Archive for the 'Film' Category
Posted by Carl from Chicago on 21st March 2015 (All posts by Carl from Chicago)
“Drugs, Inc.” is a television show on the National Geographic Channel that focuses on the business of drugs, from producers to traffickers to users to police. I can’t recommend this show enough and I watch every episode that comes up on my DVR.
Welcome to the $300 billion industry of Drugs, Inc., where traffickers pocket huge profits, addicts become chained in a vicious cycle and law enforces wage war across diverse battlefields – farmers’ fields, shady labs, urban street corners and suburban schools. How does this business work? Can it be stopped or should it be regulated? What impact does it have on those it touches?
Drugs Inc somehow gets interviews with drug dealers and drug traffickers. They are always wearing a mask of some sort and often their voices are garbled electronically. It isn’t clear to me why they agree to be on TV or why the authorities don’t follow up on the leads from the program or subpoena their records. I can’t comment on the authenticity but it certainly seems real, especially the interviews with the users or “fiends” as they are described by the dealers on the series.
The first thing that the show will do for you is change how you look at homeless people. All of the users on the show are either 1) drug dealers themselves likely far down the chain in order to support their habit 2) panhandlers or some sort of schemer / prostitute. There occasionally are recreational users or those with jobs but since they typically interview hard-core drug users many of those individuals can’t do a regular 9 to 5 job.
The panhandlers are a relentless lot. They wake up in various places, sometimes in their cars, sometimes in a tent, sometimes in an abandoned building, or elsewhere. When they get up, it is time to make some money in order to buy some drugs. They always know exactly what they are doing and have a target amount of money to “earn” in order to score what they need to stave off dope sickness.
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Posted in Business, Chicagoania, Economics & Finance, Film, The Press | 19 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 20th March 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Here I will link several posts that I see as related. At the moment I don’t have time to tie them together in a coherent way, so will just put them out there in a somewhat disconnected fashion in the hope of sparking some good discussion.
I would like to see a study of decision-making based on how much fiction one consumes. My hypothesis is that consumers of fiction will draw their “experience” in part from fiction and it will warp their understanding of what is practical or possible in the real world…I think exposure to fiction makes you less grounded in the real world (subconsciously) and more likely to make decisions the way the captain of the Enterprise would have done it, for example.
This is a quite different view of the role and value of fiction from the one expressed in an article I summarized in my post Fiction and Empathy:
In one experiment, researcher Keith Oatley and colleagues assessed the reading habits of 94 adults, separating fiction from nonfiction. They also tested the subjects on measures of emotion perception (being able to discern a person’s emotional state from a photo of only the eyes) and social cognition (being able to draw conclusions about the relationships among people based on video clips.) This study showed a “strong” interconnection between fiction reading and social skills, especially between fiction reading and the emotion-perception factor. This correlation, of course, does not by itself demonstrate the direction of causality. Another study involved assigning 303 adults to read either a short story or an essay from the New Yorker and following up with tests of analytical and social reasoning. Those who read the story tended to do better on the social reasoning test than those who read the nonfiction essay.
Dr Oatley has referred to fiction as “the mind’s flight simulator.”
And here is an argument that reading fiction will make you a better investor:
Unlike historical accounts, through well-drawn characters it is possible to absorb the world through another perspective, an immensely valuable skill for investors looking for ideas (or trouble). A memory bank of fictional characters will also help when the market “hive mind” pushes prices in unexpected directions, answering the question “what kind of person buys here?” The primary lesson of fiction is learning “this is how people act”, when they’re scared, confident, happy, determined or demoralized. Not how I would act, or how I think they should act, but how the combination of different experiences and different patterns of cognition lead to aggregate outcomes. Empathy.
In her post the message and the story , SF writer Sarah Hoyt offers some thoughts on how novels can influence the worldviews of their readers:
But part of it is that I doubt the effectiveness of overt messages in stories. I don’t scruple to say I was raised by Heinlein, nor that I wasn’t the only one. The man might have had no biological kids, but he has sons and daughters all over the world, including me.
But then we have to look at how he raised me. Remember I came at Heinlein through (mostly) the later books because most of the Juveniles (Door Into Summer and Have Spacesuit Will Travel excepted) were either not translated to Portuguese or no longer available when I came along. And yet, what I took from his books was not the obvious messages: “Though art God” or the bedhopping or multiple marriages as the natural way to live. (Oh, for a while, but that was the spirit of the times, too, being the late seventies.) What I took from the books were not so much the messages as “the way to be.”
By creating characters that were tough, questioning, strong, and, most of all, useful, he made me want to be that way. I took as my model (being touched in the upper works) the broken caryatid, not just for characters but for what a human being should be, lifting whatever the burden without complaining.
Now, it takes a certain type of personality to teach at that level. I’ve seen it in some teachers, too, who, regardless of whether they teach you history or English, really give you a model you aspire to being. The left, being daft, thinks this has to do with the character/teacher looking like you. They think only black people can model to black children. This is part of their insanity with “there must be so many characters of tan per book.” And also with promoting incompetent teachers to positions of power, because they have a certain ancestry or skin color.
But it doesn’t work that way. It’s more subtle. It’s more about being who you are in such a strong and convincing way and making the characteristics you have or approve of so admirable that people want to follow them. Which is what Heinlein did.
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Posted in Arts & Letters, Film, Human Behavior, Media | 8 Comments »
Posted by Jonathan on 3rd March 2015 (All posts by Jonathan)
This entertaining 90-minute documentary tells the story of a group of idealistic war veterans, mostly but not all Jews, mostly from the USA and other English-speaking countries, who volunteered on the Jewish side during the Israeli war of independence in 1948 and helped to form the nucleus of what became the Israeli Air Force.
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Posted in Film, History, Israel | 5 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 27th January 2015 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
So, the wailing, the sobbing, the gnashing of teeth from the so-called intellectual and cultural elite over the runaway box-office success of American Sniper is pure music to my ears … all the more so since I started calling for this kind of movie to be made … oh, in the early days of the Daily Brief, back when it was still called Sgt. Stryker. It didn’t take the WWII-era studios to get cracking and crank out all kinds of inspirational military flicks within a year of Pearl Harbor, the disaster in the Philippines and the fall of Wake Island. Of course, those were full-service movie studios, accustomed to cranking out movie-theater fodder on an assembly-line basis. There was, IIRC one attempted TV series, set in an Army unit in Iraq, which was basically recycled Vietnam War-era military memes, and died after a couple of episodes, drowned in a sea of derision from more recent veterans, especially after an episode which featured an enlisted soldier smoking dope. On deployment. In a combat zone. The producers of the show had obviously never heard of Operation Golden Flow. Or maybe they had, and assumed it was something porn-ish.
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Posted in Blogging, Civil Society, Current Events, Film, History | 17 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 30th December 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
I recently saw this film, which is based on the life and exploits of the mathematician, codebreaker, and computer science pioneer Alan Turing. It is very well acted and definitely worth seeing; it’s good for more people to become familiar with Turing’s story and the accomplishments of the Bletchley Park codebreakers. HOWEVER, the extremely negative portrayal of Commander Alastair Denniston, who ran BP, seems to have little basis in fact. Denniston was a real person, and his family is understandably upset at the way he was misrepresented in the film. Dramatic license is one thing, but if you want a villain, then make one up; don’t turn a real historical non-villainous individual into one. There have been several articles in the UK press lately about the film and its portrayal of various individuals, especially Denniston:
Bletchley Park Commander not the ‘baddy’ he is in The Imitation Game, family says
Bletchley Park ‘villain’ was kind and dedicated, says ex-colleague
The Imitation Game falsely paints Bletchley Park commander
The film also could have done a better job at giving credit to the Polish mathematicians who pioneered machine methods of codebreaking, before WWII began. Also, the film gives the impression that Turing’s friend Joan Clark was the only female codebreaker at Bletchley…this is not true, a very large number of women worked at BP, and some of them were in professional codebreaking roles. One of these women was Mavis Lever; I excerpted some of her writing about BP at my 2007 post the Bombe runs again. And it seems that the real Alan Turing, while he definitely came across as a bit of an odd duck, was more likeable than he is (at least initially) portrayed in the film; he has been called “a very easily approachable man” who did in fact have a sense of humor. There’s a bit too much of “standard character type 21037–eccentric genius” in this version of Turing.
The above critiques to the contrary, though, you should definitely see the film. It does a good job of maintaining interest, even for those like myself who are already pretty familiar with the history The filmmakers could have avoided the above problems without harming the film’s impact as drama; indeed, I think there are accuracy-related changes that could have made the film more rather than less dramatic.
This article compares several of the fictionalized Bletchley Park individuals with the real-life counterparts. And this piece, by a woman who has spent a lot of time studying Turing and BP, is focused particularly on the character of Turing in real life versus in the film. Probably makes most sense to see the movie first and then read these links for additional perspective.
Posted in Britain, Film, Germany, History, Society, Tech, War and Peace | 17 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 16th November 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
In his memoirs, Russian rocket developer Boris Chertok (previously excerpted in my post here) tells of his experiences while he was in Germany with Soviet occupation troops, right after the war. One of his friends was an officer, Oleg, who was also a talented poet. Irrespective of his military talents, Oleg’s prospects for promotion were not viewed as favorable, because his poetry was “very unsettling to the political department.”
And why was Oleg’s poetry looked upon with disfavor? It was not because the Red Army had any dislike of poets. Nor was it even because his poetry contained criticisms of the regime–there were no such criticisms. No, the objection was because of what the poetry didn’t contain. As another friend of Chertok’s, Mira, explained the situation:
The political workers consider his poems to be demoralizing and decadent. Not once does he mention the Party or Stalin in them.
Of course, something like that could never happen in the US…we are not a society where someone could have their career opportunities gravely limited because of their failure to engage in expected political cheerleading. Right?
I was reminded of the above Chertok comments by Stuart Schneiderman’s post here. Apparently, the book/movie “Gone Girl” (which I’ve neither seen nor read), has a female protagonist who is a rather nasty piece of work, attempting to get revenge against men in her life by making two false charges of rape and one false charge of murder. The film has been denounced by certain critics for portraying such a woman. For example, Rebecca Traister of the New Republic told Financial Times that the movie’s depiction of “our little sexual monsters” traded “on very, very old ideas about the power that women have to sexually, emotionally manipulate men. When you boil women down to only that, it’s troubling.” Apparently, in Ms Traiser’s view, there must not be even one character is one book or movie who departs from the image of womanhood that Traister and her like-thinkers believe should be standardized.
Remarkably enough, Maureen Dowd (yes, Maureen Dowd!) comes out in this case against the witch-hunters and in favor of artistic integrity:
Given my choice between allowing portrayals of women who are sexually manipulative, erotically aggressive, fearless in a deranged kind of way, completely true to their own temperament, desperately vital, or the alternative — wallowing in feminist propaganda and succumbing to the niceness plague — I’ll take the former.
The idea that every portrait of a woman should be an ideal woman, meant to stand for all of womanhood, is an enemy of art — not to mention wickedly delicious Joan Crawford and Bette Davis movies. Art is meant to explore all the unattractive inner realities as well as to recommend glittering ideals. It is not meant to provide uplift or confirm people’s prior ideological assumptions. Art says “Think,” not “You’re right.”
After the 1917 revolution, the Bolsheviks pushed Socialist Realism, creating the Proletkult to ensure that art served ideology. Must we now have a Gynokult to ensure Feminist Unrealism?
The politicization of American society has gone very far–see for example the comments from playwright David Mamet, cited in my earlier Life in the Fully Politicized Society post–and it is good to see even such a creature of the Left as Maureen Dowd starting to push back a little.
Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Film, Leftism, Media, Society | 7 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 8th November 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of the day the gates were opened in the Berlin Wall.
This would be an appropriate occasion to watch or re-watch the excellent film The Lives Of Others, which is told from the standpoint of an agent in East Germany’s immense internal spying apparatus. I also recommend Anna Funder’s superb book Stasiland, in which she describes her 1994 trip to the former East Germany and reconstructs the way things were in the days of Communist rule. I reviewed it here.
Also, here’s an interesting story about Harald Jaeger, an East German border guard whose snap decision was the right one.
Posted in Book Notes, Film, Germany, History, Leftism | 11 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 2nd October 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
The festival of lights in Thailand
Three Irish girls win the Google Science Fair with an approach to bacteria-enhanced crop growth
Two versions of “Oklahoma” at Bookworm, with discussion
10 Disney cartoons from the 1930s, with link to an article on the evolution of Disney’s cartoons over several decades
The lost art of political persuasion. This piece at Ricochet argues that politicians are now less about converting the opposition and persuading the undecided, and more about activating those who are already members of their choir.
Bill Whittle thinks it’s time to talk about some good news (video)
A recent study suggests that empathy can lead to scapegoating
Book giveaways during WWII contributed greatly to the popularization of reading and the subsequent growth of the publishing industry.
This article by a Wharton professor argues that “emotional intelligence is overrated” and, specifically, that it is overrated in sales. He cites a study in which hundreds of sales people were tested both for emotional intelligence and cognitive ability, and their sales performance subsequently tracked…with the conclusion that cognitive ability was more than 5X as powerful as emotional intelligence in predicting sales performance. (Actually, I’m pretty sure that the importance of cognitive ability and the importance of emotional intelligence both vary greatly depending on what you’re selling and who you’re selling it to, and also on what kind of resources the salesman needs to leverage within his own organization.)
Posted in Arts & Letters, Business, Education, Elections, Film, History, Human Behavior, Management, Photos, Politics, Science, USA | 2 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 28th September 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
Cold Spring Shops reminds us of the political value of mockery, linking Instapundit and Sarah Hoyt, and cites, as a classic example of the effective use of mockery as a propaganda weapon. the 1943 Donald Duck film Der Fuehrer’s Face.
For your Sunday evening enjoyment and enlightenment, here it is.
Posted in Advertising, Film, History, Humor, Media | 3 Comments »
Posted by onparkstreet on 29th August 2014 (All posts by onparkstreet)
Twenty-four years after the release of his first feature, “Metropolitan,” and two years after the release of his fourth, “Damsels in Distress,” Whit Stillman—the cinema’s novelist of manners, who reveals deep and enduring patterns beneath the shimmer of apparent frivolities—has written, directed, and produced the twenty-six-minute pilot of a TV-like series, “The Cosmopolitans,” for Amazon (where it premières tomorrow). It has a classical setup—Americans and other foreigners, members of a self-anointed social whirl, tripping through Paris—that, from the start, Stillman makes entirely his own, rendering it both contemporary and anachronistic, of the moment and rooted in time.
Posted in Announcements, Arts & Letters, Film, Video | 1 Comment »
Posted by David Foster on 27th August 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
Menace in Europe: Why the Continent’s Crisis Is America’s, Too by Claire Berlinski
I read this book shortly after it came out in 1996, and just re-read it in the light of the anti-Semitic ranting and violence which is now ranging across Europe. It is an important book, deserving of a wide readership.
The author’s preferred title was “Blackmailed by History,” but the publisher insisted on “Menace.” Whatever the title, the book is informative, thought-provoking, and disturbing. Berlinski is good at melding philosophical thinking with direct observation. She holds a doctorate in international relations from Oxford, and has lived and worked in Britain, France, and Turkey, among other countries. (Dr Berlinski, may I call you Claire?)
The book’s dark tour of Europe begins in the Netherlands, where the murder of film director Theo van Gogh by a radical Muslim upset at the content of a film was quickly followed by the cancellation of that movie’s planned appearance at a film festival–and where an artist’s street mural with the legend “Thou Shalt Not Kill” was destroyed by order of the mayor of Rotterdam, eager to avoid giving offense to Muslims. (“Self-Extinguishing Tolerance” is the title of the chapter on Holland.) Claire moves on to Britain and analyzes the reasons why Muslim immigrants there have much higher unemployment and lower levels of assimilation than do Muslim immigrants to the US, and also discusses the unhinged levels of anti-Americanism that she finds among British elites. (Novelist Margaret Drabble: “My anti-Americanism has become almost uncontrollable. It has possessed me, like a disease. It rises up in my throat like acid reflux…”) While there has always been a certain amount of anti-Americanism in Britain, the author notes that “traditionally, Britain’s anti-American elites have been vocal, but they have generally been marginalized as chattering donkeys” but that now, with 1.6 million Muslim immigrants in Britain (more worshippers at mosques than at the Church of England), the impact of these anti-Americans can be greatly amplified. (Today, there are apparently more British Muslims fighting for ISIS than serving in the British armed forces.)
One of the book’s most interesting chapters is centered around the French farmer and anti-globalization leader Jose Bove, whose philosophy Berlinski summarizes as “crop worship”….”European men and women still confront the same existential questions, the same suffering as everyone who has ever been born. They are suspicious now of the Church and of grand political ideologies, but they nonetheless yearn for the transcendent. And so they worship other things–crops, for example, which certain Europeans, like certain tribal animists, have come to regard with superstitious awe.”
The title of this chapter is “Black-Market Religion: The Nine Lives of Jose Bove,” and Berlinski sees the current Jose Bove as merely one in a long line of historical figures who hawked similar ideologies. They range from a man of unknown name born in Bourges circa AD 560, to Talchem of Antwerp in 1112, through Hans the Piper of Niklashausen in the late 1400s, and on to the “dreamy, gentle, and lunatic Cathars” of Languedoc and finally to Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Berlinski sees all these people as being basically Christian heretics, with multiple factors in common. They tend appeal to those whose status or economic position is threatened, and to link the economic anxieties of their followers with spiritual ones. Quite a few of them have been hermits at some stage in their lives. Most of them have been strongly anti-Semitic. And many of the “Boves” have been concerned deeply with purity…Bove coined the neologism malbouffe, which according to Google Translate means “junk food,” but Berlinski says that translation “does not capture the full horror of bad bouffe, with its intimation of contamination, pollution, poison.” She observes that “the passionate terror of malbouffe–well founded or not–is also no accident; it recalls the fanatic religious and ritualistic search for purity of the Middle Ages, ethnic purity included. The fear of poisoning was widespread among the millenarians…” (See also this interesting piece on environmentalist ritualism as a means of coping with anxiety and perceived disorder.)
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Posted in Anti-Americanism, Big Government, Book Notes, Britain, Christianity, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Europe, Film, France, Germany, History, Immigration, Islam, Judaism, Leftism, Middle East, Religion | 7 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 3rd August 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
PJ Media has a post that lists “10 films that teach important lessons for leading in tough times.”
I think there are quite a few other movies and TV series that could be placed in this category. For starters:
Once an Eagle, which follows the comparative careers of Army officer Sam Damon–an excellent leader–and Courtney Massengale, an officer whose ambitions exceed his abilities and performance.
Friday Night Lights, focused on leadership in a sports, school, and community context.
The Caine Mutiny, which is indeed about leadership, albeit of a not very effective kind. “No one is totally useless, you can always serve as a bad example.”
Posted in Film, Human Behavior, Management | 15 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 29th July 2014 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
I see, from a brief news release, and the subsequent minor bloggerly hyperventilating about it, that the story of the 60 Minutes-Dan Rather-faked TANG memo is going to be made into a movie, starring Robert Redford as Dan Rather and Cate Blanchette as Mary Mapes, his producer. If it were a cautionary tale about what happens when those who report our news content so desperately desire items of dubious provenance to be the genuine article and so skip merrily past every warning signal in their hurry to broadcast a nakedly partisan political hit piece on the eve of an election … well, I might be tempted to watch it. No, not in a theater – are you insane? I might opt to pay a couple of bucks to stream it through Amazon and watch it at home … but alas, likely I will give it a miss, altogether. It’s going to be based on Ms Mapes’ own account and defense of the indefensible, and frankly I am not all that interested in someone engaged in a lengthy justification of their own gullibility and/or willingness to wink at obvious forgery in service to a partisan political cause.
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Posted in Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Film, Leftism, Media, Politics, The Press | 11 Comments »
Posted by Carl from Chicago on 30th March 2014 (All posts by Carl from Chicago)
Today I watched the movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel” by Wes Anderson. While the movie was not intended to be an historical record, in some ways a fictionalized representation of life in the 1930’s and early 1940’s is a better way to humanize the elements of the conflict that can be lost broader sweep of the cataclysmic events known to all. The movie also works to include the postwar elements and even the post-communist years into a long a complicated narrative.
After the movie was done I started explaining how I saw the movie to fellow movie-goers and, to them, I almost seemed like the narrator that the movie didn’t include. I just overlaid my own understanding of the participants in that era and, since it is fiction, my own interpretation is likely as sound as anyone else’s.
I will try to limit the “spoilers” in this post and recommend that anyone interested in Zweig (to whom the movie was dedicated) and / or that era in history go to see the movie. You have to be a fan of the Wes Anderson style of movies and his set pieces are clearly not supposed to be realistic but they are tools for great visual cues and inspired situations.
The protagonist in the movie, Ray Fiennes, plays a concierge for a major hotel in the capital city of a declining empire in the 1930’s as war time approaches. He mainly seduces older women but also is open to other sorts of encounters with men. Ray is plainly an intellectual and stickler for protocol and process in an era where that is reaching the end of the line. He and his fellow concierges represent the type of society that Zweig would fondly recognize (as does the process-following attorney who runs into serious trouble later).
The country could be an Austria or Czech type republic that is about to be swallowed by Germany. The borders are in the process of being closed to adjacent countries due to political challenges and incipient war. In an early scene, soldiers in grey accost and check the papers of the concierge and his “lobby boy” (who is non-white and obviously from one of the provinces) on a train and start to beat them up when they are stopped by Edward Norton, who plays an aristocratic officer who recognizes the concierge. To me this officer clearly represented the orderly and (relatively) law abiding German army. He even wrote a note giving safe passage to the lobby boy.
In the early scenes the soldiers are in Grey and when they stop the train their have early model armored cars. They are not intended to be realistic per se but they seem like vintage 1930 era inspired vehicles.
During the contesting of the will, a lawyer who also represents the old era brings a process and fairness to the executor’s role (along with a Kafka-esque level of bureaucratic documents) until he meets up with a thug in a black trench coat who clearly represents the evolving SS. That individual, played by Willem Defoe, engages in more and more grotesque crimes throughout the movie and is not impeded by morals or the rule of law. At one point the Edward Norton character orders the civilian Dafoe away from an investigation that Norton is running, but it is clear that Dafoe is not intimidated and is part of the (hyper violent and aggressive) new order.
Later the protagonist against the concierge is seen to be in a long leather coat and is obviously a civilian leader of the Nazis. They have 2 letter flags and armbands in the SS “style” but the movie does abstract them so as to not be completely blatant. The hotel becomes a barracks for the military regime, and the standards of the staff decline as the hotel is militarized.
When the train is stopped again later in the film the “death squads” are taunted by the concierge with results that are far less pleasant than the early encounter with Norton. The soldiers in black and the more sinister looking hulking vehicles (which seem to be gun mounted half tracks) are also in black and this clearly represents the SS militarized and not the old nobility-led military.
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Posted in Europe, Film, Germany, History | 4 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 19th January 2014 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
I must have been in college (or possibly even just high school), when I read a thoughtful essay in TV Guide, of all places, to the effect that people all over the world who had never met an American, or been to the United States, almost always formed their impressions of us based on what they saw in the movies, or in television shows. As one of our AFRTS public service announcement tag-lines had it – foreigners don’t know America, they just know Americans – and the Americans which the overseas movie and television audience saw was usually not a very favorable one. This essay must have been put out in the early 1970s, so I imagine the general picture is even less favorable now. Just think of current popular TV shows with an American setting – and consider how America would look to you if that was all you saw, and all you knew was Breaking Bad, a dozen cop shows set in big cities, and half a dozen sit-coms where the characters spend most of their time in suspiciously well-decorated living rooms.
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Posted in Anti-Americanism, Arts & Letters, Civil Society, Current Events, Film, Just Unbelievable, Leftism | 31 Comments »
Posted by Ralf Goergens on 17th August 2013 (All posts by Ralf Goergens)
Posted in Diversions, Film, Humor | 5 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 1st July 2013 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
Well, the early critical reviews are out and the knives are in: the latest movie remake of The Lone Ranger looks to be tanking like the Titanic,(the original ship, not James Cameron’s movie fantasy) although the some of the reviews posted at Rotten Tomatoes are favorable, most of them are entertainingly vicious. Jerry Bruckheimer again goes over the top from the high-dive with a half-gainer and a jackknife on the way down, all with the noisy special effects, Johnny Depp was promised that he could wear bizarre hair and a lot of makeup and it appears as if the ostensible lead character is just there…
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Posted in Deep Thoughts, Diversions, Film, History | 6 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 26th May 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
(Originally posted in February 2009. I was reminded of it by recent events in London and Sweden)
Suppose you wanted to create a perfect enemy. An enemy so vile that its evil would be recognized by almost everyone. An enemy that would inspire people to come together in order to ensure its defeat.
To be more specific: suppose you were a screenwriter with the assignment of creating a suitable villain-organization for a major motion picture. The marketing plan for this movie suggests that it will be marketed primarily to a certain demographic and that, hence, your villain-organization should be particularly appalling to members of that demographic. The demographic in question consists of people who are affluent, highly educated (college with at least some postgraduate education), not particularly religious, and who consider themselves politically liberal or “progressive.” The plot of the movie demands that the audience must see the necessity for Americans–of many beliefs, occupations, and social backgrounds–to come together in order to defeat the enemy.
Oh, and one other thing. The year in which you are given this assignment is 1999.
You will clearly want your enemy to share many of the characteristics of the Nazis–disrespect for human life, wanton cruelty, a love of apocalyptic violence. But to make the enemy particuarly awful from the standpoint of your target demographic, you will want to emphasize certain aspects of its belief system.
Members of your demographic usually have strong beliefs about women’s rights. So, your enemy must have a particularly disrespectful belief set, and a violent behavior pattern, towards women. Similarly, your demographic is generally favorable toward gay rights…so the enemy must advocate and practice the suppression, torture, and killing of gays. Your demographic is generally nonreligious and often hostile toward religion…so, make sure the enemy includes a large element of religious fanaticism. Members of your demographic talk a lot about “the children”–so make sure your enemy uses children in particularly cruel ways.
Had you created such an enemy for your screenplay in 1999, you would have surely felt justified in assuming that it would achieve its intended reaction with your target demographic.
It didn’t work out that way, though.
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Posted in Britain, Film, Iran, Islam, Religion, Terrorism | 9 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 1st March 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
I recently discovered this British TV drama from the late 1980s, which is focused on British underground agents operating in occupied France during WWII. The series is based on activities of the real sabotage-and-subversion organization which was known as Special Operations Executive. I think it is quite good.
The first agents we meet are Liz Grainger (acted by Kate Buffery) and Matty Firman (Suzanna Hamilton.) Liz is an upper-crust wife and mother who comes to the attention of the SOE recruiters when she responds to a BBC request for holiday photos of France to help in military planning…her excellent French language skills and experience living in that country make her highly desirable as a prospective agent. Matty, from a much less-affuent background, is of mixed French-British parentage (also Jewish) and is eager to contribute to the war effort as an agent, partly because she hates Naziism and partly because of boredom with the factory work she has been doing.
Various newly-recruited agents and French local people make their appearance over the course of the series; continuity is provided by Colonel James Cadogan (Julian Glover) and his deputy Faith Ashley (Jane Asher) in London, in the roles that in real life were played by Maurice Buckmaster and Vera Atkins.
Some reviewers have said that the series has too much of a soap-opera quality, and some have attributed this to the fact that it was created by two women (Lavinia Warner and Jill Hyem.) But people don’t cease to have personal lives when they go to war, and there are also subplots which could be viewed as soap-operatic in many male-written novels about WWII….Nicholas Monsarrat’s naval classic The Cruel Sea comes to mind. (See also Vera Atkins’ comment, at the above link, about a real-life British agent who fell inconveniently in love.)
Wish Me Luck is available from both Amazon and Netflix.
For those interested in learning about the real SOE, a good introduction can be found in Between Silk and Cyanide, the memoir of SOE Codemaster Leo Marks. I reviewed it here…the review also contains links to posts about several individual SOE agents.
Posted in Britain, Europe, Film, History, War and Peace | 10 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 25th January 2013 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
In the year of the Centennial of the United States, the last of the West left relatively unscathed by the forces of law and order was that part of present-day Oklahoma set aside as homeland for the native Indian tribes. This was a 70,000 square mile territory in which anything went … and usually did. Among what was called the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole) there were native law enforcement officers, who upheld the law among their own. But they had no jurisdiction over interlopers of any color, or tribal members who committed crimes in company with or against an outsider, and the Territory was Liberty Hall and a refuge for every kind of horse thief, cattle rustler, bank and train robber, murderer and scalawag roaming the post-Civil War west. Just about every notorious career criminal at large for the remainder of the 19th century took refuge in the Oklahoma Territory at one time or another, including the James and Dalton gangs.
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Posted in Diversions, Film, History, Law, Media | 5 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 9th January 2013 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
I’ve said it over and over again, that what really happened in history is very often even more bizarre and dramatic than any fictional account of events, either written or cinematic. A book or a movie has to make sense, after all – and have some kind of logic and believability about it, whereas in reality chance and coincidence do not have to make logical sense in the real world. To put it in short; reality frequently trumps imagination. Going back to contemporary accounts, records and memoirs often turn up all kinds of interesting nuggets, which very often contradict conventional wisdom.
This is what late amateur historian George W. Hufsmith did with a very readable account of a lynching in the Sweetwater River Valley of Wyoming over a hundred and twenty years ago. Hufsmith originally came to the project as a composer, commissioned to write an opera about it all. But what he found in various dusty public records was sufficient to overturn what had been put out as the conventional wisdom in the wider world beyond Wyoming … and demonstrates very well what happens when an overwhelming interest in a particular subject takes hold of a person. Just so, the topic of the only woman ever lynched in Wyoming gripped Hufsmith, and he was determined to get to the bottom of it – or as close as one could, given the decades that had passed.
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Posted in Film, History | 8 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 10th October 2012 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
A long while ago, I kicked off a discussion about the military in movies, which resulted in uncorking a raging stream of opinion among blog commenters about movies, and how the military was generally portrayed therein—and lest anyone in Tinseltown be patting themselves on the back on their sterling record, let me break it gently to them that if I could figure out a way to distill and bottle most of the feedback, I’d have a dandy product on sale at Home Depot or Lowe’s, suitable for peeling varnish or paint off furniture. Generally, movies dealing with the military were derided for gross improbabilities in military practice or custom, faulted for violations of uniform regulations, general appearance and grooming standards, the presence (or absence) of inventory items in a movie represented to be set in a certain historical period, and over-egging the pudding, so to speak, when it came to explosions, ricochets, gunfire and engine sound effects.
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Posted in Arts & Letters, Diversions, Film, Media, Military Affairs, Society, Uncategorized, War and Peace | 22 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 31st August 2012 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
A few years ago, I was offered an opportunity to review a new movie about the Donner Party – which turned to be one of those arty flicks, with some moderately well-known actors in the cast. It was screened at a couple of film festivals and then went straight to DVD. The plot actually focused on a small group of fifteen, who called themselves the Forlorn Hope. As winter gripped hard, in November of 1846, they made a desperate gamble to leave the main party, stranded high in the mountains, and walk out on snowshoes. They took sparingly of supplies, hoping to leave more for those remaining behind, and set out for the nearest settlement down in the foothills below. They thought they were a mere forty miles from salvation, but it was nearly twice that long. (Seven of the Forlorn Hope survived; two men and five women.) The poster art made it seem as if it verged into horror-movie territory – which I usually avoid, having an extremely good imagination and a very low gross-out threshold – but I did watch it all the way through. The subject – a mid 19th century wagon-train party, stuck in the snows of the Sierra Nevada – is something that I know a good bit about. The ghastly experience of the Donners and the Reeds, and their companions in misery, starvation and madness has horrified and titillated the public from the moment that the last survivor stumbled out of the mountain camp, high in the Sierra Nevada, on the shores of an ice-water lake.
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Posted in Americas, Film, History, Human Behavior, North America, USA | Comments Off
Posted by David Foster on 28th August 2012 (All posts by David Foster)
I recently saw the retrosilent film The Artist (which I thought was pretty good), and by chance, a couple of days later I picked up a magazine with an article on the history of early talking-picture technologies. This in turn led me to do some Internet searching. One of the early sound-movie technologies was something called Vitaphone. With this approach, the sound was recorded separately from the film, using a very large (16 inch diameter) phonograph record.
“How on earth did they ever keep the sound and the picture in sync?” you may well be asking. During recording, the camera and the record-cutting machine were both driven by AC synchronous motors powered by a common line; during exhibition, a direct mechanical connection between projector and record-player was employed. Lots of detail about the process, as well as a review of the pioneering talking movie Don Juan, in this 1926 NYT article.
Vitaphone was heavily used by Warner Brothers and its sister studio First National between 1926 and 1931–in addition to feature films, the technology was used for over 1000 short subjects. While the technology offered good fidelity by the standards of the times–electronic amplification was used–the separation of picture media and sound media made editing difficult, and during exhibition of a film it was necessary to change the records every 10 minutes or so.
When Vitaphone was displaced by the sound-on-film approach, circa 1931,some–but by no means all–of the Vitaphone movies were transferred to the new technology. The Vitaphone Project, which has been active since 1991, is dedicated to finding the old films and old disks and bringing them together in playable format again.
Old movies, newer than new
Czarist Russia, in color (the first link at this post doesn’t work anymore, but the rest of them do)
Posted in Film, History, Media, Music, Tech | Comments Off