The Patriot

I like the Roland Emmerich film The Patriot. It’s the best of a portfolio that borders on the offensively stupid. (OK, maybe some of that is disappointment. This guy should be my hero. But how do you make a worse Godzilla movie than Toho? How do you make a global warming disaster movie which features the cold as a sort-of monster? How do you make so many bad, expensive movies, like 10,000 B.C., and continue to get hired to make more at huge budgets?)

I found myself increasingly irritated by the portrayal of the British. While it was a war and atrocities abounded, I found it hard to believe that the guys who wouldn’t sully themselves to, you know, take cover while shooting, would do anything like the horrific things depicted in the movie.

I remember the controversy at the time and went to look up the Wikipedia entry for the movie; Wikipedia usually carries a “historical inaccuracies” section for every historical movie and I was pretty sure I had read an article on it there (or somehwere). When I went to look, however, there was no entry for inaccuracies.

Then I noticed that there was some controversy, and flipped over to the talk page, where a battle has been raging about the British conduct during the Revolutionary War.

And from a casual reading, the atrocities win out! Some point to this book:

Partisans and Redcoats details the war in the South which was apparently a long list of atrocities (rebels included) and documents Cornwallis’ bad behavior. What’s interesting to me is that the author makes the point that traditional histories just sort of ignore the South completely and don’t talk about Cornwallis until the events leading to his surrender are imminent.

In fact, the author (Walter Edgar) makes a point very similar to the one made in The Patriot: That English atrocities were a big factor in unifying the South against the British. (The ties between them being strong well into the Civil War.)

How about them apples?

I think that makes Mel Gibson 2, Haters 1. (Braveheart, his best historical movie, is also the least accurate.)

In Which You Decide You Can’t Trust My Opinion On Movies Any More

If you ever did, of course.

We watched The French Connection the other night.

Five time Oscar-winning French Connection.

It registered a big “meh”.

Now, if there’s a period of time in the movies that registers a big “meh” from me, it’s the late ‘60s to the late ’70s. Say 1966-1975. Movies from this era tend to have certain elements in common:

1. A mustard yellow/avocado green color scheme. These were popular kitchen colors but the whole decade seems drab and–well, sort of like the ’50s-future gone totally degenerate. One thing TFC had over similar cop dramas is that it wasn’t all this way. There were some very nice shots and some good blocking, some things that presaged The Exorcist.

2. A gawdawful, ugly, brass-heavy score. That’s why John Williams was such a phenomenon with Jaws and especially Star Wars. He brought back the full orchestra and aesthetic music. TFC is slightly different if only in that it relies on some really ugly piano work.

3. An attitude of cynicism and nihilism this generation wishes they could touch. So, in TFC, we have incompetent cops chasing incompetent crooks with a bunch of innocent people getting killed, and the bad guys getting away or getting light sentences because the system is broken, man.

There are probably a lot of other things that I object to, too, but I just plain avoid movies from this era. Even good ones tend to be ruined by one or more of these issues.

The Godfather movies, of course, are both remarkably (and uncharacteristically) beautiful with lovely scores, but the “heroes” are mobsters who are slightly less evil than other mobsters. The Wild Bunch makes sociopaths out of the guys who had been cutting heroic figures in the preceding 50 years of cinema. Serpico has an honest cop lead–but he’s the only honest cop in the world, apparently. Even the Dirty Harry movies suggest that Harry’s the only honest and competent cop around.

The musical dies during this period, with Cabaret putting the nail in that coffin. I love Cabaret, don’t get me wrong, but it cemented the notion that we couldn’t accept the musical as a serious art form. Post-Cabaret musicals would either be fantasies, kiddie pix or the music would have to come from an “organic” source. No more random people breaking out into song and dance.

This was the time of Heston’s Post-Apocalyptic trilogy: Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green and Omega Man. The death of the pro-American war movie with The Green Berets. The death, probably coincidentally, of the big-budget animated feature and Walt Disney. The time of despairing features like They Shoot Horses Don’t They and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Not coincidentally, this is both a time critics are often nostalgic for, and a time when box office receipts were phenomenally low.

If not for the (basically) pre-Boomer Spielberg and Lucas, and Roger Corman’s influence, movie theaters would probably be oddities today.

Getting back to TFC: It’s slow–the vast bulk of the movie is people following other people around! The acting is good, of course. It all feels pointless though, and probably that was the point. Between the nihilism and the super-duper chase scene (which has aged like an episode of “Barnaby Jones”), you had a copy story that you could avoid enjoying for the normal reasons, and could “enjoy” for what it said about The Man.

A Big Meh. For giggles, TFC beat the following movies at the 1971 Oscars:

  • Clockwork Orange, A (1971)Stanley Kubrick
  • Fiddler on the Roof (1971)Norman Jewison
  • Last Picture Show, The (1971)Stephen J. Friedman
  • Nicholas and Alexandra (1971)Sam Spiegel (I)
  • Films not nominated that year include Harold and Maude and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

    It’s Always Older Than You Think

    I pity the poor archaeologist, whose job it is to reconstruct a 5 million piece puzzles with 995,000 of the pieces missing. That said, I’m always confident that whatever the timeline they have built for society, it’s wrong.

    Severely.

    Physicists may have the events right, but they’re always making the universe older, too. But archaeologists have to ignore things like super-accurate pre-Columbian maps of South America, chemical batteries found in the ancient world, etc. Our view of the world is still dominated by an old Judeo-Christian model (that Judeo-Christians probably seldom subscribed to).

    This is one of those things that’s tough to ignore.

    10,000 years ago–long before Western civilization crawled out of the muck–an empire on the Indian subcontinent ruled the world.

    And yet it’s all but forgotten.

    I remember reading Durant’s Story of Civilization, “Our Ancient Chinese Heritage” and being amused at a paragraph spent on an empire that ruled the ancient world for 200 years–that we know virtually nothing about, other than it existed and dominated.

    We know a lot less than we don’t know.

    On Frozen Yogurt and Other Endangered Foods

    In this post on the novel I’m writing in November, 1jpb links to ZPS’s blog entry on Penguin’s Frozen Yogurt.

    Penguin’s used to be everywhere. Now they’re not. ZPS wonders why.

    I discussed this phenomenon with a savvy investor person not as related to Penguin’s, but as it related to Boston Market. He pointed out that there are very good financial reasons to hyperinflate a company until it bursts–provided you know how to get out before it actually does so.

    This happens a lot. Not just with trendy foods, because yogurt was pretty trendy and it’s reasonable to think that any given food trend will pass, as it did with cajun and with–well, does anyone remember the chocolate chip cookie boutique days? That predated yogurt a bit.

    So, there perhaps aren’t as many Mrs. Fields as there used to be because of some financial shenanigans–but there are still some cookie boutiques. Same with Penguin’s and frozen yogurt. I don’t know of an equivalent to Boston Market, at least around here, but we seem to have trouble supporting “American food” here. No more Roger’s Roasters, but plenty of chicken places. Salad bars seem to have mostly vanished, to be replaced by buffets, which I suppose are mostly “American food”. (Though the salad bar places used to be pretty high quality, more upscale for a place that made you get your own food, and the buffets seem to be decidedly low rent.) The Sizzler adapted itself a couple of times, including into and out of the “salad bar” phase, though I think it’s finally gone for good.

    Bob’s Big Boy–and going back a ways, The Copper Penny (I think that was just local) and Sambo’s, and more recently, Baker’s Square and Coco’s: All American diner’s that used to be everywhere and now aren’t.

    The upshot is that there are foods that you used to be able to get and now can’t, or can’t easily. This is a sign of impending old age.

    Most of the foods that I like that no longer exist were not from big chains but from little mom & pop shops that went away. Spaghetti from Mike’s Pizza (in Encino or Panorama City), a Pageburger Club from Page’s (Encino), A Poor Boy Pizza from Jo Mama’s (Burbank) or a carob shake from a little shack outside an arcade in Westwood.

    The carob shake was insidious. You’d drink a little bit and not like it. But then you’d drink a little more. And by the time you got to the bottom, you were hooked. It was sweet, but a little bitter as well.

    Anyway, whaat do you think about remembering lost foods, lost loves, lost places? I tend to think one should severely restrict it, lest one end up sitting on a rocker on the porch, awash in the past, and telling the kids about the orange groves stretching out “as far as the eye can see”.

    Inadequate

    After 9/11, I dropped off the ‘net for several weeks. This is pretty rare for me. I started pretty early (ca. 1991), and the Internet has been an integral part of my life for quite some time.

    But I know my propensity for getting into stupid arguments, and that’s what I saw of participating in online dialogues about what had happened. In some ways, my reaction was the opposite to Ace’s. Not the unreality part: I certainly experienced the sense that what I was watching wasn’t real. But the wanting to share banalities with other people. I wanted to be alone.

    I’ve been told I’m a pretty smart guy, and not always sarcastically. To the extent that that’s true, I think it comes into play, primarily, by knowing where the limitations of that intelligence are. And there’s nothing like a demonstration of pure evil to highlight those limitations.

    One of the big talking heads sort of laid it out for me. I think it was Dan Rather, but it might’ve been Tom Brokaw or Peter Jennings. Whoever it was was talking. He wasn’t saying anything meaningful. He was just talking.

    I’m not criticizing this. He was doing what Ace was talking about: sharing banalities. But for me to contribute to that just struck me as adding to the noise. Worse, I could have tried to be clever, or insightful, or profound. At the bottom of the possible experiences, and perhaps the most likely for me, would be an argument that at some level would trivialize what had happened.

    It was a time for action, but action was just not possible for most of us. Most of us just had words.

    And words were inadequate.

    Georgia On My Mind

    Putin did the one thing that could actually make me vote for McCain.

    I have no desire to see the world slide back into the Cold War. Russia needs to be slapped down, hard for this. But W doesn’t have the wherewithal at this point (does he?).

    More than Western Europe, Eastern Europe is our natural ally at this point. They’ve had a taste of life under the yoke and they don’t like it.

    While I don’t think much of running America down, the story of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution–I always felt we should have done more about that. We shouldn’t have allowed the wall to be built, for that matter, either.

    I just get the same feeling about this. We’re going to let something awful happen.

    Chomskyism

    Eric S. Raymond writes on patriotism:

    I respect that tradition of patriotism by dissent because I am part of it. I’m both an American patriot and a libertarian anarchist. I both love my country and would cheerfully abolish its government and many of its laws as soon as practically possible, in service of a higher loyalty to individual liberty; “Where liberty dwells, there is my country”. Even Americans who disagree strongly with my political stance have no real difficulty understanding how it is compatible with American patriotism.

    and coins the term “chomskyism” as a counterpart to “chauvinism”. (h/t Instapundit.)

    Star Spangled

    Here’s an Independence Day ramble, in honor of the day. First, what’s up with this anti-“Fourth of July” phrasing from the wingnuts? C’mon, people, there’s nothing wrong with saying “Fourth of July”. We’re saying we own this day. (It is interesting that we don’t say “the 25th of December” for Christmas, but then, Christmas hasn’t always fallen on the 25th, eh, what?)

    Growing up when I did, in the shadow of Chomsky and other “useful idiots”, steered by the press, movies and television, my teachers, books and music, my sense of patriotism and love of country is precisely the reverse of many in the preceding generation.

    I grew up mistrusting it and having no sense of what made the USA great, only that we had killed the Indians and enslaved the blacks. We weren’t “all that”. European countries were so much better. (Well, I went Europe as a kid and loved it, but it sure seemed primitive, so I wasn’t so sure about that.) Patriotism was the same as jingoism. Even at eight, I resisted saying the Pledge of Allegiance and regarded as suspect those who waved the flag or were in the military. I laughed at the thought of voting Republican and regarded Reagan as scarier than the Soviet Union.

    Then, I started studying history independently. I never cared for history in school, it seeming to be a long litany of people treating each other badly. Reading Durant is probably what got me thinking, that and reading the L.A. Times. The Times, with its relentless lying–and I think that’s a fair assessment of when bias takes priority over data and allows omissions and “errors” all in the same direction–is probably what made me question The Narrative.

    In essence, The Narrative is what informed me, and I was actually more critical than most. I knew, for example, that the rate of draft dodging in Vietnam was comparable to that of WWII. Even so, my parents were not particularly political, and the various shenanigans of national agencies were becoming public at the time, so it was easy to look at that and believe The Narrative, with its “mistrust Authority” theme, even if the underlying theme of “don’t mistrust our Authority” should’ve been obvious.

    But the more I studied–and continue to study–world history, the more I see what some refer to as American Exceptionalism. It’s not that we don’t have our sins, really, it’s that our sins are typical.

    • Genocide of the Native American? Sounds (and is) horrible. It was a forgone conclusion long before we were a nation. From what I can tell, it’s a foregone conclusion whenever an agricultural society meets up with a nomadic society.
    • Slavery? Every single civilization in the history of the world has a history of slavery. In fact, Keith Chandler theorizes in Beyond Civilization that it’s a requirement for civilization.
    • Imperialism? By God, we are the most faint-hearted imperialists in the history of the world’s superpowers.
    • Militaristic? That’s a laugh. We’re merchants. We have to be roused to attack. Granted, we can be rused to attack (the Spanish-American War and WWI come to mind, and perhaps Vietnam as well). As Iraq shows, we’re the kindest invaders in history as well, with an unprecedented concern for those we’re invading.

    Any empire you care to name, is guilty of all the same sins to a far worse degree, and probably never felt guilty about any of it.

    Meanwhile, the U.S.A. created a vision of freedom like no other. And in its shining moments the realization of that vision is available to everyone who is willing to work for it. (In some moments, perhaps not so shining, it’s available to those who are willing to do something outrageous for the press as well, or those with ambulance-chasers on speed dial.) And our greatness doesn’t stop at our own borders: The infectious ideas of freedom push back, however sporadically, tyranny all over the world.

    I’ve noted many times that the Founding Fathers would be considered as radical today as they were in the 18th century. And sometimes that depresses me. People are so willing to give up their freedoms to a new royalty, to give up on that most basic of premises:

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

    As it shouldn’t need to be said, “all men are created equal” did not mean that all men were the same, but only that all were equal under the law. That there was no divine right of one man to rule over another. The law should treat all equally.

    What a concept. Like “the right of the people to keep to bear arms shall not be infringed”, it’s some plain English that that don’t people believe any more.

    If they ever did. Just like I won’t dwell on my country’s sins on this date, I won’t fault the Founders for failing to change a world population that believed in royalty for the past 5,000 years to suddenly respecting the inherent equality of citizens.

    Self-evident. Self-evident! What an audacious phrase to put there.

    I like to think that that most people probably do accept the right to life. (Oops. For born people, anyway.)

    Liberty? Oh, no. We don’t really believe in that. As Jefferson lamented, the State acquires power and loathes to give it up. But in our day, if not in his, it does so by creating hostility and suspicion of our fellow citizens. “Trust us,” it says, “because you can’t trust them.”

    And despite its miserable failures, many corruptions, and clearly stated counter-intentions, they succeed in convincing us (as a whole). There’s an interesting thread over at Althouse about how children don’t play outside any more and how this is the fault (at least in no small part) to the exaggerated tales of kidnapping and violence that permeate the media. How many of those people would admit that their views of the second amendment (and the other nine amendments!) were similarly colored?

    No, liberty is too dangerous a thing for the common man to have.

    And that most tread upon of the three–the one that really should have been “property”, and God help that poor, deceased right–the pursuit of happiness. I remember the good ol’ days when it was right wing Christians who were taking away your right to, uh, miscegenate (ok, I don’t remember that, but it happened) and liberals were the good guys, protecting your right to, you know, do whatever with whomever.

    Now of course, they’re the clucking hens of “pursuit of happiness so long as it doesn’t leave any trace whatsoever on the planet”. Cars, lightbulbs, food, reproduction–not sex, they’re still pro-sex, as long as you don’t actually use it for its biological purposes of perpetuating the human race–where you live, how you travel, how much you fart, it’s all subject to governmental scrutiny.

    And free speech? I grew up on tales of the ACLU (a bunch of liberal Jews, as Cedarford would have to note) protecting Nazis’ right to have a parade. Now they spend all their time on “freedom from” instead of “freedom to”.

    But here’s the great thing about this country and this day: We have those rights to lose, and we can fight to keep them. And all it’s going to take is eternal vigilance and proper education.

    God bless America. Let freedom ring.

    Fading Stars

    IT IS interesting to me while watching TCM to note which of yesterday’s stars have faded from memory, and which seem (in retrospect) to make you think “What was the big deal?” versus which oversights seem tragic.

    Jean Arthur, in the latter category. A silent actress who made the transition to talkies, and starred in such classics as Only Angels Have Wings, Mr. Deeds Goes To Town (and reprised virtually the same role in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington), and later in her career, Shane.

    It’s probably because she was never a sex symbol and retired early. Whereas, say, Katharine Hepburn worked and was fairly visible well into recent years, and, say, Rita Hayworth was a sex symbol.

    I thought of this because Warren Beatty is 71 today. Over in the Althouse bad movie thread, we were talking about Ishtar, which probably deserves to go in the “forgotten mediocrities” category rather than the “greatest disasters of all time category”.

    Despite the negative pre-press (which was extensive, including absolutely vicious attacks on Elaine May), the movie opened at #1, probably due to the staggering drawing power of Beatty and Dustin Hoffman. (I can’t even tell if I’m being facetious at this point.)

    However, I gotta believe that Warren Beatty’s drawing power at that point was limited to those who remembered his break-through role in the late ‘60s (Bonnie and Clyde) and his few notable other films through the mid-’70s.

    Those whose earliest experience was the pleasant (but not astounding) remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan confusingly titled Heaven Can Wait–and the original, classic Heaven Can Wait was on TV often enough for that to happen even among younger viewers–or worse, the 3-and-a-quarter hour commie-love epic Reds were unlikely to be turning out in force for Mr. Beatty.

    At some point, movies and movie stars fall into the category of “old”. It has less to do with their age and more to do with their activity level. Like Mac Culkin could be seen as “old”, as could Pauley Shore or even, to a lesser extent, Haley Joel Osmont. Any of these guys could come back and start a new career that put them (and intriguingly, their old movies) back into the light, like, say, Virginia Madsen or John Travolta (several times!) but if not, or when they get past the point of no return (say, by dying, as even Don Ameche, Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy had a revival in the ’80s that brought their older movies back into the light), then they just become answers in the big book of movie trivia.

    I think Warren Beatty’s window was really quite small. He really appealed to a segment of the Boomer population for a few years, and that carried him through for the next couple decades of turning out the occasional, largely forgettable flick. And a lot of that “carriage” may have been due to his sex symbol status, and probably tons of favorable press generated by his politics.

    Compared to, say, Jack Nicholson, whose 71st is coming up in a few months, and whose drawing power has been considerable for 30 years. It seems likely that in a few decades, both will fade from the consciousness, though hard to imagine that Beatty will be more of a footnote, and Nicholson’s penchant for delivering memorable movie moments (“You’re not gonna pull that hen-house shit today, are you?”, “Honey, I’m home!”, “You can’t handle the truth!”) will keep him elevated above Beatty.

    But you never know. Jean Arthur should be better remembered, shouldn’t she?