'Five Came Back' Trivia Question
According to Mark Harris' book, “Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War,” which Hollywood movie did Joseph Goebbels call “an exemplary propaganda film for [the] German industry to copy”?
Answer in the comments section ...
Quote of the Day
“When you allow global corporations to roam global markets, you make them more powerful than nation states; when you ‘roll back the state’, you reduce the power of the people in each nation; when you ‘cut back regulation’, you allow the biggest corporations to dominate and exploit their territories; when you break trade unions and tear up employment laws, you allow those corporations to ride roughshod over those who work for them. The simple, beautiful idea that people should run their own societies disintegrates, allowing the few to rule and the many to follow.
”Over and again, you allow the hard logic of the market to usurp human choice and so you create a society with the morality of an anthill, where all human life is reduced to labour, all freedom flattened by the demand for efficient production, all weakness punished, all violence justified, where schools and hospitals are cut while crime and alienation flourish and millions are thrown into the deep pit of unemployment.“
-- Nick Davies, ”Hack Attack: How the Truth Caught Up with Rupert Murdoch." Much recommended.
'The Nostalgia is Strong With This One': 10 Thoughts on the Teaser for 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'
I'm sure you've already seen it by now, but here it is again:
Thoughts as I watched:
- 00:13: Ah, the sands of Tatooine. But then, “Phantom Menace” began that way, too. (See: this poster.) Doesn't mean the movie will be any good.
- 00:15: That's not Morgan Freeman's voice, is it? Please, no.
- 00:22: Hey, aren't all stormtroopers clones of Jango Fett? And if this dude's a stormtrooper, and he's scared, well, isn't that good? Or is he a good guy undercover—like Luke and Han in the original?
- 00:29: A bowling-ball droid. I like the 1970s-era markings. Orange and blue were my high school colors.
- 00:39 Cute girl. (Daisy Ridley, it turns out.) And, like Tatooine, playing on our “Star Wars” nostalgia: from what she's wearing, to what she's riding, to the camera movement in on her. It almost feels like a shot-for-shot remake of something in “Return of the Jedi.”
- 00:44: This plays even more to our “Star Wars” nostalgia: the close-up static shot of the rebel in the X-wing fighter. Slightly different-colored uni but same orange eyeshade. Hey, is that Oscar Isaac?
- 00:59: The Dark Side ... has the light? Has delight? And while it looks cool to extend the crackly portion of the light sabre into the guard, creating a cross, does it make it more effective as a weapon? I mean, doesn't it defeat its own purpose? It's supposed to guard your hand, not cut it off.
- 1:00: The return of the Millennium Falcon and that triumphant “Star Wars” score from John Williams. OK, J.J. Abrams, you just won me over.
- 1:20: December 2015? Since when were “Star Wars” movies released in December? (Answer: Never. They've always been released in May. Actually, in a nine-day period in mid-May: May 16-25. So this is the biggest break from tradition in the movie: its release date.)
- 1:25: The Force Awakens? So ... was it asleep?
For all the corporate calculation in this, think how powerful the “Star Wars” myth is. Over a 40-year period, there have been six movies released in six-year clusters (1977-83 and 1999-2005), and yet only two of them have been good. In fact, we haven't seen a good “Star Wars” movie since 1980. Yet we're still all chomping at the bit to see this one. It's either the myth or the nostalgia, and the nostalgia's powerful with this one.
'His Patience Infuriates Me': Another MLK/Obama Comparison
Two patient men. Maybe the 2014 midterms were Obama's “Birmingham Jail” moment.
While writing about the death of John Doar, I was looking through my old copy of Taylor Branch's “Parting the Waters: America in the King Years,” and in the latter part of the book, just a few pages after Doar's memorable, hands-in-the-air calming of a potential riot in Jackson, Mississippi, I came across this passage about a behind-the-scenes battle for Medgar Evers' legacy. I'd forgotten about it. I'd forgotten that Roy Wilkins, head of the NAACP, hadn't been a big fan of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the SCLC. I'd particularly forgotten the passage below, but it's reminiscent of something that's happened during the Obama presidency.
The speaker for most of this is Stanley Levison, whom Pres. Kennedy warned MLK to disassociate himself from since Levison had ties (or once had ties, I'm not quite sure) with the American Communist Party:
Levison poured out a long tale of grievance against Wilkins. “Roy and every single member of his staff except John Morsell ... have carried on against Martin,” he said. For years they had conducted a “dirty campaign” of gossip against King—for instance, spreading the “hair-raising” rumor that King moved to Atlanta in 1960 only because the Negro insurance companies paid him $1 million a month to “hold the Negroes back.” Through it all, said Levison, King kept speaking at NAACP functions, opening NAACP branches, and praising the NAACP in speeches. He did not understand how King had been “so patient with the amount of garbage that's heaped on him.” In fact, Levison said, King's patience “infuriates me.”
The difference is that King and the NAACP were working toward the same goal. Of course you could say Obama and the GOP are working toward the same goal—a safer, more prosperous America—they just disagree vastly on how to get there. One assumes Obama actually feels this way about the GOP (same goal, different methods) even as the GOP decidedly does not about Obama.
There's a phrase in British tabloid circles, “monstering,” or relentless smearing of a public figure to turn him/her into a monster, and that's what the GOP and Fox News have been doing for the past six years with our President. They've called him a socialist, a communist, a fascist. Countless times, they compared him to Hitler for bringing health insurance to millions of Americans. They've not only called him unamerican but a huge chunk of them have said he's not even American at all. Their paranoia seems to run wild, but one wonders what aspect is real and what is political calculation.
But everyone's patience runs out eventually. King's patience ran out in his letter from a Birmingham jail, while Obama's may have run out after the 2014 midterms. Monstering is mostly projection, after all. We know who the real monsters are.
Candice Dyer's Handy Decoder for Whitespeak, Post-Ferguson
Freelance writer extraordinaire Candice Dyer of Georgia wrote the following today on Facebook about some of her post-Ferguson social media conversations. It seems pretty spot-on:
Having read the same arguments, ad nauseum, over the past couple of days ... here's a handy decoder-translator for whitespeak:
- When you preface a sentence with “I'm not a racist, but ...” That means you're a racist.
- When you say “This is not about race at all” ... That means it's exactly about race.
- When you say “This is all about Sharpton and Jackson playing the race card” ... That means you are the one playing the race card ... as a racist.
- When you say “We still have the best criminal justice system in the world even if it's flawed” ... That means that black people shouldn't complain about it, but you can, when it affects you or your child.
- When you bring up O.J. in this context ... guess what?
- Same goes for any talk of Obama “stirring the pot.”
- Same goes for defaming the dead as a “thug.”
And so on. And so on.
I should add, in all honesty, that my own social media conversations have gone the other way. I came home Monday night to the Twitterverse excoriating Pres. Obama for the “split-screen shot”: he was urging calm while on the other side, smoke, fighting and rioting were going on in the streets of Ferguson. Some said, a bit quickly, that it “defined” his presidency, but I never understood what he should have said or how he should have acted. Should he have not been calm? Should he have urged violence? What he said, and how he acted, seemed proper to me. What he said the next day seemed proper to me, too. He'll get excoriated from the right for that. No winning for the middle in America.
Here's Bob Staake's New Yorker cover for next week:
Movie Review: Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia (2014)
People who don’t know Gore Vidal should check this out. For the rest of us? Which I guess is about 100 now? (See: this.)
Sure, it was nice to finally check out footage of a 10-year-old Gore flying that airplane for his father and the newsreel cameras, which he’d written about in “Screening History.” I knew about Jimmie Trimble, of course (“Palimpsest,” “The Smithsonian Institution”), but I didn’t know much about Vidal’s longtime companion Howard Austen, so it was nice getting that. Vidal was closer to Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward than I’d realized. I was also unaware of the Christopher Hitchens angle: How Hitchens was the heir apparent, in both is own mind and Vidal’s, and then 9/11 and Iraq happened. Hitchens pumped for war, Vidal blamed America. He wrote a book without a trace of wit in the title, “Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Cheney-Bush Junta.” The Bushies were so bluntly preposterous they stupefied us all—even Vidal.
But otherwise what was new here? We got his love for his grandfather, his hatred of his mother, his WWII service; then “Williwaw” and acclaim, and “City and the Pillar” and the New York Times homophobic reaction. Years in the wilderness. So TV and teleplays, “The Best Man” and Hollywood. The friendships: Tennessee Williams, the Newmans, the Kennedys. The rivalries, on air and otherwise, in the ’60s and ’70s: Capote, Buckley, Mailer. The house on the Amalfi coast. Myra Breckenridge. The history books and the religious books and the declining health and the return to the states.
It’s basically the Cliff’s Notes to Gore Vidal. But in this bluntly preposterous world, he’s still nice to come home to.
Add another quote and make it a gallon
Vidal, with Mailer and Baldwin, was the last of the great novelist-essayists of the 1950s; now they’re all gone and haven’t been replaced by newer models. Novelists don’t do long think pieces on history and culture anymore, and essayists don’t do fiction.
On the day Vidal died, I combed his books on my shelf and posted about 20 or so quotes that I liked. The doc also liberally sprinkles his quotes throughout. Interestingly, I don’t think we have any matches. That’s how much wit you had to choose from. Among the quotes here:
- “Love is a fan club with only two fans.”
- “In America, the race goes to the loud, the solemn, the hustler.”
- “A writer must always tell the truth as he sees it, and a politician must never give the game away.”
- “Since the property party controls every aspect of media, they have had decades to create a false reality for a citizenry largely uneducated by public schools that teach conformity with an occasional advanced degree in consumerism.”
(Although they really shouldn’t have missed this one: “Put bluntly, who collects what money from whom in order to spend on what is all there is to politics, and in a serious country should be the central preoccupation of the media.” Or this one on Reagan. Or this on Kennedy/Clinton. Or...)
He often went far afield. He was a conspiracy theorist on FDR and Pearl Harbor, but not, thankfully, on Bush and 9/11, since he didn’t believe the Bush/Cheney team was actually smart enough to pull such a thing off. (My view.) Early on, he says of JFK, “He was really the most enjoyable company on Earth—terribly funny,” but later dismisses his presidency as one of the worst ever. But he said this in the 1970s before the great turnaround. He was brutal on Reagan. And on Bush, Jr.? “We’ve had bad presidents in the past, but we’ve never had a goddamned fool,” he says here.
He was the great class traitor. He grew up in D.C. amid power and wealth, was trained at St. Albans, saw himself as a man of the people although he never was. He wanted a new U.S. Constitution. The doc doesn’t go into that. He felt the great betrayal was codified in 1947 with the creation of the national security state. We gave up a Republic, he felt, for an Empire.
His grandfather, Thomas Gore, a blind U.S. Senator from Oklahoma, and one of only a handful of men who didn’t vote for our entry into World War I, told his constituents, “I will never rob your cradle to feed the dogs of war.” He was promptly voted out of office.
That’s the disconnect, isn’t it? The thing doesn’t work no matter what. A new U.S. Constitution, which would be the greatest roll of the dice ever, and we’ll still wind up with us, the propagandized masses. “We forget everything,” he says here—hence the title—but Vidal seems to forget this. Or he dismisses it for better game: the ruling classes; his people.
Someone to laugh at the squares with
At the end, you get the feeling everyone wanted one more bon mot. They waited on it like they waited on the toothless insult from an elderly Groucho. Vidal obliged. “The four most beautiful words in the English language,” he tells the camera at the end of this doc: “I told you so.”
Except he didn’t. He told them, but without the “so.” In his lifetime, most things—save racial matters, gender matters—got worse. How sad to hear him in the 1960s argue with William F. Buckley on the unfairness of a system, our system at the time, in which the top 5 percent owned 20 percent of the wealth. Would that we were still there. By 2007, the top 1 percent owned more than 34 percent of the wealth, and the top 10 percent owned 80 percent of it. And they continue to rob the cradle to feed the dogs of war. Because we let them.
I met him once, in 1999, during a book promotion for “The Smithsonian Institution.” I’d interviewed by fax and met him before the event at Seattle’s Town Hall. He was taller than I’d anticipated, but heavier, and with halitosis. I had trouble conversing with him because of that. Also because he was Gore Vidal and I was a too-polite kid from Minnesota. But even then he was in his elderly Groucho phase. Everyone was ready for the bon mot. Everyone was ready for some dry, acerbic culture. Why not? The alternative, what we normally get, the blunt stupidity of the Bushies, leaves you feeling hollowed out. Gore, he was someone to laugh at the squares with.
Movie Review: Citizenfour (2014)
As the world was learning about Edward Snowden, Edward Snowden was trying to fix his hair.
It’s early June 2013 and he’s in his Hong Kong hotel room, where he’s been holed up for days giving information to both Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill of The Guardian, who then slowly report that information to the world. The story has gone from the NSA getting metadata from Verizon, to the NSA getting metadata from ISPs, to, yeah, there must be a whistleblower out there. And here he is.
But while the world talks about Snowden, Snowden tries to fix his hair. First he puts too much gel in it. Then he wipes some of it off with a towel. Does he wipe off too much? Is he simply frustrated? Is he trying to distract himself from the fact that his life has irrevocably changed? He thought he knew what he was getting into, but now he’s in it, and it’s irreversible, and he’s having doubts.
Up to this point, he’s been pretty straightforward. He’s got chin stubble, an embarrassed, almost pained Seth Rogen smile, an air of an Andrew Garfield character—which it to say, a brave, sometimes failed attempt to stay within himself: to be doing the thing for the thing and not the perception of the thing. He’s coming forward, he says, because it’s no longer the elected and the electorate in America; it’s the ruler and the ruled. We’re the latter, and the former is lying about what they’re doing. The U.S. Patriot Act lowered the threshold for domestic surveillance without court order, but a threshold existed; and the NSA, under both Bush and Obama, obliterated that threshold. They’re spying on all of us.
Snowden wants the story to be about the story (what the NSA is doing) and not about him (the whistleblower), but he knows the media, playing to our need for personality, will make it about him. At the same time, he doesn’t want to appear afraid to come forward. Fuck skulking, he basically says. He wants it out there. On June 9, they finally reveal his name. And the world goes crazy.
Once the world begins to close in, once The Wall Street Journal is metaphorically banging on his door, a look comes into his eyes. Not fear, exactly. More like dread. Documentarian Laura Poitras notices and asks how he feels. He shrugs. “What happens, happens,” he says. “If I get arrested, I get arrested.” Almost everything he says is repetitive in this manner. His language turns back on itself, as if trapped. The look of dread in his eyes doesn’t go away.
When I remember “Citizenfour” I’ll remember the silence of it—the background almost thrums with silence—and the whiteness.
Snowden, who’s tech-geek white, and whose name itself implies whiteness, is first filmed wearing a white T-shirt and sitting on a bed with white sheets and leaning against a white cushiony headboard. Poitras says she initially hated all the white but now feels it works. George Packer compares Snowden here to “a figure in some obscure ritual, being readied for sacrifice.” Me, I was just hoping it wasn’t some precious arty thing: that he starts out wearing white and gradually gets dark. Which is kinda what happens.
The white T-shirt is his uniform for the first few days of interviews. Then, as stories break, we see him in a gray T-shirt, then a grayer dress shirt. By the time he leaves the hotel room, a hunted man, he’s wearing a black shirt and a black jacket.
Intentional? God, I hope not.
I know. Snowden didn’t want this to be about personality and here I am talking hair gel and T-shirts. I’m part of the problem.
I was part of the problem earlier, since I was somewhat dismissive of Snowden’s revelations. The NSA is gathering data on all of us? So safety in numbers, right? Right. Unless, of course, the federal government decides to target you and glean what info they can from that metadata. According to Glenn Greenwald, who has a new NSA whistleblower, 1.2 million (Americans or anyone?) are on the NSA’s watchlist.
For all the good this doc does, we’re still not getting the post-9/11 discussion we need. What I wrote at the end of my review of Jeremy Scahill’s “Dirty Wars” is still relevant. It’s freedom vs. safety, or, in the language here, privacy vs. security, and the post-9/11 argument is that we can’t have both. The deeper argument is: Are we giving up one (privacy) for only the illusion of the other (security)? Or this: Are we simply giving up someone else’s privacy (the 1.2 million) for the sake of our own security—real or imagined?
To me, the discussion begins here; I don’t know where it ends.
Snowden, whose code name is “Citizenfour,” picked both Greenwald and Poitras as his contacts because both are on the watchlist. We get maybe 10 minutes leading up to the June 2013 interviews, and then nearly an hour in that claustrophobic hotel room. Then Greenwald drops away—shadowed everywhere by the media—and he’s replaced by an international human rights lawyer, who spirits Snowden away. Poitras films him leaving the room, and that’s it. Then he’s gone. Off to ... where was it again? Brazil? But stuck in Moscow.
There are a few missed opportunities here. I laughed out loud at footage of Piers Morgan grilling a federal official about the awfulness of intruding upon privacy—as if he’d never been an editor for News of the World. Who isn’t spying on us? If it’s not governments, it’s the media; if not the media, corporations. We’re being spied on by algorithms. Search for a book on one site and it’ll pop up as an ad on another. Maybe the notion of privacy itself will become an outmoded concept in the digital age.
Then there’s the ending. We visit Snowden briefly in Moscow, where he’s now living with his girlfriend. Glenn Greenwald brings him up to date on all he’s learned, but writes down, rather than speaks, the most relevant material, since they all assume he’s being bugged. By Moscow? By us? By Murdoch? But the questions I’d like to ask Edward Snowden aren’t asked. What’s it like being so plugged in—as he was at the NSA—and then being completely unplugged, as he is now? Did he think the reaction of the world was commensurate with the problem as he saw it? I’d ask “The Insider” questions: Was it worth it? If he could go back, would he still come forward? Would he still blow the whistle?
Are we worth it?
These are some of the thoughts I had as I left the theater. Also this: the terrorists won.
'Hunger Games: Mockingjay' Opens at $123 Million, Disappoints
Katniss returns, fewer people show up.
When is a $123 million weekend, the biggest opener of the year, a disappointment? When its predecessors opened at $152 million and $158 million, respectively.
That’s “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1.” And if Hollywood in general and Lionsgate specifically are wondering and worrying over that total, they might want to look to the movie’s tri-part title:
- The franchise name
- The chapter within that franchise
- OK, just the first part of that chapter within that franchise
I don’t know if we’re all getting franchise fatigue, if that’s what this year of downward box office has been about (and if so, good), but breaking up final chapters into two parts, as with “Twilight” and “Harry Potter,” or three parts as with “The Hobbit,” is just being greedy. Cut to the chase, Hollywood. Just tell us the fucking story.
The first two “Hunger Games” movies grossed over $400 million each domestically. “THGMP1” will need good word-of-mouth to do that. The more immediate question is whether it can unseat “Guardians of the Galaxy,” at $331 million, as the year’s biggest hit. Domestic. Worldwide, it’s that crummy “Transformers IV” movie, which grossed $1.08 billion despite massive deflation in the U.S.
Among the runner-ups this weekend, “Big Hero 6” finished second ($20m for the weekend, $135 domestic total), “Interstellar” third ($15 and $120) and “Dumb and Dumber To” fourth ($14 and $57). “DADT” gained 34 theaters in its second weekend but still feel nearly 62%. So we’re dumb but we’re not dumber.
“Gone Girl” is still in fifth place ($2.8 and $156), “Beyond the Lights” in sixth ($2.6 and $10), and then “St. Vincent,” which earned another $2.3 million (including $10 from me) and has now quietly grossed $36 mil, despite mediocre reviews.
After that, a flurry of potential Oscar candidates:
- 8. “Fury” ($1.9, $79)
- 9. “Birdman” ($1.8, $14)
- 10. “The Theory of Everything” ($1.5 and $2)
- 11. “Nightcrawler” ($1.2 and $27)
I’d recommend any of these last ones. Use your brains and all.
- #Pointergate update: Earlier this month, KSTP-TV ran a story that Mayor Betsy Hodges, as part of GOTV efforts, had a picture taken with a “known felon” flashing “gang signs.” The rest of the world pointed out that they were just pointing at each other. But despite the backlash, KSTP's Stanley Hubbard stands by the story. And according to him? Some of his best viewers are black. So there.
- Anson “Potsie” Williams on how Robin Williams turned the worst “Happy Days” script into the best. Well, “best.” I mean, it was still about an alien (and his finger) battling Fonzie (and his thumb) for the soul of Richie Cunningham. Or something. But at least it was goofy. And no sharks were jumped.
- Rare, behind-the-scenes photos from the original “Star Wars”? Again? Yeah, but I didn't know about Lane Loneozner, Camie, and Biggs Darklighter.
- MLB.com has 10 finalists for its 2014 defensive play of the year. Always fun to watch. I was torn between Puig and Kiermaier, and went with Puig.
- Not fun to watch? Kirk Cameron's “Saving Christmas” movie. But it was fun to read Christy Lemire's review about why it was not fun to watch.
- The headline says it all: ESPN suspends Keith Law for defending evolution. At first you think, “OK, but what are the extenuating circumstances?” Here they are: Law was refuting anti-evolution tweets from ESPN's Curt Schilling, who's a bigger name and a bigger doofus. So Schilling fought the Law and the Law lost. World without end.
- Yesterday morning, Nathaniel over at FilmExperience.net alerted me (well, all of his Twitter followers) to the live streaming of the 2014 Golden Horse Awards in Taipei, Taiwan. (Their Oscars.) I watched a bit of it, understood a few words, caught Chen Shiang-Chyi winning best actress for “Exit.” Interestingly, the other actresses in the audience, particularly Tang Wei, didn't quite have the brave face that Hollywood nominees put up during someone else's acceptance speech. They looked a trifle miffed. Best feature was“Blind Massage.” Wouldn't mind checking it out someday. Taiwan used to be my home.
- A Colorado rapper writes an open letter to U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet on the Keystone Pipeline. He also includes 10 Questions for Sen. Bennet. And for you and me.
- Finally, the long read of the week: Ben McGrath in The New Yorker tells us about the rise of the professional cyber athlete via the Korean-dominated real-time strategy game StarCraft II, and the Canadian girl (Scarlett) who challenged them all. It's amazing the miniworlds out there. It's amazing how nasty people can be in them, too.
The 2014 Golden Horse Awards: I like the huge shot of the actress (Chen Shiang-Chyi) in character (in “Exit”).
Quote of the Day
“I’m slipping away. I’ve decided to make friends with it.”
-- Writer/director/comedian Mike Nichols during his last lunch with John Lahr in September, as recounted by Lahr in The New Yorker. One of my favorite Mike Nichols stories is here. Nichols died earlier this week.