Thursday, January 8, 2009

WHERE ARE THE CINEMA HEROES TODAY? By Orson Bean

I think you will agree with Orson...this is a great read and tons to ponder:

The movies saved my life. I grew up in the great depression, the only child of a pair of star crossed lovers. My father lost his job. My mother drank. They fought. The movies were my escape. Of course, this was true of everyone back in the thirties. Forgetting for an hour or two cost a dime. But the movies represented a lot more than escape to me. They represented moral guidance. What I learned at home was despair and hopelessness. What I learned at the pictures was don’t give up the ship, we have only begun to fight, it’s always darkest before the dawn.

Tom Edison (Spencer Tracy) fought against all odds to invent the light bulb (and just about everything else). Young Tom Edison (Mickey Rooney) fought to grow up to be that great inventor. Don Ameche was Alexander Graham Bell who struggled to invent the telephone (and ultimately got to say, “Come here, Mr. Watson, I need you”). Edward G. Robinson played Dr. Ehrlich, whose magic bullet cured syphilis. Clark Gable crossed the wide Missouri.

Greer Garson played Marie Curie who discovered radium. Paul Muni was the great Louis Pasteur, who revolutionized medicine by proving the existence of germs. Jimmy Stewart filibustered in Washington and soloed across the Atlantic. These were the movies I saw and when they were over, I would emerge from the theater into the afternoon sun, saying to myself, “Yes, I can. If they can do it, so can I.”

I truly believe that these pictures saved me, gave me the inspiration to overcome what I was going through at home and do whatever was necessary to make a life for myself.

The movie moguls who churned out these pictures were immigrants. They understood what made America great, what set it apart. They loved their new country. If they didn’t consciously set out to make movies glorifying the American dream, it never really occurred to them not to do so. Belief in it was as much a part of their psyches as non-belief in it is a part of the psyches of today’s filmmakers. Where are the cinema heroes today, the characters who refuse to surrender, who just won’t give up? Not in Hollywood pictures.

You think audiences aren’t hungry for heroes? There’s a little movie out there called Slumdog Millionaire, which almost didn’t get released and is now being touted for best picture. It takes place in India and tells the story of a young man who overcomes impossible odds to succeed. People are lining up to see it. Why aren’t the many genuinely talented folks in Hollywood making pictures like that? You’d think that simple greed would tempt them to do so. Cecil B. DeMille worshipped the almighty buck.

The truth is they’ve forgotten how. They went to college and were taught that their country is wrong, that the system stinks, that to be a hero is to be a sucker fighting for a lie. Like Louis B. Meyer and Sam Warner before them, they want to make picures that have meaning. But their “meaning” is very different from that of the movie makers of my boyhood. When they churn out what’s in their hearts (the depressing view of life as they actually see it), no-one buys a ticket. Then, because they have to make a living, they revert to meaningless special effect extravaganzas and tell themselves there’s no market for “serious” pictures.

There are a few rays of hope out here in LaLa land. Some raunchy comedies like 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN, SUPER BAD and KNOCKED UP come with the requisite number of bodily function jokes but also wear surprisingly sweet hearts on their sleeves. Mainly, though, it’s pyrotechnics and space travel. I see where they’re planning a new high tech version of Flash Gordon. I liked it better when you could see the wire holding up the rocket ship.

My son-in-law, Andrew Breitbart is premiering a new blogsite called BIG HOLLYWOOD, which deals with the questions of why Tinseltown is the way it is. He has asked me to contribute to it from time to time, which I am happy to do. I remember the glory days of film making. I used to go to the movies a lot.

Not so much, anymore.

Z: I loved this article by Orson and wanted you to read it. Please check out Andrew Breitbart's new BIG HOLLYWOOD.. This new Blog is dedicated to Hollywood and conservative values (or the lack thereof)... This Blog's a week old and there are already some very good pieces there. I urge you to check it out from time to time!

z

26 comments:

christian soldier said...

I only go to or buy movies that I know have no liberal-socialist message ...
Z-glad that you have been invited to give your takes on Hollywood....

Ducky's here said...

I'm surprised he mentions "Slumdog Millionaire". It's a lousy film.

Danny Boyle has never been much of a director and he fails badly trying to film India. Renoir and Malle did also so maybe Danny shouldn't feel badly, they are clearly his betters.

Now what do we have for a story. It's "Hoosiers". Yup, nothing but one of those canned sports movies where the underdog hits the shot at the buzzer. There is some unconvincing melodrama back story but nothing that really grabs.

If the moron used one more Dutch tilt I was going to throw my popcorn at the screen. Tilt the camera when you're out of visual ideas. Bore me later.

Standard attention deficit disorder editing. It really bothers me that audiences DO NOT spot the fact that its used to mask poor camera placement.

I was really bothered bt two of the better shots in the film. The elevated shot of the huge expanse of tin roofed slums that was later compared to the same site with a huge construction pit of nondescript high rises as the brother reminisces about his old neighborhood.
Where did the poor go? They all win the lottery
Romanticizing the poverty and implying that it disappeared in the space of a few years? Screw that dishonesty.

It's simply not a very nourishing film. If anyone sees anything innovative or well crafted in the script or technique I'd like to know what it is.

However, this type of junk along with Superbad, the 40 Year Old Virgin and the rest that filters through the restricted distribution system makes money.
This is your capitalist system. You got what you wanted now don't whine.

Meanwhile, Resnais, Wajda, Godard are still making films. If you were lucky enough to find a way to see Andrzej Wajda's unreleased "Katyn" then you know the masters still have it. Too bad that never got a general release in America.

Oh well, Godard retrospective at the Museum of Fine Arts next month so I'm content. Christian soldier should take in Masculine/Feminine if he he's unhappy with Hollywood. Dear, dear Jean-Luc saw this coming 45 years ago.

Ducky's here said...

What films do people here most remember from their impressionable days of movie going.

I lived outside Cambridge when the first "art house" opened in America (the Brattle theater). Didn't take long to realize Hollywood was a waste land.

The Seventh Seal

Rashomon

Jules and Jim

Sansho the Bailiff

Nights of Cabiria

Ballad of a Soldier

Memories of Underdevelopment

Battle of Algiers

Until American film freed itself from the Hayes Code and the studio system it wasn't going to be competitive. And the days of the "new Hollywood" in the 70's were very short lived.

Blame the blockbuster ... most damaging film ever made "Star Wars". The accountants took over after that for good and all.

Z said...

(thanks for the birthday wishes, folks! I had decided not to post the birthday post and forgot I had it on automatic post! I thought it was probably a bit much for me to have done that, but I sure do appreciate all your lovely best wishes!)

Ducky...Again, a post about the goodness and inspiration of the older films and you go off on THIS?
Well, whatever........
Glad you like those films.
I'll take something with an uplifting story and a positive message about life..
Our kids need it.

That's the whole point of the blog article. again, thanks

Z said...

Christian Soldier..that's not MY take, though I'm hoping to write a bit for that blog!...it's the wonderful Mr. Orson Bean!
He's fabulous

Ducky's here said...

z, the post specifically mentions "Slumdog Millionaire" as "inspirational". It ain't.

Inspiration of older films? It's a very closed incomplete essay. While Bean was watching Don Ameche most of America was watching The Maltese Falcon.

The biopic was a very limited genre and a lot more people were watching "Scarface","Public Enemy" and "Little Ceasar" at the time.
Then noir hit full time and you have to admit that noir was much more fundamental to American cinema than the biopic.

He can romanticize a past but history doesn't come close to matching up with his account.


I'm still interested in what films people find inspirational and why. I believe art can be transformative but our epiphanies vary, no?

Ducky's here said...

Oh z, if you want a good inspirational biopic you should see "Milk" while it's still in the theaters.

Good films are out there.

Z said...

Ducky, I just wish we had the traditional values types of films...loving this country again, patriotism, goodness...women being cherished by men, etc.

I often wonder what teen aged girls who're being 'done' by everyone who wants to 'do' them feel when they see Darcy treating Elizabeth so well....I wonder. "He cherishes her, she must feel so special..." Oh, I'd better go 'do'......cool.

How very sad

Anonymous said...

For Ducky's benefit, I'd like to point out that Mr. Bean probably saw just about every movie available at that time. I do think the Maltese Falcon came out at a later time than the Don Ameche film.

Before we had TV, I'd bet that the movies were the most attended form of entertainment. I'd also bet that Mr. Bean and probably everyone else, saw both films, Ducky.

My parents took me with them to the movies every week (during the 40's and into the 50's). Double features at that. I can't imagine any film that may have escaped us.

Would Big Hollywood make a great film like Casablanca today? The core of that film is patriotism. I've heard that a remake of it was considered. If they're stupid enough to think of trying it, please I hope not, it can't be done.

"This is your capitalist system. You got what you wanted now don't whine."

This is hillarious Ducky. The fact that hollywood is free to produce junk, doesn't mean I have to buy it. I never bought a pet rock either. So?

Hollywood insisted on making a plethora of anti-war films during the past seven years, they didn't do so well did they?

Capitalism provides freedom of competition in the marketplace, it doesn't guarantee smart business decisions.

Heroism is depicted occasionally today, Braveheart, and Gladiator come to mind, but notice, the eras in which these stories took place were ancient times in history.

There are, I have no doubt, many untold stories of heroism being played out every day in Iraq or Afghanistan, but sadly, these are films we will not have available to us.

Yes, Big Hollywood is not art reflecting life as it is, but more likely, it is art created to influence our lives.

And, these days evidently, the brain trusts and money men in Big Hollywood believe America and Americans are not worthy enough for favorable, grown up, tasteful portrayls.

Pris

Always On Watch said...

Believe it or not, Newsweek recently published an article about how films today emphasize the anti-hero too much.

Ducky's here said...

I'm sorry, Pris, I am a little biased against Orson Bean for having starred in the WORST ever Twilight Zone episode.

Ducky's here said...

For Ducky's benefit, I'd like to point out that Mr. Bean probably saw just about every movie available at that time. I do think the Maltese Falcon came out at a later time than the Don Ameche film.

------------------

Point is Pris that the biopic has always been a pretty minor genre.

As for Orson Bean seeing every film available ... he saw the films that came to his home town in Vermont and believe me ... he didn't see the majority. Couldn't afford to and wasn't near a screening. He saw the films of whatever studio owned the distribution rights in the local theater.

Ducky's here said...

Yeah, that's probably true, AOW.

Interesting that one of the most diligent defenders of an heroic literature and aesthetic was the communist Georg Lukacs.

Ducky's here said...

and Pris BEVERLY HILLS CHIHUAHUA exists because talking dog movies make money and for no other reason

Elmers Brother said...

My family and I love the old movies. Big fans...because there are/were these lessons to be had....

good clean fun...Doris Day fun...

and laughter to be made.

The folks in Hollywood now have no imagination..they make more remakes than actual films anymore.

I have a habit of reminding my friends when movies are remakes...they hate me.

Anonymous said...

"and Pris BEVERLY HILLS CHIHUAHUA exists because talking dog movies make money and for no other reason"

Well Ducky, there's no accounting for taste. I would assume that a talking dog story would attract families with children, which could explain that.

When I was a child the dogs didn't talk. They were heroic. Lassie and Rin Tin Tin.

If making money is the only reason, then why the anti-war films which did miserably at the box office?


Elbro, yes you're right. Don't those people read books? Remakes are usually awful, and can't measure up to the originals. I would not waste money on seeing a remake.

Pris

shoprat said...

There are a lot of movies with real heroes in them, but the critics hate these movies. Sadly the critics have too much power and they have to prove their superiority to us by disliking everything we like. (I specifically think of one critic who hated The Lord of the Rings movies because there was no sex in them. I am not kidding.) Too movies are made to please these elitist snobs and not for the enjoyment and edification of real people.

Anonymous said...

All I can say is that if it weren't for TCM (Turner Classic Movies), and all the great recordings I have access to of classical music, I would probably lose my mind.


Well no, because daily prayer is not only absorbing, it is cleansing and healing as well. Writing poetry and satiric verse keeps me well occupied and amused, and I still practice the piano for an hour-and--a-half to two hours 'most every morning before breakfast, except on days when tendonitis acts up and doesn't permit it.


All of this SOLITARY activity is incredibly rewarding. I'm blest to be interested in such pursuits.


I regard my home as a Work of Art, but it's a work that's always in progress, and a place I love to share.


I enjoy cooking for others, but never just for myself, and I maintain probably too active a correspondence with many friends and "interlocutors" on the net.


But, I understand EXACTLY what Orson Bean means. I'm going to be 68 this spring, and so I remember most of what Mr. Bean remembers, even though he is quite a bit older than I.


I, like Pris, went to the movies regularly with my family and found it enthralling most of the time. I didn't KNOW much when I was a little boy, but I SENSED the importance and felt the humor and the pathos in those old films, and as I've reported recently, the MUSIC was profoundly significant --- truly wonderful. Better, I think, than anyone knew at the time.


When the Counter Culture came along, I experienced a great wave of revulsion, and I've been fighting nausea and a growing sense of RAGE ever since.


Apparently there is a large number of people who find an unbridled celebration of the seamy side of life --- the low, cheap, vulgar, perverse, dirty, corrupt, depraved antics of factory workers, misfits, criminals, communists, terrorists, and the mentally unstable --- fascinating and full of meaning and significance.


If you want to drink from an open sewer or get down on the ground and sniff dog-doo, you're welcome to do so --- it is, as they say, a free country --- but please don't ask ME (or my family and my associates) to join you.


It isn't the high MORALITY of the old films I miss so much as it is the tremendous style and flair with which they presented some often-thin and rather silly material. Somehow, they made a world of ENCHANTMENT and INSPIRATION from almost nothing. In that sense it truly was MAGIC. They provided us with ESCAPE from grim, humdrum, impoverished REALITY and gave us "Visions of Sugar Plums" and the HOPE that we MIGHT someday be able to make that escape into a more intriguing, stimulating world a PERMANENT part of our OWN lives.


The sour, cynical, joyless, humorless "slice of life" sort of stuff that began maybe with one or two of John Garfield's grittier movies and got much worse with the advent of Elia Kazan, et al. is to me most regrettable.


I don't go to the Opera to hear amateurs prove they can't sing, and to look at a stage that looks like an alleyway behind the theater complete with trash cans overflowing.


And I certainly don't want to pay a hundred dollars a seat to see a play where the actors do nothing but snipe mercilessly at each other and never resolve ANY of their tensions. The works of Edward Albee, Clifford Odetts, the late Harold Pinter, and even most of Tennessee Williams almost guarantees that any sensitive soul will leave the theater with a sense of gnawing anxiety and a nauseous headache. Who NEEDS it?


I don't want to see EMPTY SPECTACLES either. I always found every Epic Film I ever saw to be an EPIC BORE --- even in the old days --- although I remember The Egyptian as being totally fascinating to my ten or eleven-year-old self when it first came out.


Taste can't be legislated and should never be controlled by external forces, but unfortunately, we have seen that ruthlessly determined perverts with an axe to grind can seduce and entire population into losing its grip on sanity, decency, common sense and good humor.


Thank you, Mr. Bean. Sadly you and I are part of a dying breed.


~ FreeThinke


PS: This post was specifically written as a birthday present to Z. I hope she enjoys it.

Anonymous said...

Pris, I can think of three notable exceptions to the no remake rule. The second Maltese Falcon was far superior to the first. "An Affiar to Remember" with Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant was a remake of "Love Affair" with Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer. I think both were equally appealing.


Then there is the 1961 version of "The Children's Hour," which is far better, I think, than an earlier one called These Three, because it is much closer to Lilian Hellmann's play, which was tremendously shocking when it came out, not only because lesbianism was a dominant theme, but because the supposed innocence and purity of children was called into question for perhaps the first time.


The Children's Hour with Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine, Miriam Hopkins, Fay Bainter and James Garner provides a harrowing experience for the audience, but it is so brilliantly acted and beautifully filmed and is blest with such a deeply affective score by Alex North that it goes beyond the sordid and sensational and becomes truly cathartic to our pent up emotions.


The wonderful comedy, My Favorite Wife was remade I-don't know-how-many-times. It was even made into a musical, but nothing ever came close to the original with Irene Dunne and Cary Grant.


There was a very GOOD British version of Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage, but Hollywood's pairing of Leslie Howard and Bette Davis was more gripping and powerful than the other. Two later remakes --- one with Kim Novak and Laurence Harvey --- were a waste of time.


Also, I want to add that while I have enjoyed many of the old MGM musicals, whenever Hollywood adapts a Broadway musical to the screen , it loses a great deal of its luster, even when the performances are very good.


~ FreeThinke

David Wyatt said...

Superb. Mr. Bean is right on target. What a blessing. Thank you Z.

Z said...

SUBLIME ALERT:

Oh, MAN, Pris...does THIS say it LL "When I was a child the dogs didn't talk. They were heroic. Lassie and Rin Tin Tin."

Shoprat..Amen. Sad, isn't it. WHAT happened? And we all were bullied into believing MCCarthy was wrong? Ask a few of the accused's kids..."yes, my parents were working to subvert"
One of THE sadnesses of my blogging and writing about culture, etc, is that I didn't keep an LA Times article by a few of the children of Blackballed Hollywood types who admitted their parents purposefully wrote/directed/acted in subversive films. I wasn't that political then; it stunned me but I didn't keep it...DARN! This was about 20 yrs ago.


THANK YOU, FT...thankfully, you and Orson aren't going anywhere yet. I know you're in good health and, thankfully, Orson is, too...and he has a wonderful wife who's only months younger than I so she keeps him on his toes! he's a WONDERFUL man.
So are you.
I just saw THE CHILDREN'S HOUR on TV the other day, or the last 1/4 or so. I adore that film. It was a lesbian theme and SO dignified and SO honorable and showed what small minds can cause. Dreadful.
Fay Bainter deserves a standing ovation. She's marvelous. So was Shirley McClain in that film. Shirley's probably speaking to Bainter's ghost as we type!! HEHEE!!

David...'blessing'? When people say that about ANYTHING about my site, it is SUCH an honor. Thank you, my friend.

xxxx I do feel honored. I love the good conversations that happen here. I thank you all.

Anonymous said...

Oh thanks again, Z, for providing this very well-run forum. I see more and more that it is a PRIVILEGE to be here.


On the theme of ex-radicals and the disillusioned children of radicals: No greater example could exist than David Horowitz, himself, who was almost on a level with the ROSENBERGS, and then did a complete about face maybe ten or twelve years ago.


I don't always like Mr. Horowitz's STYLE, but any way you slice it, he's done a lot for the conservative movement. I only wish the CONSERVATIVES had acted as though they had the courage of their convictions when they had power.

Funny how intergenerational relations can go. I was just "talking" by email with the 49-year-old son of my 76-year-old cousin. He's SO much more conservative than his (I have to say nutty) mother, that it almost makes me laugh.


Well, as the Brooklyn Dodgers used to say (before they turned traitor and moved to L.A.), "Wait till next year!"

Good night!

~ FreeThinke

Ducky's here said...

Blame it all on Jackson Pollack !!!!

Z said...

Ducky, I used to love contemporary art..I really did. Frankenthaler, Frank Stella, Diebenkorn, Johns, etc........I still like some of their work, but I've grown out of it.
A friend in art school with me described it this way when I saw her years later and we talked .."I grew up and realized it was okay to like traditional furniture and art; in school we were kind of shamed into only liking the contemporary.." Ya.

I think every piece of art has some merit (except the urine and Jesus types of scum) but I see artists like Pollack as nihilistic, naive and Emperor's New Clothes now. They made a LOT of money throwing paint on canvas. Big freaking deal.
It's like pianists who pluck the strings and let it reverberate and that's 'music'.
What rubbish.

Ducky's here said...

z, Frank Stella's father was my pediatrician. True that.

Z said...

NO WAY, Ducky...that IS cool! Did he have any Stellas in his office!!
The best exhibition I saw was in the Munich museum of contemporary art...HUGE walls dedicated to his graphic pieces..just wonderful!

Ducky, a friend of mine's father (I think it was his father!) was Chagall's dentist. He paid him with sketches. YA $$$ Imagine that?