Those Awards

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Writing in
late January [1994], it is already too clear that the fix is in,
even more than usual, on the Academy Awards. The earlier awards,
of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Golden Globes of the Hollywood
Foreign Press Association, and other lesser lights, have presaged
the main event.

The Oscars
have increasingly taken on the dimensions of a racket. Since the
eligible movies are those that emerge at any point during the calendar
year, and since the producers fully understand the minuscule attention
span of the typical Academy dimwit, all the Big Pictures, calculated
to appeal to said dimwit, are held back until December 30 or 31.
As a result, the experts were confidently predicting awards in late
December to movies that no one had yet seen. The major studios
have always had special previews for Academy members (i.e., Oscar
voters) for the pictures they are hyping for the awards; now, that
has been supplemented by videocassettes expressed to the homes of
each voter.

To the average
Academy moron, the only movie deserving an award is that reeking
with pretension: slow, ponderous, boring and therefore inevitably
pregnant with what the “Saturday Night Live” comic calls “Deep Thoughts.”
In recent decades, as Hollywood culture has gone sharply leftward,
this has also meant a blend of leftish nihilism and what used to
be called “social significance.” 1993 was a year even more nightmarish
for these attributes than usual. As far as Big Movies go, it was
year to head for the storm cellar.

If the Pretentious
Pictures come out in late December, the early summer is the time
for movies that people may actually enjoy: a time for the
fun movie. Last summer, even I was lulled into a false sense of
security, for the summer movies, in recent years strictly for the
teenage monster-loving crowd, were in 1993 a relatively superior
lot. The
, my own personal choice for Best Movie of the Year,
was magnificent; in pace, timing, and tight editing a throwback
to the great suspense and adventure movies of the past. It’s a taut
thriller from beginning to end, with not a moment wasted. It’s one
of the best films in many years. Other movies of last summer were
not as superior, but still noteworthy, especially Clint Eastwood’s
the Line of Fire
, about a veteran Secret Service agent blocking
the villainous John Malkovich from assassinating the president.
Also excellent was Searching
for Bobby Fischer
, an unusual film that catches the spirit
of the chess world and centers on a remarkable child actor who is
himself a chess prodigy. Further down the list but still worth seeing
as what used to be called “good hot weather fare”: Jurassic
, a fun movie if not taken seriously. (Can anyone imagine
that billionaire Richard Attenborough and his team of crack scientists
and computer mavens would construct a dinosaur park (a) in a hurricane
belt, and (b) without a protective backup if the electrified fence
went out?) Also Sleepless
in Seattle
, which however was a pathetically far cry from
the romantic comedies of the 1930s and 40s it imitates. It’s one
thing to meet by accident, lose your love, and then find her again;
it’s quite another, however, to fall in love very intensely without
ever having met. The movie also lacks the crackling wit that
is usually the hallmark of director Nora Ephron.

But don’t worry:
none of these movies will come anywhere near the Oscar bullseye.
(Except for the marvelous actor, Tommy Lee Jones, who will get the
Best Supporting Actor prize for The Fugitive when he really
deserves Best Actor.) For, as we said, the fix is in, and
the winners will be the most repellent lot of Politically Correct
cinema in many a moon: Best Picture: Schindler’s
; Best Actor: Tom Hanks in Philadelphia;
Best Actress: Holly Hunter in The
. Best Supporting Actress will probably be Winona Ryder,
in the Age
of Innocence
, a movie which is indeed pretentious but not
repellent, although La Ryder scarcely deserves the honor. The only
suspense left in the Oscars is whether the sainted Steven Spielberg
will get the Best Director spot for Schindler’s List. (The
problem is that while the entire Academy votes for the other spots,
only directors vote for Best Director, and the veteran schlockmeister
Spielberg is less than popular with his peers.) The only other suspense
at this writing is who will get the coveted spot as comic MC to
keep the interminable award ceremony going, now that Billy Crystal
has withdrawn after several years in the post.

Since I am
not a professional movie critic I am not obliged to see what I know
in advance I will dislike, so I haven’t seen either Schindler’s
or Philadelphia.
Schindler’s List is a movie which has become not only Politically
Incorrect but even taboo to be less than worshipful about, since
it purports to enable us, for the umpteenth time, to Learn About
The Holocaust.

And yet anyone
who tries to Learn About History by going to a Hollywood movie deserves
to have his head examined. Did we really learn the true story of
Moses by watching Charlton Heston, or by seeing the great Yul Brynner,
as Pharaoh, say finally, in his Siberian accent, after being visited
by the plagues, “Go, Moses, take your people and go”? Or did we
learn the facts about the monster Cromwell by seeing Richard Harris
in the hagiographical movie of the same name? And yet, we are supposed
to sit respectfully and in awe, as if we were in church,
for over three hours, to watch what is admittedly a fictionalized
version of a novel, and to act as if this is new and shattering
History we are imbibing! While Thomas Keneally’s novel was fiction
loosely based on fact, the Spielberg movie is far more loosely grounded
fiction based on the shaky foundation of a novel: fiction-squared,
so to speak.

Apart from
that, watching a concentration camp for three hours is not exactly
my idea of a fun evening at the theater; anyone who enjoys watching
concentration camps is better advised to watch the French film Shoah,
which is a full nine-and-a-half hours long, to be topped off by
Hans-Jurgen Syberberg’s absurdist seven-hour German film, Our
. Then, if your appetite for watching Nazis hasn’t
yet been slaked, you can segue to the fifteen-and-a-half hour German
film Heimat.
And then, maybe, as they say these days, we “can put it all behind
us,” and get on to other topics. Or is that too much to ask?

yet, the only criticism of the film has come from reviewers who
claim that the movie is not pro-Jewish or anti-Gentile enough,
since the protagonist Oskar Schindler, a contractor who saved Jews
in his employ, was a Gentile. At this point it is difficult to see
how Schindler could have been made to be Jewish, since if he were
he would undoubtedly have been an inmate of the camp rather than
a contractor.

The idea that
watching Schindler’s List should be treated as a religious
experience led to an amusing culture clash in Oakland, California
(L.A. Times, January 21). In celebration of Martin Luther
King Day, a group of black high school students in Oakland were
shepherded to see a showing of the movie, presumably to Uplift them
from their usual movie fare. The result: disaster. The kids acted
the way they usually do in a movie: making noise, laughing and giggling
in the wrong parts, generally not treating the picture with the
reverence that the more elderly folk there thought it deserved.

As a result,
as the theater owner puts it, “About 30 outraged patrons poured
into the lobby, complaining about the derisive laughter and offensive
comments during the atrocities when Jews were murdered on screen.
I’ve never seen such furious, hurt customers. Some were Holocaust
survivors and one woman was sobbing.” The owner thereupon stopped
the movie, and ordered all the high school students ejected.

The four teacher-chaperons
who had herded the kids there were themselves outraged at the ejection.
One, Dean of Students Tanya Dennis, claimed that the students were
“evicted unfairly, with no warning,” and she hinted that the cause
was racism: “Some elderly white people were wondering what black
kids were doing at the movie. Our kids have seen more violence and
suffered more oppression than these people.”

Perhaps the
most interesting defense of the young lads and lasses was by one
of their chaperons, math teacher Aaron Grumet, who, according to
the L.A. Times, had “lost relatives in the Holocaust.”

“Most of my
students have seen people shot, so they laughed when the shooting
didn’t look realistic. They’re not Afro-American kids laughing at
Jewish horror, they’re the inner-city, hip-hop generation, desensitized
to violence because they see it everyday.”

So what does
Spielberg expect, if he won’t make shooting scenes sufficiently

Shalon Paige,
aged 14, one of the black students in question, set forth the student
point of view: “When the Jewish girl got shot in the head, she moved
weird so some kids laughed. They didn’t have to kick nobody out.
Maybe they’re so upset at us, prejudiced because they’re white.”
Ms. Paige went on to explain the student disaffection: “They didn’t
want to see a three-hour movie in black-and-white. We don’t know
about the war. It was long ago and far away and about people we
never met.” So much for History! Other students explained that the
only reason they went on the field trip was because it included
ice skating afterward, and many of them took the opportunity to
duck out of Schindler’s List and sneak into the adjoining
and Grumpy
Old Men
. Smart kids, even though budding historians they


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As for Philadelphia,
what do you need to know about it except that its hero, Tom Hanks,
is an AIDS Victim?

This brings
me to The Piano, a movie which I fell into in a weak moment.
The Piano is far and away the Worst Movie I have seen in
many years, perhaps since what may well be the Worst Movie of All
Time, the absurdist-nihilist Fellini monstrosity, Juliet
of the Spirits
(1965). (Note: to qualify as a Worst Movie,
it has to reek of pretension and deliberate boredom: therefore,
Grade Z movies such as the latest teenage monster movie don’t even
begin to qualify.) The Piano has no redeeming feature: it
is excruciatingly slow and boring; it seems to have been filmed
in muddy brown, so that it could just as well have been in black-and-white;
it is irrational and absurdist, with characters either having no
discernible motivation or changing their motivations on a dime.
And Holly Hunter, putative Best Actress of the Year, who has always
been an irrational non-actress, reaches a nadir here, her ugly lantern-jawed
face made even uglier by being framed by a black bonnet, and her
face fixed in an unvarying expression of grim hostility. She is
also accompanied by a daughter, conceived without benefit of a husband,
of about twelve, who is equally ugly and also framed by a black
bonnet, and who is also unusually irritating for a kid actor. (Kid
actress might even cap the horror by winning the Best Supporting
Actress award.)

Hunter is supposed
to have come from Scotland to New Zealand as a mail-order bride
to what might be called a “planter,” except he and his tiny community
seem to spend all their time wandering through the jungle. Hunter
and many of the other migrs are saddled with a phony Scottish
burr so thick that it is difficult to make out much of the dialogue.
(Considering the nature of the dialogue, however, that’s probably
a blessing.)

Crucial to
the “plot” is the fact that Hunter is mute. Why is she mute? As
she points out in her voice over narration, she stopped talking
at the age of six with no idea why. So much for the comprehensibility
of these besotted characters. The film critics, who, naturally,
have all gone bananas over The Piano, gush about the fact
that Hunter “expresses herself through her music,” her music being
the piano in question. Unfortunately, we hear a lot of her piano
playing in the movie. Hunter, of course, played the piano herself
(there was no dubbing in of Van Cliburn or his moral equivalent),
and it shows. Let’s face it, Holly Hunter is a lousy pianist, and
without benefit of this excruciating movie, she would not have the
opportunity of foisting her lack of musicianship upon the long-suffering
public. But this is by no means all: the time is supposed to be
around the 1840s. OK, there was a lot of great piano music current
in that era. So is she playing Chopin, or Schumann, and at least
giving us a glorious soundtrack? Not on your tintype. What she plays
is newly composed New Age noodling, sans rhythm, melody, or structure.
So much for the authenticity of this film.

And now we
come to the toperoo of this move. The directress of this movie.
The directress of the film is the New Zealander Jane Campion, and
one of the reasons this movie has been getting a fantastic press
is because: “At last! Now the movies are displaying feminist
eroticism.” And on and on, about how erotic and “sexy” The
Piano is supposed to be.

Emetic, not erotic, is the proper term. About the only character
in the movie who both acts well and whose motives are comprehensible
is Sam Neill, the unfortunate husband, who is so Insensitive and
Male Oppressive that he actually is interested in sleeping with
his bride. Naturally, La Hunter is as surly as possible, and instead
falls into a relationship with a thuggish, beer-belly Harvey Keitel
(“How wonderful it is to see a naked male body that is not ideal!”).
Keitel, even though another jungle-walking “planter,” has Gone Native,
hangs around with dancing, happy Maoris, and has gotten his
ugly puss covered with some kind of Aborigine Tattoo or Paint or
who knows what. Keitel manages to win Hunter’s favors in an elaborate
kind of S-M game, where he will sell her back the Piano, which he,
and not the husband, had paid the Maoris to cart through the woods
to his hut, one “black key” at a time, in exchange for various degrees
of seduction. Neill is also Insensitive enough to become enraged
when he finds that his bride was fooling around with Keitel rather
than himself.

In the end,
the two “lovers” go off in a Maori canoe, carting the grotesque
Grand Piano with them. For some unexplained reason, Hunter, who
had spent the entire movie moping about her beloved piano, suddenly
decides to tell the Abos to toss the piano overboard. Her foot gets
caught in the rope, drowning her along with her damned piano. Unfortunately,
however, even that small moment of delight was denied me, and she
is rescued.

The famous
erotic scene of the two principals naked is enough to get almost
anyone to swear off pornography. Holly Hunter in addition to her
pointy jaw, has shoulders like a linebacker, and she behaves just
as grimly in the allegedly joyful sex scene as she does in the rest
of the picture.

One of the
many puzzling aspects of The Piano, indeed, is why two grown
men spend so much of their time lusting after La Hunter. At first
it seems that she is the only female in the region, except that’s
not true either, since there is a pointless skit put on at a church
by some British settlers. But even if she was the only female, and
even if Neill and Keitel’s sensibilities had been dulled by years
in the jungle, their enthusiasm for Hunter remains one of the unexplained,
irrational motivations in The Piano.

As I said,
The Piano has no redeeming feature whatever. Except for poor
Sam Neill, who deserves far better things (Neill was Reilly in that
grand British TV miniseries, “Reilly, Ace of Spies”), everyone connected
with this picture: La Campion, the actors, the costumer, the cinematographer,
the whole kit and kaboodle, should have been drowned along with
The Piano.

N. Rothbard
(1926–1995) was dean of the Austrian School,
founder of modern libertarianism, and academic vice president
of the Mises Institute. He
was also editor — with Lew Rockwell — of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report
, and appointed Lew as his literary

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part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.

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