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Ed Driscoll

Hollywood, Interrupted

Dog Bites Manischewitz

March 27th, 2015 - 12:33 pm

“I find it inconceivable that The New Yorker would have run this piece if it didn’t have Lena Dunham or some other bold-face-name in the byline. Titled, ‘Dog or Jewish Boyfriend?’ it’s a pop-quiz for the reader to guess whether she’s talking about her dog or, that’s right, her Jewish boyfriend,” Jonah Goldberg writes:

The folks at Truth Revolt are in high dudgeon about its anti-Semitism. And it’s true that Jew/dog comparisons are often best avoided. I mean did she need to make jokes about how Jews and/or dogs don’t tip? Get it? Jews are famously cheap and dogs don’t use currency for goods and services! Ha! Also male Jews and/or dogs are hairy. Drop the mic on that one, girl.Still, I don’t think she was going for anti-Semitism, though she’ll happily pocket the edginess that accusation brings. Rather, like so much of what Dunham does, it reeks of self-indulgence. She clearly think it’s very clever. But as a piece of writing it’s remarkably un-clever. It’s not terrible. It’s more like a solid B in a college-writing seminar.

It’s also, as the follower of Sonny Bunch of the Washington Free Beacon commented on Twitter, a rip-off, unintentional or not of a Big Bang Theory skit:

As Tony Roberts’ character said in Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories, “Homage? No, we just stole the idea outright!”

Update: “Is Lena Dunham upset that the only Jewish men ever attracted to her might have had glaucoma?” Heh.

As Always, Life Imitates Arthur C. Clarke

March 25th, 2015 - 7:29 pm

paul_walker_digital_thespian_3-25-15-1

“DAWN OF THE DIGITAL ACTOR — STUDIOS SCAN BODIES,” the headline atop the Drudge Report screamed this morning, linking to this Hollywood Reporter article on Fast & Furious 7, and the filmmakers’ efforts to digitally replace star Paul Walker, who died (in grimly ironic fashion, alas) in a sports car accident midway during the production of the film:

No actor is indispensable. That is the blunt lesson from the fact that Universal Pictures was able to complete its April 3 tentpole, Furious 7, following star Paul Walker’s death in a November 2013 car accident about halfway through the shoot. Beyond saying that brothers Cody and Caleb stood in for Walker and that director James Wan culled footage of Walker from the earlier films, Universal declines to discuss which tricks were employed to breathe life into Walker’s character. But sources say Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital was asked to complete the sensitive and arduous task of reanimating Walker for Furious 7, and its cutting-edge work points toward a future where most actors can be re-created seam­lessly if needed. (The company declined to com­ment on its specific contributions.)

Read on in the Hollywood Reporter for additional examples of Hollywood reanimating deceased actors. One man who wouldn’t be at all surprised at these techniques is the late Arthur C. Clarke, as we’ll explore right after the digital page break.

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The Woody and Bill Show

March 25th, 2015 - 12:20 pm

In “The Cosby Mysteries” at Commentary, TV producer and Ricochet.com frontman Rob Long, whose show business debut involved being a producer on the other big NBC Thursday night comedy series, has a fun review of Mark Whitaker’s hagiographic profile of Bill Cosby, which apparently went to the printers just as numerous allegations concerning its subject were beginning to hit the fan. Rob begins his review by placing himself in the hot tub of a zillionare fellow TV producer, and proceeds from there:

The reason we were in the hot tub in the first place was that we had all gone for a chilly swim in the Pacific Ocean just steps away from the bleached-wood deck that abutted the sprawling mansion the man owned. And the reason he owned that multimillion dollar piece of real estate was that his method for getting very rich running television comedies was foolproof.

Except for this: The trick to making a lot of money in television comedy is, first, your show has to be a hit. Nothing pays quite as well as a hit comedy. And the trick to comedy, as everyone knows, is timing.

For most of his astonishingly successful half-century in show business, Bill Cosby was in the right place at the right time. He emerged onto the comedy scene in the early 1960s, when the audience taste in comedy was moving from the tuxedo’ed nightclub comic to the storytelling style Cosby pioneered. By the middle of the decade, when American television audiences were eager for racially integrated casts, he co-starred with Robert Culp in a hit action-adventure show, I Spy. In the 1970s, he reaped a financial bonanza as one of the most sought-after commercial pitchmen in the country. And, in 1984, The Cosby Show premiered on the last-place television network, NBC, to ratings so celestial that they actually saved the network from collapse. In comedy, in business, in the culture, Bill Cosby was a master of timing.

Not so lucky, though, is his official biographer, Mark Whitaker, whose Cosby: His Life and Times was published last autumn directly into the teeth of the more than 30 rape accusations that have dogged the 77-year-old comedian. The book is a tedious and mostly slavish rehash of the ups and downs of Cosby’s amazing and trailblazing career in show business. We get snapshots of his early life, his teachers, his first halting experiments with stand-up comedy. We get endlessly detailed—and eye-glazingly boring—anecdotes about his early television series. We are told stories, pointlessly, about which hotel he and Culp, his I Spy co-star, decamped to in Tokyo during a trip to Japan. We are told stories about ponderous lectures he gave to his friends, his imperial (though always civilized) interactions with the writers and producers of his hit television shows, his struggles with fatherhood, his devotion to his wife.

When the sticky issue of Cosby’s infidelity forces its way into the narrative, it’s always cast in the past tense. He and his wife, Camille, are forever “working harder on their marriage.” They are said to have “moved on.” Cosby is described many times as “cutting back on his womanizing ways.” When he is accused, publicly, of fathering a child out of wedlock, his wife says: “All personal negative issues between Bill and me were resolved years ago. We are a united couple.”

In other words, Whitaker’s book manages to make sex and infidelity uninteresting, which is in its way quite an accomplishment—especially because in the wake of allegations that Cosby drugged and then raped more than two dozen women since the late 1960s, it’s fair to say that sex and infidelity are very big parts of Cosby’s Life and Times.

It’s impossible to know whether Whittaker’s humorless and respectful biography would hold any interest at all were it not for the reader’s own constant interpolation of the rape allegations, of which more seem to emerge every day. From the moment I started reading the book until a few days later when I reached the final page, at least two more women had announced to the press that Cosby had lured them to a private space—usually with the offer of career help or acting lessons—drugged them senseless, and then raped them.

The timing of Whittaker’s book reminds me very much of the timing of Eric Lax’s hagiography of Woody Allen, which was debuted in 1991; and to help promote the tome, a lengthy excerpt was featured in the New York Times Sunday Magazine section, along with a photo of Woody and Mia on the cover. The combined effect seemed to confirm Woody and Mia’s status as the King and Queen of Manhattan glitterati. But note the excerpt’s lede:

“It’s no accomplishment to have or raise kids,” Woody Allen often used to say. “Any fool can do it.”

Shortly thereafter, the words Soon-Yi became just as big of a household name. Much more on Woody making the headlines (via Mariel Hemingway) after the page break.

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Elsewhere at Time-Warner-CNN-HBO, “On behalf of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, I’d like to extend a warm welcome to HBO,” Kevin D. Williamson quips at NRO on “Utopia’s Jailers:”

HBO has a series called Togetherness, a comedy about foundering middle-aged hipsters in Los Angeles, which has turned its attention to the issue of charter schools, and the writers have committed the unforgivable cultural sin of being not entirely hostile to the prospect. The ritual denunciations are under way.

Joshua Liebner, who lives in Eagle Rock, the Los Angeles neighborhood in which the show is set, is among those shouting “J’accuse!” in HBO’s direction, abominating the “white privilege and entitlement and, yes, racism and classism” that surely must be motivating charter-school families who have the audacity to go about “defining what constitutes ‘good’ for them,” and acting on it, as though they were in charge of their own lives and responsible for their own children. “Charter-school dogma has made it to the Big Time,” Liebner complains.

* * * * * *

“Let’s ban private schools,” Gawker cheerily suggests. Writing in that esteemed journal, John Cook argues that “there’s a simple solution to the public-schools crisis.” If people make choices that complicate the Left’s agenda, then ban those choices: “Make Rahm Emanuel and Barack Obama’s children go to public schools,” Cook writes. “From a purely strategic and practical standpoint, it would be much easier to resolve the schools crisis if the futures of America’s wealthiest and most powerful children were at stake.”

The Left’s heart is still in East Berlin: If people want to leave your utopia and have the means to do so, then build a wall. If they climb over the wall — as millions of low-income parents with children in private schools (very commonly Catholic schools) do — then build a higher wall. If they keep climbing – and they will — then there are always alternatives.

Homeschooling? That’s basically a crime against humanity so far as our so-called liberal friends are concerned.

And while Gawker wants to ban private schools, Salon wants to ban both privately-owned news media and an independent film system, and the New Republic Christmas tree lights. (No, really.)

By the way, as Williamson writes, “The Democrats haven’t got that Pink Floyd song quite right — in their version, the chorus goes: ‘You don’t need no education.’”

Of course, like the president, it’s lyricist’s chief obsession is banning Israel.

Me? When it comes to education, I’d just like to ban serial liars.

Related: “I know how to get conservative students to question their beliefs and confront awful truths, and I know that, should one of these conservative students make a facebook page calling me a communist or else seek to formally protest my liberal lies, the university would have my back…The same cannot be said of liberal students. All it takes is one slip—not even an outright challenging of their beliefs, but even momentarily exposing them to any uncomfortable thought or imagery—and that’s it, your classroom is triggering, you are insensitive, kids are bringing mattresses to your office hours and there’s a twitter petition out demanding you chop off your hand in repentance.”

Chop off your hands, you say?


This request, is of course, highly problematic, not to mention likely racist:

Fake magazines created as background props for Ridley Scott’s epochal 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner, set in 2019:


Real magazine available on newsstands in 2015:


So how far behind are Pris, Zora, and Rachel?

“I like to say I’m more conservative than Goldwater. He just wanted to turn the clock back to when there was no income tax. I want to turn the clock back to when people lived in small villages and took care of each other.”

Stalinist and banjo player Pete Seeger, during a 1995 interview with the New York Times.

“When people have the power to choose, they choose wrong. Every single time.”

—Meryl Streep’s “Chief Elder” character in The Giver.

Now out on DVD and Blu-Ray is The Giver, an adaptation of Lois Lowry’s hugely influential 1993 young-adult dystopian novel, which inspired The Hunger Games and other cautionary futuristic tales. Starring Jeff Bridges in the film’s title role, Meryl Streep, newcomer Brenton Thwaites, and blink and you’ll miss her Taylor Swift, it’s a film that conservatives and libertarians should take to heart and advise all of their friends to see, to understand what lurks at the bottom of an otherwise cheery, friendly and seemingly carefree nanny state. (Spoilers abound in this article. You’ve been warned.)

“Don’t Immanentize the Eschaton” was a bumper sticker phrase that was very popular among the early readers of National Review magazine in the 1960s.  Coined in the previous decade by conservative sociologist Eric Voegelin, and popularized by William F. Buckley, the phrase warned that the goal of creating Heaven on Earth, a goal that ties together virtually all leftwing ideologies, from National Socialists in Germany to International Socialists in the Soviet Union and China to the Fabian Socialists of England to Democratic socialists in America, was invariably going to (a) end in failure and (b) very likely end with lots people loaded into boxcars on their way to becoming dead bodies.

And yet, crafting Heaven on Earth remains the goal of the left to this very day. Whether they’re based in Los Angeles or London, most actors and filmmakers have politics somewhere to the left of Mao. As James Lileks once joked, “Maybe directors like dictators because they understand the desire to have final cut.” So I’m always intrigued whenever a bunch of left-leaning filmmakers get together to produce a cautionary tale of a futuristic socialist dystopia, and I like to ask myself, what we’re they thinking they were filming?

I’ve read that the cast and crew of 1984 thought that they were taking a clever shot at Margaret Thatcher, never mind that the subjects of Orwell’s groundbreaking dystopia were dominated by an ideology he dubbed “Ingsoc,” short for English Socialism, Soviet-style Communism with a British accent. The following year, Terry Gilliam directed his similarly themed film Brazil, focusing on another slightly futuristic out-of-control socialist bureaucracy with a penchant for kidnapping, torture and murder. But then last year, Gilliam told an interviewer that Republicans “will always be a fungus and if I was running the country I would take them out and shoot them frankly, but that’s something else [laughs],” ret-conning his 1985 film from a warning into a how-to guide. Since 2012, Obama-fan Donald Sutherland has starred as the murderous President Coriolanus Snow in the Hunger Games franchise, despite doing his bit to usher in a real-life totalitarian government in Vietnam through his appearances alongside Jane Fonda in their infamous F.T.A. tour of US Army bases in 1971.

Hot on the heels of the success of the Obama-era Hunger Games franchise, last year, the Weinstein Company, not exactly known for its libertarian politics, released The Giver, starring Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep, and directed by Phillip Noyce, whose previous films include 1989’s Dead Calm and the Tom Clancy adaptations starring Harrison Ford, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger.

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Nora Ephron, writing at the Huffington Post in April of 2008 noted that she had the ever-so-mildest disagreement with the worldview of Hillary Clinton’s core Democrat voters during the Pennsylvania primary:

This is an election about whether the people of Pennsylvania hate blacks more than they hate women. And when I say people, I don’t mean people, I mean white men. How ironic is this? After all this time, after all these stupid articles about how powerless white men are and how they can’t even get into college because of overachieving women and affirmative action and mean lady teachers who expected them to sit still in the third grade even though they were all suffering from terminal attention deficit disorder — after all this, they turn out (surprise!) to have all the power. (As they always did, by the way; I hope you didn’t believe any of those articles.)

To put it bluntly, the next president will be elected by them: the outcome of Tuesday’s primary will depend on whether they go for Hillary or Obama, and the outcome of the general election will depend on whether enough of them vote for McCain. A lot of them will: white men cannot be relied on, as all of us know who have spent a lifetime dating them. And McCain is a compelling candidate, particularly because of the Torture Thing. As for the Democratic hope that McCain’s temper will be a problem, don’t bet on it. A lot of white men have terrible tempers, and what’s more, they think it’s normal.

If Hillary pulls it out in Pennsylvania, and she could, and if she follows it up in Indiana, she can make a credible case that she deserves to be the candidate; these last primaries will show which of the two Democratic candidates is better at overcoming the bias of a vast chunk of the population that has never in its history had to vote for anyone but a candidate who could have been their father or their brother or their son, and who has never had to think of the president of the United States as anyone other than someone they might have been had circumstances been just slightly different.

Hillary’s case is not an attractive one, because what she’ll essentially be saying (and has been saying, although very carefully) is that she can attract more racist white male voters than Obama can. Nonetheless, and as I said, she has a case.

Hey, don’t ask me why Democrats wrote such vitriol about Hillary in 2008, but as with Obama’s own attacks on her back then, it’s worth remembering how badly they dumped on her for being such a flawed candidate.

Unfortunately, Ephron, a mult-italented novelist, screenwriter and director (at least before her racialist crackup in the above post) died in 2012, but I’m sure we’ll have lots more examples of Democrats who trashed Hillary and her supporters in 2008 as bitter clingers, and these days declare

Moviegoing Heads for the Exit

March 13th, 2015 - 12:26 pm

John Podhoretz, writing in the Weekly Standard, asks, “Will anyone go to the movies 25 years from now?”

Will there even be movie theaters 25 years from now? These are not idle questions. New research from the Motion Picture Association of America shows how the moviegoing audience of those between the ages of 25 and 39 has contracted precipitously—dropping almost 25 percent over the past four years.

Moviegoing is like any habit: Break it, and you’re not likely to go back to it. The habit is being broken. The business relies on those who go to theaters at least once a month. Such people are responsible for more than half the tickets sold in any given year. They now make up a mere 11 percent of the overall audience, and they’re getting older. Ticket sales to Americans over 40 are rising. Ticket sales to Americans between the ages of 21 and 40 are falling.

If this trend is not reversed, and it’s hard to see how it will be, two things will happen. The importance of frequent moviegoers will rise for the cinema’s bottom line because the number of people who go rarely or don’t go at all will rise. But those frequent moviegoers will begin to recede in numbers over time because they will (alas) begin, literally, to die out.

And then there’s the money it costs to build and maintain the infrastructure that delivers Hollywood’s product, Podhoretz adds:

It costs more to advertise them because it’s harder to make people aware that they even exist in the cable/Internet universe. Also, theaters are built on real estate that grows more valuable over time, luring developers because of the size of their footprint. Money has to be spent on theater upkeep or the seats will grow uncomfortable and the bathrooms skeevy. And if they grow less valuable because fewer people use them, and they don’t generate the profits at the concession stands that really support them, those theaters will be sold or will close.

In the 1970s, Nixon Derangement Syndrome drove many of the decisions made by the “New Hollywood” that replaced the studio system that created the industry’s golden era, which ran from the 1930s through the mid-1960s. (John Gregory Dunne’s book The Studio is an excellent profile of 20th Century Fox in 1967, just as the lights were about to go out on old Hollywood.) But at least the young Turks who replaced the grizzled old founders of Hollywood had fresh ideas, worked with smaller budgets, and had much more room to experiment, before Spielberg and Lucas showed the industry how to make money once again.

In the aftermath of 9/11, a near monolithically left Hollywood worked very hard at alienating the American middle class, and by and large succeeded. The preening-anti-war statements, all the way to siding with the terrorists in Guantanamo Bay. The rabid hatred of President Bush. The SJW sucker punches. The two-tiered dumbed-down industry reduced to cranking out two types of movies: zillion dollar CGI blockbusters in the form of mindless formulaic epic quests and cartoon/sci-fi blockbusters.  And equally mindless anti-Iraq movies.

But the biggest trend that greatly changed Hollywood was the loss of its stars. A certain amount of this was out of the industry’s control. Schwarzenegger decided to become governor. Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson had very public freakouts. Clint and Harrison Ford aged, the latter making increasingly bad film choices along the way. (Anybody remember Hollywood Homicide or Firewall from the mid-naughts?)

Stars were what made an industry where “nobody knows anything” about a film’s chances, as screenwriter William Goldman famously said, somewhat predictable. In the old days, you could know nothing about a movie other than above its title was a name like John Wayne, Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, or Humphrey Bogart, and know that you were going to have a pretty good two hours ahead of you. As late as the 1990s, Hollywood in the summertime delivered up a steady stream of Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Clint, Cruise, Gibson and Harrison, and you knew that you could watch two hours of a cool guy blowing stuff up. Casablanca it wasn’t, but it was still dependable.

Today, unless you’re a teenager who wants to see comic book stars and spaceships, Hollywood no longer wants you at the box office. As Podhoretz wrote in an earlier column, American Sniper “turned out an audience of people who haven’t been to a movie theater in years.” But as with the surprise massive success of Gibson’s The Passion, Hollywood has signaled loud and clear that we’re not a crowd that they wish to cater to at the box office.

To borrow from Tony Hendra’s classic doubletalk in Spinal Tap, the industry worked very hard to make its audience more “selective.” They shouldn’t be surprised to watch it thin out even further.

Agents of Stalin, Allies of Hitler

March 11th, 2015 - 3:11 pm

In Artists Under Hitler: Collaboration and Survival in Nazi Germany, Jonathan Petropoulos quoted fellow historian Charles Maier to explain why so many German modernists were willing — in some cases eager — to accommodate Hitler:

In the 1930s the authoritarian party and regime seemed the wave of the future. Disciplined collective man was apparently on the march. Liberalism appeared the effete indulgence of a beleaguered Anglo-American elite or some aging West European philosophers. … In the 1930s the spokesmen for democracy were divided and apparently demoralized. The League of Nations seemed powerless before aggression.

And from the National Socialists’ perspective, “One can also see why the Nazi leaders would seek to cultivate these artists— or, at a minimum, retrain them,”
Petropoulos writes:

As Goebbels proclaimed in 1936, expressing some frustration with the younger generation, “One cannot manufacture artists.” His Nazi peer Göring observed, “It is always easier over time to make a decent National Socialist out of an artist than to make a great artist out of a minor Party member. Why was Hitler-the-artist not the first to recognize this?” The regime force-fed the population a diet of culture— far more than they had ever had before. The Nazis needed “cultural workers” of all kinds to realize their ambitions of indoctrination and the creation of a glamorous façade for the Third Reich. Or, in the words of David Schoenbaum, the Nazis shaped a “subjective social reality” that differed from its “objective” (or statistically measurable) counterpart. Germans perceived shifts in society— class divisions, income distribution, and gender roles, among others— that did not correspond to actual events. The state-directed culture and propaganda convinced many of the illusory transformations.

The same was true of International Socialism as well, as Ray Keating of Aleteia writes in his review of Allan Ryskind’s new book, Hollywood Traitors: Blacklisted Screenwriters, Agents of Stalin, Allies of Hitler:

Ryskind writes, “The Hollywood Ten, far from being ‘radical innocents,’ far from having just ‘flirted with Communist ideas,’ as their sympathizers so frequently insist, had all been committed to a Soviet America.” This is perhaps best illustrated by the flip-flopping by Hollywood’s communists in and around World War II as they followed Kremlin orders via the Communist Party in America. That is, being anti-Nazi initially; then working against the anti-Nazis, including Great Britain and the U.S., during the Hitler-Stalin pact; once again, turning passionately against Hitler when he attacked the Soviet Union; and finally, turning against U.S. foreign policy and ultimately advocating our nation’s violent demise. It was all about defending the U.S.S.R., not the U.S.A. [Oceania has always been at war with... -- Ed]

Ryskind makes clear that the Hollywood communists were working for Stalin, either unconcerned or supportive of “Stalin’s swallowing of Eastern Europe, his installation of Red regimes in Asia, his aggressive acts against Western Europe, and the deep penetration of his fifth column in virtually all areas of American society.” Oh yes, and there were the millions of Russians starved and murdered by Uncle Joe.

Which dovetails well with the Theodore Dalrymple quote Mark Steyn highlighted today:

In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, nor to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better.

In contrast, in 1979, Vaclav Havel wrote:

Because the regime is captive to its own lies, it must falsify everything. It falsifies the past. It falsifies the present, and it falsifies the future. It falsifies statistics. It pretends not to possess an omnipotent and unprincipled police apparatus. It pretends to respect human rights. It pretends to persecute no one. It pretends to fear nothing. It pretends to pretend nothing.

Individuals need not believe all these mystifications, but they must behave as though they did, or they must at least tolerate them in silence, or get along well with those who work with them. For this reason, however, they must live within a lie. They need not accept the lie. It is enough for them to have accepted their life with it and in it. For by this very fact, individuals confirm the system, fulfill the system, make the system, are the system.

No wonder when “the authoritarian party and regime seemed the wave of the future” once again, the socialists with bylines stomped so aggressively on those who refused to live within the lie:

2009_socialist_newsweek_cover_5-5-13-1

(Via Orrin Judd.)

Not Anti-War, Just on the Other Side

March 7th, 2015 - 1:11 pm

The British Website Spiked gets a lot of things right, and is often a fun Website, but they really missed the mark here, describing Dalton Trumbo’s infamous 1939 novel Johnny Got His Gun as “A triumph of anti-war literature”:

Any Metallica fan worth his or her salt will have heard of, if not read, Johnny Got His Gun. This pacifist novel by Dalton Trumbo was the inspiration behind their 1988 single ‘One’, a legendary song that shows the band at their best (aside from the rancid lack of bass in the mixing, but that’s a different story).

Published in 1938, Johnny Got His Gun is an under-appreciated gem of experimental American literature. Told in a narrative mixture of first, second, and third-person, Trumbo’s First World War-set novel is a dream and a nightmare. The protagonist, Joe, regains consciousness in a military hospital only to discover that he has lost his arms, legs, eyes, mouth, nose and hearing. The novel is a gripping but depressing journey, through which Joe remembers his rosy – and pointedly physical – life in America, and his attempts to communicate with the outside world and to come to terms with existing as a conscious piece of meat. In its own extreme way, it highlights the sensory struggles that all those wounded or disabled must endure. The huge efforts made for the tiniest of victories –  such as telling the time of day by feeling sunlight on his skin  –  are situated in an unremittingly bleak context: Joe is imprisoned within his wounded body forever.

But Trumbo was no intellectual waif writing a pacifist novel. Published “the very month that Hitler marched into Poland,” Ann Coulter recently wrote, Johnny Got His Gun was “a pure propaganda piece designed to squelch American ardor for helping Hitler’s victims.” Trumbo’s novel was written during the Hitler-Stalin Non-Aggression Pact; as City Journal’s Stefan Kanfer notes in the middle of his review of two recent books on the blacklist:

At first glance, Johnny could pass for the tract of a conscientious objector, ruing the results of Woodrow Wilson’s call to “make the world safe for democracy.” But the book had a hidden agenda: Trumbo had fallen under the spell of Communism and now marched in lockstep with the Party line: Germany and Britain, preparing for all-out war, should duke it out themselves. Never mind the reports of Nazi atrocities; America must not get involved in this European squabble.

The Communist Daily Worker was delighted to serialize Johnny in its pages, and with good reason: the U.S.S.R. had recently signed a nonaggression pact with the Third Reich. But in June 1941, Hitler’s armies invaded Russia. Overnight, Johnny was excised from the Worker’s pages. Now, combat was not only moral but mandatory. When Trumbo’s publishers chose not to keep his novel in print, he went along with their decision. Trumbo sees no inconsistency in the writer’s position. “By 1941,” the book straight-facedly reports, “Hitler had become a menace to the whole world, and when the United States entered the war against Germany in December of that year Trumbo saw ‘no other way than to support it.’”

Also crafted during this same period was Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, which had a message quite similar to Trumbo’s Johnny, Ron Rosenbaum, the author of the 1998 book, Explaining Hitler wrote in 2006:

And speaking of trivializing, there is no more trivializing, over-rated, treatment of Hitler than Chaplin’s dimwitted, laboriously unfunny Great Dictator. Yes Chaplin made some funny movies, but when he tried his hands at politics Chaplin made a movie that did nothing but help Hitler because he made him seem like an unthreatening clown just at a time, 1940, when the world needed to take Hitler’s threat seriously.Yet Chaplin’s film makes it seem like Hitler was nothing but a harmless fool (like Chaplin, same mustache and all). And he made it at a time, during the Nazi-Soviet pact, when the world most needed to mobilize against Hitler’s threat. And yet Chaplin, to his eternal shame ended the film not with a call to oppose fascism, and its murderous hatred, but rather—because he was following the shameful Hitler-friendly Soviet line at the time—ended his film with a call for all workers in the world to lay down their arms—in other words to refuse to join the fight against fascism and Hitler.

Pete Seeger was also making similar noises in his folk music during this period, as PJM’s own Ron Radosh — who in his younger days took banjo lessons from Seeger! — wrote in the New York Sun in 2007:

[In] August 1939 Hitler and Stalin signed a pact and became allies. Overnight the communists took a 180-degree turn and became advocates of peace, arguing that Nazi Germany, which the USSR had opposed before 1939, was a benign power, and that the only threat to the world came from imperial Britain and FDR’s America, which was on the verge of fascism. Those who wanted to intervene against Hitler were servants of Republic Steel and the oil cartels.

In the “John Doe” album, Mr. Seeger accused FDR of being a warmongering fascist working for J.P. Morgan. He sang, “I hate war, and so does Eleanor, and we won’t be safe till everybody’s dead.” Another song, to the tune of “Cripple Creek” and the sound of Mr. Seeger’s galloping banjo, said, “Franklin D., Franklin D., You ain’t a-gonna send us across the sea,” and “Wendell Willkie and Franklin D., both agree on killing me.”

The film does not tell us what happened in 1941, when — two months after “John Doe” was released — Hitler broke his pact with Stalin and invaded the Soviet Union. As good communists, Mr. Seeger and his Almanac comrades withdrew the album from circulation, and asked those who had bought copies to return them.

For almost 70 years now, “Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia/Eurasia” has been a catchphrase to describe breathtaking intellectual 180-degree pivots. (QED: Democrats and Iraq.) Orwell’s inspiration for the constantly shifting fronts in the futuristic dystopia of 1984 was based on how his fellow socialists reacted after Hitler violated his non-aggression pact with Stalin.

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‘I Don’t Love Spock’

March 6th, 2015 - 12:31 pm

“President Obama’s favorite Star Trek character is an appeasing arrogant jerk,” Matthew Continetti writes at the Washington Free Beacon, putting a fresh spin on the history of the future to come which we’ve all loved since 1966:

The 2009 movie has a backstory that is complicated and silly, and I am too tired to recount it in detail so you can read a synopsis here. Nevertheless, Star Trek is an enjoyable picture that is revealing of Spock’s awfulness. It shows how Spock (played by Zachary Quinto) is tormented, physically and mentally, by the fact that his mother is human, how Mr. Logic is actually a boiling kettle of fury, resentment, passion, and ambition. Spock is a jerk to his girlfriend Uhura (Zoe Saldana), who is way out of his league. He almost kills Kirk (Chris Pine). He is so overcome with emotion he relieves himself from duty in the middle of a huge crisis.

Spock is rude to his father. “I never knew what Spock was doing,” Sarek (Mark Lenard) tells Picard in “Unification 1.” “When he was a boy, he would disappear for days into the mountains. I would ask him where he had gone, what he had done; he’d refuse to tell me. I forbade him to go; he ignored me.” Spock and Sarek fight constantly throughout the Trek continuity, despite Sarek’s offering his son countless diplomatic opportunities that Spock invariably messes up. Then Spock ignores his father for years as Sarek suffers from Bendai Syndrome and dies.

And Obama likes this selfish jerk? The coolness the president so appreciates in Spock is a thin veneer over a remarkably arrogant and off-putting detachment from human suffering. Dr. McCoy, played by the charming DeForest Kelley, bitingly exposed this truth about Spock’s nature again and again. Discussing the Genesis Project in Wrath of Khan, for example, Spock lectures McCoy, “Really, Dr. McCoy. You must learn to govern your passions. They will be your undoing. Logic suggests—”

But McCoy won’t hear it—and he’s right. “Logic? My God, the man’s talking about logic; we’re taking about universal Armageddon!”

All Spock can do is pretentiously raise his famous eyebrow.

Spock is ashamed of his humanity. He flees it. In Star Trek VI Kirk tells Spock, “Everyone’s human.” Spock says he finds that sentiment offensive.

And as Bill Whittle reminded us in an early PJTV video, Spock is a good man to have manning the sensors and the library computer, but like Obama, he’s the last guy you want to toss the keys to the Enterprise to — like Obama, disaster invariably ensues when a man sharing a different reality than the rest of us sits in the big chair in the center of the bridge.

“According to a report from Page Six, a fight broke out Friday during the filming of Stallone’s latest Rocky flick, Creed, which didn’t sit well with the legendary co-producer, who is also a star of the film,” Kipp Jones writes at Big Hollywood:

A source close to the film’s production near Philadelphia, PA said things became heated when the character “Pretty Ricky,” played by British boxer Tony Bellew, became upset at another actor, who is playing his corner coach.

While the cameras were rolling, things got violent. The source told Page Six that Bellew “immediately flipped out and began screaming.”  That’s when the now 68-year-old “Rocky Balboa” jumped into action and stopped the fight.

The cameras were immediately turned off, and all crew members and extras were ordered to leave the set, per Page Six.

A few necessary cast members were reportedly asked to return later that afternoon, but a second source told the publication that no punches were thrown, and that filming was only cut for lunch.

However, a source told TMZ that the brawl was very real, and that Bellew jumped out of the ring during filming to fight the unnamed man and landed several blows on him.

According to TMZ, the fight was only broken up after Stallone and a few others physically intervened.

Jones adds that “Creed, which is set for U.S. release on November 25, will follow the grandson of former Rocky Balboa adversary Apollo Creed, who is being mentored by Balboa.” Will Rocky also be mentoring Creed’s grandson on his education outside the ring? The possibilities for a montage scene there are awesome!

‘How Spock Became a Sex Symbol’

March 2nd, 2015 - 4:14 pm

Virginia Postrel, writing in Bloomberg View, notes that “When ‘Star Trek’ debuted in 1966, showing a beautiful black woman and a dashing Asian man as bridge officers was an idealistic political statement. Turning someone who looked like Leonard Nimoy into a sex symbol, however, was entirely unintentional:”

Before he played Spock, Nimoy, who died today at 83, played a surprising number of parts as Indians and Mexicans in the Old West. With his long, thin face, prominent nose and deep smile lines, he looked like The Other.

That’s why he fit the part of Spock. “All I wanted at first was pointed ears and a faintly satanic appearance,” said series creator Gene Roddenberry in “The Making of Star Trek,” published in 1968.

Spock’s “alien features” — as Roddenberry called them in the book — weren’t limited to prostheses. Nimoy was handsome, but not in a way that Hollywood in 1966 recognized. He didn’t look like a leading man. He looked like what he was: the son of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants. And if you looked like that, you were a character actor, not a star.

But Nimoy became a star. He was a Method actor and in creating Spock, he gave what could have been a gimmicky, two-dimensional character hidden depths. Those hidden depths in turn gave him sex appeal. Within the show’s plots, Captain Kirk was the lady killer. But Spock was the one who made female viewers swoon.

15 years ago in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, his look at the big screen “New Hollywood” of the pre-Star Wars early to mid-1970s, Peter Biskind wrote:

The young directors employed a new group of actors—Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Gene Hackman, Richard Dreyfuss, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Harvey Keitel, and Elliott Gould—who banished the vanilla features of the Tabs and the Troys, and instead brought to the screen a gritty new realism and ethnicity. And the women—Barbra Streisand, Jane Fonda, Faye Dunaway, Jill Clayburgh, Ellen Burstyn, Dyan Cannon, Diane Keaton—were a far cry from the pert, snub-nosed Doris Days of the ’50s. Most of these new faces were schooled in the Method by Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio, or trained by the other celebrated New York teachers: Stella Adler, Sanford Meisner, or Uta Hagen. In fact, a lot of the energy that animated the New Hollywood came from New York; the ’70s was the decade when New York swallowed Hollywood, when Hollywood was Gothamized.

As Postrel concludes her article, “If actors like Jeff Goldblum and Adrien Brody aren’t stuck playing villains, it’s partly because Nimoy proved that looks like theirs could be not satanic but sexy.” As with so many aspects of the original Star Trek, it was nice of Nimoy and Roddenberry to once again go where no man had gone before.

Mark Steyn, during his interview with Hugh Hewitt yesterday, explores how ISIS’ snuff films attract disaffected westerners:

HH: This is so horrific, I don’t know even how to approach it. The Islamic state has kidnapped as many as 350 Assyrian Christians – women, children, and they’ve taken them away in the night. Meanwhile, we’re learning about Jihad Johnny. And it seems like on this side of the Atlantic, and this side of the world, the only thing the Obama administration can get upset about is Benjamin Netanyahu coming here.

MS: Yeah.

HH: What is, you know, not Valerie Jarrett, but Susan Rice said it’s damaging to the relationship that the Prime Minister, destructive was her word, her exact word. What do you think of this?

MS: No, I think it’s an extremely weird obsession. We are losing to an explicitly genocidal and apocalyptic movement that controls substantial amounts of territory, and as we discussed last week, is incredibly attractive to educated citizens in the Western world. When you were talking, you said they kidnapped all these Christians in the middle of the night. I would doubt they actually did that. You know, that’s the way the old school guys, your Nazis and fascists and communists used to do it. They were furtively, at some level, they knew, they were ashamed of their evil, and they didn’t want it to get out. These guys use evil as their calling card. They use evil in their campaign ads. They use evil in their movie promotions. And it’s very, and it’s horribly seductive to all these thousands of people who are supposed to be nominally citizens of Western nations, not just this Jihad John guy from London, but there’s Americans from Minnesota and elsewhere, there’s Canadians, Australians. There’s all kinds of people for whom the evil, the evil of ISIS, is its principle selling point.

HH: Let me ask you about this, because I asked Jeb Bush this yesterday in an interview with him. What’s the tap root? And he had dismissed Marie Harf’s joblessness claim, as we all do. It’s just absurd and silly and moronic. And I asked him about it, and he fumbled around, and he came up with sort of civilizational alienation. What do you think it is, Mark Steyn?

MS: Yeah, I think there’s a measure of truth in that. I think at the heart of the, at the heart of most modern Western societies is a big hole where young people’s sense of identity is. And some of it, you know, you saw a lot of that at the Oscars. They fill it with sexual politics, with all this LGBTQWERTY. I mean, I don’t even know what the last 17 initials. I know, I haven’t a clue what it is they’re meant to be, these evermore recherché sexual identity politics. Or they said it was climate change. They want to feel they’re saving the planet. And maybe that’s enough for some people. But for other people, it isn’t. And it’s not first-generation Muslims. It’s not second-generation Muslims. It’s the young third-generation Muslims in the Western world who have no attachment to the societies they owe their nominal allegiance to. This gives them an identity that the modern, Western, multicultural state, in its late civilizational decline, does not give them that identity.

How much is today’s nihilistic pop culture to blame for ISIS? During the cultural upheaval of 1966 and ’67, when the American left abandoned LBJ’s Great Society and turned against his efforts at fighting communism in Vietnam, the Beatles tossed away their collarless matching Pierre Cardin suits for kaftans, began following the Maharishi, sang “All You Need is Love,” and millions of middle class teenage kids in America, England and Europe aped their gestures, launching the hippie movement. Today though, if you’re an impressionable young middle class follower of contemporary “gangsta rap” music (a phrase so prevalent, I just noticed that Firefox’s spell checker no longer points it out as a typo), then Sug Knight’s alleged homicide(s) seem like small beer, when you can really play Public Enemy on the world’s stage. Why play “the knockout game,” uploading your violent clips to approving Websites such as “WorldStarHipHop,” when you can upload far worse violence to YouTube? Why bother working your way through one of Marie Harf’s dullsville jobs programs, when you can really get an exciting entry level position?

Besides, as one Daily Beast headline claims, “ISIS: Christians Worse Than Murderers.” There are lots of people on the cultural left who’d agree.

Update: As Steyn told Hewitt, “There’s all kinds of people for whom the evil, the evil of ISIS, is its principle selling point:”

The terror group uploaded a video Thursday of men smashing statues, pulling artifacts from walls and attacking Mosul antiquities with sledgehammers and power tools. To justify their violence, ISIS classified all these representations of man and beast as idols. Some of the irreplaceable works date back to the 7th century B.C.

Why so physical, when there are browser apps today for tossing unwanted cultural and linguistic artifacts down the memory hole?

‘Melanie Griffith, the Normal Mother’

February 27th, 2015 - 12:26 pm

Shot:

All that talk about the Islamic State not being hypocrites reminds me I haven’t ranted about hypocrisy in a while. I think hypocrisy is one of the great misunderstood sins of modern life. Since at least the time of Rousseau, hypocrophobia has plagued Western Civilization. For many people, it seems that it is better to be consistently wrong than to be intermittently right.

Advice columns overflow like a backed-up gas-station toilet with letters from parents fretting over the fact that they feel like hypocrites for telling their kids not to do drugs, since they themselves experimented with drugs when they were kids. The asininity of this has always amazed me. A huge part of being a parent involves applying the lessons you learned from your own life in an effort to make your child’s lot in life a little easier or more fruitful. The notion that I should tell my kid to do more of her homework on the bus ride to school — like I did — or to start going to bars in high school — like I did — or to do any of the other dubious things I did just to avoid my own internal psychological conflict isn’t just objectively absurd but disgustingly selfish. This shouldn’t be a newsflash to any halfway-decent human: Being a parent isn’t about you.

—Jonah Goldberg’s G-File, emailed to subscribers today, which will be posted online tomorrow here.

Chaser:

As it happens, Griffith has apparently not seen her daughter’s performance in the BDSM blockbuster. “I don’t think I can. I think it would be strange,” she told Spencer about watching her daughter’s star-turn as Anastasia Steele. Johnson insists, “I think so. I think that one day you can see it.” But should Griffith? Who would want that?

Ordinarily, I’d side with Johnson’s view, believing a mother should support her children in their professional efforts. In a family of actors, that means being first in line to see a new release. However, in this case, I found myself scratching my head. Why exactly does Johnson want her mother watching as she performs 20 minutes of kinky on-screen sex scenes with someone else’s husband?

Griffith may be a Hollywood veteran, but her response was incredibly human. She sounds like a regular parent from Anywhere, USA. That is admittedly somewhat surprising, given that Griffith is so very Hollywood. She is Tippi Hedren’s daughter, and she was fairly precocious in her own youth; Griffith began dating Dakota’s father, Don Johnson, when she was 14 and “he was a twice-divorced 22-year-old.”

“Melanie Griffith Drops The Hollywood Act When It Comes To Her Daughter,” Melissa Langsam Braunstein, the Federalist today

Leonard Nimoy, RIP

February 27th, 2015 - 11:10 am

With his gaunt saturnine looks, Leonard Nimoy was the unlikeliest of TV and movie superstars. Reading through the roles he played in the first 15 years of his acting career on his page at the IMDB, it’s immediately apparent that it was only through sheer dogged determination that he established a foothold as an actor in Hollywood. Nimoy started his career in the early 1950s with with walk-on parts in grade-z shlock such as Zombies of the Stratosphere, and appearing in TV guest star roles culminating as the heavy in the pilot for Get Smart. But his guest shot in a 1964 episode of an obscure NBC series about a young Marine called The Lieutenant that would send his career — and you know it’s only a matter of time before this pun — into orbit and far beyond:

Spotted by “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry when he appeared on Roddenberry’s NBC Marine Corps. skein “The Lieutenant,” Nimoy was offered the role of Spock and co-starred in the 1965 “Star Trek” pilot “The Cage.” NBC execs liked the concept but thought the pilot too cerebral, so they ordered a second pilot of the Desilu production with some script and cast changes (only Nimoy made it through both pilots). The series finally bowed on the Peacock in the fall of 1966. After three seasons, it was canceled in 1969 but would go on to be a hit in syndication, spawning films and other TV iterations and gaining a huge following of fans known as Trekkers or Trekkies.

After the series wrapped, Nimoy joined the fourth season of spy series “Mission: Impossible” as master-of-disguise Paris, leaving after the fifth season. He went on to star in the 1971 Western “Catlow,” with Yul Brynner and Richard Crenna, and the 1978 remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” with Donald Sutherland and Jeffrey Goldblum. The actor also made a series of TV films throughout the ’70s and received an Emmy nomination in 1982 for his role as Golda Meir’s husband in telepic “A Woman Called Golda.”

Also during the ’70s, Nimoy narrated the docuseries “In Search of …,” which investigated unexplained events, paranormal phenomena and urban legends long before these matters become the common fodder of pop culture.

Then the siren call of “Star Trek” beckoned again and Nimoy returned to the role of Mr. Spock for 1979’s “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.” The film opened well at the box office, and though not well reviewed, it did spawn enough interest for Paramount to greenlight sequels that would continue into the 1990s: “The Wrath of Khan” (1982), “The Search for Spock” (1984), “The Voyage Home” (1986), “The Final Frontier” (1989) and “The Undiscovered Country” (1991). Nimoy was in all of them, albeit briefly in “The Search for Spock.”

When it was obvious before its last season began shooting in the summer of 1968 that NBC had no interest in keeping Star Trek on the air, Gene Roddenberry effectively walked away from the series, keeping his executive producer title and paycheck, but using his time to write a screenplay and prepare his escape route. As a result, the last of the show was a campy mess deserving of its network euthanasia — but then something miraculous happened: man landed on the moon. And suddenly Star Trek, which at least until its last season, took its science fiction seriously began to look remarkably prescient. As a result, the show was rewarded with something unprecedented in television: a fan base that grew after a series was cancelled by a TV network, as the Kaiser syndicated television network ran the shows in the afternoon daily throughout the 1970s.

And then George Lucas, himself a fan of the original series, came up with this cool idea for a big screen space opera. Suddenly, the little series that Paramount inherited when they bought Lucille Ball’s Desilu production company in 1968 seemed like it incredible potential for a movie of its own.

And how.

The bedrock of the series was Nimoy, who took the character seriously, inventing many of his famous traits — the neck pinch, the V-for Vulcan hand gesture, and over time, his carefully modulated voice. It’s a remarkable performance, and Nimoy deserved the millions that Star Trek brought him, but it made watching Nimoy in other series a bit difficult. A few years ago, when I went through a jag of binge-watching Mission: Impossible on Netflix, I was struck by how strange it felt watching Nimoy take over Martin Landau’s man of a 1000 faces character. I dubbed a sort of “reverse uncanny valley effect,” from the term robotics designers use to describe that paradox that the more a robot looks human, the creepier it appears. Nimoy was so brilliant at developing a controlled, seemingly non-emotional alien, that called upon to play a campy, over-emoting character on Mission: Impossible, he was near impossible to watch. It didn’t help matters that like Star Trek’s final season, by the time Nimoy appeared on Mission: Impossible, it too was collectively phoning it in, with much of its original writing and production crew having moved on to other series.

Fortunately, by the end of the 1970s, Nimoy was back on the Paramount lot, playing the character that made him famous, and giving us all something to look forward to every few years at the summer box office.

A decade ago when James Doohan died, James Lileks wrote, “a hundred years from now, no one will remember Brad Pitt. But they’ll have a picture of Scotty taped up in the break room off the moon shuttle.” It’s not quite the same methods Spock employed in the second and third Star Trek movies, but Nimoy’s immortality is similarly assured.

To prove it, I won’t end this post with Spock’s legendary catchphrase, but it’s only because we all have it memorized — and we’re all saying it right now.

Update: Since I mentioned Nimoy’s appearance on The Lieutenant, here’s a YouTube clip of him alongside Gary Lockwood and Majel Barrett, the future Mrs. Roddenberry, in his very non-Spock-like role as a Hollywood director planning a film about the Corps:

“The first two minutes of this should be played at the beginning of every Oscars ever,” Tom Nichols tweets. And the stone-faced glare of Shirley MacLaine to Chayefsky’s response to Vanessa Redgrave’s infamous “Zionist Hoodlums” Oscars rant seems fascinating in retrospect.

But then, I doubt Chayefsky realized that when he wrote the screenplay for Network, he was basically crafting a how-to guide for the 21st century legacy media and its myriad grievance obsessions.

But then, as John Nolte writes at Big Hollywood, “Unpopular titles mixed with no stars to stargaze at is a recipe for low ratings and irrelevance,” especially when combined with the toxic blend of leftwing grievance politics. “Bottom line: 34.6 million for Hollywood’s biggest night; 115 million for the NFL’s biggest night. One institution speaks to the people and celebrates greatness, the other  celebrates its elite, provincial, narcissistic self.”

Bill Nye, the Nihilism Guy

February 23rd, 2015 - 10:38 am

As Ace writes, paraphrasing Nye’s bizarre statements on Time-Warner-CNN-HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, “Man Those Jews Might Not Have to Flee From One Country to Another If They Would Just Get To Actually Know Their ‘Neighbors:’”

I’m not exactly certain that’s the right way to take his statement. But I have trouble seeing any other interpretation.

Bill Nye doesn’t think the Jews of Europe should flee to Israel.

So what’s his proposed alternative?

Well they should just start getting to know their neighbors instead of, I suppose, being all clannish and Jew-y.

At Hot Air, Ed Morrissey has the transcript of Nye’s nihilism:

MAHER: Yeah, I mean, Netanyahu is asking European Jews to come to Israel and …

NYE (wryly): Come home to Israel — that’s what he said, right?

MAHER: Well, I mean, he is the …

NYE (interrupting again): But you never, the people have never been there. They live, grew up in whatever, in Germany or France.

MAHER: It’s a shame that they should have to move, uh …

NYE: Well, they probably won’t either, ’cause it’s not their home, you know.

REINER: But you can understand it. There were German Jews that lived in Germany during the Second World War and that was their home. And, you know, at a certain point, you know, if your live is in danger, you want to go to someplace where you’re going to be protected.

NYE: So, what do you do about it? I think you get to know your neighbors. And it’s gonna take, what, does it take a century, something like that?

“There are multiple layers of irony in this conversation,” Ed Morrissey adds:

Is Nye’s response anti-Semitic, blaming the victim? Your mileage may vary, but at the very least it’s a Summer of Love cliché that ignores centuries of attempted integration by Jews in Europe, with sometimes disastrous results. In one breath Nye says that Europe is the only home they know, and in the next suggests that they aren’t really part of Europe at all. Furthermore, the problem of insularity isn’t so much a Jewish problem as it is with the Muslims who only recently began emigrating in large numbers to Europe — perhaps especially so in France and Germany. Oh, if only those silly Jews would be more friendly with their neighbors, Nye’s argument goes, then no one would have an irrational hatred for them — which suggests that anti-Semitism is the Jews’ fault, and that it’s their responsibility to crack the insularity of whatever communities are generating it.

There’s another level of irony: Like Al Gore, Andrea Mitchell, Tom Steyer, and CBS anchorman Scott Pelley, Nye is one of those persons of the left who casually flings the expression “climate denier” at those who disagree with him. (As Climate Depot reported a few years ago, when asked why he didn’t have someone on to argue against his global warming riffs, Pelley responded, “If I do an interview with Elie Wiesel, am I required as a journalist to find a Holocaust denier?”) Perhaps Nye should cease using such a loaded phrase, which if not outright Holocaust denial itself, is rhetoric that certainly cheapens that unique historical bloodbath, if this is his inch-deep knowledge of postwar European Judaism.

So, About The Man in the High Castle

February 21st, 2015 - 12:16 pm

man_in_the_high_castle_2-21-15-1

After reading James Lileks discussing its production design, late last night, I watched Amazon.com’s pilot episode for The Man in the High Castle, based on an early novel by Philip K. Dick. Here’s a quick description of the episode from Entertainment Weekly:

Creator: Frank Spotnitz (The X-Files)
Premise: An alt-history saga adapted from the Philip K. Dick novel of the same title imagines America in a world where the Axis powers won World War II—by beating everyone else to the bomb and nuking Washington D.C. The year is 1962, and the United States is split in two, à la Berlin. The Nazis control the East, the Japanese control the West, and the cold war between the former confederates threatens to explode, pending the outcome of political instability in Germany: Hitler, it seems, has Parkinson’s, and not long to live. Against this backdrop, we meet a variety of characters suffering or surviving each oppressive culture. Two of them in particular—Julianna (Mob City’s Alexa Davalos), investigating the murder of her sister, and Joe (Luke Kleintank of Pretty Little Liars and Bones), a newcomer to the resistance—are on a collision course, drawn to each other by the mystery of illicit newsreels depicting a different, better history, one where the Allies carried the day. The films are rebel art, producing an Anonymous-like subversive known only as “The Man in the High Castle.”
Prospects: Depends. If you’re tired of high-concept dystopian fantasy and Nazi bad guys, this is a pass. If you’re a fan of high-concept dystopian fantasy done right and are at least agnostic about Nazi bad guys, this is for you. Directed by veteran helmer David Semel, this well-cast, well-acted, swell-looking pilot is by far the most polished of the group. It’s engrossing despite its stately pace, and a triumph of world building. The Man in the High Castle could be Amazon’s first successful attempt at big saga TV.

If you’ve ever seen the mid-1990s HBO adaption of Robert Harris’ seminal novel, at first glance The Man in the High Castle appears very much to be Fatherland: The TV Series, albeit set in an alternative America rather than Berlin of 1962. (And as the sci-fi Website IO9 notes in their review of the pilot, nothing has ever made a simple shot of ash falling on the ground in the middle of Arkansas or Alabama seem so chilling.)

But reading the descriptions of the Dick’s novel, and pondering the implications of the pilot’s Emmanuel Goldstein-ish film within-within-a-film is a reminder that we’re firmly in Dick’s patented “what is reality” territory. Just watching the pilot, I was having the response that everyone had to the finale of Patrick McGoohan’s equally allegorical 1967 TV series The Prisoner: What Does It All Mean, Maaaan?

In short, despite a few slightly clunky CGI shots (we are talking made-for-TV after all): Mind. Blown.

And really looking forward to the TV series, which multiple sources report has received the green light from Amazon. I just hope they don’t screw up the writing in the process of trying to meet weekly TV’s crushing deadlines.

Have you seen the pilot for The Man in the High Castle? If so, let me what you think in the comments below.

Television journalist so brilliant he received the Cronkite Award after only three days on the air is now out of a job:

It was hardly a surprise Thursday when ratings-challenged MSNBC announced the cancellation of the poor-performing afternoon programs hosted by Ronan Farrow and Joy Reid after less than a year, with veteran news anchor Thomas Roberts stepping in to preside over the two-hour block from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Until a permanent replacement is named for Roberts’s 5:30 a.m. program Way Too Early, the 6 a.m. Morning Joe hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski will temporarily take up the slack by starting a half-hour earlier.

* * * * * * * *

In an interview with The Daily Beast, [Phil Griffin, MSNBC president] was clearly smitten with Farrow, the son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen (or Frank Sinatra, depending), then a precocious 26-year-old who was largely untested on camera.

“Within 20 minutes, it was ‘Holy Cow!’ I knew,” Griffin said, describing their first meeting. “I’d wondered, is this guy for real? Is he a freak? And he walked in and we had the greatest conversation about where media is going—and that is critical. We’ve got to be at the forefront of it, and if we’re not, we’re going to lose.”

Yes, it’s true, America as a nation has failed to grok the sagacity of the second coming of Mencken, Edward R. Murrow and Fielding Mellish all rolled into one staggering talent, who like Charlie Parker or John Coltrane in the 1950s, was laying down riffs so brilliant, they were simply far beyond what our meager intellects could grasp.

Either that, or, the vast majorities of lefties already get their news from the CBSNBSABC evening news, NPR, the Times, the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, and aren’t looking for Air America with pictures. Nahhh, can’t be.