One of my favorite films from 2012: Lincoln

Posted by Charles Reece, January 20, 2013 10:16pm | Post a Comment
lincoln poster

Intellectual critics tend to hate Steven Spielberg's films, and Lincoln is no exception. The nastiest laceration I've come across is from one of my favorite social critics, Thomas Frank

Spielberg & Co. have gone out of their way to vindicate political corruption. They have associated it with the noblest possible cause; they have made it seem like harmless high jinks for fun-loving frat boys; they have depicted reformers as ideological killjoys who must renounce their beliefs in order to succeed. This is, in short, what Lincoln is about.

It is true that the film dramatizes Lincoln's greatest achievement by showing the less than pure, even immoral, underbelly of the politics involved: the cajoling, lying, shaming, threatening and bribery. In doing so, it also argues that a radical "killjoy" like Thaddeus Stevens has to publicly repress his own views in order to get things done -- in this case, passing the 13th Amendment, which ended slavery. (Imagine radical voices not being heard in this country! Hard to believe.) Frank condemns the film for what it doesn't show: those times when such morally compromised methods lead to or support political corruption. But he never really gets around to the fundamental point here: politics is always compromised, even when on the side of angels. And contrary to his take, the film does make distinctions in compromise: Lincoln goes beyond the law with the intention of freeing the slaves (who are legally enslaved), but doesn't compromise with the Confederates in order to end the war when it wouldn't serve his (very moral) goal of changing the law. And, more importantly, the film shows us what's needed when democratic compromise breaks down. Adam Smith argued that slavery could be more easily ended under a "despotic" rather than "free government" when it was the "freedom of the free" that was "the cause of the great oppression of the slaves," that is, when "every law is made by their masters, who will never pass any thing prejudicial to themselves." [quoted in Liberalism: A Counter-History, p. 6, by Domenico Losurdo] Sure enough, it was extra-legal measures that vanquished slavery: a war and Lincoln's temporary dictatorship (e.g., his suspension of habeas corpus). For this, his critics called him a despot. They weren't entirely wrong, but he proved to be the kind of despot we needed. We haven't really had Abe the Dictator presented to us in the movies, for which I found the film -- whatever creative license Tony Kushner took with the script -- refreshingly honest.

Unleashing My Essay and a Few Others on Django Unchained

Posted by Charles Reece, January 8, 2013 07:44am | Post a Comment
Samuel Jackson Stephen Django Unchained

My essay, "Snowball's Chance in Hell," on Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained is up. I had some problems with the film:

So, instead of a critical reflection of Django’s narrative, complicating his own generically derived existence as black performativity (cf. blaxploitation), Stephen is treated as little more than a blackface projection for white fantasy. As Tarantino has stated over and over in interviews, he clearly wants his audience to take sides, cheer at the ending — not, I conclude, reflect on the problematic that the house negro presents. Django is the oppressed that white folk would like to be in such a situation, fighting for freedom (just as they would now, of course), with Stephen’s freely working for subjugation the negation that gives such freedom meaning — as if chattel slavery and its concomitant subjugation of black identity were a choice made by the subjugated!

Ishmael Reed
really didn't like the film:

Throughout the movie,Tarantino reminds us that the Foxx character is unique. Comic book white racists, when reacting to Django, say things like “I ain’t never seen a n—– like you.”Or “I ain’t never seen a n—– on horseback.” In case you didn’t get the message it’s said twice in the movie that Django is “one in ten thousand” blacks. It might have been Django producer Reginald Hudlin who introduced Tarantino to the “Talented Tenth” concept originated by W.E.B DuBois. I wish that Hudlin had written the movie. As it stands, Foxx is chained to this stupid screenplay.

No Feet in Django Unchained: Tarantino on Stern

Posted by Charles Reece, December 24, 2012 12:26am | Post a Comment

My critique is coming soon, but in the meantime here's Howard Stern's recent interview
with Quentin Tarantino about his new film (among other subjects), Django Unchained.

Negative Zone, Mon Amour: Stan Lee Wrote a Screenplay with Alain Resnais

Posted by Charles Reece, December 2, 2012 09:37pm | Post a Comment
fantastic four issue 42 page 15 jack kirby
From Fantastic Four #42, p. 15. Art by Jack Kirby and Vince Colletta

I knew Federico Fellini was a fan of 60s Marvel Comics, but was surprised to learn from Sean Howe's Marvel Comics: The Untold Story that not only was Alain Resnais a big fan, he also had plans on making a film with Stan Lee. Fellini was a former cartoonist and I can easily imagine the Marvel Method guiding an Italian production: film a bunch of scenes, then have actors overdub whatever lines Lee wrote after seeing the completed visuals. Resnais, on the other hand, seems snootier and a lot more abstract in his work. Nevertheless, what he and Lee came up was this (as described by The Man himself): "The Monster Maker is a realistic fantasy about a frustrated movie producer who overcomes his frustrations through trying to solve the problems of pollution [...]. There will be lots of symbolism -- and garbage." [quoted in Howe, p. 114] Sounds like they were breaking even with their combined cultural capital. And it's certainly true that both men shared a love for portentous dialogue. Man, I'd love to read this script.

The Late, Great Larry Hagman

Posted by Charles Reece, November 24, 2012 09:32am | Post a Comment

One of the more fascinating shows about gender politics from the 60s, I Dream of Jeannie. In this episode, Tony (Larry Hagman) basically prevents Roger from raping Dr. Bellows' wife by molesting her himself in a closet. And he blames it all on Jeannie, making her stay in the bottle! J.R. isn't the biggest cretin Hagman ever played. He died yesterday.
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