This is my first post on the 2020 presidential election, prompted by the Democrats’ debate last night in Ohio. This is an informal forum for my thoughts on ideas, movies and culture, which includes politics from time to time.
Let me stipulate that my entire political philosophy as an Objectivist can be summed up by saying that I’m for capitalism, the proper social system recognizing individual rights. That said, my reporting and commentating about politics goes back decades — to the 1990s, when I started writing guest columns criticizing, for example, First Lady Barbara Bush and President Clinton — and tapered off as America’s politics worsened.
My last major coverage was an interview series for print media cited on NBC’s Meet the Press of each major candidate for president in 2000. I was the only credentialed freelance writer to cover both national conventions in Philadelphia and Los Angeles during that campaign. I also wrote my observations about Arianna Huffington — when I first noticed her authoritarianism — for the San Francisco Chronicle’s Sunday edition.
Politics and government in the U.S. is rotten. With this in mind, in no particular sequence, here goes.
Leonard Peikoff once compared him to comic relief. There’s a clownishness about the former vice president. There’s also an affability about him. His congeniality as an elder statesman is one of the reasons Obama chose him as his running mate in 2008. His policy positions, to the extent he holds them, amount to middle of the road pablum, tilting left including slavery reparations — an inhuman idea — and his plan to force Americans to subsidize the manufacture of electrical cars, another awful idea. Biden at his best served on the judiciary committee in the United States Senate during the Robert Bork hearings. Biden at his worst instigated a plagiarism scandal when he stole a speech written by a British Labor Party leader and was caught and, worst of all, he pushed what is arguably America’s worst law in history, ObamaCare. He had started to defend his personal habits until he was attacked by the Puritanical anti-sex Me, Too movement. Since then, he’s been neutralized. I think he’s one of the weakest Democratic Party frontrunners in decades. He’s leaning so far to the left that he makes Trump look almost rational, statesmanlike and pro-capitalist by comparison. If Biden comes back from the whiff of nepotism surrounding Democrats’ attempt to impeach Trump and survives his pandering to leftists, he will be harder to differentiate from Trump which makes it easier for Trump to persuade voters to vote for him because Trump is the pragmatist who “gets stuff done”. Getting stuff done is the new theme of Biden’s post-Ukraine campaign. It might work, though I doubt it. Either way, Biden’s probably going to lose to Trump, if Trump’s the GOP nominee, in the general election; if Biden runs to the left, he’s another leftist loon. If Biden stays in the middle of the road, he’s a tamer version of vulgar, old, white male Trump. Either way, he’s vulnerable to the truth of Trump’s crude claim that Biden was essentially a Yes-Man to Barack Obama.
This candidate comes across as sincere. He expresses the energy and ethos of the modern technology businessman — combining confidence in his knowledge and a flippant bravado that’s not convincing that he’s oriented to reality. It’s important to keep in mind that this is someone who seriously proposes a guaranteed income for every American and a giant solar shield in space based on his belief that global apocalypse is coming due to a change in the earth’s climate. Like most leftists, he combines this dogmatism with traditionalism in his constant citation of his procreative housewife. If returning to the notion of a woman staying at home to raise children is considered progressive and a proper vision of the future, this Democrat’s delusions may go viral.
The radical leftist Democrat who touts his bloodline, including his twin brotherhood and ethnicity, gave one of the better answers to the last question about Ellen DeGeneres attending an athletic event with former President George W. Bush. He stressed the need to differentiate political opposition from amity. But he represents the worst type of politician: one who sees himself primarily based on characteristics beyond his control.
The senator from Minnesota did her best to differentiate herself as a middle of the road politician. She made a point to personalize some of her positions. She held frontrunner Senator Warren accountable, which no one else really did. Yet Klobuchar is clearly neither a serious thinker nor a serious presidential candidate. Her entire value proposition amounts to the fact that she thinks working hard to compromise with others is a virtue. It isn’t. She has no coherent political philosophy. To the extent she does, it’s bad to mixed. To whatever extent she’s decent, she will be annihilated in the Democratic Party primary. To whatever degree she’s awful, she undercuts her own value proposition. Either way, I think she’s likely to lose the election.
This tall politician appeals to cuteness. That’s it, really. His candidacy has no other reason to exist. He’s a former congressman. He ran for the United States Senate in one of the country’s largest states and lost — decisively. No one who likes him seems to be able to articulate what he stands for. He says preposterous things about the government coming to seize guns, which is not going to help him win the state he’s from, where the Second Amendment is popular. He appeals to the worst in American voters; the fact that he’s a cute, tall man who seems like someone you could laugh and have a beer with goes to the worst inclinations and predispositions of the American voter — that they go by the cult of personality, not the substance of a man’s character or policy positions. This candidate is as ridiculous as the sound of his first and last name.
This is a serious candidate who could win the presidency. His political philosophy, to the extent he makes it known, is extremely bad — an amalgamation of the worst bromides of McCain and Obama, especially the notion that one has a moral duty to serve the state and others. His explicit endorsement last night of national service is especially wicked. As president, Buttigieg is likely to do it. He has no-nonsense, Midwestern sensibility, which is engaging. That he downplays the fact that he’s gay while using it as a springboard to discussing how he’s formed his character is savvy. In this sense, he’s like Obama, playing his personal background to the hilt. It will be extremely difficult for President Trump to counter the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Additionally, Mayor Buttigieg is the only major presidential candidate in the Democratic Party to show any regard for the sanctity of the nation’s economic system. He is also the only major presidential candidate, in either party as far as I know, who shows an explicit recognition that the individual ought to be free to choose his own health care, though this is very conditional, mixed and poisoned by his own policy position for government control of medicine. But, as far as Democrats are concerned, he may be the only candidate who can beat Trump. As president, I think he would be a disaster, perhaps less a disaster than others in the field, but that’s not saying much. Make note of his views on religion — he’s walked his comments back, but he says he’s religious and this could mean that he wants more religion in government and bigger government in religion.
The old, white male socialist is running for president again as the adorable curmudgeon who wants the government to control your life. There isn’t much more to say about this horrendous senator from Vermont, who recently had a heart attack, which he concealed. Sanders ignored the role of the doctor in saving his life. Horrifyingly, Sanders exploited the fact that doctors saved his life by explicitly advocating that doctors be stripped — further stripped — of individual rights. The selling of this socialist, who once exercised his free will to honeymoon in Moscow while it was ruled by Soviet Russia, as a kindly old man is a new twist on the Big Lie. Sanders — fittingly known as Bernie to sell his brand of statism as folksy — is a cunning fraud. That he has finagled members of The Squad — a cabal of female totalitarians, including an eco-fascist from New York City and an Islamic congresswoman — for endorsements indicates that he knows exactly who stands to gain from him becoming President of the United States.
For too many reasons to mention here, this candidate is an awful American government official. I’m surprised that anyone is fooled by this former Republican, a New England Democratic senator who seeks total government control of people’s lives. Senator Warren displays a frantic, manic energy that to me suggests the character of someone who is nearly unhinged, at least neurotic, possibly unstable — and, in any case, she makes a conscious point of appealing to others purely based on emotionalism. This legislator combines the worst stereotypes of the “hysterical female” with the worst policy positions of the 20th century and she takes them to the extreme. I think this is what stimulates her most vicious supporters. What makes her dangerous is that she names a partial truth about American life; that it’s getting worse, blanking out on the fact that her ideals and premises are the cause of the nation’s demise. If nominated, Warren will make the contest with Trump, if Trump is the Republican nominee, clear and obvious. If elected president, I fear she will finish the destruction of the United States of America that Obama started. Or go down trying. Elizabeth Warren is that tenacious and serious but make no mistake; her primary goal is the government totally controlling your life.
The only candidate during last night’s debate to earn the low distinction of both explicitly praising and denouncing individualism in the same comment is probably the candidate most sincerely concerned with Americans’ welfare. His policy positions and proposals are awful, to be sure. And I don’t think the senator from New Jersey is eminently qualified to be president of the United States. But he does display a sense of purpose and seriousness about governance, if not much else.
Like Castro, her entire candidacy is based on blood. She invoked it again last night in the debate. She takes a kind of perverse pride in being racially mixed, which, in terms of political philosophy, is bad. The fact that she does this to the exclusion of staking out clear, concise policy positions except to the extent she’s explicitly anti-capitalist is alarming. She appears to be going nowhere fast but these are Democrats, so you never know. This is a woman who was elected California’s attorney general and United States senator, without any enthusiasm in the nation’s largest state. She’s proof that the most mediocre politician can rise and rise based on nothing.
The billionaire populist seems exactly that — someone who wants the collective to atone for his guilt in having or making money. He seems to seek redemption in the herd — or, worse, in leading the flock to the Promised Land of primitivism and deprivation.
I like that Gabbard spoke in personal terms about former congressman Trey Gowdy. But there’s much that’s unknown about this Hawaiian legislator. She touts military service, about which I don’t know, and sometimes says things that sound reasonable. I’ve noticed that she’s purposefully vague in some answers and disturbingly specific in other answers. For example, on the issue of abortion last night, she explicitly stated without explaining why that she opposes third trimester abortions. The fact that she would as president outlaw a woman’s right to an abortion at any stage of pregnancy underscores that this mysterious congresswoman has no grasp or regard for individual rights.
Last night’s impending impeachment compounds other recent lessons affirming my contention that America is dwindling, slipping into a culture of faith, not reason. I think it’s an insidious decline because America coasts on the Industrial Revolution’s aftereffects and its progressive byproduct, today’s technology with advancement in medicine, aeronautics, science, robotics and artificial intelligence.
Yet regression is real.
Two recent cases in point come from CBS News, press that I’ve praised (read my post here). The first instance involves two anchors for the CBS News streaming app, Vladimir Duthiers and Anne-Marie Green, both of whom thoroughly and feverishly endorsed the concept, if it can be called that, of divine intervention after reporting on a child’s brave attempt to survive her father’s suicide and attempted murder.
After the man jumped with his daughter in his arms in front of a New York City subway train, the girl survived, apparently by lying down between tracks. After the deadly leap, someone jumped down and assisted in rescuing the child by guiding her out of danger, instructing her not to look at the dead father and, instead, to “crawl like a puppy”, treating the child as a child, encouraging her to come out from underneath the train. Green and Duthiers raved instead about what Green calls “divine intervention”, trivializing the girl’s intelligence and the heroism. It’s an instance of irrelevant, inappropriate and improper editorializing, really proselytizing for faith, during what should have been a somber report on suicide and an act of heroism.
Also on CBS News, billionaire media titan Oprah and bestselling author Ta-Nehisi Coates appeared with Gayle King, Tony Dokoupil and Anthony Mason on CBS This Morning to discuss a new novel being promoted by Oprah in partnership with Apple Books via Oprah’s book club. The hosts were interested in knowing whether Oprah’s running for president. There was one line during the entire segment about the novel. The author was reduced to fragments.
Here, faith lies in the cult of a woman’s personality, in this case Oprah. As I’ve written before, the cult of Oprah Winfrey is entirely based on Oprah Winfrey. She is the ultimate narcissist. Everything she does is centered upon herself in crass, vulgar and undignified ways and means. That most of her musings appear in superficial bursts on self-improvement makes her narcissism more insidious.
Consider her appearance on CBS This Morning. Rather than invite the author of a potential new bestseller to appear on the program to answer informed and intelligent questions about the plot, characters and theme, the trio, declining to disclose that one of the hosts maintains an intimate personal relationship with Oprah Winfrey, proceeded to defer to Oprah — strictly on the grounds that she’d bestowed attention upon a new novel, whose author sat silently and obediently by her side. Coates was asked to speak once or twice. Though this is presumably done for the sake of “diversity and inclusion”, note that the intellectual was sidelined and excluded.
The religion for this particular application of faith is multiculturalism. The audience learned next to nothing about the book; not the price, not the publisher, not the publication date, certainly not the characters, plot or meaning — really, nothing was learned in any substantial sense. However, the audience did learn that Oprah read the book twice and that her friend Gayle is in the middle of reading it, too, and that Gayle called Oprah to find out what’s going to happen next.
This is the culture of belief in the superficial; facts and analysis matter less than faith in personalities, small talk, impressions, what others think because others think it and trends.
Greta Thunberg is another example. I call this braided girl the anti-child. The teenaged environmentalist and activist is clearly disturbed. Her faith that the world will end in 12 years based on apocalyptic preachings is apparently encouraged by her environmentalist-activist parents. I can think of few transgressions worse than exploiting a child for religious purposes. The new religionists tout environmentalism, feminism, multiculturalism, statism and total government control or totalitarianism and they are wildly irrational and overzealous. Propagandizing this delusional, hostile, wayward child became a media sensation.
That a child on an internationally sponsored press tour preaching alarmist rhetoric gets more press at the expense of examining the fact that millions of Americans suffer and struggle to pay for unaffordable health care after nearly 10 years of the monstrosity known as ObamaCare, enacted as the preposterously named Affordable Care Act, or that rebels launched a historic protest against Communism in Hong Kong or that the Islamic dictatorship of Iran escalates acts of war against the West is an unmistakable sign of regression.
I’ve encountered everyday signs, too. During a recent airport ride with a Lyft driver, I observed the danger of religious zealotry.
Upon activating the ride, I had pre-designated the destination airline. But the driver asked which airline when she arrived to give me a ride to the airport. I told her the airline. The driver would ask again — and again — which airline. The most disturbing part of the trip involved her explicit proclamations of belief that God is in control of life on earth. As the driver of the vehicle, she was in control of mine. Accordingly, I remained silent. Upon each mention of God, I diverted the conversation from her belief in a supernatural being. At one point, she explained that she believes God controls her every action. In that moment, she struck me as mentally unstable. As we came closer to the airport, and she asked again which airline, she slowed to five miles an hour — a rate of speed she maintained for the trip’s duration — as I sat in silence. She rambled about speed, God and what she called theneed to believe in obedience.
This calls to mind Starbucks’ new Sirens blend, another example of belief without evidence — in feminism.
Starbucks introduced the blend this week in an email professing the company’s commitment to women. I have never heard of a coffee blend being produced on the basis of discriminating on behalf of one’s sex. Starbucks, which claims it’ll donate some of the blend’s revenue to women’s groups, broke the mold by singling out a single sex, excluding the opposite sex, with charity toward women because they’re women. This act sanctions feminism’s premise that identity is based on sex. Early advocates of what was once called women’s liberation promoted feminism as a means of achieving equality with men. Today’s feminists have dropped this pretense. Big business takes this offshoot of egalitarianism, which at once segregates and blurs the two sexes, on faith.
Last night’s announcement that America’s Speaker of the House supports an inquiry into impeaching the American president over a telephone call with a foreign leader is the ultimate profession, however, of faith. She literally declared an inquiry into impeaching the president without evidence.
I was an early Trump critic long before it was considered acceptable, let alone hip or “trending”. I argued against Trump on my blog. I did so repeatedly and on principle. I did so after Trump was elected president. But Trump’s supporters, whatever their faults and errors, are right to dub the Democrats’ delusional opposition as Trump Derangement Syndrome. The opposition to this president is worse in its irrationalism than the opposition to the previous president (which includes mine).
Today, President Trump released a transcript of his conversation with the president of the Ukraine — the supposed flashpoint for the Democrats’ grounds for impeachment. If and when the Democrats pursue impeachment on these flimsy grounds, the contrast between a president who takes America and its interests seriously — and, whatever his vulgarity, stupidity and errors, Trump does — and the party that wants the government to control every aspect of every individual’s life will be inescapable to the most disinterested, apathetic and asinine American voter.
“The House must impeach,” 2020’s Democratic Party presidential frontrunner Sen. Elizabeth Warren posted yesterday on Twitter. “It must start today.”
In fact, in accordance with frontrunner Warren’s wishes, impeachment did. Senator Warren is the matriarch of a new Inquisition. With her radical environmentalism and feminism, vehement opposition to capitalism in favor of statism, attempts to rationalize explicitly fraudulent multiculturalism, redounding to her authoritarianism, Sen. Warren is the ideal preacher for today’s faith in the statist — and regressive — status quo. America’s been dwindling from decades of welfare statism. The United States is dimmer after 50 years of Earth Day and poorer after 10 years of ObamaCare. As Americans strive to live better, facing the scowl of an anti-child, the congregation of brash believers gathers, chants and peddles influence, preparing to strike in a grab for power.
My recent post on Communist China, Hong Kong, Trump and the 2020 Democrats was on the cover of Capitalism Magazine. Though I do not endorse tariffs and I explicitly declined to do so or go into detail on trade, military and foreign policy, I credit the American president for ending 50 years of unchecked sanction and appeasement of Communist China. I also contrast the president with the 2020 Democrats in this context.
The impetus for writing my first and only positive Trump post since the pragmatist announced he was running for president four years ago is the realization that, for the first time in recent history, the U.S. government explicitly and actively challenges Communist China’s power, if not with consistency, let alone on principle.
This is thanks to Trump. I think opposing China is a mark of American progress. Read my post about Trump, Democrats and China on Capitalism Magazine here.
Capitalism Magazine also asked to reprint an excerpt from my review of Ken Burns’s PBS miniseries, The Vietnam War. Read the excerpt here. This is part of my recent series of Asian-themed posts, including a review of the Vietnam War-themed Broadway musical now touring, Miss Saigon.
I’ve also written a new movie review. Oscar’s Best Picture winner for 1987, Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor, has been on my list of movies to watch for many years.
Encouraged and emboldened by the protests for democracy and individual rights in Hong Kong, the pro-Western city now protesting control by Communist China, a cosmopolitan city which once welcomed American whistleblower and hero Edward Snowden, granting him sanctuary from the oppressive Obama administration, I recently watched the movie with China and its rich history in mind. Read my review of The Last Emperor, featured on the cover of The New Romanticist, here.
Nihilistic cultural commentary on quality, 35mm film with good performances; this is my essential thought of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Writer and director Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Grindhouse, Django Unchained) has something to say about American culture and the arts. His movie is interesting if only as cultural commentary. What Tarantino has to say is that mindless art fosters mindless acts and that Americans are hollow.
It doesn’t matter to Tarantino that his otherwise meticulous re-creations of television programming are not remotely accurate in terms of content. If you’ve seen Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and you’re too young to remember TV shows or the type of TV shows being depicted, don’t take Tarantino’s depiction as truth. The shows are not as flat, plain and gratuitously violent as he depicts. He distorts the history of television in this sense. Why is this important? Because the distortion, however slight and I don’t think it’s slight, reflects his deeper distortion to come.
For example, Al Pacino’s character, itself an exaggeration or caricature of the Hollywood Jew, reacts favorably to a work of art by praising the “killing of Nazis”. Even in the era of Kelly’s Heroes, Where Eagles Dare and The Dirty Dozen in the mid to late 1960s, major Hollywood films depicting Nazis being annihilated went over for deliverance of justice, not for the residual thrill.
But in this way Tarantino seeds the notion that his brand of mindlessness and titillatingly violent depictions were somehow mainstream and acceptable. They were not. The films of Sam Peckinpah, among others, for instance, were considered shocking and controversial.
Tarantino’s are not characters as much as they are ciphers. Of course, there certainly are empty people, increasingly and especially in today’s culture. But even vapid people do more than exist in the way Tarantino dramatizes. Almost every character in the film chooses to be consumed by rock music, radio, television and movies. They don’t really have conversations. They’re like automatons moving in robotic like ways without much if any thought. Sound familiar? In this way, Tarantino certainly mirrors and projects a forecast of the vacant culture to come. The mindlessness of his characters is paramount.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is made with deliberation. Every frame and shot is calculated to provide a certain perspective on the meaning of what’s to come. This includes a few aerial shots and scads of close-ups. Tarantino is too calculated and the film, which is about 40 minutes too long, is contrived. For example, a scene in which Brad Pitt’s stunt man character picks up a hitchhiker who turns out to be one of the Manson Family is so contrived as to be totally artificial. The actress’s lines and the performance do not match the powerful impact that her character’s actions, presence and consequences have on the plot. Put another way, the youngest female of the Manson tribe is depicted by Tarantino as too middle-class and decent to be the type of confused, lost and vicious, cornered subhuman she was being molded into at the hippie commune where she’s kept. Her character delivers a crucial transition yet she’s a total lie.
Let me examine each major character. The most interesting character is the actor played by Leonardo DiCaprio (Catch Me If You Can, The Great Gatsby, Titanic). For all of his flaws, and he’s insecure, vain and shallow, he’s the most realistic. He’s the most human. He’s the only character in the film with values. He thinks for himself to some extent. He lets himself experience emotion as he goes through an extremely painful self realization which he faces bravely and alone. He expresses his emotion without shame, which I think is admirable, especially in a man — especially in the late 20th century when feminism emasculated man, seeking to make men feel small and unimportant. The DiCaprio character is the only character that seeks to be productive other than a lone girl. He strives to be his best. He hates his flaws and strives to overcome them. He struggles. He doesn’t give up. To a certain degree, he succeeds.
Yet DiCaprio’s character is tormented. He’s miserable for most of the movie. By the end, he more or less gets what he wants and has earned but Tarantino mocks and trivializes it. Mr. Pitt’s character, on the other hand, is vacant. By all outward appearances, he lives like Charles Manson without the explicit philosophy and cult following. He lives in a filthy home of his own choice and making with a menacing dog behind a drive-in movie theater in the San Fernando Valley. He’s like an ignorantly blissful dolt. His best days are behind him. He looks old and haggard. All he has is a decent physique and an ability to fight and do menial, manual labor. He has no friends, family or romantic companions. His highest experiences are mild amusement at older children of the opposite sex, especially a vagrant or wandering hippie who parades around in cut-off‘s and doesn’t shave her armpits. The biggest and most serious commitment he makes in the movie is when he says “yes we do” after he agrees with one of the Manson Family in a way that lets the audience know he’s as vulgar, raunchy and vacant as the hippies on the commune. After the dust settles following the film’s cartoonishly heinous climax, he’s unemployed, unemployable and he’s lost his closest relationship. His response? In parting, he tells DiCaprio‘s character: “bring bagels.” This line represents the scope and depth of his commitment to living. He’s not that into it.
This is the point of Tarantino‘s film. He dramatizes that Southern California in particular and America in general, are shallow, empty and meaningless. He shows that everyone seeks to get stoned. He depicts no real regard, let alone reverence, for humanity. He demonstrates that we’re all a few tokes or violent TV episodes away from being mindless cult followers.
Tarantino backs this up with scads of visual references, cues and cuts, including flashes back to George Putnam‘s talk radio show, the Pantages theater on Hollywood Boulevard, and parties at the Playboy mansion. Audiences will probably take this as a whole as brilliant and terribly meaningful. I submit that it isn’t. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood may be interestingly rendered with attention to detail, and it is, and much of it is well done. But, from barefooted actors and re-casting of old TV shows to rock music as an incessant and blaring soundtrack in everyone’s heads as they drive everywhere with the windows down in a kind of mindless stupor, the whole city of Angels is portrayed as being under a kind of hedonistic spell of nothingness. Maybe this is Tarantino’s point. But then what’s the point of having a point? It drains even the antiheroism of any real interest. You watch for the sake of watching and react for the sake of reacting. It isn’t any deeper.
There is a singular aspect of the film which I think is useful. I think this is the part audiences may respond to with verve and some degree of enthusiasm which I think is unearned. Tarantino portrays hippies for what they are: vacant. It isn’t more complicated than that. He lingers on the hippies. With the exception I mentioned, he shows their evil goals. He doesn’t whitewash hippies, their subculture of communalism, selflessness and religion. Though he pointedly omits their indulgence in drugs, probably because it undercuts his thesis, he depicts with lingering precision the pure evil of the hippies that chose to apply New Leftideals to their logical extreme and commit mass murder in Southern California. This culminates in an effective series of scenes on Spahn ranch in Chatsworth where the hippies congregated and planned their acts of evil.
With one caveat, a character apparently intended to be Susan Atkins, he consistently dramatizes Manson’s Family as evil. The Atkins character blames their actions with some degree of plausibility (on the movie’s terms) on television. It’s an interesting sidebar and it’s undeveloped. I think there’s truth in what the character says. But as delivered it’s tossed aside and unexplored. “We kill the people who taught us to kill,” she says. When those people kill back, it sort of vindicates her assertion.
None of this should be taken as deep and intelligent filmmaking. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood flashes thoughtfulness here and there but to say it’s thoughtful is too generous. It’s carefully rendered nihilism.
The theme of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is that writer and director Tarantino thinks that everybody must get stoned, to paraphrase a song by Bob Dylan. There are good scenes and depictions. Some of them are sharp. But the movie is more cultural commentary than artful fairy tale. Parts are stylishly rendered. But the main character, a stunt man played by Brad Pitt (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, 12 Years a Slave, Meet Joe Black), is as mindless as Charles Manson, the monster who made the Manson Family that butchered productive Southern Californians on an August night 50 years ago today. The fact that one of those innocents, Steven Parent, is not depicted in Tarantino‘s film, is extremely revealing. For all of the supposedly meticulous details, including a holding shot on an ice cube tray, excising the extermination of a young man’s existence from a story which purportedly seeks to rectify or at least re-create with an alternate version, one of the most horrific and influential crimes of the 20th century, says everything about the filmmaker. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood belongs with In Cold Bloodand another Sixties shocker, Midnight Cowboy, in focusing on the depraved at the expense of the good, the able and the innocent.
Tarantino’s notion of what’s being saved by this alternate version takes the form of Sharon Tate, capably play by Margot Robbie (I, Tonya,The Legend of Tarzan). She, too, is a cipher as depicted here. She’s attractive, intelligent and careful about her appearance down to the smallest details if without much effort. The actress goes to Westwood to buy a book and takes in one of her own movies. But she does so as an exercise in wanting to cash in on being a movie star, not that there’s anything wrong with that, which undercuts the character’s credibility. The fact that she apparently removes go-go boots and socks in the movie theater and puts her bare feet up on the seat back in front of her is utterly out of character. This is true for both the character portrayed in the film and what we know about the real actress who was stabbed by Manson’s hippie women (please stop calling them “girls”) over and over and over and over repeatedly until Tate and her almost full-term fetus were butchered after Sharon Tate pleaded for her life. This is the sense in which Tarantino trivializes that which ought to be revered, the life of a single human, and delivers it into one extravagantly violent and supposedly giddy display in the film’s last 20 minutes.
It isn’t funny. And yet, due to the vacancy of the main character, the stunt man played by Brad Pitt, it’s intended as a kneeslapper. The humor is supposed to be justified because it’s an alternate version, not the facts being re-created. But butchering others in self-defense while hallucinating on drugs is asinine at best. The fact that Mr. Pitt’s character chooses to get not just stoned but deeply, fundamentally stoned, negates everything good about what he does. “Happy, self confident men do not seek to get stoned”, Ayn Rand — who outlined and created her literary masterpiece and a philosophy for living on earth in Chatsworth where she lived with her husband — wrote about the year 1969. As is usual, Rand is right. Quentin Tarantino’s clever and elaborately winking twist on mass murder attempts to show otherwise.
Read my writing on David O. Selznick’s Gone With the Wind (1939) which I wrote after seeing the movie at Sid Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood this spring during TCM’s annual movie festival.
In the essay, which includes an extended section on my personal context for seeing the film and reading the 1936 novel by Margaret Mitchell, which won a Pulitzer Prize for literature, I examine its treatment of slavery, romance, women, history and war. This includes my analysis of its most famous line, which I think is misunderstood, overestimated or underestimated, and a new discovery about the character Prissy.
Read my analysis of Gone With the Wind on New Romanticist here.
Another movie I had seen before, long ago, but never reviewed, is Samson and Delilah, Cecil B. DeMille’s 1949 Bible epic. This, too, I saw at TCM’s festival. This, too, contains certain aspects that I think today’s audiences (to the degree they’re aware of these movies) may miss. Read my guest review for a classic movies blog of this movie about sex between man and woman here.
Though I had never seen Winchester ’73, a Western starring James Stewart and Shelley Winters, I knew about its anti-Western or modern reputation. I think I detected an aspect about the 1950 film which other analysts may have missed, which I write about in my review. You can read my guest review of Winchester ’73here.
Each new review includes a short postscript on the screening including my thoughts on TCM’s presentation. Additionally, I reported on TCM’s tribute to the 20th Century Fox studio founded by a Hungarian immigrant named William Fox, which like Marvel Comics has been consumed by Disney, for one of the Internet’s best classic movies sites, Once Upon a Screen. Read the appreciation of Fox here, where I also share other classic movies posts, including my roundup of TCM’s 10th annual Classic Film Festival.
One of the TCM event’s best features included a program with the child of Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, as well as Charlton Heston’s son and Cary Grant’s kid with Dyan Cannon. An article about this discussion, moderated by the granddaughter of Melvyn Douglas (Ninotchka, Hud, The Candidate), will be posted soon.
In the meantime, I’ve also conducted a thorough examination of the 1969 Academy Award-winning Best Picture, Midnight Cowboy, which turns 50 years old this year. I had never seen the movie, which is curiously forgotten, ignored or rarely discussed yet widely heralded as a masterpiece, an assertion which I dispute in my analysis. Read my thoughts on this bleak and miserable gay-themed film, which debuted in the same year as the hippies’ music festival near Woodstock, Charles Manson’s mass murderous hippies in Los Angeles and America’s landing a man on the moon, here.
Recalling the opposite of Midnight Cowboy‘s extremely depraved and influential sensibility, today’s the date that Turner Classic Movies airs its movie marathon in memory of the late Doris Day, who died last month in California. I was moved to write a tribute to this wonderfully American star which I hope you choose to read. Turner Classic Movies features the article, “America Needs Doris Day”, here.
The Manchurian Candidate (1962), a strangely prophetic film starring Laurence Harvey (Butterfield 8), airs this month on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). John Frankenheimer’s controversial conspiracy-themed movie, withdrawn by the studio from distribution after the assassination of President Kennedy, shows on May 18 (check local listings for all movies in May).
Another conspiracy-themed film, the sterling Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), shows on May 23. So does the fine little British war movie, Hope and Glory (1987). On the following day, May 24, TCM airs three unforgettable movies with extremely dark themes about the child in mortal danger: Barbara Stanwyck in 1931’s chillingly exquisite Night Nurse (I rarely say this but do not miss this movie, especially if you like to see strong women depicted in proximity to heroic men); 1955’s Night of the Hunter, based on the novel, starring Lillian Gish and Robert Mitchum as good and evil religious practitioners and John Wayne in The Searchers (1956).
The 1989 movie about an all-black unit of the Union Army in the Civil War, Glory, starring Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington, screens on May 27 after a showing of the World War 2-era film From Here to Eternity (1953) starring Montgomery Clift, Donna Reed, Ernest Borgnine, Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster. Two classics by director Howard Hawks, 1959’s outstanding moral alternative to the anti-heroic High Noon (1952), Rio Bravo (1959) starring John Wayne, and the romantically heroic Only Angels Have Wings (1939), air on May 30.