Tag: american cinema foundation

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.

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.

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!

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.

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!

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.

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…

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.

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.

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!

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.

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!

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.

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!

ACF #29: Jaws


The podcast’s going back to the ’70s for a couple of stories about crazy heroes and crazy times in America–it seems the right season for this sort of trip down memory lane. The first is Jaws, one of the original blockbusters back in 1975. It was an $8-million movie that grossed some $260 million in America and nearly half a billion dollars worldwide (that’s before you adjust for inflation, then you’re talking real money), won three Oscars and was also nominated for Best Picture. It made Spielberg’s reputation. (The Academy, guaranteed to do stupid things, gave the award to the Ken Kesey story One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.)

ACF#28 Roman J. Israel, Esq.


The Oscars are coming up and some of the movies in contention are both remarkable and obscure. My friend Carl Eric Scott and I offer you a conversation about the Dan Gilroy-Denzel Washington movie Roman J. Israel, Esq., a story about civil rights and the struggle for justice, dignity, and the human person in our times. Denzel was nominated for his remarkable role, which is itself the result of a remarkable process. Gilory, the writer-director, has said he wrote the script for Denzel and he trusted the actor to bring the character to life and fit him into the story, with great freedom to improvise and complete trust that the result would be memorable. This is the sort of movie the Oscars should reward and that audiences looking for stories made for adults should support.

ACF#27 Ex Machina


Out in theaters this weekend is Alex Garland’s second directorial feature, Annihilation, so the American Cinema Foundation is bringing you a discussion of his directorial feature, Ex Machina, starring Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander, and Domnhall Gleeson, and which earned Garland his first Oscar nomination, for Best Writing Original Screenplay. We talk about everything from the movie’s warning about how we might replay creation, as per Genesis, and get it wrong, being that we’re not God, to the strange way in which sci-fi has become the last place for heroes, for moral stories where we, faced with crisis, retrieve an understanding of our own human nature that helps us make sense of the future.

ACF#26: Blade


Let’s talk about black heroes at the movies. Wesley Snipes was one of the last action heroes–remember when American heroes could be working class and villains tech millionaires?–and he reached his peak with Blade, the best Marxist story of a generation, as Pete says. Here’s how Marxist “wake up and smell the exploitation” stories work: Remember The Matrix? Well, we have lots to say in praise of Blade and we continuously connect it to the shocks in American politics now, especially the Bernie-Hillary class conflict.

ACF#25: Rope


So the ACF podcast is giving you more Hitchcock! Eric and I talk about Rope (1948) on its 70th anniversary. This is unusual by Hitchcock and genre standards: A thriller that lets you know the murderers from the opening scene and never lets them out of your sight! Hitchcock brings a lot of art to this idea to make the moral question urgent and its deep implications, for America and humanity, palpable. At the same time, we’re not worried about spoiling the plot talking about this and you can be sure you’ll love the movie at least as much after listening to our conversation!

Mod.pod.: Wallace Stevens, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird


Today, Caitlin and I move to the poetic teaching of Wallace Stevens. Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird is one of the puzzling statements in modern American poetry. It reveals the need for a new poetry that can, by image and by reasoning, recall our basic experiences and articulate our humanity in terms of our perennial temptation to make metaphors. The good and bad news Stevens brings is this: our intellect works in the element of the imagination.