Exhortation and Megalomania

Saturday, January 31st, 2015

Anomalies like American Sniper drive the liberal press crazy with fear that they are losing control of the media, Steve Sailer suggests:

One possibility is that artists and entertainers are less monolithically on the left than you might think, but are kept in line in public by stifling peer pressure.

For example, by now Spielberg ought to have earned himself a fair amount of deference from his fellow liberal Democrats for being a credit to his political persuasion. But even he doesn’t seem able to admit that his upbringing in the red state of Arizona saddled him with a lifelong love for guns.


A more subversive theory is that art is inherently anti-egalitarian, that the entertainment industry thrives by elevating individuals to levels of mass adoration that Belshazzar of Babylon would have found excessive. In turn, the entertainment industry adopts a bogus ideology of promoting equality to cover up its essential tendency toward Caesarism.

For example, this combination of exhortation and megalomania has been apparent for 99 of the 100 years that Hollywood has been making epic films.

Early March will mark the 100th anniversary of the original box office smash, D.W. Griffith’s denunciation of the rape culture of the Reconstruction Era, The Birth of a Nation. Stung by criticism from the NAACP, Griffith released in 1916 a more politically correct and even more ambitious blockbuster, Intolerance. It retold four stories of bigotry and oppression, from ancient Babylon down to the present day.

I’m sure that everybody has taken Griffith’s sermon against intolerance deeply to heart, but, honestly, the only thing anybody remembers from the movie is the Babylonian set that Griffith spent his Birth of a Nation profits constructing.

Dolly Zoom

Friday, January 30th, 2015

Once you’re aware of the dolly zoom, you see it everywhere:

Hollywood Sniper

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

The central frustration of being a film critic, Steve Sailer says, is that there isn’t much opportunity to be a tastemaker, because it’s pretty obvious to most everybody whether a film works or not:

Not many people are going to go out of their way to see a frosting-centric film. But of those who do, few could deny that whatever The Grand Budapest Hotel is doing, it’s doing it quite well. In a spotty year for filmmaking, The Grand Budapest Hotel was the highest grossing Best Picture nominee, with $59 million in domestic box office revenue.

Or it was until American Sniper blew past the Best Picture field with $105 million over the four-day weekend, setting a record for a movie going into wide release in January. (For reasons that nobody can quite explain, it has been universally assumed that people would much rather spend weekend afternoons indoors at the movie theater in May and June than in January and February. But as I’ve suggested before, perhaps that’s not a law of nature.)


The auteur theory of directing holds that filmmaking is one man’s titanic struggle to create Art. Not surprisingly, the idea was made up by young critics who really wanted to direct, such as François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard.

The Eastwood theory of directing, by contrast, is that you find a decent script, hire movie stars who are also good actors, don’t waste too much time or money on how the movie will look, point the camera in the right direction, don’t make your cast do too many takes, and maybe you’ll get lucky.


Clint’s movie just works, beginning with the now famous opening scene used in the trailer. Leave it to Eastwood to figure out that the easy way to make an effective trailer is not to mash up all your explosion shots, but to just reuse your most gripping scene, leaving potential ticket buyers wondering: What happens next?

As an aside, Sailer mentions that famously liberal Hollywood is full of gun nuts — like Spielberg.

In true Sailer fashion, he ends with a note on Orwell’s apocryphal “rough men stand ready” quote:

But American Sniper is carried by Bradley Cooper’s star turn as one of the rough men who let the rest of us sleep peacefully in our beds at night because they stand ready to do violence on our behalf, a sentiment that conservative film critic Richard Grenier attributed to George Orwell in 1993.

Bushwick, Brooklyn 2015

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Bushwick, Brooklyn has changed over the years:

The Man in the High Castle

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

Amazon has released the pilot of their proposed Man in the High Castle series, based on Philip K. Dick’s novel of the same name, in which Hitler has won, and America has been split between German and Japanese overlords.

The subject matter lends itself to visual storytelling. (I’d love to see Atlantropa.)

The Packers of Catan

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

Apparently the Green Bay Packers are obsessed with Settlers of Catan.

I suppose they’ll move on to The Cones of Dunshire:

Extraordinairy Photos of Ordinary People

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

Artsy photographer Benjamin Von Wong brought along his expensive lighting equipment and a rain machine and took extraordinairy photos of ordinary people:

The Origin of the Little Prince

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

I might’ve read Le Petit Prince back in the day if I’d known more about its origin:

It all began with the child of a Polish migrant labourer expelled from France. In 1935,  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was already a cult bestseller who had transformed his exploits as a pioneer pilot on air mail routes into books that mixed daredevil adventure with philosophical reflection. He took a trip to the Soviet Union for a newspaper assignment.

On the way to Moscow, as he wrote in 1939 at the close of his classic Wind, Sand and Stars, he shared a train from Paris with hundreds of redundant Polish workers and their  families. Among them was an “adorable” boy, “a masterpiece of charm and grace” and “a kind of golden fruit”. For Saint-Exupéry, “Little princes in legends were just like him: protected, cultivated… what might he not become?” But for this little prince, who might have grown like a “new rose” into another Mozart, only the toil and pain of life in the “stamping machine” of industrial society beckoned.

That little Polish prince, with his aura of roses and gardens, stayed with the writer. In 1942, depressed by his American exile after the fall of France, the romantic émigré needed to repair his own career in this strange land. The French wife of his New York publisher saw how well PL Travers had done with her Mary Poppins stories. Might “Saint-Ex” (as everybody called him) turn his hand to a children’s book for Reynal & Hitchcock? Saint-Ex did, working through caffeine-fuelled nights in the house he shared in Asharoken on Long Island. It was published, in both English and French, in April 1943, then in liberated France late in 1945.

Although over-age, overweight, scarred and stiff through the injuries from crash-landings, the 43-year-old author was desperate to fly again as the Allies advanced. Saint-Ex joined a Free French air force squadron based in Sardinia, then Corsica. On 31 July 1944, after his ninth reconnaissance mission, his plane disappeared into the Mediterranean near Marseille. As The Little Prince ends, the airman narrator knows that the small hero who has allowed a golden snake to bite him “did go back to his planet, because I did not find his body at daybreak”. Although the wreckage of his P-38 Lightning and even his bracelet have emerged from the sea, no one – beyond all doubt – has ever found Saint-Exupéry’s either.

The Truth About Killing

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

The Truth About Killing is a two-part British TV “programme” hosted by Michael “Grub” Smith, which explores Grossman’s work (On Killing):

I liked the skeptical approach early in the show and the demonstrations of how chaos, fatigue, etc. enter into the process, but the skepticism quickly fades away.

The Secret to Composing Halloween

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

John Carpenter explains that the secret to composing and performing Halloween came from his father:

He was a music professor. He taught me 5-4 time when I was 13 on a pair of bongos of all things. And 5-4 time is bop, bop, bop. Bop, bop, bop. Bop, bop. Bop, bop. Bop, bop, bop. Bop, bop. Bop, bop, bop. Bop, bop. So I simply sat at the piano and I rolled octaves, so that’s how it came about. It was simple, repetitive and, like you said, causes tension in the audience. They’re waiting for something to change. [...] It puts you in a little bit of discomfort emotionally. Why is this not evolving and changing? It’s repeating over and over and over again.

By the way, Carpenter got into the movie business to make Westerns, but Westerns died.

Not a bit of him’s scraggly or scrawny

Sunday, January 4th, 2015

There’s no man in town half as manly as Gaston:

The New Wave of Graphic Novels

Sunday, January 4th, 2015

Graphic-novel sales are outpacing the overall trade-book market, and their audience has expanded to include more women and younger readers, the Wall Street Journal reports:

Graphic-novel sales increased 4% to $415 million in 2013, including comics stores, bookstores and online booksellers but excluding e-books. Preliminary data indicate that in 2014 graphic-novel sales grew at an even faster clip, according to Milton Griepp, a market analyst and CEO of the trade publication ICv2.

By contrast, overall print-book sales through retail stores and book clubs fell by 2.5% to 501.6 million units in 2013, following a blockbuster year in 2012, according to a Publisher’s Weekly analysis of data from Nielsen BookScan.


Graphic novels also lend themselves beautifully to being read on tablets such as iPads — and even smartphones. Digital sales for comics and graphic novels totaled $90 million in 2013 compared with $70 million in 2012.

A Nerd for Our Times

Saturday, January 3rd, 2015

The Imitation Game exploits Alan Turing’s status as one of the relatively rare gay-nerd intersections to create a victim for our times, Steve Sailer suggests:

It’s hard for 21st-century audiences, who have been instructed that the past was one long featureless nightmare of homophobia, to make sense of the last two years of Turing’s life. The old stereotype of the English elite as prone to homosexuality has been forgotten, but it’s useful in understanding what happened to Turing.

After the war Turing did important work on early computers at the University of Manchester. But in 1952, his taste for rough trade brought him embarrassment when some mates of Turing’s teenage boyfriend burgled his flat. Turing called the police, only to be surprised when the Manchester coppers took an unsporting interest in why the distinguished academic was entertaining lowlife youths.

A snob of superb pedigree (his parents were from the meritocratic Indian imperial civil service that had attracted such outstanding families as the Mills), Turing evidently hadn’t realized that in the working-class-dominated postwar era, his open homosexuality would be less tolerated as a Brideshead Revisited-like foible and treated more as obsolete upper-crust decadence.In a new biography,Alan Turing: The Enigma Man, Nigel Cawthorne explains that back when Turing had gone up to university in 1931:

At Cambridge at that time, homosexuality — though illegal — was largely tolerated. It was generally assumed that public [i.e., private] schoolboys were basically bisexual. Many who had youthful homosexual dalliances went on to marry and be solely heterosexual. Others would remain, or become, fully gay. Turing barely hid his interest in that quarter. The walls of his rooms were hung with pictures of young bodybuilders in swimming trunks…. Somewhat reminiscent of Sebastian Flyte’s teddy bear Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited, Turing asked his mother to send him a teddy…

As Waugh’s 1945 bestseller had predicted, the triumph of the leftist masses briefly rendered unfashionable the homoerotic culture fostered by top-drawer English educational institutions.


Philosopher Jack Copeland, who directs the Turing Archive, has argued that considering Turing’s upbeat mood over the last year of his life and the lack of any suicide note, his mother’s conclusion that he died from accidentally ingesting the cyanide he was using to do gold electroplating in his spare room makes as much sense as the standard story that he killed himself with a poisoned apple in some kind of tribute to Disney’s Snow White.

Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

Friday, January 2nd, 2015

Thomas Cole’s series of paintings The Course of Empire was based on Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, the poem that made Byron famous. Cole quoted this verse, from Canto IV, in his newspaper advertisements for the series::

There is the moral of all human tales;

‘Tis but the same rehearsal of the past.
First freedom and then Glory — when that fails,
Wealth, vice, corruption — barbarism at last.
And History, with all her volumes vast,
Hath but one page…

In the Middle Ages, a childe was a young lord, the son of a nobleman, who had not yet won his spurs and the title of knight.

The term also famously appears in the title of Robert Browning’s Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.

Childe Harold is the first Byronic hero — “a man proud, moody, cynical, with defiance on his brow, and misery in his heart, a scorner of his kind, implacable in revenge, yet capable of deep and strong affection,” in Lord Macaulay’s words.

The Course of Empire

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

As one year ends and another begins, we might turn our thoughts to The Course of Empire — The Savage State, The Arcadian or Pastoral State, The Consummation of Empire, Destruction,  and Desolation — as painted by Thomas Cole over the years 1833–36: