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February 15, 2009

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Tom Russell

What's especially amusing is that "An American Carol" only made about 7 million. But when your data set includes Indiana Jones 4, which made over 700 million...

Ah, statistics.

Tom Russell

Oops, Indy 4 only made 317 million domestically, and I see they're using domestic numbers. Mea culpa.

Glenn Kenny

Well, considering the grosses of "Moon," and particularly "Ember," they really needed "Indy" to get that particular average up...

Steven Santos

That first article should have been titled "Grasping at Straws". My personal favorite was their inclusion of "Brazil", which includes this hilarious observation:

"Terrorist bombings, national-security scares, universal police surveillance, bureaucratic arrogance, a callous elite, perversion of science, and government use of torture evoke the worst aspects of the modern megastate."

So, basically, "Brazil" represents an exaggeration of how it was to live under the Bush administration. That said, most of the movies are good, but to classify most of them as conservative is quite a stretch. "300" is the best fit for the list, but the movie is garbage.

That quote from the Wall Street Journal is cheating the grosses. If you take "Indiana Jones" out of the anticommunist group, the average drops significantly as all the other movies were major flops. The supposedly pro-communist movies were all independent films, which, of course, are going to average lower than the movies from the first group as they weren't released in many theaters and are going to appeal to smaller audiences because they're not meant to be mainstream Hollywood product like "Indiana Jones" or "City of Ember", not because of their thinly-veiled Stalinesque leanings.

And, Glenn, Woody Allen has been sneaking pro-communist messages into his films since "Bananas". Didn't you know that?

MovieMan0283

Tom beat me to it, but let me second his "bullshit" on the average of An Americal Carol's costs with Indiana Jones'. I think it's safe to say that only one of those films relied overwhelmingly/exclusively on its political conservatism to attract audiences, and it ain't the one that cleared $100 million...or $10 million for that matter.

I really have to check out those two links. I share some of the conservatives' distaste for contemporary cinema, but then they have to go spoil everything with their poor taste. Why not take refuge in a Buckleyesque Western-Civ-fetishizing cultural elitism, rather than this market-knows-best dumbed-down-blockbuster-but-with-a-right-wing-bent kick? At least then they'd have an aesthetic leg to stand on.

Tony Dayoub

How about factoring "Iron Man" in as implicitly pro-communist? After all, Tony Stark starts off as a weapons manufacturer and turns against the military industrial complex.

This would help even out the numbers somewhat.

Glenn Kenny

@ MovieMan: there are one or two such Western-CIv boosting titles on the list, but National Review has wandered so far from the Buckley roots that nobody participating seems to have noticed the most recent film adaptation of WFB fave "Brideshead Revisited." For what it's worth, here's how I break down the films on the NR list:

Masterpieces:

"Metropolitan"
"Brazil"
"The Incredibles"
"Gran Torino"

Creditable to Excellent:

"Master and Commander"
The "Rings" Trilogy
"Simple Plan"
"Dark Knight"
"Groundhog Day"
"The Lives of Others"
"Team America: World Police"

Not-My-Cup-Of-Tea to Meh:

"Narnia"
"The Edge"
"Juno"
"Gattaca"
"Heartbreak Ridge"
"United 93"
"Pursuit of Happyness"
"Braveheart"

Unmitigated Crap:

"We Were Soldiers"
"Ghostbusters"
"Blast From The Past"
"300"
"Forrest Gump"

Red Dawn:

"Red Dawn"

Norm Wilner

As for the apparent Commie leanings of "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" -- I guess threesomes have always been socialist, right? From each according to his ability ...

These people are morons.

MovieMan0283

A second comment was accidentally deleted before posting, but I was going to say I actually thought the NR list was MORE Buckleyesque than I expected (which isn't saying much, but still.)

I like Gump, and think it's more ambivalent about the 60s than its boosters (and perhaps even the film itself) realize, but if I thought it was as draconian about the era - not to mention its sexually abused heroine, whose fate Charlotte Hayes sneeringly implies is deserved - I'd probably consider it "unmitigated crap" too. Surprised to see Ghosbusters on your shit list though - care to elaborate?

What really fascinates me about the NR list, and by extension the increasingly contentious conservative movement as a whole, is its contradictions. One moment we're praising hard-work-gets-you-ahead in The Pursuit of Happyness, the next exalting the hierarchical everyone-in-his-proper place elitism of Master & Commander. Big Brother is good for Batman (and Bush), but bad (and liberal) when it comes to Brazil. And then there's The Incredibles which pits two visions of conservatism - elitist and entrepeneurial - against each other, and gives the former the upper hand. One could even say that the film ISN'T conservative, at least in the modern sense, that the superheroic family is Kennedyesque and patrician in its noblesse oblige while it's the villain who represents Reaganesque values.

In short, conservatives seem torn between two postures: the We're Misunderstood, It's All About Liberty and Individuality school on the one hand and the Yup, We're Reactionary and Elitist and Traditionalist and Proud Of It on the other. Occasionally, these strands can complement or at least not contradict one another, but quite often, as demonstrated above, they lead to a kind of cognitive dissonance - hence the need for various external boogeyman to distract and lend coherence to the variously authoritarian and liberterian forefathers of the right wing (this is another reason why conservatism's had so much trouble since the fall of Communism).

MovieMan0283

Also, I see your second post has a religious bent. It's been said before, so I'll tread lightly on the whole "Jesus hated the profit motive, hung out with the poor and dispossessed, defended the sexually illicit, preached a social gospel, etc." mantra. But can I also point out that Jesus was anti-family? Not only did he avoid marriage and child-rearing himself, but he actively encouraged his disciples to abandon their familial responsibilities and showed scorn for the man who puts family before God.

It's been said that were Jesus to arrive in the present day, his present-day "followers" would condemn him as a communist. But that paints him as too meek. I prefer to think he'd drive THEM from the temple, whip in hand.

Dan Yeager

I'm now tempted to finally see "Red Dawn" since Glen has put it in a category by itself.
Milius has always been to me a strange attraction, a freak of sorts, given his place among the young lions of the early '70's. (Coppola, Spielberg, Lucas, etal.)
He comes across as a sage in Steve Erickson's "Zeroville", a fiction I won't begin to describe since I'm into my fourth beer. (Any one read "Boy Wonder" by James Robert Baker?)
Sorry to wander - burp! - off the path but...
While there are works in any any of the arts that are first and foremost political and which identify themselves with a certain movement or party, it's immature to ascribe to the majority any particular agenda.

Glenn Kenny

@MovieMan: I guess I'm too hard on "Ghostbusters." It's just that the damn thing has never once made me laugh. Even the best Murray stuff. Strange. (And the idea that it's a conservative film by dint of the fact that it makes a couple of academia jokes, and its bad guy is an EPA dude—what a thin peg to hang that conclusion on...)

Your analysis is trenchant, and it points up the varied fallacies one will fall into whenever one tries to pigeonhole a lot of good art into a single embracing ideological construct. Your "Dark Knight" versus "Brazil" comparison hits the nail on the head. By the same token, one would be almost equally off-base to try and claim "Brazil" as a "great liberal film" or some such. It's an anti-totalitarian satire, but not a prescriptive one.

MovieMan0283

Oh, and of course "opposing Nazi tyranny" and "resistance fighters uniting to save lives in World War II" are strictly conservative content (um, who did those "conservative" resistance fighters team up with in real life again?).

I really must stop here, but your second link is about as Buckleyesque as Sean Hannity on a crack binge and it's driving me up the wall.

partisan

I noticed that NR admires "Braveheart" because it shows that freedom is not only worth dying for, but worth killing for. Which suggests that the problem with Gandhi, both the movie and the individual, was that he didn't kill enough Englishmen.

Campaspe

MovieMan, you hit precisely the part of the WSJ opinion piece that had me chucking my copy across the room. Hello, anti-Nazi partisans = it's a conservative movie? Absolutely fucking offensive.

Dan

To be honest, I can actually see a conservative interpretation of some of these movies, but much of it seems rather thin. I think there's only so far you can push a political angle on any movie, and that's as far as the filmmaker has considered that angle. So, something like Milius' "The Wind and the Lion" you can take pretty far. "The Incredibles"? Not so much.

Dan

@partisan

No, they think it inspired legions of America's youth to join the Army after 9/11, and that's why all the libruls hate that poor Mel Gibson.

MovieMan0283

Campaspe, the most ironic part, which I perhaps too vaguely alluded to in my comment, is that apparently the partisans whom the film Defiance depicts were allied with the Soviets - and some may even have participated in a massacre of Poles during the war. But they're fighting fascists, and as Jonah Goldberg has informed us fascists are liberals, so ipso facto... (Goldberg, to be fair, actually had some of the better blurbs in that NR piece.)

Campaspe

Movieman, every now and again over the years I would meet the occasional barroom gasbag speechifying about how the key word in the Nazi party name was not "National" but "Socialist" and now whaddya know, somebody wrote a book, and apparently we are all doomed to hear an even larger number of people quoting it like it's "The Great Terror."

I do agree with Glenn that Metropolitan is a masterpiece, and definitely a conservative movie. The NR paragraph on it wasn't bad. Many liberals love Metropolitan too, though, because it speaks to concerns that often cross party lines, like the coarsening of American culture, the desire for more grace and refinement, to live a life full of good books and fine art and shut out the noise of the worst aspects of modernity. Hell, it spoke to me, although I am definitely not Upper Haute Bourgeoisie, more like pure horse thief, way back. Anyway it's a type of conservatism that is far more appealing than--well, a lot of other stuff on NRO.

zxcvb

I wonder how Whit Stillman feels about the Irrational Review co-opting his films as paragons of neo-con virtue. They don't seem to be able to understand the difference between a film about upper-class solipsism and a film promoting upper-class solipsism.

What? The NR not having a nuanced understanding of something? Impossible!

Tom Russell

I agree with Glenn's classification of "Red Dawn" as "Red Dawn". It's such a strange movie that begins with an absolutely ridiculous premise and then follows it through with absolute conviction and excellent extrapolation. That is, it asks the time-honoured question behind the best speculative fiction, "If 'x' happened, what would it be like?", and they answer that question to my satisfaction. At the same time, "U.S.S.R. invading and occupying part of America" is a pretty damn perposterous "x" to begin with. I can't say if it's a bad movie or a good one, and so I'll be sure to parrot Glenn's classification when asked about it in the future. :-)

John M

'Among the films with more conservative content were "Valkyrie" (with its theme of opposing Nazi tyranny), "Defiance" (resistance fighters unite to save lives in World War II), "Bolt" (which promotes such moral values as loyalty, sacrifice and doing the right thing), "Rambo," "Prince Caspian" and "Gran Torino." They and others in their category averaged nearly $70 million more per movie at the domestic box office than more liberal movies. That group's films range from those with very strong libertine content (such as "Mamma Mia!") or licentious content ("Milk" and "Brideshead Revisited") to those with politically correct content, such as "Sex and the City" and "Under the Same Moon." Also in the category are movies with anti-American content, such as "Stop-Loss" and "The Visitor, and with very strong atheist or nihilistic content, such as "Religulous" and "Wanted."'

I just think this paragraph bears repeating, that's all.

These guys took some horse-strength crazy pills before writing this one.

partisan

About Braveheart, and not only dying but killing for liberty: well we can all agree we have to do that to stop Hitler. But I would think "Come and See" would be a better choice. Or "The Battle of Algiers." If you wanted to name a great movie of the past 25 years with clearly conservative values, I would choose "Russian Ark." I also noted that all of the movies have secular subjects. I don't know how conservative these movies are, (not very actually), but apparently they've never seen "L'Argent," "Nostalghia" or "The Sacrifice."

How odd for Buckley to think "The Lives of Others" maybe the best movie he ever saw. Leaving aside several hundred movies that are better than that which admittedly have nothing to do with communism, I would think that "The Confession" was a much better movie, and more to the point about communism's evils. (A powerful man wants to abuse his power by discrediting someone and getting his girlfriend. He hires an investigator acting in good faith to do the dirty work. Although East Germany is a good place for this to be, given the constant surveillance, this could take place in all kinds of societies. South Korea under the Park regime had similar levels of surveillance.) That reminds me that last year Andrei Wadja made a film about the Katyn massacres (called, reasonably enough, "Katyn") where as it happens his father was murdered. Although it was nominated for best foreign film and Anne Applebaum wrote an article for the New York Review of Books about it, I haven't heard of it since. You might think Big Hollywood might do something useful and get this released.

bill

As a conservative myself, I'll admit that some of these choice really don't work. Like, say, "Brazil", a film I love, but which I would not label right-leaning. If taken too far into a the-way-we-live-now interpretation, it functions more as a paranoid liberal fantasy (which, given Gilliam's politics, it sort of is). But I don't choose to look at it that way, so I'm not bothered by that.

But all of this pointing and laughing at NR for this list seems a bit...let's go with "silly". How many of you dig into basically non-political films that you like and are somehow able to find elements that confirm your own political biases? I think everybody does this to a degree. And better to have to dig for such things, if that's what you want to do, than to have to sit through "The Contender" again.

Campaspe

Zxcvb, I don't find Metropolitan neo-con at all; I think it's conservative in the purest sense of the term, as support for tradition and the things of value from the past. And I do think Stillman likes and respects his characters; they are introspective, not solipsistic.

Bill, Brazil was a particularly egregious misreading, although not quite as bad as a guy some years back who put The Bicycle Thief on a list of the Best 100 Conservative Movies because it showed the relationship of personal property to a man's soul.

Wait, I just looked up the story and it's online, if you can get past the hideous formatting. And whaddya know, it was the National Review again. These guys don't give up.

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1282/is_n20_v46/ai_15905983/pg_2?tag=content;col1

Anyway, the problem with both articles isn't finding political themes in nonpolitical movies. Movies may be about a great deal more than even the filmmakers realize. The problem is the reverse-engineering involved here: I like this movie, therefore it is conservative. Look at the prior 100 list, which opens with an assertion that Star Wars was a harbinger of the Reagan Revolution because it was about good vs evil.

I would agree with you, however, that approaching a film that way is equally obnoxious when done by a liberal. I love Ninotchka, but that doesn't mean it's really a harbinger of 60s liberalism because people fall in love, pursue hedonism and use mind-altering substances (champagne).

bill

That reading of "The Bicycle Thief" is SORT OF accurate, if you allow that the bicycle AS A PIECE OF PROPERTY is kind of irrelevant. But anyway.

Look, I understand the impulse that NR is acting on here. In the last fifty years, give or take, we conservatives haven't really had a film -- or not many, anyway -- that championed our philosophy, while you guys on the other side of the aisle have them coming out of your ears (good ones and bad ones). It's frustrating. It's ultimately also not really that big of a deal, but it IS frustrating.

But that doesn't mean we have to go around misinterpreting other movies, and trying to cram square blocks into round holes, or in some cases, square blocks into a whole different kind of toy. That, like, doesn't even HAVE holes or anything. If you see what I mean. Worse for me, however, is the politicization of goddamn EVERYTHING on the planet, which every political stripe is guilty of. That's what bothers me most of all.

Campaspe

Bill, excellent, well-taken points all, with a couple of exceptions. There have been a number of movies with conservative--as distinct from overtly right-wing--themes in the past 25 years. NRO even names several of them, although Brazil is a head-scratcher. I would argue that the action genre as it's evolved over the past couple of decades is fundamentally quite conservative--wonder why they left off Die Hard? (The old swashbuckler genre, on the other hand, from which at least the first couple of Star Wars movies descend, skews much more leftward. Which may be a small part of why I prefer those old swashbucklers.)

Admittedly, however, the number of movies made since the 60s that a Republican can take to heart on political grounds is not large. There is a profound distrust of cultural matters that keeps many deep-dye conservatives away from the arts professions. And then there is the idea, frequently endorsed in Big Hollywood's comments and by certain posters there (although not Nolte), that art is and should be didactic, which tends to make bad movies no matter which side of the aisle that you are on.

As for The Bicycle Thief, come on ... it's about the plight of the underclass, not some Randian elevation of property rights as the highest form of human rights.

Dan

@bill

As a raging liberal, I'm in full agreement. I'd like to see an intelligently done movie advocating a conservative philosophy; if the guy tells a good story, I'd probably even like the movie. I don't even think it would be terribly tricky; Hollywood used to make them at a fairly good clip and they had a fairly decent hit-to-miss ratio (I'm thinking especially of the noirs about Commie-chasing).

I feel bad for you guys, because you get stuck with articles like the NR's and movies like "An American Carol" as "explicit" conservatism. But at least you still have Clint.

bill

@Campaspe - Good point about action films, and I don't know why neither I nor NR thought of them (outside of "Red Dawn", anyway, about which all I can say is that I loved Glenn's classification of it). My only problem with that genre is that I think most of the ones that could be regarding as conservative aren't all that great. Except I did truly love "Rambo"...

"There is a profound distrust of cultural matters that keeps many deep-dye conservatives away from the arts professions."

I wonder if that's the reason. I admit that I don't have another explanation for why there seem to be so few conservatives in the arts (at least nowadays, but it wasn't always like that). I could offer up some theories regarding why there aren't more conservative directors in Hollywood, but then you would rightly ask "Well, what about in the more do-it-yourself arts?", so I won't bother.

And I'm not saying that I buy that guy's reading of "The Bicycle Thief". It frankly doesn't make any sense to me. My point was simply that the bike as, specifically a BIKE was important to the film, not its existence as a piece of property.

@Dan

Thank you for your sympathetic ear, but, you know -- and this has very little to do with what you said, but you reminded me of a point I wanted to make -- I have to say that when the rare conservative film comes along that doesn't wear its philosophy on its sleave, and is embraced by a the larger film and critical community, anyone who claims that the film contains that element tends to get shouted down. Not to open too big a can of worms, but see "The Dark Knight", or more importantly and more to my point, "No Country for Old Men". Maybe I'm getting McCarthy's book too mixed up with the Coens' film, but it's there. It's absolutely there in the book, and I think it bleeds into the film as well, whether the Coens lean that direction, politically, or not. The point being that it feels like any time a film is touted as conservative, the opinion is treated as absurd.

As to what you actually DID say, Dan: yes, we still have Clint, God bless 'im. And the noirs you refer to obviously came from a time when Hollywood was more conservative as a whole. Not exclusively, of course, but far more so than now. You had great artists whose politics tilted every which way working in Hollywood back then. Why that's no longer the case is a larger, different argument, but it sure would be nice to get back to that point, wouldn't it?

Joel

A person may have certain values, moral or otherwise, that a certain film validates (say, "No Country for Old Men"), and that person may also adhere to a political philosophy in part because of these values. However, the values themselves are not the same thing as the political philosophy. This is just my confusing way of saying that I vote for the Democrats, generally consider myself politically liberal, but also value hard work, honor, individual liberty, personal property, family, the American Dream, and kicking Nazi ass. From shared values, I derive a different philosophy than NR does. Why must "the Left" always be the extreme Marxist left to these clowns? When it comes to cultural matters, NR spends too much time fighting straw men. And, for people who mock Hollywood as "out of touch" they waste an awful lot of energy writing about pop cultural and sucking up to any semi-famous person who identifies as conservative.

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