The Irrepressible Rothbard
of Murray N. Rothbard
Edited by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.
in late January, 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
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 Fugitive, 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
In the Line of Fire, about a veteran Secret Service agent
blocking the villainous John Malkovich from assassinating the president.
Also excellent was Search for Bobby Fischer, an unusual film
that catches the spirit of the chess world and centers on a remarkable
child actor himself a chess prodigy. Further down the list but still
worth seeing as what used to be called "good hot weather fare":
Jurassic Park, 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 List;
Best Actor: Tom Hanks in Philadelphia; Best Actress: Holly
Hunter in The Piano. 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 List 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 (the latter
term always capitalized to emphasize its solemnity and to assert
its Absolute Uniqueness in the grisly world historical record of
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. Also the idea that a German
concentration camp commandant would shoot prisoners at random with
a rifle, just for the sport, goes against everything we know about
German military discipline or about the way any large concentration
camp has to be run. These dramatic scenes in the movie, of course,
have no grounding in historical fact whatever.
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 Hitler. 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?
And 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
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
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
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
Pelican Brief and Grumpy Old Men. Smart kids, even
though budding historians they ain't!
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 émigrés 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.
Puh-leeze! 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 along with her damned piano. Unfortunately,
however, even that small moment of delight was denied me, and she
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.
Directed by Guiseppe Tornatore with Philippe Noiret
Long-time readers know that I am decidedly not a fan of foreign
language movies: not because it is a chore to read subtitles, but
because they are invariably horrible examples of aggressively avant-garde,
anti-bourgeois cinema. Hating as "commercial" movies that appeal
to the average movie-goer, the foreign movie-maker proclaims his
superior esthetic sensibility by scorning interesting plot, tight
writing and directing, meaningful dialogue, glamorous photography,
or colorful settings. Instead, the typical foreign movie has zero
plot, minimal dialogue, and wastes enormous amounts of time on close-ups
of the brooding actors' gloomy faces, all seemingly photographed
in the midst of some dark and dank box. The ineffable and pointless
boredom of these motion pictures are apparently supposed to embody
the alleged boredom of bourgeois life. In actuality, it is not life,
but these infernal movies, that both embody and induce boredom.
The trouble, however, is not with foreigners per se. Italians
and Frenchmen, for example, would rather and do spend their time
watching Dallas and Clint Eastwood than waste their time
and money watching their compatriots' crummy movies. Moreover, it
was not always thus. Jean Renoir, the wonderful 1930s French movies
featuring Raimu, and much of the modern work of Eric Rohmer demonstrate
that the problem is not with the nationality or language, but with
the depraved riffraff who make today's foreign movies.
But once in a while there comes a shining exception to the rule.
In addition to granting Driving Miss Daisy its best picture
award for 1989, the Motion Picture Academy gave its foreign-language
movie Oscar to Guiseppe Tornatore's lovely, charming, funny, and
heart-warming (as well as heart-breaking) Cinema Paradiso.
Disappearing fairly quickly from the screen the first time around,
it came back in wake of the award. Go see it: it's the best foreign-language
movie in many a year, and splendid in its own right.
Cinema Paradiso is a heart-felt autobiographical valentine
by director and screen-writer Tornatore to the small town in Sicily
in which he grew up during and after World War II. The movie is
a rich tapestry of life in the Sicilian town, a town without cars
or means of entertainment except the local cinema, where everyone
crowds in to see the latest Italian or Hollywood product. The central
character Salvatore, marvelously played for most of the film by
a child actor, is fascinated by the life of the projectionist, the
center of movie magic. The projectionist, Alfredo, magnificently
played by the great French actor Philippe Noiret, reluctantly becomes
a mentor to the boy, whose father had been killed in the war. The
local priest views all the movies first, censoring out the
horrors! kissing scenes, which Alfredo lovingly clips out
When, over a decade later, the movie theater burns down, a large
shining new theater is built, funded by a Neapolitan who had just
won the lottery. (As one local complains: "Those Northerners have
all the luck!") In the new dispensation, the local priest no longer
has censoring rights, and the local youth go bananas at the love
scenes: "Kissing! After thirty years!" Loving the now grown boy,
and blinded during the fire, Alfredo orders Salvatore to leave the
stifling atmosphere of the Sicilian town, which has allowed him
no real life and to go seek his life and fortune in Rome, never
to look back.
The death of Alfredo, however, inexorably draws Salvatore, thirty
years later and famous as a movie director in Rome, back to his
home town for his funeral. He finds enormous change; the town, now
packed with automobiles and TV sets, has no more use for the movie
theater, which is being torn down for a parking lot. I won't give
away the climactic discovering of Alfredo's carefully wrought final
present for Salvatore, but suffice it to say that it's at least
a two-handkerchief (decidedly non-avant-garde) ending. Don't miss
Directed by Martin Scorsese, with Robert DeNiro
Hollywood has brought us two great, romantic genres, two forms
of movies where the war of good versus evil could play itself out
against a background of an entire complex fictive world grounded
in a present or past reality. In this world, coherent action and
struggle can emerge dramatically by heroes, villains, their rank
and file supporters, and by innocents caught in the crossfire. The
first classic genre was, of course, the Western: epitomized in Stagecoach,
the great John Wayne movies, and countless others (one of my favorites:
the long-forgotten The Bounty Hunter, in which Henry Fonda
heroically plays a privatized and highly effective law enforcer
hated naturally both by the villains and by the sheriffs
and deputies whom he outcompetes for far higher pay). Unfortunately,
the Western movie is no more, felled perhaps by endless and unimaginative
repetition, but possibly, too, by the dogged leftist insistence
in the later Westerns for the Indians to be the Good Guys and the
whites the Bad. Look, fellas, it doesn't matter what the literal
historical truth may or may not have been; the leftist reversal
the insistence on destroying familiar heroes simply
don't work, it didn't scan, and it helped destroy the Western genre.
The more recent innovative Hollywood genre, ranking with the Western,
is the Mafia movie: the clash of heroes and villains against a mythic
but reality-grounded world, updated to twentieth-century America.
Some of the great directors have contributed gems to this genre.
John Huston's Prizzi's Honor, playing off Jack Nicholson
and the incomparable Kathleen Turner, was marvelous. But the great
classic, the definitive, superb Mafia movie was The Godfathers
I and II, in which Francis Ford Coppola poured out a
work of genius, grounded in his own and novelist Mario Puzo's cultural
history, which he has never approached since.
The Godfathers were perfection: an epic world, a world of
drama and struggle, tautly organized and memorably written, beautifully
and broodingly photographed, in which greed struggled with the great
virtues of loyalty to the famiglia.
The key to The Godfathers and to success in the Mafia genre
is the realization and dramatic portrayal of the fact that the Mafia,
although leading a life outside the law, is, at its best, simply
entrepreneurs and businessmen supplying the consumers with goods
and services of which they have been unaccountably deprived by a
Puritan WASP culture.
The unforgettable images of mob violence juxtaposed with solemn
Church rites were not meant, as left-liberals would have it, to
show the hypocrisy of evil men. For these Mafiosi, as mainly Italian
Catholics, are indeed deeply religious; they represent one
important way in which Italian Catholics were able to cope with,
and make their way in, a totally alien world dominated by WASP Puritan
insistence that a whole range of products eagerly sought by consumers
Hence the systemic violence of Mafia life. Violence, in The
Godfather films, is never engaged in for the Hell of it, or
for random kicks; the point is that since the government police
and courts will not enforce contracts they deem to be illegal, debts
incurred in the Mafia world have to be enforced by violence, by
the secular arm. But the violence simply enforces the Mafia equivalent
of the law: the codes of honor and loyalty without which the whole
enterprise would simply be random and pointless violence.
In many cases, especially where "syndicates" are allowed to form
and are not broken-up by government terror, the various organized
syndicates will mediate and arbitrate disputes, and thereby reduce
violence to a minimum. Just as governments in the Lockean paradigm
are supposed to be enforcers of commonly-agreed-on rules and property
rights, so "organized crime," when working properly, does the same.
Except that in its state of illegality it operates in an atmosphere
charged with difficulty and danger.
It is interesting to observe the contrasting attitudes of our left-liberal
culture to the two kinds of crime, organized versus unorganized.
Organized crime is essentially anarcho-capitalist, a productive
industry struggling to govern itself; apart from attempts to monopolize
and injure competitors, it is productive and non-aggressive. Unorganized,
or street, crime, in contrast, is random, punkish, viciously aggressive
against the innocent, and has no redeeming social feature. Wouldn't
you know, then, that our leftist culture hates and reviles the Mafia
and organized crime, while it lovingly excuses, and apologizes for,
chaotic and random street punksviolence which amounts to "anarchy"
in the bad, or common meaning. In a sense, street violence embodies
the ideal of left-anarchism: since it constitutes an assault on
the rights of person and property, and on the rule of law that codifies
One great scene in The Godfather embodies the difference
between right and left anarchism. One errant, former member of the
Corleone famiglia abases himself before The Godfather (Marlon Brando).
A certain punk had raped and brutalized his daughter. He went to
the police and the courts, and the punk was, at last, let go (presumably
by crafty ACLU-type lawyers and a soft judicial system). This distraught
father now comes to Don Corleone for justice.
Brando gently upbraids the father: "Why didn't you come to me?
Why did you go to The State?" The inference is clear: the State
isn't engaged in equity and justice; to obtain justice, you must
come to the famiglia. Finally, Brando relents: "What would you have
me do?" The father whispers in the Godfather's ear. "No, no, that
is too much. We will take care of him properly." So not only do
we see anarcho-capitalist justice carried out, but it is clear that
the Mafia code has a nicely fashioned theory of proportionate justice.
In a world where the idea that the punishment should fit the crime
has been abandonedand still struggled over by libertarian theoristsit
is heart-warming to see that the Mafia has worked it out in practice.
And now, weighing in, in the Mafia sweepstakes, comes a much acclaimed
new entrant: Martin Scorsese's GoodFellas. This repellent
and loathsome movie, much acclaimed by all of our left-liberal critics
(including a rave review in the Marxist weekly In These Times),
is as far removed from The Godfather, in style, content,
writing, direction, and overall philosophy as it is possible to
Instead of good versus bad entrepreneurs, all working and planning
coherently and on a grand scale, GoodFellas is peopled exclusively
by psychotic punks, scarcely different from ordinary, unorganized
street criminals. The violence is random, gratuitous, pointless,
and psychotic; everyone, from the protagonist Henry Hill (Ray Liota)
on down is a boring creep; there is no one in this horde of "wiseguys"
or "goodfellas" that any member of the viewing audience can identify
with. The critics all refer to the psycho gang member Tommy (Joe
Pesci), but what they don't point out is that everyone else in the
gang, including the leader Jimmy Conway (Robert DeNiro) is almost
as fully deranged.
When Tommy kills friends or colleagues pointlessly, Jimmy and the
others are delighted and are happy to cover-up for him. All of these
goons are ultra-high-time preference lowlifes: their range of the
future approximates ten minutes, in contrast to the carefully planned
empire-building of The Godfather. Conway, after pulling off
a multi-million dollar heist at Kennedy Airport, shoots all of his
colleagues to grab all the money. This sort of behavior, as well
as the random violence of Tommy, would put these guys out of business
within weeks in any real Mafia organization worth its salt. Street
punk short-term greed and whim-worship would get you killed in short
Since there are no good guys among the GoodFellas, the audience
doesn't care what happens to them; indeed, one wishes them all to
meet their just deserts as quickly as possible, so that the movie
will be over. The rest of the film is as odious as the central theme;
the direction, as in all of Scorsese, is edgy, hurky-jerky, quasi-psychotic;
the photography, in contrast to the epic brooding of Godfather,
is light, open and airy, totally out of keeping with the theme.
The writing is flat and pointless. Great actors like DeNiro are
wasted in the movie. And the much-praised Don in the film, Paul
Cicero (Paul Sorvino) is grimly quiet and slow moving, but he too
is pointless and his role ineffectual, and therefore he fails as
any sort of menace.
Contrast the ways in which Godfather and GoodFellas
handle a common theme: the attempt of the leading Don to keep away
from traffic in drugs, and the destruction wrought by succumbing
to the temptation. In Godfather, one Mafia leader of the
old school clearly and eloquently rejects traffic in drugs as immoral,
in contrast to other venerable goods and services, such as liquor,
gambling and "loan sharking." "Leave drugs to the animals
the niggers they have no souls," he admonished. (All right,
I never said that the Mafiosi were racially enlightened.) Here is
a powerful and dramatic theme of keeping the old Mafia moral code
as against the temptation of making a great deal of money in a technologically
But how in contrast does GoodFellas handle this conflict?
Don Cicero simply orders his gang to stay out of drugs, pointing
only to the stiff sentences the Feds were handing out. And whereas
in Godfather, everyone knows that disobedience to the Don will bring
swift retribution, Conway, Hill and the other wiseguys disobey Don
Cicero and nothing happens to them. What kind of Don is that?
Clearly, the critics admire and apologize for the left-anarchic
punks of GoodFellas the way they could never admire the Mafiosi
of the Godfather, despite the universal respect for the older
movie's technical brilliance. Alas, the corrupt nihilist value-system
of avant-garde left-liberalism relates happily to the value-system
of the deranged GoodFellas. "This," say these critics contentedly
of the world of the GoodFellas, "is what life is all about.
Godfather romanticizes life (and is therefore wrong)."
Will GoodFellas succeed in wrecking the Mafia genre, the
best Hollywood discovery since the death of the Western? There is
hope, on two counts. First, I would point out that these punks are
not true Mafia; they were never "made" by the Mafia families. These
are riffraff, hangers-on, lowlifes compared to the epic grandeur
of the world of the Mafia. In fact, in the only act of violence
that makes sense in the entire movie, the only one that is not pointless
and that is eminently justified, the rotten and demented Tommy gets
his just deserts at the hands of the genuine Mafia. Told that he
will at last achieve his life-long goal of being "made" by a Mafia
family, the monster Tommy reaps his just reward. Bang, bang!
The other ray of hope is that, at long last, and after two decades,
Godfather, Part III is scheduled to hit the screens around
Christmas. What a Christmas gift! The whole crew is back, older
and perhaps wiser, continuing the great saga of the Corleone family.
The only hitch is that the superb Robert Duvall, one of the great
actors of our time and Mr. Consiglieri himself, asked for too much
money and therefore could not be included in the picture. But that's
OK. If luck is with us, Godfather III will restore our vision
of what a Mafia film is supposed to look like. Make way, riffraff
of the Scorsese famiglia! The true Don, Corleone, is back, and you,
like your creature and comrade Tommy, are going to reap your just
Directed and written by Whit Stillman
Social realism, we sometimes forget, does not have to be about
the poor, the underclass, or upwardly mobile immigrants. Social
realism, even in New York City, can be about the glamorous, wealthy,
preppie Upper East Side. In this lovely gem of a movie, this low-budget
"sleeper," Whit Stillman, in his first film, brings us a sweet,
affectionate, autobiographical valentine about WASP preppie youth
in New York. Not since George Roy Hill's wonderfully and hilarious
The World of Henry Orient (1964) has the preppie/deb life
been so perceptively and admirably portrayed.
Realistically but affectionately, Stillman shows us a slice of
life during Christmas week, when the life of these college freshmen
and sophomores is one continuous round of expansive deb parties
followed by all-night flirtations and bull-sessions. As one reviewer
marveled: these people speak in whole sentences! Yes indeed, they
are articulate, concerned about ideologies, the future of their
class (or whether it should have a future!), about their own lives,
and the intellectuals among them about literature and culture. All
this recalls the days not only of my own youth, but also of all
generations of youth until the cultural cataclysm of the late 1960s.
But the most heartwarming aspect of this sketch of college youth
today is the sweetness and fundamental innocence of these young
people. The one girl in the group who sleeps around is known to
one and all as "the slut," and it is gloriously as if the various
phases of the Sexual Revolution had never happened. The Old Culture
still lives and this fact gives all of us hope for the future of
Not, of course, that the Old Culture is or was problem-free. Many
of these young people come from broken if upper-class homes, and
suffer from paternal-and-stepmother rejection. But they cope with
these problems as best they can, with sweetness, determination,
and wit. The amiable, earnest, and artless hero, living in relative
penury on the déclassé West Side (the only spot in the film that
looks realistically grubby), is a particularly touching
case of such rejection.
This hero, by the way, begins this Christmas week as a seemingly
dedicated Fourierite socialist, but at the end of the week and the
film, agrees with his new-found friend: "Who wants to live on a
farm with a bunch of other people, anyway?"
The photography is superb: never has the Upper East Side looked
so sparkling and glamorous; the only analogue is those wonderful
Art Deco Park Avenue apartments of 1930s movies, replete with 50-foot
ballrooms, alluring gowns, seltzer bottles on the sideboard, and
Fred and Ginger doing a turn. Here was a New York that served as
a beacon and a Mecca for decades of American youth. The 30s effect
is enhanced by the camera direction. Stillman writes that a low-budget
required him to go back to the stationary cameras of that Golden
Age, and to do so without the self-conscious preening swoops and
zooms of modern cinematography, gimmicks that mainly serve to call
attention to the camera itself rather than to the life and the action
on the screen. Budget or no, the technique fits extremely well and
becomes part of the overall magic of this movie.
If you want to imbibe some hope about the future of American youth
and culture, rush to see this film before it disappears amidst the
welter of contemporary glitz, grunt, and gore. And who knows, one
muses on leaving Metropolitan, maybe even New York City,
that once wonderful Babylon-on-the-Hudson, can one day be brought
back to life.