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.
One of Hollywood’s highest grossing films in history, Love Story (1970), is an astute character study. The screen version of Erich Segal’s bestselling novel of the same name is well made. Like another Seventies blockbuster, Rocky, it’s been lambasted for a single line. Yet Love Story is a romantic, if tragic, dramatization of pursuing the American Dream.
It’s a tale of two young lovers, Oliver and Jenny, played by Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw. He’s an aristocratic, pre-law Harvard athlete — Oliver plays ice hockey — and she’s a musician studying at Radcliffe. At center is angry Oliver, who’s in conflict with his controlling father (Ray Milland), with Jenny as a kind of prize whom he comes to realize he truly loves. They’re both atheists.
Look for Tommy Lee Jones in a small role and John Marley as Jenny’s widowed Catholic father. Listen for Francis Lai’s Oscar-winning score, including the indelible main theme, and music by Bach and Mozart. Segal’s writing is good. But Love Story succeeds thanks to director Arthur Hiller, who depicts young love, especially O’Neal as a young lover, as serious. Hiller fully entices the audience.
For example, when Ray Milland as Oliver’s wealthy businessman father attends his son’s game only to see him spend time in a penalty box, Oliver apologizes to his father for having “to see [the team] lose”. His dad responds with a clarification which is also a key plot point: “I came to see you play.”
It’s one of several insightful scenes underscoring the complexity, depth and risk of love, romantic or otherwise. Oliver laments the “verbal volleyball” that jaded Jenny, whom he meets at Radcliffe’s library, engages. Soon, they’re kissing in the rain.
The college students also study and listen to music, read, spar, take an interest in each other’s goals and focus on themselves. Love Story portrays the attractive couple in playful, wintry games with O’Neal’s Oliver in a pale blue jacket. They tumble and make angels in the snow.
Playing on ice, in snow and with banter adds up as they discuss work, marriage and children. Hiller’s direction of setting, framing and transition — converging the sound of an airplane with the sound of a motor car — showcase the beauty of falling in love in Boston, Cambridge and, later, Manhattan.
Whether Oliver drives a roadster with the top down, the camera follows them in a single take to meet his parents or summertime kids applauding the couple fade into parents applauding law school grads, Love Story offers more than cutesy playacting.
Like Seventies megahits such as Rocky, Airport and Star Wars, Love Story embraces idealism. After someone takes a dig at making money, someone else retorts that “[w]hen you inherit [wealth], you can give all of [the] money back for reparations”. Oliver points out to his disapproving parents that lower middle class Jenny is “not some crazy hippie”. Jenny wants to know, understand and teach masters of music, play piano and visit Paris, even if she has to subsist on Skippy peanut butter. Oliver and Jenny are secular — and they celebrate Christmas.
That their pursuit of mutually earned, traded and shared happiness comes to a devastating conclusion just as their self-made life starts in New York exhibits Love Story’s theme that, in love, one can mine truth. Hiller even lingers on the Latin for the term. That Jenny acts to foster, gain and keep love for Oliver without sacrificing what she knows is his love for his father — Milland delivers a standout performance, particularly in the final scene — with courage and fortitude strengthens the love story.
Characters could be deeper. Certain scenes are too cute. Yet Love Story quietly, assuredly moves the audience as it depicts man coming full circle through the agony of lost love. Hiller punctuates life’s unfairness with empathy, not pity. A hospital visit includes a glimpse of a newborn baby at Christmastime. Other touches, too, give this tragic tale of two types of love between two East Coast winters poignancy, including a trash can on its side to suggest that a world’s been knocked over.
This is how love probably feels to the lover who is swept into wisdom after suffering great loss. If the phrase “love means never having to say you’re sorry” rings hollow, bland or false, Love Story, one of the top money-making movies of all time — the movie which made a new cliche and begins as it ends — prompts one to think about the sense in which the saying is true.
If, like me, you’re a fan of Robert Downey Jr., you may know that his choice of roles lacks ambition, challenge and imagination. Unfortunately, his newest movie, middling general fare for Universal Studios, is among his worst pictures.
It’s an incomprehensible, computer-generated jumble. The period piece, Dolittle, will do nothing to enhance the outstanding actor’s reputation. It’s a remake of a Sixties’ 20th Century Fox musical box office bomb starring Samantha Eggar, Anthony Newley and Rex Harrison. The title refers to a character — created by author Hugh Lofting, apparently during World War One to entertain his children with a tale of the fictitious naturalist John Dolittle in Victorian England — a doctor that “talks to the animals“.
Robert Downey’s voice is muffled. His John Dolittle speaks in a barely audible stream with an accent best described as Mrs. Doubtfire by way of somewhere between Wales and Ireland. The Iron Man star looks haggard, frazzled and befuddled. He’s shot in a way that’s unbecoming. Downey mumbles and generally looks like he’d rather be deadpanning through another Marvel movie. But he’s only occasionally on screen.
Most of Dolittle, which features an onslaught of wisecracking animals in Victorian-era England that say such lines as “see ya, suckers!” and other vulgar modern vernacular, happens in two or three second fragments. Image-manipulated animals look fine, though a dog with eyeglasses looks completely unrealistic and not because the glasses look bad. At one point, a polar bear dives underwater and keeps yapping, having a conversation with diver Dolittle, whose medical degree is curiously left off the title. This type of arbitrary world-making pervades the non-musical, nonsensical Dolittle, which could’ve been fabulous fun.
Its theme about healing, grief recovery and health might’ve played well. But when a sassy-voiced squirrel says he feels as if he’s got a “front seat to Crazy Town” to no one in particular, I admit that I felt the same way. I turned to my guest. His eyes were closed.
Danny Elfman’s bombastic score thunders. There’s a scene with what amounts to a terrorist bombing, which didn’t seem to bother or stir kids in the audience. To peg Dolittle as fantasy is to be exceedingly kind, though a key plot point entails the thing everyone who watches HBO’s popular series says they find enjoyable about Game of Thrones.
The best part of Dolittle is an appealing actor named Harry Collett. The boy plays Tommy Stubbins with perfection. The innocent character, against his family’s hunting practices, loves animals. But he unintentionally brings harm to an animal, which he brings to the reclusive, grieving, misanthropic doctor. The dying animal’s literally left hanging with its life in the balance while Dolittle introduces an unnecessary character. This forewarns the deficiencies.
Downey deserves a stellar career from now on. The actor’s Sherlock Holmes was bad 10 years ago. Disney’s boring but profitable Marvel movies set him up for life. Dolittle is bad, too. The actor who wowed audiences with great performances in Chaplin, Less Than Zero and the woefully unknown and underrated Nineties gem Heart and Souls deserves better. Downey’s Iron Man entertained in the initial outing. But it is with sincere admiration that I wish for Robert Downey, Jr.better scripts, roles and movies than the atrocious Dolittle.