Besides my recent winter visit to Western Pennsylvania, which included a stay at the Fairmont in downtown Pittsburgh and a trip to the Heinz History Center to see the National Constitution Center’s exhibit on Prohibition before it closes, I’ve been attending screenings of Westerns at the Autry Museum of the American West. This was my first time seeing director John Ford’s Stagecoach starring John Wayne on the big screen.
I was as entranced by the thoughtful epic as ever. Read my Stagecoach review, which is posted at the New Romanticist. One of the advantages of seeing movies at the Autry is that they usually show the film in 35mm or 70mm prints in the Griffith Park museum’s Wells Fargo Theatre. Screenings include lectures by historians, scholars and other intellectuals and Stagecoach, which made John Wayne a movie star, was no exception. My review includes notes on the pre-film lecture.
The other Western I saw there is John Ford’s Sergeant Rutledge, a groundbreaking 1960 movie about a wrongly accused man (such a thing is possible, though these days you might not know it) trying to overcome racism in the West. This unknown movie, which I had neither seen nor heard of before, was introduced at the Autry with an abundance of fascinating facts and information.
Apparently, the film’s story of a wronged Buffalo Soldier is rooted in the truth about the all-black U.S. cavalry unit which was active in the Indian Wars. Blacks had been brought as slaves to Texas for ranching, the audience learned, and, following the Civil War, after so many men died in combat, blacks were often the most experienced and knowledgeable about ranching. So, black cowboys were not uncommon. Sergeant Rutledge is essentially the tale of a black cowboy who leads the Buffalo Soldiers before he is charged with raping and murdering a white woman. The leading part is played by Woody Strode (Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Quick and the Dead), the first lead black actor in a major studio’s Western. The studio apparently wanted a known black actor, such as Sidney Poitier, cast in the role. John Ford insisted on casting newcomer Strode, the Autry speaker explained, for his striking good looks and superior physique.
Read the review
Besides the movie’s injustice theme, Ford was drawn to cavalry stories (as most John Ford fans know). He was fascinated by the American West, especially as depicted by artists Charles Russell and Frederic Remington, whose paintings he attempted to replicate or evoke in his motion pictures. Sergeant Rutledge is the favorite role for Woody Strode, who also appeared in the opening shot of director Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West. The son of an interracial couple himself, Strode married outside his own race, too, to a Hawaiian princess, the Autry audience learned, and he became and remained close friends with John Ford. The former UCLA athlete appeared in several other Ford pictures and, years later, when Ford fell and broke his leg at his Southern California desert home, his only call for help went to Woody Strode, who moved in with the old movie director and assisted Ford’s recovery for four and a half months. The friendship was reciprocal, according to the Autry. When Strode’s mother died, and he couldn’t afford to pay for her funeral, Ford picked up the tab.
In an interesting twist, at least to me, I saw Sergeant Rutledge on the opening weekend of Marvel Studios’ hit Black Panther movie for Disney. What a contrast in depictions of heroic characters who are black. Other Westerns or cowboy-themed movies reviewed based on screenings with lectures at the Autry include Forty Guns (1957) starring Barbara Stanwyck, High Noon (1952) with Gary Cooper, The Big Country (1958) with Gregory Peck, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! (1955) and The Virginian (1946) starring Joel McCrea.
One of my resolutions this year is to add articles more often to my site’s backlog, so I’ve included, if not yet sorted, eight pieces to the Writings tab and checked that item off my list (read my new year’s post here on spring course offerings, fiction and other goals). The newly added articles appear on separate website pages, so they are not blog posts, with hyperlinks on headlines in bullet points included below. For various reasons, I may have to remove these articles at some point, so if you’re interested in any of these, read them sooner than later.
The oldest article went to press in 1999. It’s a roundup of then-newly printed works by Ayn Rand, anchored by two reviews of books published by the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) peppered with or consisting of essays or writings by Rand, whose birthday, incidentally, is tomorrow. I haven’t re-read my thoughts on those books in years. I think the reviewed versions may have been updated with new editions by the organization’s ARI Press. The reviews are generally favorable. A related article is among the most recent pieces: the first interview with ARI’s new CEO, who discussed seeing Rand lecture near Harvard, where he was enrolled in business studies, his favorite course by Leonard Peikoff and what being an Air Force commander adds to the challenge of leading an organization dedicated to advancing Objectivism.
Three other exclusive interviews appear. Composer Alexandre Desplat, nominated for an Oscar for scoring The Shape of Water, spoke with me from Paris about Charlie Hebdo, Islamic terrorism and his methodology in making music for movies, including predominantly his 2015 movie, Suffragette. That same year, Leonard Maltin, whom I’ve interviewed several times since we met, talked in depth about classic movies and the third edition of his Classic Movie Guide.
I had been asking him for years to do an extended interview in person and, finally, we did, at his home. The interview ended right on time as a TV crew came in for set-up and perhaps you’ll agree with me that it’s our most serious exchange. The third movie-related interview took place a year later with a historian who knows all about the slave rebellion depicted in a controversial film, The Birth of a Nation (2016), which opened to widespread praise in a film festival only to lose critical darling momentum when its writer and director was linked to a rape victim who later killed herself. This pre-Me, Too Hollywood derailment only made me more serious about judging the merits of the movie, distributed by Fox Searchlight, the studio responsible for the powerful 12 Years a Slave, so I’m glad I went to the young scholar who studied the facts which form the basis for the motion picture. The exchange amounts a history lesson on the truth about slavery in America.
A couple of articles report on interviews conducted by others for the annual classic film festival — the only movie festival I’ve consecutively covered — hosted by Turner Classic Movies in Hollywood. Read my account of Club TCM’s detailed tribute to Leonard Maltin, who got personal about his early career in book publishing, movie journalism and an affiliation with the Walt Disney Studios and my 2016 report on TCM’s rare and respectful one on one exchange with one of America’s last glamorous movie stars, Faye Dunaway, who talked about Network, Barfly and The Thomas Crown Affair (1968). Finally, I’ve added an article from a local edition of the Los Angeles Times which I conceived, researched and wrote on assignment. This is the tale of a mid-range shopping mall nestled in a prime location in the shadow and hum of LA’s newest freeways. The property would begin with publicity visits from movie stars and Olympic athletes amid concern about lost business in a neighboring suburb whose government was so frightened that they passed regulations to stop people from shopping there. Its decline began when two of the most feared Los Angeles serial killers stalked — and enticed, captured and murdered — children at the mall.
I’ve started 2018 recovering from influenza and, at least for now, still in contention for fiction writing competition and submission. I am writing new stories and will keep you posted.
More info on my social media course
Otherwise, I make notes and revisions and screenwrite for others. No two scripts are alike and the process is unique to the individual. I’m enjoying the challenge of hunting, harvesting and essentializing data for a short research and interview assignment on someone’s forthcoming book. I also write copy and articles for clients’ websites, publications and books. Small projects can yield surprising rewards. For instance, I recently helped a friend, a published author, get organized. I performed menial tasks, really, yet I gained valuable insight from observing his approach.
Another client asked me to coordinate a campaign and compose letters for an effort to persuade authorities to reconsider and re-open an investigation into a child welfare case. As I always do, I gathered facts, read relevant case files, conducted an independent review, asked questions and formulated my conclusions, drafting final documents accordingly. The project was an unusual assignment in some ways, if typical in other ways, and, while I am not always able to accept such writing assignments, I found the challenge invigorating. My customer was fully prepared and a pleasure to work with. This makes the initial outcome — the district attorney’s office contacted my client upon receipt of the documents, opening the prospect of further investigation — only more rewarding.
More info on my writing course
As this year begins, I’m looking forward to creating each new theme, campaign or story. Twenty eighteen marks ten years of blogging and I plan to keep at it for now, adding selected book, movie and TV reviews and cultural commentary with occasional updates and announcements. I also plan to return to teaching my media courses this spring, so please note that Writing Boot Camp and Maximizing Social Media are open for registration and will commence as 10-weeknight classes at the Henry Mingay campus of Burbank Adult School near Bob Hope Airport. Enroll in social media studies here and my writing course here.
Here we go into what I want to be a Happy New Year!
Last year’s best movie, Lionsgate’s La La Land, debuted in certain theaters a year ago next week and, though I’ve parenthetically included the movie in my blog’s first Christmas gift guide, I have also added a link to buy the DVD. With the director, whose first film, Whiplash, garnered interest and recently announced that he’s making a new movie about the Apollo 11 landing of man on the moon, I think the musically-themed 2016 movie warrants serious consideration.
La La Land is a spirited and stimulating depiction of America’s pioneering individualism in general, and of Southern California’s productiveness, resilience and can-do youthfulness in particular, with songs by the team that composed this year’s hit musical, Dear Evan Hansen (and this month’s upcoming The Greatest Showman). Emma Stone (Aloha, Battle of the Sexes) and Ryan Gosling (The Ides of March, Blade Runner 2049) co-star as the young, ambitious artists of ability. I know others disagree whether the movie’s any good. Nevertheless, I am confident that La La Land deserves honest appraisal as a great film.
A new center for the study of Los Angeles opened this year at Occidental College in Eagle Rock. Earlier this year, I was asked by the local edition of the LA Times to report on the academy, so I went to the campus where Terry Gilliam, Ben Affleck, Jack Kemp and Barack Obama once took college classes and met and interviewed the director. I previously posted about the assignment this summer. In a wide-ranging discussion, we discussed the history of the humanities college, which was founded by Christians, the region and the ethos of Southern California. The director, a son of two college professors, told me about his own background, from a childhood in Alabama to living in downtown LA. I’ve added the article, which was published in the Los Angeles Times, to the archives here.
Today, I’ve added to the site archives my first review of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. It’s an analysis which posted earlier this year for the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival, where I had the pleasure to see the master’s 1934 film The Man Who Knew Too Much on nitrate at the Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. Read my review of this interesting movie and thoughts on its screening, which was introduced by Martin Scorsese (Hugo, The Departed, New York, New York) here. I plan to add more classic film reviews this year.
Though I review movies only informally and occasionally for the blog, I plan to continue. I’m focussing on classic movie analysis, however, based on pictures I’ve seen on the big screen, such as The Man Who Knew Too Much. I enjoyed seeing an Alfred Hitchcock movie on the silver screen, of course, and I’d like to see more of his work and write more, new reviews and analyses, so let me know if you have one or two in mind you’d like me to review. As of now, my favorite Hithcock movie is 1954’s Rear Window, so I may write about this movie next. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in Hitchcock, who is with Howard Hawks and Lasse Hallstrom among my top favorite film directors, I did see and review a 2012 biographical movie about the master of suspense, which is simply titled Hitchcock, co-starring Helen Mirren and Anthony Hopkins. Read the review here. I’ve seen most of Hitchcock’s movies and many of the TV episodes. I’m also reading Hitchcock/Truffaut (I’ve seen the recent documentary, too).
I first started to take Hitchcock’s work seriously as a student of film during the 1990s while attending Professor Shoshana Milgram’s lectures and classes in Southern California and at several summer OCONs. Her work in film and literature is always deep, serious and thought-provoking. Dr. Milgram really encourages students to see his movies and think about them and she stirred me to appreciate why seeing a movie more than once can be a rich reward for the rational mind. I’ve written my reviews to be read both before and after the reader has seen the movie ever since. Today is Hitchcock’s birthday, so it strikes me as the best day to post my first review of a Hitchcock film to the backlog. I hope you enjoy reading it.
Today, the United States Senate, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, and John McCain, an Arizona Republican who unfortunately was recently diagnosed with brain cancer, approved a procedure to begin debate on legislation which may or may not repeal ObamaCare.
Much has been made by pundits about the process and politics. Too little has been discussed about the ideas and details, as was the case with ObamaCare, legally known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and almost every major law controlling the medical profession in my lifetime. Having been an intellectual activist for freedom of choice in medicine since I lived in Chicago, I am fed up with politicians and bureaucrats controlling my health care. I’ve been advocating for individual rights and capitalism for decades, with some degree of success, though clearly not with any fundamental victory.
I am discouraged by opponents of government-controlled health care in major free market policy circles, who have failed to stop the government takeover of medicine despite relatively consistent support, growth and advancement of free market ideals in the culture. In fact, ObamaCare is based on a conservative group’s policy proposals, which I know first-hand. I also know that, with an opportunity to repeal what I regard as the worst legislation in my lifetime, not a single pro-capitalism organization proposed and advanced a serious policy to help wipe out ObamaCare, let alone a step-by-step plan that Congress could adopt to end this monstrous law.
Though I am a writer, not a health policy scholar, I’ve taken the liberty of making my own proposal to abolish ObamaCare and promote a rational health care policy alternative to government intervention in — and control of — medicine. This essay includes specific steps, including ideas for action to educate the public about capitalism and ad hoc ideas for fostering charity and holding altruists to account for their morality. I call the commentary Seven Steps to Cure ObamaCare. I know there are pro-individual rights policy analysts more qualified than myself to propose ways and means to eradicate ObamaCare. I welcome feedback on what I intend to be a policy discourse catalyst to end this terrible law. So, it is my aim to end to the widespread damage, pain and suffering I know ObamaCare causes.
Read my commentary, posted today on Capitalism Magazine, here.