Tony Curtis is gone.
Will somebody make this soulless asshole shut up and go away?
"It is true the economy is not fulfilling the promise many of us saw in the spring," Summers said. "I think that is a reflection of three factors. It's a reflection of the shocked confidence that came out of what was happening in Europe that raised risk premia, depressed markets, created uncertainty, and that proved to be much more virulent than most people expected. It's a reflection of the end of the inventory cycle, which had been a substantial source of tailwind leading to increased employment, increased hiring as inventories were replenished... And it's a reflection of the difficulty that firms have had in getting over the threshold and making a decision to expand their hiring, which led to lower levels of income which in turn led to lower levels of hiring."
No, you cyborg. The economy stinks because people keep losing jobs, people aren’t getting jobs, people with jobs haven’t had raises in years, they’ve had their pay cut, they’ve had their benefits cut, and meanwhile the bills keep piling up and you and your fellow technocrats in the White House and Congress have refused to do anything significant about it!
Run that technobabble through Babelfish and you’ll find that what Summers is saying is that the System failed to self-correct.
That’s all they’ve been looking at. That’s all they see. The System.
They don’t see the stinking economy as a disaster making the lives of millions of human beings miserable.
They see it as a systemic problem affecting and affected by technocratic elites making “reasonable” decisions designed to keep the System running. The trouble is that some of those reasonable decisions have had undesirable results that have harmed the efficient functioning of the System.
The way Summers and the other technocrats see it hiring---that is people getting jobs---is a cause leading to a desired effect, the recovery of the System’s functionality.
Here, where human beings live and work people getting jobs is supposed to be the object. If the System isn’t creating jobs, the System needs to be junked.
It gets worse:
"On average, the economy forms about 1.5 million family units each year," Summers said. "Housing starts are running at four or five hundred thousand. That's a natural economic response to the kind of inventory that exists. That's a reflection of the fact that family formation slows in more difficult times. But people aren't going to live with their parents forever. Family formation will come back to normal and indeed will catch up to reflect the delays that have taken place."
Who wrote this robot’s software?
The economy doesn’t form families. Families form the economy.
Technically, you can put it the way Summers puts it. But that’s the horror of it. He puts it and everything technically. It’s the way he sees things. The problem isn’t that families are hurting . The problem is that the System is failing to form families at the proper level of efficiency.
Therefore, there’s a glitch in the System that must be repaired.
The first impulse of the technocrats has been not to help people directly but address the glitches in the System.
I’ve said this before.
They saved the System and they’re proud of it and they think that’s all they were required to do and they want us to thank them for it.
All they’re asking is that we give them a little more time in office to tinker with the System to address the glitches in order to make the System run a little more smoothly and efficiently.
And what about us? What are we supposed to do?
One of President Obama's top economic advisers said Tuesday that the economy will eventually improve and that "people aren't going to live with their parents forever."
Speaking at the National Journal's Workforce of the Future conference, Larry Summers touted Democratic legislation to spur the economy and Obama's proposal to reauthorize expiring tax cuts for the middle class. He also said he took comfort in the "inherent cyclicality to economies."
I’m so glad he’s comforted by the inherent cyclicality. It makes it so much easier for people to stand on line at the unemployment office knowing that eventually the inherent cyclicality will come to their rescue.
The economy will improve. Eventually. Fires burn themselves out, diseases run their course, droughts end in rain. This is Hooverism, pure and simple. It’s what Republicans believe. It’s what they count on. It’s why they can be so heartless. Things will get better, eventually.
The question is when and what are we supposed to do in the meantime?
Tighten our belts.
Be grateful we can still pay the cable bill.
The difference between Democrats and Republicans is supposed to be that the Democrats help people out in the meantime.
The difference is supposed to be that Democrats believe that doing the things that help people out in the meantime will make the economy get better faster and stay better longer.
What we have, though, is Democrats who believe that it’s our job to sit and be patient while they tinker with the System that we all loathe and despise.
So the Democrats are running on the promise that things will get better if we sit and be patient while the Republicans are running on the promise that things will get better if we scream and yell and throw temper tantrums and project our fears and resentments on whatever Other they can paint a bulls eye on this week.
Gee, it’s no wonder we can’t wait to rush out and vote.
Revised and expanded Tuesday morning with added vitamins and iron.
I've never read the original version of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory so I didn’t know until today that the Oompa-Loompas didn’t start out their literary existence as strange little homunculus creatures from a land so far away and bizarre they might as well be from Mars or Oz.
In Dahl’s first telling the Oompa-Loompas were clearly from the planet Earth and a very particular and real spot on that planet.
According to Philip Nel, in a post at Nine Kinds of Pie, Can Censoring a Book Remove Its Prejudices?:
In the 1973 edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Oompa-Loompas are no longer African Pygmies — they’re from Loompaland. Illustrator Joseph Schindelman changes their colors from black to white, and current illustrator Quentin Blake keeps them white in his 1998 edition. Inasmuch as Willy Wonka’s workers are human beings imported from another country, the whitened Oompa-Loompas remove the original book’s implication that a person of European descent had enslaved people of African descent, and that the latter group had gladly accepted their new lot as his slaves.
The question for Nel is whether changing the Oompa-Loompas changes the story, but he doesn’t mean did it change it for the better or the worse or even if it made it a different story. The question is did the the change change the story from a piece of racist and neo-colonialist propaganda.
The conclusion he comes to is, Probably not. No more than changing Prince Bumpo in Doctor Doolittle from black to white changes that book. Kids still know, and their thoughts and hearts might be subtly corrupted as a result.
One could also make a case for “no, they do not alter the ideological assumptions of the original,” claiming that the new versions instead more subtly encode the same racial and colonial messages of the original versions. After all, the Oompa-Loompas still live in “thick jungles infested by the most dangerous beasts in the entire world,” and are still a “tribe” who do not learn English until they come to Britain. Even though the animals are now nonsensical (“hornswogglers and snozzwangers and those terrible wicked whangdoodles”), it’s not unreasonable for a child to assume that a “tribe” living in “thick jungles” are Africans living in Africa. And they still happily acquiesce to being shipped to England “in large packing cases with holes in them,” and find life in a factory preferable to life in their native land.
Which is would seem to imply that well-meaning adults should step in an intervene. Nel doesn’t out and out suggest making sure kids don’t get their hands on the books. Intervention could come, I suppose, in the form of a lecture.
How would that begin though?
“Now, children, I know you think the pushmi-pullyu is funny…”
But do that many kids read Doctor Doolittle books on their own?
I don’t remember reading Doctor Doolittle when I was young. If I did, it didn’t stick with me. When the Mannion boys were at that in-between stage, past picture books but not ready to tackle chapter books all on their own, I “auditioned” Doctor Doolittle for reading outloud at bedtime and turned him down flat. I think I had the same reaction to Hugh Lofting’s prose as I had to Thornton W. Burgess’. Too formal and too old-fashioned and too full of the sound of a patient adult talking down to very dim children.
Doctor Doolittle is the product of an age of colonialism, empire, and the presumed righteousness and beneficence of taking up the White Man’s Burden. The books are suffused with the spirit of their age, and because of that they are virtually unreadable. It’s not just that they contain attitudes about race and culture that are offensive. They contain attitudes about everything that are old-fashioned and out of style, and that includes, foremost, the proper way to write in English.
As off-putting as the racism and paternalism are, I can’t see how contemporary readers can get far enough in the books to have to deal with them because of the attitude Lofting adopts towards his audience of young readers and towards the language. The prose is cloying, stuffy, and dull.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is something else.
Kids will find their way to it, even if it’s not on their summer reading list.
A well-meaning teacher attempting to start a discussion by bringing up how callously Willy Wonka treats the Oompa-Loompas is going to have to go a long way before reaching the subjects of colonialism and slavery because the first thing the brighter kids in the class are going to point out is that Willy Wonka treats everybody callously, including Charlie!
Really. Willy Wonka essentially kills off Veruca Salt, Augustus Gloop, and Violet Beaugregard, or he at least lets them die, and what happens to Mike Teavee might be considered a fate worse than death. It doesn’t matter that we’re assured they survived. Kids aren’t fooled. When Veruca, Violet, Augustus, and Mike are seen again they are so much not like themselves that they might as not be themselves. They are practically new characters. For all intents and purposes, the originals have been killed off and they died gruesomely while Willy Wonka looked on without a trace of sympathy or remorse. He doesn’t accept any responsibility for what happened to them, even though he allowed them to proceed through his factory, knowing how each one was likely to behave.
The most intriguing thing about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is what a strange and creepy character Willy Wonka is. (He is even stranger and creepier in the sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.) The question is why do children love him even though they recognize that he is strange and creepy?
If I was going to worry about what pernicious ideas young readers might pick up from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, before I’d worry about a neo-colonialist attitude that may not be there anymore, I’d worry that they were learning that antic sociopathy is a likeable trait.
I don’t worry about that, and I didn’t worry about it when our kids were discovering Roald Dahl, because I trust kids after a certain age to know it’s only a story.
Academic arguments like this have always struck me as overly-intellectualized versions of Fundamentalist Christian fretting about Harry Potter. They treat books as if the primary purpose of literature is indoctrination and the point of reading is for children to be instructed in the ways and ideas of the adult world. If well-meaning adults don’t get in the way, the children will be instructed by the wrong adults.
The Fundamentalists worry that reading books with witches as the heroes is going to make kids want to be witches because they believe that a single uncorrected thought poisons the well forever.
This isn’t exactly the same as worrying that references in books in which animals talk and children are turned into giant blueberries to a political system that is dead and which have to be intuited because direct references have been expunged will teach children that racism and colonial expansionism are ok. The big difference, of course, is that racist and neo-colonial attitudes exist and witches don’t. But the arguments are alike in that they treat young readers as tabula rasas who bring nothing of their own to their reading and do not, because they cannot, think for themselves.
But the first and most deciding thing kids bring to a book is their own experience.
Confronted with Willy Wonka’s treatment of the Oompa-Loompas, rather than picking up and unquestioningly accepting assumptions about paternalism and the oppressive treatment of childlike aboriginal little people in faraway lands, they’re more likely to associate the Oompa-Loompas with the childlike and oppressed little people they know best here at home, themselves.
They’re not going to see the Oompa-Loompas as child-like but as children. Very strange children. But still children.
And Willy Wonka’s high-handed and dismissive attitude will remind them of the way adults in their lives often treat them.
But they won’t stop there.
They’ll associate the Oompa-Loompas with other small people ordered about, terrorized, or callously ignored by mean or indifferent grown-ups they know well in their imaginations, like Munchkins and Whos.
Which means that whatever else they’re thinking about when they’re thinking about the Oompa-Loompas, they are hearing a gentle but firm voice in their heads reminding them, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”
And Nel doesn’t seem aware that very few kids these days---few American kids, at any rate---are going to read these books before they’ve seen the movies.
Nowdays kids aren’t going to read the revised editions of Doctor Doolittle and inevitably conclude that Prince Bumpo is black. A lot of them are going to be too busy getting their heads around the idea that Doctor Doolittle is white.
And teachers determined to use Charlie and the Chocolate Factory teach their kids about the evils of racism and colonialism would have to work awfully hard to convince their students that the Oompa-Loompas are really African Pygmies and not a chorus of white English dwarfs in weird make-up.
There’s no recognition in Nel’s post of the part TV and movies play in children’s reading. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Wizard of Oz, and Mary Poppins do not exist apart from their movie adaptations anymore. Some day soon the same will be true for Harry Potter.
The challenge for teachers is to get kids who haven’t been brought up to read to read and see how books can be better than movies and television.
For that, questions about the origins and meaning of the Oompa-Loompas are irrelevant. There’s another character right there to be enlisted for the job.
Although, frankly, I don’t think teachers have to go far away of their way to get their students to see the point behind Mike Teavee.
The same is true with Veruca, Augustus, and Veronica. The point---the “lesson”---is so obvious that it’s not worth pointing out. Dahl doesn’t care about the lesson. He cares about the fun, and the fun is in watching those four brats get their just desserts or getting turned into desserts.
This gleeful maliciousness strikes me as something more worth worrying about than whether or not the Oompa-Loompas might still be perceived as enslaved Africans (since, obviously, I don’t think they are by most children). And I would worry about it, except, as I said, it’s only a story.
Nel doesn’t address the questions about the nature of storytelling. Why do people tell each other stories? Why do we need to hear stories? What are we listening for?
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle are stories for children or, since Dahl didn’t think of what he was doing as writing just for children, stories children have taken to heart. Why? What do they get from them? They learn things from stories but I don’t know many children who read to learn the things adults think they should know.
The Doctor Doolittle stories teach lessons. Not about colonialism and paternalism and the White Man’s Burden. Those are background assumptions. The lessons are about kindness, and decency, and tolerance, and open-mindedness, and, also, not incidentally, the importance of learning. But, although Lofting was an old-fashioned moralist, he didn’t write to teach lessons. He wrote to tell stories. The lessons are there because he was that kind of a writer.
Dahl is another kind.
He writes more in the nature of dreams and dreams are not always nice and rarely have morals.
If children read Doctor Doolittle and find reassurance that the world can be an interesting and pleasant place full of adventures but little real danger, they read Dahl’s stories and find that the world is a strange and often unpleasant place full of meanness, nastiness, and pain, but also full of fun and adventure. In other words, life is confusing because it is simultaneously threatening and pleasant, and a lot of things in life make no sense.
It seems to me that trying to figure out what the Oompa-Loompas really are is reading the story as if it’s meant to make sense in the way other books make sense. Those other books being school books.
The Oompa-Loompas though only make sense within the larger sense made by Dahl’s story.
Something needs to be gotten out of the way. Whether or not the Oompa-Loompas original incarnation as Africans is still there, they are not in “enslaved.”
They are hired.
Willy Wonka comes to them and offers them paid work in his factory. They are free to turn him down. They don’t because life in Oompa-Loompa Land is no fun and Willy Wonka’s offering to pay them what they regard as top wages, all the cocoa beans they can eat. For the Oompa-Loompas, Willy Wonka isn’t an imperialist invading. He is literally opportunity knocking.
Which is exactly what he is for Charlie.
Willy Wonka is not Charlie’s fairy godfather. He didn’t arrange for Charlie to find the golden ticket and he doesn’t save Charlie in the end or help save him along the way by doing him special favors. He simply offers Charlie the same chance he offers to the other children and to the Oompah-Loompas. Charlie saves himself by not blowing his chance.
And it’s this:
When the time comes, you’ve got to be ready to save yourself, because they adults in your life aren’t going to be of any help.
Did I say Dahl worked in the nature of dreams?
More in the nature of every child’s recurring nightmares.
The Story of the ‘Storyteller’: At NPR, an interview with Donald Sturrock, author of a new biography of Roald Dahl.
By the way, about Date Night?
The question was, Is Date Night appropriate for Family Movie Night? The answer turns out to be, Depends on how appropriate you think it is to have the fact that Tina Fey has spectacular cleavage shoved in your face for five minutes while Steve Carrell desperately tries to make his being reduced to babbling incoherence by his sudden all-consuming desire to bury his nose between her breasts funny.
Ah, but in that answer there is the answer to the larger and more important question, Is Date Night funny? And the answer to that is, how funny can a movie be that lets its lead actors flail about trying to come up with something funny to say or do for long stretches at a time instead of, you know, handing them a script with funny things to say and do already built in so they can just act.
To put it simply, it doesn’t matter how funny your leads are in other venues, you don’t make your movie funny just by pointing the camera at them and saying, “Be funny.”
There are too many scenes in Date Night built around the hope that if you put Steve Carrell and Tina Fey together comedy is going to happen as naturally as starting a fire by banging rocks together. You just have to wait for it.
Wait for it…wait for it…wait…There! That was…almost funny…let’s keep rolling…
There are also too many scenes that aren’t funny because…they’re not meant to be funny.
They’re meant to be real.
Not real as in realistic. Real as in the sense of moving us to have real feelings for these characters because they have real feelings for each other and about their lives, which, if you take away the jokes, are a lot like ours.
In other words, the point of these scenes is mawkish sentimentality derived from the characters and the audience feeling sorry for themselves.
Date Night keeps asking us to take the marriage of Carrell and Fey’s characters, Phil and Claire Foster, seriously and worry about it, as if there’s a chance that the movie will end with one turning to the other and saying, “That tears it. I’m want a divorce.”
The movie takes a long time to get its plot underway. It could have and should have started with the Fosters getting ready for their date night. Instead the first quarter of the movie or more is spent showing us what sad, dull, dispiriting lives the Fosters are leading. She works as a real estate agent. He’s a tax accountant. Both are worn down and worn out by their boring jobs and are afraid that they have become boring to themselves and each other because of those jobs. Each is also scared of no longer being sexually attractive to the other.
This is played for laughs, but of the rueful sort that is supposed to be attached to the thought on our part, “I know how it is! I know exactly how it is!”
But it’s all unimportant. Screenwriter Josh Klausner and director Shawn Levy spend valuable time trying to add depth to what is merely set up to a not particularly new movie plot: Nice but staid suburban couple go out for a night in the Big City and find themselves in hell.
Going in we know Phil and Claire are going to learn things about themselves and each other and will finish the night with renewed appreciation for their marriage and their boring but safe suburban lives and jobs.
Despite what conservatives think about Hollywood being liberalism’s ministry of propaganda, there are a number of issues on which Hollywood movies can be relied upon to be as conservative as a parish priest---one of them being in portrayals of parish priests, but married life being another.
The job of most Hollywood productions since the beginning of time has been to fill the audience’s heads with grand and wonderful dreams for two hours or so but send them home thinking that they’re happy with their small and less than wonderful real lives.
“There’s no place like home,” is the moral of more than one specific movie.
When you think about it, the plot of The Wizard of Oz has been used as the plot of hundreds of movies like Date Night.
So, like The Wizard of Oz, Date Night has an extended “black and white” prologue set in Kansas, which it calls New Jersey, in which the main characters’ troubles and discontents are revealed before they are whisked off to a Technicolor Oz called New York City where they meet all sorts of zany characters while being pursued by flying monkeys with guns.
The difference is that in Date Night’s prologue nobody sings Somewhere Over the Rainbow and none of the secondary characters we’re introduced to turn out to matter. They disappear from the movie when the Fosters head off to Oz and they don’t show up again as scarecrows, tin men, lions, wizards, or wicked witches. Their screen time is a waste of our time.
Another, bigger difference is that in The Wizard of Oz, despite all Dorothy’s troubles and worries, there are things about her life in Kansas that she would want to risk her life to return home to.
The Fosters’ life in New Jersey is really that boring.
It’s possible to make a movie that would have a couple in the Fosters’ predicament learning to reject that boring life at the end, but it’s clear from the start that Date Night isn’t going to be that kind of movie.
This is a There’s No Place Like Home Movie from the get-go, so there’s no need to spend any time trying to make us think otherwise. A couple of visuals and a few funny lines of exposition would have been enough to let us know that the Fosters aren’t leading the lives of Nick and Nora Charles, that they need to get out of their rut for at least one night, that they’ve been taking each other for granted, and that even though they are constrained by their conventional middle class, suburban lives, they are smart and witty people with an untapped resourcefulness that will get them through a night running from very bad people who want them dead.
Which would have given Levy an extra twenty minutes to fill with zany characters and figurative open manholes for the Fosters to fall into and have to climb out of while he got his actual plot underway.
Time he may not have known what to do with, since he has enough trouble coming up with zany characters and open manholes to fill the seventy minutes he does devote to his actual plot.
I think New York City is home to a few more zany characters than one snotty maitre d’, one well-read and secretly sentimental cab driver, one spaghetti-eating Mafia boss, and one easily bamboozled nightclub bouncer.
The only other people the Fosters encounter aren’t New Yorkers but stock characters from the most conventional Hollywood thrillers and action-adventure movies. And only two of them are funny.
Levy can’t keep the ball rolling with so little to work with, but it doesn’t help that from time to time he stops things dead himself to remind us about the Fosters’ marital troubles.
I mean he literally stops things in their tracks. At one point the Fosters are racing in a borrowed sports car that of course they don’t know how to drive at high speed, trying to elude the bad guys and find a couple of lowlifes who have what the Fosters need to save their lives, and suddenly Phil pulls over to the side of the road and stops the car so he and Claire can have a heart to heart about their problems at home.
And this isn’t one of those moments where Levy sits back expecting Carrell and Fey to do his work for him and make his movie funny.
This is one of the moments where they play it real.
Phil and Claire’s conversation is about how sad and unappreciated each of them feels and while I guess we’re supposed to find it amusing that they are having this conversation now when the bad guys might catch up to them at any moment the scene is played straight. We’re supposed to feel for them, again as if there really is a chance their marriage won’t survive the night.
Like I said, the idea that they’re hashing this out while they are being chased by bad guys is amusing. But you know what would have been funny? If they had the conversation while actually being chased or while doing the things they need to be doing to escape and, incidentally, move the plot along.
Immediately afterwards, the Fosters have to climb a fire escape, break into the lowlifes’ apartment, search the place in the dark, and get caught by the lowlifes, and all that while they saying nothing much more to each other than “Watch it!” “Look out!” “Ouch!” and “Shhhh!”
Levy should have had the Fosters have their heart to heart while climbing the fire escape and breaking into the apartment. The joke still would have been the absurdity of Phil’s wanting to work on their marriage now, the incongruity between what their worrying about and what’s actually happening to them would have been explicit, their actions would be moving the plot along, and we would still know all we need to know about their hurt feelings and mutual dissatisfactions.
And, as if it suddenly dawned on Levy how he should have had the scene played, in the very next scene, the lowlifes the Fosters have been looking begin the exact same conversation while Phil is threatening them with a gun and continue it while packing up and making their getaway out the window and down the fire escape.
While this would have been funnier if it was repeating a scene between Phil and Claire instead of correcting it, it’s still one of the truly funny scenes in the movie.
And one of the reasons it’s funny is that the lowlifes are not played by funny people left on their own to be funny. The lowlifes, a couple who go by the names Trace and Whippit, are played by a pair of good actors who’ve been given lines to, you know, act---James Franco and Mila Kunis.
The reason Cary Grant was a better comedic actor than Bob Hope and Katherine Hepburn better than Lucille Ball is that Grant and Hepburn were better actors, period.
This is the key to making a funny movie that doesn’t star the Marx Brothers or the young Woody Allen.
Come up with a funny script, hand it over to good actors, and let them act, as opposed to having them act funny.
Not that Hope and Ball were bad actors. Not that Carrell and Fey are either.
They are pretty good.
And Tina Fey does have spectacular cleavage.
But so would Steve Carrell in that outfit.
Wouldn’t have made the movie any funnier though.
Rating: Three thumbs up.
I’m outvoted here. The other three Mannions thought Date Night was appropriate and pretty funny.
The feature for this weekend’s Family Movie Night was Iron Man 2. No questions about appropriateness. I reviewed it when it was in the theaters. Shorter version: Iron Man 2 is a two hour prologue to the Captain America and Avengers movies.
Tangentially related reading: New York magazine has a fascinating but very strange profile of James Franco who is apparently a fascinating but very strange guy.
Faithful listeners will remember that before last week’s exciting episode of Mannion Family Movie Night, our heroes, Lance and the Blonde Mannion were rushing to answer the dangerous question, “Is Date Night appropriate family movie night viewing fare?”
Our definition of appropriate has been refined since young men Mannion were the little boys Mannion and it now includes “does not contain scenes that will embarrass everyone watching, cause one or the other son to flee from the room, cause on or the other parent to sink under the couch cushions, cause the old man to try to start an irrelevant conversation about sports, and lay the groundwork for years of expensive therapy” or, in short, “Is there lots of sex?”
By sex I don’t mean nudity or dirty jokes or even scenes of lovers in bed.
I mean anything that reminds all the parties in the room that the kids aren’t kids any more, that the parents didn’t get to be parents because angels smiled on them one day, and that everybody knows this about each other and knows they know it.
But the old definition of appropriate still applies. There are still things we don’t think they’re ready to handle. And there are other things that they might be ready to handle but we want them to think we still think they they' aren’t ready to handle. And there are things we don’t want them to know we know they’re ready to handle and would get a kick out of, we just don’t think they should be introduced to those things by their parents---there are some things young people need to discover and sort out their feelings about without having to deal with overcoming a parental seal of approval.
One of those things is the answer to the question, Do I love this movie?
What I’m getting at is there are movies we won’t ever screen for Family Movie Night because we love them but we want them to love them, if they’re going to love them, all on their own.
Last week, I mentioned Animal House as a movie that is still inappropriate for Family Movie Night, under both the old and the revised definitions of appropriate.
M*A*S*H is still inappropriate, too, because of the shower scene, but not because Hot Lips is naked, but, as MaryRC pointed out in the comments, because she’s humiliated and her humiliation is supposed to be funny.
But although they are inappropriate for Family Movie Night, I hope the guys see them both some day. On a big screen too.
They are great movies that they will enjoy all the more for their having discovered them on their own.
I believe that based on my own experiences falling in love with movies I discovered on my own, two of those being Animal House and M*A*S*H.
It’s almost impossible to separate our feelings about a movie from the circumstances under which we saw it. It’s hard to love a movie you saw on a bad date. It’s hard to hate a movie you saw on a good date, unless part of what made it a good date was the enjoyment you both took in your mutual hatred of the movie.
It isn’t true for everyone, but I think it’s true for enough that I can generalize like this---after a certain point in your life, movies, even more than books, become vital to the development of your emotional and imaginative life and keys to figuring out who you are or who you want to be.
More than that, and this is part of what makes movies more integral to your life than books---at least for a time---the social nature of going to the movies means that they are a part of your living your life. On any night when you went to the movies, with friends, with a date, by yourself, there is no separation between your watching the movie and your doing everything that brought you to the theater and everything that will bring you home.
If you didn’t go right home, and you know what I mean, then the movie was part of that too.
So there will be movies that a young person will come across all on his or her own and take to heart as part of growing up and growing into a particular person’s personhood.
There will be movies that that the Mannion guys will love as part of their lives as young adults on their own, as opposed to movies they love as part of their lives within our family, and I want to leave a few extra out there for them to find and love (or not love) on their own.
Casablanca is one.
In fact, Casablanca is the one.
I happen to think Casablanca, the best movie ever made, by the way, and as if you need to be told that, is the movie every young adult should discover on for themselves. Part of loving it is loving it for it being one of the first grown-up movies you saw as a grown-up.
Being grown-up there is defined by the particular grown-up doing the watching.
I was seventeen, and I wasn’t much of a grown-up. But I felt more like one than I had ever felt before hearing Rick say, “I came to Casablanca for the waters,” when he followed it up with “I was misinformed.”
I turned thirty in my head right then and stayed thirty for almost an hour after Rick and Louie began their beautiful friendship.
The rest of my list is my list. Movies I’m glad I saw for the first time on my own---not that I saw any of them alone, just that I decided to go see them for myself and not because my parents or even my friends said, “Let’s go to a movie!”---and then fell in love with because they became part of my living my life. These aren’t movies that should be on yours or anybody else’s list because they can’t be. Everybody has to make their own list because they have to make their own life.
In no particular order, except that Casablanca is number one because it is, here’s my list, the top 15, at any rate.
Between the Lines.
North By Northwest.
Singin’ in the Rain.
Your turn. What movies are too good for you to watch with your kids or to have watched with your parents?
Someday, when the polar ice caps have melted and the oceans have risen and the East Coast has moved inland to Binghamton, Chattanooga, and Waycross, seagoing anthropologists will drop down in mini-subs to that part of the ocean floor that was once New York City and find this in the barnacle-encrusted ruins of an amphitheatre artifacts will tell them was an giant outdoor temple devoted to the mass worship of gods of money and narcissism---
---and if people still read poetry then, this might occur to them:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away".
Sheesh. I guess a billboard wouldn’t have been big enough.
George Steinbrenner’s contributions to the game of baseball are the stuff of legend, literally---he was a great character and the game is its characters. The beauty of baseball is that it is a story, an ongoing one told over and over again for going on a hundred and forty years and more now. Steinbrenner made the story more interesting. For a short while he was one of its most exciting characters and even now, when he’s gone and his chapters are being swallowed up in the thousands of others, his reappearances in memory are vivifying---like the gravedigger in Hamlet and Micawber in David Copperfield, he steals scenes from the main characters.
But he was---is---a supporting character. He was never one of the game’s heroes. I’ll leave it to others to make the case that he was one of its villains.
His contributions to the Yankees as a business enterprise are something else, and basically boring. His contributions to the Yankees as a successful sports team are debatable. He saved the team from from a slide into permanent mediocrity. Without him---without his money and his ego---the Yankees might very well have gone the way of the old Philadelphia Athletics, a once-great franchise surviving for decades on nostalgia and an old man’s vanity, except that in 1972 the Yanks didn’t have a Connie Mac to keep them alive by force of will.
Then along came George Steinbrenner intent on bringing the team back to life by force of money.
But it’s hard to argue that once he’d bought the team and then bought them three pennants and two World Series championships his influence on his team was all that positive. The Yankees went to the World Series one more time after 1978, and after that they didn’t even make the playoffs again until 1995.
Of course, from 1996-2001, the Yankees were never out of the playoffs, and hardly absent from the World Series, winning three of those in a row. During those years they were one of the greatest teams in baseball history.
It can hardly be said that in the ten seasons since they’ve had a hard time of it. But then for the last few years the Yankees’ have been his sons’ team.
The great good times of the the second half of the 1990s and the the first few years of the 21st Century coincide with Joe Torre’s tenure as manager. The most direct positive influence Steinbrenner had was that he had finally learned how to stay out of his manager’s way.
But then that’s the only way an owner can do his team any good. Hire good baseball people, open the wallet to them, and get out of their way.
Steinbrenner became a good owner. Was he a better owner than Jacob Rupert?
Steinbrenner is an interesting character in the story but only during the time he was a bad owner. In a few years, nobody visiting that corner of Yankee Stadium is going to be drawn there by the monument to George Steinbrenner. Young fans brought there by their parents will ask what that grimacing old man did that he deserved a monument so much larger than Babe Ruth’s and Lou Gehrig’s and Joe DiMaggio’s and, someday, Joe Torre’s, Derek Jeter’s, and Mariano Rivera’s.
“He paid their salaries, I think,” their parents will say with a shrug.
And the kids will say, “Mom, Dad! Look! There’s Mickey Mantle!”
Unless, Steinbrenner has gone down in the history of the last quarter of the 20th Century for what he was, one of the more interesting of the many pirates who helped warp American culture into a constant celebration of money, greed, power, ego, and the drive to win at everything and anything.
In which case hedge fund managers not yet born will bring their children as a stop on the pilgrimage taking them to Ayn Rand’s home and they will point to the relatively small monuments to the great ballplayers and savvy managers and say with a sneer, “Employees.”
If the old Yankee Stadium was the House that Ruth Built, the new one is the House Steinbrenner Built to Show the World the Man With the Money Matters More Than Any Mere Ballplayer.
He built it to show that the man with the money matters more than the players, the fans, history, nostalgia, the game, the neighborhood, the city, and, especially, the politicians that serve it.
He doesn’t need that slab of bronze. The whole stadium is a monument to himself.
Ozymandias couldn’t have done himself prouder.
A long way for me to go to tell you I agree with just about every word in this column by Tim Dahlberg:
Read the rest of Dahlberg’s column.
Larger than life when he was alive, George Steinbrenner is even bigger now that he's dead. The Boss towers over the Babe, dwarfs both the Iron Man and the Mick.
The new monument unveiled Monday at Yankee Stadium is so huge it even seems like Joltin' Joe has left and gone away.
A tribute to the late Yankee owner, sure. A monument to excess in a ballpark born of excess, for sure.
Steinbrenner would have been tickled to see this when he was still alive. But he did stick around long enough to see the opening of a stadium where two seats nine rows up from the visitor's dugout for Thursday night's game against Tampa Bay could be had for just US$1,800.
Babe Ruth helped usher in baseball for the masses. Steinbrenner should at least get credit for reinventing it for the classes.
I’d planned to be on the train to New York City right now, on my way to the final session of the Clinton Global Initiative.
But things have come up here. I have to go to one of those meetings at the high school. Nothing terrible. Just another wrangle with bureaucrats. Have to get it straightened out before they ruin the kid’s year.
So I’m staying put. Fortunately, most of the day’s doings are streaming online and you can check in at the website as needed. All you’re missing from my not being there is reports of celebrity sightings.
Here’s Tom’s column giving an overview of this year’s CGI at The Daily Beast.
And here’s Ken’s report on a panel discussion at yesterday’s session on cancer treatment in the developing world featuring Lance Armstrong.
You can keep up with Ken via his Twitter page.
The general Twitter feed for CGI 2010 is here.
The netbook Friday morning:
Owner’s mood: Despairing.
The mail Friday afternoon:
Mail recipient’s mood: Suddenly hopeful.
The netbook Saturday morning:
Owner’s mood: Dejected but confident.
RTFM Saturday afternoon:
Owner’s mood: Reckless, cocky. So what if he has to strip the whole thing down to get at the screen?
The netbook Saturday afternoon:
Owner’s mood: Gathering doubts.
The netbook late Saturday afternoon:*
Owner’s mood: Frustrated, resolve weakening, confidence dwindling.
The netbook Saturday evening:
Owner’s mood: Hopeless, helpless, near surrender.
The netbook Sunday morning:
Owner’s mood: Suddenly serene. Has let himself go. Trusting his feelings. Using the Force.
Radio voice from base: He’s turned off his other computer. Lance, you’ve turned off your online instruction manual. What’s wrong?
Lance: Nothing. I’m all right.
The netbook Sunday afternoon and every minute since:
Owner’s mood: Jubilant, proud, feeling wise to the ways of the Force or as his wife put it, “Insufferably full of himself.”
Thanks to everyone who offered advice and encouragement.
May the Force be with you all.
* Yep, it’s the same photo as the one above and the two below. My other shots came out washed out or blurry, probably because my hands were shaking. But I like the symbolic appropriateness of the repetition. It sums up my increasing paralysis of will as I went along. Nothing more demoralizing than staring into the empty shell of a computer with all the parts and tiny screws you were so careful to set aside and label as you removed them suddenly looking like a jumbled mess and no idea how you’re going to put them back in the right order and places. Fortunately, that raspy, grating little voice snapped in my ear: There is no try. Do or do not!
Way back when, when we were desperately trying to figure out what the problem was that was making it so incredibly hard for a very smart, very conscientious, very curious,very creative, and very nice little boy to get through a day of school without a meltdown of some kind, I was continually surprised that none of the psychologists and social workers reached for the diagnosis I was prepared to reject out of hand.
Looking back, when we finally felt we had a handle on things, I came to two conclusions.
One was that the professionals, deliberately or reflexively, had probably been avoiding ADHD as the easy answer, because of the concern that ADHD had been over-diagnosed and kids diagnosed with it over-medicated in the ten years before.
The other was that my determination to resist that as the diagnosis wasn’t just based on my knowledge of the kid needing help. It also wasn’t based on my own feeling that ADHD was a fad diagnosis that was being applied irresponsibly or recklessly as an excuse to drug normally rambunctious little boys into submitting to the dull routines of classroom discipline.
I’d had a student with ADHD, a good, hardworking, B+/A student who visited my office early in the semester to explain to me why he might have some trouble completing work on time and why it might look sometimes like he wasn’t paying attention. He assured me, however, was going to try his hardest and he was taking Ritalin and it was helping.
“Ritalin,” he told me, “Saved my life.”
He did have some trouble. It did look sometimes like he wasn’t paying attention. He did try his hardest. He finished all his work and earned an A.
This was just before we became parents.
So if I’d seen the signs of ADHD myself, I would have thought immediately of my student.
I just wasn’t see what I thought were the signs.
But one of the (small) good things about going through what we’ve gone through is that we’ve had to learn things about how the mind works and how the behavior is regulated. And one of the things I learned is that I didn’t actually know what ADHD was.
The first thing I didn’t know was not to call it ADHD.
Hyperactivity is a different just not always separate issue.
I wasn’t mentally pronouncing the silent and/or:
It’s not always written with the and/or, but it should always be thought of as containing it.
One of the possible diagnoses we were given, the one that seemed to us to explain the most and the one that gave us strategies to work with and suggest to teachers, was Sensory Integration Disorder.
The problem the kid had to deal with was not that he couldn’t pay attention, it was that he didn’t know what to pay attention to. There was so much information coming at him every single minute of the day that his thought-processes just short-circuited and then shut down.
To get an idea of what I think it was like for him, watch the scene in the restaurant in Sherlock Holmes before Watson and Mary join him for dinner and Holmes, sitting there all alone with his thoughts, has nothing to do but observe the people all around him. He almost runs screaming from the place right there because he observes everything, all at once.
This suggests a new twist to the Holmes-Watson relationship. The movie, to the extent that it is faithful to the mythos, shows us that Holmes is dependent on Watson as his one connection to a normal, late Victorian, middle-class, adult life. And part of that connection is the help Watson provides Holmes in focusing. In the original stories, Holmes chides Watson, “You see, but you do not observe.” But the movie Watson must be constantly reminding Holmes, “Stop observing, man, and just take a quick look. That’s usually enough.”
Most of us are Watson-like. We are bombarded by the same over-abundance of information as Holmes---as an experiment, walk into any room and try to see everything in it all at once; keep in mind that before you’ve “seen” anything, your brain has already sorted out thousands and thousands of bits of information in order to turn the play of subatomic particles into recognizable solid objects so you’re already close to overload before you’re conscious of “seeing” anything---but we deal with this by ignoring almost all of it.
The trick is in “knowing” what to ignore and what to pay attention to.
Someone, like Robert Downey’s Holmes, can’t ignore anything without significant mental effort and may actually only be able to pay attention afterwards. They can’t see what they need to see until they’ve withdrawn to someplace quiet where they sit and think it all over while smoking a pipe. A lot of their lives are three-pipe problems.
I’m using “seeing” here as shorthand for sensing. We observe by taking in information collected by all our senses. We see, hear, touch, smell, and thanks to the connection between our noses and our tongues, taste our current situation all at once. All that information has to be assembled, sorted, rejected as not necessary or applied immediately to making decisions about what’s going on around us and how to react. Someone with sensory integration disorder gets hung up in the sorting. Which means that for a lot longer time than the rest of us (fractions of seconds make the difference) they are seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting everything and all at once.
That has got to be maddening.
And it explained a lot, about being in grocery stores, in shopping malls, on the school bus, in a classroom. Remember how busy the walls of your grade school classrooms were? Imagine trying to follow what the teacher’s writing on the blackboard while you are also reading the names of all the Presidents, all 50 states, the calendar, the map, the charts, the the health posters, the titles of the books on the shelves, and while you are counting over and over again the stars on the flag and the flowers on the teacher’s dress and meanwhile listening to the noises out in the hall, the shifting in their seats and the whispering and sighing of your classmates, and the birds chirping outside the windows.
The important point, however, is that it is all being taken in.
There isn’t an attention deficit here. There’s attention overload.
Quizzed later, a kid with this problem, can, Holmes-like, tell you everything he’s observed.
This is a kid who, while you thought he was zoned out or lost in deep thoughts about the cultural lives of elves and dwarfs, caught that fleeting grimace of pain on your face as you went to lift his sleeping little brother out of his car seat and asks you later, “Are you all right, Dad?”
The psychologist who suggested the problem was sensory integration disorder was a friend who couldn’t take on the case and he really was offering it as a suggestion for whatever counselor we eventually found as something to look into. But it sounded like the kid we knew and it gave us something to work with or, rather, towards---smaller and quieter classrooms, a seat near the front of the room, teachers who knew to speak in softer voices, one-on-one tutoring with a special ed teacher who understood that the point wasn’t to teach the kid what he’d missed in class but help him figure out what he’d actually learned but couldn’t separate from the thousand other pieces of information he’d also taken in and in effect memorized.
It was a big first step, even though sensory integration disorder didn’t turn out to be the problem or, I should say, the main problem.
Ironically, our psychologist friend also warned us to be wary of what he thought was becoming the new fad diagnosis.
As I said, over time we learned a lot of things, and, to finally get to the point, one of the things we learned was that in looking out for a misdiagnosis of ADHD I was looking out for signs that would not be there if ADHD actually was the problem or a problem.
I was looking at a kid who paid too much attention not at one who couldn’t pay any attention.
But people with ADHD (or AD/HD or ADD) don’t have a problem paying any attention.
They pay lots of attention.
Just not to what teachers and parents and most of their peers think they should be paying attention to.
Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is a terribly named disorder. The reason is simple: There is not an actual deficit of attention. We’re used to thinking of illnesses as resulting from a shortage of something – people with a thyroid disease are missing TSH, just as people with scurvy are missing Vitamin C – but ADHD doesn’t seem to work like that. Instead, recent evidence suggests that people with ADHD have plenty of attention – that’s why they can still play video games for hours, or get lost in their Legos, or devote endless attentional resources to activities that they find interesting.
What, then, is the problem in people with ADHD? The disorder is really about the allocation of attention, being able to control our mental spotlight…
If I’d read something like that nine or ten years ago, it would have been a light bulb moment.
As it is, Lehrer’s post is an excellent clarification of things I already knew but haven’t always been able to keep in mind because I’ve been busy dealing with other problems.
Now I’ve got an answer to a question I got asked the other night.
“Do I have any super-powers?”
We were talking metaphorically about exceptional talents and abilities that one brother saw his younger brother possessing that he didn’t.
My muddled answer was that very few of us, including and especially his father, possess superpowers and the way we get through life is to be like Batman---we work hard and train ourselves to use the talents and abilities we do have to maximum effect. Which, I think, was the right answer not just at the moment but generally. Hard work and patience and making the effort to know ourselves, our abilities as well as our limitations, trumps having superpowers or as Roy Hobbes’ father puts it:
“You’ve got a gift, Roy. But if you rely too much on your gift, it’ll fail you.”
But he does have a superpower. A gift. A gift that is wrapped up in a curse but still there to be unwrapped.
He pays attention.
As Holmes would put it, “He does not see, he observes.” Watson would clarify, “He observes, he just needs to learn how to see.”
It’s faddish to say that a lot of well-known geniuses, particularly in the sciences, may have had Asperger’s. This is said because Asperger’s kids are, like these geniuses, notoriously smart but socially clumsy. They’re happier and more comfortable dealing with things and concepts rather than people.
There’s probably some truth to this, although I think that being a genius makes it hard for other people to deal happily and comfortably with you.
The eccentricities and social ineptitude (often to the point of being a psychopathology) of some artists and scientists might very well be an effect as a cause. Early in life they might have learned that most people don’t want to have anything to do with them, that most people actually regard being smarter than average as a hostile act, and there’s no point in trying to get along and play well with others. This includes teachers. While many teachers dream of the day when a truly talented and brilliant student will show up in their class, there are plenty for whom the appearance of such students is a nightmare. They appear to them as bigger challenges to their control of the classroom than class clowns, bullies, babies, and other natural disrupters of order and decorum.
Every Asperger’s kid is himself before he’s an Asperger’s kid. Not every Asperger’s kid is brilliant. Not every Asperger’s kid is nice.
But you can see how having Asperger’s can be, if not conducive to genius, then useful to being one.
If you don’t care what other people think---because you just don’t grasp that they aren’t thinking like you do or about some things with the same passion and intensity that you do---then in societies that don’t place a particularly high value on intellectual or creative achievement, which is to say most societies, it’s easier to go about doing things that make you in most other people’s eyes something of a weirdo.
The first thing a genius who cares what other people think of him learns is that it’s probably best to keep some things to himself.
An Asperger’s kid can’t keep it to himself so he’s going to do some things that will help him in his career as a genius besides being smart. He’s going to try to do the work that interests him and he’s going to talk about it enough and in all kinds of company that he’s inevitably going to talk about it with someone else who shares his interest and passion and can help him refine his thinking and channel his efforts. No genius in any field works and succeeds alone.
Being smart is a collaborative achievement.
So maybe it’s true that many successful scientists and artists have had Asperger’s.
This morning, though, I’m thinking that’s it’s maybe more true that many have had more than a touch of ADHD.
If ADHD isn’t the inability to pay attention but instead the tendency to pay too close attention to what other people consider the wrong things, then it would certainly be useful to any one devoting their time and energy to figuring out the behavior of subatomic particles or the exact right shade of green to use on one leaf in one tree in the far background of a painting or a shot in a movie to be able to pay too close attention.
Not every one with ADHD is brilliant. Not every one with ADHD can learn to pay attention to the “right” things even with the help of medication. It’s not a superpower. If there’s a gift in having ADHD it’s wrapped up in a curse. Hard work and patience and making the effort to know ourselves, our abilities as well as our limitations, and knowing not to rely too much on our gifts are the keys to success.
But I like the quote from William James, the founder of American psychological studies and, incidentally, the novelist Henry James’ brother, that Lehrer finishes off his post with. James, describing a colleague who was apparently an archetypal absent-minded professor, said, “He is not absent-minded. He is just present-minded somewhere else.”
That’s what I look at around here.
A kid who is not absent-minded.
He is just present-minded somewhere else.
“Are you all right, Dad?”
“Yeah. Why do you ask?”
“You were making that face.”
Be sure to read all of Jonah Lehrer’s post, The Attention-Allocation Deficit.
Thanks to Andrew Sullivan.
The Mannion guys, Oliver and Young Ken, are fans of Tina Fey and Steve Carrell, so they’ve asked if we can put Date Night on the schedule for family movie night.
The blonde and I had debated going to see Date Night as a date night for ourselves when it was in the theaters, but we decided against it. Didn’t look funny enough to be worth the trip to the cineplex. We never considered taking the guys. It didn’t occur to us that a movie about a couple of parents wanting a break from the kids would interest them.
When they put in their request, we were surprised, but before we agreed we made a point of looking into the movie a little more to see if it was something we wanted them to see. I asked a friend at work who’d seen it and liked it if it was “appropriate.”
Here’s the thing.
The definition of “appropriate” has changed.
Oliver is 14 and Young Ken is 17. There isn’t much either one hasn’t seen or heard. What I was asking was whether or not there were things in the movie that a couple of teenage boys would be embarrassed to see or hear in the company of their parents and particularly in the company of their mother.
And my friend, although his daughter is in third grade and he makes decisions about what she watches based on a different definition of appropriate---the one we used until recently---understood what I meant right away. He remembered watching certain movies on TV with his parents when he was a teenager and wanting to cover their eyes!
Or send them from the room.
What was even more embarrassing than watching the pillow fight scene in Animal House, for instance, with his mother right there was having his father try to deal with their mutual chagrin by making jokes.
Animal House is a movie that we won’t be screening for Family Movie Night because it meets both our old and new definitions of appropriate.
But we’re also not sure they’re ready for the argument between the angel and devils on Pinto’s shoulders. That’s the old definition at work.
Under the old rules, we didn’t let them watch movies we thought would upset them or teach lessons we thought they were too young to know to reject, mainly that violence is cool, but that scene in Animal House requires a degree of sophistication, and cynicism, before you can find it both funny and morally repugnant.
My guess, knowing them, is that they’d find it and their own reactions perplexing but they’d try to shrug it off and enjoy the rest of the movie. The real danger is that I might feel a need to discuss it with them later and that would embarrass them.
Mainly though, the old definition covers jokes about date rape, leering attitudes towards sex and violence, revenge fantasies, and racism, misogyny, and homophobia presented as normative.
Also, it includes whatever is the mirror image of misogyny, the idea that men are just overgrown boys with a fondness for dick jokes and an inability to pick up after themselves who need wives because their mothers won’t put up with taking care of them anymore.
Goodbye, Judd Apatow.
The new definition, which is really the old definition with amendments covering embarrassment and refining of the qualifications of subjects and situations we think they’re ready to handle, does not, according to my friend, rule out Date Night.
There’s a scene in which Tina Fey melts at the sight of Mark Wahlberg’s bare chest that might bother them if it makes them consider the possibility that mothers can get as sexually discombobulated as teenage boys. And it’s pretty clear that Steve Carrell and Fey’s characters still enjoy their sex lives they just wish they had more time and energy to devote to it and that might make them start thinking about the possibility that their parents have had sex and might still be having sex!
But the Mannion guys are actually pretty cool about these things. After all, they’ve been fans of Cheers and M*A*S*H---the TV series, the movie’s still on the TBD list, because of the shower scene---from way back. We watched The Right Stuff a few weekends ago and they chuckled easily through a scene I had completely forgotten about and which would still have me running from the room if I was watching with my parents. You remember the scene? Ed Harris as John Glenn and Dennis Quaid as Gordon Cooper singing dueling versions of The Marine Corps Hymn and Up We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder?
So Date Night’s probably safe.
But there’s another standard besides appropriateness that we’ve always applied.
No stupid or badly made movies, no matter how supposedly age-appropriate.
This is a standard the guys actively apply on their own. They’ve got pretty good judgment.
Which is why we’re safe from having to watch Robin Hood next week.
They know they won’t like it.
Never mind that it’s just not that good a movie.
Russell Crowe made a great Lucky Jack Aubrey, but he will never be their idea of Robin Hood.
I’ve lived through two periods now when the nation all at once decided to into a profound sulk. The Seventies and the late Aughts. Then and now the sulks were responses to serious economic and cultural fractures. Then and now the sulks expressed themselves in a whiny “It’s the end of the world as we know it” despair. The country was doomed, the American Dream had come to an end, there’s nothing to do but enjoy the spectacle of the collapse or join in the fun of pulling it all down.
Things fell apart and they left a big mess.
But in the word is the solution.
It’s a mess. We’re in a mess. We made a mess. Let’s clean up this mess!
That’s the thing about messes. They can be cleaned up.
Takes some time. Takes patience. Takes a little willpower.
One of the things that’s making it hard to get to real work cleaning up the mess we’re in now is that a lot of people think that all it took to clean up after the last mess was for Ronald Reagan to stride into Washington, chuckle warmly, cut taxes, and tell the deadbeats and slackers to suck it up and get to work like the rest of us and they expected Barack Obama to fix things with similar ease.
But then Reagan got elected because a lot of people back then thought that all it took to clean up after the mess before that, the Great Depression, was for FDR to roll into the White House, lift his chin, grin, and tell folks that the only thing they had to fear was fear itself.
We have a bad habit of remembering Presidents as if they were or ought to have been genies.
We can clean up a mess. But apparently we have to spend a lot of time collectively staring at it for a while and telling ourselves it’s hopeless, there’s no point in trying, might as well get used to living among the ruins, pass the ammo and the remote, please.
The Choirboys may be the worst movie I’ve ever seen.
It was bad.
Not bad in the Ed Wood way of a minor talent trying to make the best out of small budget and little creative support. Not in the Plan 9 From Outer Space or Attack of the Killer Tomatoes sense of bad.
Bad in a way that can only happen when actually talented people get together and collectively make the worst possible decisions every single step of the way.
Bad, too, as in deliberately offensive, as if everybody involved hated every minute they were working on it and set out to make the audience suffer as much they were.
If there was a line that could be delivered in just the wrong tone or with an emphasis placed on just the wrong word, if there was a scene that could be paced just a little too fast or a little too slow or could be structured with just enough logic removed so it made no sense, if the camera could be placed at just the wrong angle, too close, too far away, too far off to the side, if a shot could be lit just a tad too harshly or if it could be held just a beat too long or be cut a beat too short, then that’s what was done.
The Choirboys is nasty, loud, ugly, chaotic, and dull.
It’s a movie about cops on the job in which the cops run around a lot but don’t do anything except yell and then laugh like frat boys returning empty-handed from a panty raid but congratulating themselves on making those girls scream and because one of them caught a glimpse of a cheerleader dashing out of the shower in just a towel.
It’s ostensibly a comedy, a dark, satirical look at our rotting society, but there are no real jokes and nothing truly funny happens. Apparently, director Robert Aldrich decided it would be interesting to take a weak dramatic script and see if he could save it by playing it as if it was a farce.
But not all the time.
Several scenes are played with the grittiest of gritty realism in order to let us know that, all kidding aside, this is how life is.
The Choirboys is based on the novel by Joseph Wambaugh, who wanted nothing to do with the finished product. There are no real stars, at least no one who was a star yet---a still young and surprisingly innocent looking James Woods plays one of the leads along with Lou Gossett Jr working his way doggedly toward his breakthrough role in An Officer and a Gentleman---but the cast is well stocked with some fine character actors who have had admirable careers since. Besides Gossett and Woods, there’s Charles Durning, Burt Young, Perry King, Tim McIntire, Randy Quaid, and Robert Webber. But Gossett, Durning, Quaid, and Webber deliver what may be the worst performances of their lives.
It’s about a few nights in the life of a precinct house in Los Angeles, a precursor to Hill Street Blues, and Charles Haid, who went on to play Hill Street’s irascible beat cop Andy Renko and gives one of the few understated and likeable performances in the film, appears as the sergeant who runs the nightly roll call. But this is a whole squad of burnouts who spend their off-duty hours boozing mightily and popping pills and harassing the women they would like to sleep with. It’s not clear how come they’ve all burned out together and all at once. It’s implied it’s a reaction to the stress from doing their difficult and dangerous jobs but we never see them have to deal with a serious crime until the last act of the movie and then it’s a crime they caused themselves.
When they do have to engage in actual police work they are to a man stunningly incompetent to the point of getting civilians killed.
You would think, then, that we’re meant not to like these guys and that the satire, such as it is, is aimed at them.
But, nope. We’re apparently meant to sympathize with their plight, which is our plight---the our of the us who were around in the Seventies and shaking our heads in dismay over the moral, spiritual, economic, and political collapse of the nation--- the world is going to hell in a hurry and there’s nothing good and decent people can do to stop it so we might as well enjoy the spectacle and even have some fun helping to hurry it along in its downward slide.
These guys don’t give a shit but we’re not supposed to mind that that’s a dangerous attitude for guys with badges and guns to have because there’s nothing worth giving a shit about. The city doesn’t exist in the movie except as a stage for craziness and the civilian population of Los Angeles makes the most of it, since they are all crazy and self-destructive. It’s weird that almost all the civilians are black or Hispanic while all but two of the cops are white, and one of those two is a Japanese-American with a Bela Lugosi fantasy and seems to believe he’s actually Transylvanian, and neither the script nor the directing seems to take any notice of this as being possibly part of the city’s problem.
The cops are treated as a bunch of closet rebels making the best they can of an impossible situation created by the System.
It’s almost as if we’re meant to see them as like the doctors and nurses in M*A*S*H. I guess I can imagine a movie in which cops are in the position of Hawkeye and Trapper of having to contribute their skills to an enterprise that goes against everything they stand for. You’d need cop heroes who truly believe it is their job to serve and protect the people but who’ve realized that what they’ve actually been hired to do is to keep the people in line so they don’t challenge the privileges of the powers that run the city to exploit them. The Choirboys’ cops aren’t those cops. The people of the Los Angeles in the movie wouldn’t be worth those cops’ dedication and sacrifice. And the powers that be that appear in the movie aren’t all that powerful anyway and they don’t serve any Noah Crosses. They mostly just serve their own self-interests as ambitious but bumbling careerists.
The world of The Choirboys is in a hopeless state of collapse so there doesn’t seem to be anything to do but have a good time while enjoying the show. That theme isn’t of itself the reason The Choirboys is such a nasty movie. A year later another movie came with a similarly theme but it was actually very funny. The difference, of course, is that the nihlistic rebel heroes of Animal House were a bunch of college kids who had no power to save the world from the corrupt adults who’d made a mess of things except the power to increase the mess while the cops in The Choirboys have at least some power and quite of bit of responsibility to slow the collapse if not prevent it.
Neither the director nor the screenwriters nor the actors (except for Burt Young) seem to have had a clue about how best to approach the fact that their main characters abused their power and had abdicated their responsibilities, so they tried everything and anything they could think of until they finally just said the hell with it, it’s all a big joke anyway. It being not just the movie but the world into which the movie was going to be released.
The joke, then, is a nasty one at the expense of the audience. We’re getting our noses rubbed into the absurd and ugly mess and then getting laughed at for not being able to clean it up.
The Choirboys is appalling. The Laughing Policeman is a disappointment.
The movie, which stars Walter Matthau and Bruce Dern as the lead detectives on a team trying to solve a mass murder on a city bus, is based on the Swedish detective novel by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, and although the scene has been moved from Stockholm to San Francisco and the characters and situations Americanized, it’s a very faithful adaptation, until all of a sudden it isn’t.
The Laughing Policeman starts of in the same gloomy but matter of fact, almost documentary tones as the novel, with San Francisco in the spring time looking as grim and colorless and dull as Stockholm in November. But there’s a small change in the relationships among the detectives that leads to the bigger change in the plot and the tone.
In the novel and the movie, one of the victims is a young detective and a necessary step in solving the murders is solving the apparently minor mystery of what the detective was doing on that bus. In the novel, setting out to solve that mystery reveals another one, the mystery of just who the young detective really was.
The detectives working the case, particularly the main character, Martin Beck, come to realize that they didn’t actually know their junior colleague at all. They’d tended to dismiss him or take his presence for granted because he wasn’t experienced or street smart enough to be of help to them except as a sort of glorified gopher. It turns out, ironically, that the reason he was on the bus was to prove to Beck and the others that he was worth their attention. He got it all right.
But in the movie, the young detective was Walter Matthau’s partner. Matthau’s character, Jake Martin, not only knew the kid well, he loved him as a son. Which makes this personal.
It takes a while but The Laughing Policeman eventually turns into a typical revenge fantasy, with Jake growing more and more reckless in his determination to get his partner’s killer.
In the novel, the murderer gets caught because the detectives---all of them, including Martin Beck---spend a lot of time going over the records and re-interviewing witnesses from a long unsolved murder that the young detective had decided on his own to solve at last. Justice is served through lots of old-fashioned and dull but necessary police work.
In the movie the crime is solved because Jake identifies a suspect, decides he’s guilty, and then harasses the guy in the hope of spooking him into making a fatal mistake.
Emphasis on fatal.
The novel ends with an arrest. The movie ends with a shootout. Which is disappointing if you liked the book, which I did, but even more disappointing if you’ve seen another Seventies crime thriller starring Walter Matthau recently, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, a movie that ends with a sneeze.
What makes the movie The Laughing Policeman different from a typical revenge fantasy in which a good cop goes rogue to revenge One Of Our Own, besides the intelligence and dryness provided by its otherwise faithfulness to the novel, is that like The Choirboys it also has as its theme the world’s going to hell and there’s nothing we can do about except watch the spectacle or join in the destruction.
Jake Martin, and through him the movie, is watching the spectacle. But he’s not enjoying it.
In the novel, Martin Beck is sort of vaguely unhappy and disappointed with life. He finds it hard to pay attention or even care about anything outside work and that includes his family. He’s become a withdrawn and irritable observer of life inside his own home. There’s no specific cause for his malaise, unless it’s just that he’s Swedish.
Jake Martin is unhappy and disappointed too, but it’s apparently with life in general. The world is falling apart and the resulting mess is reaching into his own home and this makes him mad. Jake’s teenage son is drinking, smoking pot, and going to strip joints, and Jake can’t bring himself to confront the kid over it. He might be a bit of a moral coward, but it’s more the case that he can’t see what good it would do. He’s already lost. Besides, it’s not the kid himself, it’s the world.
The Stockholm of the novel is a gloomy, dull, dispiriting but essentially orderly place to live. There are signs of approaching disorder in the approaching cultural and political upheavals of the Sixties, but Martin Beck and his colleagues can still do their jobs and expect that in doing them they’ve done some good.
The Sixties have come and gone in the movie and left behind a great big mess. Martin Beck stoically goes about his job in the cold and the rain. Jake Martin slouches grumpily through a shit storm of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Unlike The Choirboys, The Laughing Policeman knows who to blame for the general collapse and shows us.
The gays, the dopers, the blacks, the sex peddlers, and the hippies.
There’s a horrifically ugly scene in which Jake slaps the girlfriend of his murdered partner because she’d posed for nude snapshots took of her and it’s clear that if the partner was still alive Jake would have given him worse. What’s not at all clear is that we’re supposed to think the worse of Jake for this.
His rage is given a fatherly righteousness.
When I first began to notice this I thought the filmmakers must want us to see this as Jake Martin projecting. No movie that reactionary could have been made in the Seventies, I told myself, forgetting for the moment that this was the era of the first Dirty Harry movies and Death Wish.
Jake goes too far in hitting the girl. His own marriage is both joyless and sexless. He’s probably eaten up with jealousy at the happiness his partner and his beautiful girlfriend shared. He’s also taking out on her the anger he wants to take out on his son.
But there isn’t any follow up to this possibility. What there is is more confirmation that Jake’s view of the world as a corrupt, degraded, and degrading dystopia is the view we’re supposed to take.
That confirmation is provided through the point of view of Jake’s new partner, Leo Larsen, who is played by Bruce Dern, as a loutish but basically good-natured cynic who sees the world for it is but manages enough of a sense of humor and detachment not to let it get to him. Larsen knows the world is falling apart, and he knows who to blame, but he’s decided to sit back and enjoy the spectacle.
Part of the enjoying, though, is taking satisfaction in doing your job in spite of the absurdity of trying to protect and to serve a civilian population that doesn’t deserve the time or the sacrifice. His guiding philosophy, lazily and haphazardly applied---Dern’s cheeky contribution to the character, I suspect. A more conventional young leading man type might have worked in the role but his Larsen wouldn’t have seemed simultaneously sleazy and noble---is that if you can’t solve the problem, at least you can avoid being one of its causes or one of its casualties.
This is Larsen’s main contribution to the partnership. He’s there to save Jake from becoming a casualty.
One of the very best things about The Laughing Policeman is the interplay between Matthau and Dern. Larsen enters the story in the worst possible position, as the unwanted replacement for Jake’s murdered partner. Movie logic dictates that after first rubbing each other the wrong way, the two cops will learn to work together and come to admire and respect each other if not become best friends. But Matthau and Dern never let their characters stop rubbing each other the wrong way. Larsen never goes soft on Jake and learns to sympathize with the man’s grief. Jake is unfairly treating him as a nuisance and not as a fellow cop with a job to do and Larsen doesn’t ever back down from letting Jake know it. And Jake never changes his opinion that Larsen is obnoxious and his jokes are crude and his manner and habits are unbecoming of a good policeman.
What changes between them isn’t the degree of affection but the amount they know about each other’s abilities. Dern and Matthau don’t show their characters getting all soppy about each other. Leo is not about to become another second son to Jake, Jake is not somebody Leo wants or needs as a father figure. What changes is that they learn that they can work together, despite irritating the hell out of each other, and they like the results.
Was sure Carl Paladino was going to lose the GOP primary for Governor here in New York because instead of voting last night all his supporters were going to run to their windows and yell out, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
I went to bed in a state that once boasted of Nelson Rockefeller and Jacob Javits and woke up in a state where now Howard Beale is running for Governor.
Paladino’s campaign slogan, “I’m Mad Too, Carl!” pretty much sums up his governing philosophy. If elected, he will go to Albany and yell at people. That’ll make them all straighten up in a hurry.
Meanwhile, Sheldon Silver smiles.
Paladino’s plan for governing by tantrum, though, is why he is the Tea Party’s darling here and what makes him representative of the Tea Party nationally.
For a year now MSM types have been trying to define and explain the Tea Party in a way that doesn’t offend Tea Partiers, an audience their bosses covet. The generally agreed upon narrative is that they are a bunch of regular folk, who may be a bit misinformed on the issues, but are basically justifiably upset at the establishment and want to change the way business gets done in Washington and the state capitals.
Meanwhile, the Tea Party has been defining itself in the clearest and most practical way possible.
I’m not talking about the illiterate and racist banners and placards that keep popping up at their rallies.
I’m talking about who they vote for.
Dopes like Carl Paladino. Nuts like Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle. Right Wingers deranged by anger and hatred and con artists exploiting voters’ anger and hatred from Florida up to Pennsylvania, across to Colorado---especially Colorado---and on up to Alaska. Oh, and Rand Paul. These people aren’t out to change the system. They are out to burn the house down. They don’t care about the issues. They don’t have any interest in solving the contradiction between the Tea Party’s supposed main concerns, eliminating deficit spending and cutting taxes. Paladino says he’s going to cut taxes by 10 per cent and spending by 20 and the neatness and roundness of those numbers tell you that he pulled them out of the air and he has no real idea what he’s going to do if he’s elected. For all their supposed interest in issues and their enthusiasm for reform, the Tea Partiers don’t care who or what they’re voting for as long as their candidate is going to storm the corridors of power and yell!
Rand Paul will mumble a bit more loudly than usual.
The Tea Party is the party of people who are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore.
Tea Partiers are defined by their anger. Interview after interview with the rank and file keep showing that they don’t agree on the specifics of their anger. They’re just all mad at the way things are.
What they want is for things to be different in a way that makes them happy. But they don’t recognize that they are happy being angry. What they want, what will make them happier, is to have their anger expressed more loudly and on television.
This is what the dopes and nuts and crazies the Tea Party has running for office have in common. They think that if they get in office all they have to do is yell and things will change.
The Tea Partiers want to fill Congress and the state houses with angry people yelling so they can watch themselves yelling on a national stage.
They are voting for government by temper tantrum.
That’s your Tea Party. They’ve defined themselves for you with their votes. It’s the party of spoiled children addicted to their own emotional turmoil who want the whole world to come to a halt to watch them sulk.
You can’t tell them about the racist emails: And they don’t seem that angry, do they?
David Frum on the people who’d have voted to wreck the world.
Broke the screen on my netbook last night.
Broke my heart along with it. This laptop works all right. But I love my netbook. I don't go anywhere without it.
I ordered a new screen online and I think I can do the replacement job myself. I think I can. Can I? It's an HP Mini 110 and it looks like I might have trouble getting the bezel off and back on. No screws.
Anyway. Donations to the Save the Netbook Fund would be much appreciated.
A post by Chris Jackson at the Atlantic Online has been nagging at my conscience for a few weeks now. I wanted to work it into my post on Jonathan Franzen but couldn’t manage it.
It’s called All the Sad Young Literary Women and in it Jackson offers a confession and an act of contrition.
Jackson does the mea culpa for not being an equal opportunity reader.
But this whole controversy, such as it is, reminded me of a recent lunch I had with a fellow editor. I was going on about some novel I was reading and loving and she cut me off and asked, when was the last time you read fiction by a woman? And I honestly couldn't come up with anything for a few minutes. It was a pretty shameful moment, in part, because I started wondering about early onset memory loss (I eventually remembered that I'd recently read the luminous and terribly titled Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing by Lydia Peele), but also because I've spent a lot of time advocating the reading of books outside of the reader's direct experience as a way of understanding the world (through the Ringshout organization, for instance) and apparently I've been ignoring the literary output of half the human population.
Jackson doesn’t read as many novels by women as he thinks anyone who claims to be a well-read lover of books should and he’s going to do penance by making a point of reading more books by authors without a Y-chromosome.
The controversy Jackson’s referring to is the one the NPR story I linked to in my post described. Jackson:
Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner, two writers whose work is often referred to as "chick lit," have been tweeting and commenting in the press about Michiko Kukatani's rave review of Jonathan Franzen's new novel, Freedom; Piccoult mused that she'd love to see "the NYT rave about writers who aren't white male literary darlings" and busted on Kakutani for using the word "lapidiary" in her review. Weiner tweeted "Carl Hiaasan doesn't have to choose between getting a Times review and being a bestseller. Why should I? Oh right #girlparts."
I built my post around that NPR story, but I wasn’t concerned with whether or not the New York Times and the literary establishment it represents is biased against women writers, except to note that Weiner is right, there are many women novelists who are as deserving of the Times’ attention as Franzen. There are many male novelists too. I can’t say if those men are more likely to get that attention because I haven’t paid close enough attention to keep score. All I can say is what I did say. The kind of attention Franzen gets makes me not want to read his books.
I’m pretty sure that I’d feel the same way about any other novelist, male or female, who got that sort of attention.
Franzen has been deemed IMPORTANT, and as New York Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus makes clear, the deciding factor in a writer’s IMPORTANCE is how he delivers the news about the way we live now, with the definition of news being pretty close to the one used in the newspaper’s political reporting or on the op-ed page.
I don’t like it that Freedom is being pushed at us by muckety-mucks among the journalistic establishment like Tanenhaus as a must-read because Freedom is an IMPORTANT book by an IMPORTANT writer. It makes me feel like they’re giving me homework and I hate homework.
Making work out of reading a novel is taking away the reason for reading a novel---the fun of it.
The judgment that Freedom is an IMPORTANT novel that you MUST read does not seem to include the most important reason for reading a novel, because it’s enjoyable, nor does whether or not Freedom is actually well-written seem to figure in the thinking.
I’m not likely to pick up Freedom any time soon, because I know I won’t be able to enjoy it, but the main reason I’m not reading it right now---or Jennifer Weiner’s latest or Jodi Picoult’s---is that I’m in the middle of reading Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes.
After I finish Matterhorn I’m going to start Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story. After that it’s David Mitchell’s new one, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. Then My Hollywood by Mona Simpson. Then Zero History by William Gibson and Star Island by Carl Hiaasen and Three Stations by Martin Cruz Smith and…
Notice anything about that list?
Like Mona Simpson is kind of alone on it?
Except for My Hollywood, all those novels are by men.
Probably just a coincidence. Look at what I’ve read over the summer.
Fifty-nine in ‘84 by Edward Achorn. Contested Will by James Shapiro. The Icarus Syndrome by Peter Beinart. Bangkok 8 by John Burdett. Lean Mean Thirteen by Janet Evanovich. The Laughing Policeman, Roseanna, and The Man Who Went Up in Smoke by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx is Burning by Jonathan Mahler. Satiristas! by Paul Provenza and Dan Dion. Pyramids by Terry Pratchett. Small Gods by Terry Pratchett…
Well, at least there are two women on that list.
But a few months can’t be considered representative, and that list includes several works of non-fiction. Let’s look at the long-haul. Start with a list of my ten favorite American novels published since I was born.
Sometimes A Great Notion by Ken Kesey. Ironweed by William Kennedy. Little Big Man by Thomas Berger. The Milagro Beanfield War by John Nichols. The Brothers K by David James Duncan. Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford by Ron Hansen. The Goldbug Variations by Richard Powers. Continental Drift by Russell Banks. And…
Rounds by…Frederick Busch.
Maybe if I keep going. Make it my favorite fifteen novels.
A Flag for Sunrise by Robert Stone. The Family Arsenal by Paul Theroux. Mohawk by Richard Russo. Drowned Hopes by Donald Westlake. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut…
Wait! Wait! At this point I get to pull the Some of My Favorite Writers are Women gag---they’re just not all novelists or alive or American. Flannery O’Connor, Mavis Gallant, Elizabeth Bishop, Joan Didion, and…hold on a second, I need to take a quick inventory of my bookshelves.
Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen and George Eliot.
Who are mixed in with and outnumbered by the likes of Charles Dickens, Joseph Conrad, Anton Chekhov, Graham Greene, Anthony Trollope, Thomas Hardy, Feodor Dostoevsky, Henry James, Mark Twain…
I’d never noticed it before.
It’s not as though I won’t read novels by women but clearly I’m much more likely to read novels written by men.
You might have noticed that all the writers, male and female, on all my lists are white, too.
I’m not sure what this says about me or my tastes. Jackson points out that “women are willing to buy books by male writers, but men seem much more reluctant to buy books by women” but I’ve never been aware of being reluctant to read any book because it was by a woman. I pick books to read because I expect they’ll be interesting and fun to read. Apparently this has resulted in my picking far more books by men than by women but I’m not sure why that would be. It must have to do with what I find interesting and why and what makes a piece of writing fun for me to read, and if I do a lot of soul-searching I might be able to tell you what those whats and whys are.
Without doing any soul searching, I can tell you that I prefer novels with a large cast of characters, ones that are more concerned with how societies and communities put themselves together than how love affairs take themselves apart, and ones in which the main characters have to go out into the world and do something active and physical to solve their problems as opposed to ones in which they withdraw into their families, small groups of friends, love affairs, or selves and solve their problems by emoting.
I like it when characters have to risk death, injury, arrest, a strike, a strike-out, or at least a pie in the face or long wait in line at the motor vehicle office to bring about their stories’ denouements. That would explain why a writer like Robert Stone is on my lists. But it doesn’t explain why there aren’t more women.
I can tell you why I want to read the novels on next-up to read list. I enjoyed novels by their authors in the past. But that doesn’t explain why Mona Simpson is the only woman on the list.
This is baffling, and a bit embarrassing, because I would like to think of myself as more open-minded in my literary pursuits or more eccentric in my prejudices at any rate. No IMPORTANT novelists, by gum! All others welcome to apply.
But I’m not about to do anything about it. I’m certainly not going to assign myself homework the way Jackson says he has:
I've been trying to balance my own reading--consciously trying to read at least one piece of fiction by a woman for every one I read by a man.
If I ran a bookstore, or edited the book pages of a magazine or newspaper, or taught a class in contemporary American fiction, or was a librarian I’d probably feel obligated to make the effort because I wouldn’t want my unexamined biases to prevent customers or readers or students or patrons from getting their hands on books they might enjoy; if I was excluding books by non-white, non-American authors from my own reading I would be excluding them from theirs and since talent isn’t distributed according to sex, race, or country of origin, I’d be reducing the chances that they’d be looking for books to read among the best books out there.
But I read only for my own pleasure and I think that reading a novel because of who and what the author is is as anti-art as reading a novel because it’s IMPORTANT.
On the other hand, one of the enjoyable things about a novel can be the author’s point of view. You may like the way she sees things, get a kick out of the things she chooses to look at, feel a connection between her experiences and yours or take pleasure in trying to make the connection between her experiences and your very different ones.
One of the joys of reading is that it takes you out of yourself and gives you a sense of what it is like to be someone else, live a different sort of life, see the world through other eyes.
I don’t think people should read novels to learn something. But I do think it’s fun to be reading along and suddenly realize that you are learning something.
And, while I don’t like measuring a writer’s IMPORTANCE by his delivery of the news about the way we live know, I actually do prefer novels that do deliver news about the way we live now and it’s good to keep in mind that there are a lot of different me’s that make up that we.
So I’m sympathetic to Jackson’s final argument:
Anyway, there are ways that our reading is shaped and limited by the biases of the dominant literary gatekeepers--maybe without realizing it, we've only read books by people of a certain race, or who write in a certain language, or who follow the conventions of a certain genre (including the unnamed genre of Anglo-American Serious Fiction). To some people this is the great opportunity in the coming bookquake, the chance to disintermediate some of those gatekeepers and their peculiar, ossified biases. But the real bias may be inside of us, as readers, and we might have to force ourselves out of them to take advantage of these new opportunities. How exciting is it to consider that there are worlds of literature out there that you may not have tapped into, undiscovered countries of books to explore that might yet tell you something new in a new way?
Still sounds like homework to me.
Plus, I’ve got three hundred and fifty pages to go in Matterhorn before I can begin to worry about it.
What about you? What are you reading these days? Why?
I always work from the assumption here that you and I have an understanding. Whatever I write is simply a statement of what I think not what you should think.
So when I write a post about how I’m no fan of the novels of Jonathan Franzen, I take it that you know I’m just telling you why I won’t be reading Freedom and not why you shouldn’t either.
I don’t think Jonathn Franzen is all that important, never mind IMPORTANT, because I don’t think he’s all that good.
Who is that good?
But why would you listen to me anyway? What do I know? Nancy Nall loved The Corrections and can’t wait to dig into Freedom.
Revised and updated Saturday morning.
Contains images that may not be safe for work.
A gritty “realism” that focuses on the junkiness and sordidness of life.
Hackman plays Harry Moseby, a two-bit private detective, scraping the bottom of other PI’s barrels for cases. He’s the kind of private eye you’d describe as down on his luck if he’d ever had any luck to begin with. Harry used to play pro football and was pretty good until an injury cut short his career. Oddly, sadly, his best game as a player and the game he appears to be remembered for happened when he was in college, and his team lost. He’s drifted into the detective business and is not making much money at it but he likes being his own boss and setting his own hours and the job allows him to flatter himself that he’s something of a romantic figure, even a sort of hero. The work that comes his way, though, makes him a part-time process server and professional Peeping Tom. And on a stake-out the big mystery he uncovers is that his wife is cheating on him.
Harry has some skills, however, and a friend who runs a large, high-tech detective agency keeps throwing him free-lance work; there’s also a standing job offer Harry could and should take his friend up on if he wants anything like financial security, a stable life, and an actual profession.
Harry would still be a private eye, an actual investigator with the resources and support to do the work the right. Then there’s the matter of the regular and remunerative paycheck.
But he’d have to admit he is what he is, a guy doing a job to make a living and not a movie hero out saving damsels in distress.
Night Moves gets underway with the friend calling Harry with a case to work on. A sixteen year old girl has run away from home. Her mother wants her brought back. It’s a job for a family flunky, not a real detective, and the friend is embarrassed offering it to Harry. In fact, the case is an excuse to get Harry into the office to renew the offer of a real position with the agency. But it turns out that the girl’s mother is a one-time movie starlet whose name lights up something in Harry’s psyche. He has a thing for the movies.
The case draws him into the movie business, but only on the most peripheral edges. He moves among stunt men, stagehands and techies, and once upon a time starlets who can’t be called has-beens because they’re pretty much never-weres. But there’s just enough borrowed glamour to allow Harry to pretend this case is something bigger than his usual keyhole peeping.
Anti-heroes weren’t invented in the 70s, but filmmakers then had a special fondness for protagonists who are morally or emotionally compromised to the point that they can’t play by the usual rules even if they want to and try. Harry Moseby is more devoted to maintaining his romantic self-image than he is to his job or his marriage. He has a singular handicap for a detective. He refuses to see things as they really are. If he did, he’d have too see himself for what he is.
Harry is a fraud. His marriage troubles are due to his having created a false second self that he expects his wife to love, admire, and deal with as if it’s actually him.
The problem, though, isn’t that she refuses to see him as a hero. It’s that she doesn’t need to see him that way to love him. The man she’s cheating on Harry with is a scaled-down version of Harry or, more precisely, Harry without the pretenses. He’s balding in the same way as Harry but unlike Harry he doesn’t hide it with a ridiculous comb-over. He doesn’t have Harry’s aggressively macho mustache either. And, a little too symbolically for Harry’s comfort, he has a bum leg too, but he uses a cane to compensate and not a corny career as a make-believe hero.
There’s more psychology than plot in Night Moves. The case is itself the McGuffin. The real mystery Harry has to solve is that of his own existence. Night Moves is existential noir. The question is can Harry face up to the sordidness and junkiness of his life?
The former starlet, now a blousy and boozy fifty-ish professional ex-wife, is selfish, bitter, grasping, and manipulative, a living parody of all the millionaire clients whose cases the heroes should reject out of hand in the detective films Harry loves, and Harry ought to see right away that she’s nobody he should get mixed up with. The way Harry is most like his movie detective heroes is that he’s as easily fooled by his own romanticism and misapplied principles as they are. They just happen to travel in worlds where that’s an ennobling idealism rather than a pathetic blindness.
It’s clear from the get-go that the former starlet doesn’t want her daughter back. She wants her daughter’s money back. Her rich ex-husband arranged for the family fortune to be kept out of her hands and she’s living off a trust that’s in the girl’s name.
But by this point Harry needs this case to prove to himself and his wife he is what he wants to believe he is. He ignores what ought to be obvious and leaves the former starlet’s mansion telling himself he has two damsels in distress to rescue.
An anti-aesthetic in the cinematography, lighting, costuming, and make-up intended as the visual expression of gritty realism.
Some of this is just the Seventies being the Seventies. It must have been a challenge to make a roomful of hideously dressed people with bad hair look pretty, no matter how you lit it or at what angles you placed your camera. None of that essentially plastic clothing flattered anybody’s figure. And all urban landscapes were advertisements for passage of the Clean Air Act. There were no truly blue skies and all the buildings and sidewalks were grimy from car exhaust and factory smoke. And most cities had given up on maintaining themselves. In the 70s it must have been the consensus that in the near future all of life was going to be lived indoors in suburban rec rooms and shopping malls, so why bother fixing anything else.
There isn’t a lot of pretty photography in Seventies movies because there wasn’t much that was pretty to photograph. It’s no wonder so many period pictures were made.
But it was also the case that there was a general rejection of the movie making cliches of the Fifties and Sixties up until 1967, one of which was the inclusion of lots of pretty pictures for the sake of pretty pictures.
Influenced by European movies, and French New Wave films particularly, younger or would be hip directors set out to make their movies look life not art. They went out of their way to avoid shots that looked carefully composed and lit. The idea wasn’t to avoid pretty pictures entirely. The trick, though, was to make those pretty pictures look like accidents or, even better, to sneak them past their audience’s intellectual defenses.
Two directors who did fill their movies with pretty pictures were, oddly, Robert Altman and, starting with Love and Death, Woody Allen. They went about it in different ways and for different reasons. Altman had learned his craft in television where the creating of pretty pictures, that is using composition for dramatic effect, was about the only way to tell a good story when working from a weak script and with less than the best actors, and Allen was paying attention to a European director who was off the Hollywood radar.
Arthur Penn, who directed Night Moves, had done Bonnie and Clyde and Little Big Man, two films that had helped establish the anti-aesthetic of finding the beautiful in the grittily real. But both were period pieces and Bonnie and Clyde was intended as something of a visual poem (It’s theme song could have provided its title, “The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde.”) while Little Big Man was a parody of an epic. Night Moves is a contemporary, realistic, and psychologically intimate drama and Penn toned down the look and the pace and the sound of the film accordingly.
And there’s a thematic reason for the less than stunning visuals. Harry may see himself as a detective movie hero in the mold of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, but that doesn’t mean we should see him that way. He’s just a self-deluded working stiff slogging his way through a job without glamour or romance or spiritual reward. To include anything like the artfully composed shots that fill Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep and retain that theme would have required making Night Moves as a parody.
Harry’s delusions of romantic grandeur are meant to be a point of sympathy between him and us. One way or another, Night Moves is telling us, we’re all victims of the movies. We all want to see ourselves as being grander and more heroic than we actually are. We want our lives to matter for reasons beyond simply that life as it is is all we’ve got to work with. But when you get down to it, we’re all just working stiffs trying to get by in a sordid and junky world and maybe we’d be better off if we’d just face up to that.
Harry would be, at any rate.
But the anti-aesthetic is at work in more than just the casualness of the cinematography. Night Moves uses the deliberate ugliness of the Seventies to deglamorize everybody and everything Harry comes in contact with. Night Moves features two leading female characters who are made to look older and plainer than the actresses playing them really were by their characters’ individualized surrenders to prevailing fashion trends of the day.
Susan Clark plays Harry’s wife Ellen as a woman grimly determined to do what she wishes Harry would do, admit defeat by time and circumstance. She sees herself for what she is and dresses accordingly, a middle-aged business woman, past worrying about her lost youth, but for professional reasons needing to present a together look to the world. She opts for a too short Liza Minelli in Cabaret bob that emphasizes the sharpening angles of her face and boxy Mary Tyler Moore pants suits that hide the few curves she has. It’s a desexualized look that suggests that her affair with Harry’s unromanticized doppelganger is, as she tells him, not about sex. This doesn’t comfort Harry at all because the implication is that what she wants from Harry isn’t sex either. She thinks she’s asking him to grow up. He thinks she’s rushing them both into a comfortable but joyless and dull old age.
Warren’s character, Paula, the movie’s laid-back femme fatale, prefers jeans and sweatshirts and wears her hair girlishly long, a college student look she’s now, in her mid-thirties, getting too old to pull off. It doesn’t help that she’s spent the last few years working fishing charters off the Florida Keys and her skin has suffered for it---Penn and his make-up designer have Warren looking realistically weather-beaten. Considering where she is and what she does for a living, it’s not as though she has much of a chance or any reason to doll herself up. But it’s not just her sun-scarred skin and that she dresses like a kid that call attention to her not being a kid anymore. It’s her insistence on acting like one in not having to account for or control her moods and whims. Paula and Harry quickly develop an agreement. She’ll pretend he’s what he wishes his wife would see him as, if he’ll pretend she’s still the pretty bohemian college girl she used to be. Of course, this means that once again Harry’s not seeing what he needs to see.
But the most representative example of the Seventies anti-aesthetic is in the casting of Gene Hackman as Harry Moseby.
Hackman’s stardom is emblematic of a decade that also made leading men out of two other middle-aged character actors, Walter Matthau and George C. Scott, not to mention short, goofy-looking younger actors who seemed to be headed for careers as character actors before the anti-aesthetic applied itself to male leads and turned Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, and Al Pacino into credible rivals for roles that would in a different time and universe normally have gone without anybody giving it a second thought to Robert Redford, George Segal, or Warren Beatty.
Considering the direction he took his career, Hackman might seem in retrospect to have been an odd choice to play a hardboiled detective hero, and so that would seem to have been the point. But Hackman was a star because of his Oscar-winning performance as one of the toughest and most hardboiled detectives in movie history, Popeye Doyle in The French Connection. He’d recently played the self-sacrificing hero of The Poseidon Adventure. I have a habit of thinking of Hackman as one of those guys who was born fifty years old, so it was a bit jolting to hear him reply when Paula asks Harry his age, “Forty.” But Hackman was only forty-five himself at the time, still a good-looking and somewhat youthful guy, and he was big enough and in good enough shape to pass for a former professional athlete. He wasn’t a Clint Eastwood or a Steve McQueen, but considering that two of the most popular movie detectives of the first half of the decade had been played by Jack Nicholson and Al Pacino, he was far from the most off-beat casting that Penn could have managed.
What makes Hackman so right for the part is his not quiteness. Obviously he was no Clint Eastwood or Robert Redford or Warren Beatty. He was also not a Burt Reynolds, a James Caan, a Ryan O’Neal, a George Segal, or an Elliott Gould. He was a leading man but not quite in the handsome and dashing movie star tradition. Like Nicholson and Pacino and Dustin Hoffman, he was that relatively new phenomenon, the character actor as leading man. But because of his size and his ordinariness, as opposed to the other’s quirkiness and eccentricities, he was not quite one of them either.
Harry Moseby is not quite what Harry wants and needs to be. No matter what he does on the job, no matter how many Paulas fall for his act and into bed with him, no matter how many cases he solves, when he looks into a mirror he’s never going to see a movie detective hero staring back, just as no matter how many times Gene Hackman played a leading man he was never going to look at movie screen where one of his films was playing and see a conventional movie star up there.
The difference, of course, is that Hackman was just fine with that and built a great career on it.
Every time Harry looks in a mirror it’s a blow that shivers him to the core of his being.
At least one gratuitous nude scene usually involving a starlet you don’t recognize because the nude scene turned out to be a career killer.
Actually the reason you might not recognize her is that Melanie Griffith was astonishingly young at the time. She had just turned eighteen when Night Moves was released, which means she was a minor when she filmed her nude scenes, and unless there was a body double for one of those scenes, I don’t know how Penn got away with shooting it without the vice squad coming after him. I’m also not sure how the studio avoided an X rating. Here’s the scene. Not safe for work.
Griffith plays Delly, the former starlet’s runaway daughter, and her gratuitous nudity is justified by Delly’s being in furious rebellion against her mother. Her aggressive sexuality is her weapon and her defense. She has figured out that if she is quick to get naked she wins in one of two ways. Either the man is so shocked and thrown by her age---Delly is sixteen---that he runs away or he is so taken by her beauty that his brain melts. One way, she wins by getting left alone, the other way, she wins by gaining total control.
Harry frustrates her and enrages her by doing neither. He doesn’t run and he doesn’t give in. What Delly doesn’t know is that Harry is pretending. He’s not reacting to her either way because Philip Marlowe wouldn’t react either way. Delly does intuit that Harry’s resisting at least in part to impress Paula and that spurs Delly to compete with Paula and so we get the skinny dipping scene. But more than she’s frustrated and enraged by Harry’s seeming indifference to her charms, she’s driven crazy by his refusal to listen to her about why she doesn’t want to go back to her mother. Harry is so intent on his own act that he can’t see Delly apart from the role she plays in his personal drama. As far as he’s concerned she’s a lost little girl who needs to be rescued from herself. He misses the fact that she’s already pretty much rescued herself and that by forcing her to go home he’s putting her back into the awful situation she needed to be rescued from.
“Realistic” violence that borders on sadism and nihlism.
There isn’t a lot of violence in Night Moves but what there is is all personal and its brutality comes from its psychic force more than its physical effect.
Whether Harry gives a beating or takes a beating, it’s his soul that suffers the bruises and it’s his enraged ego that’s delivering the blows. No wonder that punches and flesh wounds that his movie heroes would have shrugged off hurt so much. The pain and injury are inflicted by a symbolism wielded like a blunt instrument.
A punch in the snoot paints Harry’s nose red with blood in a way that makes him look like a clown just when he’s come to the realization that he’s been played for a fool. A bullet wound to the leg rivets him to the deck of a boat but it’s clear that what’s crippled isn’t his leg but his will.
Then there’s the way the movie handles death.
Important characters are killed off with a spiritually sickening matter of factness and suddenness. They don’t need to die either. I mean that the story doesn’t require that any of one of them die and die when and how they do for the movie to work. Basically, they’re just sort of squashed like bugs because they’re in the way. That’s not literally how they die but it is close. The point is that their meaningless and degrading deaths are of a piece with their lives. Their existence or non-existence has ultimately had no meaning. An upbeat way of putting this is that life has only the meaning you give to it. But that depends on the meaning you are trying to give it. Harry has been trying to give his life meaning, it just isn’t sticking.
And then there’s the fact that if your life has only the meaning you give it, its meaning ceases the second you do.
Death isn’t just the end of a life. It’s the erasure of that life. As soon as people die they disappear from the past as well as from the future.
Happy ending or even an at least emotionally conclusive ones intentionally thwarted.
Somewhat of a spoiler alert, although since Night Moves is a Seventies movie you already know that the ending is going to be morally or dramatically ambiguous, probably both.
Harry solves the case but not in a way that he can be proud of or take any satisfaction in and the last shot of the movie lets us know in a symbolically obvious way that Harry has spent his life traveling in circles and that’s not about to change for him.
Related Mannion re-runs:A post that requires you to accept that I can do a passable impersonation of Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man.
Books to read to tell if I’m just making it all up about the Seventies:
Couple weeks back, at the end of my post Polyester Nightmares, I started a list of movies from the 1970s that I thought would help me see what the 70s actually looked like at the time.
As I wrote, I don’t seem to have any of my own visual memories of those years. What happens when I try to remember that time of my life is that instead of “seeing” what I actually saw I see photographs, TV news clips, advertisements, album covers, magazine covers, and other sorts of visual artifacts. I would like to be able to remember my teenage years with the same visual clarity as I can remember other parts of my life and not “remember” them as a multi-media museum exhibit some Qiana-wearing elves have curated in my head.
I had the idea that maybe if I watched some movies from the 70s I might see things that would jog my memory into action and I could replace some of the acquired, second-hand images with the real things.
Ideally, the movies I watched would be home movies. But this would require a raid on my parents’ attic and the purchase of a working Super 8 movie projector from ebay or finding someone who could transfer the film to DVD. I would like to do that. But in the meantime I figured that the next best thing would be to watch some commercial movies from the period that would, naturally, show what life looked like and that might do the trick.
So I started my list.
One of my criteria for putting a film on the list is that it couldn’t be about the 70s. Movies with a too political, topical, or satirical bent were likely to exaggerate and over-emphasize things the filmmakers deemed representative of their life and times and that would include fashions and attitudes. I think everybody who was over the age of nine back then knew we were living through a period of enforced ugliness but it was possible to ignore it and even find some things worth looking at and enjoying for their own sake.
Any movie that set out to capture the moment, then, was likely to capture what was most unusual about the moment compared to other moments and people tend not to process the unusual as if it’s, well, usual. It was always a shock to see a Gremlin on the road. (“Where’s the rest of it?”) What I’m looking for is a view of the roads back then that would have been busy with more five year old Chevy Impalas than shiny new Pintos, Pacers, and Gremlins.
I want to see what I actually saw when I looked at a girl and not Laurie Partridge or Marcia Brady on a magazine cover.
Trends and fads don’t come and go in strict accordance with the calendar years they defined. Things have a habit of lasting. A lot of what was faddish and trendy in the 1960s was still around in the 1970s. For the matter so was a lot of what was faddish and trendy from the 1950s and the 1940s.
And in any decade what is faddish and trendy is often nostalgia. Sometimes I think I have a better idea of what the 1970s looked like from watching college students today than from watching re-runs of The Rockford Files. Saddle shoes were very popular around my high school. Unfortunately bobby sox, poodle skirts, and tight sweaters weren’t, so the look suffered. Saddle shoes with knee socks was classic 70s ugly and a turn off to anybody without a schoolgirl fetish.
So, a movie that caught that detail by accident might make my list while a movie that got it exactly right about platforms and Earth Shoes might not because it would look too much like The Seventies and not enough like what life looked like if you happened to be alive and wandering around with your eyes half-open back then.
This knocks some very good movies off the list right away. Shampoo, Saturday Night Fever, Taxi Driver, Nashville---great movies that set out to show their audiences what was really happening at the moment and now that the moment is long past feel a little bit like history lessons.
I also excluded most genre films out of hand because those tend to be overly-stylized and the designers give themselves permission to go a little overboard.
Most genre films. But not all. Especially in the early and mid-70s the makers of detective movies went out of their way to depict the seedy side of life as it’s really lived instead of the romanticized underworld of detective movies of a more romantically minded Hollywood of the past.
For your assignment tonight, class, write an essay comparing and contrasting Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep to Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye. What do the two different portrayals of Philip Marlowe tell us about the attitudes of the periods in which they were made.
With this in mind, I decided to start looking for movies to add to my list by watching Night Moves, a detective movie released in 1975 starring Gene Hackman and directed by Arthur Penn.
I now have another disqualifier for my list.
No movies that contain too many of the decade’s movie making cliches.
There are technical clues that will tell you when a movie was made even if you couldn’t tell by the stars or by the fashions. Editing tricks, lighting standards, narrative shortcuts, the rhythms and uses of dialog, the color palette, actors’ gimmicks, the sort of location and establishing shots the director and cinematographer use to break up their scenes, music cues.
Most of these aren’t specifically 1970s cliches. They’re really post-Bonnie and Clyde-isms and post-MASH-isms and by mid-decade they were old-hat, which gave movies that relied too heavily on them a datedness when they were released and make them seem even more dated now.
Paul Newman’s 1966 detective movie, Harper, is a much better movie all around that its 1975 sequel, The Drowning Pool, for a number of reasons, but one of them is that Harper contains (or is constrained by) far fewer 1960s movie cliches whileThe Drowning Pool is practically a visual manual on how to make your movie look like every other movie made in the mid-Seventies.
Here are some of those cliches:
A gritty “realism” that focuses on the junkiness and sordidness of life. The cinematic equivalent of the Ash Can School of Painting. We’re meant to find the real significance of life in what we’d normally regard as either too ordinary to bother noticing or too ugly, beat-up, worn-down, or mean. This applies to attitudes and emotions as much as to the visuals and movies in the 70s were often about finding the anti-hero in every hero, the opportunist in every romantic, and the jaded cynic in every idealist. In most cases we’re actually meant to admire the anti-heros, opportunists, and cynics more, at least for their honesty, if for nothing else.
This is the decade that killed John Wayne.
Shot him dead in The Cowboys.
In the back.
By Bruce Dern!
Then it turned around and made Dern a leading man.
An anti-aesthetic in the cinematography, lighting, costuming, and make-up intended as the visual expression of gritty realism. Characters wear what a real person like them would have put on in the morning without regard for how their outfits would clash with those of other characters or any of the backgrounds they will be playing in front of. The lighting is “natural” resulting in shots that are overlit or underlit, occasionally prettily lit, but rarely dramatically lit---unless the cinematographer was Gordon Willis---so that the light plays little role in the storytelling, it’s just there, with the result that long stretches of the movie will look like a home movie or like a television show. This is a way of pointing out that photography isn’t much of a factor, except when it is. A related anti-aesthetic is a washed out color palette. Lots of earth tones, more grays than either blacks or whites, and red tends to be reserved almost exclusively for blood. Which brings me to---
“Realistic” violence. Not in the sense of excessive gore. Even The Godfather isn’t as gruesome as you maybe remember. Things are bloodier than they used to be, but the bigger change is in how character react to being bloodied. They hurt, more and for longer. Heroes are especially sensitive. They rarely finish a fight on their feet or looking as if they’ve won, usually because they didn’t win. Even if they’ve put the bad guys out of action and seemingly saved the day they’ve often suffered some sort of moral defeat in the process. That circles back to the gritty realism which is also present in---
Intentionally thwarted happy endings. Filmmakers of the period seemed to feel that they’d failed if they allowed a happy or even an at least emotionally conclusive ending. Moral ambiguity and psychological dissatisfaction are the grace notes of countless 70s movies, including many comedies.
One last one for now.
At least one gratuitous nude scene usually involving a starlet you don’t recognize because the nude scene turned out to be a career killer. But we’re not allowed to enjoy these nude scenes as nude scenes. The nudity is fleeting, total but you can’t be sure. The director doesn’t let the camera linger or the lighting to flatter or the actress to pose. And the scene is justified psychologically, dramatically, or thematically in the clumsiest and most hypocritical ways. She’s a nympho or she’s been drugged or she’s on drugs or she’s a hippie chick so of course she’s completely uninhibited or she just had to take a shower at that moment. Sometimes she’s naked to show us that the hero is uptight or nobly and admirably self-restrained. Sometimes she’s naked to show us the bad guy’s hypocrisy or depravity. It’s almost never plausible and you know the scene’s only there because somebody with the clout to make it happen wanted to see a pretty young actress photographed naked.
Some things never change.
Few movies avoid all the cliches, but including one or two or several or even all of them doesn’t necessarily ruin a film. Night Moves includes all of the above, although her nude scenes didn’t kill Melanie Griffith’s career, and it’s not a bad movie. But it does look like a Seventies movie, and that made it useless for my purposes. I didn’t see my life and times in it. I saw another artifact from the period to add to the museum in my head that’s getting in the way of my seeing my life and times.
As a movie, however, it’s worth watching for its own sake, and worth writing about, and that’s what I’m going to do in my next post.
The tradition continues: Speaking of movie-making cliches, they don’t make ‘em like the used to, but they often do make them like everybody else does. From Cracked, 5 Annoying Trends That Make Every Movie Look the Same.
On killing the Duke: Mark Rydell, who directed The Cowboys, talks about what it was like to work with John Wayne (all good, to Rydell’s surprise at the time) and about being the one who had Wayne gunned down by that lowdown dirty backshooting skunk Bruce Dern.