Friday Food for Thought: 17 March 2023

This is what we’re here for, to enrich each other’s lives through art.

Martin Scorsese

Watch this great report from CBS Sunday Morning about Martin Scorsese’s important film preservation work:

I’m reading The Politics of James Bond: From Fleming’s Novels to the Big Screen by Jeremy Black. Very interesting book but I wish the author had gone into more depth. The writing feels a bit rushed, and the book could have been twice as long to allow for a more thorough work. Still, his discussion of the books is important because so much analysis focuses almost exclusively on the movies.

  • P. 85: “The [Ian Fleming] novels were primarily tales of antiterrorism, in the sense of identifying a source of terror and then destroying the most visible element of the terror at that time, rather than novels about espionage in the sense of collecting or disseminating information. The ability of the stories to work as tales of antiterrorism rested both on a public sense of being under threat and also on Fleming’s success in creating effective villains.”

A second viewing of Scarface (1932) this week, though my first viewing was so long ago I barely recall it. The anti-immigrant rhetoric is painful and I guess many Italian-Americans at the time were hurt by it. Our introduction to Paul Muni’s Tony Camonte in the barbershop must have inspired the opening shot of Robert De Niro’s Al Capone in The Untouchables (1987).

I was a big Martin & Lewis fan as a kid but their films don’t appeal to me as much these days – Lewis’ shtick doesn’t hold up so well (I still think Hook, Line & Sinker (1969) is an underrated film) and Martin was a lot more than just a straight man. I watched their Artists and Models (1955), after being inspired by an interview with director Frank Tashlin in Who the Devil Made It: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors by Peter Bogdanovich. It’s not great, but entertaining, and thankfully doesn’t go the expected direction of men-are-artists-and-women-are-models. The film works best when co-stars Shirley MacLaine and Dorothy Malone are in the scene.

Rewatched the 1998 movie The X-Files, sometimes known as Fight the Future. I used to own a copy back in the days of VHS, but thankfully didn’t bother replacing my VHS collection with the transition to DVD. I still love this movie, it feels like just about peak X-Files, and the film feels fairly well balanced between Mulder and Scully, while the series consistently short-changed Scully and made the stories too much about Mulder. The cast, music, pacing, and production values are all excellent. Captures a lot of elements of the series, tells a relatively stand-alone story, and advances the series’ mythology arc. Out of sequence with the film, I continue re-watching the series’ first season. “Fallen Angel” (S1E10) shows Mulder demonstrating real compassion for Max Fenig (Scott Bellis) during his seizure, a depth of compassion the writers had Mulder showing far too infrequently. “Beyond the Sea” (S1E13) was the first X-Files episode I ever saw, and remains one of my favorites.

Finished reading Aaron Sachs’ Up From the Depths: Herman Melville, Lewis Mumford, and Rediscovery in Dark Times. What a fascinating book. One I’ll definitely be revisiting.

  • Sachs, p. 297: “Humanness, [Mumford] insisted, was not defined by ‘the Promethean theft of fire’; it was not technology ‘that turned man into a creature so different from his primordial self.’ Rather, what truly mattered in human history was ‘the Orphic gift of music’ – our ‘playfulness’ and ‘artfulness,’ our ‘capacity to dream,’ our ‘intuition that there is more in nature than meets the eye,’ our interest in imagining the outlines of another’s consciousness, our drive to create and interpret, our passionate engagement with ‘the unknown, indeed, the unknowable.’ If you were a student, then, and you wanted to prepare yourself to help remake the world, you would have to think of your education not instrumentally, as the acquisition of technical knowledge, but humanistically, as a historical exploration of meaning-making. Societal renewal would come from each person’s making ‘time to play and experiment, time to learn, time to take in not merely the immediate environment but the remembered experience of his kind, time to grope in dream toward a distant future.'”
  • Sachs, p. 304-305: “And [Margaret] Mead’s work ultimately echoed Melville’s in suggesting that 1920s Samoans, like the nineteenth-century native peoples whom Melville encountered, had developed cultures notable for their communal care and their fostering of resilience – qualities largely absent from the neurotic, individualistic cultures of the modern West. ‘Realizing that our own ways are not humanly inevitable,’ Mead wrote, ‘nor God-ordained, but are the fruit of a long and turbulent history, we may well examine in turn all of our institutions, thrown into strong relief against the history of other civilizations, and weighing them in the balance, be not afraid to find them wanting.'”
  • Mumford, p. 320: “What our young people are saying to us in every word and gesture is that neither technological gadgets nor financial affluence nor status symbols are an acceptable substitute for a decent life, rooted in friendship, neighborliness, and all those essential facilities for life and growth, urban and rural, that money can never buy and that technological know-how can never by itself produce.”
  • Sachs, p. 355: “Melville was Mumford’s constant companion. It was Melville, with all his doubts and traumas, who sustained Mumford’s faith, perpetually helping him to reframe his perceptions. ‘I owe a debt to Melville,’ Mumford wrote, in July 1944, when [his son] Geddes was on the front lines in Italy, ‘because my wrestling with him, my efforts to plumb his own tragic sense of life, were the best preparations I could have had for facing our present world.'”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s