Rightwing Film Geek

“We’re marching to a faster pace / Look out, here comes the Master Race”

I haven’t seen the Nathan Lane-Matthew Broderick Broadway show of THE PRODUCERS, based on Mel Brooks’ film masterpiece of bad taste (but since when has that stopped me from commenting on movies involving people named “Mel”). So I have trepidation about the announcement of a film based on the record-setting musical. This remake had best be something completely different from the original movie. Or not.

springtime.jpgTHE PRODUCERS is only (*only*) my choice for 3rd-or-4th funniest movie of all time (the funniest is DR. STRANGELOVE — another pitch-black comedy), but it does have the funniest single scene — the debut of the play “Springtime for Hitler,” an attempt to make the worst play ever. The E! article I linked to says this is the only scene the play takes directly from the film, which is a bad sign, depending on what will surround it. A “vulgar” PRODUCERS has an impossible act to follow, so the easy temptation would be to surround “Springtime for Hitler” with (relatively speaking at least) “nice” material. But what made Brooks’ film great is that the logic of offense is built into its every fiber — the film wasn’t interested in “breaking taboos,” with all the pedagogical schoolmarm baggage that implies. Instead, it just amped the offense up to 12 to reflect how desperate and how unscrupulous were Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom — willing to do anything to get their way, whether it be mash with unnaturally randy little old ladies or to put Nazism on Broadway as kitsch.

When told THE PRODUCERS was vulgar, Brooks responded mock-pompously that “it rises below vulgarity.” But filmmakers now are reluctant to offend as bluntly and gleefully as Brooks, Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Kenneth Mars and Dick Shawn would. Homosexuals, hippies, Jews (on other grounds even), women — every protected group today can find something to hate in Brooks’ film. I don’t see it happening again — and it’s not political correctness exactly. It’s just a generalized “niceness” and unwillingness in mass-entertainment to ridicule a potential audience segment. In other words, if the rest of the new film is as “nice” as I suspect, the “Springtime for Hitler” number would probably become a mere provocation — and thus unfunny and offensive. It was brilliant as the final capper in the “can-you-top-THIS” series of offense-givings that had preceded it.

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January 13, 2004 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Howard Dean, theologian

dean.jpgProbably reacting to this article in the New Republic, Howard Dean last week played the God card. And God is not mocked.

  • First of all, he says he leaves the Episcopal Church and becomes a Congregationalist over … I am not kidding … a zoning fight concerning a bike path.
  • Then, the Boston Globe describes him as “a committed believer in Jesus Christ” — a man who married a non-Christian and who let his children choose their religion.
  • Then, he describes Job as his favorite book of the New Testament (really) and also mangles a (perfectly legitimate in itself) issue of Job scholarship in trying to prove how smart he is.
  • Then, when asked again about the New Testament, he says “anything from the Gospels” (like, he couldn’t cite a single verse).
  • Then, he says God couldn’t possibly condemn homosexuality because homosexual persons exist. St. Blog’s parishioner David Morrison deserves time off in Purgatory for taking this on with a straight face.
  • Then, in that selfsame planned interview, he cites God as one of the reasons he signed the Vermont gay-marriage-in-all-but-name bill. And not two days later, hold onto your hat, he attacks George Bush in a spontaneous forum for deciding as he did on stem-cell research for religious reasons.

Dean should just can this God-talk in my opinion. It’s not convincing anybody who’d give two hoots about his religious beliefs, because it’s so obviously a recent addition to his portfolio and the mask slips so easily.

I don’t think someone as obviously secular as Dean should be U.S. president (though my reasons for saying that ), but whatever my objections might be on that as such, last week was just aesthetically pathetic. I’d rather have Dean be Dean and then force a clear choice in November (we’ve had triangulation in the Oval Office for 12 of the last 16 years; clear choices are more aesthetically pleasing and have more civic virtue).

It’s clear that Dean understands religion only as a hobby, like restoring old cars on the weekend. As an interesting character quirk, he gets it. As the center of one’s being, as the defining feature of the universe, as something that might “inform my public policy” (in Dean’s own incredible phrase) or as something really true … you might as well be speaking Latin. But he’s trying so hard and the more he tries, the more pitiful and painful it becomes. It’s like watching the Man in the Grey Flannel Suit try to drag race with the Teddy Boys. Or the professor on the cabaret stage at the end of THE BLUE ANGEL. Or Al Gore trying do Al Sharpton in his 2000 campaign appearances in black churches.

Anybody who’s spent any time in academia, the media, or among blue-state professionals can type Dean in an instant — the secular, progressive, bourgeois man of science (M. Homais in MADAME BOVARY is an early example of the type). But because he has political ambitions in the United States, Dean cannot say what he actually thinks.

In fact, just for aesthetic reasons and basic honesty, he should just say something like:

“y’know, I’m just not a religious man. Belief in the Xtian god makes no more sense to me than belief in the Greek gods. I never think, speak or act with God on my mind. If you think it works for you, fine. And if you think your God is telling you to do something I think is good, I won’t reject your support (unless you have a Confederate flag on your pickup). But I think society is healthier the more secular it becomes, because faith is contrary to reason, and claims of absolute truth are divisive. I think ‘God’ is basically like ‘Santa Claus,’ both as regards individuals and societies. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child.”

I’m not saying this is a theologically-coherent or -correct position mind you. Or that it would matter at the end of DOGVILLE. Or that he would necessarily gain politically (I think it’d be a wash because it would merely confirm what anyone who cares to think about it already knows). Or that he wouldn’t be blazing the trail for, 20 years down the road, a more aggressively atheistic Ayn Rand or Madalyn Murray O’Hair type, as opposed to the basically easygoing secular agnostic I’ve sketched above. But I could retain a minimal amount of respect for the guy. As it is, I’m salivating at pondering whether the landslide will be 40 states or 45.

January 13, 2004 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Last Days of Jane Austen

According to a recent edition of Variety, Whit Stillman has his next project, cited here on this Stillman fan page (thanks, Mark). And it sounds like a doozy. Or a horrible idea.Variety sez:

“Five years after his last movie, ‘The Last Days of Disco,’ American writer-director Whit Stillman is developing a Jane Austen project with Brit producer Stephen Evans. Paris-based Stillman, who first found fame with his Austen-esque comedies of preppy manners ‘Metropolitan’ and ‘Barcelona,’ is adapting two unfinished Austen novels, ‘The Watsons’ and ‘Sanditon,’ into a single script, titled ‘Winchester Races.’
His script merges the character of Emma Watson, a girl returning to her family after a long absence being brought up by her aunt, and that of Charlotte Hayward from ‘Sanditon,’ an attractive country girl taken up by a family of comically optimistic real-estate speculators.”

I’m not sure this is a great idea, trying to combine two at-best rough drafts, but if it’s doable at all, Stillman is the man to do it. The three films he has made so far (METROPOLITAN in 1990; BARCELONA in 1994; and THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO in 1998) are Austenian parables of character, in which people get the mates their virtue deserves, in which nobody is beyond redemption but not-messing-up-in-the-first-place is decidedly better. But even DISCO’s tart-tongued Charlotte and Des find each other. Indeed, Austen herself (“Mansfield Park” in particular) is even explicitly brought up in METROPOLITAN, partly to mock Tom for only reading criticism — in order to get both the writer and the critic, he says — but also to give Audrey a chance to recite the Greatest Conservative Line In a 90s Movie: “Wouldn’t we look just as ridiculous to Jane Austen.”

disco.jpgStillman’s romantic sensibility also matches Austen’s, and both are zeitgeist-buckers. In both a Stillman movie and an Austen novel, and rarely among movie and TV protagonists today, being “a free spirit,” “following your heart” or “being true to your self” are often shown not to be such good ideas. Some things matter more than gratifying your desires, but neither Stillman nor Austen are ever explicitly moralistic, instead seeing the heart as dignified when the head reins it in. Not for them is the authenticity or daring of Lydia and Mr. Wickham, or of Alice and Tom (“Scrooge McDuck is really sexy”). Fanny Price in “Mansfield Park” does explicitly reject a marriage based on property alone, but does not run off with just anyone. As a result, she marries both reasonably well and reasonably happily. When Tom returns after learning of Alice having gotten VD from their one-night stand, the look on *her* face and *her* body language at his withering “is there no limit?” says everything about Alice’s shame, though Stillman doesn’t linger on it.

Stillman’s films are generally very strongly liked by the conservatives who know of them. I have watched LAST DAYS OF DISCO about six or seven times in the past few years, often with conservative friends who don’t watch very many movies, convinced Hollywoof is a den of pagan sin (which it often is, but there are exceptions, and part of why this site exists is to point them out). In those several viewings, the film has grown in my mind and I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that DISCO the most subtly conservative great film of recent years and the best film by Stillman, who was formerly on the masthead of The American Spectator. As James Bowman points out in the best review of the film I’ve read, DISCO (like Stillman’s other movies) is about the wreckage of the 60s sexual revolution without ever having that matter be the surface subject matter or ever descending into a reverse-PLEASANTVILLE polemic. And Stillman’s films are conservative in the sense that they’re about the next generation’s having to deal with the end of the rules of the game, the lack of expectations and romantic rites (presented as a godsend at the beginning by the amoral Charlotte). Like the great French director Eric Rohmer, Stillman’s films have secular and apolitical surfaces covering conservative and religious bones. None of the characters in DISCO “find God” exactly (that would be false to Stillman’s style and unconservative to boot), but there are subtle religious undertones and glancing references that point the right path to those who can see it.

I love Stillman’s films so much [in order: DISCO, METROPOLITAN, and BARCELONA — though all three are in my Top 10s for their respective years] that I have been disappointed by … ahem … his recent inactivity. But if this is the right project, the one that he’s waiting to get his hands on, I guess it’s all for the best. True love waits and all that.

January 13, 2004 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 2 Comments

Some sicko perv …

… sent me a link to this game, which I must denounce as being in inexcusably bad taste about Michael Jackson, making light of this deeply troubling situation. I’ve wasted hours with it already

January 13, 2004 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

My first item back couldn’t be anything other than Mel Gibson, could it?

David Klighoffer, a [political] conservative Jew, wrote a column in the Los Angeles Times (reserved here) attacking the notion, flung against Mel Gibson, that showing any Jewish involvement in the death of Jesus is anti-Semitism. What makes his column new and worth noting is that he details several Jewish sources, including the Talmud and Maimonides, that support the Gospels (though not modern biblical scholarship, which worships the god anti-anti-semitism or at least the god Getmel) in contending that the Jewish leaders of 1st century Jerusalem and some of their followers played a role in the death of Jesus of Nazareth.

I well understand, to a point, moral discomfort about this fact of history among both Christians and Jews, given what some Christians have done under the cry of “Christ-killer.” Certainly, in principle, Gibson *could* have used the Crucifixion narrative to make an anti-Semitic movie. The Times printed some letters to the editor in response, but I must say that I don’t think any really laid a glove on Klinghoffer. And how could they? I’ve said this here before, but I fail to see why the Jewish authorities of the time, or any Jew to this day thinking about truth rather than Christian anti-Semitism, shouldn’t or wouldn’t have sought the execution of such a rank blasphemer as someone who would claim to be the Son of God, but wasn’t; who would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey with his followers waving palms, but who wasn’t the King of the Jews.

January 13, 2004 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment