up other than repeating the assertions.

"Griffith went to almost preposterous lengths to be fair to the Negroes as he understood them, and he understood them as a good type of Southerner does." Where's the evidence for that in the movie? You tell me.

"Griffith's absolute desire to be fair, and understandable, is written all over the picture; so are degrees of understanding, honesty, and compassion far beyond the capacity of his accusers. So, of course, are the salient facts of the so-called Reconstruction years.)"

So Griffith was far fairer and more honest about the "salient facts" of Reconstruction than his accusers, such as W.E.B. DuBois and the NAACP?

Morty, do you really believe this crap? Or is it because James Agee has such a pantheonic status as a critic that we have to swallow everything he says at face value?

Tell me, though: What was "honest" about The Birth of a Nation? What was "fair"? And what does Agee mean when he writes that Griffith "understood [the Negroes]"? Do you ever wonder what "the Negroes" might have to say about that? Or are their views about themselves unimportant compared to the views of unreconstructed southerners like Griffith and a white Tennessee native like Agee?

BTW here was Griffith's reply to those who accused him of being anti-Negro, as quoted by Lillian Gish:

"To say that is like saying I am against children, as they were our children, whom we loved and cared for all of our lives."


Some "understanding".
   265. Lassus Posted: February 08, 2014 at 09:25 AM (#4653589)
This is about identical in purpose and productivity to the Nye/Ham debate. No, Morty, you aren't Nye.
   266. RMc is a fine piece of cheese Posted: February 08, 2014 at 04:15 PM (#4653693)
It's not enough to simply like or dislike a work of art; no, they must be used as cudgels to prove one's moral and/or intellectual superiority.

Junior high school never ends.
   267. Hysterical & Useless Posted: February 09, 2014 at 09:20 AM (#4653797)
It's probably been 4 decades since I saw BoaN, but my memory is that the "truth" about race which it seeks to express is in fact simply the nightmare vision of that segment of white people who believed that blacks were inherently vicious sub-humans whose rule the victorious North sought to impose on the defeated (white and morally superior) South. The film, and the novel from which it was adapted, treated its fabricated instances of black depravity as the Truth of how blacks would behave if whites did not subjugate them. I think that any work which uses such an illegitimate tactic thereby reduces its claim to artistic greatness. I would say the same of a work that implicitly (or explicitly) made the claim that all Germans were Nazi thugs, or that all the French were noble resistance fighters. Such things don't disqualify a work from consideration, or even from acclaim, but


To be continued after I finish the laundry....
   268. Hysterical & Useless Posted: February 09, 2014 at 10:22 AM (#4653800)
Such things don't disqualify a work from artistic consideration, or even from acclaim; but if we're discussing capital-t Truth, they really don't add much to the conversation. It doesn't take a 21st century, or "child of the 60s," perspective to see this. As has been pointed out previously, many people in 1915 recognized the presentation of race relations in BoaN as a vicious caricature. Many people during Reconstruction, during the Civil War, BEFORE the Civil War, had pointed out the dishonesty of the arguments underpinning the white supremacist position.

BoaN is certainly a landmark in film history, worth viewing even today. But the fact that any presentation of it today requires so many caveats and disclaimers is, to me, evidence of how far short of true greatness it falls.
   269. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: February 09, 2014 at 10:32 AM (#4653801)
To be continued after I finish the laundry....

The kind with two eyeholes?
   270. Poulanc Posted: February 09, 2014 at 02:56 PM (#4653889)
TSPDT's consensus ranking of The 1,000 Greatest Films places The Birth of a Nation at #213. That seems just about right.



I try not to complain much about lists, because they are completely subjective, meant to drive views, everyone has their own opinion, etc. But any list that claims that "Mulholland Dr." as the 69th best movie of all time is going to lose a lot of credibility.
   271. Lassus Posted: February 09, 2014 at 05:35 PM (#4653934)
But any list that claims that "Mulholland Dr." as the 69th best movie of all time is going to lose a lot of credibility.

I think that film was the most brilliantly accurate portrayal of a dream-state that has ever been filmed, so I'll have to disagree.
   272. PreservedFish Posted: February 09, 2014 at 06:10 PM (#4653947)
The list is meant to be a consensus, an aggregation of dozens or hundreds of other polls. So "Mulholland Dr" placing high isn't proof of a single critic's error, it's proof that your opinion of that film is out of step with that of the entire critical community.

edit> Not to say that the critics are always right or anything. But I think you're reading the list wrong.
   273. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 09, 2014 at 09:42 PM (#4653986)
The list is meant to be a consensus, an aggregation of dozens or hundreds of other polls. So "Mulholland Dr" placing high isn't proof of a single critic's error, it's proof that your opinion of that film is out of step with that of the entire critical community.

edit> Not to say that the critics are always right or anything. But I think you're reading the list wrong.


That "1000 Greatest Films" list by TSPDT** is a consensus list compiled every year. The 2013 list was "voted by 3,194 critics, filmmakers, scholars and other likely film types." Since the survey is international in scope, it's not as Hollywood-centric as most of the lists one usually runs across, even though U.S. films make up 428 of the top 1000.

And obviously nobody is going to agree with all of the rankings. Which proves what?

**as in "They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?"
   274. PreservedFish Posted: February 09, 2014 at 10:17 PM (#4653995)
I don't get your point, Andy. What are you saying that I didn't say?
   275. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 09, 2014 at 11:05 PM (#4654009)
Sorry, PF, I should have just said that all I was doing was adding to your point by citing the even (much) larger number of critics, etc., whose lists had been incorporated into the TSPDT database: 3,194 rather than dozens or hundreds. It was just a matter of emphasis by numbers, and I wasn't trying to contradict you. And my last (rhetorical) question ("Which proves what?") was aimed at Poulanc, not you.
   276. Poulanc Posted: February 09, 2014 at 11:07 PM (#4654010)
I think that film was the most brilliantly accurate portrayal of a dream-state that has ever been filmed, so I'll have to disagree.



I have to admit, I'm flabbergasted. I thought it was one of the worst movies I had sat through, and so did the person I watched it with. I guess I never made the assumption that critics thought it was good. But after your post, I went and looked it up at Rotten Tomatoes. An 81%? Wow. NEVER would have guessed that. Guess that shows what I know.
   277. Lassus Posted: February 09, 2014 at 11:24 PM (#4654016)
I have to admit, I'm flabbergasted. I thought it was one of the worst movies I had sat through, and so did the person I watched it with. I guess I never made the assumption that critics thought it was good. But after your post, I went and looked it up at Rotten Tomatoes. An 81%? Wow. NEVER would have guessed that. Guess that shows what I know.

Oh, I don't about that, opinions matter. I'm trying to think, there's one critically acclaimed film in particular I have like that that I can't imagine why people like, I'm convinced it's garbage. But... I can't remember what it is. It isn't Fight Club, which I DID hate, but that ALSO is at 81%, hilariously.
   278. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 09, 2014 at 11:39 PM (#4654019)
I have to admit, I'm flabbergasted. I thought it was one of the worst movies I had sat through, and so did the person I watched it with. I guess I never made the assumption that critics thought it was good. But after your post, I went and looked it up at Rotten Tomatoes. An 81%? Wow. NEVER would have guessed that. Guess that shows what I know.

Hey, don't ever apologize for holding an opinion about a movie. Hell, you only dissed #69, whereas I fell asleep trying to make it through the #3 movie on that list (2001: A Space Odyssey), and the thought of The Searchers being #9 of all time is way beyond my feeble comprehension. (It's not a bad movie, but more like #900 or #9000.)

But if you go through their top 100, you'll probably find that if you've seen the majority of them, you'll agree that most of those choices are pretty damn good films, if not necessarily as high as they show up on that list.

And maybe this year they'll finally replace Citizen Kane with Vertigo at the top, or with any one of a hundred or more far more deserving choices. (/ducks)
   279. PreservedFish Posted: February 10, 2014 at 12:29 AM (#4654034)
It's an interesting list. I'm not really a big fan of the solemn, humorless strain of European art cinema. I can't help but doubt the motivations of anyone that ranks Last Year at Marienbad above Star Wars.
   280. Lassus Posted: February 10, 2014 at 01:27 AM (#4654046)
Oh, yeah, I kinda found it, NOT a film I think is crap, but one I think that is just entertaining popcorn care as opposed to a work of cinematic art of note: "Goodfellas", #99. I mean, entertaining, well-made, polished. But, that's it. Not top 100 material.
   281. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 10, 2014 at 08:40 AM (#4654080)
It's an interesting list. I'm not really a big fan of the solemn, humorless strain of European art cinema. I can't help but doubt the motivations of anyone that ranks Last Year at Marienbad above Star Wars.

And what if you don't care for either of those movies? What if the movie you consider the best film ever (Angi Vera) doesn't even appear on the list?** That's me in all three of those cases.

**Though that's possibly because few people under the age of 50 are likely even to be aware of it, since it's a Hungarian movie that's been almost completely unavailable since the early 80's. The only time I've seen it since then was at the Hungarian Embassy, and that was nearly 20 years ago.

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

Oh, yeah, I kinda found it, NOT a film I think is crap, but one I think that is just entertaining popcorn care as opposed to a work of cinematic art of note: "Goodfellas", #99. I mean, entertaining, well-made, polished. But, that's it. Not top 100 material.

I'd probably put Goodfellas somewhere in my top 100, and rather easily at that. I can't see leaving it out of the top 100 unless you completely rule out every mob movie and gangster flick other than The Godfather and Godfather II.

And if you're talking about "popcorn" movies, doesn't that also take in every musical ever made, 95% of westerns and Hollywood-made WWII movies, and every last "adventure" movie? Not to mention the entire genre that includes Star Wars, 2001, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Does a movie have to make you yearn solely for organic trail mix in order to qualify as top 100?

But that's the beauty of a list that's a compendium of so many critical opinions. You get to see that so many other people are unappreciative of the movies you know are the best, and overrate the ones you think are lightweights.

Of course you also might find a movie or two (hundred) that you didn't know about and might want to see for yourself why it made the list, instead of just reflexively going for whatever happens to be available this weekend at the local multiplex.
   282. Lassus Posted: February 10, 2014 at 09:15 AM (#4654088)
I'd probably put Goodfellas somewhere in my top 100, and rather easily at that. I can't see leaving it out of the top 100 unless you completely rule out every mob movie and gangster flick other than The Godfather and Godfather II.

I think you have this exactly opposite. It is because one has Godfathers I and II and a Jimmy Cagney and others in the top one hundred that you can leave out Goodfellas. My assessment can probably be argued with the importance of the 90s take on the gangster flick, but I'm not seeing a list of all-time great films lessened by having no Goodfellas.


And if you're talking about "popcorn" movies, doesn't that also take in every musical ever made, 95% of westerns and Hollywood-made WWII movies, and every last "adventure" movie? Not to mention the entire genre that includes Star Wars, 2001, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Does a movie have to make you yearn solely for organic trail mix in order to qualify as top 100?

Er, right. This proves my own point, to me. There are a million westerns, a ton of musicals, a huge amount of war films, and a universe of sci-fi films. A select amount of each of them are in a list of top films of all time, while the rest - some incredibly awesome - simply don't. The same is the case for gangster/mob films, and to me, Goodfellas is a great film, but I personally don't see whatever brings it over the line into an all-timer.
   283. Bitter Mouse Posted: February 10, 2014 at 09:35 AM (#4654089)
I agree with Lassus regarding Goodfellas. It was well done, but not amazing or anything IMO. Of course I have a strong bias towards movies with non-loathsome characters (I usually prefer at least one person in the movie to be somewhat relatable - that is my issue though).
   284. Greg K Posted: February 10, 2014 at 10:09 AM (#4654099)
I saw a movie on a plane a couple weeks ago with DiNero as a former mob fellow in the witness protection program, hiding out in a small town in France. At one point he goes to the local film appreciation society's screening of Goodfellas to speak as an expert on the topic.

And I thought, hmm, isn't DiNero in that movie?

It's sort of like that Modern Family episode where the son freaks out the mom at the airport by saying that maybe their flight will be fun if they crash on an island like in Lost. Supposedly this triggers her fear of flying, but I suspect she is freaked out because that actress was in Lost. This is yet another suggestion that Modern Family is merely the thematic and literal sequel to Lost. Riddles within enigmas.
   285. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 10, 2014 at 11:07 AM (#4654142)
I'd probably put Goodfellas somewhere in my top 100, and rather easily at that. I can't see leaving it out of the top 100 unless you completely rule out every mob movie and gangster flick other than The Godfather and Godfather II.

I think you have this exactly opposite. It is because one has Godfathers I and II and a Jimmy Cagney and others in the top one hundred that you can leave out Goodfellas. My assessment can probably be argued with the importance of the 90s take on the gangster flick, but I'm not seeing a list of all-time great films lessened by having no Goodfellas.


Again, this just comes down to personal taste. I've seen over 50 Cagney movies and probably several hundred "classic" gangsters, and other than The Public Enemy I can't think of any that match up with Goodfellas, the first two Godfather movies, A Bronx Tale, or at least another dozen post-1970 mob movies (Scarface, Donnie Brasco, etc., etc.). It's not until you get into the noir era with certifiably top 100's like Out of the Past and The Killers that you get beyond the almost complete dependence of gangster movies on the charisma of the leading actor. And even with Cagney, almost every one of his other gangster movies was either a pale imitation of The Public Enemy or a Breen code diluted effort like The Roaring Twenties. Highly entertaining period pieces, but that's about all.

And strictly in terms of gangster films, you had several Lon Chaney silents like The Penalty and The Blackbird that were far more complex in terms of plot and character development than any sound movie prior to Double Indemnity and Laura. Great as he was, even Cagney could never portray cold blooded evil mixed with underlying humanity half as convincingly as Lon Chaney.

And if you're talking about "popcorn" movies, doesn't that also take in every musical ever made, 95% of westerns and Hollywood-made WWII movies, and every last "adventure" movie? Not to mention the entire genre that includes Star Wars, 2001, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Does a movie have to make you yearn solely for organic trail mix in order to qualify as top 100?

Er, right. This proves my own point, to me. There are a million westerns, a ton of musicals, a huge amount of war films, and a universe of sci-fi films. A select amount of each of them are in a list of top films of all time, while the rest - some incredibly awesome - simply don't. The same is the case for gangster/mob films, and to me, Goodfellas is a great film, but I personally don't see whatever brings it over the line into an all-timer.


That's a wholly defensible POV, but out of curiosity, what would be (say) 10 or 15 movies off the top of your head (not restricted to year or country) that you'd place in the top 100 without even having to think much about it? A top 100 list can't simply consist of the top 2 or 3 movies in every category, because there aren't enough categories to fill it up. Are there any gangster / noir / mob movies other than the two Godfathers and the one Cagney that could make it into your overall top 100?
   286. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 10, 2014 at 11:09 AM (#4654146)
I saw a movie on a plane a couple weeks ago with DeNiro as a former mob fellow in the witness protection program, hiding out in a small town in France. At one point he goes to the local film appreciation society's screening of Goodfellas to speak as an expert on the topic.

And I thought, hmm, isn't DeNiro in that movie?


Yes, but in France DeNiro would have received cinematic immunity.
   287. BDC Posted: February 10, 2014 at 11:13 AM (#4654148)
if you go through their top 100, you'll probably find that if you've seen the majority of them, you'll agree that most of those choices are pretty damn good films

I started down the list looking for the top film I'd come to that I thought was actively bad, as opposed to just "didn't grab me" or "bit of a tasteful yawner." Came up sooner than I'd thought, with Contempt at #37. I just found that picture embarrassing. Jack Palance is terribly miscast and just plain terrible. The whole ruminative theme with Fritz Lang contemplating the cinema is dull. And any film that features Brigitte Bardot undressed and still manages to bore you has achieved a lot.

But I guess films like that generate respect in a lot of quarters because they work with important ideas and techniques (in the case of Contempt, meta-cinematics). I am proud to have made the only comment on the "Goofs" page for Contempt on IMDb, simply to the effect that you can't regard anything in the film as a goof, because it's set up as a goof: a picture that lets you see behind the scenes and around the edges of film-making. It has that going for it.
   288. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: February 10, 2014 at 11:36 AM (#4654164)
These lists never catch on that it's harder to produce a "Blazing Saddles" or "Duck Soup" than an "Au Hasard Balthazar" or "Passion of Joan of Arc."

Of course, when you start deconstructing movies, comedies die faster and harder than dramas or experiments. That goes a long way towards accounting for the critical herding.

Less Michelangelo Antonioni, more Michael Maltese.
   289. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 10, 2014 at 11:37 AM (#4654166)
BDC, that's funny what you say about Contempt, because of the 3000+ movies I've recorded from TCM in the past few years, that was literally the only one where I couldn't get past the first 10 minutes. I was fired up to see Bardot and Palance in their primes, but the dubbing of the soundtrack was so godawful that I just gave up and wrote it off. If TCM ever comes up with a subtitled version I'm sure I'll reconsider, but so far they haven't.
   290. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: February 10, 2014 at 11:56 AM (#4654172)

Again, this just comes down to personal taste. I've seen over 50 Cagney movies and probably several hundred "classic" gangsters, and other than The Public Enemy I can't think of any that match up with Goodfellas, the first two Godfather movies, A Bronx Tale, or at least another dozen post-1970 mob movies (Scarface, Donnie Brasco, etc., etc.).

A Bronx Tale is a movie I really wanted to like, had a nice story, but I remember the dialogue to be so bad that it was difficult for me to get past. (Chazz Palminteri wrote it, FWIW.)
   291. Morty Causa Posted: February 10, 2014 at 12:13 PM (#4654191)
Cagney has other great gangster movie, not just The Public Enemy. White Heat for one. The Roaring Twenties for another, and despite having the Dead End Kids in it, Angels With Dirty Faces. Love Me or Leave Me is a movie about a brutal relationship between moll and gangster type. You almost fear Cagney will come out of the screen and slap you around in that movie. It's a truly frightening performance, and at the same time he makes you feel the pathos in the guy. Truly great acting. Throughout the '30s he also did comic tweaks of his tough guy persona (so did Edward G.). Check 'em out.

   292. PreservedFish Posted: February 10, 2014 at 12:14 PM (#4654192)
These lists never catch on that it's harder to produce a "Blazing Saddles" or "Duck Soup" than an "Au Hasard Balthazar" or "Passion of Joan of Arc."


Yes, and the other thing is that the austere and inscrutable Antonioni/Bresson style doesn't really mean much without reference to regular old Hollywood movies.
   293. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 10, 2014 at 01:12 PM (#4654266)
Cagney has other great gangster movie, not just The Public Enemy. White Heat for one. The Roaring Twenties for another, and despite having the Dead End Kids in it, Angels With Dirty Faces. Love Me or Leave Me is a movie about a brutal relationship between moll and gangster type. You almost fear Cagney will come out of the screen and slap you around in that movie. It's a truly frightening performance, and at the same time he makes you feel the pathos in the guy. Truly great acting. Throughout the '30s he also did comic tweaks of his tough guy persona (so did Edward G.). Check 'em out.

I'm a huge Cagney fan, and of course White Heat (which I simply overlooked) is if anything even better than The Public Enemy, due in great part to a superior plot and supporting cast. Cagney's Cody Jarrett was less groundbreaking than his Tom Powers, but it was also much more filled out.

But those later 30's movies always pulled their punches, even if The Roaring Twenties was a terrific tale on its own merits. Angels With Dirty Faces is little more than a delightful bit of camp, but then too many priests (or even one Pat O'Brien) spoiled the atmosphere of many a Code Era film. And the Dead End Kids are great---once.

Those later 30's comic gangster movies are all fun to watch, and yes, Cagney is terrific in all of them (as is Eddie G). But they don't otherwise rise much above programmer fillers. I'd loved to have seen a young Cagney in those 70's - 90's mob movies to see what he could have done with much better material than he had for most of his "gangster" career.

And sorry, but I'd need a serious money offer to watch any Cagney musical** other than Footlight Parade (which is great), especially one with Doris Day. I can count the number of watchable musicals on the fingers and thumbs of my two hands, but that's it. If you want "another side" of Cagney, These Wilder Years (with Barbara Stanwyck) is the one I'd most recommend. It's a perfectly pitched midlife drama between two completely opposite types who learn to appreciate the best in each other, and then just leave it at that without the obligatory romantic ending.

**I know that Cagney wanted to be remembered for Yankee Doodle Dandy rather than as a gangster. That's his privilege, but if I want to see him dance, I'll just watch the "Shanghai Lil" number in Footlight Parade, complete with every comic ethnic stereotype on Earth.
   294. BDC Posted: February 10, 2014 at 01:40 PM (#4654282)
the dubbing of the soundtrack was so godawful

I seem to remember that Contempt was one of those films where they just let each featured actor speak his or her own language – meaning that even the original soundtrack is a mess. It may even be the case that Palance (for instance) spoke his lines in English and then also postdubbed them in English. It heightens the artificiality of the film, but what a farrago.

   295. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: February 10, 2014 at 02:03 PM (#4654303)
White Heat (which I simply overlooked) is if anything even better than The Public Enemy, due in great part to a superior plot

"White Heat" is a great character with a great gimmick, but plot? Bad guy is bad. Goes to prison, followed by undercover agent. Prison life is rough. Bad guy busts out, goes on crime spree. Gets cornered, gets killed. Functionally, the story and supporting characters are nothing remarkable, and it's not even Cagney's first mother fixation gangster film. "White Heat" is a lot closer to "the performance is the film, and vice versa" examples like Meryl Streep in "The Iron Lady," Daniel Day-Lewis in "My Left Foot," or Robert DeNiro in "Cape Fear."
   296. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 10, 2014 at 02:13 PM (#4654307)
White Heat (which I simply overlooked) is if anything even better than The Public Enemy, due in great part to a superior plot

"White Heat" is a great character with a great gimmick, but plot?


I was comparing it only to The Public Enemy, not to MacBeth or The Maltese Falcon.
   297. Ron J2 Posted: February 10, 2014 at 02:39 PM (#4654326)
#258 One of the big problems with Birth of a Nation is that it pushed belief as fact -- and was widely believed to be factual. The quote attributed to Woodrow Wilson was, "... my only regret is that it is all terribly true." And if he never actually said this -- nobody can actually find this on the record -- plenty of others said something similar.

In a sense it's very much like Stone's take on the Kennedy assassination, but with a large number of people believing that the history in the film is solid.

I saw the film years ago (back when it was hard to find). Didn't impress me from the point of view of film making (though I can accept that it was ground-breaking for the day) and I was watching it with other history buffs. None of us could really get past the propaganda aspect of it.
   298. simon bedford Posted: February 10, 2014 at 02:46 PM (#4654334)
i never understood the attraction of "goodfellas" the characters were thoroughly unlikeable, the story not interesting, i didnt care what happened to ray lolitta or deniro or peschi at any point in the film, they were unlikeable and unintersting. the use of music in the film was quite excellent, effortlessly better than the dialog.
to me its such a huge step down from "raging bull" "taxi driver" and "king of comedy" .
   299. BDC Posted: February 10, 2014 at 02:56 PM (#4654341)
Goodfellas, I think, doesn't exist except in counterpoint to the Godfather films and other Mafia epics. Without being a parody (like Prizzi's Honor or Married to the Mob) it completely deglamorizes gangsters: they're just guys who like to steal stuff. To the extent that you need to approach it in a genre frame of mind, it's perhaps limited (though there are a lot of films like that). It's also somewhat too long, and uneven: another of the very inventive flawed great movies.

A few nights ago I watched #233 on the TSPDT list, Night of the Living Dead. A very interesting contrast to Birth of a Nation (not least in being a fraction of its length and a tiny scrap of its expense or complexity). A 1968 picture with a black protagonist beseiged in a house by two successive white mobs (who don't care what color he is); at one point he slaps and partially undresses a white woman (completely asexually and for her own good). Is it about race, or not?
   300. simon bedford Posted: February 10, 2014 at 03:02 PM (#4654345)
i liked the first two godfather movies alot, not quite as much as some but they were clearly very well made films..i didnt hate goodfellas, i just wouldnt put it in a list of my favorite 100 movies, i am struggling through the tdp list right now, it raises a few issues for me, is 8 1/2 really that much better than "la strada" or " la dolce vita"? are critics forced to pick "seven samuri " as the best Kurisoowa film, just as they usually choose 7th seal as the "best berman film? i thought Ikuru was a far better picture , and i can think of 3 bergmans i liked much more than seventh seal....i think these lists are great for opening up discussion, but kind of pointless in terms of ranking the "best" of anything, in my own personal top ten "8 1/2" is the only one that i agree with them on
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