1. In my days at Rutgers College in the late 1970s, when certain professors, who were not leftists, by the way, would tell me that the worst thing to fear is mobocracy
--I would often disagree with such a sweeping statement. And this past week, if we look at the election results in Iran
, we see once again that, contrary to fears about the "mob," if given an opportunity, the mass of people tend to vote against war mongering and hateful political leaders. Yes, this is not always true, either, but why hold the so-called masses to higher standards than the elites? Surely we should not judge elites as a general proposition simply by the current US president, for example. But back to the elections in Iran this week: We should be somewhat hopeful that a reformist movement will sustain itself this time around, unlike last time
As once said in an earlier post
, much of Iran's people like Western music and films, and further, many Iranian citizens are under 30
and see more of the bad side of religious authority in the way that those who came of age in the US in the early 1960s had seen enough of abused authority. One worrisome thing for for Iranians
is that the mullahs don't go away quietly and, instead, ferment the conditions for a civil war in Iran. Ironically, if Iran does reform its government and opens its culture, do not expect the reformers to stop Iran's nuclear program. Think instead of India. For I would bet that most Iranians want nuclear weaponry
for their own nation in the same way most Americans don't want to give up nuclear weaponry. And again, contrary to what our nation's insiders
tell Sy Hersh
, I believe Iran will successfully test a nuclear weapon within the next three years. Our nation's elites haven't been right in telling us how many years away a nation would go nuclear, except once: When US scientists
, not politicians, said the Soviets were less than five years, not twenty years, away from successful testing of nuclear weapons.
UPDATE 12/26/06: Cunning Realist echoes my hunch
about Iran gaining nukes in a shorter time than the US intelligence estimate, with a report from Israeli sources.
Life goes on and it remains, as usual, interesting...
2. I thought, at this time, to provide a not so humble guide to my favorite Christmastime films:
a. "It's a Wonderful Life"
(1946). My favorite all time film, as well. It is largely misunderstood as merely a story about how important an individual is in the community. That is definitely true, but incomplete. It is also about where
the individual is in the social hierarchy of a society, e.g., where the individual works, and the ability of that individual to effect change or protect one's community. If James Stewart's character, George Bailey, was, for example, merely the taxi driver, he would not have likely saved the town during the Depression by making sure people did not sell their shares in the town's "home building" cooperative (more socialist than a savings and loan) to the rich guy, Henry Potter (played to perfection by Lionel Barrymore). Watch the film from this perspective and listen carefully to George Bailey's speeches after his father dies and again during the scene when the bank almost fails during the Depression. And note the mature Marxist analysis behind the "never been born" scenes where the economics in a society has an effect on culture, which washes back into the economics again. This is Michael Harrington's analysis
of Marx's later writings on screen. It was also perhaps the last "New Deal" film as our nation entered a heavy propaganda period when the Cold War began to unfold. From a cinematic point of view, a viewer should also note director Frank Capra's use of shading and contrast, particularly in the wedding night scene and when George and Uncle Billy pick up George's brother Harry at the train station. It is stunning how black and white can be made so beautiful.
(Personal note: I have sometimes explained my book
on RFK surviving as an overtly political version of "Wonderful Life"...)
b. "The Shop Around the Corner"
(1940), another James Stewart film, but one that gets slighted when we speak about Christmas films or even "classic films." This film was remade twice, most recently in a film called "You've Got Mail"
with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. It was a nice remake because it changed the plot line and went from a "Charles Dickens" sensibility to a "E.F. Schumacher-small is beautiful"
sensibility. The original film nonetheless has more gentleness and humanity, perhaps owing to the environment in Hollywood film-making at the time, and is more focused, through the end, on human longing for kindred spirits and companionship. Both films, though, remind us not to judge too harshly the people with whom we come closest in contact, and warn us not to dismiss the good in other people. Frank Morgan's performance in "Shop", as the store owner, Mr. Matuschek, is brilliant in its evocation of pathos, and his presence is everpresent, even when not on screen. The rest of the cast, starting with Stewart, play off Morgan and there is a strong sense of family that emanates from the cast's performances. NOTE: Avoid the dreadful musical film remake of this film, with Judy Garland, called "In the Good Old Summertime"
(1949), which is only watchable for Garland's magnificent singing. The plot is flattened and the cast, especially Van Johnson, seems aware of how flat the writing is for this version. Again, though, "You've Got Mail" is worth a watch--and it is part of my proof for the proposition that Tom Hanks is our generation's Jimmy Stewart.
c. "Miracle on 34th Street"
(1947). It is as clear a film as can be in terms of presenting a plot line. One feels the brisk weather at the Macy's parade and the tension during the courtroom trial where Edmund Gwenn's Santa Claus is almost locked away. The New Deal politics are all over this film, too, with remarks about workers' rights, consumerism, the Democratic Party political machine in New York and unions. However, the gender role issues are fascinating to watch, with a strong, beautiful and deeply moving Maureen O'Hara filling up the screen in nearly every scene she appears. There is a poignancy in watching a young Natalie Wood, already growing up too fast. Still, this is the most pure of Christmas films in reminding us that our children deserve a right to believe in Santa and how our adult cynicism is ultimately degrading to a safe, childhood experience. Oh, and please stay away from any remakes and the colorized version of the original. They are, sad to say, without any soul.
(1992). This wrongly maligned film begins and ends at Christmastime, and therefore qualifies as a Christmas film. It is not, however, a shallow anti-war film, as nearly all corporate media critics scornfully said upon its release. In fact, this film is about wars one must fight to protect one's community. It is a metaphor for World War II, if anything. Intrigued? Then, rent this film, if you can still find it, and watch it. This film has amazing performances and is well beyond a Robin Williams turn. There is little of Williams' ad libbing, for example (However, when the ad libbing shows up during the beginning of the final battle scene in the toy factory, it is fabulous!). The performances from Donald O'Connor's opening scene, to Joan Cusack's and LL Cool J (!!) humanity (that word again), to Michael Gambon's perfectly studied bureaucratic villany, are marvelous to see. Oh, and the soundtrack music
may be the most underrated of at least the past thirty years..."Happy Workers" by Tori Amos and "Closing of the Year" are favorites of mine.
Director Barry Levinson, who wrote the screenplay with his former wife, Valerie Curtain, always shook his head at why critics were so vicious about this film. The answer is one Occam
would understand: Simply put, the critics at large media outlets hate sentiment. That is the underpinning of this and these other Christmas films. They see a portion of reality that is hateful and cynical and judge all of reality by that portion. If a film is sentimental, it is not "real" to these critics and therefore, showing sentiment is a fatal flaw deserving nothing but derision.
e. Nearly any version of "The Christmas Carol," but especially the Patrick Stewart
version, which is the closest to the book I've seen, and the brilliant musical
version from Mr. Magoo. Yes, you read that last part correctly. The songs are wonderful and the film is well worth watching (it's only an hour), even without children nearby!
As we reflect on another Christmastime, I would merely ask the people of our nation to have more faith in each other, more faith in our nation's ability to survive its challenges and current incompetents and boors who are in leadership positions, and to realize that people around the world also want better lives for themselves and their loved ones. I don't say that because I always practice that, God knows I don't, but because it is a value worth preserving and striving to achieve. Skepticism is also an important value, but cynicism is just giving up and is akin to nihilism. We owe it to ourselves and each other to highlight and exault our best, not our worst, values, especially at this time of year.