Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Burn the heretic!

KC over at Classic Movies was kind enough to send me this link to a blurb by Los Angeles Times columnist Patrick Goldstein, who is apparently as flummoxed as I am as to why Big Hollywood’s John Nolte is convinced that universally despised TCM weekend host Ben Mankiewicz (“Is Ben Mankiewicz turning TCM into a worker’s paradise?”) is heckbent on bringing The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ to its sniveling pinko knees:

What Mankiewicz said was this: "In an era when the political commentators who shout the loudest or 'cry' the most generate the ratings, the prophetic nature of this 1957 classic enhances its remarkable timeliness today .... Did [director Kazan and writer Budd Schulberg] drive to 2009 and see a world where television celebrity trumps wisdom, thoughtfulness and reason?"

Not only does that feel like fair comment, but the last sentence -- about celebrity trumping wisdom and reason -- actually echoes a long-held conservative belief in upholding the standards of cultural civilization, even if it may be the conservatism of H.L. Mencken, William F. Buckley and David Brooks, not the conservatism of Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck. It's true that the "cry" reference seems clearly aimed at Beck, but Mankiewicz's other comment -- about commentators who "shout the loudest" could just as easily be directed at Chris Matthews as anyone on Fox News.

In all honesty, I have to say I was a bit overwhelmed by the reaction to my original post—I figured that I get one or two observations but I wasn’t expecting the volume of responses that I eventually received. I do want to say that I appreciated hearing from all comers and that while there is some disagreement as to whether Benjy’s editorializing was cricket (clearly I’m in Goldstein’s corner on this) I think we’ve all found a little common ground in our general dislike for Mankiewicz. (Who knows—maybe he’ll end up shilling for some pharmaceutical product like former AMC host John Burke is right now—I can’t recall the product name off the top of my head, but Burke remains as annoying as ever.) If I may take the time to quote Dave Mason: "There ain't no good guys/There ain't no bad guys/There's only you and me, and we just disagree..."

I also want to thank KC for directing me to this interesting post over at Rare & OOP DVDs, which lists quite a few of the 1929-72 Warner Bros. DVD titles that they are currently weeding out of their library. (I always wanted to know how it feels to be a red headed stepchild, and now my curiosity has been satisfied.)

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KC said...

I'm a little surprised that this thing has gotten so much attention, but not shocked. The hysteria definitely fits the times. At least everyone seems to agree that 'ol Ben isn't their favorite TCM host.

The Siren said...

The outcry at BH over this single remark tossed off on a weekend show must rank as the K2 of mountains created from film molehills. As someone who just helped program a film series for TCM that is political right down to the sprockets, I find the idea that it's a "politics-free zone" ludicrous. John should know better and I think does. What he meant (I hope) is that TCM has traditionally been non-partisan, which is how most people prefer it, including me. But how is the remark you quote partisan? Oprah cries on camera too, guys, and her ratings way outrank Beck's. If you immediately thought of Beck, maybe you were already more uncomfortable with his emoting than you're admitting. The persistent comments over at BH that Lonesome is eerily like Obama are also harebrained, since (as you noted before) the story is very pointedly and explicitly about an unelected media demagogue, not a politician. Most puzzling of all is the conviction shared by most at BH that Ben must have slipped this in somehow, like a crazed leftist Howard Beale. Do they think he writes his own commentary, with zero input from anyone else?

Scott C. said...

I have no use for Mankiewicz, but if Nolte is personally offended by the fair, if not painfully obvious suggestion that A Face in the Crowd is relevant to the modern mediascape, then he's emotionally incapable of seeing a film in a larger context, and why the hell should anyone who's not a member of his immediate family read his opinions on the subject? Anybody can walk into a movie and take it on it's own terms -- nothing wrong with that -- but that sort of tunnel vision is a handicap when writing about movies -- especially old movies, that have survived precisely because they transcended their own brief moment in time.

I don't doubt Nolte's love for classic cinema, but there's two reasons I believe he should never been taken even remotely seriously as a critic: 1) His feelings are hurt if someone suggests a movie he loves offers an implied criticism of something else he loves, such as Fox News personalities. He lacks the even the most rudimentary critical detachment; and his insistence that every film (and every interpretation of every film) that he loves must flatter his infantile attachments is as blinkered as the views of the writers for L'Écran français, who insisted on seeing every movie and filmmaker through a Marxist pinhole.

Basically, he doesn't love classic films because of their superior craftsmanship or artistry, but because they're safe to love; they won't befriend you, then later stab you in the back with a hurtful remark about Glenn Beck. He's not a critic, he's a nostagliacist.

2) He thinks One Magic Christmas is among the greatest Christmas movies ever made. I disagree.

The Derelict said...

Well, I kinda think Nolte is crazy to make such a big deal out of Ben M.'s comments, but I will say this for Mr. Nolte: He actually likes a lot of what he calls "liberal" films. He gave a good review to "Che" for instance, which really surprised me.

Scott C, maybe I misunderstood your comment (and if so, mea culpa), but I think Nolte deserves credit for liking movies that don't fit into his ideological prism. The same can't be said for other conservative film blogger types.

Stacia said...

If I'm the only one who thinks Ben is a perfectly acceptable TCM host, then so be it. I just didn't realize until recently that I was in the minority on that.

policomic said...

Nolte made a fuss because Big Hollywood only exists in order to make such fusses. Their entire premise is that Hollywood=Evil Librul Conspiracy.

And it is the height of idiocy to complain about someone "politicizing" a Bud Schulberg / Elia Kazan film. (Obviously, these two cared nothing about politics! They were pure entertainers, like Zigfield!)

And I also think Mankiewicz is perfectly acceptable as a TCM host. If you don't like him, mute the TV for 5 minutes, and just watch the movie.

mike doran said...

I seem to recall that when Face In The Crowd first came out, the target was believed to be Arthur Godfrey. Godfrey was nonpolitical (on the air at least), but was notorious for being as tyrannical off-air as he was amiable on. It's said that this led Schul;berg and Kazan to imagine what a politicized Godfrey might have been like, and in the "50s, that meant such a character would tack Rightward. If they had done this film in the late '60s or early '70s, they might have done the same story about a trendy leftist. Today, the target would be a Rightist simply because that side is so predominant on cable; it would only take minor tweaking to switch the character to the Left.
Still, some things never change: the ones who dish it out are still the ones who can't take it.

By the way, since no one else has mentioned it, I noe here that on his own blog, Roger Ebert has (after a fashion) defended Ben Mankiewicz - thinks he was let down by shoddy production. His feelings about Ben Lyons are less benign...

Scott C. said...

Derelict: My feelings are mixed about Nolte. On the one hand, he does seem to have a love for ars gratia artis, while most of his colleagues at Big Hollywood and like-minded emporia are interested in movies only as blunt instruments for hammering home right wing memes. On the other hand, as policomic observes, Big Hollywood exists to make a fuss -- either feigned outrage or smug expropriation -- and Nolte is just as willing as his fellows to read conservative subtext into a film if it'll help him advance a political argument. See his contention that The Dark Knight is a heroic biopic of George Bush ("The Dark Knight may well be the most conservative movie since 300. There’s just no arguing that the Joker is al-Qaeda and Batman George W. Bush"), which is all well and good, but makes a mockery of his complaints about Mankiewicz shoehorning politics into a bit of escapist fluff like A Face in the Crowd..

The Derelict said...

Yeah, actually Scott C, I was going to make the same comment as Policomic, about this whole thing being an attempt by the Big Hollywood folks to generate traffic.

And you're right, re: Nolte and conservative messages in films. I also think Nolte has a tendency to let movies whose politics he agrees with get away with a lot more than those movies he perceives as liberal. For instance, while I enjoyed "Dark Knight," I thought it also had a severally flawed third act. I feel Nolte gives it way too much praise because he thinks its politics are Rightish.