The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Saturday, August 06, 2016
reviewing Christina Hoff Sommers' book Who Stole Feminism? for Liberty magazine, I produced this passage about Pat Buchanan's speech at the 1992 Republican convention:
At one point, turning his fire on the environmental movement, Buchanan related the story of a woman he'd met who had lost her job because of environmental regulations. Left-liberals watching the speech on TV were probably too busy seeing red to notice that the most right-wing candidate for the Republican nomination had just complained that a woman had lost her job.
Needless to say, I wasn't arguing that Pat Buchanan was a feminist—just that feminism had clearly won a significant battle if even the most socially conservative candidate in the race wasn't batting an eye about a woman working outside the home. I was right about that, but I was wrong in my description of the speech: Buchanan did not specify that the woman had lost her job because of environmental regulations. He mentioned the jobless woman, and then he went on, right afterward, to say some other people's livelihoods had been threatened by environmental regulations. My memory had conflated the two paragraphs.

Twenty-one years later, I decided to bring up that Buchanan speech again in a blog post at Reason. This time, it being 2016 rather than 1995, I Googled the text rather than relying on my memory. And then I noticed my mistake; and now I confess my error.

posted by Jesse 5:40 PM
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Thursday, January 07, 2016

...and now we're done. I've done top 10 lists for several other years of the '20s, but I wasn't able to come up with 10 sufficiently worthy pictures from 1925. I've seen some really good ones (The Freshman! Seven Chances! The Phantom of the Opera!) and no doubt there are many more that I haven't seen. Maybe in another 10 years I'll have watched enough to give you a proper list.

For the record, my favorite film of 1925 is The Battleship Potemkin and my favorite film of 1915 is Les Vampires—or at least those installments of Les Vampires that came out in 1915. (It was a serial, and it stretched into the next year.)

I'll now put this old blog on ice til the next time I have a reason to use it. Probably in December, when I start posting these annual movie lists again.

posted by Jesse 9:02 AM
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Tuesday, January 05, 2016

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1935, it gave its Best Picture award to Mutiny on the Bounty. That's an excellent film, and it's close to the top of my list. But there's another movie that I think is better:

1. The Bride of Frankenstein
Directed by James Whale
Written by William Hurlbut and John L. Balderston

A young scientist named Frankenstein feels torn between a conventional marriage and a same-sex liason with his mentor, an old queen named Pretorius. The latter persuades the protagonist to reproduce with him through unnatural means. Upon succeeding, Pretorius proclaims himself "the bride of Frankenstein." Careless viewers assume he's referring to the couple's creation.

2. Mutiny on the Bounty
Directed by Frank Lloyd
Written by Talbot Jennings, Jules Furthman, and Carey Wilson, from a novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall

Revolution on the high seas.

3. Top Hat
Directed by Mark Sandrich
Written by Allan Scott, Dwight Taylor, Ben Holmes, and Ralph Spence

"You mean to sit there and tell me that that girl slapped your face in front of all those people for nothing?" "Well, what would you have done? Sold tickets?"

4. Ruggles of Red Gap
Directed by Leo McCarey
Written by Walter DeLeon, Harlan Thompson, and Humphrey Pearson, from a novel by Harry Leon Wilson

The first great comedy western.

5. The 39 Steps
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Charles Bennett and Ian Hay, from a novel by John Buchan

Hitchcock wouldn't perfect the lightly comic conspiracy movie til he made The Lady Vanishes, but I think it's fair to say that this is where he mastered it.

6. A Night at the Opera
Directed by Sam Wood
Written by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind

The taming of the Marx Brothers begins here, but in this case the film is so funny that you barely notice. In later pictures, alas, that will change.

7. Toni
Directed by Jean Renoir
Written by Renoir and Carl Einstein, from a story by Andre Levert

Neorealism was a film movement born in Italy in the 1940s, yet somehow Renoir made a neorealist movie in France in the 1930s. Go figure.

8. Sazen Tange and the Pot Worth a Million Ryo
Directed by Sadao Yamanaka
Written by Shintarô Mimura

"Why is that man groaning?" "He lost a game."

9. A Colour Box
Directed by Len Lye

This is one of Lye's crazed abstract avant-garde animations. It is also, technically, an advertisement for the British General Post Office.

10. Captain Blood
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Written by Casey Robinson, from a novel by Rafael Sabatini

Almost as insurrectionary as Mutiny on the Bounty, almost as kinky as The Bride of Frankenstein.

I'm not going to include a full honorable mentions list for this year, but I will give a shout-out to Max Reinhardt and William Dieterle's take on A Midsummer Night's Dream—a picture for people who like high camp in their high art.

Of the films of 1935 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in La Bandera, The Scoundrel, Pie in the Sky, and Night Life of the Gods.

posted by Jesse 4:44 PM
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Sunday, January 03, 2016

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1945, it gave its Best Picture award to Billy Wilder's The Lost Weekend. That is in no sense a bad movie, but it manages on the one hand to feel heavy-handed while on the other hand bowdlerizing its source material. I think it's one of Wilder's weaker efforts.

1. I Know Where I'm Going!
Written and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

A romantic comedy with something pagan simmering beneath it.

2. Ivan the Terrible, Part One
Written and directed by Sergei Eisenstein

Stalin had an infamously ambivalent attitude toward this film and its sequel: He endorsed the first installment, then suppressed the second when he realized the parallels to his career weren't so flattering after all. Both pictures are deliberately, grandly overstylized, like an opera or a superhero comic.

3. Scarlet Street
Directed by Fritz Lang
Written by Dudley Nichols, from a play by Andre Mouezy-Eon and a novel by Georges De La Fouchardiere

"Who do you think you are? My guardian angel?" "Not me, honey. I lost those wings a long time ago."

4. Open City
Directed by Roberto Rossellini
Written by Sergio Amidei and Federico Fellini

A ground-eye view of the resistance in World War II.

5. Isle of the Dead
Directed by Mark Robson
Written by Josef Mischel and Ardel Wray

As is often the case with Val Lewton's horror pictures, this illustrates the Thomas Theorem: "If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences."

6. Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne
Directed by Robert Bresson
Written by Bresson and Jean Cocteau

Apparently, if you combine Cocteau with Bresson you get a Buñuel melodrama.

7. The Spiral Staircase
Directed by Robert Siodmak
Written by Mel Dinelli, from a novel by Ethel Lina White

Siodmak kept pumping out these atmospheric noir thrillers in the '40s, and an awful lot of them hold up really well.

8. The Picture of Dorian Gray
Directed by Albert Lewin
Written by Lewin, from a novel by Oscar Wilde

Wilde inspired so many bad movies—delicate, middlebrow piles of reverence whose creators never forgot they were adapting a canonized Great Author. It's a special pleasure when someone actually does justice to one of his tales.

9. Children of Paradise
Directed by Marcel Carne
Written by Jacques Prevert

"Novelty is as old as the hills."

10. Detour
Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
Written by Martin Goldsmith, from his novel

I like the theory that this whole delirious tale is one man's dubious alibi for crimes he really did commit, and that the film's inconsistencies and glitches are actually just the holes in his story.

Honorable mentions:

11. Fallen Angel (Otto Preminger)
12. The Body Snatcher (Robert Wise)
13. My Name Is Julia Ross (Joseph H. Lewis)
14. Draftee Daffy (Bob Clampett)
15. Mildred Pierce (Michael Curtiz)
16. Le Vampire (Jean Painleve)
17. Swing Shift Cinderella (Tex Avery)
18. Wonder Man (H. Bruce Humberstone)
19. The Screwy Truant (Tex Avery)
20. The Wicked Lady (Leslie Arliss)

Plus a shout-out to the concerto sequence in Hangover Square.

Of the films of 1945 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in The Enchanted Cottage.

posted by Jesse 9:19 AM
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Friday, January 01, 2016

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1955, it gave its Best Picture award to Marty, a movie that's pleasant but hardly great. I prefer these:

1. One Froggy Evening
Directed by Chuck Jones
Written by Michael Maltese

This feels like folklore, doesn't it? The legend of the singing frog?

2. The Trouble with Harry
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by John Michael Hayes, from a novel by Jack Trevor Story

The most appealing portrait of rural life that I've ever seen onscreen, which surely says more about me than it says about the picture.

3. Smiles of a Summer Night
Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman

The phrase "life-affirming Bergman comedy" may sound about as plausible as "Pauly Shore's four-hour Shakespearean drama." But that—the Bergman comedy, not the Shore epic—is exactly what this is.

4. The Night of the Hunter
Directed by Charles Laughton
Written by James Agee, from a novel by Davis Grubb

"Ah, little lad, you're staring at my fingers. Would you like me to tell you the little story of right-hand/left-hand?"

5. Kiss Me Deadly
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Written by A.I. Bezzerides, from a novel by Mickey Spillane

Cold War noir.

6. Diabolique
Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot
Written by Clouzot, Jerome Geronimi, Frederic Grendel, and Rene Masson, from a novel by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac

The Hitchcockian thriller that inspired Columbo and, less happily, a terrible remake with Sharon Stone.

7. East of Eden
Directed by Elia Kazan
Written by Paul Osborn, from a novel by John Steinbeck

"I'm not my brother's keeper."

8. Pather Panchali
Directed by Satyajit Ray
Written by Ray and Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, from a novel by Bandyopadhyay

I saw this one in a film class when I was 18. N.B.: I think I was the only one who liked it.

9. Night and Fog
Directed by Alain Resnais
Written by Jean Cayrol

The standard against which I measure all other Holocaust films.

10. The Man from Laramie
Directed by Anthony Mann
Written by Philip Yordan and Frank Burt, from a story by Thomas T. Flynn

Lear in the old west.

Honorable mentions:

11. Rebel Without a Cause (Nicholas Ray)
12. Ordet (Carl Dreyer)
13. Rififi (Jules Dassin)
14. Mama Don't Allow (Karel Reisz, Tony Richardson)
15. Cellbound (Tex Avery)
16. The Far Country (Anthony Mann)
17. Hare-Brush (Friz Freleng)
18. The Criminal Life of Archibaldo De La Cruz (Luis Buñuel)
19. Gumbasia (Art Clokey)
20. Killer's Kiss (Stanley Kubrick)

Of the films of 1955 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in The Phenix City Story and The Tall Men.

posted by Jesse 8:45 PM
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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1965, it gave its Best Picture award to The Sound of Music. It's hip to denigrate that movie, but I'm willing to defend it. I'm not going to put it on my list, though:

1. Repulsion
Directed by Roman Polanski
Written by Polanski, Gerard Brach, and David Stone

The most claustrophobic and horrific of Polanki's claustrophobic horror movies.

2. The Saragossa Manuscript
Directed by Wojciech Has
Written by Tadeusz Kwiatkowski, from a novel by Jan Potocki

A story within a story within a story within a...

3. The Battle of Algiers
Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo
Written by Pontecorvo and Franco Solinas

In the '60s, would-be Guevaras watched this to teach themselves revolution; four decades later, the Pentagon screened it for tips on fighting terror. Whatever else they found in it, both groups got to see one hell of a movie—a film so utterly unflinching in its amorality that it feels more like a dispassionate documentary than a propaganda picture.

4. The Loved One
Directed by Tony Richardson
Written by Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood, from a novel by Evelyn Waugh

The Duck Soup of pet cemetery movies.

5. King Rat
Directed by Bryan Forbes
Written by Forbes, from a novel by James Clavell

"If you don't want to eat it, you can sit and watch. It's a free prison!"

6. It Happened Here
Written and directed by Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo

An alternate-history tale in which Britain falls under Nazi rule. A story about life under occupation, and the ease with which people in such a situation can become collaborators.

7. A Game with Stones
Written and directed by Jan Švankmajer

The stones of the title arrange themselves into simple shapes, into more intricate patterns, and eventually into human beings who swallow each other. If that doesn't sound good enough to belong on one of these lists, well, it isn't easy to describe the plot of a Dali painting either.

8. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
Directed by Martin Ritt
Written by Paul Dehn and Guy Trosper, from a novel by John Le Carre

In Le Carre's bleak story, the intelligence agencies of the Cold War aren't entirely separate—more like competing forces within one vast corrupting system.

9. Mickey One
Directed by Arthur Penn
Written by Alan Surgal

The most surreal mob movie I've seen, and a prototype for the conspiracy thrillers of the '70s.

10. Simon of the Desert
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Written by Buñuel and Julio Alejandro

A meditating monk faces off with the devil. This being Buñuel, there's no reason to assume the devil will lose.

Honorable mentions:

11. Chimes at Midnight (Orson Welles)
12. Looking for Mushrooms (Bruce Conner)
13. Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (Robert Aldrich)
14. For a Few Dollars More (Sergio Leone)
15. Major Dundee (Sam Peckinpah)
16. The Pawnbroker (Sidney Lumet)
17. Time Piece (Jim Henson)
18. The Hand (Jiří Trnka)
19. Alphaville (Jean-Luc Godard)
20. Mirage (Edward Dmytryk)

Of the films of 1965 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Red Beard, Le Bonheur, A Fugitive from the Past, and The Shop on Main Street.

posted by Jesse 11:19 PM
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Monday, December 28, 2015

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1975, it gave its Best Picture award to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. That only made it to #3 on my list, but there's no shame in that—any of my top seven here are better than my #1 picks for '85 and '05.

1. Nashville
Directed by Robert Altman
Written by Joan Tewkesbury

Some of my friends dismiss Nashville as a smug left-coaster giving a raspberry to flyover country. To them I point out that the least sympathetic characters in the whole vast cast are the rocker from L.A. and the reporter from the U.K. Altman's scorn is nothing if not universal.

2. Welfare
Directed by Fredric Wiseman

The great epic of American bureaucracy.

3. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Directed by Milos Forman
Written by Bo Goldman and Lawrence Hauben, from a novel by Ken Kesey

Beneath this scathing attack on the nanny state you'll find an invisible fissure in the counterculture. Imagine some young hipster watching All in the Family one night in 1975 and then heading out for a late screening of this movie, never dreaming that Rob Reiner would turn out to have more in common with Nurse Ratched than with McMurphy.

4. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones
Written by Gilliam, Jones, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, and Michael Palin

Years of inept quotation by teenage geeks with bad English accents can't smother the comic genius of this movie.

5. Love and Death
Written and directed by Woody Allen

"Boris, you're a coward!" "Yes, but I'm a militant coward."

6. Dog Day Afternoon
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Written by Frank Pierson

Best bank-robbery movie ever.

7. Night Moves
Directed by Arthur Penn
Written by Alan Sharp

"Do you ask these questions because you want to know the answer or is it just something you think a detective should do?"

8. Picnic at Hanging Rock
Directed by Peter Weir
Written by Cliff Green, from a novel by Joan Lindsay

To understand the mass media's fixation on disappearing white girls, start here.

9. Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer
Directed by Thom Andersen

The prehistory of the movies.

10. Jaws
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb, from Benchley's novel

There's a handful of Spielberg movies that I like, but if all his pictures were to disappear tomorrow this is the only one I'd miss.

Honorable mentions:

11. Fox and His Friends (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
12. Grey Gardens (Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer)
13. Organism (Hilary Harris)
14. The Man Who Would Be King (John Huston)
15. Shivers (David Cronenberg)
16. Posse (Kirk Douglas)
17. Monsieur Pointu (André Leduc, Bernard Longpré)
18. Three Days of the Condor (Sydney Pollack)
19. The Magic Flute (Ingmar Bergman)
20. Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick)

How good a year for movies was 1975? That top 10 list features the best Wiseman film I've seen, the best Forman film I've seen, the best Gilliam (as director, at least), the best Lumet, the best Penn, the best Weir, the best Spielberg. And while I don't think that's Woody Allen's best movie, I do think it's his funniest.

(Regular readers may be feeling a bit of déjà vu, because Monty Python and the Holy Grail appeared in my 1974 list too. Sorry: I was misinformed about when it had its premiere. If you want to beef the '74 list back up to 20 movies, now that Holy Grail has been taken away from it, you can add Ali: Fear Eat the Soul to the honorable mentions.)

Of the films of 1975 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Dersu Uzala.

posted by Jesse 10:41 AM
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