Marvin was never named in the original shorts

Saturday, November 23rd, 2019

I didn’t realize that Marvin the Martian was never named in the original shorts:

He was referred to as the Commander of Flying Saucer X-2 in The Hasty Hare in 1952. However, in 1979, once the character attracted merchandising interest, the name “Marvin” was selected for The Bugs Bunny Road Runner Movie.

Isn’t that lovely?

I also failed to realize that his Roman armor was meant to evoke Mars, the god.

This makes me very angry, very angry indeed.

It was something we could all talk about together

Wednesday, November 13th, 2019

Television defined the American median:

It was something we could all talk about together.

There was a comforting sense of homogeneity to the TV of this era. It didn’t ask too much of you, and it was always there when you needed it, a friendly and familiar presence. It wasn’t designed to be great; it was designed to be consistently fine.

The apotheosis of this style of television was the long-running, insanely popular 1990s sitcom Friends, a show that literalized the idea of what television was in its title. Friends was a show about a bunch of attractive and mildly glamorous but essentially ordinary white people hanging out and talking about their lives. It was a show you could watch and engage with but also one that you could just have on as background noise, with the characters’ idealized, fictional, not-too-difficult lives serving as the backdrop to your own. That was television’s reason for being: to keep ordinary people company in their own homes.

Unlike broadcast networks, Netflix knew exactly what subscribers were watching, and when, and how often:

The company had three major revelations.

The first was that television-style content, which on both cable and broadcast had always been delivered on a specific schedule, in a linear sequence over the space of weeks, could be divorced from time. Netflix not only allowed viewers to watch its shows whenever they wanted, it posted entire seasons online at once and then encouraged viewers to “binge-watch,” or consume the whole thing all in one go. Appointment TV, in which you regularly dated a show you liked, was no more; Netflix was TV as a series of intense one-night stands.

The second revelation was that TV could be portable. Netflix was an app, not a channel, which meant you could watch it on your computer, on your phone, in your car, and possibly even on your refrigerator. Netflix shows came to you, wherever you were. The service was platform agnostic.

Finally, Netflix realized that demand for new scripted content was practically infinite and began producing accordingly. In 2013, the year Netflix committed itself fully to originals, the total number of scripted series produced annually across all of Hollywood jumped by 17 percent.

In the 1980s and 1990s, fewer than 50 original scripted television series were produced each year. In 2008, there were more than 200. By 2018, the number was just shy of 500, and streaming networks were the biggest producers. Netflix, which will reportedly spend $15 billion on content this year, wasn’t competing with ABC and NBC and CBS. It wasn’t even really competing with HBO. It was competing with the entire rest of one’s life, with 24 hours of things to do that aren’t watching Netflix. CEO Reed Hastings said in 2017, “We actually compete with sleep.” Then he added, perhaps not entirely kidding, “And we’re winning!”

The most triumphant example of a trope is the Trope Codifier

Monday, November 11th, 2019

The first use of a trope is the Ur-Example. The first intentional use of a trope is the Trope Maker. The most triumphant example of a trope is the Trope Codifier:

It means “Example that has fingerprints of influence on all later examples of the trope”. The true marker of a Codifier is that it invents some unique spin on the trope that all later examples have some reaction to. Take, for example, Werewolves. There were earlier examples of werewolf stories, but it is with 1941′s The Wolf Man that we first see werewolves as an infection (previously, it was a curse or part of a Deal with the Devil), silver vulnerability (previously, it was vampires or ghosts who were usually associated with weakness to silver), made the werewolf a human cursed to turn into a wolf-man (previously, all kinds of variations were available, from wolf that turns into a man, to man who was permanently turned into a wolf), and tied the wolf to the night of the full moon (previously, they either focused on the three nights around the full moon, or had little to do with the phase of the moon). Almost all later examples of Werewolves bear some of these subtropes, which originated with The Wolf Man, or at least discuss them in order to explain why Our Werewolves Are Different. Thus, we can state with confidence that it is the Trope Codifier.

(I wish I’d stumbled across this just before Halloween.)

Rick Baker, Monster Maker

Sunday, November 10th, 2019

The Internet has taught me that I’m a very casual fan. I didn’t know Rick Baker by name, but I enjoyed his interview with Joe Rogan, where he talks about making movie monsters, like the eponymous American Werewolf in London. He’s retired now, but he has a massive new two-volume book out, Rick Baker: Metamorphosis.

One amusing bit of trivia from the interview is that he supplied some masks that got used in Star Wars‘ iconic cantina scene — and the band was not there. The band was filmed in another country, much later, in post-production.

Its power is not confined to its grasp

Wednesday, October 30th, 2019

Audible included a dramatization of Carmilla, the vampire novella by Irish writer Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, as one of its free Audible Originals for October, and I finally got around to experiencing this gothic work, which predates Dracula by 26 years. (If you’re wondering about an Irishman named “Le Fanu,” he came from a French Huguenot family.)

I was under the impression that Dracula introduced the charming, aristocratic vampire — in contrast to the ugly monster of folklore — but Carmilla is a charming, aristocratic vampire, too, only female. (Most descriptions of the book seem to emphasize the lesbian subtext of her preying on beautiful young women.) Her animal alter ego is a monstrous black cat, rather than a large dog, like Dracula, and she can pass through walls, like a ghost. Her grip is also deadly, as the story’s proto-Van Helsing, Baron Vordenburg,  explains, while wrapping up the story:

My father related to the Baron Vordenburg, who remained with us for two or three weeks after the expulsion of Carmilla, the story about the Moravian nobleman and the vampire at Karnstein churchyard, and then he asked the Baron how he had discovered the exact position of the long-concealed tomb of the Countess Mircalla? The Baron’s grotesque features puckered up into a mysterious smile; he looked down, still smiling on his worn spectacle case and fumbled with it. Then looking up, he said:

“I have many journals, and other papers, written by that remarkable man; the most curious among them is one treating of the visit of which you speak, to Karnstein. The tradition, of course, discolors and distorts a little. He might have been termed a Moravian nobleman, for he had changed his abode to that territory, and was, beside, a noble. But he was, in truth, a native of Upper Styria. It is enough to say that in very early youth he had been a passionate and favored lover of the beautiful Mircalla, Countess Karnstein. Her early death plunged him into inconsolable grief. It is the nature of vampires to increase and multiply, but according to an ascertained and ghostly law.

“Assume, at starting, a territory perfectly free from that pest. How does it begin, and how does it multiply itself? I will tell you. A person, more or less wicked, puts an end to himself. A suicide, under certain circumstances, becomes a vampire. That specter visits living people in their slumbers; they die, and almost invariably, in the grave, develop into vampires. This happened in the case of the beautiful Mircalla, who was haunted by one of those demons. My ancestor, Vordenburg, whose title I still bear, soon discovered this, and in the course of the studies to which he devoted himself, learned a great deal more.

“Among other things, he concluded that suspicion of vampirism would probably fall, sooner or later, upon the dead Countess, who in life had been his idol. He conceived a horror, be she what she might, of her remains being profaned by the outrage of a posthumous execution. He has left a curious paper to prove that the vampire, on its expulsion from its amphibious existence, is projected into a far more horrible life; and he resolved to save his once beloved Mircalla from this.

“He adopted the stratagem of a journey here, a pretended removal of her remains, and a real obliteration of her monument. When age had stolen upon him, and from the vale of years, he looked back on the scenes he was leaving, he considered, in a different spirit, what he had done, and a horror took possession of him. He made the tracings and notes which have guided me to the very spot, and drew up a confession of the deception that he had practiced. If he had intended any further action in this matter, death prevented him; and the hand of a remote descendant has, too late for many, directed the pursuit to the lair of the beast.”

We talked a little more, and among other things he said was this:

“One sign of the vampire is the power of the hand. The slender hand of Mircalla closed like a vice of steel on the General’s wrist when he raised the hatchet to strike. But its power is not confined to its grasp; it leaves a numbness in the limb it seizes, which is slowly, if ever, recovered from.”

Halloween came early

Thursday, October 24th, 2019

Ray Bradbury wrote a screenplay in 1958, intended as a directorial vehicle for his friend Gene Kelly. Financing for the project never came through though, and Bradbury converted the screenplay into a novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes, which was published in 1962. It opens with this prologue:

First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys. Not that all months aren’t rare. But there be bad and good, as the pirates say. Take September, a bad month: school begins. Consider August, a good month: school hasn’t begun yet. July, well, July’s really fine: there’s no chance in the world for school. June, no doubting it, June’s best of all, for the school doors spring wide and September’s a billion years away.

But you take October, now. School’s been on a month and you’re riding easier in the reins, jogging along. You got time to think of the garbage you’ll dump on old man Prickett’s porch, or the hairy-ape costume you’ll wear to the YMCA the last night of the month. And if it’s around October twentieth and everything smoky-smelling and the sky orange and ash gray at twilight, it seems Halloween will never come in a fall of broomsticks and a soft flap of bedsheets around corners.

But one strange wild dark long year, Halloween came early.

One year Halloween came on October 24, three hours after midnight.

I had been meaning to read the novel for years — ever since watching the mediocre film adaptation — so I finally listened to the audiobook. The mediocre movie was mediocre despite the fact that Bradbury wrote the screenplay. It’s only available on DVD, as far as I can tell.

More recently, “Something Ricked This Way Comes” parodied…Stephen King’s Needful Things, which was inspired by Something Wicked.

There was all this complexity that we couldn’t ignore

Monday, October 21st, 2019

Patricia Marcoccia and Maziar Ghaderi decided to make The Rise of Jordan Peterson before he became controversial:

She’d become interested in his work while she was a college student studying psychology at McMaster University back in the early 2000s. “I found his work on the psychology of meaning very impactful,” she explains. “And I knew he was having a big impact on his students over in Toronto, too.” After graduating and shifting her focus to journalism and film, she decided that she wanted to make Peterson the focus of her first independent feature. She approached him about it in 2015.

After learning more about Peterson’s personal life, Marcoccia decided to focus on his friendship with Charles Joseph, an accomplished third-generation Kwakwaka’wakw carver/artist. A year-and-a-half into that project, she awoke one morning to find that Peterson had posted “Professor Against Political Correctness” on YouTube and that all hell had broken loose. “The video was a total surprise to me. I had no idea it was coming,” she says. “I’d been filming conversations about dreams, Charles carving masks and totem poles, and a sacred potlatch ceremony” — Peterson and his family were at the time immersed in a very involved process of being ceremonially inducted into Joseph’s extended family — “and all of a sudden, there was all this conflict and controversy.”

After a few weeks, Marcoccia decided that she needed to change the focus of her film, and follow the rapidly developing story on which, unexpectedly, she had a uniquely privileged perspective. At the time, neither she nor her husband, a multimedia artist who was now working with her on the film, felt particularly happy about this switch. “This wasn’t the ambulance we would have been chasing” had circumstances been different, she explains. “We didn’t feel comfortable dealing with the ‘free speech versus transphobe’ controversy. But we also didn’t see walking away as an option. You need to follow a film where it takes you.”

“There was so much of this culture war stuff that we didn’t understand,” Ghaderi reflects. Personally and professionally immersed in the left-leaning worlds of art, film, and theater, working with his wife on the documentary when everything “suddenly blew up” was “confusing.” Marcoccia and Ghaderi agreed that if they hadn’t known Peterson and his work personally, and had only read about him in the media outlets they normally digested, they would have most likely been swept up in the anti-Peterson sentiment that dominated their milieu. Instead, they became hyper-aware that “there was all this complexity that we couldn’t ignore.”

Marcoccia and Ghaderi watched — and filmed — as activists, journalists, bloggers, fans, and even their close friends, rather than acknowledging this complexity, turned Peterson into a dichotomous “messiah/devil” icon. “There are right-wing opportunists who want to use Jordan for their own political ends,” Ghaderi notes. “There are people who want to use him to fill the gap of not having a father. There are the Antifa types who condemn him while they’re wearing a mask. It’s the media — journalists, writers, bloggers — that create Jordan’s persona.” The film’s official poster symbolically illustrates that these many competing forces collude to create a false image of the man they’ve come to know.

If the respect that the Marcoccia and Ghaderi have for Peterson is obvious, it’s also unexceptional. That respect extends to all their subjects, including a trans activist who criticizes them for making the film at all. As their website explains, they named their company “Holding Space Films” because the concept of holding space “is central to the filmmaking process”:

To hold space for someone is to metaphorically walk with them amidst their experience using genuine presence and deep listening to enable authenticity to emerge.

Rather than sorting their interviewees into partisan boxes, the filmmakers engage sympathetically with the multidimensional complexity of everyone involved. The consistency of Marcoccia and Ghaderi’s method constitutes a critical theme throughout the film. It’s what enables the (open minded) viewer to experience the nuances under investigation as thought provoking, rather than merely confusing. The people, issues, and events may sometimes be abstruse, but the unpretentious clarity of the filmmakers’ method results in a film that is intelligible, accessible, engaging, and coherent.

It’s important to note that “holding space” in the sense Marcoccia and Ghaderi mean it is difficult. It’s not easy to remain steady in the midst of intense conflict, and listen to the different sides involved with curiosity, empathy, and respect — let alone capture that in a 90-minute film. That they have largely succeeded is a significant accomplishment; one that’s much needed and all too rare. It requires a disciplined commitment to a deeply humane sensibility, an ethos that is widely misunderstood and ignored, if not denigrated and attacked today.

Naturally, it’s being shut out of independent and arthouse cinemas.

A weird combination of pretty and grotesque

Friday, September 20th, 2019

Great 19th Century novelists seemed to think that physiognomy is real, and Steve Sailer suggests they had a point:

For example, the Movie Star vs. Rock Star polarity can be illustrated with famous actors. Tom Cruise’s square-jawed conventional handsomeness makes him an obvious prototype of movie star looks. And Cruise’s impressive competence at repeatedly delivering pretty good movies over an enormous span of time suggests that he really is as competent at his job (starring in movies that make at least $100 million) as he looks. I presume that Cruise is more or less the CEO of Tom Cruise movies, and he tends to deliver like a good CEO delivering another year of increased earnings per share.

In contrast, Johnny Depp, of the high cheekbones and delicate jaw, came to Hollywood in 1979 to be a rock star, a not unreasonable ambition due to how much he looked like numerous 1970s rock stars.

Rock stars tend to start as delicate, artistic, high-cheekboned, not terribly masculine heterosexuals who drive young girls wild. (How many burly rock singers have their been? The singer in Smashmouth, and probably some country rockers. But the classic rock band frontman is wiry.)

The youngest girls tend to go for the boy band practice boyfriend types like The Beatles in 1964, while the slightly older ones tend to go for the leering, concupiscent Rolling Stones in 1965 types. Tom Wolfe wrote in the mid-1960s about a Rolling Stone concert:

The five Rolling Stones, from England …, are modeled after The Beatles, only more lower class deformed. … The girls have Their Experience. They stand up on their seats. They begin to ululate, even between songs. The look on their faces! Rapturous agony! There, right up there, under the sulphur lights, that is them. God, they’re right there! Mick Jagger takes the microphone with his tabescent [emaciated] hands and puts his huge head against it, opens his giblet lips and begins to sing … with the voice of a bull Negro.

The classic rock star look is often a weird combination of pretty and grotesque, like Steven Tyler of Aerosmith.

But to be/stay a huge star, you need male fans. The young girl audience isn’t loyal. There is always somebody new. So rock stars often butch up their acts: Springsteen as working man, Petty as redneck, Strummer as Kiplingesque soldier of fortune.

It sounded alluring and conspiratorial

Wednesday, September 18th, 2019

I haven’t read any of Brad Meltzer‘s thrillers (yet), but he name-dropped the CIA’s Red Cell program in an interview, and I was as intrigued as I was supposed to be:

Around midnight on Sept. 12, 2001, then-Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet summoned his chief of staff, John Moseman, and the CIA’s deputy director of intelligence, Jami Miscik, to his seventh-floor office in the Original Headquarters Building in Langley, Virginia. In the aftermath of the previous day’s unprecedented terrorist attacks, senior White House officials were confident that there were additional plots against the U.S. homeland — and that the CIA needed to better anticipate the range of threats that officials should be prepared for. Tenet decided to form a group of contrarian thinkers to challenge conventional wisdom in the intelligence community and mitigate the threat of additional surprises through “alternative analysis.” On that evening, his instructions were simple: “Tell me things others don’t and make [senior officials] feel uncomfortable.”

The following morning, Miscik and two senior analysts formed the CIA’s Red Cell, which has been a semi-independent unit within the agency ever since. It is devoted to “alternative analysis,” which includes techniques like “what ifs,” Team A/Team B exercises, and premortem analysis, all of which are used to identify holes in a plan, model an adversary to understand their weaknesses, or consider all of the conceivable ways a plan can fail beforehand. The term “Red Cell” was chosen by Tenet personally; he believed it sounded alluring and conspiratorial. Previous comparable units had received limited time and freedom to truly think outside the box. As the recently declassified June 2005 CIA Office of Inspector General’s review of pre-9/11 analysis determined, there was only one example of alternative analysis produced by the Counterterrorism Center’s Assessments and Information Group, and its analysts “recall utilizing no alternative analysis, and ‘did not have the luxury to do so.’”

Analysts lack this luxury because they are absorbed in conducting “mainline” or authoritative analysis, which is intended to chronicle and interpret reality for policymakers. This includes “setting the scene” of the political dynamics in a foreign country before elections, estimating the likelihood of an event occurring, or warning about longer-term strategic trends. As Robert Gates, former deputy director of central intelligence and then director, proclaimed: “[Authoritative analysis] is the bread and butter of intelligence…. Policymakers value, depend upon, and have grown so accustomed to it that this must always be our focus.” However, Gates continued, policymakers become drawn to speculative and unorthodox views, “because when presented with the ‘school solution,’ they know the world isn’t that simple, and they mistrust people who tell them there’s only one outcome.”

Miscik recalled that the initial goal of the Red Cell was to get fresh sets of eyes to reconsider the range of terror threats: “We wanted creative people who could take the existing reporting and put it back together in different ways.” Or, as Paul Frandano, who co-directed the Red Cell during its first four years, put it more directly, “Tenet charged us to piss off senior analysts. If we weren’t doing that, we weren’t doing our job.” By design, the initial Red Cell did not include any terrorism experts and only had one Middle East specialist. Members were individually selected for their analytical capabilities, creativity, and unique mindsets. They were a mix of junior analysts, one mid-level federal employee, as well as senior CIA analysts, a National Security Agency analyst, and a CIA case officer.

Some senior analysts were, indeed, pissed off that nonexperts were questioning their work, while others later acknowledged they were simply jealous of the freedoms enjoyed by the Red Cell — producing three-page memos bearing titles such as “How Usama Might Try to Sink the US Economy” and “The View from Usama’s Cave,” in which analysts speculated on what might be going through Osama bin Laden’s mind. One senior CIA analyst, Carmen Medina, thought that the Red Cell was “way too masculine and way too white in its early days,” which “means they were certainly missing out on some developing world perspectives.” Meanwhile, others never saw the point. As Philip Mudd, the deputy director for analysis in the Counterterrorist Center at the time, recalled, “I didn’t object to what they wrote, but I would always ask, ‘So what exactly do you want me to do with this?’”

Her creepy imaginary friend is called Captain Howdy

Sunday, September 15th, 2019

In Primal Screams Mary Eberstadt cites former U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, social scientist James Q. Wilson, and Elizabeth Marquardt, author of Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce, to document how the Sexual Revolution created Identity Politics:

A writer she doesn’t mention, however, is William Peter Blatty, author of the blockbuster 1971 horror novel The Exorcist. Those who have never read the novel, or are familiar only with its 1973 cinematic incarnation, probably believe the book to be a potboiler about demonic possession. But it is also an allegorical warning about the importance of the traditional family unit and the devastation wrought when it breaks down. Curiously, this aspect of the novel went largely unnoticed by the book’s earliest reviewers.

Back in 1971, the advent of no-fault divorce laws in the United States was seen in liberal circles as an unalloyed benefit for society. Thus, the book critics for most of the mainstream publications that bothered to review The ExorcistTime, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, etc. — treated the book as either a modern day pastiche of Poe and Mary Shelley, or else as a traditional story of the battle between Good and Evil. What’s odd about this is that Blatty made no effort to hide his social conservatism. You don’t have to be a postmodern literary detective to find it in the subtext. Blatty was not a subtle writer, and he set his message out on the page for all to see, although very few have ever remarked upon it.

The Exorcist tells the story of Chris MacNeil, a recently divorced American movie star, and her 12-year-old daughter Regan Teresa MacNeil, whom Chris calls “Rags.” The story takes place in Washington, D.C., where Chris has rented a home a few blocks from the campus of Georgetown University. She is the star of a movie about unrest on campus that is being filmed at Georgetown. Neither Chris nor her daughter have yet recovered from the divorce. And Regan has begun to demonstrate troubling behavior (using obscenities, operating a Ouija board with a creepy imaginary friend, lashing out at the adults around her) that leads Chris to seek help and advice, first from psychiatric professionals.

Every few pages, the reader is reminded about the absence of Regan’s father. Early in the book, as Chris is hanging up a dress in Regan’s closet, she thinks: Nice clothes. Yeah, Rags, look here, not there at the daddy who never writes. Regan appears to be in search of a substitute for the father she has lost, and television seems to be one of the places she has been looking. Her creepy imaginary friend is called Captain Howdy, clearly a reference to two TV characters popular with children of the Baby Boom, Captain Kangaroo and Howdy Doody.

I was shocked years ago, when I learned from watching the DVD extras, that The Exorcist was written as a piece of pro-Catholic propaganda.

The supercomputer from WarGames has started reading Jung

Monday, September 9th, 2019

Jesse Walker of Reason has dug up a 1956 episode of the NBC radio series X Minus One, which adapts Philip K. Dick’s short story “The Defenders” — which I’ve covered here before. Here is Walker’s description:

It’s as though the false world in The Matrix is being run by the supercomputer from WarGames, which has started reading Jung and lecturing everyone about shadow projection.

Fiction was the most effective way to communicate the essence of totalitarianism

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019

Duncan White’s Cold Warriors looks at the writers who waged the literary Cold War:

He captures something essential about [novelist Mary] McCarthy, who during the Moscow Trials of the 1930s had defied New York’s Stalinist literary establishment and whose clarity about communism suffered a period of credulity during her fierce protest of American involvement in Vietnam. But a lapse is different from a lifetime of mendacity, and McCarthy’s late-career comment about the Soviet apologist Lillian Hellman — “Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the’” — remains the most famous line she ever spoke or wrote.

Mr. White’s massive volume begins with the Spanish Civil War, that savage proxy fight between fascism and the U.S.S.R. in the years before the brief, unholy nuptials of the Nazi-Soviet pact. The English poet Stephen Spender, handsome and well-intentioned, went to Spain out of sympathy with the Loyalists and to extract his boyfriend from an imprudent enlistment with the anti-Franco British Battalion. Harry Pollitt, head of England’s Communist Party, thought a dead Spender might make an attractive martyr, and when that didn’t work out converted his disgust over the boyfriend business into leverage for blackmail. Before long Spender “began shuffling backward to liberalism,” eventually contributing an essay to “The God That Failed” (1949), the famous volume of regretful ex-Communist essays edited by Richard Crossman.

Pollitt also distrusted George Orwell ’s motives for going to Spain. As Mr. White explains, “ Orwell said he wanted to see what was going on himself before committing to anything” in what had become “a civil war within the civil war.” When he threw in with Spain’s homegrown Trotskyist POUM instead of the Stalinist International Brigades, Orwell became anathema to Britain’s leftist editors and had a hard time finding a publisher for “Homage to Catalonia” (1938), the memoir of his Spanish experiences.

Throughout this period the Soviets were collectivizing poets and novelists into a Writers’ Union; enforcing the principles of “socialist realism”; denouncing European modernists like Joyce for apolitical experiments in form; and killing off their own new undesirables: The revered short-story writer Isaac Babel met his death after exhibiting “low productivity” of work that conformed to ideological standards. Mr. White unfolds the sordid tale of Soviet literary history through all its later decades of crackdowns, thaws and renewed panics; the shunnings and imprisonments and “internal exile” that claimed Akhmatova, Pasternak and Solzhenitsyn. Andrei Sinyavsky, who pseudonymously published fiction in Western Europe and in 1960 issued a manifesto against socialist realism, was put on trial in 1966 and sentenced to seven years in a labor camp. The New York Times, with its always keen sense of moral proportion when it came to the U.S.S.R., decried Sinyavsky’s treatment as “Soviet McCarthyism.”

The United States, Mr. White makes clear, came late but more subtly to the business of “weaponized” words. In 1950, a year after the Waldorf Conference, the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), with financing from the CIA, convened a rival artistic assembly in West Berlin. “Freedom has seized the initiative!” Arthur Koestler cried from the rostrum. Over the next two decades, while the U.S. State Department sent writers behind the Iron Curtain on speaking tours, the CIA secretly funded liberal magazines such as Encounter and helped conduct operations like the one that got “Doctor Zhivago” into the hands of Soviet readers. Russian visitors to the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair could quietly obtain a smuggle-ready copy from the Vatican pavilion.

The writers sent abroad by State (Mary McCarthy among them) were hardly middlebrow boosters of Dwight Eisenhower, and a sophisticated irony resided in how “the dynamics of the Cold War made the [U.S.] government the champion of difficult elitist art — that of James Joyce, Jackson Pollock and William Faulkner — in large part because it was banned in Moscow.” Frank Wisner, who directed the CIA’s covert cultural ops, knew that liberal essays published in Encounter would have more credibility and democratic impact than right-wing huzzahs for America. Indeed, Peter Coleman ’s history of the CCF, “The Liberal Conspiracy” (1989), points out how the organization “kept its distance from political conservatism . . . magazines like the American National Review were considered outside the pale.”

The most mournful realization generated by “Cold Warriors” involves the since-diminished potency of literature itself, particularly the novel. Mr. White argues that Koestler’s “Darkness at Noon” (1940) revealed to Orwell “that fiction, rather than journalism or memoir, however scrupulous, was the most effective way to communicate the essence of totalitarianism.” Before long Koestler would be pronouncing “Animal Farm” a “glorious and heart-breaking allegory.” Even the Queen Mother read it. A few years later, “Nineteen Eighty-Four” (1949) became “not just a novel about the emergent Cold War” but “a part of it.” Orwell may have disliked attempts to turn him into a mascot for capitalism — something that Solzhenitsyn, too, would have to resist — but it was the wide appeal of serious-minded fiction that made him such an attractive ally. Mr. White’s book opens with the CIA, in 1955, making “copies of… Animal Farm rain down from the Communist sky”; they’d been launched toward Poland, in “ten-foot balloons” from West Germany — a genuinely strategic act, not just a gesture.

A star shines at the hour of our meeting

Friday, August 16th, 2019

Lee Pace, who played the elf king Thranduil in the Hobbit movies, tried to greet Stephen Colbert appropriately:

Netflix is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to produce big-budget films

Sunday, August 11th, 2019

Netflix is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to produce big-budget films:

Earlier this month, Netflix agreed to spend nearly $200 million to make the Dwayne Johnson action movie “Red Notice,” which will be filmed next year at exotic locations and also stars Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot, the people said. In addition, a person familiar with the matter said, Netflix plans to release later this year “6 Underground,” a Michael Bay-directed action film that is costing about $150 million, and Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman.”

The latter film might be the company’s riskiest bet. “The Irishman,” a historical drama likely to appeal only to adults interested in serious subject matter, costs as much as some all-ages action-adventure movies because of cutting-edge visual effects that allow stars including Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci to appear at different ages. People close to the picture said Netflix’s total commitment is at least $173 million, with some going above $200 million, making “The Irishman” the most expensive adult drama in recent history.

Netflix has previously said about one-third of its total viewing is movies, rather than television series.

[...]

Netflix has been picking up many film projects Hollywood studios didn’t see as commercially viable at the box office, at least at the same budgets. Recent examples include Sandra Bullock’s post-apocalyptic movie “Bird Box’” and the jungle-heist flick “Triple Frontier,” starring Ben Affleck. Neither was a standout with critics, but “Bird Box” drew 80 million viewers during its first month and “Triple Frontier” has been watched 63 million times since its March release, the company said, making them Netflix’s first and fifth most popular original films, respectively.

Netflix bought the rights to “The Irishman” after major studios passed because of concerns that it was too expensive for a drama, a genre that has struggled at the box office in recent years. The producers were in the midst of raising independent funds to make the film when Netflix entered. “Without Netflix, ‘Irishman’ would not have been made,” said one of the people close to the movie. “I just don’t see [other] studios wanting to dive into these projects any more. I think they are staying away from the riskier, more mature films, especially dramas.”

The Duffer Brothers explain every major movie reference in Stranger Things

Saturday, August 10th, 2019

The Duffer Brothers explain every major movie reference in Stranger Things: