Life Imitating Art

Over the last few days we were off in Morocco visiting the archaeologists who were playing “Mafia” (scroll down to “here’s how Mafia works”) and digging up the lower slopes of the site at Volubilis; hence no blog activity. And I learned that there’s something slightly strange about walking across the tarmac with your beloved at Casablanca airport to get onto the plane that will take you North.

In any case, I wasn’t at all tempted to stay behind with a French police officer.

And over on Planet Melanie…

Melanie Phillips has just sat through Mel Gibson’s almost-certainly-appalling new film about the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth:

Most of the reactions have focused on the astonishing sadism and violence. Very few have seen fit even to mention the way it portrays the Jews as the real killers of the son of God…

Yup. That’s probably why a google search on “Mel Gibson” and “anti-semitism” and “Passion” taken together generates, um, over twenty-two thousand hits…

Blowing Peace and Freedom

A mighty wind’s a-blowing, it’s kicking up the sand,
It’s blowing out a message to every woman, child and man.
Yes, a mighty wind’s a-blowing, ‘cross the land and ‘cross the sea;
It’s blowing peace and freedom, it’s blowing equality,
Yes, it’s blowing peace and freedom, it’s blowing you and me…

This isn’t a candidate for either the best or the worst political song of all time contest, but just a moment at which to record that A Mighty Wind — last night, the Oxford Phoenix — was every bit as enjoyable as I wanted it to be, so I’m in a good mood this morning.

Lost in Translation

The promised post by my brother Michael on this film which I mentioned four posts back is now up, responding to the piece in yesterday’s Guardian. As I say, I haven’t seen the film, so I couldn’t possibly comment…

… Though this didn’t stop me the other day denouncing as “egregious nonsense” a book which I hadn’t read, Victor Davis Hanson and John Heath’s Who Killed Homer? I came to this conclusion on the strength of Peter Green’s brutally funny review in the NYRoB, but I felt a bit bad — no, I sort of almost felt a very little bit bad — about doing that. I’ve read most of it, however, since then, and I can confirm that, on the strength of that, it is, as I suspected, egregious nonsense. Glad to have cleared that one up, and apologies for the confusion.

From Yes, Minister:

JIM HACKER: [reading a short piece about him in Private Eye] “… the egregious Jim Hacker”. [to Humphrey] What does “egregious” mean?

SIR HUMPHREY: I think it means “outstanding”, Minister… in one way or another.

Best Films Ever?

Here’s the list I sent in to the Normblog Best Movies poll, ordered by date, though the first is also the best:

Napoléon vu par Abel Gance (1927)
A Night at the Opera (1935)
Casablanca (1942)
Ladri di biciclette [Bicycle Thieves] (1948)
The Third Man (1949)
High Noon (1952)
Kumonosu jo [Throne of Blood] (1957)
Il Gattopardo [The Leopard] (1963)
La Battaglia di Algeri [The Battle of Algiers] (1965)
C’era una volta il West [Once Upon a Time in the West] (1968)

I’m pleased to see just how important good music is to most of these films: Napoléon requires an orchestra to perform properly, A Night at the Opera is all about music (and even has bearable musical interludes!), the Marseillaise scene from Casablanca is right at the heart of the film�s drama, two of these films have fine Ennio Morricone scores, one (High Noon) has the greatest title song ever (which I’ve blogged about before), another (The Third Man) has everyone’s favourite zither music.Other random thoughts: it’s a very conservative list: all of these films are generally reckoned to be masterpieces, and there’s nothing especially quirky or idiosyncratic here. It’s also a very male list, too: there are very few really interesting parts for women in any of these films (and I’m not counting Margaret Dumont in A Night at the Opera here), several of which centre — as so many films do — around the antagonistic relationships between the male principals. I’m surprised that there’s nothing French on this list apart from Napoléon (I remember enjoying La règle du jeu, but it’s too long since I saw it to have a strong memory of why it was so good, so it doesn’t make it onto this list). There’s nothing Russian. Nothing by several directors whose work I generally like quite a lot: Alfred Hitchcock, Satyajit Ray, Woody Allen. Most obviously of all, there�s nothing at all recent either, which seems odd, because I don’t usually think of myself as being the kind of person who thinks that the only really good films are the really old ones. (Last year’s City of God was splendid.) But there’s nothing here since Once Upon a Time in the West, and all of these films fit into a forty year period or so, 1927-1968, which is a striking distribution for an artform which has been around now for more than a century. Hmm.

Red flags and silver screens

My brother Michael now gets paid to write about films all day, which is a Good Thing, and he’s usefully sent me a list of leftist film people currently included in the whopping great screenonline project on the history of British cinema that he’s caught up in.

So just in case anyone else is interested, here goes: Jim Allen, the Amber Collective, Lindsay Anderson, Anthony Asquith, Ralph Bond, Alan Clarke, Sidney Cole, Bill Douglas, Cy Endfield, Karl Francis, Kenneth Griffith, Michael Grigsby, Glenda Jackson, Humphrey Jennings, Roland Joffé, Ken Loach, Joseph Losey, Kay Mander, Ivor Montagu, Harold Pinter, Vanessa Redgrave, Paul Robeson, John Taylor and Peter Watkins.

Liberty Valance

I enjoyed TMWSLV very much indeed last night [see below]; and this morning enjoyed reading Steven Lubet’s discussion in the UCLA Law Review of what might have happened if the case of The People vs TMWSLV had gone to trial.

It’s a fun article, one of whose merits it that it’s probably the law journal article with the highest ratio of words to footnotes you’re ever likely to encounter. Don’t read it, though, if you haven’t seen the film.


Norman Geras has too much time on his hands, but my goodness he uses it well.

And, on a related note, as part of my long-intended but never-really-acted-upon plan to watch more Westerns, I’m looking forward to watching The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance this evening. This is the film which, as Victor Muniz reminds us, is the unlikely case study in an excellent essay by Christine Korsgaard – which I’ve mentioned before – on Immanuel Kant and the right to revolution.

It’s no wonder, really, that we sometimes call the subject I try to teach the History of Western Political Thought…