Rightwing Film Geek

Memories of William F. Buckley


buckleyobit.jpgThere’s more than one man can write about the recently departed William F. Buckley at, of course, National Review. So I’ll just relate two personal anecdotes.

The one time I met him personally was 1993 or so, when I was studying at Notre Dame and he was on campus to give a public speech and then address a private gathering of, I think, the College Republicans. The latter gave me my one opportunity to meet him face-to-face. What I remember happening was that a crowd of hundreds had crashed the small Student Center meeting room where the reception was to have taken place. It was all Buckley could do to get from one end of the Student Center to the other. By pure coincidence that he came upon the spot in front of me for about 10 or 15 seconds of stoppage during that process. Not exactly Altamont, but as close as College Republicans get. He and I didn’t exchange any words, but apparently there was a major-network camera there to record the moment for a segment on Buckley for “60 Minutes” or some similar newsmagazine show. I didn’t notice it. Weeks later, a couple of my colleagues in the department called me to tell me that they had been watching that newsmagazine show “and all of sudden, there’s Victor, standing in front of Buckley, looking at him with the worshipful eyes of a puppy-dog.” Erin and Kevin were quite explicit that I was at the center of the image and it was obviously me and I never said a word because I had such a starry-eyed look on my face. My one moment on national prime-time TV and I never saw it or even knew it was coming.

The other was watching Buckley in high school and college. Firing Line was a Sunday afternoon ritual for me and my father (the McLaughlin Group came on right after, at least on the San Antonio PBS affiliate), as were the 4-on-a-side panel debates that Buckley hosted in PBS during primetime usually two hours long (really, 2 hours in prime time). The debates were usually moderated by Michael Kinsley (another favorite of mine and my father’s, from Crossfire; he and Pat Buchanan were the best pair on that show), but always with the questions worded so that Buckley was on the affirmative side and would give the first and last speech. Organizers privilege, obviously. The first exchange to come to mind when I started writing this paragraph was one with Rep. Charles Rangel. The subject was drug legalization (Buckley furr it; Rangel aggen it) and the congressman was demanding to know what would be the legal status of drug sellers. “Who’s gonna be selling the crack, the smack. Is it gonna be anybody who wants to …” and Buckley interrupted with “that’s a detail. but I would never wish to interfere with your desire that in matters of commerce and trade, that the government should control everything.” Rapier wit and pertinent point combined — that was Buckley. But one of several episodes of Firing Line I remembered as having made an impression on me as a teenager happens to be available via YouTube. WARNING, it’s an hour-long and consists simply of two people talking in two chairs about one subject (yes, kids, they once really did show programs like that on TV). It is Buckley and Kenneth Minogue of the LSE, discussing ideology and political philosophy, and it was one of the things that made me want to be a political scientist (OK, that didn’t work out, but here they are … one hour, in order, after the jump)

Continue reading

March 1, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Shameless self-promotion (plus a point of personal privilege)

Bilge has put up on his Nerve.com blog, The Screen Grab, my worst filmgoing experiences. If you want to read all about Victor being accused of committing the solitary vice in public, or how and where he concluded that God is dead — here is your chance.

Addendum: Why the there-referred-to McNamara line in THE FOG OF WAR is retarded. “Nations with similar values” doesn’t mean anything. Looking at how nations lined up vis the U.S. on the Iraq War — set aside Britain and France (they’re special culture-driven cases). By what standard is Canada (opposed) a “nation with similar values” but Australia (supportive) not? By what standard is Germany and Belgium (opposed) “nations with similar values” but Spain or Italy (supportive) not? Russia, but not Poland and Bulgaria? Turkey but not Kuwait? And if the UN’s gonna get into the act, nothing would be done on anything at all without the approval of Communist China, about whose “similar values,” the less said, the better. Looking at the European and Commonwealth nations named above, with the Anglo-frog exceptions — support entirely turned on whether the government in power at the time was left-led (in which case it opposed the war) or right-led (in which case it supported it). Support for the was pretty much a partisan affair (in the US too). “Nations with similar values”? My tookus.

September 7, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Like a virgin


I watched THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS again last week, for the 23rd time over 15 years, the most I have seen any film. It was playing on TCM overnight and I was up, so … why not.

ambersonsfanny.jpgI know the film and its barrage of perfect scenes almost by heart now … Agnes Moorhead’s great speech as Aunt Fanny comes apart at the end (“it’s not hot”), the high point of the greatest supporting female role in film history; the beautiful ball sequence (“remember you very well indeed”); the sound mix in the leave-taking at the hall (“Lucy, you’ll catch cold”); Welles’ opening narration (“all the ladies who wore silk or velvet knew all the other ladies who wore silk or velvet”); the exchange between Fanny and George in the kitchen over strawberry shortcake and romantic jealousy; Major Amberson looking into the fire; the line “it’s like quarrelling outside an operating room”; Isabel’s dying delirium; “As I walked along the Bois de Boulogne.” I’ve never tired of AMBERSONS and I can’t imagine ever doing so.

Still … what I would give to be able to see THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS for the first time again.

February 18, 2004 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Our Wednesday Visitor continues

david-jp2.jpgMy friend David Morrison describes his meeting Pope John Paul II at a 1996 Vatican audience. There are three photos all told in this section. I find the photos kinda amusing, cause David is so clearly overwhelmed and humbled. It’s like a low-key version of Wayne and Garth saying “we’re not worthy” before Aerosmith or Alice Cooper. (Like I’d’ve acted any differently.)

That WAYNE’S WORLD comparison might strike some as irreverant, and obviously I *am* making a joke … somewhat. One of the amazing things about John Paul’s pontificate is that he wasn’t just (*just*) the greatest man of my lifetime, the man who brought down Communism and forcefully identified the Culture of Death in the West. He was also a *star* of the first magnitude, and by both exhortation and example made the Church fully comfortable with modern communication. He toured the world; he toured the States. He toured the world and elsewhere. And was greeted like a rock star everywhere he went, filling stadiums with chanting fans lapping up the souvenirs (some of them obviously silly; anyone else remember “Pope on a Rope” soap?).

I’ll almost certainly never talk to John Paul personally like David did, but I got some of that “rock star” charisma in my closest encounter with him. In January 1999, on a whim and a couple of days off, I drove all the previous day from South Carolina to St. Louis, where John Paul would have a one-day stopover on his way back to Rome from a visit to Mexico. I wasn’t able to get inside the TWA Dome for his morning Mass and settled for watching it on some temporary Jumbotrons outside (I might have been able to get a ticket from a scalper, but illegally buying a ticket to get into a Papal Mass is … just … no.) But he would be going to St. Louis Cathedral for an ecumenical service and would come out to speak to the crowd afterward.

So I got to the Cathedral as soon as I could and was able to grab the best spot to stand, right on the edge of the street (simonofthedesert.jpgthe curb was blocked off), front row center before the Cathedral steps. About 40 or 50 feet from the top of the steps. And there I stood, in one spot, not moving more than a few inches, for five hours. Or risk losing the best look at John Paul I’d ever get. It’s not exactly St. Antony of Egypt or the film SIMON OF THE DESERT, but it’s as close to flesh-mortifying monkdom as I’ve ever done. When John Paul came a few steps out of the cathedral to bestow a brief blessing on the crowd (no words), the whole crowd (now jam-packed for two blocks) starting chanting “John Paul Two/We love you.” It was really like a rock concert, how everyone just loved the man with a frenzy.

Those days are gone though, as his body is starting to give out (truth be told, he was already showing signs of age in 1999). But still he beatified Mother Teresa and installed another 30 cardinals. Maybe that’s his last witness to the world, refusing to give in to frail flesh — and witness against the kind of treatment of the frail and weak we see in places like Florida.

October 22, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

What seems to be the trouble, Captain?

OK … you never get a second chance to make a first impression. So I won’t bore you with uninteresting biographical details, and instead give you my pitch:

Flaming Reactionary meets Geeky Cinephile.

Roger Ailes and Roger Ebert — in one body.

Imagine Lily Tomlin wanting to yak about Fellini’s camera movements, the Lubitsch touch, and the Dardenne Brothers’ focus puller, while Steve Martin talks about Hugo Black’s dissent in Griswold as the greatest judicial opinion of the 20th century, withdrawing from the United Nations and all international conventions, and the effect of reading Allen Bloom in college. (And if you perfectly understood every reference in that last sentence, plus the opening title, a marriage proposal may be in order.)

Anyway, what I found in about 15 years of cinephilia is that I may be the only person in the universe who’s both a political conservative and an obsessive film geek. Hopefully, I’m not — otherwise traffic here will be extremely low. I hope to have three types of content here.

First of all, my own reactions to the films I see or re-see. Second, my reactions to the reviews and criticism that I read. And lastly, some purely political commentary (hopefully with some film-related peg, but we’ll have to see how that works out). I also hope to learn some HTML in the coming months and build a Web site of which this Blog will be one feature and also have links, personal top 10 lists, some longer essays, my published film criticism (yes, I have some), etc.

But just as Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit has shown that any honest man can perform the Washington-pundit function to the limits of his knowledge and intellectual power, I believe the same thing about the film-critic function. Which isn’t to say, of course, that I believe all opinions are equal (not at all, as will become obvious soon) — simply that the knowledgeable amateur can be just as valuable as the professional.

Every year, I typically see about 80-90 new commercially-released; if you toss in repeat viewings, home video, revival screenings, film festivals and so on, I would estimate that I see a film about 180-200 times a year (don’t be impressed; I know people who can double that). My tastes would strike most people as fairly “arty,” though I don’t think so. I think there is more depth of feeling and intellect, more craftsmanship, more substance, more artistry in some “low” works than some “high” froufrou, and more joy and fun in some slowmoving foreign films than Hollywoof product. My critical idol (obviously) is Pauline Kael, and my favorite films from each of the years in the past decade or so are as follows:

2002 TIME OUT (Laurent Cantet, France)
2001 MEMENTO (Christopher Nolan, USA)
2000 DANCER IN THE DARK (Lars Von Trier, Denmark)
1999 THE END OF THE AFFAIR (Neil Jordan, Britain)
1998 THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO (Whit Stillman, USA)
1997 BOOGIE NIGHTS (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA)
1996 HAMLET (Kenneth Branagh, Britain)
1995 BABE (Chris Noonan, Australia)
1994 BLUE / WHITE / RED trilogy (Krzysztof Kieslowski, France / Poland / Switzerland)
1993 MENACE II SOCIETY (The Hughes Brothers, USA)
1991 BAXTER (Jerome Boivin, France)
1990 THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER (Peter Greenaway, Britain)

The last of these choices will no doubt point out that at least one rightwing film geek, though he is a practicing Roman Catholic, has nothing in common tastewise with Michael Medved (a whole sequence of Hollywood vs. America is devoted to Greenaway’s film) or some of my ideological compatriots (and they *are* my compatriots) who simply have a revulsion for extreme subject matter and want a G-rated cinema. If your idea of film criticism is a Christianity compatability index, or a count of how many nude scenes or swear words are in a film, I’m not your guy. I don’t mind X-rated cinema at all — I just want good and moral X-rated films– and yes, there *are* such films — as the U.S. Catholic bishops recognize with their A-IV rating.

And away we go.

July 9, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment