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October 18, 2009


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Earthworm Jim

Wow, first the revelation that Matthew McConaughey can't stand up by himself, and now this! (In case you missed it: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/09/23/matthew-mcconaughey-canno_n_296655.html)

The Siren

Hey, I also like The Bad News Bears. There are those who will cite it as THE baseball film. Although for me it's always Pride of the Yankees because I am a rank sentimentalist.

Leo Grin, who writes with great passion about old movies give or take the occasional (cough) offbeat historical interpretation, just started a series on classic film which prompted me to finally add BH to my blogroll on the theory that my readers will read the posts they wanna read and skip the ones that need skippin'. Besides, John blogrolled me a while back which was a very nice gesture. I get traffic from the link so clearly not all BH readers are doctrinaire, although perhaps they are looking and then turning away in horror.

Dan Coyle

Kozlowski's weird. He was a die-hard liberal until Obama got the nomination, and then he had his "Waaaah Libruls mean to me because I disagree" Road to Damascus moment. But he's somewhat fair minded than most reviewers at the site. In fact, I think he just really has a problem with, well, blacks (witness his District 9 review where he whines about the anti-Apartheid message) than he does with the liberal demons that haunt John Nolte.

Cam Cannon's a classic self-loathing nerd. He's spoiling for demons and villains to fight.

I can't even bother to read Mitchell.


Did you just make a reference to the Zero Wing meme?

I think most right-leaning film criticism has failed thus far because it foregrounds ideology instead of actual criticism, making virtually every review (that I've read) either a condemnation of a Hollywood movie's perceived sinister lefty agenda or an expression of surprise at the absence of one. Whatever political baggage most leftist critics bring into the theater tends not to obscure the question of whether or not a movie works on its own terms.

Less smug hipster pointing would help, also.


As I said previously, the Siren is a much nicer person than me. And Leo Grin links to old VD films in his essays, so he can't be all bad.

But a certain p-word comes to mind when I read this bit of Grin prose --

"The power of cinema, I humbly propose, is at its peak when harnessed to the task of refreshing and strengthening our civilizational confidence — our deepest loves, our noblest aspirations, our cherished traditions, the beauty and poetry and truth of our language and songs, our regenerative myths, our..."

-- and it ain't 'passion.' Also, judging from the promo video he's put together, he seems to think "Yankee Doodle Dandy," "The Matrix," "Aguirre: The Wraith of God," and "Fireproof" share some mysterious commonality.

It seems that I'm doomed to be one of the spitballers in the back while the Siren is the patient grown-up.

The Siren

Hisnewreasons, it isn't that I don't have my problems with aspects of Grin's approach and occasionally his prose style (although he has good moments too). It's that I realized a while back that I don't wanna fight people who are out there trying to get others to sit down and watch black-and-white movies. I have a friend who teaches a cinema studies class and says that getting youngsters to watch old stuff is like pulling teeth. Today Leo was touting They Were Expendable. Shoot, I can't object to that. That's GREAT. Go Leo!! And people who actually rent the movie at Grin's say-so may even notice things he isn't pointing out...

Dan Coyle

I just read Cannon's review of Bad News Bears and unlike him, I consider the fact that the parents are near completely absent from the kids' lives to be a giant freakin' plot hole in an otherwise pretty good movie.

Glenn Kenny

@ The Siren & Hisnewreasons: Granted, Grin has excellent taste in old movies, but, as Mr. Thatcher would say, his METHODS...

For instance, look how he commended "The Robe" and "Quo Vadis" (neither of which is actually a good movie, come to think of it) for National Review's "The Corner" (full piece here: http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=NjM5NjA1OTNhNWNlNjE4ZTVhMzM4MzBmOGMxNzQ2ZTY=): "It’s worth noting that stars like Richard Burton, Robert Taylor, Deborah Kerr, Victor Mature, Jean Simmons, and Peter Ustinov all immersed themselves to various degrees in the miserable culture of drugs, alcohol, affairs, bisexuality, and leftist fellow-travelling that soiled Hollywood then as today. Nevertheless, they collectively rose to the occasion in this pair of wholesome, God-fearing pictures, helping to birth a decades-long Renaissance in rousing cinematic tales of battle, pageantry, lust, decadence, beauty, piety, and sacrifice."

Um, excuse me, but aside from everything else, what kind of douchebag (you'll excuse the phrase) talks smack about Deborah Kerr and Jean SImmons like that? Certainly no gentleman, and no individual I would wish to associate myself with.

The Siren

@Glenn -- OMG, he said that about Kerr and Simmons? So glad you didn't point that out on my blog. They'd have been lighting up the torches and heading over to storm BH. And I agree, The Robe and Quo Vadis are pretty bad, with the exception of Ustinov and Leo Genn in the latter. Although they're nice in the eye-candy way that Biblical epics usually are.

There is so much wrong with that statement. The workaholic Ustinov, a druggie? And Jesus H. on a pogostick, Robert Taylor, a LEFTY? Alos, as far as I know his only vice was smoking, which also did in the equally handsome (and more talented) Tyrone Power.

Methinks Grin just attributed everything Richard
Burton ever did to everyone he ever costarred with.

Since we're on the topic, I will also note that Grin goes off in detail on the heinousness of the Japanese, something that Ford's picture (and in this it is damn near unique for that era) carefully did not. As I recall, Ford also show Asian faces reacting in fear and disgust at Pearl Harbor, pretty nervy for 1945.

Glenn Kenny

@ The Siren: FYI, although you probably already understand this, while I know that neither "The Robe" nor "Quo Vadis" are any damn good, of course I love both films quite dearly, for the glorious Technicolor, breathtaking Cinemascope (the former only) and all that other guff. And accents, and lions, and emperors, and all that rot.


To the Siren --

I'll try to emulate your spirit of generosity and stop picking on Leo Grin.

On the subject of young brats and old movies, has it really gotten more difficult to get the former to watch the latter? I remember overhearing a young lady in a video store declaring that she would never watch any movie made before 1980. And that was during the MID-eighties.

And on the subject of "They Were Expendable," I notice that it switches the relationship I've usually seen in John Wayne war movies. In the others I've viewed -- Back to Bataan, Sands of Iwo Jima, Operation Pacific -- he's usually the authority figure who teaches a thing of two to another soldier. Here he's the guy who needs to be taught. Am I wrong in guessing that was an atypical role for him?

Tony Dayoub

Sorry, it took me so long to chime in, but I had to look up my own review of QUO VADIS to make sure I didn't undeservedly praise the film. ;)

Of course, I agree with Glenn that "...although you probably already understand this, while I know that neither 'The Robe' nor 'Quo Vadis' are any damn good, of course I love both films quite dearly, for the glorious Technicolor, breathtaking Cinemascope (the former only) and all that other guff. And accents, and lions, and emperors, and all that rot."

And my review really is a paean to Ustinov's performance in the film anyway. I also agree with you, Siren, on the subject of Genn.

As for Taylor, I echo the Siren's exclamatory "LEFTY?" Wasn't one the fact that he HAPPILY participated in naming names during the HUAC hearings one of Taylor's most notable personal achievements?

The Siren

@Hisnewreasons -- Well, I have higher standards for someone in a cinema studies class than I do for a person in a video store, although I take your point.

@Tony - I have a love/hate relationship with Biblical epics. On the one hand, they are usually tosh, with highfalutin' dialogue and a bunch of piety gussying up the opportunity to watch sweaty gladiators and scantily clad dancing maidens. On the other, they are usually great-looking tosh with stage actors and other greats chewing the scenery, the props, the cinematographer, the key lights...

By the by, IMDB backs up my recollection that Mature was a Republican. Such an odd, odd group to use to vent your spleen at Hollywood decadence and leftism.

Michael Dempsey

Robert Taylor did name names to HUAC -- and "HAPPILY", as Tony Dayoub correctly points out. Would that he had not done so, especially (if his quoted statements are any indication, and they seem to be) with such enthusiasm for so disgraceful an action.

Nevertheless, he was, at his best, a superb and unfortunately undervalued film actor, fascinating for the way he could play off what seemed to be a deeply saturnine temperament against the matinee idol looks and demeanor that, during his younger days, made him appear merely callow but acquired overtones of both bitterness and banked romanticism as he grew older.

For evidence, see "Three Comrades" and then his run of significant Fifties titles: "Devil's Doorway", "Westward The Women", "Ivanoe", "Nights Of The Round Table", "Saddle The Wind" (badly flawed, but with Taylor interestingly cast opposite the young John Cassavetes), Richard Brooks' neglected "The Last Hunt", "The Law And Jake Wade", and, finally, his most moving and apparently last significant role as the corrupt Capone-era mob lawyer turned ardent lover in "Party Girl". The latter even earned him praise from director Nicholas Ray for tackling the role, despite his status as a veteran MGM star (who was on the verge of being cut loose by the studio), like a dedicated Method actor.

Like Elia Kazan, Adolphe Menjou, Gary Cooper, and others, Taylor deserves the severe knocks he has received for kowtowing to the reds-under-the-beds squad. But, also like them, he possessed genuine talents that shouldn't for that reason be consigned to oblivion.


That Grin quote is ridiculous of course, but I don't think he's saying ALL those actors engaged in ALL those activities. He uses the phrase "to various degrees," after all. Again: the quote's ridiculous and misleading. Not defending it. Just interpreting it slightly differently.

My general problem with ideology-based film criticism (right, left or center) is that it so frequently can't see the artistic forest for the ideological trees.

The Siren

@JBryant, my apologies for the rant that is about to follow, but the quote is inexcusably careless. He brackets a list of actors linked by nothing more than the jobs they happened to get in 1951 and 1953, attaches a list of typical Hollywoodish vices and then plunks "to various degrees" on there to cover his ass. Yeah, sure, Taylor was involved in left-wing causes and Kerr was into alcohol and drugs "to various degrees" if you take said degrees all the way down to zero. Even in the format of a short post, he could have been more specific.

And just to prove the point, let's say I'm a wingnut and I want to write a withering sentence or three about the stars of my favorite Biblical epic just to show that hey, they've always been decadent godless apostates out there but at least they used to make CLEAN movies. Here ya go:

"Richard Burton became the world's most famous adulterer and the terror of every bar from Puerto Vallarta to Helsinki. Peter Ustinov supported one-world government, Jean Simmons drank too much when the parts dried up, Deborah Kerr left her first husband and almost lost her kids, Robert Taylor smoked his lungs out and everybody thinks Victor Mature was teh ghey even though he had five wives."

There. It's tendentious, it's irrelevant, it's mean-spirited but at least it's fucking well accurate.

The Siren

@Michael -- The Last Hunt is a neglected classic. I am not much of a Taylor fan, aside from a few bright spots like Three Comrades, Johnny Eager and Party Girl, but he is very good in The Last Hunt. As is Stewart Granger, for that matter. There's a few on your list I should check out though -- haven't seen Devil's Doorway or The Law and Jake Wade.


Siren: No apologies necessary. You nailed what's wrong with Grin's quote. I may be giving him a little more benefit of the doubt than he deserves regarding the intentions of his phrasing, but there's no denying that his assertion is essentially meaningless. I'm no expert, but it may even approach libel. Couldn't Jean Simmons see that and say, "Hey, maybe I had a drink or three in my day, but there's stuff on that list that I never did to ANY degree. Get my lawyer."?


To the Siren --

I can see your point, too. You would think that a participant in a cinema studies class would be more open to the history and variety of film than the average mall rat. You would THINK that, but now I'm remembering my experiences with film classes and the behavior from some of my classmates. And NOW I'm suspecting that it's gotten worse since "The Matrix."

By the way, I noticed that I confused "wrath" with "wraith." Well, Kinski could seem ghostly at times.


What annoys me about Big Hollywood was that Dirty Harry's blog was starting to get interesting, and then they bought him. Typical GOP, just when something gets interesting...

As far as "conservative" criticism goes, I think the problem is less one of ideology than just basic structure. Most critics come from an academic background, and academia is by and large pretty far to the left (by American standards, needless to say). So they're not just defining themselves against a political ideology, which is problematic enough, they also by and large feel the need to reject most of film theory to go with it. Not that I have terribly much regard for most film theory, but when you're criticizing and have literally denied yourself the vast majority of common ground, you're going to flail about quite a bit.

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