Democrats from Joe Manchin to Bernie Sanders are doing a great job uniting in defense of the Affordable Care Act. Moving forward, there is a risk we will form a circular firing squad around support or opposition to single-payer health care. A better approach is to unite around universal coverage, and around various forms of the public option, so that consumers can buy into Medicare or Medicaid if they so choose.
More from me here, in a tome at Democracy Journal.
Today is the 50th Anniversary of the release of an incredibly well-made, influential, and entertaining American movie, in honor of which I re-post my review from several years ago.
Hollywood studios were in a rut in the late 1950s and early 1960s, struggling to cope with the rise of television, the loss of control of movie theaters after the Paramount case, and a widening cultural chasm between modern audience tastes and studio traditions. In desperation, the studio chiefs opened up filmmaking to a wave of young actors, directors, producers and writers who re-energized American movies, making them arguably the world’s trendsetters from the late 1960s through mid-1970s. One of the pivotal movies from this fertile period in American cinema is this week’s film recommendation: 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde.
The story opens with a bored, sexually frustrated small town girl (Faye Dunaway) meeting a charming bad boy (Warren Beatty). She questions his courage and masculinity, and he shows off by drawing a gun and committing a robbery. They flee her backwards hometown together, intoxicated by freedom, danger and each other. More daring robberies follow, and with it growing fame for Bonnie and Clyde. Soon they gather other people around them, including a slow witted ne’er do well (Michael Pollard), Clyde’s older brother Buck (Gene Hackman) and Buck’s prim, God-fearing wife Blanche (Estelle Parsons). The law of course comes after them, spurring epic gun fights and a wild cross-country chase sparked with episodes that are surreal (the mesmerizing family reunion scene, which was shot by putting a window pane in front of the camera) and comic (the best of which features Gene Wilder, in his first movie). The story’s conclusion, which I will not spoil, is justifiably one of the most famous scenes in the history of American cinema.
The sexuality and graphic violence on display here is light years apart from what Hollywood films had ever done before. This is one of the first movies to use squibs and to show bullet wounds spouting blood. The impact of the violence is further amplified through use of the choppy editing style popularized by the French New Wave. Also, in a striking reversal of the typical gender roles of films in the 1950s, the woman is the confident sexual aggressor and the man is sexually timid and indeed non-functional (in early drafts of the script, Clyde was in a gay relationship with one of the men in his gang, but in the final version he instead is impotent). The point of view of the story was also novel and in keeping with the rebellious spirit of the times: The heroes are murderers who mow down police officers without compunction.
But it is not just the sexual and violent themes that make Bonnie and Clyde a landmark American film, it is also the movie’s meditation on fame. The criminals’ exhilaration in their notoriety, their self-conscious pursuit of increased publicity and the way they are hero-worshiped by strangers highlight the absurdity of American celebrity culture in supremely effective fashion.
As for the acting, under Arthur Penn’s direction, the entire cast explodes off the screen. Parsons won an Academy Award for her performance but any of the leads and supporting players would also have been worthy choices. Last but certainly not least, Burnett Guffey’s “flat style” camerawork — a complete inversion of his remarkable work in prior RBC recommendations My Name is Julia Ross and The Sniper — is one of the lasting achievements in Hollywood cinematography. That Guffey could early in his career thrive in the deep focus, shadowy, stylized world of film noir yet later became a leading exponent of unadorned, naturalistic cinematography shows that he was truly one of the giants of his profession.
The backstory to this film has also become part of its legend. Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were of course real-life bank robbers in Depression-Era America. The script of this film was brilliantly adapted from their exploits by David Newman and Robert Benton, with uncredited help from Robert Towne. (The latter two of these men, like so many of the people associated with the film, soon became major figures in American cinema). The writers tried unsuccessfully to recruit a French New Wave director to make the movie, but none of them were ultimately interested. Fortunately, Warren Beatty saw the potential of the story and bought production rights, eventually signing Penn as the director. As a sign of how out of touch studio executives were with 1960s audiences, the suits at Warner Brothers were so sure it would bomb that they were comfortable promising Beatty 40% of the gross receipts. They barely released and minimally promoted the picture, and were not surprised when establishment movie critics sneered at it. But it hit audiences like a thunderbolt, becoming a massive box office hit. Remarkably, some chastened film critics went so far as to publicly apologize for their dismissive reviews and to write new reviews praising the movie (except for the New York Times’ insufferable Bosley Crowther, who campaigned against the film so vigorously that his bosses finally realized that it was time to find a more discerning critic). Many years later, this initially unwanted, disregarded and disrespected film became one of the first movies selected for preservation by the National Film Registry.
p.s. If any film prefigures Bonnie and Clyde in American cinema, I think it’s Joseph Lewis’ extraordinary 1950 movie Gun Crazy. If you have time for a double feature, that’s the film to pair with this one. And if you have time for a triple feature, throw in Lewis’ My Name is Julia Ross to appreciate the incredible range of cinematographer Burnett Guffey.
Columnist Salena Zito wasn’t very candid with me in a recent Twitter exchange. That’s annoying. More important, she’s missed a real opportunity to contribute genuine reporting on the rural opioid crisis.
Twitter generally conveys the emotional warmth of a contentious economics seminar without the intellectual rigor. Still, I’ve come to value my Twitter engagements with kindred spirits and others with whom I deeply disagree whose insights I value.
Ms. Zito is one person I hoped to learn from across the usual partisan and ideological lines. She is a conservative reporter and commentator who writes for the Washington Examiner, New York Post, CNN, and other outlets. Ms. Zito is most famous for her aphorism that “the press takes [President Trump] literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.” This is a genuinely valuable insight into how political professionals underestimated Trump’s electoral appeal. (It is also a profound moral evasion, but that’s another matter.)
Some time ago I made a speculative case that if and when the Republicans in Congress decide to ditch Trump as a fatal political liability, the 25th Amendment is a more attractive route than impeachment: it’s much quicker, and insulates the GOP more from its golem master. A lot of dirty linen on Russia would be aired in the long-drawn-out impeachment process, possibly implicating Republicans not part of Trump’s campaign.
The suggestion fell on deaf ears. Mark’s reaction was typical. But Trump’s behaviour keeps raising doubts over his mental capacity. For three:
- In the recently leaked transcript of Trump’s conversation over the Nauru refugees with the Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull in January, Trump seemed simply not to understand Turnbull’s simple and repeated position.
- In his famous sabre-rattling tweet, Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” if it persisted with threats to the United States. Pyongyang promptly called his bluff, leading to a massive loss to American face. Tillerson and Mattis had to walk the tweet back, restating longstanding American policy that retaliation would follow actual attacks on US allies, which Kim is no more likely to engage in than his predecessors in the dynasty. But Trump repeated the language about retaliating to threats. The latest tweet includes:
If he utters one threat, in the form of an overt threat . . . or if he does anything with respect to Guam or anyplace else that is an American territory or an American ally, he will truly regret it, and he will regret it fast.”
- Trump’s media staff are required to present him daily with a folder of press cuttings and media screenshots with only positive coverage of him personally. This is on a par with Marie Antoinette playing at shepherdesses with her ladies-in-waiting at the Trianon. Contrast the Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid, who is said to have walked the streets of Baghdad in disguise at night to hear what his subjects were really saying about him: a legend that conveys the truth that autocrats, as much as democratic politicians, must keep an accurate watch on the real currents of popular sentiment. See also Kipling on the more impressive Akbar and a real bridge he built.
Are you still comfortable with dismissing the 25th Amendment out of hand? Continue Reading…
Booker introduces bill to legalize marijuana nationwide. Congress is heading for a confrontation with Sessions over marijuana. Make America great again by legalizing weed, majority of voters say. Sessions’ task force doesn’t recommend crackdown on legal marijuana. Sessions criticizes Washington legal marijuana system. Sessions raises “serious questions” about Colorado marijuana management in letter to governor. Read the letters here.
Cannabis grower buys California town to build pot-friendly outpost. Despite California legalization, illegal pot is not going away. Pot legal in Nevada but tourists have nearly nowhere to smoke. Officials grapple with limiting pot ads at Las Vegas airport.
Not so long ago, I was smitten with a beautiful young woman. My feelings for her weren’t fully reciprocated, though she would complain to me on occasion about someone she was seeing, in that why-can’t-my-boyfriend-be-more-like-you way all-too-familiar to many of us apparently destined to be pruned from the gene pool.
As I recall, the peak of my romantic success was fetching her some boondoggle. I was eleven years old, at Camp Sisol, in Rochester, NY.
In the way of modern life, we became Facebook friends thirty-five years later. She would send me questions and firm pronouncements regarding health reform, and post the occasional ribald graphic concerning President Trump. Her chutzpah and acerbic wit remained charming. Last month, she posted some sweet missives about finding a new home for her cats, thanking the people who were providing wonderful palliative care for her advanced breast cancer.
She passed away yesterday. Today’s Facebook is alight as her family and close friends share sweet memories, including old pictures of her on our high school stage. She was perfectly cast as Golde, in Fiddler on the Roof.
RIP, Andrea. You are missed by many.
In my mind’s eye, you will always be that young girl with flowing blonde hair, fending off the flirtations of bolder, pre-adolescent boys.
In one of the most dramatic moments in the Senate in years, 80-year-old John McCain rallied from surgery and a diagnosis of brain cancer to cast a 1 am vote that torpedoed Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare — for now. The vote had been put on hold once already, to give him time to recuperate.
For all the drama, we shouldn’t be surprised that a medical emergency interfered with Senate business. The highest levels of American politics bear an uncomfortable resemblance to a gerontocracy. From the Senate to the presidency to — perhaps most strikingly — the Supreme Court, top positions are held more and more by people in their 70s or above.
Disruptive medical tragedies are an unavoidable statistical consequence of this trend, as is the risk that key political actors will develop cognitive impairment. There’s no easy solution to the problem, but it demands a frank conversation.
Reforms such as term appointments for justices could help with the problem, but it’s just as important to try to shift societal norms to take more seriously some elemental realities of human aging.
One paragraph that didn’t make it into the piece for space is also pertinent:
Where policies affecting same-sex marriage, student loans, immigration, climate change, and net neutrality are being debated, we need more young voices at the table. Particularly in safe districts with low partisan turnover, senior politicians accumulate privileges of seniority while they consolidate their personal power. Veteran politicians like Charles Rangel become difficult to dislodge, even when it’s past time for them to pass the baton.
What’s more, young adults who don’t see their issues prioritized, and who see elite politics dominated by their parents’ and grandparents’ generations can easily tune out, ceding the process to others.
I left my camera on ISO 8000 by mistake. (This shot would normally be maybe ISO 320 if the camera were on automatic.) It’s grainy, especially if cropped. But it has nice depth of field on a fast shutter speed. Kindof an interesting effect.