So we’re doing a trilogy about the Colors Trilogy–Krzystof Kieslowski’s masterwork, and the end of his career. The least known of the Polish masters assumes the authority to tell Europe what the problem of reunification is–what the problem of the European Union is, in the terms of the French Revolution, whose tricolor replaced the aristocratic crests and Christian cross of medieval flags. Those three colors stand for Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. We start with Freedom, of course–Paris, the beautiful Juliette Binoche, and our reliance on accident for insight.More
Friends, here’s our first Kubrick conversation–his last movie, Eyes Wide Shut, about the erotic temptations Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, I mean their characters, have to withstand at the turn of the millennium and how the spirit of Christmas might be replaced by a shocking and elusive conspiracy of elite perverts who dedicate themselves to restoring paganism!More
Friends, here’s our second Kurosawa episode, after Rashomon: Jody Bottum and I talk about The Hidden Fortress, an extraordinary movie famous for inspiring George Lucas’s Star Wars, which was financed by Americans largely–through Lucas and Coppola’s efforts–and offers a rare mix of history and comedy, so that the tragedy of Japan can be brought to a hopeful conclusion. Toshiro Mifune gives his most sophisticated performance, ranging from scoundrel to legendary samurai, and alongside him we see a 16-year-old girl become a princess. We also talk about everything from Aristotle to Shakespeare to Austen and Dickens to John Wayne and John Ford!More
Today we’re concluding our conversations on Park Chan-wook, the most famous and successful director in South Korea, with the conclusion of his vengeance trilogy: Sympathy For Lady Vengeance. The protagonist is a femme fatale and a loving mother looking for justice and happiness, back to the virtues the harshness of pre-modern Korea cultivated in the situation of the modern new South Korea. This is a wonderful, if mostly tragic story, unusual, especially by American standards, and a show of the very different forms of storytelling in East Asia. My interlocutors are American professors — George Dunn teaching in China, and Peter Paik in South Korea. Listen and share, friends.More
After Chinatown, we turn to another wonderful neo-noir vision of the foundation of Los Angeles, or rather its turning into Hollywood, the dream factory: Brian De Palma’s parting shot to Hollywood, The Black Dahlia. The movie came out in 2006, had a great cast: Josh Hartnett, Aaron Eckhart, and Scarlett Johansson, was based on a James Ellroy novel, whose L.A. Confidential had wowed audiences and critics in 1997, and was filmed beautifully by Vilmos Zsigmond, who was nominated for the Oscar for his work. Nevertheless, the audience didn’t really love it and the critics even less–it’s a more tragic story about Americans chasing after beautiful dreams and finding a horrible cruelty hiding behind splendor. But it’s precisely this tragic character that makes the film so impressive.More
My conversation with Terry Teachout on Chinatown: Noir, neo-noir, and breaking the boundaries of genre to reflect on American history. We talked about John Huston and Jack Nicholson–old & new Hollywood, different versions of corruption, doom, tragedy. https://soundcloud.com/user-77539699/acf-critic-series-36-teachout-chinatown?in=user-77539699/sets/noir
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Today, @johnpresnall and I are wrapping up a discussion on tragedy — that is Scarface — with some political notes and also a view of the cycle of regimes presented by Socrates near the end of Plato’s Republic. Yeah, we’re working overtime to make the most despised or at least underrated of the masters, Brian De Palma, reveal his inner greatness. In the mean time, we’ll go to the shocking lengths of praising Oliver Stone and making a bit of fun of Sidney Lumet…More
The podcast’s going back to the great De Palma–our fifth, after The Untouchables, Blow Out, Body Double, and Carlito’s Way. You’ve got Al Pacino, cocaine, Miami, an Oliver Stone script, and the ’80s: So naturally everything goes crazy and turns into a tragedy. Scarface is both a rebuke to liberals who look at criminals as mere victims and to conservatives who look at them as failures. American liberalism–Jimmy Carter–invites immigrants on moral grounds; conservatism–capitalism–invites workers on economic grounds. But Scarface escapes both morality and business, revealing the weaknesses of an American society that cannot deal with the poor or with narco-capitalism.More
Here’s another Eastern classic–after Kurosawa, a modern Korean movie by Park Chan-wook. George Dunn and Peter Paik and I discuss Oldboy, the centerpiece of the Vengeance trilogy, which won Park the Palme d’Or in Cannes. Korea’s transformation into a prosperous democracy and Oh Dae Su’s transformation into a superman go together to first conceal and then reveal the dark secret at the foundation of civil society: The sacred law on which politics is based is the family, which must obey public laws. This is tragedy in a modern setting, moving between the epitome of wealth and the underworld of crime, incredibly violent, but also strangely hopeful about the possibility of reestablishing civilization.More
Here’s our first Kurosawa podcast–Rashomon, one of the master’s early Oscar nominations, a sign of the openness of Hollywood to great moviemaking elsewhere. The movie is still near the top 100 on IMDb, which I take as a sign that American film lovers nowadays also sense its greatness–in the beautiful cinematography and acting, and above all in the poetic device. This podcast also gives me an opportunity to introduce a new contributor, Molly McGrath, who teaches philosophy at Assumption College and now and then writes on movies, always with force and insight.More
Culture in the age of social media–here’s my conversation with writer Ben Sixsmith about the vast democratization of communications brought about by digital technology and the vast concentration of the public space in a handful of corporations. It’s not made us happy and good, but instead created new political conflicts and social drama. It’s an interesting time, but hardly bearable–so you might like some thoughts on Twitter, YouTube, and various other observations about what it’s like to be human plus digital. Also, if you’re interested in a fine read on British-Polish relations, Ben’s book is the thing for you!More
Time for summer viewings. Here’s an entry in our ongoing series on Hitchcock–the 1951 hit that made Hitchcock popular again, Strangers On A Train, kind of companion piece to Rope. Both are movies about murders committed out of enlightened immorality, one set among education elites in New York, the other among political elites in Washington. Both stories are about social climbers who have to face up to the ugliness of the elites they want to join and, therefore, warn of the problems post-war liberalism will face.More
Just in time for the 4th, here’s an odd celebration of American freedom: I talked to Paul Cantor talk about David Milch’s most famous achievement, Deadwood–the movie and the TV show. A Western, lawless, but orderly vision of America. An America with commerce but without religion, with freedom but without equality–what kind of community and what kind of justice are possible in such a situation? Something piratical, un-Puritan.More
Here’s what this post, and last week’s post are about: The cultural changes in the media that Ricochet readers don’t like didn’t happen by pure accident. They took decades. We propose equally patient, persistent, but ruthlessly effective efforts to push culture in another direction over the next 20-plus years. We are chewing over how to create or capture a big chunk of tomorrow’s media and the arts. It’s a myth that nothing can be done about the entertainment business. Success is Hollywood’s definitive history teacher.
@drewinwisconsin raises a tough point. He said, “So that’s probably why it’s important to try to change or break the current system rather than try to build an equivalent system that will have no users. Consider how much power and scope Google+ had, and it still couldn’t survive against Facebook. And that’s Google — already a malignant influence.”More
This week, I’m joined again by my friend Peter Paik, Professor at University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and at Yonsei University in Seoul, author of a book on pop-culture visions of radical political change that’s most timely: From Utopia To Apocalypse.
Peter and I talk about the comic books of Alan Moore, the main subject of his book: Watchmen, made into a movie by Zack Snyder and now about to become an HBO series; V for Vendetta, made into a movie by the Wachowskis, the Matrix creators; From Hell, made into a movie by the Hughes brothers, starring Johnny Depp; and Miracleman, a Cold-War-to-End-of-History story that has not yet been adapted.More
This week, Telly Davidson and I wrap up our conversation on Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane–the tyrannic soul who wants to be loved by everyone, erotic longings that slip the bounds of nature, and the failure of friendship to limit madness. We talk about the problems of love and friendship, but also about politics and media, or how tyranny shows up in the age of Progress.More
For the two-year anniversary of the podcast, here’s Citizen Kane. We talk media moguls and politics; radio, TV, and Trump; democratic reform and the tyrannic soul; Progress and Eros. Here’s, for once, a defense of Orson Welles’s political wit, not movie magic! I talk to Telly Davidson, another of the few conservatives in Hollywood– a critic, author, and man toiling away in production. His most recent book is Culture War about, you guessed it, the ’90s, when the seeds were planted of the whirlwind keeping things interesting now. We’ll talk about it on our next podcast!More
Paul Cantor joins me for the second part of our conversation on his new book: Pop Culture And The Dark Side Of The American Dream: Con Men, Gangsters, Drug Lords, And Zombies. It’s time for the zombies–for the postmodern Western, The Walking Dead, from Shane to Wagon Train to our times of crisis, when we ask ourselves, could we be what we think we are without the institutions and technology that prop us up? Is American character able to withstand the test of the state of nature?More
Here’s my new podcast with Paul Cantor, on the Macbeth of Meth! We talk about The Dark Side Of The American Dream — go buy the book, folks. It’s about tragedy in pop culture, from Huck Finn to The Walking Dead (which we’ll get to next week). We talk about the American Dream — especially the middle-class suburban dream of the post-war era–and what happens when it doesn’t work out. Especially during troubled times, like nowadays, people turn to darker stories and are more interested in the tragic side of life. So all of a sudden mere villains ascend by the path of the anti-hero to the full status of tragic hero, trying to out-American America, so to speak.More
Prof. John Marini and I wrap up a trilogy on Sam Peckinpah’s westerns with his most comic, least violent picture: The Ballad of Cable Hogue. The only movie he made about a founding also turns out to be his story about dealing with movability, mutability, and mortality in America. Progress is a killer, but human beings can remember their love of the natural, tranquil life. It’s also Peckinpah’s Lockean Western, where labor mixed with nature creates property and leads to a common good for a community!More