As a smart, funny description of a particular time and place, this is excellent stuff. As an insight into the conservative experience, it's less impressive. Frank's days as a suburban Reaganite may reflect the lives of many middle-class kids, but they don't say much about why someone might find conservative ideas intellectually attractive, as opposed to emotionally rewarding. I suspect one reason Frank often has trouble distinguishing free markets from crony capitalism is the fact that he didn't pay much attention to the theoretical case for markets when he was on the right, and subconsciously assumes that no one else did either. "Here was I," he writes, "a Mission Hills lad, growing up in one of the perfect regional arcadias of American capitalism, a place more like the grounds of Versailles than the average postwar suburb, and what I had managed to do was invent a romantic justification for precisely the system of social arrangements that had made Mission Hills possible."
I can sympathize. While Frank's chapter reminded me very little of most conservatives I've known, it reminded me quite a bit of my own teenage days, even though I've never been a Republican in my life. Five years younger than Frank, growing up in a liberal college town, Teen Jesse looked back with nostalgia not at the lost days before the '60s but at the lost days of the '60s themselves. My politics were skeptical, humanist, and leftist, a combination I'd absorbed from the city's old hippies, young punks, and liberal professors. Here I was, a Chapel Hill lad, growing up in one of the perfect regional arcadias of American academia, and what I managed to do was invent a romantic justification for precisely the system of social arrangements that had made Chapel Hill possible.
And what changed my mind? Well, I was already a libertarian of sorts by the time I reached college, but what made me decide I wasn't a part of the left was watching the P.C. authoritarianism of so many university progressives, a group whose high-handed bullying had more than a little in common with the frat hounds Frank faced at the University of Kansas.
Tom Frank's memoir was supposed to describe a political type. Instead it reveals a personality type. Like so much of his book, that makes for better literature than sociology.
END OF THE LINE: I was going to post more movie lists, but it seemed like time to stop. I did come up with a top ten list for 1954, but it felt padded: I was tossing in pictures that I like but which aren't anywhere as good as the films I was praising from the other years. Senso and Rififi might belong on a list of runners-up, but they aren't top-ten material -- not to my taste, anyway.
For the record, my favorite movie of 1954 is Rear Window. My favorite movie of 1944 is Double Indemnity. My favorite movie of 1934 is The Black Cat. And my favorite movie of 1924 is Sherlock Jr. I don't think I've seen any particularly good pictures made in 1914, so I'll stop again there.
1. Dr. Strangelove Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Written by Kubrick, Peter George, and Terry Southern, from a novel by George
Hollywood's most clear-eyed vision of the arms race.
2. Woman in the Dunes Directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara
Written by Kobo Abe, from his novel
Beautiful and spooky. Even better than the book.
3. Diary of a Chambermaid Directed by Luis Bunuel
Written by Bunuel and Jean-Claude Carriere, from a novel by Octave Mirbeau
Sex, crime, fascism -- the story is much older than Bunuel's version, but he makes it his own.
4. Kwaidan Directed by Masaki Kobayashi
Written by Yoko Mizuki, from a book by Lafcadio Hearn
Four Japanese ghost stories. The first is mediocre, but the rest are riveting -- especially "Hoichi the Earless," which feels like an epic medieval poem but bears no resemblance to Hollywood's "epics" at all.
5. The World of Henry Orient Directed by George Roy Hill
Written by Nora and Nunnally Johnson, from Nora's novel
Two children make a magical dérive through New York, then are initiated into adulthood. Angela Lansbury plays the bitchiest mom this side of The Manchurian Candidate.
6. Onibaba Written and Directed by Kaneto Shindo
One of the great horror movies.
7. A Shot in the Dark Directed by Blake Edwards
Written by Edwards and William Peter Blatty, from plays by Marcel Achard and Harry Kurnitz
The best of the Pink Panther series.
8. The Americanization of Emily Directed by Arthur Hiller
Written by Paddy Chayefsky, from a novel by William Bradford Huie
Reminds me a bit of Stalag 17, except it has the courage of its convictions. Relentlessly funny, relentlessly anti-heroic.
9. A Fistful of Dollars Directed by Sergio Leone
Written by Leone, Víctor Andrés Catena, and Jaime Comas, from a story by Dashiell Hammett
Hammett told this tale first, in his great novel Red Harvest. Then Akira Kurosawa made a superior samurai film of it, and then Leone and Clint Eastwood moved it to the Old West. Each time, there's something almost anarchist about the way the protagonist plays two powerful forces against each other -- someday someone should remake it with Bugs Bunny in the lead.
10. Kiss Me, Stupid Directed by Billy Wilder
Written by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, from a play by Anna Bonacci
Wilder's most underrated movie has a lot of things going for it, but the best is Dean Martin's self-lacerating performance as "Dino," the oversexed and amoral crooner.