Quotulatiousness

August 13, 2014

Lauren Bacall

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:57

In the Telegraph, Tim Stanley says we’ve lost one of the last of the true Hollywood stars:

Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart in the trailer for the film Dark Passage, 1947 (via Wikipedia)

Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart in the trailer for the film Dark Passage, 1947 (via Wikipedia)

Lauren Bacall the actor has died, a sad thing for sure. But Lauren Bacall the star will live on forever. Because that’s what stars do. They burn bright for millennia.

Born Betty Perske, a Jewish girl from the Bronx, she was spotted by Howard Hawks’ wife on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar and invited to Hollywood to screen test. Bacall thought Hawks was impressive but scary — it didn’t help that his method of breaking the ice was to make anti-Semitic jokes. Hawks thought Bacall attractive but lumbered with a high-pitched voice that was all wrong for the sophisticated quick-fire dialogue he liked to write. So she drove her car up into the Hollywood hills and practiced speaking low and soft by herself. Next she had to improve her demeanour — and for Hawks this meant turning from a shy girl into a sexually confident one. When she couldn’t get a ride home from a party at Hawks’ house, he told her that men went for women who insulted them. She insulted Clark Gable and, right on cue, he offered to drive her home.

[...]

What defined that character? Friedrich calls it “insolence”. Bacall always played the girl who answered back, the one who had the temerity to ask if a man knew how to whistle. That’s Hollywood censor shorthand for if they knew how to make love. Bacall never went out of her way to please no man; men had to please her. Via a series of noir box office hits, Betty Perske ascended into the pantheon and took the slot of the “sophisticated seductress”. For Golden Age Hollywood dealt not in actors or mere parts, but in stars and archetypes. At any one point there had to be a tough guy, a wise guy, a villain, a maverick. Among women there were the betrayed wives, vamps, innocents and party girls. The name of a star on a movie poster told you everything you needed to know about what would happen in that movie — and you went to see it because the last 48 made in that vein were so darn good. This is the nature of star power, the ability to evoke something with just a name in lights.

July 24, 2014

“Never give up, never surrender!” – the oral history of Galaxy Quest

Filed under: Humour, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:28

Hands down, my favourite Star Trek movie was Galaxy Quest:

And now, MTV has the story behind the story:

Galaxy Quest: The Oral History
By Grabthar’s Hammer, the sci-fi comedy classic is turning 15. Here’s the untold story of how it got made.

Galaxy Quest was only a modest success in theaters (pulling in $71 million at the domestic box office). Over time, however, it has become a cult favorite – a film virtually everyone loves, one of those flicks you see when flipping channels and immediately get caught in its tractor beam. (Not that the movie has tractor beams – that would be too close to Star Trek.)

In honor of the almost 15th anniversary of the movie (it was released in December, 1999), MTV News checked back in with the entire cast and creators of Galaxy Quest: Tim Allen as the obnoxious Captain; Alan Rickman as the humiliated thespian relegated to rubber makeup; Sigourney Weaver, an actress given nothing to do but show her cleavage; Daryl “Chill” Mitchell, the former child star. Tony Shalhoub, playing a stoner who is supposed to be the sharp chief engineer; Sam Rockwell as some guy named Guy; and many, many more. What we came away with is, in the cast and crew’s own words, the story of how the crew of the Protector came together – and how things changed as the movie grew to be the phenomenon it is today.

[...]

Rockwell: Sigourney Weaver changed with that wig.

Rickman: I remember Sigourney walking around saying that she was experiencing a new world with the blonde wig.

Johnson: Sigourney loved her extenuated bosom and blonde wig. She’d sometimes leave at the end of the day dressed up like that. She’d just go to her hotel with the enhanced breasts and padding and all squeezed in and it was fun.

Weaver: Blondes definitely have more fun. I loved being a starlet. I miss my breasts, I miss my blonde hair, I miss my insecurity.

[...]

Rockwell: I wanted to ennoble the coward archetype. I thought of the best cowards in cinematic history, like John Turturro in Miller’s Crossing. When we did the shuttle scene I drank four cups of coffee and downed two Excedrin. I wanted to be so hyped that I would have a nervous breakdown on the shuttle. I don’t know if it worked but I was very hyper and freaking out. I think I had a couple beers to come down.

Mitchell: Sam Rockwell in this movie, man. I die every time. “Did you guys ever WATCH the show?!?”

Johnson: “Did you guys ever WATCH the show?!?” That’s my favorite moment.

Rockwell: Guy is a cheeseball. And a Trekkie geek. But he’s a coward. My template was Bill Paxton in Aliens mixed with Michael Keaton in Night Shift.

June 8, 2014

Regulating cosmetics

Filed under: Business, Government, Health — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:43

Jeffrey Tucker discusses the coming crash in the world of make-up:

The organization Campaign for Safe Cosmetics doesn’t just want you to be able to have new choices about the makeup or other products you buy. It wants the FDA to be able to ban and recall products. It will decide for you what is and isn’t safe.

And it is prevailing against the industry itself, which has no interest whatsoever in selling unsafe products, but precisely the opposite. The industry is already ridiculously overregulated.

What’s the excuse? The usual nonsense about safety and security and health, along with predictable headlines about how your shampoo is giving you cancer. There is a crowd of lobbyists backed by regulators who seem to believe that all of modernity is corrupting and horrible and must be reversed until we are living in the most-primitive state of being, sans makeup, of course.

In other words, cosmetics are going the way of everything else. The quality of the product will be depleted by regulations, just as with indoor plumbing, electricity, cars, light bulbs, soaps and gas-powered tools. Entrepreneurship will be hindered and truncated. Innovation will stop. In a few years, you will wonder: Whatever happened to makeup and deodorant and hair spray that actually works? Prepare: The end is near!

Already, I’ve heard many women complain that cosmetics today are far worse than they were 10 years ago. The colors don’t behave they way they should, and color is mainly what the FDA currently controls. I don’t doubt that whatever problems exist are due to government regulations. Whenever you see consumer products that decline in quality to the point that you have to pay vastly more for something of good quality, or that high quality suddenly becomes completely unavailable, you will find the hand of government if you look hard enough.

May 31, 2014

Shock, horror! Ezra Levant’s publisher took government grants!

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Media — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:21

In the Globe and Mail, Simon Houpt looks at the rise and rise of Ezra Levant and finishes with what he clearly thinks is a “gotcha” moment:

… for a man who seems to have studied his American forebears so extensively, he has failed utterly to learn how to mimic the persuasive charms of a Bill O’Reilly or the wackadoodle authenticity of a Glenn Beck. He has a genuinely nasty streak that flares up in his attacks – on the Roma people, for example – that have landed him in hot water with the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.

He seems less interested in free speech than in listening to his own speech. Perhaps fatally, he has no visible sense of humour about himself.

In Groundswell, he has great fun mocking one of his favourite targets: Hollywood stars, whom he accuses of gross hypocrisy for promoting environmental causes while flying around in private jets. He points to Matt Damon’s anti-fracking drama Promised Land, which was backed in part by financing from the United Arab Emirates. And he mocks Josh Fox, the director of the anti-fracking documentaries Gasland and Gasland 2, for being a one-time New York-based actor.

Yet there is more than enough hypocrisy to go around: Levant is a critic of government support whose books have been published by a company that took plenty of government money until a recent change in ownership precluded the practice; a free-marketeer who works for a network that spent months last year trying to convince regulators to let it extract a monthly payment from every TV subscriber in the land.

At one point in Groundswell, Levant suggests activists are primarily driven by the salaries they receive. It’s a worldview that is so breathtakingly cynical that we’re left to wonder if Levant himself would blithely change his position for a fatter paycheque. If true, what kind of free-speech champion is that?

As far as the publisher collecting government money … most of the Canadian publishing business does that. It’s an unusual publishing company that manages to avoid suckling at that particular teat. Sun TV’s campaign for a better placement in cable TV packages certainly didn’t show the company in a good light, but the regulators have deliberately created a two-class system for cable, with the favoured channels required in each cable offering (a subsidy-by-another-name) and the disfavoured ones excluded. Sun TV could have taken the high road, but they’d have gone out of business for no purpose, and it wouldn’t have changed the system at all. (Full disclosure: I don’t watch Sun TV, although I have read a couple of Levant’s books.)

May 12, 2014

Reason.tv – Trigger Warnings, Campus Speech, and the Right to Not Be Offended

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 16:55

Published on 8 May 2014

“It’s really not anyone else’s business to tell someone when they are mentally and emotionally ready to deal with things,” says Bailey Loverin, a University of Santa Barbara (UCSB) junior who authored a resolution to mandate that professors issue “trigger warnings” before presenting material that might trigger memories of past traumas in students.

Feminist and social justice blogs popularized the concept of the trigger warning, with writers encouraging each other to label posts that might trigger flashbacks to sexual assault or domestic abuse. As the popularity, and scope, of the trigger warning idea grew, some bloggers began listing potential triggers, ranging from rape and violence and suicide to snakes and needles and even “small holes.”

April 26, 2014

QotD: Acting

Filed under: Humour, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:55

Of all actors, the most offensive to the higher cerebral centers is the one who pretends to intellectuality. His alleged intelligence, of course, is always purely imaginary: no man of genuinely superior intelligence has ever been an actor. Even supposing a young man of appreciable mental powers to be lured upon the stage, as philosophers are occasionally lured into bordellos, his mind would be inevitably and almost immediately destroyed by the gaudy nonsense issuing from his mouth every night. That nonsense enters into the very fiber of the actor. He becomes a grotesque boiling down of all the preposterous characters that he has ever impersonated. Their characteristics are seen in his manner, in his reactions to stimuli, in his point of view. He becomes a walking artificiality, a strutting dummy, a thematic catalogue of imbecilities.

There are, of course, plays that are not wholly nonsense, and now and then one encounters an actor who aspires to appear in them. This aspiration almost always overtakes the so-called actor-manager that is to say, the actor who has got rich and is thus ambitious to appear as a gentleman. Such aspirants commonly tackle Shakespeare, and if not Shakespeare, then Shaw, or Hauptmann, or Rostand, or some other apparently intellectual dramatist. But this is seldom more than a passing madness. The actor-manager may do that sort of thing once in a while, but in the main he sticks to his garbage. [...]

It is commonly urged in defense of certain actors that they are forced to appear in that sort of stuff by the public demand for it that appearing in it painfully violates their secret pruderies. This defense is unsound and dishonest. An actor never disdains anything that gets him applause and money; he is almost completely devoid of that aesthetic conscience which is the chief mark of the genuine artist. If there were a large public willing to pay handsomely to hear him recite limericks, or to blow a cornet, or to strip off his underwear and dance a polonaise stark naked, he would do it without hesitation and then convince himself that such buffooning constituted a difficult and elevated art, fully comparable to Wagner’s or Dante’s. In brief, the one essential, in his sight, is the chance to shine, the fat part, the applause. Who ever heard of an actor declining a fat part on the ground that it invaded his intellectual integrity? The thing is simply unimaginable.

H.L. Mencken, “The Allied Arts: The Cerebral Mime”, Prejudices: Second Series, 1920.

April 23, 2014

“[W]hat most ‘studies’ really ‘show’ is that most ‘studies’ are crap”

Filed under: Media — Tags: — Nicholas Russon @ 08:48

Kathy Shaidle‘s investigation of the “science of cool”:

Then something calling itself “science” appeared to offer me an in. Alas, what most “studies” really “show” is that most “studies” are crap. This latest one proved the rule that “social science” is to the real thing what Anna Anderson was to the Romanovs.

The Week promised to teach us “How To Be Cool, According to Science,” relying upon the findings of one Olivia Fox Cabane. Ms. Cabane is not, however, a scientist (of either the “social,” “hard,” or even “Christian” varieties), but an “executive charisma coach for Fortune 500 companies.”

So shame on you, The Week.

Scientific or not, does Ms. Cabane’s grand unified theory of “cool” withstand scrutiny?

At first, she’s persuasive, if prosaic. “Cool,” she declares, “doesn’t try too hard.” In everything — words and deeds — less is more.

Cabane insists that robotically calm, collected mannerisms and Zen master body language are the outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual cool.

A cool individual, Cabane continues, exudes confidence. James Bond, she points out, neither fidgets, nor does he plead.

Tellingly, Fleming’s 007 is the only “proper noun” example she serves up, maybe because a moment’s reflection on other archetypes of cool reveals the flaws in her theory.

Placed side by side, James Cagney fits Cabane’s criteria for cool far better than Humphrey Bogart. Even when merely striding cockily down a sidewalk (then dodging machine gun fire), Cagney’s background as a professional dancer was evident in almost every film he made, not just in Yankee Doodle Dandy. His sharp, frugal gestures and bits of business also live up to Cabane’s bonsai tree ideal. (When you learn that Malcolm McDowell based his performance as “Alex” on Cagney’s screen persona, you never watch A Clockwork Orange the same way.)

We are often surprised to discover how short certain charismatic performers really are, or were. (I still refuse to accept that Freddy Mercury was anything less than 6’ 1”.) The bantamweight Cagney, on the other hand, always seemed short — but it didn’t matter. That alone places him in an even higher stratum of cool, one occupied by a very few, including Cagney’s rival, Humphrey Bogart.

April 1, 2014

Wranglers of Death official trailer

Filed under: Humour, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:24

Published on 1 Apr 2014

In a last-ditch effort to save their family, a group of cowboys drive a dangerous herd to Hollywood.

March 30, 2014

Alec Guinness, my goodness!

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:50

Mark Steyn’s Saturday movie column is about the great Sir Alec Guinness:

Eight Alec Guinness roles, from one film, Kind Hearts And Coronets (1949)

Eight Alec Guinness roles, from one film, Kind Hearts And Coronets (1949)

In London one hundred years ago this week — April 2nd 1914 — Sir Alec Guinness, CH, CBE entered the world as Alec Guinness de Cuffe. His mother was Agnes Cuff, and the Frenchification of her maiden name seems to have been an attempt to compensate for the blank space on the birth certificate where “Name of Father” should appear. “Alec Guinness” were his two Christian names, leading to periodic suggestions that his pa was a member of the Guinness family. Sir Alec himself took the view that he had been sired by a Scottish banker who turned up at the flat once in a while purporting to be an “uncle” and who paid for his young “nephew” to be educated privately. He was, at least in public, not much interested in his parents, neither the absent nor the present one. From this appropriately vague lineage emerged one of the most versatile British actors of the 20th century, and (via Star Wars) one of the wealthiest.

[...]

His other great military tour de force is as the carrot-topped carouser Major Jock Sinclair opposite John Mills’ by-the-book colonel in Ronald Neame’s Tunes Of Glory. An Ottawa reader who’d “sat through one mess dinner too many” wrote to me a few years ago to say that his all-time favorite Guinness movie line was Major Jock insisting, “Whisky for the gentlemen that like it, and for the gentlemen that don’t like it – whisky!” There’s a lot of Scottish dancing in the picture, and the film itself seems to reel, with Guinness’ blazing orange hair and heeland-flung accent poised brilliantly on a knife-edge of menacing heartiness.

That was unusual for him. I think it was Eileen Atkins who said that Guinness was the only actor who could do absolutely nothing in a close-up and yet you knew what he was thinking. It’s probably closer to the truth to say you knew he was thinking something, and you thought you knew pretty much what it was, but there was always the possibility that something more might be going on. A character like Colonel Nicholson has to be complex, or he simply doesn’t exist, and Guinness was a master at hinting at complexity, even when playing a piece of cardboard such as Obi-Wan. In an age of soul-barers, when Daniel Day-Lewis does Hamlet to work through his feelings about his father, Guinness remained a kind of Gypsy Rose Lee of great actors: he exposed very little, and thereby suggested that what lay underneath must be a real knockout. By the time he got to John le Carré’s George Smiley, he had mastered a unique skill: scene-stealing blankness, nicely caught on one of the early episodes of Whose Line Is It Anyway? when Jonathan Pryce, out of the blue, goes into a sly Guinness take-off — all glances off and an enigmatic smile.

He made his screen debut eight decades ago, in Evensong (1933). No one noticed. So he tried again with David Lean, as Herbert Pocke in Great Expectations (1946) and Fagin in Oliver Twist (1948), two superb performances. Then came his finest group of pictures — the Ealing years, beginning with Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), in which he played eight different members of the d’Ascoyne family bumped off, in succession, by Dennis Price. Poor old Price actually gives the best performance, but no one cares: Kind Hearts is a novelty turn for Guinness, yet the film has a harder edge than his other Ealing films. To contemporary moviegoers, Ealing is a far more remote world than any in Star Wars — for a long time, the films were hard to get hold of and rarely aired on TV — but they show off brilliantly a youngish actor of unpromising looks but boundless inventiveness.

He had, by all accounts, a lower regard for his art than the other theatrical knights, but it served him well. And, unlike Olivier or Gielgud, Alec Guinness pulled off a unique double: he remains the only man in the galaxy to be knighted both by Her Majesty The Queen and the Jedi.

March 27, 2014

The political divergent … who must be stopped

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:07

Nick Gillespie uses the current film Divergent as a springboard to discuss why Rand Paul’s “politically divergent” message is so unwelcome to the mainstream media who cheer for team red or team blue:

It turns out that Divergent isn’t just the top movie in America. It’s also playing out in the run-up to the 2016 presidential race, with Sen. Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican, in the starring role.

Based on the first volume of a wildly popular young-adult trilogy, Divergent is set in America of the near-future, when all people are irrevocably slotted into one of five “factions” based on temperament and personality type. Those who refuse to go along with the program are marked as divergent — and marked for death! “What Makes You Different, Makes You Dangerous,” reads one of the story’s taglines.

Which pretty much sums up Rand Paul, whose libertarian-leaning politics are gaining adherents among the plurality of Americans fed up with bible-thumping, war-happy, budget-busting Republicans and promise-breaking, drone-dispatching, budget-busting Democrats. Professional cheerleaders for Team Red and Team Blue — also known as journalists — aren’t calling for Paul’s literal dispatching, but they are rushing to explain exactly why the opthalmologist has no future in politics.

A national politician who brings a Berkeley crowd to its feet by attacking NSA surveillance programs and wants to balance the budget yesterday? Who supports the Second Amendment and the Fourth Amendment (not to mention the First and the Tenth)? A Christian Republican who says that the GOP “in order to get bigger, will have to agree to disagree on social issues” and has signaled his willngness to get the federal government out of prohibiting gay marriage and marijuana?

Well, we can’t have that, can we? Forget that Paul is showing strongly in polls about the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. “He is not doing enough to build the political network necessary to mount a viable presidential campaign,” tut-tuts The New York Times, which seems to be breathing one long sigh of relief in its recent profile of Paul. “Rand Paul’s Plan to Save Ukraine is Completely Nuts,” avers amateur psychologist Jonathan Chait at New York.

March 19, 2014

Dark Dungeons Teaser Trailer

Filed under: Gaming, Humour, Media, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Published on 18 Mar 2014

Dark Dungeons brings Jack Chick’s 1984 masterpiece to the silver screen. Visit http://darkdungeonsthemovie.com/ for exclusive updates!

Debbie and Marcie arrive at college unaware of the dangers of RPGing. They are soon indoctrinated into this dangerous lifestyle where they face the threat of learning real life magical powers, being invited to join a witches’ coven, and resisting the lure of Ms. Frost, a vile temptress of a GM. But what peril must the two friends face when they stumble across the Necronomicon and their fantasy game becomes a reality game? Find out in Dark Dungeons!

March 4, 2014

“Comedy turned inward and became domesticated [and] smaller”

Filed under: Humour, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:41

In the New York Post, Kyle Smith discusses the comedians of the 1970s and their modern day successors:

As Chevy Chase might have put it on Saturday Night Live, Harold Ramis is still dead. And with him has gone the finest era of comedy: The ’70s kind.

Ramis was as close to the king of comedy as it gets, as a writer, director and occasional sidekick for Animal House, Meatballs, Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters, Back to School, National Lampoon’s Vacation and Groundhog Day.

[...]

Taking off with the movie M*A*S*H in 1970 — a huge hit that grossed $450 million in today’s dollars — and its spinoff sitcom, ’70s comedy ruled from an anti-throne of contempt for authority in all shapes. College deans, student body presidents, Army sergeants and officers, country-club swells, snooty professors and the EPA: Anyone who made it his life’s work to lord it over others got taken down with wit.

When the smoke bombs cleared and the anarchy died, comedy turned inward and became domesticated. It also became smaller.

The Cosby Show and Jerry Seinfeld didn’t seek to ridicule those in power. Instead they gave us comfy couch comedy — riffs on family and etiquette and people’s odd little habits.

Now, in the Judd Apatow era, comedy is increasingly marked by two worrying trends: One is a knee-jerk belief, held even by many of the most brilliant comedy writers, that coming up with the biggest, most outlandish gross-out gags is their highest calling.

H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link.

February 20, 2014

The Lego Movie – blatant anti-authoritarian propaganda

Filed under: Liberty, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:48

Anton Howes says that the recently released film is sheer individualistic and capitalistic propaganda:

The Lego Movie shows us a compelling dystopian world of conformity, regulation and authority where everyone “must follow the instructions” or be “put to sleep”. It is a tale of the battle between the chaotic, creative destruction of freedom, and the rigid, forceful regulation of bureaucracy.

The run-of-the-mill protagonist Emmet is blatantly shown to be brainwashed by repetitive and generic tv shows, corporatist celebration days like Taco Tuesdays, and a perpetually playing propaganda anthem called “Everything is Awesome” with clearly collectivist undertones: “everything is cool when you’re part of a team”. He works with other construction workers to tear down the “weird” and diverse buildings and replace them with generic ones.

But it gets so much better. The dystopian dictator’s position as both the CEO of the Octan Corporation and President of the World perfectly encapsulates the problems with corporatism and monopolies on force. Indeed, his evil plan is stultifying regulation taken to the extreme: he wants to use superglue to literally stick everything permanently into the “perfect” position, relying on a robotic army of “micro-managers” to make sure that everything is exactly how he wants it to be before being stuck into place. There could be no clearer metaphor for the perils of intruding technocrats.

February 2, 2014

Groundhog Day – “…when I say that the groundhog is Jesus, I say that with great respect”

Filed under: Humour, Media, Religion — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:01

Jonah Goldberg‘s 2005 column on the movie Groundhog Day, which just keeps repeating:

When I set out to write this article, I thought it’d be fun to do a quirky homage to an offbeat flick, one I think is brilliant as both comedy and moral philosophy. But while doing what I intended to be cursory research — how much reporting do you need for a review of a twelve-year-old movie that plays constantly on cable? — I discovered that I wasn’t alone in my interest. In the years since its release the film has been taken up by Jews, Catholics, Evangelicals, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, and followers of the oppressed Chinese Falun Gong movement. Meanwhile, the Internet brims with weighty philosophical treatises on the deep Platonist, Aristotelian, and existentialist themes providing the skin and bones beneath the film’s clown makeup. On National Review Online’s group blog, The Corner, I asked readers to send in their views on the film. Over 200 e-mails later I had learned that countless professors use it to teach ethics and a host of philosophical approaches. Several pastors sent me excerpts from sermons in which Groundhog Day was the central metaphor. And dozens of committed Christians of all denominations related that it was one of their most cherished movies.

When the Museum of Modern Art in New York debuted a film series on “The Hidden God: Film and Faith” two years ago, it opened with Groundhog Day. The rest of the films were drawn from the ranks of turgid and bleak intellectual cinema, including standards from Ingmar Bergman and Roberto Rossellini. According to the New York Times, curators of the series were stunned to discover that so many of the 35 leading literary and religious scholars who had been polled to pick the series entries had chosen Groundhog Day that a spat had broken out among the scholars over who would get to write about the film for the catalogue. In a wonderful essay for the Christian magazine Touchstone, theology professor Michael P. Foley wrote that Groundhog Day is “a stunning allegory of moral, intellectual, and even religious excellence in the face of postmodern decay, a sort of Christian-Aristotelian Pilgrim’s Progress for those lost in the contemporary cosmos.” Charles Murray, author of Human Accomplishment, has cited Groundhog Day more than once as one of the few cultural achievements of recent times that will be remembered centuries from now. He was quoted in The New Yorker declaring, “It is a brilliant moral fable offering an Aristotelian view of the world.”

I know what you’re thinking: We’re talking about the movie in which Bill Murray tells a big rat sitting on his lap, “Don’t drive angry,” right? Yep, that’s the one. You might like to know that the rodent in question is actually Jesus — at least that’s what film historian Michael Bronski told the Times. “The groundhog is clearly the resurrected Christ, the ever-hopeful renewal of life at springtime, at a time of pagan-Christian holidays. And when I say that the groundhog is Jesus, I say that with great respect.”

That may be going overboard, but something important is going on here. What is it about this ostensibly farcical film about a wisecracking weatherman that speaks to so many on such a deep spiritual level?

And on the subject of the groundhog whose day it is, here’s an old post with a local-ish connection: A tribute (of sorts) to Wiarton Willie.

January 29, 2014

Pitching the New Deal through film – Gabriel Over the White House

Filed under: History, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:01

I’d never heard of Gabriel Over the White House, so Jonah Goldberg‘s summary was quite interesting:

The legendary media tycoon William Randolph Hearst believed America needed a strongman and that Franklin D. Roosevelt would fit the bill. He ordered his newspapers to support FDR and the New Deal. At his direction, Hearst’s political allies rallied around Roosevelt at the Democratic convention, which some believe sealed the deal for Roosevelt’s nomination.

But all that wasn’t enough. Hearst also believed the voters had to be made to see what could be gained from a president with a free hand. So he financed the film Gabriel Over the White House, starring Walter Huston. The film depicts an FDR look-alike president who, after a coma-inducing car accident, is transformed from a passive Warren Harding type into a hands-on dictator. The reborn commander-in-chief suspends the Constitution, violently wipes out corruption, and revives the economy through a national socialist agenda. When Congress tries to impeach him, he dissolves Congress.

The Library of Congress summarizes the film nicely. “The good news: He reduces unemployment, lifts the country out of the Depression, battles gangsters and Congress, and brings about world peace. The bad news: He’s Mussolini.”

Hearst wanted to make sure the script got it right, so he sent it to what today might be called a script doctor, namely Roosevelt. FDR loved it, but he did have some changes, which Hearst eagerly accepted. A month into his first term, FDR sent Hearst a thank-you note. “I want to send you this line to tell you how pleased I am with the changes you made in Gabriel Over the White House,” Roosevelt wrote. “I think it is an intensely interesting picture and should do much to help.”

You can probably get the overall tone of the movie from this clip:

Even the editors at Wikipedia — hardly a hotbed of proto-fascists — describe it as “an example of totalitarian propaganda”:

Controversial since the time of its release, Gabriel Over the White House is widely acknowledged to be an example of totalitarian propaganda. Tweed, the author of the original novel, was a “liberal champion of government activism” and trusted adviser to David Lloyd George, the Liberal Prime Minister who brought Bismarck’s welfare state to the United Kingdom. The decision to buy the story was made by producer Walter Wanger, variously described as “a liberal Democrat” or a “liberal Hollywood mogul.” After two weeks of script preparation, Wanger secured the financial backing of media magnate William Randolph Hearst, one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s staunchest supporters, who had helped him get the Democratic presidential nomination and who enlisted his entire media empire to campaign for him. Hearst intended the film to be a tribute to FDR and an attack on previous Republican administrations.

Although an internal MGM synopsis had labeled the script “wildly reactionary and radical to the nth degree,” studio boss Louis B. Mayer “learned only when he attended the Glendale, California preview that Hammond gradually turns America into a dictatorship,” writes film historian Leonard J. Leff. “Mayer was furious, telling his lieutenant, ‘Put that picture back in its can, take it back to the studio, and lock it up!’”

Released only a few weeks after Franklin Roosevelt’s inauguration, the film was labeled by The New Republic “a half-hearted plea for Fascism.” Its purpose, agreed The Nation, was “to convert innocent American movie audiences to a policy of fascist dictatorship in this country.” Newsweek‘s Jonathan Alter concurred in 2007 that the movie was meant to “prepare the public for a dictatorship,” as well as to be an instructional guide for FDR, who read the script during the campaign. He liked it so much that he took time during the hectic first weeks of his presidency to suggest several script rewrites that were incorporated into the film. “An aroma of fascism clung to the heavily edited release print,” according to Leff. Roosevelt saw an advance screening, writing, “I want to send you this line to tell you how pleased I am with the changes you made in Gabriel Over the White House. I think it is an intensely interesting picture and should do much to help.” Roosevelt saw the movie several times and enjoyed it. After a private screening, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt wrote that “if a million unemployed marched on Washington … I’d do what the President does in the picture!”

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