The Remaking Of America:
"Ocean's 11", "The Magnificent Seven", and "Cat Ballou"
I. America, Before
II. "Inherit The Wind"; a trial that changed the movies.
III. The Litmus Test As A College Entrance Exam
IV. The Space Program
V. Ignoring Churchill
VI. "Ocean's Eleven"
VII. The Irrelevance of Television, Sometimes
VIII. Mazeroski, Maris and Mayhem
IX. "The Magnificent Seven"
X. The Movies That Didn't Change America
XI. Religion, Sex and Politics At The Dinner Table
XII. Orwell Redux
XIII. "Cat Ballou"
XIV. Where Do We Go From Here?
XV. America, After
Afterward by Lucas "Lou" Coppola
America is a revolutionary country. Film is a revolutionary medium. It was inevitable that the two should meet. The fact that they met at Jerry's Deli on Ventura Boulevard at 2 a.m. may or may not be important.1
Parking was not a problem at that hour, as it might have been during conventional dining hours, so that may have eased the friction that otherwise may or may not have occurred. The important thing was that they were just a party of two and so they were seated fairly quickly near the Jerry Seinfeld table. And, possibly because of the time, they ate light. Two Caesar salads with chicken, decaf, no desert.
Many critics have made much of the ordering of Caesar salads. At the annual Ides Of March banquet at the Friar's Club it has become traditional to do "bits" about the famous salad and its relationship to its namesake. Of course the primary concern at the banquet is the discussion of assassination as a tool in accomplishing the peaceful, albeit bloody, transition of power from one leader to another.2
1 They were observed by many people, as they were wearing loud golf clothes a la Hope & Crosby. Explanations for this vary. See "L.A. After Midnight" by Chandler & Bogart , "Rockford's Answering Machine" by Liz Smith, and Mulray's "Peckinpah After Dark" for additional insight on the locale for the meeting. Discussion of the meeting itself is detailed in "Discussion Of The Meeting Itself", a PBS documentary by Ken Burns, and in Pat Buchanan's "Hollywood and The Jews Who Play Golf At Formerly Restricted Clubs".
2 "From Rome To Dallas, Finding Humor In National Tragedy", by the editors of The National Lampoon And The National Review, Love Field Publishing, 1991.
This may or may not be relevant to the issue at hand, but I believe it is. For how can one discuss America and movies without reviewing what separates this country from the rest of the known world? In addition to the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and the Panama Canal, we are distinguished by our revolutionary heritage, a heritage often buried in reactionary and counter-revolutionary tendencies, but a heritage nonetheless that postulates our strongly held conviction that we value democracy, government of the people, freedom, and lumps in the throat during the playing of the National Anthem; we are further distinguished by our incredible talent at creating pithy bumper-stickers and personalized license plates-- something that doesn't happen in totalitarian countries.3
Movies, of course, play a part in our culture.4 What the author has done here, and done remarkably well, is identify the nature of our culture, the three movies that changed that nature, and how that change has affected us since.5 In addition he has, without the help of Alvin Toffler, provided us with a roadmap that may or may not be accurate for the future.6
3 For a history of bumperstickers, see "A History Of Bumperstickers" by Henry Ford, Stephen Ambrose et al, University of Michigan Press, 1939. For further information about personalized license plates, call your state department of motor vehicles.
4 "When The Quarterback's Hurt, Send In The Movies", Don Shula, Screengems/Screen-pass Books, 1972. Also, "Send In The Movies," Harry Truman & Audie Murphy, Missouri Mule Books, 1937.
5 "Don't Mess Around With Mother Nature", advertising campaign. "It's Nature's Way Of Telling You", Spirit.
6 "I Can't Believe The Toffler's Bought It", by Newt Gingrich, University of West Georgia Press, 1993.
One can argue with any of this. The three movies he pinpoints are not the ones that may come to anyone else's mind, and yet, by providing us with this list he has, de facto, forced our hands.7 He has put his cards on the table. And now it's our turn. If we choose to reject what he has demonstrated as being possibly true vis a vis "our current state of affairs", then we must do so at our own risk. And the risk of our children. Even the ones without dyslexia.8
In a time of peril most of this would be critical; in a time of tremendous peril, such as we live in now, this is more than critical. It is imperative. As has been noted, if we are not aware of the past, we will be unable to make sequels. Put another way, those who condemn repeats are bound to pass.
And put yet another way, "failure ain't nothin' 'cept nothin' left to lose".9 Thus, the importance of tests. And answers.
"The Three Movies That Changed America" provides us with the answers. Would that we provide the questions so that we may prevail.
April 12, 1861
is the date when
fired on Fort Sumter
7 For a further discussion of what to do with your hands, see "Raising Arizona", The Coen Bros., circa 1987.
8 "Thou Shalt Have No Other Dogs Before Me", King James & Marmaduke, Version Press, 1988.
In 1941, on December 7th, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. It was, as Roosevelt would later say, a day that would live in infamy. In 1836, near the end of February, Santa Anna attacked the Alamo. It, too, was a day that lived in infamy, although no one said so at the time, and may not have said so until now. And although these two events are seemingly unrelated, both have one thing in common: they are both things that happened.10
Things that happen, much to the chagrin of those who prefer to disagree, often happen for a reason. The reason may be simple or complex, overt or covert, obtuse or circular, obvious or the opposite of obvious. Regardless and irregardless, no one can doubt that history is a cause and effect relationship. This is something writers, directors, producers and gaffers have understood since the beginning of movies, and it is, in part, what makes movies so powerful.11
It's no secret that Former Senator Bob Dole, Congressman Mrs. Sonny Bono, Mrs. Former Vice President Tipper Gore, Herr Ubermucker Wilhelm "Adolph" Bennett, Comrade Josef Lieberman, and Mrs. Valerie Neufield of Teaneck, New Jersey have all been critical of movies.12 And they have their reasons. Whether the issue is decency or the opposite of decency, there is no doubt in the minds of some that movies cause culture and culture can go straight to hell in a handbasket if leniency replaces curfews.13
10 "History 101", Mr. Teaching Assistant, Emory University Press, 1970.
12 "Movies Suck", Neufield, Wash Your Mouth Out Press, 1994.
13 "Issac Hayes, 'Shaft' and the Watts Riots", Conspiracy Publishers, 1968. See also "Virtual Vitue", William Bennett & William Gates, Transparency Press, 1984, and "The Virtue Vultures", Noam Chomskey, Arianna Huffington, & Regis Philbin, Sweatshop Publishing, 1999.
As noted by Dr. Henry A. Schlesinger14 in his seminal study Two Years Before The Matinee, "...forty-eight percent of viewers stated profound results from the questions posed by interviewers. This is an increase of twelve percent in just fourteen years.". The fact that this was not a majority should not undercut the thrust of our concern: movies can amuse, but they can also create anxiety, threaten stability, destabilize community, communicate distortion and in general shred the social fabric that took decades to weave and for which many have shed their blood.15
It is the contention of this book that three movies, above and beyond all others, have indeed created anxiety, threatened stability, destabilized community and done the other stuff in the preceding paragraph including the part about the blood. These three movies are not the ones commonly thought of as revolutionary or even controversial. And that will be discussed in detail, en vino veritas, in Chapter Nine. As Albert Brooks explained in "Broadcast News", the devil will endorse mediocrity, and will do it with a smile, and we will slowly lower our standards.16 That is the insidious nature of true cultural decline, and that is what these movies, if viewed from the lens of a person who doesn't like what has happened, have done. If, on the other hand, you like what has happened, you would applaud these movies for their clever ability to change the paradigm in the midst of an actively stagnant desire to maintain the status quo.17
14 Renown author of "The Imperial Hegemony" and "Babes In China", both published by Murdoch Media Conglomerate/Mom & Pop Publishing & Groceries, 1973 and 1978, respectively.
15 "This Hallowed Ground", R. Lee, W. Sherman, ed., Rodney King Press, 1872.
16 "Albert Brooks Is My Angel", God, Heaven's Gate Publishing Corp., 1989.
17 "Buddy Can You Spare Me A Paradigm", Alfred J. Prozac, University of Depression Press, Depression Falls, W. Virginia, 1907, revised 1931, revised 1987, revised 1803 (Louisiana Purchase chapter added).
Put another way, these three movies changed America, and some people don't like that, and some do.
It is the goal of this book to define that change and to answer the larger question faced by all of us, especially every four years: how did we get here? Columbus, of course, is not the answer. Neither is Darwin. But I believe the answer lies somewhere in between. Eliot called it the shadow; those who worship movies see it as the lighted frames between the shadows. Let's watch.
I. America, Before
In the beginning, Washington created the Presidency, and it was good. In the north, men engaged in commerce, women sewed, mules carried stuff packed on their backs which gave rise to the popular phrase "pack mules", and people sang with enthusiasm and gusto about the Erie Canal. In the south, rolling hills and verdant valleys blossomed with cotton, most of which was not rotten; wealthy planters celebrated intellectual life, accents emerged, slaves toiled; it wasn't the heat, it was the humidity; and people whistled "Dixie". And, in some communities, people weren't just whistling "Dixie".18
It was a hard life, but out from under the thumb of the King of England19, unrestrained by the bonds that restrained others, the nation, as a collection of sovereign states, grew and prospered.
Washington begat Adams who begat Jefferson who begat the fourth guy who begat some others and on the seventh begat there was Jackson.20 This, of course, was all before movies were invented, so let's skip ahead.
18 "The People Who Whistled Other Things", Dave Mason & Willie Dixon, Feelin' Alright Press, a division of Hootchie Kootchie Man Publications, Memphis TN, 1971.
19 "Get Off My Union Jack", M. Jagger, interview, Rolling Stone, 1923.
20 "There Goes The Neighborhood", Martin Van Buren, University of Aaron Burr, NY, 1805.
Starting in 1946 and up until 195921 , America was a pretty safe place to raise your kids, if you weren't a Negro in the south, and if your kid wasn't threatened by juvenile delinquents.22 Things were pretty quiet, even with the radio on. Much has been written about this period, but the best description probably comes from the historian who noted "during this time, America practiced a return to normalcy, even though things had never been normal.23" Put another way, this was America's best shot at defining normalcy.
Looking closely at the period, several factors emerge: people were hopeful. They were optimistic. They were cheery. They enjoyed advertising. The Big War was over and we had won. There was money. There was the G.I. Bill and the promise and rewards of higher education. There were nifty cars. And there was television.
Who, except Negroes in the south, could deny that this was the best of all possible worlds?24 This was truly what normal was meant to be!
But an even closer examination reveals the following: there was anxiety. Otherwise, why film noir?25 And the invention and use of drugs like Valium certainly suggest something was wrong.26
21 Some place the date at 1962, the year after Maris' home run streak and the year the Supreme Court did what they did. For a further discussion of Maris, see Chapter Eight.
22 "America, A Pretty Safe Place To Raise Your Kids Up", Flo, Eddie, Kaylen & Volman, Zappa Pub. Co., 1953.
23 Unattributed quote, found on a lavatory wall, Boston University, 1859.
24 "Shut The Fuck Up, Lenny!" by the Editors of Commentary, Woody Allen Press, 1957.
25 "Film Noir, Not Just A Means Of Employing Richard Widmark and Robert Mitchum", Ken Keynes, WPA Press, 1956.
26 "The Way We Never Were", Stephanie Koontz. Author's Note: This is an actual footnote.
Many at the time concluded the Atomic Bomb and Communism were at fault.27 How could one enjoy the fruits of victory and the low price of bread, coffee, and homogenized milk with Atom Bombs and Communism hovering about, threatening the very existence of the nuclear family? What was the point of the husband returning from work saying "Honey, I'm home!" if the unspoken rejoinder was "Yeah, but not for long because the Russians have the bomb."?
By the late fifties the cracks in the normalcy were evident to those who cared to look: there was Rock N Roll, there were beatniks, there were juvenile delinquents, there was heavy petting, there was poetry in coffee houses, and the Russians had launched Sputnik; and much of this was reflected in the movies.28
There were many, though, who chose to believe these were only cracks and could be mended, that nothing deeper was wrong. And there were those who saw these cracks as the beginning of something, but of exactly what was not clear.29 For those who saw these cracks as trouble that could be fixed, censorship, curfews, behavioral codes, dress codes, indoctrination, silly putty and handwringing were used as antidotes.30
27 "It's The A-Bombs And Communists, Stupid", Richard M. Many and Jesse James Carville, Pumpkin Press, 1955.
28 "The Movies, Are They More Than Entertainment?" cover story, Time Magazine, March, 1958. "Yes They Are", article, Newsweek Magazine, April 1958. "So What Else Are They?", op ed piece, New York Times, May 1958. "They're Filled With Ideas", letter to the editor, Popular Mechanics, June 1958. "What Kinds Of Ideas?" misprint, National Geographic, July 1958. "Ideas Like These", advertisement for Grit, Superman Comics, Aug. 1958.
29 "For What It's Worth", Stephen Stills, 1965. Although this song was written in the mid-Sixties and may or may not have to do with this discussion, it does have a line in it about things not being clear, and it's a really cool song that still goes over well in bars and coffee houses.
30 "How To Repair A Country And A Country Home", publication, National Home Repairman's Association, 1957.
Congressional Committees were assembled, investigations conducted, transcripts taken: Communists were hunted down and fired, radio stations that played rock n' roll were threatened with advertiser boycotts, short educational films were produced and shown in high schools to warn of the dangers of marijuana, alcohol, pre-marital sex, socialism, acne, bad grades, wrong friends, and poor posture.31
Of concern to many, especially in the south, was the attraction of so-called "race" music.32 This heightened demands for intensified segregation. In the right hands, all of this could be fixed: blacks and whites would not mix, no one would drink, do drugs, engage in sex, ride motorcycles, sing folk songs by communist agitators and attend movies that promoted these values.33
Among those who saw this as the beginning of something that could not be fixed, there was vast disagreement as to what was what, it's value, and how to respond.34
So every time someone of repute and authority condemned beatnik poetry or rock n' roll, someone else of equal repute or authority seemed to celebrate it.35
For some this meant the moral fabric of society was being rendered asunder; for others it meant that evolution was taking place, that the moral fabric was changing to fit the moral nature of the times, a time that was expanding in awareness, consciousness and buzz words.36 And thus, the Sixties began.
31 "C'mon Kids, Let's Shape Up!" Keep It Clean Productions, 1959.
32 Ignorant people often use this derogatory term to describe blues, jazz and rock n' roll. See David Duke's "Cosmetic Thinking" for a defense of this preoccupation with name-calling.
33 "What You Can Do To Fight Communism And Preserve Transvestitism", J. Edgar Hoover/FBI Wall Poster, 1959.
34 "We Don't Know What's Going On", New York Intelligentsia Roundtable Discussion, Paris Review 1959. "We Don't Know What's Going On Either", minutes, Rotary Club Meeting, Peoria, IL, 1959.
35 "Roy Cohn vs. Ed Sullivan", title bout, Madison Square Garden, 1959.
36 "Billy Graham vs. Allen Ginsberg", title bout, Indianapolis Raceway, 1960.
COMING SOON... CHAPTER 2!