Know Your Enemy

Trump knew what he was doing with this “both sides” shit. If you think it’s irreparably damaged his presidency, I humbly suggest you not judge too quickly. Here’s why: That neo-Nazis and white supremacists exist in America has been generally acknowledged for a long time. News reports about them have been popping up for decades; Edward Norton and Ryan Gosling (to name just two) have played skinheads in movies. But almost everyone could see that Charlottesville was different. Nearly everyone wanted to know what accounted for that difference.

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The Resistance to “Confederate”

Game of Thrones’ show runner David Benioff and his collaborator D.B. Weiss announced on July 19th
that HBO had commissioned Confederate, elsewhere described as an alternate history drama imagining, among other things, slavery in a Confederacy surviving into our own day. An immediate twitter storm ensued, followed within few hours by the first of three NYT articles about the tweets, two of them enlivened by serial fatuities from notional experts—after all, there are no experts on television programs that have not yet been written, nor on history that didn’t happen.

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“Once Upon a Time in America”

In Sergio Leone’s valedictory film, every image, to borrow a phrase from Andrew Sarris writing on John Ford in The American Cinema, is haunted by its “memory image on the horizon of history.”  Ford is still Leone’s master, even in a film whose antagonists  —  “Noodles” Aronson (Robert De Niro) and Max Bercovj (James Woods) —  pointedly recall the gangster movies Raoul Walsh made about friends who rise up from the same slum neighborhood and become foes because of class divisions.

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Peggy Lee Revisited

A recent discussion on the message board brought back memories from my youth of a glamorous figure in a time when glamour had not yet assumed the tawdry implications that would later become attached to it.  In 1959, Peggy Lee appeared in an engagement at a nightclub in New York City called Basin Street East, a place in which she’d achieved a triumph the year before.  The poster announcing her return was displayed in front of the club and became a sensation unto itself.  Versions of it made their way into newspapers, and it was pasted up on available surfaces everywhere on the island of Manhattan.  In it, Peggy was wearing a white, backless, sequined gown, and the picture was taken from behind.  Her bare back, revealed to the waist, was a thing of beauty to behold, and she was looking over her shoulder, her mysteriously lovely countenance caught in a look of elegant seduction.  Whatever else she might have been, she was certainly an astonishing presence.  Sparks seemed to fly away from her person and draw strangers into the aura they projected.  This startling vision was, at the same time, contrasted by a clear statement of aloofness, distance, and unavailability.  There was no question that the image being observed, although unquestionably magnificent, was an artifice that she had created.  It was a measure of her talent in this regard that nobody ever asked about the real woman behind the mask.  In bold letters above the photo, the caption read, “PEGGY’S BACK!”

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On “Wonder Woman”

Most of what I’ve read about Patty Jenkins’s 2017 Wonder Woman, and most of what my friends have said about the movie, has been strongly positive, and the aspect of the film commented on most positively is its sometimes explicit, sometimes implicit feminism.  I have no quarrel with these pieces and comments;  I saw the film twice and thought it not only intelligently, brashly feminist but also stylish–the classiest and least patriarchal superhero film I’ve seen in a long time, and I’ve seen a lot of them.

Watching it as a pacifist, though, I was aware of another pattern of meaning, one having to do with the film’s naturalization of war and marginalization of peacemaking,  of what William James called “the war on war.” 

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