Published on 19 Sep 2016
Cinemas were already pretty popular when World War 1 broke out in 1914. After initial hesitation all warring nations started to embrace the new mass medium for their propaganda. Since it was technically difficult deliver the authentic material the audiences wanted, the films were mostly staged. Film scripts opened the opportunity to transport any message about the war to a mass audience.
September 20, 2016
September 17, 2016
… the movie is seriously anti-historical in one respect; we are supposed to believe that traditionalist Samurai would disdain the use of firearms. In fact, traditional samurai loved firearms and found them a natural extension of their traditional role as horse archers. Samurai invented rolling volley fire three decades before Gustavus Adolphus, and improved the musket designs they imported from the Portuguese so effectively that for most of the 1600s they were actually making better guns than European armorers could produce.
But, of course, today’s Hollywood left thinks firearms are intrinsically eeeevil (especially firearms in the hands of anyone other than police and soldiers) so the virtuous rebel samurai had to eschew them. Besides being politically correct, this choice thickened the atmosphere of romantic doom around our heroes.
Another minor clanger in the depiction of samurai fighting: We are given scenes of samurai training to fight empty-hand and unarmored using modern martial-arts moves. In fact, in 1877 it is about a generation too early for this. Unarmed combat did not become a separate discipline with its own forms and schools until the very end of the nineteenth century. And when it did, it was based not on samurai disciplines but on peasant fighting methods from Okinawa and elsewhere that were used against samurai (this is why most exotic martial-arts weapons are actually agricultural tools).
In 1877, most samurai still would have thought unarmed-combat training a distraction from learning how to use the swords, muskets and bows that were their primary weapons systems. Only after the swords they preferred for close combat were finally banned did this attitude really change. But, hey, most moviegoers are unaware of these subtleties, so there had to be some chop-socky in the script to meet their expectations.
One other rewriting of martial history: we see samurai ceremoniously stabbing fallen opponents to death with a two-hand sword-thrust. In fact, this is not how it was done; real samurai delivered the coup de grace by decapitating their opponents, and then taking the head as a trophy.
No joke. Head-taking was such an important practice that there was a special term in Japanese for the art of properly dressing the hair on a severed head so that the little paper tag showing the deceased’s name and rank would be displayed to best advantage.
While the filmmakers were willing to show samurai killing the wounded, in other important respects they softened and Westernized the behavior of these people somewhat. Algren learned, correctly, that ‘samurai’ derives from a verb meaning “to serve”, but we are misled when the rebel leader speaks of “protecting the people”. In fact, noblesse oblige was not part of the Japanese worldview; samurai served not ‘the people’ but a particular daimyo, and the daimyo served the Emperor in theory and nobody but themselves in normal practice.
Eric S. Raymond, “The Last Samurai”, Armed and Dangerous, 2003-12-15.
August 20, 2016
Bre Payton wants Hollywood to start treating women as people:
Here’s how I imagine the pitch meeting for Ocean’s 8 went down in a smoky executive boardroom somewhere in Warner Bros.’ studio office.
Balding Male Executive #1: Gee, Colombia Pictures got loudly applauded for that lousy ‘Ghostbusters’ reboot. We could really use some nice tweets from Lena Dunham.
Male Executive #2: You know she doesn’t tweet anything herself, right?
Glasses-wearing Male Executive #3: We could just make another biopic about a queen. . .
Male Executive #2: I’ve got it! We’ll pick a well-loved film and recast all the male leads with female actors.
Balding Male Executive #1: Brilliant! And we can pay them all less because they’re ALL women.
Executive #2: I’ll make some calls.
I’m not the only one who’s sick of having studio executives from the wage-gap capital of the world mansplain feminism. As Amy Roberts points out, Hollywood seems to only be interested in throwing “cinematic slops” to women.
“In 2016, why is it that the movie industry feels as though it can only entrust a blockbuster movie to women as long as the film’s story and characters are based on already successful male ones?” she writes.
She has a point — this is Hollywood — the place where women are consistently paid less than men, the town that forgets about women the second they turn 40, the place where it’s hard for women to get roles any deeper than the shallow end of a kiddie pool, the city that hides its actresses of color.
July 20, 2016
At Instapundit, Ed Driscoll points out the difference in the way the media covered the rise of Barack Obama compared to other politicians:
The blogger Ace of Spades has written about “The MacGuffinization of American Politics.” As Ace wrote, “For Obama’s fanbois, this is not politics. This isn’t even America, not really, not anymore. This is a movie. And Barack Obama is the Hero. And the Republicans are the Villains. And policy questions — and Obama’s myriad failures as an executive — are simply incidental. They are MacGuffins only, of no importance whatsoever, except to the extent they provide opportunities for Drama as the Hero fights in favor of them.”
The media never covered Obama as though he was a normal politician submitting bills to Congress and meeting with foreign leaders. Instead, they covered him as though he was Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart in an epic film as directed by Alfred Hitchcock, hence Ace’s name – the MacGuffin was the otherwise meaningless object that all the characters in an adventure movie desperately want. The microfilm in North By Northwest. The Soviet decoding device in From Russia With Love. The Death Star plans in Star Wars. The Ark of the Covenant, etc.
But I think it’s safe to say that all young people, or the vast majority of them, want to feel their life is some form of an epic quest for adventure, hence the near-universal popularity of films like the original (1977) Star Wars, the Lord of the Rings movies, or Batman Begins, all of which start off with their protagonist depicted as a callow youth, who precedes to then overcomes two hours worth of adversity, to emerge by the time the credits role as The Hero. As Joseph Campbell wrote in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, this quest for adventure is hardwired into most people, all the way back to Homer. (The author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, not the nuclear plant worker who lives in Springfield.) Up until recently, most teenagers felt a similar sense of accomplishment and pride through such traditional avenues as academic advancement, athletic success, or learning a musical instrument.
July 9, 2016
In 2003, Disney brought us its latest animated feature, Brother Bear, the usual New Age mumbo-jumbo with a generic Native American gloss. It told the tale of Kenai, a young fellow in a bucolic Pacific Northwest at the end of the Ice Age. To avenge his brother’s death, Kenai kills the brown bear responsible. But trouble’s a-bruin: his late brother is wise enough to know that killing is not the answer and so gets the Great Spirit to teach Kenai a lesson by transforming him into a bear. He thereby learns that bears are not violent beasts but sensitive beings living in harmony with nature who understand the world they live in far more than man does. I would certainly agree that bears are wiser and more sensitive than man, if only because I’ve yet to meet a bear who’s produced an animated feature as mawkishly deluded as this.
Among the technical advisers on the film, hired to ensure the accurate depiction of our furry friends, was Timothy Treadwell, the self-described eco-warrior from Malibu who became famous for his campaign “to promote getting close to bears to show they were not dangerous”. He did this by sidling up to them and singing “I love you” in a high-pitched voice. Brother Bear is certainly true to the Treadwell view of the brown bears, and he would surely have appreciated the picture had he ever gotten to see it. But, just as Kenai found himself trapped inside a bear, so did Mr Treadwell — although in his case he was just passing through. In September, a pilot arrived at the ursine expert’s camp near Kaflia Bay in Alaska to fly him out and instead found the bits of him and his girlfriend that hadn’t yet been eaten buried in a bear’s food cache.
Treadwell had always said he wanted to end up in “bear scat”, so his fellow activists were inclined to look on the bright side. “He would say it’s the culmination of his life’s work,” said his colleague Jewel Palovak. “He died doing what he lived for.”
I wonder if he was revising his view in the final moments. And if his girlfriend was quite so happy to find she had a bit part in “the culmination of his life’s work”.
You’d have to have a heart of stone not to weep with laughter at the fate of the eco-warrior, but it does make Brother Bear somewhat harder to swallow than its technical adviser manifestly was. There are People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, but sadly no Animals for the Ethical Treatment of People. And, just as bugs are becoming resistant to antibiotics, so the big beasts are changing, too. Wild animals are not merely the creatures of their appetites; they’re also astute calculators of risk. Not so long ago, your average bear knew that if he happened upon a two-legged type, the chap would pull a rifle on him and he’d be spending eternity as a fireside rug. But these days it’s just as likely that any human being he comes across is some pantywaist Bambi Boomer enviro-sentimentalist trying to get in touch with his inner self. And, if the guy wants to get in touch with his inner self so badly, why not just rip it out of his chest for him?
North American wildlife seems to have figured that out. Why be surprised if other predators do..?
Mark Steyn, After America, 2011.
July 7, 2016
In The Guardian, Nell Frizzell talks about the seamier side of Hollywood as it declined from its cultural peak in the mid-twentieth century:
The show, which sounds like a dreamy mix of film noir voiceover, 1940s gossip column and Pathe news broadcast, looks at the now lesser-known figures of Hollywood’s Golden Age; women like inventor of “the vamp” Theda Bara, whose agents claimed she was the daughter of an Arab sheik, born in the Sahara and growing up in the shadow of the Sphinx when in fact, she’d been born in Cincinnati, Ohio; or inventor of grunge Frances Farmer, an alcoholic communist committed to several mental health institutions who later became the subject of the Nirvana song “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle”.
Instead of merely making an episode about the legendary aviator, director and millionaire eccentric Howard Hughes, Longworth uses him to talk about many of the age’s leading ladies with whom he was involved, from Katharine Hepburn to Jean Harlow. “It’s a rubric to tell the story of a lot of fascinating women,” says Longworth. “He arrives in Hollywood in 1925 and starts to disappear in the 1950s, so you can use him to tell the story of Hollywood in that era.” Which is precisely what she’s doing in her upcoming book, which will chart the love affairs of the enigmatic film-maker and pilot who once used his understanding of aeronautical engineering to design Jane Russell a more supportive bra.
As well as the Manson episodes, You Must Remember This has run several other miniseries. There was “The Blacklist”, which looked at the way several of Hollywood’s most successful stars were ruined by accusations of communism by the House Un-American Activities Committee. These included the legendary wit Dorothy Parker, the actor Humphrey Bogart and Charlie Chaplin, who was banished from the US in 1952 for being “sympathetic to the communist cause” – accusations based on little more than Chaplin refusing to cross picket lines in the 1940s, speaking out about the suffering of the Russian people in the second world war and being “prematurely anti-fascist”.
Then there was “MGM Stories”, which told the stories of 15 people who worked in the studio as it went from silent movies to talkies, including Elizabeth Taylor (who once described her 18-year contract as being “MGM chattel”) and the legendary “sweater girl” Lana Turner who burned through seven husbands and countless affairs before becoming embroiled in one of Hollywood’s most shocking scandals after her 14-year-old daughter was accused of killing Turner’s boyfriend Johnny Stompanato. And “Star Wars” looked at the efforts Hollywood stars went to support the war effort – such as Bette Davis and John Garfield’s founding of The Hollywood Canteen, where servicemen could get served pie by, and even dance with, some of the era’s most famous actors, and where Lena Horne was drafted in as the only African-American pinup and therefore the only famous woman deemed appropriate to dance with black servicemen.
H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link.
June 2, 2016
Published on 16 Feb 2016
For those of you want realism in their historical movies. To watch a film that cares as much about about authenticity as you do. Look no further. Over the course of this video you will hopefully understand why this film means so much to me. This is Waterloo
May 26, 2016
Ten years ago, Terry Teachout finally got around to watching D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, and found (to his relief) that it was just as offensively racist as everyone had always said. He also discovered that silent movies are becoming terra incognita even to those who love old movies:
None of this, however, interested me half so much as the fact that The Birth of a Nation progresses with the slow-motion solemnity of a funeral march. Even the title cards stay on the screen for three times as long as it takes to read them. Five minutes after the film started, I was squirming with impatience, and after another five minutes passed, I decided out of desperation to try an experiment: I cranked the film up to four times its normal playing speed and watched it that way. It was overly brisk in two or three spots, most notably the re-enactment of Lincoln’s assassination (which turned out to be quite effective – it’s the best scene in the whole film). For the most part, though, I found nearly all of The Birth of a Nation to be perfectly intelligible at the faster speed.
Putting aside for a moment the insurmountable problem of its content, it was the agonizingly slow pace of The Birth of a Nation that proved to be the biggest obstacle to my experiencing it as an objet d’art. Even after I sped it up, my mind continued to wander, and one of the things to which it wandered was my similar inability to extract aesthetic pleasure out of medieval art. With a few exceptions, medieval and early Renaissance art and music don’t speak to me. The gap of sensibility is too wide for me to cross. I have a feeling that silent film – not just just The Birth of a Nation, but all of it – is no more accessible to most modern sensibilities. (The only silent movies I can watch with more than merely antiquarian interest are the comedies of Buster Keaton.) Nor do I think the problem is solely, or even primarily, that it’s silent: I have no problem with plotless dance, for instance. It’s that silent film “speaks” to me in an alien tongue, one I can only master in an intellectual way. That’s not good enough for me when it comes to art, whose immediate appeal is not intellectual but visceral (though the intellect naturally enters into it).
As for The Birth of a Nation, I’m glad I saw it once. My card is now officially punched. On the other hand, I can’t imagine voluntarily seeing it again, any more than I’d attend the premiere of an opera by Philip Glass other than at gunpoint. It is the quintessential example of a work of art that has fulfilled its historical purpose and can now be put aside permanently – and I don’t give a damn about history, at least not in my capacity as an aesthete. I care only for the validity of the immediate experience.
[…] Thrill me and all is forgiven. Bore me and you’ve lost me. That’s why I think it’s now safe to file and forget The Birth of a Nation. Yes, it’s still historically significant, and yes, it tells us something important about the way we once were. But it’s boring — and thank God for that.
May 23, 2016
Published on 4 Jul 2015
First ever episode of History Buffs. A film review show dedicated only to reviewing Historical movies
May 10, 2016
[The movie] Glory, concerning the raising, training, and early combat actions of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, one of the state’s two free – that’s important – black regiments raised for the Civil War. It’s a good movie, in most respects. But it fosters a couple of half truths which, like most half truths, are wholly misleading.
In the first place, the 54th was not a regiment of runaway slaves. Oh, there are some; men who escaped – self-selecting, like William Carney, as they did – at a time when escape was quite difficult and very dangerous. Most of the men of the 54th, however, were born free. Some, indeed, were born free in Canada. Company G, for example, was recruited in Toronto and came south to fight.
What difference does that make? It makes a vast difference. If one were to peruse the accomplishments of the black regiments in the Civil War, one wouldn’t find much to commend or condemn among the regiments composed of freedmen. Oh, they were important to the war effort, but not for fighting so much as for labor, and to guard behind the lines. The couple of occasions they were given the chance to shine, notably at the Petersburg Crater, circumstances, to include some incredibly stupid decisions, tended to screw them.
So the best we can say of the freedmen regiments is that we don’t know. That said, it would be a very surprising thing – an unconscionable defense of slavery, really – to suggest that having been enslaved didn’t do bad things to one’s character, didn’t set one in the mind of being inferior, didn’t strike at one’s self confidence and morale at the very core.
The good regiments, conversely, 54th and 55th Massachusetts, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Louisiana Native Guard, 1st and 2nd Kansas Colored, 20th USCT … some few others … were by and large free born. They did well, fought well, and, in disproportionately large numbers, died well. But they had never, in the main, been subjected to the literal degradation and decay of slavery while, for that fraction which had, they had either self-selected for sheer obstinate courage or could draw considerable moral support from those who had or who had been born free.
And then there’s the other thing that annoyed me about the movie, that scene where the men of the 54th – explicitly, if wrongly, portrayed as runaway slaves – are issued their first uniforms and everything changes in an instant from disorder, indiscipline, and general raggedness to precision, as if the mere symbol could change the reality.
The very idea is nonsense. One doesn’t overcome a lifetime’s conditioning with a symbol. No, not even if you desperately want to. No, not even if you can convince a court and legislature that your fantasy must be given wing. It just doesn’t work like that.
Tom Kratman, “The Amazon’s Right Breast”, Baen Books, 2011.
March 25, 2016
As with all “top x” lists, there will be some contention over whether they’ve snubbed this or that film or overrated some other film, but overall it’s a pretty good selection:
We could argue all day about the definition of a British War Film and what the best means but for this entirely unscientific list, the definition of a British War Film is one that is largely British in character. They may have been directed by non-British directors, have non-British actors and may even have been made in Hollywood or elsewhere, but they retain that element of Britishness that we all understand. So no Das Boot, Saving Private Ryan, Apocalypse Now or other such great films.
The judging criteria does not include historical accuracy, whether the correct buttons and rank insignia were worn, or whether the film is a ‘visceral and worthy portrayal of the realities of war’ or some other such artsy bollocks, instead, it is simply enjoyability for a wet Sunday afternoon in.
Most of these have a back story that is as good as, if not better, that the film.
Spoiler alert: Zulu came in first. As it bloody well should.
Published on 25 Nov 2014
It’s not quite British, and it’s not quite American – so what gives? Why do all those actors of yesteryear have such a distinct and strange accent?
March 18, 2016
There is a war on. People who can do things, even just the things our parents could do, or less, are losing.
But there is worse. Lately I’ve been running into a new category “people who can’t do their jobs.” And these aren’t just our manual labor imports, I mean, people who supposedly are trained and certified and either can’t or won’t do their jobs.
I know everyone was very impatient with me last year when I was fixing the house for sale, but honestly, there is a reason I do all the manual labor I can. The reason is the tile wall I paid someone 1500 to fix (it had fallen. Long story) and which fell in the night, the day after he put it up. He’d mixed the adhesive wrong. So he came back and fixed it. It fell again. The third time I got a book (this was before Youtube) figured how to do it and did it. This wasn’t an isolated incident. It just keeps happening when someone comes over to fix something. So if I can, I do it.
But there’s more serious cases, like the guy who replaced our brakes but didn’t replace the brake cables. Leading to us losing brake power 15 minutes later. (Thank G-d someone was looking out for us. We lost it a) when Dan was driving. I’d have panicked. Well, he did too, but… he works even panicked. b) we were JUST outside a garage c) we’d been going very slowly.) Or the doctor who convinced himself my 13 year old had an STD and wouldn’t listen to the kid when he insisted he was a virgin. If I hadn’t gone over his head to a urologist, and told the boy to stop taking the antibiotic that was making him ill, my son would probably have died within months. (Of the problem, which was rare, but not unheard of particularly in early teens. As in the urologist identified it on symptoms alone.)
I’ve been given completely wrong instructions by someone selling me a machine or a product. I’ve had ghastly things done to garments or objects taken in for repair because the person who was supposedly an expert on this just couldn’t do it.
Publishing… well, there’s a reason the houses are floundering. And it’s not just the innovation, the end of push marketing, or the fact they can’t wrap heads around Amazon. That’s all I’ll say. Every time someone tells me they can’t go indie because how do they know the book is good if no professional has read it, I remember when I was sitting in a panel with the editor of my friend’s book, (professional, one of the big five) and it became clear not only hadn’t she read the book, but she had only skimmed the proposal. I later watched for the tells and (other than Baen) most of my books were published without anyone but the copyeditor even looking at them. And the copyeditor often sounded like she (it was always a she) had a high school education, even the ones editing history books.
Movie making. Director’s cuts are illuminating. “I filmed that scene, then it didn’t work. I don’t know why” — usually the reason is a gross error in basic storytelling. One anyone who had read a couples of plotting books could fix. But billionaires in Hollywood have no clue. They were never trained.
Sarah Hoyt, “The War On Competence”, According to Hoyt, 2016-03-04.
March 16, 2016
Ian McShane spills the beans on some of the roles he’s played:
… McShane has made this brief return to British television, because this is where he made his name, back in the Eighties, with the comedy drama Lovejoy. That show, in which he played a lovable but roguish antiques dealer, would attract around 16 million viewers and turn him into an unlikely sex symbol.
After that, he went to Hollywood and never looked back, making films such as Sexy Beast, Hot Rod and the blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean. Most notably, he starred in the cult television series Deadwood (2004-06), about a South Dakota gold mining town in the lawless 1870s. He played the saloon bar and brothel owner Al Swearengen, known as much for his poetically foul mouth as for his calm way of being violent. With its subtle characterisation and rich, almost Shakespearean language, Deadwood earned huge critical acclaim and eight Emmys, including a Best Actor award for McShane.
He is also about to appear in Game of Thrones. In his cavalier way the other day, he lit up the internet by letting slip that his character, a priest, brings back a popular character who was thought to have died in an earlier episode. “You say the slightest thing and the internet goes ape,” he says. “I was accused of giving the plot away, but I just think get a f—ing life. It’s only tits and dragons”.
They asked me if I wanted to do Game of Thrones and I said, “Sure, I’ll be able to see my old pals Charlie Dance and Stephen Dillane” and they said, “No, we’ve killed them off.” I wasn’t sure whether I could commit, but then they said it would only be for one episode, so I said, “So that means I must die at the end of it. Great, I’m in.” (And with that, he gives away another plot twist.)
January 26, 2016
Why Superheroes? What is it about the Superheroic genre that makes supermovies better than modern mainstream movies?
The answer is threefold.
First, older mainstream movies, such as GONE WITH THE WIND and WIZARD OF OZ did not follow the modernist and postmodernist tastes which have ruined so many recent movies. Those mentally empty and morally corrupt philosophies had not yet reached mainstream popular entertainment in those days.
So the first part of the answer is not that superhero movies grew better than normal, just that mainstream movies grew worse. This happened as nonconformists of the 1960’s and 70’s became the establishment in Hollywood. Their world view, which I here have called dehumanism, when consistently portrayed, lacks sympathy, drama, purpose, point and meaning; and therefore the films that win acclaim by accurately reflecting the dehuman world-view lose the ability to tell a tale in a dramatically satisfying way. Dehumanity and drama are mutually exclusive. More of one means less of another; and it is a rare genius who can reconcile the two.
The modern movies that most obviously defy these corroded modern conventions are deliberately nostalgic homages to serial cliffhangers: STAR WARS and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. These are among the bestselling movies of all time, and they transformed the industry and the audience expectations: summer blockbuster tentpole movies spring from nostalgic roots.
Second, there have always been superhero movies, such as CAPTAIN MARVEL serial cliffhangers. Not until recently has the special effects been able to match what pen and ink portrays. The amount of suspension of disbelief needed to feel a real thrill untainted with cynicism when watching some feat of derring-do portrayed with cheesy special effects is rather high, and only small children have that much imagination to spare. We grown-ups need more realistic special effects before we will believe a man can actually fly. So technical advances, not any change in the manners and morals of the people, allow superheroics to appear on the silver screen in a fashion that they once upon a time could not.
Third, and most importantly, superhero movies, like homages to serial cliffhangers, are fundamentally nostalgic, fundamentally childlike. One of the conventions of nostalgia is that the audience is not allowed to scoff or look cynical at the simplistic purity of the drama. If someone says STAR WARS is simply too blatantly black-and-white, with its orphaned farmboy hero in a white gi, and evil warlock-knight villain in a black cape, black skull mask, black Nazi helmet, and black lung disease wheezing, that someone just does not “get” the film. The purity of the theme is not a bug, it is a feature.
The superhero movie, along with the crowd of science fiction and fantasy movies, was welcomed into the movie theaters only after STAR WARS made such genre films respectable (which it did by tallying up a respectable profit).
Now, mere nostalgia is not the selling point. GONE WITH THE WIND or MEET ME IN SAINT LOUIS or CINDERELLA MAN or SEABISCUIT are all nostalgic movies, historical period pieces taking place in periods still within living memory (at the time they were made) of the older members of the audience. No, the rise of cliffhanger serial movies and superhero movies are a particular type of nostalgia: a longing not for our childhood, but instead for the stories from serials and comics of our childhood.
And this is for the most practical and obvious reason imaginable: stories from the serials and comics of our childhood were more decent, more entertaining, and, in their simplistic way, a better reflection of the Great Tale of salvation and redemption which makes all great stories great.
Childhood tales of heroes and superheroes are not tainted with deconstructive postmodernism. Tales of heroes are about salvation, saving people in the most literal sense of the word.
John C. Wright, “Supermanity and Dehumanity (Complete)”, John C. Wright’s Journal, 2014-12-13.