Saturday, January 3, 2009

New Year's--And Eve

Over New Year's, we had a chance to watch for the first time All About Eve, the 1950 melodrama written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz that many critics and film buffs regard as one of the finest movies of all time. It won six Oscars, including Best Picture. The film revolves around a wannabe actress (today we might call her a groupie or perhaps a stalker!) played by Anne Baxter who schemes and manipulates her way to theatrical fame and fortune. The film is also acknowledged as rescuing the then-fading career of Bette Davis who plays an aging actress--another example of art imitating life, or vice versa. (A young Marilyn Monroe even shows up in a couple of scenes playing another wannabe.) A contemporary movie with a similar plot would be far more (if not excessively) more explicit, but the film holds up because of its movie's most compelling feature--the sharp, powerful dialogue. As IMDB notes, "Davis' line 'Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night' is legendary, but, in fact, all of the film's dialog sparkles with equal brilliance."

What does this have to do with homeland security? Well, on the DVD commentary track, the director's son reveals that Mankiewicz vigorously opposed the blacklist while the head of the Director's Guild of America and particularly disgreed with a mandatory loyalty oath for guild members that Cecil B. DeMille and others sought to impose. According to his son, Mankiewicz fought the blacklist as a matter of principle because he felt that every American had the right to believe what they wanted to believe. But ironically, after things settled down and the battle against the loyalty oath was won, Mankiewicz suggested that his fellow directors voluntarily sign a loyalty oath to show their good faith. His colleagues were outraged, and the proposal never went anywhere. But in his son's words, Mankiewicz was a "super patriot." Today, we would perhaps consider him a strong advocate of unfettered free speech.

[As an aside, this reminds us to a lesser extent of a situation when we worked in management for a corporation that found itself in the middle of a union organizing drive. We got a lot of static from the executive suite for refusing to try to talk employees out of voting yes to the union. Privately, we opposed the union effort for several reasons, but felt strongly that the employees should make up their own minds either way, and let majority rule.]

Hollywood has produced a number of movies in the past couples of years critical of both the Iraq war and the war on terror, all of which failed miserably at the box office. A production company with the necessary resources can make any movie it wants, of course, regardless of how ill advised. That's the magic of the marketplace. We're not talking about making a "pro war" movie as a counterpoint. The term "pro war" is very unsettling if not distasteful, especially for those serving in uniform. That is to say, no reasonable person is pro war, but for the sake of balance (and perhaps even making money), wouldn't it be advisable for the so-called dream factory to slip in a few, non-preachy, pro-victory--for want of a better term--movies every so often? Many people who opposed the Iraq war on the merits still want the U.S. to win there (and in the overall struggle against terror), and fortunately it appears post-surge Iraq on its way to that goal. To take it a step further, since the Hollywood community has at least rhetorically (and with their checkbooks) signed what amounts to a loyalty oath to the incoming administration, will movies that are more supportive of U.S. counter-terrorism initiatives suddenly get the green light? Are there any super patriots in Hollywood?

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