I first learned about the Alamo in earnest from the late John David Lewis. This Objectivist thinker and teacher demonstrated the central facts about the battle with passion, mastery and perfection. I had interviewed Dr. Lewis about the Alamo as a source for an article I was writing to compare Ron Howard’s and John Wayne’s Alamo-themed movies with the truth.
Centograph at the Alamo
This fall, I visited the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. I’m conducting research for fiction writing. What I experienced during my visit is both inspiring and alarming. The Alamo is a solemn, simple place. It’s surrounded by shops, bland corporate offices and a courthouse and post office. Docents and staff are as dim as I’d had every reason to expect. The tourists are brighter. The front line defense is especially sharp.
The grounds are haunting. I don’t mean this in a superstitious sense. Tragically, some visitors, guides and workers focus on ghost stories to the exclusion of philosophy, knowledge and history. The Alamo haunts in the best sense but only if you know why.
Every American ought to study and know the facts, grasp what happened and visit this sacred site. The experience stirs, affirms and regenerates one’s sense of what matters in life. Every shadow, stone and rustle of leaves evokes the distant yet pressingly relevant memory of what men knew, vowed and held until the end. As John Lewis taught, theirs is a uniquely American defense and they knew it. They were few, they were united and, ultimately, they were unconquered.
These early American heroes, most of whom were Texans, knew why exercising one’s free will to choose, stay and fight for individual liberty is vital.
The meaning of this revered ground lies in the barracks, the church (which had been secularized and converted into a fort with cannons) and at the walls, where the men defended themselves and took refuge against a tyrant who sought to dictate their lives. I found myself feeling free to linger, stroll and reflect. At every plaque, statue and memorial, at each historical demonstration, monument and cannon, I was at liberty to remember details of what they’ve done. The battle for the Alamo made America more viable as a republic.
In visiting here, I draw renewed strength, resolve and fortitude. I know that I, too, face the fundamental choice to summon these qualities in America’s darkest hours to come. Like Boston’s Tea Party insurgents on this date in 1773 and the patriots at Concord and Lexington and Black Tuesday’s passengers on United Airlines flight 93, the choice to live free or die — “VICTORY OR DEATH”, as William Travis wrote at the Alamo — is mine to make.
I found the one at the Alamo who understands this. This individual is not a cashier; the clerk who sold my ticket is uninformed about the place’s history. The person is not a guide; the guide is an officious, dogmatic and duty-bound dolt. The one is not among other Alamo staff, whom I found to be cynical, mindless and blank. The one is a police officer. In an effort to protect the innocent, to paraphrase the old Dragnet broadcast, I won’t divulge the identity or the exact job.
That the Alamo police officer alone thinks, acts and speaks with knowledge, passion and reverence shows that, as long as there is one who stands to know, understand and remember the Alamo, the Alamo can be be saved and left to inspire “all Americans in the world.”
This blog will cease publication in the near future.
I started this as an informal forum for my thoughts on movies, ideas and the culture after being encouraged by my readers and when a movie studio executive suggested that I write a blog. The experience has been rewarding and I appreciate the readership, interest and support.
I’m writing one final post, which I plan to publish soon.
Though I doubt I’ve seen most of his motion pictures, I know that Sean Connery, who died in the Bahamas at the age of 90, is a great actor, activist and movie star. As I’ve observed about the late Chadwick Boseman and Mary Tyler Moore, I think it’s unfortunate that this actor of ability is primarily associated with a single character, which he memorably played in a series of popular but generally mindless franchise films. If there’s to be a future for motion picture art and science, I think Mr. Connery will ultimately be remembered for his small gestures and intimate performances.
Unfortunately, the future looks grim. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) failed to mention the name of the artist who created the iconic character for which Sean Connery is primarily remembered. The writer’s name is Ian Fleming. Instead, the BBC’s obituary chides the old films in the franchise by judging them by post-Me, Too movementstandards. Worse, because the source ought to be more credible and reliable, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) wrongly describes Sean Connery as an “Oscar Winner” in a social media post linking to an obituary in the barely credible trade publication Variety. Never mind that he was an actor, activist and movie star—all of which are more essential to his life and career than winning an award.
It’s true that Sean Connery is best known for playing James Bond, a character created by British author Fleming, who like Sean Connery also lived on a tropical island close to America. His portrayal as Bond in the series’ first motion picture Dr. No in 1962 is excellent. But it is one of many great performances made distinct by the Scotsman — a self-made bodybuilder, truck driver and son of a cleaning woman who had served in the Navy — throughout a distinguished career.
The Bond movies, including Connery’s (Dr. No is the exception), were at best a joke. I contend that they are worse than that. On the whole, the popular commercial films damaged civilization and progress by minimizing the threat of totalitarianism. Mindless titillation trivializing extremely serious conflicts, values and issues makes it easier for Americans and other Westerners to become dolts, morons and pod people for pre-dictatorship, which is what Americans have become or are becoming.
I shall remember Sean Connery instead for playing flawed men born in the wrong time, which is emblematic of great 20th century men. I find his roles in The Untouchables and as a rogue Steven Spielberg character’s father to be forgettable. I can’t recall a single quality about either character. But as a handsome and dashing adventurer, friend and man of passion in John Huston‘s 1975 epic The Man Who Would Be King (which would never be made today) — as Robin Hood in love with Audrey Hepburn’s Marian in a love story the following year (Robin and Marian) — or as various villains, criminals and con men in The Great Train Robbery,Marnie and Murder on the Orient Express (1974), magnificent Sean Connery captivated the audience and dominated the screen.
Mr. Connery was the best thing about the flat Finding Forrester. He was often the only compelling reason to sit through one of those boring bastardizations of Ian Fleming’s novels for the screen. He played Agamemnon in Time Bandits. He even made an impression in a small role in 1977’s war epic A Bridge Too Far based on the book by Cornelius Ryan. I remember him being excellent in 1990’s The Russia House based on the book by John le Carre and in an underrated and delightful caper movie titled Entrapment with Catherine Zeta Jones in 1999.
Perhaps his last great leading role, echoing his first major breakthrough role as an anti-Communist spy in Dr. No, is as a defector from Soviet Russia in the 1990 adaptation of Tom Clancy’s first novel The Hunt for Red October, a plodding affair made better by Alec Baldwin as the protagonist and Mr. Connery as a submarine commander determined to breathe free.
As a boy, I saw many Sean Connery movies during opening weeks in the movie theater. These are some of my earliest and happiest memories of seeing movies when Americans were at liberty to see movies, especially movies meant to be experienced as movies. Most memorable among the Sean Connery pictures I saw in theaters is an epic in 1975 by John Milius titled The Wind and the Lion. The score is sweeping. The pictures are majestic. It’s a flawed film. In retrospect, having seen the movie again after Black Tuesday with a friend who was raised in a predominantly Islamic country, The Wind and the Lion glamorizes Islam, jihad and Islamic terrorism through no fault of Sean Connery’s.
But his performance is breathtaking. Sean Connery is so committed to the quality of his performance as an ignorant but gallant savage who kidnaps an American woman and her children as prisoners in a holy war for Islam that he adds an element of mischief, danger and daring that elevates the movie.
Sean Connery was a movie star — he was a movie star at a time when movie stars were fading and being faded out — blanked out — vilified for being handsome, absolute and upright. He was also an activist and an outspoken advocate for political independence in his native Scotland. Contrary to the blather about his being the best Bond, an increasingly asinine and useless distinction, Sean Connery was foremost an actor of ability. With dark, manly confidence, seriousness and beauty, he gave Western audiences a glimpse of man, even when he’s lowdown, deficient and lacking, as he can and ought to be.
In the introduction to the author’s collection of essays on art, The Romantic Manifesto, Ayn Rand observed that “[i]t is impossible for the young people of today to grasp the reality of man’s higher potential and what scale of achievement it had reached in a rational (or semi-rational) culture. But I have seen it. I know that it was real, that it existed, that it is possible. It is that knowledge that I want to hold up to the sight of men — over the brief span of less than a century — before the barbarian curtain descends altogether (if it does) and the last memory of man’s greatness vanishes in another Dark Ages.”
Rand disclosed that:
As a child, I saw a glimpse of that pre-World War I world, the last afterglow of the most radiant cultural atmosphere in human history…”
The prospect of catching a glimpse of what Rand observed, thought and wrote about in the afterglow is reason enough to read this outstanding series of her writings. I first read this book as a young artist, when I was dancing and writing in Chicago. I was struck by its lucidity. As a child of modern, progressive, state-sponsored education, I instantly recognized in her assertions that I, too, had been deprived, demoralized and damaged as a student. Making a point about those who had given up on achieving the best in life, Rand referenced those she described as “drained, embittered hulks whimpering occasionally about the hopelessness of life.“
In a world dominated by movies and shows about goblins, dragons, gargoyles and other horror or fantasy figures, with the rare heroic figures reduced to sniveling misanthropes in disguise, it’s hard not to notice that most of what the author of Atlas Shrugged wrote about and forewarned against between 1962 and 1971 came true. But Rand primarily wrote about art she admired, loved and revered. For example, starting with Western philosophy in her introduction, she identified Thomas Aquinas as “the bridge between Aristotle and the Renaissance, spanning the infamous detour of the Dark and Middle Ages.”
Capping the commentary, which she wrote in New York City in the month of June of 1969, she noted that “[o]ur day has no art and no future. The future, in the context of progress, is a door open only to those who do not renounce their conceptual faculty; it is not open to mystics, hippies, drug addicts, tribal ritualists — or to anyone who reduces himself to a subanimal, subperceptual, sensory level of awareness.” [Emphasis Rand’s].
The rest of The Romantic Manifesto unfolds from there. Delving deeply into what she called the psycho-epistemology of art, the philosopher begins, of course, with the best premises for art, paving the way for an exploration of her school of art, which she calls romantic realism. Rand always defines and contextualizes her terms. For example, in “Philosophy and Sense of Life,” she explains that “the myth of a supernatural recorder from whom nothing can be hidden, who lists all of a man’s deeds…That myth is true, not existentially, but psychologically. The merciless recorder is the integrating mechanism of a man’s subconscious; the record is his sense of life.“ [Emphasis Rand’s].
What he does not know is that every day of his life is judgment day — the day of paying for the defaults, the lies, the contradictions, the blank outs recorded by his subconscious on the scrolls of his sense of life. And on that kind of psychological record, the blank entries are the blackest sins.“
Possibly anticipating future readership, she goes a bit further:
A sense of life, once acquired, is not a closed issue. It can be changed and corrected — easily, in youth, while it is still fluid, or by a longer, harder effort in later years. Since it is an emotional sum, it cannot be changed by a direct act of will. It changes automatically, but only after a long process of psychological retraining, when and if a man changes his conscious philosophical premises.”
I’ve gained immeasurable value from reading and re-reading The Romantic Manifesto, which I celebrated with scholars at an event for the 50th anniversary of its publication at Southern California’s Ayn Rand Institute last year. Whether discovering whether, why and how to judge works of art, which has been part of my own livelihood as an intellectual, or finding fascinating paintings, dancers, musical compositions, plays and other works of literature, this book challenges everything you think you know about the arts.
Examine art and cognition with Ayn Rand as she breaks down each of the arts. Consider her identification of how humans perceive art through the senses and can access its rewards with the mind. Rand accounts for every imaginable aspect, detail and nuance of the fine arts, whether music, architecture or motion pictures. For example, with regard to dance, she asserts: “Every strong emotion has a kinesthetic element, experienced as an impulse to leap or cringe or stamp one’s foot, etc…The dance stylizes it into a system of motion, expressing a metaphysical view of man.” [Emphasis Rand’s].
However, the woman who created Objectivism, a philosophy for living on earth, to help herself write fiction also addresses various arts-related fields of endeavor, questions and issues, from circus performances to photography. Each point she makes contains often masterful clarity and consistency.
Note Rand’s explanation of dance:
Dancers are performing artists; music is the primary work they perform — with the help of an important intermediary: the choreographer. His creative task is similar to that of a stage director, but carries a more demanding responsibility; a stage director translates a primary work, a play, into physical action — a choreographer has to translate a primary work, the composition of sounds, into another medium, into a composition of movements, and create a structured, integrated work: a dance.”
Of course, the most in-depth and compelling parts of The Romantic Manifesto involve her insights on reading, writing and literature. These thoughts are remarkably relevant, timely and enlightening. By the time you’re done reading a particular section, you’re likely to have a better understanding of what you like about what you like to read and why you like it. “… At the end of the novel the reader must know why the characters did the things they did,” Rand wrote. “…The author has to be consistent in his view of a character’s psychology and permit him no inexplicable actions, no actions unprepared by or contradictory to the rest of his characterization.”
“The theme of a novel can be conveyed only through the events of the plot, the events of the plot depend on the characterization of the men who enact them — and the characterization cannot be achieved except through the events of the plot, and the plot cannot be constructed without a theme.“ She concludes: “… A good novel is an indivisible sum: every scene, sequence and passage of a good novel has to involve, contribute to and advance all three of its major attributes: theme, plot, characterization.“
Again and again, Rand provides examples, illustrating her points and affirming her convictions. About I, the Jury author Mickey Spillane, she wrote that he “… [p]resents nothing save visual facts; but he selects only those facts, only those eloquent details, which convey the visual reality of the scene and create a mood of desolate loneliness.”
Don’t read the book strictly for specific arts guidance, though. The principles of art are deep, rich and often ingenious. This is like reading a comprehensive true story of ideas about art in terms of interlocking essentials. After defining romanticism and identifying a key difference with a heinous distortion of romanticism, for instance, she claims: “Romanticism demands mastery of the primary element of fiction: the art of storytelling — which requires three cardinal qualities: ingenuity, imagination, a sense of drama.”
Yet the biting brilliance of Rand’s late 20th century non-fiction, evidenced in her periodicals, lectures and underappreciated collected works, such as The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, always comes through. Can you not think of Game of Thrones, The Sopranos and every middling Netflix or streaming film everyone’s raving about when you read this pointed cultural criticism, which turns out to have been a keen forecast?
… Today’s romanticists are escaping not into the past, but into the supernatural — explicitly giving up reality and this earth. The exciting, the dramatic, the unusual — their policy is declaring, in effect — do not exist; please don’t take us seriously, what we’re offering is only a spooky daydream.“
Consider social media and the constant droning by today’s leading “influencers” about statistics, metrics and analytics and the smallness of today’s prevailing stories when reading this part of her essay “The Esthetic Vacuum of Our Age”: “Naturalism … substitut[es] statistics for a standard of value. That which could be claimed to be typical of a large number of men, in any given geographical area or period of time, was regarded as metaphysically significant and worthy of being recorded.“
“What one reads today is not naturalism any longer: it is symbolism; it is a presentation of a metaphysical view of man, as opposed to a journalistic or statistical view. But it is the symbolism of primitive terror,” she wrote, making me think of Oscar’s recent Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. “According to this modern view, depravity represents man’s real, essential, metaphysical nature, while virtue does not; virtue was only an accident, an exception or an illusion; therefore, a monster is an appropriate projection of man’s essence, but hero is not.“
“[T]he romanticists presented heroes as “larger than life“; now, monsters are presented as “larger than life“ — or, rather, man is presented as “smaller than life.” [Emphasis Rand’s].
Other comparisons, such as the scads of mindless, mediocre Marvel Comics-themed films, come to mind as Rand writes about the bastardization of writer Ian Fleming’s James Bond depictions in movies. And, in Rand’s magnificent “Art and Moral Treason”, there is the scathing prediction of the postmodern “Millenial” generation, college-bred youths filled with chronic terror in the eyes while blindly submitting to indiscriminately wearing a mask:
When I saw Mr. X for the first time, I thought that he had the most tragic face I have ever seen: it was not the mark left by some specific tragedy, not the look of a great sorrow, but a look of desolate hopelessness, weariness and resignation that seemed left by the chronic pain of many lifetimes. He was 26 years old.
“He had a brilliant mind, and outstanding scholastic record in the field of engineering, a promising start in his career – and no energy to move farther. He was paralyzed by so extreme a state of indecision that any sort of choice filled him with anxiety – even the question of moving out of an inconvenient apartment. He was stagnating in a job which he had outgrown and which had become a dull, uninspiring routine. He was so lonely that he had lost the capacity to know it, he had no concept of friendship, and his few attempts at a romantic relationship had ended disastrously – he could not tell why.
“At the time I met him he was undergoing psychotherapy, struggling desperately to discover the causes of his state. There seemed to be no existential cause for it. His childhood had not been happy, but no worse and, in some respects, better than the average childhood. There were no traumatic events in his past, no major shocks, disappointments or frustrations. Yet his frozen impersonality suggested a man who neither felt nor wanted anything any longer. He was like a gray spread of ashes that had never been on fire.“
Buy ‘The Romantic Manifesto’
Ayn Rand wrote that in 1965. But the great radiance with which she begins the story of her romantic manifesto pre-dates the 55-year mark.
“It has been said and written by many commentators that the atmosphere of the western world before World War I is incommunicable to those who have not lived in that period,” she wrote in the introduction to The Romantic Manifesto. I think it’s probably true. But Ayn Rand, in presenting her philosophy of art, gives the reader something extraordinary: power tools and a battery recharge with which to find, regard, contemplate, revere and create works of art on your own.
The recent death of Chadwick Boseman of colon cancer at the age of 43 is a sad reminder that reality is objective and that one must be at absolute liberty to live, create and trade.
Boseman first came to my attention as a leading actor in the motion picture 42 as baseball player Jackie Robinson. His performances in other movies, such as his leading title performance as a young lawyer in Marshall, were outstanding. Boseman rose above his title role in Black Panther, the mediocre comic book movie from Disney’s Marvel series.
However, as with Whitney Houston, who died at the age of 48, and similarly chose to conceal her personal life, including her struggles and illnesses, Chadwick Boseman is best remembered for the whole scope and range of his ability as an artist. He ought not to be reduced to being primarily known as the actor who appeared for several scenes in a forgettable movie. Other young actors, such as Paul Walker and Heath Ledger, have also died before they reached their fullest potential. Boseman, who portrayed at least three men of distinct ability, especially Jackie Robinson, deserves nothing less.
Made in Italy is charming and unpretentious. Written and directed by an artist named James D’Arcy, who’s also an actor, the movie, which I watched on a TV screen at home, is somewhat, though not entirely, predictable. The film is lovely to look at.
Made in Italy is exactly as advertised. An artist in London, played by Mr. Neeson, who is a distant father to his London art gallery owner son (Micheál Richardson), agrees to return to the family’s Tuscany home in the Italian countryside. The goal is to sell the home and raise money for the son’s gallery, though there is more to the story. Add a local businesswoman and divorced mother (Valeria Bilello), the real estate agent (Lindsey Duncan, Gifted) and villagers as well as the son’s wife and the sum total is a thoughtful and moving motion picture about the smallest choices and intimacies and a family’s past, grief and recovery.
Made in Italy refreshes the spirit. Watching the film is like taking a miniature vacation. Besides being appealing to look at, contemplate and indulge, the movie affords a temporary escape from the madness of today’s anarchy and mass hysteria.
Four main characters strive to make food, money and art. They do so with a sense of decency, restraint and self-respect. If you could gain from a realistic, romantic respite from looting and anarchy and want to affirm that it’s possible to live among those who do not destroy lives, properties and reputations or induce panic, shakedowns or lynch mobs, see this film about damaged and honorable Westerners striving to be left alone to create and live in peace. Made in Italy offers 90 minutes of humor, mild conflict and clear resolution.