America and Marvel, Part III: The Role of Cinema

 

I will start with some eminently questionable remarks. Let us start from the place of cinema in American life. Americans are notorious for the great gap their society leaves open in-between personal, private experiences, particular to each one and interesting mostly to himself — and public debates or public discourse, which is dominated by abstractions.

Tocqueville famously said Americans are uniquely given to general ideas — whenever doubt should arise about anything, a principle will be stated with god-like certainty. What lies in-between the abstract or universal and the personal or particular is judgment. Judgment, in both common senses of the word, is frowned upon in America. Obviously, moral judgment is frowned upon because it is a form of discrimination and the ground and mode of discrimination — it also odors of inequality, as he who judges necessarily sets himself the superior of he whom he judges. But judgment offends not merely equality — it also offends independence, or individualism.

You will notice, if you pay attention to your fellow Americans, that they spontaneously desire to raise an individual objection to just about any general statement in order to ruin the credibility of that statement. In America, every word for generality becomes suspect — think merely of the scientific word stereotype, which is not something anyone would say about his own way of thinking or mode of argument. The sacred rage against general rules is the intellectual correlative of the moral problem of judgment. There is a kind of heroism in Americans that leads them to fight off the claims of the intellect, that their freedom or unpredictability may remain intact. The argument against judgment is that it traps people’s individuality in human types available to the intellect in abstraction from experience. Each one wants to retain his essential mysteriousness, his opacity to the scrutiny of reason. This is politically salutary in many ways — a people without this aggressive rejection of reason would be easily tyrannized, indeed, with its consent. But it also creates serious problems. In America, taste is impossible publicly to distinguish from prejudice. Judgment, however, requires a ground more amenable to the intellect than inclination, less shifting than preference, and more social than habit.

So then taste would be the mysterious way in which conversation becomes possible that is neither as particular as one’s experience, nor as abstract as a universal statement. Taste is formed, however, not by cinema, but by music. I recommend to you the effort to explain your taste in music; you may find the failure humiliating, which is a chance you’ll have to take. If you allow the word, I would put it this way, it is perplexing. I will not attack anyone’s particular taste, but only point out the problems with taste in America. On the one hand, every American is rather proud of his own taste, at least because it’s his possession. Not everyone shows off his taste, but who will suffer it to be slighted? But how can taste be personal or individual in a country where there are massively popular successes in music? There is no way to say enthusiasm for popular music is less genuine than enthusiasm for the obscure. It would seem to be part of human vanity or self-flattery that we can be proud of our individuality even as we affirm and experience our sameness. On the other hand, the more Americans stand up for their taste publicly — from tee shirts to books — the less they experience the almost inexpressible or non-rational character of love of music.

Conversation about music is rare, therefore, first, because it is very hard to talk about it intelligently, secondly, because people are ferocious in their defense of their own loves. Americans agree and disagree about music at the top of their lungs, but that is not conversation. Professions of love and hatred are ubiquitous, but it is generally conceded that no disagreement can be reasonable, taste being a subjective thing, but not universal. The collapse of conversation is premised on this most peculiar opinion. Americans, when it comes to their hatreds, if not loves, have repealed the law of contradiction.

The farthest thing removed from the deeply felt, inexpressible character of love of music or hatred of it — is politics. Here, too, Americans are loud and proud. In a spontaneous way, their loyalties and outrage are voiced in a way that makes conversation impossible. This is because of the peculiar combination of justice and self-interest that dominates American public life. On the one hand, Americans make professions of justice indefatigably — they will always have a principled statement to offer, free of uncertainty or misgivings. On the other, they take disagreement on principle to be a near-impossibility, a kind of mythic animal. Therefore, the press Americans love best on the one hand confirms their every prejudice to be a show of righteous outrage, and on the other hand, proves for their money’s worth that anyone who disagrees with them is corrupt, malevolent, or morally incompetent.

The American taste for hysteria and enthusiasm in politics, for superlatives, for the worst accusations and the most implausible suspicions, is also part of the freedom of a free people. It must at some level be defended. But it makes political conversation almost impossible. Americans seek refuge, nevertheless, from the endless anger of disputation and the appurtenant fear of being in the wrong — they give themselves over to science, the safe haven of knowledge in the stormy seas of opinion — the opportunity in the chaos. Policy expertise is plentiful in America and people then use it for their partisan purposes, to silence or awe their interlocutors.

In between the too-private musical taste and the too-public abstractions of politics, cinema provides Americans with an endless chance to gossip. Because movies have stories everyone can follow, they are not as obscure as the other things. Because people invest their human dignity in the story, they take pleasure or offense at the endings of movies, with respect to their wishes and to their judgment of the plausibility of the endings. Movies are therefore the ideal place in America for lively disagreement and discovery. They are held to be objects of debate, unlike the music, but not for purposes of partisan victory, unlike the politics. Perhaps the lack of movies about music and politics is itself testimony to the way in which the movies are the commons of America. After all, books about music and politics, of which there are endless numbers, appeal to very small audiences of admirers. There are not many books about movies, however, because people do not much respect opining. What Americans want primarily in talk about movies is recommendations that will lead to a pleasant viewing and reminiscences about old pleasures that can replace the bother of watching them again. Movies are experiences, but not objects of judgment.

The taste formed for principled partisanship or unprincipled love of one’s own is hard to change. One begins to suspect that Americans love movies precisely because they are not conversations. When one looks back to the great directors in old Hollywood or even most celebrated actors these days, one notices that they are as silent as possible about their judgment. A reputation for being an artist is dangerous with the people. It is snobbishly coveted, however, by the few who oppose prestige to popularity. But both sides are pleased by anecdotes that give secret information about movies. Facts about movies are liked, as all facts tend to be. But thoughtfulness about the most superficial thing — movies — is generally forbidden. So, this then is the place of cinema in American life — socially, it encourages judgment and opining, but it fails, most of the time, to spur conversation. It educates the people silently.

This is Part II of a five-part series. You can find Part I here and Part II here; Part IV will be published tomorrow.

There are 45 comments.

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  1. Chris O. Coolidge
    Chris O.
    @ChrisO

    Well, Titus, you’re right. I cannot describe my musical taste in any artful or rational terms. I listen for “sincerity” and sometimes just for people having fun, thus does my taste run unusual paths.

    Looking forward to part four…

    • #1
  2. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Chris O. (View Comment):
    Well, Titus, you’re right. I cannot describe my musical taste in any artful or rational terms. I listen for “sincerity” and sometimes just for people having fun, thus does my taste run unusual paths.

    Looking forward to part four…

    Of course, I don’t know who among us can only like things that he can reasonably like or whose reasons aren’t to some extent, twisted to suit inclinations.

    Let me put it this way–if someone were willing to pay me to do writing on American popular music, I’d do it, because there’s woefully little of it, especially something that is geared not to fans or haters, not to ideologies of progress & revolution in music or mere declinism–but to understanding the audience & the music, & the musicians, when possible, & offer people a chance to share in judgment on common things, even when their taste doesn’t bring them together.

    • #2
  3. Jim Beck Inactive
    Jim Beck
    @JimBeck

    Evening Titus,

    Dick Clark taught us that music criticism is easy,  1. “easy to dance to”or, 2. “I liked the lyrics”. So don’t let Chris’s agreement go to your head.  And no I am not proving your case that an American will disagree with any generality.  Yeah, get off my lawn. Best wishes Titus.

    • #3
  4. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Jim Beck (View Comment):
    Evening Titus,

    Dick Clark taught us that music criticism is easy, 1. “easy to dance to”or, 2. “I liked the lyrics”. So don’t let Chris’s agreement go to your head. And no I am not proving your case that an American will disagree with any generality. Yeah, get off my lawn. Best wishes Titus.

    You’re one-of-a-kind, Jim. As generis goes, you’re very, very sui.

    • #4
  5. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    In passing I note, inasmuch as Dick Clark spoke for the nation, I don’t expect to be making a living out of what used to be called sentimental education.

    There’s something funny, however, about the all-American idea that all the money concerning these things should go to the latest summer club hit.

    • #5
  6. Trink Coolidge
    Trink
    @Trink

    I liked your suggestion that the fallen leaf was an appropriate metaphor for T.E. Lawrence’s social isolation and essential loneliness.   ‘Do you have a response to She regarding her query about your take on the movie Lawrence of Arabia?

    “Speaking of movies, @titustechera, what do you think of “Lawrence of Arabia?”

    • #6
  7. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Trink (View Comment):
    I liked your suggestion that the fallen leaf was an appropriate metaphor for T.E. Lawrence’s social isolation and essential loneliness. ‘Do you have a response to She regarding her query about your take on the movie Lawrence of Arabia?

    “Speaking of movies, @titustechera, what do you think of “Lawrence of Arabia?”

    I think very highly of it. Sometime back, I tried to show with comments on some scenes how Lean developed certain extraordinary scenes that deserve a lot of attention–at least those comments are affixed to clips & maybe less obscure that way.

    • #7
  8. Trink Coolidge
    Trink
    @Trink

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    I think very highly of it. Sometime back, I tried to show with comments on some scenes how Lean developed certain extraordinary scenes that deserve a lot of attention–at least those comments are affixed to clips & maybe less obscure that way.

    Ah!  Thank you for providing that excellent link, I was passing along @She‘s request for your opinion of the movie in her fine post about TEL. 

    • #8
  9. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    Titus Techera: Obviously, moral judgment is frowned upon because it is a form of discrimination and the ground and mode of discrimination — it also odors of inequality, as he who judges necessarily sets himself the superior of he whom he judges. But judgment offends not merely equality — it also offends independence, or individualism.

    I’ll put a slight twist on this.  Americans love to pass moral judgment, but hate to be caught passing judgment.  Indeed, sometimes the harshest judgment passed on someone is that they are judgmental.

    • #9
  10. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    Titus Techera: I recommend to you the effort to explain your taste in music; you may find the failure humiliating, which is a chance you’ll have to take.

    Elvis Costello once said that writing about music was like dancing about architecture.  Obviously, he’s not American…

    It’s probably better reserved to those folks who can describe things like the effect of key changes on our listening experience than to the average person.

    • #10
  11. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Quinn the Eskimo (View Comment):

    Titus Techera: Obviously, moral judgment is frowned upon because it is a form of discrimination and the ground and mode of discrimination — it also odors of inequality, as he who judges necessarily sets himself the superior of he whom he judges. But judgment offends not merely equality — it also offends independence, or individualism.

    I’ll put a slight twist on this. Americans love to pass moral judgment, but hate to be caught passing judgment. Indeed, sometimes the harshest judgment passed on someone is that they are judgmental.

    Yeah. Think about things like the superstition about smoking. Holy fear of death is not enough–health forever is not enough–people who claim to be of superior mind & education have a superstitious terror of smoke. Unclean miasma!

    Of course, judging the judgmental is the last form of moral condemnation available to democrats. Beyond that, you have to be undemocratic again–like the jogging / gym classes judging the classes where people lose limbs to diabetes…

    • #11
  12. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Quinn the Eskimo (View Comment):

    Titus Techera: I recommend to you the effort to explain your taste in music; you may find the failure humiliating, which is a chance you’ll have to take.

    Elvis Costello once said that writing about music was like dancing about architecture. Obviously, he’s not American…

    It’s probably better reserved to those folks who can describe things like the effect of key changes on our listening experience than to the average person.

    That’s also an American reaction: Leave it to experts!

    Put it this way–the thinking through musical experience is logically an antecedent of any analysis of that experience, which is what musical theory might supply, in part. To be clearer, musical theory can only be a counter-part to psychology. How little we talk about the effects of pop music on us, I think, is a testament to the undemocratic secrets on which our democratic experience–we’re more or less the same, more or less individualistic–is built.

    • #12
  13. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Trink (View Comment):

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    I think very highly of it. Sometime back, I tried to show with comments on some scenes how Lean developed certain extraordinary scenes that deserve a lot of attention–at least those comments are affixed to clips & maybe less obscure that way.

    Ah! Thank you for providing that excellent link, I was passing along @She‘s request for your opinion of the movie in her fine post about TEL.

    Thanks, Trink! I somehow didn’t get that mention…

    • #13
  14. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    That’s also an American reaction: Leave it to experts!

    Do Europeans do a better job of explaining their musical tastes?  (Really have no idea.)

    • #14
  15. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    Titus Techera: In between the too-private musical taste and the too-public abstractions of politics, cinema provides Americans with an endless chance to gossip.

    Is American interest in cinema different in kind of interest in cinema in other countries?  Or with pre-cinema art forms?

    • #15
  16. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    Titus Techera: A reputation for being an artist is dangerous with the people. It is snobbishly coveted, however, by the few who oppose prestige to popularity.

    How much is this attributable to snobbery and how much to the split between so-called high and low culture in the Victorian era that has mutated in many forms?   (To shorthand it, perhaps somewhat crudely for brevity’s sake, in the first phase, where high art was treated as something stuffy and boring and in the next where it was treated as something ugly and incomprehensible.  In the first case, condescending to the popular audience and in the second, spiting it.)

    • #16
  17. Chris O. Coolidge
    Chris O.
    @ChrisO

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    That’s also an American reaction: Leave it to experts!

    Put it this way–the thinking through musical experience is logically an antecedent of any analysis of that experience, which is what musical theory might supply, in part. To be clearer, musical theory can only be a counter-part to psychology. How little we talk about the effects of pop music on us, I think, is a testament to the undemocratic secrets on which our democratic experience–we’re more or less the same, more or less individualistic–is built.

    Actually, the American reaction is let the experts talk all they want, I have my own opinion. Most cinema critics are ignored, after all.

    Music theory, apparently, isn’t a part of it at all: How to Become a Music Critic. Nowhere in that link does it mention musical training.

    Probably for many, the music they like evokes memory. When a band comes out with an album similar to one a listener attaches personal meaning to, the listener will probably like it. Some bands build successful careers imitating others’ sound. Maybe this is why some listen to the same music (often from their youth) all their lives. I can’t recall a music critic ever talking about theory, but it’s been a long while since I read a music review.

    Is this true in cinema? Hollywood seems to think so given the number of reboots and remakes of past franchises. Hmm. How long before we see a new Jaws film?

    • #17
  18. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    Chris O. (View Comment):
    How long before we see a new Jaws film?

    After the artistic achievement of Jaws: The Revenge, anything further would be the desecration of a classic.

    • #18
  19. Jim Beck Inactive
    Jim Beck
    @JimBeck

    Afternoon Quinn, Chris, Titus,

    Titus my apologies for taking us off subject for a moment.

    Jimmy Webb was a good friend to Glen Campbell through his final years and the long dark descent into the oblivion of Alzheimer’s. Somewhere along the way, he said that just about the last coherent phrases Glen could articulate were song lyrics. “They’ll remember a song after everything else is gone. They’ll remember the lyrics. They’ll remember the melody. They’ll be staring out the window blankly. Then they’ll burst into song.” That was true in my dad’s case, too. I remember going to see him in hospital when he could no longer string a sentence together, but something a nurse said prompted him to deliver “(Kiss me once, then kiss me twice, then kiss me once again) It’s Been A Long, Long Time”, all 32 bars, word-perfect. I was touched by Webb’s reminiscence of his friend, and the muscle-memory that could still conjure up the gifts each man had given the other – great songs rewarded by great interpretations. And, even in the cloud of dementia, somewhere stretching through like telegraph poles on a county road is a line of pure poetry shining to the infinite horizon:

    I hear you singin’ in the wire
    I can hear you through the whine…

    Rest in peace.

    That is the last paragraph in Steyn’s song of the week on Glenn Campbell.  Concerning music, is music a stronger force on culture because it is a stronger force on the human memory than movies, (unless its “Singing in the Rain”)?

    I think Titus is making the case that movies because they are mirrors to where we are, or might be going, or are mirrors to what sparks our imagination are potent carriers of cultural change.  Titus if I have missed your point, correct me.  My belief is that this could be true if we had somewhat common stories about our origins and if the audiences for movies were a broader sample of America and not teens.

    • #19
  20. Chris O. Coolidge
    Chris O.
    @ChrisO

    Quinn the Eskimo (View Comment):

    Chris O. (View Comment):
    How long before we see a new Jaws film?

    After the artistic achievement of Jaws: The Revenge, anything further would be the desecration of a classic.

    Agreed on all points, but I don’t think that enters into Hollywood’s rationale. Still, plenty of shark movies coming out to fill the void…

    • #20
  21. Chris O. Coolidge
    Chris O.
    @ChrisO

    Jim Beck (View Comment):
    I think Titus is making the case that movies because they are mirrors to where we are, or might be going, or are mirrors to what sparks our imagination are potent carriers of cultural change.

    I’m taking this point, Jim, agreed. I wanted to add a note of caution in placing too much weight on any particular sample or a genre’s current trends, and make that point lightly. Because, really, Hollywood makes some excellent films that are successful, and some bad ones that are successful. Which is representative? Can we, perhaps, consider an alternate view that the core of American culture resides not in film, nor music, nor canvas, nor sport, but in something else? I don’t know, because Titus hasn’t finished yet! He may blow that thought well out of my mind.

    • #21
  22. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Quinn the Eskimo (View Comment):

    Titus Techera: In between the too-private musical taste and the too-public abstractions of politics, cinema provides Americans with an endless chance to gossip.

    Is American interest in cinema different in kind of interest in cinema in other countries? Or with pre-cinema art forms?

    Cinema in Europe has always been tied up with thinking about cinema & talking about cinema. Because in Europe intellectuals are far more respected than in America, & can be well independent of politicking, at least going back to Walter Benjamin, things have been different…

    But American taste at some point in post-war Europe began to prevail. European cinema became a minority opinion in its various jurisdictions.

    Compare that to the pre-war era, when UFA made more films than the rest of Europe–more films than Hollywood, & film-makers went to Berlin to study or to make their mark. The talkies & then Hitler killed that…

    • #22
  23. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Quinn the Eskimo (View Comment):

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    That’s also an American reaction: Leave it to experts!

    Do Europeans do a better job of explaining their musical tastes? (Really have no idea.)

    Time was, yes. Of course, now American or American-derivative music dominates popular taste in most places in Europe, too.

    The way to think about this, just like the American superstitions tend to be about politics, the European superstitions tended to be about culture. (I always give the same example for my American friends, so stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Imagine an America where someone like Bush or Trump names Tom Wolfe SecState. That’s what France was in the Sixties; or Romania, in my childhood. It’s a different world.)

     

    • #23
  24. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Quinn the Eskimo (View Comment):

    Titus Techera: A reputation for being an artist is dangerous with the people. It is snobbishly coveted, however, by the few who oppose prestige to popularity.

    How much is this attributable to snobbery and how much to the split between so-called high and low culture in the Victorian era that has mutated in many forms? (To shorthand it, perhaps somewhat crudely for brevity’s sake, in the first phase, where high art was treated as something stuffy and boring and in the next where it was treated as something ugly and incomprehensible. In the first case, condescending to the popular audience and in the second, spiting it.)

    The split is itself to a large extent a matter of snobbery! The truth is, the masses never flock to hear Mozart.

    There’s something else, too. The best American movie-maker whose movies are about America is Jeff Nichols. Americans cannot be bothered to care. But the snobs in America have rewarded him–the festival circuit, indie lovers, & even the Academy Awards give him nominations. His movies are the sort of stuff we Ricochetti would care about or even love. But we cannot bother to organize to fund his next movie or praise his last…

    • #24
  25. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Chris O. (View Comment):

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    That’s also an American reaction: Leave it to experts!

    Put it this way–the thinking through musical experience is logically an antecedent of any analysis of that experience, which is what musical theory might supply, in part. To be clearer, musical theory can only be a counter-part to psychology. How little we talk about the effects of pop music on us, I think, is a testament to the undemocratic secrets on which our democratic experience–we’re more or less the same, more or less individualistic–is built.

    Actually, the American reaction is let the experts talk all they want, I have my own opinion. Most cinema critics are ignored, after all.

    Americans do not admit there is any movie expertise. This is part of the hateful work by which freedom is defended. So you can ask the lovely people on Ricochet. They will speak their hatred or contempt of Armond White as eloquently as any liberal, though that man has done more to defend America at the movies than anyone alive. He has committed the unforgivable sins of standing on his expertise & arguing for taste. He loves America too much for Americans to love him back, you could say…

    Music theory, apparently, isn’t a part of it at all: How to Become a Music Critic. Nowhere in that link does it mention musical training.

    Probably for many, the music they like evokes memory. When a band comes out with an album similar to one a listener attaches personal meaning to, the listener will probably like it. Some bands build successful careers imitating others’ sound. Maybe this is why some listen to the same music (often from their youth) all their lives. I can’t recall a music critic ever talking about theory, but it’s been a long while since I read a music review.

    I think you’re going to the root of it all here: Americans have taught the world, because they believe it themselves, that music that came out when you were 15-25 is the best there is in world history & you know because it hits you in the gut, makes you happy, or gets you misty-eyed. This is the surrender of the American mind to childhood. I do not have a solution for it; but I do not share the majority opinion.

    Is this true in cinema? Hollywood seems to think so given the number of reboots and remakes of past franchises. Hmm. How long before we see a new Jaws film?

    Movies are different from music. People do not in fact have experiences of their own here. So that what America craves desperately is, this generation’s Star Wars, because maybe it’ll live up to the legends of the old ones, but for a new generation, because we all know there’s no future anyway. Music is actually hopeful when it hits; cinema is always already nostalgic.

    • #25
  26. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Jim Beck (View Comment):I think Titus is making the case that movies because they are mirrors to where we are, or might be going, or are mirrors to what sparks our imagination are potent carriers of cultural change. Titus if I have missed your point, correct me. My belief is that this could be true if we had somewhat common stories about our origins and if the audiences for movies were a broader sample of America and not teens.

    Hello, Jim! Yes, I read some of the same stories about Glenn Campbell & I believe them to be true. When I’ll be famous enough to publish a book of sonnets, you’ll see my work in print where it says the ancient truth that music reveals the souls that long for God.

    Movies are comparatively less intensely intimate; more amenable to reason; more incline to tell a recognizable story than to prove an unutterable truth, so to speak.

    But as for teens–they’re just a caricature of America. They’re not themselves. They are merely suffering the adult America adults don’t dare confront. You can think of it as parents shouting hysterically at each other, not knowing the kids are listening. That’s the public life of America. The culture inevitably reflects it, though mostly with a delay.

    • #26
  27. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    The best American movie-maker whose movies are about America is Jeff Nichols.

    I’ve seen Midnight Special, which I liked.  But can you elaborate on this point?

    • #27
  28. Trink Coolidge
    Trink
    @Trink

    Jim Beck (View Comment):
    And, even in the cloud of dementia, somewhere stretching through like telegraph poles on a county road is a line of pure poetry shining to the infinite horizon:

    I hear you singin’ in the wire
    I can hear you through the whine…

    Rest in peace.

    Beautiful.

    Amen.

    • #28
  29. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    Of course, now American or American-derivative music dominates popular taste in most places in Europe, too.

    But doesn’t that suggest it is something about the music rather than something about the intellectual culture of Europe?  It seems counterintutive that  people can explain their tastes, until they receive American music and then it wrecks their ability for self-reflection.

    • #29
  30. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Quinn the Eskimo (View Comment):

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    The best American movie-maker whose movies are about America is Jeff Nichols.

    I’ve seen Midnight Special, which I liked. But can you elaborate on this point?

    Midnight special is a movie about how hard it is to be a father in America & that that somehow ties up with a problem Americans have with privacy. There is the intense privacy of a cult, which is shockingly tolerable in America. (Think Scientology, now with tax exempt status!) & the reverse of it in the federal gov’t. Both are forms of obedience based on a strange kind of fear.–Then there is the hoped for alien future where Americans can finally escape the intolerable humanity they’re stuck with. Why should they have to face their mortality for the sake of the entire world? They’re only human–& that’s just not good enough, is it? This other thing might seem like it’s shared rather than private, but that’s not the case. Americans daren’t confess their fantasy of abandoning each other…–In between the two is a very uncertain living in the present where you have to be ok with your mortality enough to save a child. If you size up the intensity of the fatherly love in the story with the now-common situation in America, you begin to see that the story is about some very serious problems.

    Mud was his rather more popular & prestigious movie. That’s about love. Mud himself is a kind of Adam, hence the name, but way more erotic.

    Take shelter was about family, whether a man is insane to trust himself in absence of a religious community.

    Loving, the only real happy ending, is about what civil rights mean within the context of a family, what kind of moral virtues make a man dignified even in face of public humiliations, & what kind of tender love makes a woman able to enjoy that kind of protection.

    His debut, Shotgun stories, set up most of these problems. It’s about men without a father growing bestial. About their problems with women & their beginning to hate women. About living in places where there’s little economy & in a nation where self-reliance earns no respect–everyone’s too busy trying to be part of the future… It’s about what anguished manliness could turn to in America & how humiliating it is to learn to live with disappointment.

    Some of these movies should be popular. Conservatives should be paying this guy to make movies. This guy did more work to attract attention to lower class white men than anyone before the political hysteria of 2016; & he’s far more astute about it than most, even now–partly, because he’s usually talking about the Arkansas where he grew up.

    But most conservative intellectuals cannot even be bothered to take this seriously, much less to certain touting him, because of their superstitions about how important or revealing ideological politics is. They’re blinded by their education more than by their paychecks. & meanwhile decent Americans are sold one Marvel fix after the next.

    When I think of the American movies I learn from & what’s popular, I wonder whether Americans are ashamed of their own country. I don’t quite understand what’s going on. I don’t know why people who do so much to try to help people live with what’s going on get so little help.

    • #30

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