In my world–among my people–he was as ubiquitous as Elvis and as universally beloved. In the world at large he was, after Martin Luther King, the most famous American Christian leader of the twentieth century.
I’ll leave the debate over his significance and the good vs. the bad to others. Of course he was not perfect. He walked with kings a little too often for the common touch not to wear off now and again. He should never have abetted Richard Nixon’s anti-Semitism even in private (some ways, doing it in private was worse, especially when he clearly did it to curry favor rather than from shared conviction). Even in old age, he should have been more resolute in the face of Islamic terror after 9/11. He was a bit soft on our own fundamentalists, too–soft enough to let them not only tie themselves up in party politics but become confused in the public mind not just with Evangelicals (of whom they are a small minority) but with Protestants (of whom they are but a fraction) and finally, all Christians (of whom they are a fraction of a percent). Some (not all) of this is on his head and one could go on.
But against all that, and without even mentioning his legion of good works, I’ll say this: There are very few televangelists of any era I can count on to be with “my people” on the last day.
….and the Betrayed: Suffer them for they are with you always.
As of this morning, the strongest voices–virtually the only voices–pushing back against the war drums beating in the Near and Far East, are Tulsi Gabbard and the Paleo-Right (Jones, Savage, Rockwell, Coulter).
The crazies, in other words. Business as usual.
The Responsible Democracts (now led by HIllary Clinton, with Obama, having served faithfully and well, conveniently inabsentia, she spent the morning of Trump’s strike against a single airbase calling for the destruction of all Syrian airbases…of course she did) joined by Responsible Republicans (led always by Ms. Clinton’s erstwhile ally, John McCain, who, behind his death-mask grin, assures us that order has been restored) are working hard to get Donald Trump (who ran against all of them and, for the first time, seems politically, as opposed to morally or intellectually, confused) on their side.
In other words, they’re warming up to him.
If Trump keeps going along, expect confusion on Twitter, Facebook and CNN, as Lefties try to adjust….We’ll hear a lot of “Well he’s a horrible human being of course, but….”
What comes after “but” won’t matter.
I’m not saying it will go this way. Just that if the first step–Trump’s public capitulation to business-as-usual Security Statism–isn’t reversed by concrete action, and soon, the rest will follow as naturally as water running downhill. Even having gone no further than this, Howard Dean and other reliable bellwethers of Elite Opinion are already calling for Gabbard’s removal. It’s unclear whether they think the “people of Hawaii” should wait for one of those silly old elections.
Get your bets down now on how long it is before they’re calling her a Russian Agent.
I’m laying six-fifty-and-even on a week from Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Trump’s actions are only surprising in that they constitute his first serious misreading of his base. Bringing back jobs and Build That Wall won’t matter much if he goes all Slim Pickens and brings us “toe to toe with the Russkies.”
And he won’t dodge the matrix of fates he turned into serious possibilities by opposing the Security State in the first place.
Playing nice won’t help him avoid the Standard Options: assassination (the Kennedy Option), impeachment/removal (the Nixon Option) or political humiliation, up to and including possible sabotage of military operations (the Carter Option).
The Intelligence Community won’t stop hating him if he becomes their puppet.
And they won’t start trusting him, no matter how hemmed in or subservient he becomes.
They’ll just stop fearing him.
Until last week, he seemed smart enough to understand this–that losing the fight he picked will mean death or disgrace. Now, it’s anyone’s guess. Since I place no faith in him (nor, per Isaiah, any Prince), I won’t be surprised if he turns out to be less cunning than he has so far seemed.
Unless, of course, this was what he intended all along, which would make him very cunning indeed.
And how different will this sound, closing those rallies, if it turns out he had a deal in place all along….If it was always pointed at his supporters, rather than his enemies.
This is not a political blog. I routinely insert political thoughts (and more occasionally, theological ones) into my regular writing because that’s the way I see life. As I said to a friend of mine when I started the blog: “You know me. Rock and roll is just a way of seeing the world.”
But since we now live in such interesting times, I’ve been revisiting my history of little personal political insights and what’s a blog for if not to share random thoughts that invade the mind, unbidden, now and again?
At the end, I might just talk myself into making a prediction about the direction of Donald Trump’s presidency. Before all that, you can check my track record.
From this, all else grows…
1974 (Age 13): Richard Nixon resigns from the presidency to avoid impeachment and conviction. He is pardoned by Gerald Ford. Me: “I bet there’s gonna be a lot of criminal presidents from now on.”
My logic: If Richard Nixon was as bad as everybody said he was–and everybody said it, even in my Nixon-supporting part of the world–and the penalty for whatever he did was early retirement, then it didn’t seem like much of a deterrence.
My track record: After Jimmy Carter, they all look like crooks to me. If only some of them look that way to you, you might want to open that other eye. Unless, of course, you’ve accepted ol’ Dick’s logic that it’s not criminal if the president does it!
1980 (Age 19): Campaigning for president, Ronald Reagan promises that he will increase spending, cut taxes and eliminate the budget deficit, which was then standing at a scandalous sixty-something billion dollars. Me: “I bet if he wins, we’re gonna have a whole lot more debt.”
My logic: Math.
My track record: Reagan won. By 1988, when he left office, the deficit stood at a hundred and eighty-something billion dollars and we had switched to a permanent credit economy which would allow us to borrow without limits and never have to pay it back. The deficit is now around twenty trillion. We rack up another sixty billion every week or two. Good going, 1980.
1984 (Age 23): At the Democratic National Convention, party nominee Walter Mondale uses his acceptance speech to capitulate (I always assumed it was his attempt at imitating Franklin Roosevelt in Firesign Theater’s “Nick Danger, Third Eye” bit). I decide I will not vote in the election. I also decide I will not vote in any future elections.
My logic: What’s the point if it doesn’t matter?
My track record: Mondale lost in a record landslide. I have voted in every election since. I’m not going to discuss who I voted for in any of those elections because it has not mattered.
1990 (Age 29): We invade Iraq. In the run-up up to the invasion, Christopher Hitchens, still lucid at that point, says if we invade it will be the start of a new hundred years’ war. Me: “That sounds about right.”
My logic: “Those who do not learn history are doomed to….yaddah, yaddah, yaddah.” Santayana. Smart guy.
My track record: We’ve entered the war’s 27th year. Christopher Hitchens, who began supporting the war around it’s twelfth year, lies a-moldering in his grave. The war goes on. A hundred years still sounds about right.
1990s (Age “sometime in my thirties”): Me, apropos of nothing: “Free people do not need a security state…”
My logic: “….Because security states exist to preserve themselves, not freedom.” Me in my thirties. Not Santayana, but not half bad.
My track record: Hard to tell. But I used to say: “Everything I really needed to know I learned from rock and roll.” Now I say: “Everything I really needed to know, I learned from Philip K. Dick novels.”
2001 (Age 40): On September 11, the World Trade Center is leveled by terrorists in hi-jacked planes. The Pentagon is attacked by another. Another goes down in a Pennsylvania field, prevented by the passengers from incinerating either the White House or the Capitol. George W. Bush responds by fleeing from Florida to Nebraska. Later, much later, after everyone has patted his hand and told him everything will be alright, he gives a speech to a joint session of congress. Then him and Tom Daschle (Remember him? No? Lucky you.) give each other a big ol’ bear hug to celebrate our victory. (As imitations of “Nick Danger, Third Eye” go, this was almost hallucinatory). Me, in an e-mail to a friend: “I hope we don’t need leaders in this fight, because we ain’t exactly got Churchill.” My friend tries to assure me it will be alright because the generals know what they are doing. I refuse to be comforted.
My logic: Wars are not won by men who return to Washington from Florida by way of Nebraska because Washington might be dangerous. You can be stupid and win a war. You can be a criminal and win a war. You can be a mama’s boy who, in Ann Richards’ immortal phrase, “was born on third base and thought he hit a triple” and win a war. You can’t be a coward.
My track record: Well, if we ever do win that war, it won’t be on the coward’s watch.
2004 (Age 43): John Kerry runs for president. He debates George W. Bush. Bush sends a batting practice fastball down the middle, saying that it sounded to him like if Kerry had been president (on the aforementioned 9/11), Saddam Hussein would still have been in power. Instead of saying “If I’d been president, Saddam would be in jail and Osama Bin Laden would be in the cell next to him,” Kerry gave a two-thousand word response that amounted to “Now that’s no necessarily so.” Me: “Goodbye.”
My logic: The coward or the pedant? Who cares.
My track record: John Kerry lost his election. Eventually he became Secretary of State and achieved his life’s goal of turning pedantry into an art form whilst the world burned.
2008 (Age 47): Barrack Obama is elected president. Me: “Interesting. And it’s really nice to check that ‘first African-American president’ box. But, in the midst of all this euphoria, I do wish I could see him.”
My logic: “He’s a real nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land…” John Lennon: Smart guy.
My track record: Too soon to tell, but if a tide comes in, it does tend to wash away the castles you made of sand. And tides do usually come in.
2015 (Age 54): A couple of Beltway reporters kibitzing on Diane Rehm’s PBS show, spend a few minutes trying to one-up each other on just how impossible it will be for Donald Trump to win the Republican Nomination. Me: “If you think he has no chance, you’re crazy.”
My logic: “Call out the instigators, because there’s something in the air.”
Did I mention that, once upon a time, I learned everything I really needed to know from rock and roll?
My track record: Donald Trump will become president on January 20.
One factor, which peeked through the underbrush throughout the last year-and-a-half as Trump systematically (yes, systematically) ripped through everyone from Jeb Bush to Hillary Clinton to real power brokers like Megyn Kelly and Jeff Bezos, is that the Security State is not simply worried but frightened. Since the election the peepin’ and a hidin’ and the slippin’ and a slidin’ has become something close to full-blown warfare. Trump has made it abundantly clear that, on Jan. 20, he intends to become the third sitting president to take on the shadow government.
I have no prediction on how it will come out. It did not work out for John Kennedy or Jimmy Carter, whose respective penalties were death and political humiliation.* The Security State is, on one sense, more powerful than ever. Its tentacles gained strength and length by leaps under Bush the Younger and leaps and bounds under Obama. But it is not the top-down machinery that took down JFK (allegedly) and Carter (allegedly**). Without Cold War clarity, there is deep consensus about needs (more power), but much confusion about goals (to what specific end?). Battling cave-dwellers has simply not been as simple or as satisfying as taking on the old Evil Empire. That, plus the sheer size and scope of its expansion has left the Leviathan dazed and weakened at the moment when it will have to face its greatest threat.
So whether they can defeat a determined Trump is an open question and I have no feel in my stomach’s empty pit for how it will come out.
Neither do I have any feel for how Trump would handle either victory or defeat. The great danger–one which is barely hinted at in all the incoherent babbling about fascism and the like–is that Trump will be both willing and able (and at this point it would be far safer, if that’s the right word, to bet against his will than his ability) to replace the praetorian guard we’ve long allowed, in true fascist style, to build around state security, with one built around a cult of personality, one which could presumably be transferred with little fuss to his handsome, hungry children. I will only say that, should he turn in that direction, there will be precious little to stop him and all who had faith in an ever-deteriorating system–me included, as I did keep “voting”–will share the blame.
I wish there was a song for that.
*Eisenhower doesn’t count, as his famous warning about the military industrial complex, while virtuous, was issued on the way out the door. Of course he was right. But that’s like dissing your tyrannical boss at your retirement ceremony.
There is precious little literature on Carter’s demise and I’m not even up on what does exist. But I can pass along this anecdote.
Back in the early 80’s my dad was a home missionary for the Southern Baptist Convention. One of his duties was to visit local conventions around the country and trade ideas for effective mission work. That put him on kind of a rubber chicken circuit several times a year and, at one congregational supper, he found himself next to a recently retired Army general.
As I’ve mentioned before, my dad was a personality and strangers generally had one of two responses to him: run screaming from the room or tell him things they wouldn’t have told their own mother. Evidently, the general was in the latter camp. The subject of Carter came up, as it nearly always did in Southern Baptist circles in those days, and my dad mentioned that, despite everything, he had voted for him.
The general said: “You weren’t wrong.”
From there, the discussion went to the general’s dark knowledge, only a little of which he could share, of course, of the failed Iranian hostage rescue mission. Long story short, the general was of the informed opinion that the mission had been sabotaged. When my dad pressed him as to who would do such a thing, the answer was nonspecific but the general did say the forces behind it were aiming at a change in the presidency. The way my dad reported it to me, the general said: “They were looking to replace him with either Ted Kennedy or George Bush.”
Reliable assets both.
Take it all with a grain of salt.
But, if that was their aim, they came close enough. And, until Trump the Dread says otherwise, we still live in their world, patiently, and helplessly, awaiting the fate of all who accept a Security State’s version of “safety.”
“Don’t Ever Be Lonely (A Poor Little Fool Like Me)” Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose (1972) Billboard: #23 Billboard R&B: #28 Billboard Adult Contemporary: #27 Recommended source: Classic Masters
If you want to speak of artists who get little respect, speak of Supper Club Soul, a typically lilting, often ballad-oriented, variation on what came to be called “Beach Music” after the dance music preferred by Carolina shaggers in the sixties and seventies. Even at its most insistent (say, The Chairmen of the Board’s “Give Me Just A Little More Time”) the sound tended to be lighter and brighter than the main streams of Southern and Urban Soul that dominated both the charts and the critical discussion (such as it was) of what black people were up to in the period.
As little real understanding as the crit-illuminati evince of Stax and Motown, Supper Club Soul remains barely noticed at all. Its geniuses–Dionne Warwick, The 5th Dimension, Lionel Richie–collectively await a single nomination on those Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ballots that, year after year, find room for artists (mostly white and male) from other genres who are, shall we say, less than genius.
I don’t know if Eddie Cornelius, the lead singer and songwriter for Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose, was a minor genius who just didn’t get the right opportunity to fulfill his entire destiny, or a superb craftsman who happened to be in the right place at the right time. I’m continually fascinated by those who walk up to the very edge of fame and then recede from our view, having left behind a few beautiful memories, but I don’t profess to understand why one voice goes on and another falls by the wayside.
I do know that Eddie’s vocal on this record is a great, forgotten moment in seventies soul–his characteristic dry, distinctive baritone on the verses gently pierced on the chorus by one of the loveliest falsettos this side of heaven, mounting to transcendence as it repeats.
It was the follow-up to “Treat Her Like a Lady” and “Too Late to Turn Back Now,” two monster hits (which he also wrote) that, in nearly half a century, have never left the radio. And it was every bit as good. Whether its air of melancholy–common to Eddie’s vocals but accentuated here into something that reaches just an inch or two further–was the cause of its slightly less impressive chart showing, or simply a cosmic indicator of the group’s subsequent rapid fade (which occurred despite a sting of fine releases which are collected on the comp recommended above), is impossible to say. But, sometimes, time is the best revenge. That might be worth remembering in the days ahead:
It is just now dawning on the Professional Right that the inherently unstable coalition (my fellow Southern Evangelicals, alas, and Wall Street) which formed around Ronald Reagan in 1980 and turned 36 years old this year, has, in the wake of Donald Trump’s ascendancy (which they have spent months reassuring themselves was not inevitable) shattered on the ground.
You can read around the net and find their responses, which must be rather like those that old line New Dealers read into the record after watching the 1968 Democratic Convention when, just as suddenly and just as inevitably, FDR’s equally unstable coalition (Northern Liberals and Dixiecrats), then 36 years old, came apart in an instant.
Now as then, such responses are generally heartfelt, often erudite, surely bewildered. My own guess is that, even if he wins the presidency, Trump won’t be the actual change agent, that he will end up playing Richard Nixon to someone else’s Reagan…or Woodrow Wilson (a wrecking ball whom Trump would surely recognize as a kindred spirit under that prim exterior if he only knew history) to someone else’s Roosevelt.
I’ll leave the scholarly erudition and the gnashing of teeth to others. Meanwhile, I’ll just keep waking up every morning, trying to feel what the air is like now….and remember what it was like then.
Watching the cataclysm of 1980 coming, Bruce Springsteen used to cover “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” in his concerts and I seem to remember reading somewhere that he sang “Bad Moon Rising” right after Reagan was elected.
Good choices. But a little obvious.
Me, I always dedicate the Supremes’ “Reflections” to every outgoing president and fully anticipate doing the same for the current president next January.
But today I feel like coming up with a dedication for every incoming president…a whisper in our collective ear every time a new white knight rides in out of the sunset.
So, lest we forget, here’s to you Ronald Reagan, once upon a time…
And here’s to you, Donald Trump, as you bring the latest crowd roaring to its feet in coal country tonight…
All the President’s Men (1976)
Director: Alan Pakula
I’m not sure how many people have viewed the straightforward screen adaptation of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s account of how they broke open the Watergate scandal that felled Richard Nixon as noir (as opposed noir-ish, which can be stretched to include almost anything that isn’t an MGM musical). From that contemporary Czech poster above, I’d say the commies, at least, had a notion.
But if noir is defined by a film’s relationship to, as Edmund Wilson might have put it, the specifically American Jitters, then All the President’s Men isn’t just noir but near-definitive. If it happens to also be quite faithful to history, as no one has ever credibly denied, then it’s all the more remarkable.
It’s worth remembering that noir at its best is never invested in civilization. Most of the black-and-white killer-dillers from the classic period (Double Indemnity, The Big Heat, The Asphalt Jungle) are fundamentally pre-civilizational, man stripped bare, deprived of any but the basest aspirations (lust, greed, survival, revenge). That’s why the ones that worked at all worked extremely well, and also why even the very best of them tended to sell out at the end. They didn’t always, or often, end happily, but they nearly always ended romantically. How else to cut the darkness?
On that score, All the President’s Men has a seemingly insurmountable problem. The romance seems built in. Heroic journalists trying to bring down the king yaddah, yaddah, yaddah.
But, given the source and the times that produced both the history and the movie, no amount of star power or studio gloss could keep it from being ultra-realistic, too. Somebody realized that and doubled down. Almost no film from the ultra-realistic seventies feels as much like a period documentary as this one, and that’s despite the presence of heavy duty stars and top flight character actors, the kind with personas attached, popping up throughout.
You could argue (I wouldn’t), that Dustin Hoffman or Robert Redford or Jason Robards have been better elsewhere, but, despite the near-ubiquitous presence of their real-life counterparts (Bernstein, Woodward and Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, respectively) in our lives for four decades running (even Bradlee’s death only slowed him down a little), the actors still seem more like those men than they’ve ever seemed liked themselves. I see Carl Bernstein on CNN, bloviating on yet another topic he clearly can’t be bothered to know anything about, and all I think is “Too bad he’s not really Dustin Hoffman.” I see Dustin Hoffman in All the President’s Men and all I think is “too bad he not really Carl Bernstein.”
And that’s the easy one…the one who probably didn’t work for the CIA.
None of which makes ATPM either great or noir. It wasn’t really meant to be great, I don’t think, except maybe in the way earlier classy commercial properties like The Ten Commandments or My Fair Lady were. Great in the grand old Hollywood style of radiating a certain stiff-necked significance, a film the whole family should see.
And I certainly don’t think it was meant to be noir.
But put a bunch of talented people together with an indelible moment and you never know what might happen.
For one thing, it might actually work on the “significance'”level, as ATPM did and does.
But then it might also, over time, leap the trace.
As ATPM certainly is doing now, in this turbulent month when, on a hunch, I left Medium Cool and A Face in the Crowd to the liberal twitter crowd and pulled this off the shelf instead.
Dutifully or not, ATPM gives us a worm’s eye view of the process of catching rats in high places. Consciously or not, its obvious message is that the only people really qualified to do the job are other rats.
You don’t need to buy Ben Bradlee as a lifelong CIA asset–or someone who would have snuffed the story of the century in the cradle if it had been likely to bring down somebody he liked–to get that from the movie.
And that’s what makes it great.
And that’s what makes it noir.
Maybe just because the heroes involved were more transparent than they knew, even in the moment (forget the long aftermath), it’s possible to be grateful for what Woodward/Redford, Bernstein/Hoffman and Bradlee/Robards did without liking them even a little bit. Against all odds, the movie resists heroism. It just sets you down in soulless “news rooms,” shadowy parking garages, wet city streets, sunlit suburbs, some “ratfucker’s” apartment….and then lets you work out the moral logistics for yourself.
Sure, Woodward/Redfern occasionally shows a touch of remorse or honesty or self-reflection–or at least seems to. But, real or faked, it never lasts. You can never be sure that these things, too, aren’t calculated as a price well worth what was then merely a potential payoff.
Brave? Prescient? Pure Fluke?
But as we enter our post-civilizational phase, where no secret is so dark it could ever possibly bring anybody down (what Donald Trump really meant when he said he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and it wouldn’t make any difference)–a phase that surely began when the half of the “establishment” that had driven Nixon from office for the one truly unpardonable sin of attacking them, decided early retirement was punishment enough–it feels odd to watch a film that captured that moment a little too perfectly. It comes uncomfortably close to proving noir‘s unspoken pre- and post-civilizational premise: The darkness is all there is.
(NOTE: As I pretty much always do, I watched All the President’s Men in tandem with Dick, Andrew Fleming’s 1999 duck-and-cover satire of same. I was reminded, yet again, that even the most brilliant satire runs up against limits. I was also reminded, yet again, that those limits can be transcended if you manage to weave “You’re So Vain” into a realistic depiction (beautifully played by an up-until-that-very-moment-gloriously-over-the-top Dan Hedaya) of Nixon departing the White House while Betsy and Arlene cut up some American flags which they intend to put to very good use. I’ll probably have more to say about Dick, which also happens to be one of the two or three greatest movies about the seventies, a decade that arguably could only be understood satirically, some other time, but for those interested, this lovely reminiscence is highly recommended, not least because it reveals how disastrously close “You’re So Vain” came to being….something else!)
Hank Williams: The Show He Never Gave
David Acomba, Director (1980)
Serendipity and fair’s fair.
Without Greil Marcus going on about this back in 1990 (when it re-aired on the Nashville Network and Marcus evidently thought it was new) and me reading about it in his newly collected Real Life Rock columns and then, mere days later, coming across a cheap copy in the dollar store just down the road that I only started going to a few months back because I discovered they sold the hydrocortisone salve I occasionally use on an unspeakable rash for a quarter less than the one right next to my house this never would have found it’s way to my DVD player and I’d be a poorer man without even knowing it.
Without benefit of either looking or sounding much like the original, Canadian country singer Sneezy Waters, who had played the role on stage for years, inhabits Williams the same way Philip Baker Hall inhabited Richard Nixon in Secret Honor a few years later. As with Hall, I spent the first minute thinking “this is never gonna work.” Then the second minute arrived and the meaningful distinctions between actor, role and role model disappeared. I never concluded whether this was more reassuring than disorienting but I was riveted either way. Five minutes in, I knew there weren’t going to be any bathroom breaks.
The setup is simple enough (and enough like Secret Honor to make me wonder if Robert Altman saw this when it first aired). Hank is taking his famous last ride through an Appalachian night (he died in the back seat of his chauffeured car somewhere between Bristol, Virginia and Oak Hill, West Virginia), and, drifting in and out of consciousness, he dreams of stopping off and giving a show in one of the small town bars where, by chance, his band is already set up and waiting in front of a small but enthusiastic crowd who could probably never afford a trip to the Opry.
You can watch movies a long time and never find anyone walking a tighter wire than Waters, director Acomba and playwright/screenwriter Maynard Collins do here. Part of the tension in a first viewing of something like this is in wondering if/when somebody will set a foot wrong. When it never happens, there’s an almost palpable sense of relief, because the slightest slip, the one that always feels like it’s coming any second now, would wreck the mood.
It never happens here.This is one of those instances where even the technical limitations work entirely in the movie’s favor. That scene pictured above is just about what the movie looks like and while some of that is probably due to a low-grade transfer I had a feeling a pristine copy wouldn’t look much better. It certainly wouldn’t work any better, because anything clearer wouldn’t let you smell the smoke and whiskey.
Most remarkably, it’s all in there. The Hank Williams Story. Between his songs, the stories he tells to set them up, the bitter remonstrances of his waking moments in the back seat of his Doom-mobile, you get a distillation that touches everything essential and has a feeling of completion, as though he (Williams himself, more than the actor or the filmmakers) is scripting his own life and planning to live just long enough to reach the only end that was ever possible.
And the biggest part of that story isn’t the alcoholism or the Dr. Feelgoods or marriage or divorce or fatherhood or spats with the band or even the Death’s Head hanging over his shoulder. No, the biggest part, and the part the movie catches so well it’s literally breathtaking is the connection to his audience, the final quality that made him the standard country singers–and country lives–were measured against for half a century.
Until, that is, very, very recently.
The people who clap and dance and fight and “Hallelujah!” their way through this film’s imaginary show aren’t represented as characters, but they aren’t reduced to types either. They have a collective life and three-dimensionality that goes beyond even the air of lives being lived that deepens John Ford’s universe. And, whether seen as extras in a low-budget movie that started filming the day John Lennon was assassinated, or literal ghosts of the audience Hank Williams must have sometimes felt he had dreamed into being, there will be a day in the not too distant future when they’ll be unrecognizable. A twenty-year-old might have trouble recognizing them now. Living in a world where it’s always Saturday night has not only robbed Williams’ principal themes of longing and regret of the force they had for the audience that swirls back and forth between him and you while this film is running, it’s also taken the fun out of Saturday night itself.
Whether it was possible to self-consciously articulate this lost world’s distance from the present in 1980, I don’t know. But the feelings inherent in the loss must have at least been available to the senses, because without even calling on “Lost Highway” or “Ramblin’ Man” (there is a chilling version of “Alone and Forsaken”), Sneezy Waters and company managed to write themselves into the Hank Williams story and enlarge an already legendary life it in a way I’ve seldom encountered in any movie, let alone a “biopic” that consists entirely of a car-ride and a fake concert that never happened.
I’m sure it’s possible to see this and write it off. It’s not Citizen Kane. On some level, it’s barely even there.
Just happened to run across these on the same day…
First, keeping up with my reading assignments whilst awaiting an oil change:
“Their conversation continued in the Oval Office, shortly after 6 p.m. on August 22, when they were joined by Maxwell Taylor, the general Kennedy trusted most. The president wanted to go over two other secret operations before discussing Cuba. The first was the developing plan to drop twenty Chinese Nationalist soldiers into mainland China during the coming week. The second was a plan for the CIA to wiretap members of the Washington press corps….
“The president told (CIA director) McCone to set up a domestic task force to stop the flow of secrets from the government to the newspapers. The order violated the agency’s charter, which specifically prohibits domestic spying. Long before Nixon created his ‘plumbers’ unit of CIA veterans to stop news leaks, Kennedy used the agency to spy on Americans.”
(Source: Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, Tim Weiner, 2007)
Then, following the headlines on the internet…
“So all based on a handful of rather unremarkable emails sent to a woman fortunate enough to have a friend at the FBI, the FBI traced all of Broadwell’s physical locations, learned of all the accounts she uses, ended up reading all of her emails, investigated the identity of her anonymous lover (who turned out to be Petraeus), and then possibly read his emails as well. They dug around in all of this without any evidence of any real crime – at most, they had a case of “cyber-harassment” more benign than what regularly appears in my email inbox and that of countless of other people – and, in large part, without the need for any warrant from a court.”
Boy, how I wish Raymond Chandler Speaking wasn’t packed away right now. Would love to get his exact quote on Hoover’s FBI circa the McCarthy era. Anyway, it was something to the effect that secret police forces all come to the same thing in the end.
Fortunately, other philosophers who aren’t packed away have been on the case all along. Keep me sane, they do: