THE LAST TEN MOVIES I WATCHED…AND WHY I WATCHED THEM (December 2019 and January 2020)

December’s always a good time for revisiting old favorites so there was a lot of that…Excluding re-watches of Gettysburg and A Perfect Murder, both of which I’ve commented on several times in the past here, and Knives Out and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which I hope to be commenting on in my At the Multiplex category soon!

December 16-The Thin Man (1934, d. W.S. Van Dyke, Umpteenth Viewing)

Because it had been a while, and, when it’s been a while, it’s even more marvelous than when it hasn’t been a while. “You got types?” “Only you my darling.” Who doesn’t want to spend time with that? William Powell and Myrna Loy were always priceless. And here, at the beginning, even the mystery part was good!

December 22-The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938, d. Michael Curtiz and William Keighley, Umpteenth Viewing)

Truth be told, I like at least a couple of other versions just as much, but there’s a lot about this one that can’t be beat, starting with Olivia De Havilland, Technicolor and Golden Age Hollywood, all at their most ravishing. The costumes alone would make this worth regular viewing. Interesting at this distance to note that Old Hollywood has become nearly as mythological as the Robin Hood tales themselves. Perhaps more than any movie of its era, this one carries a tinge of melancholy–where else can one count the cost of so many things modernity has destroyed in one place? Errol Flynn’s offhand charm, De Havilland’s impeccable grace, Eugene Pallette’s foghorn voice, Basil Rathbone’s swordsmanship, Claude Rains’ arched eyebrow. Which of those things could even be faked now, let alone replicated? And who would dare leave them in a movie if the world permitted them to exist in the first place? We are further from them than they were from the Crusades that started this whole thing….at least the other fave versions (with Richard Todd or Patrick Bergin) don’t beat me over the head with that mournful stick!

December 23-The Big Heat (1953, d. Fritz Lang, Umpteenth Viewing)

Because it’s the greatest of all thrillers: peak Lang, peak noir, and the shock of its  mostly unseen violence still strikes deep decades after Bonnie and Clyde and The Wild Bunch have become film school exercises. And because I’ve shown it to several friends, male and female, down through the years and the response to Gloria Grahame’s entrance has always been the same: Who is that?

December 24-The Mark of Zorro (1940 d. Rouben Mamoulian, Umpteenth Viewing)

The Adventures of Robin Hood put me in a swashbuckling mood, so why not? A lot of the elements are the same. Zorro’s just Robin Hood gone to Spanish California after all and never mind Basil Rathbone with a sword, it’s even got Eugene Pallette as Friar-Tuck-of-the-West. But it’s not lesser. Tyrone Power was Flynn’s only match for this sort of thing and the story’s just as good, as are the direction, script, and overall Old World craft. It moves! No better way to say Merry Christmas to yourself!

December 24-Duck Soup (1933, d. Leo McCarey, Umpteenth Viewing)

Unless maybe it’s this. After all, even Flynn or Power against Rathbone is no match for Chico vs. Harpo! With Groucho as the referee. I hadn’t watched this for years and I was a little trepidatious because the last time I tried to watch A Night at the Opera, I didn’t make it half-way through. I was probably just in a bad mood because this one had me rolling again. And was it the most significant historical cultural achievement in the year Hitler rose to power? I don’t know but I sure don’t like to think about what sort of response we’ll have when he comes ’round again. Hail Freedonia!

December 25-The T.A.M.I. Show (1964, d. Steve Binder, Umpteenth Viewing)

Reviving a Christmas tradition from the days when this was only available on bootleg video cassettes. I only have two standards for American film-making: this and The Searchers. There are at least a half-dozen performers here who would have been the best thing ever if only James Brown hadn’t showed up. That includes the Rolling Stones, who “won” the argument over who was going to follow who.

December 26-Sabrina (1954, d. Billy Wilder, Umpteenth Viewing)

Roman Holiday was such an across the board success Audrey Hepburn was bound to be the point of whatever she did for the next twenty years, let alone her next picture. One of the many things I really like about this charming trifle is that Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, who famously didn’t get along, had an odd kind of on-screen chemistry, while she and Bill Holden (who was enough in love with her to promise he would get drunk in every port in the world if she didn’t marry him, a promise he kept after she told him not to be silly) had none. It works so well for the improbable story that I sometimes wonder if Billy Wilder saw how the land lay and planned it that way.

But you can have a lot of fun watching it even if you don’t know any of that. I promise!

December 29-Witness (1985, d. Peter Weir, Fourth Viewing)

A modern updating of Angel and the Badman that’s just as great as the original. Possibly Harrison Ford’s finest hour and peak 80’s Hollywood even if they had to import an Australian director to pull it off. It has grown with time. The only reason I haven’t watched it more over the years is that it was the last movie I saw in a theater with my mother….maybe enough time has passed for the association to soften. In any case it’s a great movie. How Hollywood kept Kelly McGillis from becoming a star would be a real interesting story for someone to tell. I guess keeping her name and face off posters that promoted the feakin’ soundtrack was a start.

January 1-On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969, d. Peter Hunt, Umpteenth Viewing)

For Diana Rigg, a bunch of great action sequences, a thousand small touches that enhance the atmosphere of a satisfying formula and to remind myself that George Lazenby may not have been Sean Connery…but he came closer than anyone has since.

January 3-Day of the Outlaw (1958, d. Andre De Toth, Second Viewing)

The greatest weather movie ever? Maybe. I can’t think of a better one and it’s certainly in the DNA of McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Where Eagles Dare and Runaway Train among many others. Turn the central heat up full blast and you can still feel the Wyoming winter biting into your bones. The atmosphere is intensified by Robert Ryan and, especially, Burl Ives, who provide chilly performances to match the mood. For a surprise, Ryan is the sort of hero and Ives the definite villain while Tina Louise gets a turn that suggests Gilliagan’s Island really was beneath her. The rest of the cast is impeccable, including David Nelson, Ricky’s now forgotten big brother, as The Kid torn between two strong men, nagged by the idea that he may have chosen the wrong one. De Toth’s final western and one of Golden Age Hollywood’s finest….about which I’ll have more to say when I do my Non-canonical Golden Age westerns some time in the new year.

…Til then!

THE FASCISM THING (Adventures in Language: Seventh Journey)

This post isn’t about the Continental Op….but all will be explained.

I receive updates from several email feeds that keep me abreast of the new philosophical wine being poured from old political bottles. The one that pours furthest from the Left at the moment is Medium (I have several others that move round the table and blot the mind from various Conservative and Liberal angles).

Here’s one I got this week, although it was published in early June, when Ninth Phase Trump-is-Hitler mantra was swirling around the issue of the Mexican border (I think the Eighth Phase was “Stormy Daniels” but don’t hold me to it–my attention span isn’t what it used to be).

By all means click through and read the whole thing but there are a few things I want to highlight.

First, I know little about the author, Umair Haque. His brief online bio states he is director of a “media lab” and an “influential management thinker.” That sounds like a standard euphemism for bootlicker to me, but your mileage may vary.

In any case, he does show a certain mastery of commissar thinking.

To wit:

He begins with a headline: “IS AMERICA UNDERGOING A FASCIST COLLAPSE?” (perhaps not composed by him, but, for once, an accurate evocation of what the essay is about–he uses the phrase “fascist collapse” several times).

Of course, the essay answers the headline’s question for those few who didn’t know already–we are in fact in the midst of a fascist collapse!

Next we get this:

Here is the textbook definition of a concentration camp: “a guarded compound for the detention or imprisonment of aliens, members of ethnic minorities, political opponents, etc.” 

Note the ready imposition of totalitarian language–the hammer that always lies at the top of the bootlicker’s tool box.

“The textbook” which provides this particular definition (which you may have thought was the proper province of dictionaries but what do you know?) is Dictionary.com which is not a textbook and is neither more nor less authoritative than any number of other dictionaries-not-textbooks. Thus, in the space of “the textbook definition” Haque allows me to go all Continental Op* and count at least three lies (he’s an exemplar of the crowd who insist we not mince words by using soft substitutes like “falsehood”) in the space of three words.

By “the” he means “a.”

By “textbook” he means “dictionary.” (Textbook would apply, in this case, to a standard work on concentration camps or perhaps fascism, about which more in a minute.)

By “definition” he means something that would be provided by a dictionary–which Haque used even though he insisted it was a textbook, or, rather “the” textbook–and include the full meaning of the word being defined.

Which brings us to “etc.”

What comes after etc. in the source Haque himself cites is this:

especially any of the camps established by the Nazis prior to and during World War II for the confinement and persecution of prisoners.

Now don’t blame him for cutting it short. He didn’t want you to be led astray by equating the “cages” at the US/Mexican border (shown in a dramatic photo above his essay, which, of course, was taken in 2014), with the Nazis right up front.

That comes later, after he’s tied Nazism to Donald Trump’s current practice at the aforementioned border (since rescinded–the essay is from June–by Trump’s own executive order–because that’s just what Hitler, who, in case you are wondering what the “forcible suppression of opposition” about to be mentioned below looks like, had a hundred and thirty of his chief political opponents, including members of his own party he deemed insufficiently loyal, assassinated [not arrested, assassinated] within days of assuming power, would have done), through reliance on rhetoric instead of fact.

That’s the second tool in the bootlicker’s box.

For fun, here’s a “dictionary” definition of fascism (the real issue):

1 often capitalized : a political philosophy, movement, or regime (such as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.

That’s from Merriam-Webster, which used to be considered “the” dictionary, if  one accepted there could be such a thing.

I wonder why Haque didn’t use that one, even in truncated form? Hmmm…

Trump does exalt the nation, although since it’s the American nation, it is tricky to presume he’s exalting it, or race, “above the individual”–“centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition” being anathema to Americans generally and Trump supporters in fierce particular (follow other lines of reasoning in the Medium universe and you’ll find this cantankerousness to be precisely the problem)–or that the faces whom the world’s “management thinkers” tend to front would really excoriate him for proposing such devices, so long as they were the clear beneficiaries. (And it gets to extremes here: At one point, Haque even suggests we are in an era when the leader is beyond criticism–to suggest Trump is being treated as “beyond criticism” is an order of delusion usually associated with heavy use of psychotic drugs.)

As for the rest: The bulk of Trump’s policies–deregulation, rollback of Obamacare, tax cuts, and, lately, moves to implement prison reform and decriminalize weed–have been almost universally away from centralized government. There are arguments to be made, for and against, any of these policies, but even their fullest implementation hardly constitutes oppression, political or otherwise. The one major exception to this anti-authoritarian strain is immigration, where his sins have amounted to enforcing laws long on the books which previous administrations enforced at whim, when they needed a talking point about being tough. (Remember, all the photos of cages, including the one from Haque’s article, that left so many women in my Twitter feed unable to sleep at night, were from the Obama administration and those who reminded them, however gently, were immediately blocked–not me, incidentally, I know better than to challenge such a precious reality with mere facts.)

There’s a lot more in this vein throughout Haque’s piece before it comes to the point he really wants to make, which is that we never did achieve perfection (who knew?) and were always a fascist country anyway.

After all, the Nazis got all their best ideas, like concentration camps, from us.

I guess he thinks those of us who consumed this idea with our Chomsky and Cheerios in 1983, need reminding. Else a new generation needs grooming.

But, as I always used to ask even then: If we’ve always been fascists anyway, how can we “collapse” into fascism now?

And, oh by the way, when did Fascism ever amount to a collapse?

The two most famous fascist countries (Italy and Germany) rose from collapse.

So did almost every other brutal authoritarian regime or party in the history of the world.

First collapse, then tyranny.

And, of course, we are on the path to collapse. I doubt Donald Trump can do anything about that. But it’s civilizational, not political collapse. The political system is working about as well as it ever did–about as well as any ever has.

And it’s about as close to “fascism” as it ever was–within far shouting distance but no closer.

Donald Trump hasn’t altered that equation either.

I might have more to say about that later–why people are really afraid–and it might even have something to do with the “larger truths” Time magazine had to insist they were pursuing when they put out an issue featuring a cover of a little girl who had been horribly and forcibly separated from her mother, knowing full well that no such separation had occurred, and knowing no one would hold them accountable when the lie (we’re not to call them falsehoods remember) was exposed within forty-eight hours…Now that‘s civilizational collapse on the road to tyranny.

And still nothing new.

Meanwhile, Fascism might or might not be the form of tyranny that follows the collapse.

But when the real collapse comes–the one management thinkers at Medium, Time and elsewhere are always thirsting for in the name of “resistance” because it will gift us with the opportunity to reform–there will be some form of tyranny.

Which is why I view “management thinkers,” whatever their professed ideology, with a jaundiced eye.

They are always pointing at some big, shiny ball above your head, so that you’ll be less mindful of the soft, tiny, relentless erosions beneath your feet.

When the chaos comes, after all, there will be an awful lot of managing to do.

These thinkers see themselves charging a pretty penny to rescue us from ourselves then.

And they are a class supremely confident in their ability to find the right boot to lick in order to get paid.

That’s because not one of them has ever been in the room with the Devil.

Else they’d know better.

Remind ’em Eddie….

*From Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op story, “Golden Horseshoe.”

“I was reading a sign high on the wall behind the bar:

ONLY GENUINE PRE-WAR AMERICAN AND BRITISH WHISKEYS SERVED HERE

I was trying to count how many lies could be found in those nine words, and had reached four, with promise of more…..”

My formula for happiness: Read more Hammett. He may have been a communist, but he was no management thinker.

HISTORY RHYMING (Mini Book Review)

I think I’m going to start calling these lengthy passages from my current reading Mini Book Reports. Here’s the first:

From Eugene Davidson’s The Unmaking of Adolph Hitler (1996)

Circa May, 1938:

The Sudeten Germans considered themselves as the prime target of discrimination–socially, economically and politically. They were forbidden on  grounds of national security to work on the fortifications  between the Czech borders with the Reich, nor could their enterprises bid on contracts. Thousands of Germans lost their employment in the postal services after the state was founded (NOTE: in the early 1920s) because examinations were conducted in Czech, which not many of them spoke or wrote. In 1924 a Czech minister, Jiri Stribrny, boasted that forty thousand German postal and railroad workers had been dismissed and replaced by Czechs, and Sudeten Deputy Taub pointed out to the parliamentary budget committee that seven thousand of them had been dismissed even though they had passed the language examination. Moreover the examinations included questions involving details of Czech literary history that were little known to Czechs themselves. As one Sudeten leader, Wenzel Jaksch, wrote, a railway construction foreman might be dismissed for not knowing the birth date or works of a fourth-rate Czech author, and a German employee in a cigar factory (the tobacco industry was state controlled) was expected to know the difference between the durative and iterative of a Czech verb, while Czech members of parliament often themselves failed to understand the expressions in a bill and had to ask for the German or international terminology to be sure of what they were voting for or against. All state employees were required to be proficient in Czech, and the requirement extended to notaries, court interpreters in any language, surveyors, and engineers, as well as district and municipal physicians. Licensed businesses, including taverns, had to display signs in Czech, and German could be used in dealing with the state authorities only when German speakers made up at least twenty percent of the local population. Such requirements were far more severe than those in force in Austria where Czechs had long been protesting any official restrictions on the use of their language. 

The Sudetenland was the last of Adolph Hitler’s bloodless conquests, taken, like the Rhineland and Austria, “without firing a shot.” His next incursion, sixteen months later, would be into Poland, where Germans were not begging to be rescued, and resulted in the proper onset of World War II…which, as even the minimalist history laid out in the passage above demonstrates, was really just an extension and (from Hitler’s standpoint) exploitation of grievances that stretched back decades, if not centuries.

I came across this during my lunchtime cafe reading time today, and it stayed with me when I got home, probably because not a few eminent historians have been noting of late that we are quite likely at the end of the Pax Americana that Hitler’s overreach (and the feckless, though, as Davidson makes clear a few pages later, understandable, response of those ruling the previous World Order) made all but inevitable.

It is a reminder that the losers never forget and “multi” cultures are only ever imposed and papered over by force. The foundational cracks are always lying underneath, awaiting exposure.

I don’t read history to feel better about the world. I read it so I won’t be surprised by the inevitable. The periods of human peace and prosperity, such as we are living through now, tend to be brief and are always followed by one of two results:

Tyranny.

Or Chaos…and then Tyranny.

Of course it’s possible I’m just crabby, the way a man gets when he has an unexpected week off and it rains every day and his web site gets hacked. I’ll get back to reading now.

WHAT’S DIFFERENT THIS TIME…

Just a few thoughts before getting back to normal:

If you follow any political discourse,  mainstream or fringe, you’re almost bound to have heard we’re headed for a new Civil War (no I don’t just make this stuff up!).

There have been a few basic themes developing–a common one, expressed by Terry Teachout (who preaches as a Moderate Conservative and seems to practice as one, too, which makes him a reliable guide to a big chunk of conventional thought) is that we’ll split up into a set of Balkanized states, each going their own way by legal means and diplomatic wrangling, serving their own best interests.

Others predict simple chaos. Still others predict a more tightly controlled central government which will rule by direct force. And, of course, still others think we’ll muddle through somehow, as happened in the 1960’s.

I’m not in any of these camps, nor do I have any big idea of some different possibility no one’s thought of yet. (Though I note I’ve found no respectable opinion provider willing to state another obvious possibility–that of massive military defeat and takeover by a foreign power or powers. I think everyone assumes we’ll be able to nuke our way out of that one. There were plenty who once thought the same about the Soviet Union. Nukes are the new Greek Fire.)

What I do believe is that some things are inevitable. (This is assuming we don’t miraculously return to civilizational norms post haste…and anyone who follows along here knows what odds I’d take on that.)

So, when the Big Breakup comes, next month or next century, it will be different from our first, founding Civil War in these ways:

–It won’t be fought over some straightforward issue like slavery. Slavery rested on a legal structure. It could be changed by legal means. Means that–unlike outlawing “racism” etc.–could be imposed or rejected by a victor.

–Liberal Democracy as we have known it will have no side. If you’re for it, you will be left in the cold. If you resist, see below.

–It won’t be fought by entities who are neatly divided by geography. That means the points of conflict will be purely ideological–and run to the extremes. Those caught openly practicing the minority view in heir own neighborhood will be swiftly rounded up and dealt with by local standards. Richer environs may opt for detention centers (i.e., concentration or slave camps). Elsewhere, public executions will be preferred. Count on attendance being mandatory.

–I don’t know if nuclear weapons will be deployed. The reasons they haven’t been deployed since the end of WWII (i.e., Mutual Assured Destruction) will probably still hold. But everything else will be on the table and the side that deploys them most effectively in any given arena will prevail.

–If anyone does manage to gain some kind of central control over such a conflict, it will be by means that make Hitler and Stalin look like Sunday School teachers (and those who think Lincoln belongs in their company look even dumber than the box of rocks they resemble now).

–There will be no mercy for the loser.

The details of how all this will shake out?

No idea.

Via my usual sources, I am privy to a piece of the soundtrack. It’s from the early, hopeful days….

WHAT WE SHOULD EXPECT FROM INTELLECTUALS….

Nothing.

Here’s one I ran across today:

“Every one of the great charismatic leaders of this century ended up a maniac. He destroyed everything and finally himself—in Stalin’s purges; in Hitler’s ‘final solution’; in Mao’s ‘Revolution.’”

Peter F. Drucker, The New Realities (1989)

I confess Peter Drucker’s name only rang a tiny bell. I had to look him up. Turned out he wasn’t a village idiot but one of those free market thinkers from the Austrian school who spent the better part of the post-WWII era getting us into this mess and wouldn’t have known freedom if it left it’s foot up his crack.

Sharp boys they were.

For the record, Roosevelt and Churchill were pretty charismatic. Also for the record, Stalin and Mao died in bed and in power, old men worshiped by at least as many millions as they slaughtered. Unless Satan was waiting for them on the other side, neither man need have harbored a single regret or gone to his reward any way but smiling.

Only a professional intellectual–petted and paid for–could blind himself to all that in the space of two sentences.

Me, if I wanted to tie present circumstances to past disasters (as the blogger who posted the quote surely did), I’d avoid cults of personality and be more direct. As in, “Won’t be water, be fire next time…”

Suckers.