Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 27, 2012

The Oscar for Best Picture: 50 years ago and today

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 4:34 pm

Fifty years ago the Academy Award for best picture was given to “West Side Story”, originally a Broadway musical with obvious New Deal popular front cultural antecedents. It was co-directed by Jerome Robbins, the choreographer and ex-member of the CPUSA who had named names in the 1950s but never abandoned his liberal politics. As it turned out, the other four nominated films also had some interesting connections with the left, as we shall see.

Robbins was the choreographer for the original Broadway version that was written by Arthur Laurents. Like Robbins, Laurents was a CP’er but unlike Robbins refused to name names. For this offense, he was blacklisted. As part of his “subversive” past, Laurents had written a review of “Home of the Brave”, a 1949 film about racism in the army that was based on his screenplay, for the Daily Worker. The film starred Jeff Corey as a psychiatrist treating a Black soldier whose paralysis was psychosomatic, a result of the brutal racism he suffered in the military. Corey, like Laurents, was a blacklistee. The score for “West Side Story” was composed by Leonard Bernstein, never a CP’er but certainly part of the broad milieu around the party during its New Deal heydays.

When I looked up the Best Picture for 1962, I didn’t really expect to discover a political connection but did expect to confirm my suspicions that the Hollywood of today can’t compare to the one of my youth. That being said, one of the runner-up’s to “West Side Story” was a noirish film called “The Hustler” that starred Paul Newman as an ambitious and unscrupulous billiards pro. It was written and directed by Robert Rossen, another blacklistee, who was one of the greats. In addition to “The Hustler”, he directed “A Walk in the Sun”, a film that makes “Saving Private Ryan” look like the simultaneously cheap imitation and cash-bloated production that it is.

Continuing in the same vein, “Judgment at Nuremberg”, another runner-up, was directed by Stanley Kramer who had a more adversarial relationship to the CP. Kramer was nothing more than a New Deal Democrat who had no problems working with CP’ers until the Witch Hunt took a turn for the worse. Kramer’s screenwriter for “High Noon” was Carl Foreman, a CP’er who he had a long-standing partnership with. When HUAC went after Foreman, Kramer tried to throw him overboard and remove his name from the film’s closing credits. Other members of the “High Noon” team intervened, including the star Gary Cooper. While Kramer was obviously a bit of a skunk, he certainly was someone to be reckoned with.

Interestingly enough, Foreman landed on his feet. Alongside “Judgment at Nuremberg”, “The Guns of Navarone” was nominated for best picture of the year. While the film was nothing but an adventure tale, it had some powerful lead characters, especially Gregory Peck as the leader of a squad that hoped to destroy Nazi artillery at the top of a cliff. I was intrigued to discover that Barbet Schroeder was part of the writing team. Although he was capable of writing potboilers like this, he got his start working with Jean Luc-Godard as part of the New Wave movement in France. Among his credits is “Barfly”, a movie based on Charles Bukowski’s writings. But an even more interesting member of the writing team is none other than Carl Foreman who was also the film’s producer. Obviously you can’t keep a good man down. “The Guns of Navarone” was directed by J. Lee Thompson, a British WWII veteran who made his mark in the 1950s with socially aware films like “Yield to the Night”, a woman’s prison tale that took a strong stand against capital punishment.

Finally, we come to “Fanny”, another musical that was directed by Josh Logan. Although I never saw this film, I have to believe that the Academy was making a fairly reasonable decision in considering it, given the talents of the people who made it. Julius Epstein, who co-wrote the screenplay with Josh Logan, had won an Academy Award in 1942 for the screenplay for “Casablanca”, a pretty good film by any stretch of the imagination. (The script was co-written with his twin brother Philip.)

And—guess what—Epstein was a man of the left, although probably not a member of the CP. The wiki on Epstein states:

Jack Warner, head of Warner Bros., had a tortuous relationship with the Epstein brothers. While he could not argue with their commercial acumen, he deplored their pranks, their work habits and the hours they kept. In 1952, Warner gave their names to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). They never testified before the committee, but on a HUAC questionnaire, when asked if they ever were members of a “subversive organization,” they responded, “Yes. Warner Brothers.”

Another member of the “Fanny” screenwriting team was S.M. Behrman, a Jew like most of these folks, who made his mark in Broadway before going to Hollywood. When he wasn’t writing Broadway plays, he was writing for The New Republic, The New Yorker, and the New York Times—obviously not a slouch.

Returning to Josh Logan, perhaps it speaks for itself to note that he dropped out of Princeton in 1930, half way into his senior year. He gave up an Ivy League degree in order to study theater with Konstantin Stanislavsky in Russia. Stanislavsky gave the young man a parting gift when he was about to return to America, a signed photograph inscribed with what would become his favorite quote, “Love the art in yourself, and not yourself in art.”

What a different world we are living in today when something like “The Artist” gets named best picture of the year. I doubt if I will ever be inspired enough to give this movie the proper trashing it deserves, but will simply let a piece in Awl Magazine speak for me for the time being. Choire Sicha wrote:

So… basically The Artist is about this chick who meets a much older guy like three times for all of 30 seconds each and then she devotes her life to stalking/saving him, despite him being a married, entitled, pitiful, self-serving alcoholic, and despite her being a smart, savvy, talented, sexy professional, and then also the only black people in the film are literally carrying spears and wearing loincloths? And really hot French guys are actually made kind of ugly when they have gross tiny mustaches?

Right, that’s what I thought, just checking.

I suppose that given the overall decline of film art for the mass market there would be a decline in the ceremony itself. While I was watching the proceedings with my wife, waiting for “Californication”—our favorite show—to come on, I felt increasingly annoyed by the incestuous character of the presenters, the winners, and the audience. It was if they were throwing a party and we were privileged to be watching them have a good time. The days when a Marlin Brando would confront those gathered there with some grievances about American social injustice are long gone. Instead we got an aging Billy Crystal telling toothless jokes for the audience’s pleasure, a court jester in his dotage.

But I felt enough was enough when during the presentation of an award for a documentary short there were shouts from a couple of members of the audience: “Scorsese, Scorcese!” When the presenters heard his name cried out, they took a couple of tiny bottles of booze from their handbags and began chugging. What was the point? Why would I care about an inside joke like that? And why would I want to see the 116th close-up of Martin Scorsese in his seat, mugging at the camera? Thank god “Californication” began a moment or two later.

For those who were smart enough to avoid this fiasco, I can certainly recommend a sharp article in Salon.com titled Oscars 2012: The movies’ most painful night  written by Andrew O’Hehir, their film critic. He states:

Maybe the joke about George Clooney kissing Billy Crystal in a fake scene from “The Descendants” would have been funnier if Crystal didn’t actually look like an old lady. That moment was awkward — like virtually everything else about Sunday’s 84th Academy Awards, — but  it was also confusing. Was George supposed to be delivering a goodbye smooch to his wife, or his mom? Seconds later, we were treated to Crystal in blackface, or at least in tan-face, sorta-kinda doing Sammy Davis Jr. Extra-double awkward and confusing! Even if you’ve heard of Davis (and half the people watching probably hadn’t), it took several beats to grasp exactly what target Crystal was shooting for. (It’s been more than 25 years since Crystal played Davis on “Saturday Night Live.”) Liberace’s black half-sister, perhaps?

As I have stated repeatedly here, the decline of Hollywood is clearly in line with the decline of America as an industrial power, and—more importantly—its decline as a civilization. The men and women who made movies from the 30s through the early 60s were generally better educated (meant in the overall sense, not where they went to college) and more politically engaged.

Apparently the average person has begun to concur with the Unrepentant Marxist, if you look at the key measure for this industry: ticket sales. Last December 25th, the N.Y. Times reported that ticket sales were a half-billion dollars behind the previous year. While some analysts blamed the recession for the failure, at least one industry figure was candid enough to admit the truth:

What has gone wrong? Plenty, say studio distribution executives, who point to competition for leisure dollars, particularly among financially pressed young people (the movie industry’s most coveted demographic); too many family movies; and the continued erosion of star power.

One more thing: “You have to go back and look at the content,” said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution for Warner Brothers. “Good movies always rise to the occasion. Bad ones, not so much.”

Perhaps the biggest explanation for Hollywood’s decline is the impact that television has had. Screenwriting has become more and more of a discipline that is shaped by television in general, and situation comedies in particular. The search for a cheap gag overrides everything. And if you are making a “serious” movie, you tend to emulate the kind of writing that is found on Lifetime Cable or CSI, etc.

For example, Descendants, a film I found utterly unwatchable, has the same kind of sentimentality you find in television movies or weekly dramas. After 15 minutes, I figured out where it was going and took the first exit ramp. Despite its 89 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I am sure that I would have concurred with the Village Voice’s J. Hoberman if I had the patience to stick with it to the bitter end:

Despite the large, and talented, cast that Payne has assembled, The Descendants revolves entirely around its supremely amiable star. But, even with the crutch provided by an insistent voiceover, Clooney’s part is underwritten. Moreover, the actor’s own blessings are so evident that it’s hard to accept him as the beleaguered (if fabulously wealthy) everyman that the movie demands he be. With supporting characters called upon to react toward him or develop around him as necessary in a given situation, the narrative feels less like an unfolding novel than like an inflated short story. Slowly rolling downhill, The Descendants takes a turn or two but is basically always en route toward the reconciliation that’s a foregone conclusion.

Payne’s film, which closed last month’s New York Film Festival on an upbeat note, has been generally hailed for its enlightened sensitivity and modest humanism; it’s being touted by industry savants for a Best Picture Oscar because it’s the sort of movie that, in resolving a tragically irresolvable situation, encourages audiences and studios to feel good about themselves. Still, save for a reflexive response to the spectacle of “girlfriend in a coma” (ironically, the best scenes are the solos Clooney directs at comatose Hastie—moments that make clear what is otherwise implicit), it left me cold. The pathos is as unearned as the protagonist’s privilege.

And speaking of the decay of Western Civilization, we must report that the brilliant and accomplished critic J. Hoberman is no longer with the Voice, another victim of cost-cutting that leaves this once-proud newsweekly just another piece of garbage in our cultural dump.


  1. I took my young son to see an animated film, “The Secret World of Arrietty”, last week. My guess is that it is better than 95% of what comes out of Hollywood. A children’s story to be sure, but one that displayed a fidelity to the emotional tone of the book upon which it is based, “The Borrowers”, and gently suggests some adult themes without condescension, especially the challenges associated with people from different cultures learning to trust one another and treat each other with respect. Not surprisingly, it was outside of the US, in a world renowned Japanese animation studio. Before the film began, we sat through interminable previews, one of which was for “The Lorax”. Here was the “search for a cheap gag” on display, a children’s film clearly designed to transition them towards what Hollywood considers adult, mainstream entertainment. Indeed, if it were performed by actors instead of being animated, it would be released as such.

    Comment by Richard Estes — February 27, 2012 @ 5:34 pm

  2. This is one of the best things you’ve ever written.

    Comment by Red Black — February 27, 2012 @ 6:50 pm

  3. I concur with Red Black. It’s a joy to see how your writing skills are getting better and better. I loved this article.

    Comment by haensgen — February 27, 2012 @ 8:02 pm

  4. Interesting review. While agreeing broadly with you, the first third of your article chronicles the US film makers connection to the left but conclude the demise of the industry reflects the demise of the US as an economic power. Maybe. Perhaps more accurately the demise of the US film industry reflects the demise and muddle headedness of the left. A story that required telling.


    Comment by Bryan Parker — February 28, 2012 @ 1:30 am

  5. What makes a really good movie, Louis? I’m getting a feel for it, after having watched (by now) several years worth of stuff on TCM and generally comparing the movies to how they’re rated in the 5-star system, but I’m still curious as to what makes a really good movie to a (semi?) professional critic.

    Comment by Todd — February 28, 2012 @ 1:34 am

  6. Maybe Louis can come up with an omnibus formula, but I don’t think there is one. His blog overall speaks up for cultural variety with a leaning toward current conditions and social realism. There’s praise for Jacques Tati and Gillo Pontecorvo. But a concept that would cover both these filmmakers would be too general to be useful.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — February 28, 2012 @ 9:55 am

  7. This could apply to music of all stripes , as well.

    Comment by schoolteacher — February 28, 2012 @ 10:39 am

  8. This is a very good piece, Louis. You should consider a book of your writings on movies and American culture. I may not and do not agree with your political analysis on many issues, but when it comes to your writings on culture I cannot argue with the sharp insight, quality writing and refreshing anti-establishment stance you take.

    I wrote a piece on Hollywood to tie in with the Oscars myself.


    I also have a memoir of my own experience living in Hollywood coming out later this year. It’s titled ‘Dreams That Die’ and fuses an insight into the movie industry from a bottom feeder’s perspective along with an account of my experience as an organiser with the US antiwar movement post 9/11.

    Comment by John Wight — February 28, 2012 @ 12:47 pm

  9. Interesting! One has to wonder, though, whether America’s current loss of interest in Hollywood is due at least in part to the fact that they aren’t cranking out a lot of crap like Act of Valor, which I am told is No. One in ticket sales at present.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — February 28, 2012 @ 2:04 pm

  10. Peter wrote:

    “Maybe Louis can come up with an omnibus formula, but I don’t think there is one.”

    I don’t think so. Even accounting for cultural variety, there are enough similarities among movies that aren’t North American that I’ve been told were “good movies” with North American ones that are also described that way (same goes for movies from, say, the 30s with those of today; they weren’t _all_ good movies back in the 30s). And I can’t see how a movie has to have in it social realism or nods to current conditions to make it a good movie.

    Comment by Todd — February 28, 2012 @ 3:00 pm

  11. I think that one of the most important qualities of great film, as well as great literature, is a refusal to pander to the emotional sensibilities of the audience, to respect it and draw it into the narrative. “Winter’s Bone” is a example of an American film that does this. American films are notorious for sentimentality and gratuitous violence, so any film that avoids them has a good chance right out of the box.

    Comment by Richard Estes — February 28, 2012 @ 7:52 pm

  12. Richard wrote:

    “a refusal to pander to the emotional sensibilities of the audience”

    Yes, I think that would certainly be an element to a great film (although it shouldn’t be overdone or done gratuitously).

    Still, it doesn’t have to be there. I think The Blue Angel does that to a certain extent through the descent of Professor Rath, a “comeuppance” that the movie’s original audience probably relished, but I’d still call it a great film.

    Comment by Todd — February 28, 2012 @ 11:24 pm

  13. […] Louis Proyect chimes in on the movie biz fifty years ago and today. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in Stuff one and tagged culture, film by El Pelón. Bookmark the permalink. […]

    Pingback by Oscars compare and contrast | The rose in the cross — February 29, 2012 @ 1:04 am

  14. Different genres of film are judged differently. If a movie is supposed to be a musical then I can relish Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly, Eleanor Powell, Bing Crosby and the like without demanding great subtleties of thought in the film. Just give me someone who is really a talented dancer or singer (like the latter few) and I can accept that the plot for Singing in the Rain is simple, not deeply complex, an easy story to figure out. For other types of films that level of simplicity would be intolerable.

    Comment by PatrickSMcNally — February 29, 2012 @ 4:18 am

  15. “Still, it doesn’t have to be there. I think The Blue Angel does that to a certain extent through the descent of Professor Rath, a “comeuppance” that the movie’s original audience probably relished, but I’d still call it a great film.”

    My recollection is that the Nazis hated “The Blue Angel” because they recognized that the film, like the novel upon which it was based, was a condemnation of the puritanical, provincial attitudes that resulted in his demise. Sternberg subsequently departed to Hollywood. One of my favorite films of all time.

    Comment by Richard Estes — February 29, 2012 @ 4:59 am

  16. Last night I watched “Gone with the Wind” on Italian TV. Everybody spoke Italian. The movie certainly pandered to the emotional sensibilities of the audience. The main character got no come-uppance. On the contrary she reformed herself in a hardly believable way. The violence in the movie could be justified as anti-war, but was also used to pep up the action in the equivalent of a car chase. The picturing of blacks as semi-idiots ruled out claims to realism as did the fact that two very British actors played principal roles as Southerners. All the same I wouldn’t say that this wasn’t a good movie. Great it certainly was by its impact. I asked Italians why Scarlett, a very rare name in English, was called Rosella, a common name in Italy. They told me that Rosella had been rare too, before “Gone with the Wind”. My point is that any abstract rule we come up with will leave too much out. The dynamics of movies are so complex that it’s more productive for a critic to look at them one at a time.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — February 29, 2012 @ 10:34 am

  17. Peter wrote:

    “The dynamics of movies are so complex that it’s more productive for a critic to look at them one at a time.”

    But a critic has to have some kind of a guide or training or knowledge to be able to say what’s (“objectively”) good or bad and why; otherwise, it’s just a value-free opinion, or the opinion is based on totally subjective feelings, or movies are simply compared to other movies and not to some more objective set of parameters.

    Richard wrote:

    “the Nazis hated ‘The Blue Angel’ because they recognized that the film. . . was a condemnation of the puritanical, provincial attitudes that resulted in his demise.”

    I’m not a historian of films, so I don’t know for sure, but was the audience, presumably people who had those puritanical, provincial attitudes, aware that the film was attacking them? How popular was it when it was first released?

    Comment by Todd — February 29, 2012 @ 7:44 pm

  18. Todd: you may well be correct, but the Nazis editorialized against the film in 1931 and banned it altogether in 1933, probably because of Heinrich Mann, a leftist and the author of the novel upon which the film was based, “Professor Umrat”, and the masculine vulnerability on display

    The film made Marlene Dietrich an international film star, so I assume that the film was popular, although my source for this information, the book, “The UFA Story”, provides no information on German box office receipts.

    Comment by Richard Estes — February 29, 2012 @ 10:33 pm

  19. Heinrich Mann wrote the book on which the “Blue Angel” was based way back in 1904. So the German public had a good idea of what he stood for by the time the movie appeared in 1930. He’d been prominent on the blacklist of the military class and nationalists for years as “an enemy of the German spirit”. The Nazis simply confirmed this when they took power and burnt his books in 1933.

    I agree with Todd that the critic has to say what’s good and bad in film and why. In so doing he will be expressing values. But I don’t see how rules of thumb can help him or do justice to something as multi-faceted as a movie. By the way, objectivity is a slippery idea and the best critics usually have along with their values a good dose of subjectivity.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — February 29, 2012 @ 11:19 pm

  20. Dunno, the past-present binary is a wee bit nostalgic. What about Michael Moore in 2003? How he sent the Hollywood Warmongers hooting and howling with his “premature” denunciation of the invasion of Iraq, one to be shortly vindicated in spades!

    My Late Hollywood mainstream favorite so far is Inglorious Bastards, whose content could be read as equating Zionism with Nazism – as it was by its sharpest non-cinematographic critics in the Jewish press . Touche!

    Hollywood’s decline was inevitable even without the decline of the U.S., as other entertainment media emerged and competition from mass foreign film production emerged in the “developing” world – now a key market for Hollywood itself. One must look abroad as well for the sources of decline.

    Comment by Matt — February 29, 2012 @ 11:34 pm

  21. Peter wrote:

    “But I don’t see how rules of thumb can help him or do justice to something as multi-faceted as a movie.”

    Welllll, I’m not really thinking of something as minor as “rules of thumb”; more like theories, observations that have been borne out, teaching, etc.

    Even though it might be possible to find something, anything, remotely “redeeming” in any movie, crap is still crap for a reason.

    “By the way, objectivity is a slippery idea and the best critics usually have along with their values a good dose of subjectivity.”

    Of course; one can’t escape subjectivity and one shouldn’t try, but that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t have examined standards and learned judgement of some kind to use as tools and/or guides.

    Comment by Todd — March 1, 2012 @ 1:27 am

  22. The Hollywood movie has declined in quality because the Hollywood movie industry has become outmoded. Aspects of this decline involve:

    1. technology
    2. copyrights
    3. high ticket prices
    4. the Hollywood business model is outmoded
    5. extreme fragmentation of the movie audience led to loss of subtlety
    6. crass commercialism

    1. Technology has advanced and been popularized (digital video and digital sound, and home computers) so that moviemaking of high technical quality is easily available for negligible expense compared to that of the Hollywood “industrial” movie. Middle school kids (like my own) now make movies on home computers for You Tube and school projects, in a day or two. Feature films have been made with highly portable Canon digital cameras that look outwardly like the old 35 mm S(ingle) L(ens) R(eflex) cameras. This technological revolution in moviemaking includes the much wider availability of software for computer graphics, solid model rendering, photo manipulation and animation (i.e., special effects).

    2. The unreasonable extension of copyrights (the “Mickey Mouse” Law, to keep Disney’s mouse ears out of the public domain) means that movie studios find it cheaper to make remakes of scripts/stories they already own [and can keep exclusive for the author’s lifetime + 75(?) years] than to invest in new and thus untested material. I just noticed a remake of “Point Blank.” Why on earth would anyone think this John Boorman classic (with the many shades of green) with Lee Marvin at his peak, and Angie Dickinson, Keenan Wynn, Carroll O’Connor, Lloyd Blochner, and many superb supporting actors of 1967, could be remade, and even approach the original in sheer cinematic power?

    Read Lewis Hyde’s “Common As Air: Revolution, Art and Ownership,” about the strangulation of creativity by excessive copyright protection (since the ’80s).

    3. The ticket price of movies is exorbitant. Easier to stay home and rent a video. Or just fish for it on YouTube or Hulu or some other Internet video site.

    4. Hollywood is dead. See the Keiser Report E234:

    An outmoded industry is unable to innovate and uses its money power (closely tied to banking industry) to lobby for extended copyright protection, as well as putting legal restrictions on technological progress (the Internet).

    Hollywood is about trying to make huge money from productions that are purposely bloated so that all fees and “takes” from them, which are based on percentages, are large absolute numbers (e.g., salaries of stars). The resulting movies have to attract mass audiences and high ticket prices to make money (or else the producers have to seek shelter in tax deductions for capital losses). It is impossible to innovate and produce art for modest audiences with this business model. Hollywood is the next Detroit.

    5. Today there is literally (almost) an unlimited number of video channels available, via cable, satellite, Internet; freely or by paid subscription. In the 1950s in New York City there were only 13 numbered TV stations of which only about seven actually were functional; reception was by roof antennas and “rabbit ears” attached to analog TVs. So, in earlier times, though always a very commercial business, the Hollywood studios were nevertheless a bit more involved in the roles of national minstrel and storyteller. It was assumed that families could be watching movies as a unit, so every film, from the cartoon, the travelogue short, the newsreel and the feature were intelligently written to convey their messages to their target audiences without unduly upsetting (or in the case of children, informing) those portions of the audience not being spoken to. Listen to the dialogue between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall (“go to the track” and “sugar won’t work”) in “The Big Sleep,” a Raymond Chandler story and classic film noir, to witness screen writing polish of the highest order (William Faulkner was incidentally involved): a lovely dame sweetly urges a lucky man to bring on his hardon to her, a movie moment for mommy and daddy to enjoy while their little Joey and Sissy blithely chew gum waiting for the kid comprehensible moments when the fists fly, the cars race and the guns flash. There is no need for subtlety today because the movie audience has self-fragmented into an infinite number of infinitesimal micro-audiences, plugged into the channel/movies designed for each unique niche of intellectual space. Artistry is unnecessary, each now plugs into his own made-to-order channel like R2D2, for a raw dump.

    6. The degeneration of Hollywood, like so much else, to pure instant mega-commercialism means that the cheapest product that appeals to the widest audience easily assembled is what the movies and their marketing are aimed at. Thus, the targeting of the lowest common denominator mentality; plotless rapid image sequences of: tits, ass, explosions, gore, car chases, crashes, with occasional rest periods with spoken platitudes. To the extent any image is intended to remain with you afterwards, its purpose is purely commercial, to instill a desire to buy something and to retain some name brand identity. Buy the T-shirt, buy the sequel on DVD, buy the stuffed toy for the kids. Kid movies in particular are simply commercials for the co-themed junk paraphernalia for sale at Walmart.

    Of course, there are always exceptions to all this, but not of sufficient number to characterize the overall state of the industry. The good news is that today good movies (good writing, acting, production) can now be made from more sources than ever previously possible.

    On the question of what makes a good movie, that’s easy. If I like it, it’s good; anyone who disagrees is wrong. This is the subjective criterion that everyone actually uses. A more objective view might be that those movies that demonstrate enough enduring appeal to reasonably diverse audiences to be termed classics are reliably “good” movies. This criterion is hard to apply to new movies. So, we have to recognize that some films may have a major impact in their day, which is deemed “good” by viewers; but such films might date badly or otherwise fade from public consciousness. They might have been good and are now just footnotes in history. Lots of art, music and film fits this category of “been good.” Greatness has to be characterized by the continuation of the artwork (movie in this case) in active public consciousness in the present day. Picasso’s artworks are great because enough artists and artistic consciousness of the public remains actively enchanted by them. Similarly, films like Jean Renoir’s “Rules of the Game” and “Grand illusion” are great because enough people today are sufficiently enchanted with them to see them repeatedly, and this popularity is not slackening. I suspect that all pronouncements about modern movies being good, bad or indifferent are purely subjective, and only with the passage of time can anything approaching an objective assessment be made. I think pure movie trash identifies itself immediately, but any serious film requires more time to characterize.

    Comment by manuelgarciajr — March 1, 2012 @ 7:31 am

  23. Manuel wrote:

    “If I like it, it’s good;”

    I thought we were trying to move away from pure (bourgeois) subjectivity as part of a socialist project.

    Comment by Todd — March 1, 2012 @ 6:14 pm

  24. No. What we were discussing was whether there could be a set of rules by which to judge a movie. Not rules of thumb, but something more substantial, maybe like a whole fist. I’d like to see these rules in so many words, in black and white. Then I could apply them to the next movie I saw and decide if they brought enlightenment. Like some impolite character once said, put up or shut up.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — March 1, 2012 @ 9:29 pm

  25. Peter wrote:

    “I’d like to see these rules in so many words, in black and white.”

    So would I.

    “Then I could apply them to the next movie I saw and decide if they brought enlightenment.”

    For the moment, I’d settle just for some criteria on judging movies and leave enlightenment for after death.

    Comment by Todd — March 2, 2012 @ 2:46 am

  26. Wait, you quote a negative review of The Artist that mentions the relative age discrepancy between the male lead and the female lead, then, in the next sentence, mention wanting to the watch Californication?


    The idea that movies have been degraded by television is a great point — in the 1970’s. Keep up Louis. Despite silly, ripped-from-Penthouse-forum crap like Californication and Hung, television is pretty damn good. The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad and even Battlestar Galactica speak to the cynicism that most of proletarians see around them. Rarely do movies get as close. Avatar got it, but that was a box-office shattering exception.

    Comment by Rojo — March 2, 2012 @ 7:03 am

  27. “Love the art in yourself, and not yourself in art.”

    Clearly this is what is wrong with Hollywood now. The industry is more in love with creating wealth than real art, kind of like politics and citizens united. The shear ridiculous pursuit of green backs taints everything in American culture now.

    I agree, I do miss the hollywood of old…………

    Comment by vince — March 4, 2012 @ 5:34 am

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