Tag: american cinema foundation

ACF Critic Series #7: Teachout “On Dangerous Ground”

 

Terry Teachout and I continued our series on noir movies and also meet each other in the flesh for the first time. Listen and share, friends–we talk about Nicholas Ray’s On Dangerous Ground, about the touch of greatness in Robert Ryan’s portrayal of justice turning to loneliness and, eventually, cruelty–about Ida Lupino’s remarkable portrayal of realism and innocence mixed together–Ward Bond’s equally compelling turn as a father mad for revenge, driven to the limits of humanity–and, of course, Bernard Hermann’s impressively Romantic score, which adds a solid depth to characterization, enough to give an American story the tragic depth it needs. We also talk about the loss of innocence of WWII and how American movies took a turn for the tragic, becoming less lovely, but more beautiful, in the process.

More

ACF Middlebrow #15: Die Hard

 

My friend Pete Spiliakos and I are doing our 10th podcast and it’s about a movie on its 30th anniversary. Die Hard is well-loved and little talked about — we’re here to remedy that. We discuss the great everyman performance Bruce Willis put in and how director John McTiernan crafted the entire movie around him. With remarkable coherence, you get a view of the working class moral realism and virtues of American men and, from that perspective, of the arrogant incompetent of all sorts of institutions: Corporations, media, government, police, etc. We also talk at length about the social changes that have made action movies almost inconceivable and replaced working class heroes with oligarchs and mythical aristocrats, who alone seem to deserve our attention and billions of box office dollars… This is what our Middlebrow series is all about: How movies reflect society and also reflect on our ideas and beliefs.

More

ACF Critic Series #6: Teachout on The Night of The Hunter

 

After Vertigo and Laura, Terry Teachout and I turn to famous British actor Charles Laughton’s great directorial debut, The Night Of The Hunter, starring Robert Mitchum at his peak. We talk about the consummate work of art, the craftsmanship put into a thrilling and fearful story of great moral seriousness, and many other things about the cast and crew, Flannery O’Connor, and about child actors. We talk about innocence, violence, and respectability, and how the devil can come in the clothes of a preacher. Listen to our conversation and share it, friends, and we’re always waiting for your comments!

More

ACF#39 The Wild Bunch

 

This has been a summer of Westerns on the ACF podcast and we are now talking about one of the last great ones: The Wild Bunch, Sam Peckinpah’s answer to John Ford. Peckinpah answers to the epic with tragedy, to foundations with collapse, to the respectability of the railroad that carries The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance with the railroad that carries Gen. Pershing’s men and which the Wild Bunch robs. The Civil War song We will gather at the river, Ford’s favorite Western song, is sung during a terrible, bloody shootout. Agony is Peckinpah’s mood and he displays violence in all its ugliness to give all the moral seriousness of our mortality. His movies are about choosing a noble death.

More

ACF Middlebrow #12: Comedy & Communism

 

The new Middlebrow podcast deals with comedy and communism, spurred by the recent movie The Death of Stalin, which Flagg Taylor (@FlaggTaylor) and I both wanted to succeed. Unfortunately, it is a failure. More on this on the podcast, as well as some talk about Milan Kundera, Ilf and Petrov, Solzhenitsyn and Leo Strauss, Vaclav Havel and Vaclav Benda, an English-translation book of whose essays Flagg has just edited, The Long Night of The Watchman. Flagg is also the co-editor, with our friend Carl Scott, of Totalitarianism on Screen, about the great movie The Lives of Others (won the Oscar for Best Foreign Picture in 2006), which dealt with the secret police in Communist East Germany, and which we discussed on the podcast last year. So now we match our conversation on tragedy and communism with one on comedy. Listen, share, and give us a rating/review!

More

ACF Founders #2: Gouverneur Morris

 

The Founders series continues with Gouverneur Morris. Morris was a man who saw up close both the American and French Revolutions, who judged politics on both continents with a keen eye and no piety, and who conducted himself more generously than any other Founder. We owe Richard Brookhiser a debt of gratitude for bringing to modern audiences Gouverneur Morris’s incredibly charming and inspiring story. Morris faced physical and political dangers with great manliness, and at the same time was America’s most sophisticated aristocrat–he had all the vices we admire and none of the virtues which annoy us, to paraphrase Churchill. He was a patriot and dedicated much of his life to public service, but he also dedicated much of his life to business, making money, and about as much to enjoying the spending of it, often in the company of women to whom he wasn’t married. He was a Federalist, an adept of a strong national government with a strong executive, almost immune to idealism, and so a great match for Alexander Hamilton, the hero of our first conversation.

More

ACF#38: Unforgiven

 

Happy Fourth, everyone! After the celebrations, I recommend Unforgiven, the last Western, and the movie that first won Clint Eastwood the Oscar–two awards, Best Picture and Best Director, as well as a nomination for Best Actor. This is a very dark movie, but it is a very good movie. It is beautifully shot, but also sober. It is violent, but dignified. It’s a movie about what it takes to establish the equal human rights of all human beings, the human dignity we all sense in the fine words of the Declaration. It deals with the origin of law as we now know it in a sacred law that requires violence to put an end to violence, at least the chaotic violence of the Old West. It is also a reminder of the difference between law and order, which we tend to think of as identical or at least necessarily connected. But the movie shows order is perfectly compatible with treating some people as property, i.e., slavery.

More

ACF#37 My Darling Clementine

 

Ready for another Western? Here’s Hank Fonda as Wyatt Earp in My Darling Clementine, John Ford’s most elegant Western. It combines a simplicity of storytelling with a remarkably clear structure about the emergence of civilization, announced in four skeptical exclamations: Marshaling in Tombstone? Shakespeare in Tombstone? Church bells in Tombstone? Schooling in Tombstone? It’s also the Ford Western that explores friendship and its potentially tragic consequences with the greatest feeling, and the most erudite Western, where characterization and themes are established by quoting Hamlet and Addison’s poem on the Duke of Marlborough. It’s a beautiful movie, free of the sordid, and its dignity is a show of Ford’s understanding of the American past.

More

ACF Anniversary Edition: Terry Teachout on Vertigo

 

Friends, the American Cinema Foundation movie podcast is on its first anniversary. To celebrate, the celebrated Terry Teachout joins me to discuss Hitchcock’s Vertigo. It’s a pleasure to have him join and I am even more pleased to announce we will be doing such conversations in future, with whatever regularity circumstances permit. I’m also glad to return to Hitchcock, who was on my mind last year, when the podcast was just getting started–I was preparing for my journey to America, to become a Publius Fellow at the Claremont Institute, and at that time, thinking about Hitchcock’s reflections on American society–I did several podcasts that I thought revealed the power of tragedy: Psycho (with a discussion of the moral teaching of the art on display in the movie), The Birds, and later Rope. That was when I conceived a book on Hitchcock’s movies from 1948 to 1963–his analysis of the post-war transformation, which mirrors his own change from the thriller to the horror. Listen and share, friends–I hope you will be delighted with this conversation and find some insights!

More

ACF #35: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

 

The Great Western series continues. Prof. Marini and I move from the sacred law of the family–The Searchers–to the law of the city: Liberty Valance. We talk about love and law, nature and progress, the desert and the railroad, and the rest of the symbols and structures that stand out in John Ford’s best movie. Listen to our conversation, friends, and please share the podcast. If you prefer iTunes, go here, and please leave us a review/rating. You can also find us on stitcher and on pocketcasts.

More

ACF#34: The Searchers

 

Today, I am joined by Prof. John Marini for the first in a series of podcasts on Great Westerns. We start with The Searchers, John Ford’s thematic treatment of the sacred law of the family. American freedom out West and the nature-civilization conflict are treated in parallel in a story that blends comedy and tragedy with an eye to Homer. This is John Wayne’s greatest role and it is an education about human things wrapped into one. Listen and share, friends!

More

ACF Middlebrow #11: Never Let Me Go

 

Our own Flagg Taylor joins me on the podcast this week for a discussion of Never Let Me Go, from the novel by Nobel Laureate Kazuo Ishiguro. Flagg assigned the novel in a class on dystopias this semester and so we talked about how Ishiguro’s story compares with other famous dystopias, what it has to say about our society, and how it dramatizes the emergence of soul in love, art, and care-giving, even in the face of a dehumanizing scientific tyranny. It’s a fine movie and I can confirm it is as beautiful on a second viewing, so well told that when once you know the big surprise, it touches your heart even more. Listen to our conversation, comment, and share, friends! As always, please subscribe to and review/rate us on iTunes.

More

ACF Middlebrow #10: The Last Jedi

 

New podcast, new ideas, new controversies! This week, Pete Spiliakos and I talk Star Wars. We pick apart The Last Jedi to show you what is expected of competent mediocrity; how hard it is to get plots, characters, their conflicts, and relationships right; and how important it is to do so. We talk about how the audience is supposed to react to various characters and developments, thus connecting emotions to ideas to develop themes about the education of a new generation of leaders. Properly done, TLJ would have been a good story reflecting the innocence and incompetence of Millennials and their confrontation with Boomers who are both mythical and catastrophic. This is what middlebrow art is like — if only we aspire to it…

More

ACF Middlebrow #9: Justice League

 

My friend Pete Spiliakos and I bring you a discussion of one of the few truly interesting recent cinematic events, Justice League. This was an example of the conflict between artists and businessmen. Zack Snyder, one of the lonely few examplars of first-rate Hollywood talent, had his work destroyed by a studio Warner Bros / DC hellbent on suicide. Warner had the greatest team in Hollywood working on their superhero movies–Christopher Nolan (as writer and director, also with his brother Jonathan in the writing role) and Zack Snyder. The only men who have any grasp on the epic and the tragic as genres and insights. They also made billions of dollars for the studio. So naturally, the studio destroyed their work. Listen and marvel with us at the good, the bad, and the very bad, and the worse.

More

ACF#33: Westworld

 

Two of my academic friends, George Dunn and Jason Eberl, join me for a discussion of Westworld, the HBO sci-fi-Western now premiering its second season. Creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy (husband and wife) give us a new version of a Blade Runner future and this is one we recommend. We talk through all sorts of important philosophical insights from Plato to Nietzsche, showing what intelligent writers-directors bring to popular culture and how we can think about our crisis of identity. We end with a discussion of friendship and truth-telling.

More

ACF Middlebrow #8: A Quiet Place

 

The podcast’s back with something new. There’s a horror movie atop the American box office; it’s made more than $100 million. What’s rarer still is that it’s for adults. Rarest of all, it dramatizes American middle class parents’ terror of the uncertainty surrounding their kids’ lives and futures. John Krasinski stars and also directed this remarkable success; Scott Beck and Bryan Woods wrote the screenplay (with him) and produced; and Emily Blunt gives the kind of performance that wins Oscars, if the Academy had any judgment. So my friend Pete and I are here to show how the movie reflects on American society and the good that art can do, if but people pay attention to it!

More

ACF #32: Mud

 

Ready Player One is a worldwide hit and the lead actor, teenager Tye Sheridan, is headed for fame. So your trusty podcast brings you the story on his best performance, in Jeff Nichols’s Mud, alongside Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, the late Sam Shepard, and Michael Shannon. The movie came out in 2012 and was nominated for the most important art film award, the Palme D’or at Cannes. It’s a coming-of-age story set in Nichols’s native Arkansas, on the Mississippi, and it owes a lot to both Mark Twain’s Huck Finn and Flannery O’Connor’s violence and religion storytelling. It’s all-American in the best way, not least because it showcases the full humanity of the drama of rural communities that seem to have run out of future.

More

ACF Middlebrow #7: Spielberg

 

The Middlebrow series of the ACF is back! James Lileks and I talk about Steven Spielberg, who’s bringing out a new movie which looks to be a big hit: Ready Player One. We’re qualifiedly in favor of one last burst of that old black magic Spielberg has treated us since the mid-70s! We talk Jaws and Close Encounters, Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park. (Second half of his career in a future podcast.) We talk about the return of fascination and childish wonder to the American audience, as well as the darkness in his movies; the bias in favor of children, especially endangered children, as well as the manly love of danger and disregard for civilization. Listen, comment, share, and review our podcast, folks!

More

ACF #31: Body Double

 

The podcast’s going back to Brian De Palma. My friend John Presnall and I are going to defend, from a conservative point of view, De Palma’s most indefensible sex and violence movie, Body Double. De Palma makes porn the mirror of Hollywood (the underground of Hollywood) and brings Hitchcock into the ’80s, with all the new scandals, but the same moralistic intention: Showing how society hides from evil and perpetuates it. De Palma criticizes the all-American ambition for success and popularity in order to defend man’s heroism. However vulgar, we all want to be a man and save the girl and beat the bad guy.

More

ACF#30: Taxi Driver

 

New episode! Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, which earned Robert de Niro another Oscar nomination right after winning for Godfather: Part II. Another ’70s political crisis story, another timely examination of individualism. Travis Bickle is a man who learns how corrupt society can become and we learn how he goes insane. So join my friend John Presnall and me for a ride through the nightmare that was ’70s New York City and let’s look at respectability, madness, and evil in America!

More