Gone Gone

I’m anti-censorship, but the moment the American president namedropped GONE WITH THE WIND in a speech as a dog whistle to his base, the writing was probably on the wall.

I’m broadly in favour of putting warnings and disclaimers in front of films — I’m in favour of introductions generally, opportunities to add context and educational value. And I’m struck by the mindset of those who find them ridiculous, offensive, unnecessary. I know the good people who run the unofficial Talking Pictures TV Facebook page, and there’s been a lot of discussion there on this subject. TPTV have had occasional complaints upheld for showing material without warnings, so they tend to play it safe and put advisory notices in front of anything that could conceivably offend anybody, to the purple-faced apoplexy of some viewers.

An advisory notice isn’t much of an issue for most of us: it’s quickly over, and then you can enjoy the film, uncensored. I have a hunch about why people get so annoyed.

For a percentage of audiences — I don’t really know how large or small a percentage — old movies are not just nostalgic because they offer a (tinted) window on the past, but they offer a chance to wallow in outdated social attitudes and pretend they’re not outdated. The crowd cheering Fuckface Von Clownstick were largely indifferent to William Cameron Menzies’ skill or Vivian Leigh’s charisma, they were really cheering (a) a time when American cinema could celebrate the Confederacy and (b) the Confederacy. When he went on to mention SUNSET BOULEVARD, they went silent and blank.

Since the pleasure for this brand of time-traveler is projecting themself into the past and enjoying the racist jokes and stereotyping and celebration of white privilege and telling themself that this is the way it ought to be, the appearance of a statement at the start saying, in effect, “These were the bad old days,” must be incredibly irritating and stressful. A tub of vaseline that’s nine parts sand.

Of course, some members of such audiences may well be also enjoying the artistry and beauty and certainly the entertainment value of the films. There’s some overlap. But for my kind of movie-lover, dubious racial or sexual politics or an insulting role for Snowflake or Willie Fung are groan-inducing or discomfiting but useful reminders of bygone attitudes. But it’s quite possible to love the films, but not love certain aspects of them.

Of course, HBO removing GONE WITH THE WIND achieves very little. But I can understand any corporation wanting to be able to say, unambiguously, “We’re not endorsing this film’s nostalgic view of a slave-based economy.” They’re just protecting themselves.

I do want old movies to be available, and ones that people may have heard of are useful gateway drugs to movie appreciation. But I share HBO’s discomfort at the idea of people uncritically consuming racist movies to coddle their own worst leanings. To hell with those people.

Stick a warning in front of it.

HBO, of course, could quietly have stuck a warning in front of GWTW without taking the film down or making any announcements — how long does it take to craft such a thing? –clearly, they wanted to perform an act of public disavowal. It’s a little cynical, in fact. But, so long as there are racists, any public gesture that reminds those people that their views are beyond the pale, unacceptable, obscene, is a little bit of a public service all the same.

45 Responses to “Gone Gone”

  1. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    My viewpoint is that, GWTW, is not a very good movie. So no cinephile has any business dying on this singularly unappealing hill. GWTW was always this movie that was kitsch (Edgar G. Ulmer called it an “American disease”), whitewashing, overlong and quite bad. The real debate was always The Birth of a Nation because that movie is racist to the core and also the vision of a talented auteur at full command of craft. Even then Griffith is valued more for his shorts and for Broken Blossoms than Birth of a Nation. Eisenstein himself said that the racism of the movie cannot be redeemed by its craft.

    Joseph McBride on Facebook and other cinephiles are defending this film on the grounds of “it can set a precedent”. But again that is tacitly allowing GWTW to be a representative film of Old Hollywood, cinephilia and so on. And even then, if someone were to put a placard in front of The Searchers, a movie I love and consider a masterpiece but is definitely racist for its casting and stereotyping of some characters, then that’s fine with me. Everyone involved in GWTW did better work elsewhere. Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire and That Hamilton Woman, Clark Gable likewise, in many other films. Cukor directed the watchable sections of the movie before he got fired (which on the whole is the best thing that happened to him since this moive doesn’t stick to him). Selznick to the extent he had talent, displayed that in Portrait of Jennie and Duel in the Sun.

    I definitely think that cinephiles have been blind to how Old Hollywood and classic Hollywood cinema is in danger of being appropriated by white supremacists who value the Hays Code era for its enforcement of segregation and miscegenation (the Code was created largely to play across the USA and that meant the South, the most active state censorship in the Pre-Code, and that meant the movies had a pro-South Catholic tinge). It’s similar to when I studied Old English two semesters back and the professor talked about how Old English studies is in danger of being appropriated by the far-right who value the Anglo-Saxon stuff in Post-Brexit area. Something like that can happen to film studies.

    And it’s not different from say the Arden edition of The Merchant of Venice having an introduction discussing the antisemitism of the text and how different people have tried to get around to it. Nobody today would stage that play the way it was originally written. A movie on the other hand can’t be restaged, so it has be recontextualized and presented differently.

  2. Mark Fuller Says:

    Wise words David. We shall speak discreetly on this subject when next we meet. But I will posit this; I do wonder how many of those viewers thst could be diagnosed as racist are in complete oblivion, let alone denial, about it. I do think for many that it’s a nostalgia for a fake past, analogous with all those Londoners harking back to a London where you never locked a door and all the brutal gangsters loved their mum. It isn’t about race issues in their conscious mind, but subconsciously…..

  3. Tony Williams Says:

    I read these debates with dismay since I see the ugly aspect of political correctness raising its head once more. So classical Hollywood film studies is now “in danger of being appropriated by white supremacists” as Anglo-Saxon supposedly is? Does this mean we should now ban classical Hollywood from the airwaves and university departments because of the stupid comments of ignorant people?. Will John Ford (described as a racist by the odious Quentin Tarantino) now be banned including THE SUN SHINES BRIGHT where Steppin’ Fetchitt displays his often-misunderstood parodies of racism and the African-American community in that film prove themselves more noble than their white masters? Do we remove Joseph Conrad from a syllabus just because he used the “N” word in one of his tales? Or should we try to look at the issue from different angles rather than act like the oppressive middle-class social workers in one episode of Griffith’s INTOLERANCE?

    I would have though the racism displayed against Bruce Lee in the light of evidence to the contrary of this man’s achievements) in QT’s last cinematic atrocity would be more cause for concern. Are we now to edit the scene of the Russian-roulette Viet Cong in THE DEER HUNTER from the film in the same way that George Lucas constantly revises issues of STAR WARS removing Sebastian Shaw to feature a lesser actor at the end of RETURN OF THE JEDI? Is the off-screen reference to GTTW in Melville’s L’
    ARMEE DES OMBRES now to be removed from future prints? One reason the film was so popular with wartime audiences (and in later revivals) was that people identified with the devastation of Atlanta in the era of the Blitz. Readings are often very complex and multifaceted and imposing dogmatic, one dimensional interpretations on different types of films is always problematic.

    This is a very dangerous slippery slope especially in the light of issues previously raised over THE GENERAL in a past thread.

  4. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    “Steppin’ Fetchitt displays his often-misunderstood parodies of racism” The notion that Lincoln Perry’s stock character was an outsize parody of racism is largely voiced by white film buffs, as a way to absolve and excuse Ford. I haven’t come across real evidence that African-Americans in that era recognized that. Like McBride’s biography of Ford, in order to defend Lincoln Perry, cites V. S. Naipaul (who was in life quite a racist and bigot towards people outside his community) as a defense without presenting real evidence to support his claims. And even then that character ultimately became a stereotype of some sort. The fact is John Ford himself in his later films with Woody Strode, strove to tell a more complex and rounded portrayal of African-Americans. Like in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, he has Woody Strode openly laugh mockingly at Jimmy Stewart’s Ransom character at one point, something that Stepin’ Fetchit never openly did in his movies.

    [ So classical Hollywood film studies is now “in danger of being appropriated by white supremacists” as Anglo-Saxon supposedly is?]
    Yeah it is. And it’s important that people accept that and get out ahead and present the more critical and complicated world of the motion picture that actually exists like people in Old English (which is the term they prefer…Anglo-Saxon Studies is being phased out since nobody at the time used that specific term and the English is infected with other influences too) are doing right now.

    “One reason the film was so popular with wartime audiences (and in later revivals) was that people identified with the devastation of Atlanta in the era of the Blitz.” Europeans were largely ignorant of the political baggage of GWTW on account of not being American. But that doesn’t mean the movie’s issues aren’t there. Braveheart is popular in parts of Asia for its national independence themes but people in the West see that as a quasi-fascist masculine-porn vanity project. To me the response to this backlash against GWTW isn’t political correctness (which is a right-wing neologism in its current usage btw) it should be, “Finally, film buffs have always hated that movie…now here’s a list of actually interesting films — Band of Angels, The Tall Target, Run of the Arrow, Intruder in the Dust”. Why claim GWTW? Let that movie die.

  5. I don’t think it’s slippery and I don’t think it’s a slope.

    What do you want to DO about QT’s depiction of Bruce Lee? I imagine nothing, you simply want to be free to condemn it, and maybe for others to join with you, and maybe for QT to apologise, which we know he’s not going to do.

    (I don’t particularly think it’s an example of racism. I think the removal of the race stuff from Manson’s “philosophy” is more problematic.)

    We’re not suggesting doing any of the things you suggest might happen next. We just think maybe putting a bit of context around a blatantly racist artifact might be useful for some people, and beneficial to civil discourse. We don’t throw the n-word about in conversation, most of us, so if dealing with a text in class that made significant use of that word, we might want to discuss it, admit that it’s an issue for some people.

    I know you’ve seen examples of PC that went too far, were ill-conceived and maybe not even sincere. I am also against that kind of knee-jerk censoriousness. But there are plenty of examples of the opposite kind of insensitivity.

    I love going to Il Cinema Ritrovato and if not for Covid-19 would be there now, but it’s a strange and striking aspect of the fest that when film’s with “problematic” content are shown, which happens often, the loooong intros never seem to mention any of this stuff. I think it’s not too much to ask for it to get a mention.

  6. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    And by the way historically in other arts, interventions by artists and critics happen all the time to prevent a work from being misappropriated or as a way to counter misappropriation. The reason so many people think of The Merchant of Venice as a play that’s critical of anti-semitism (to the point that productions overwhelmingly center on Shylock as a figure of sympathy) is because actors/producers/directors intervened to rescue Shylock starting from Edmund Kean onwards. Nobody today would stage The Merchant of Venice the way it was originally presented. In opera, Wagner’s plays were rescued from the taint of Nazism in part by Patrice Chereau’s groundbreaking Jahrhundertring production which placed the production in the context of the Industrial Revolution and class struggle. Charles Dickens for all his flaws, was stung enough by criticisms of stereotyping about Fagin that he published second and third editions of the book that toned it down (not that it prevented Fagin from being a racist figure) and in Our Mutual Friend, presented a positive Jewish character (admittedly token but still something).

    In cinema, unlike theatre and opera, you can’t simply restage GWTW with a critical anti-capitalist or anti-colonialist touch. You have the original GWTW to contend with. I am not arguing for re-editing or retouching it. But putting an introduction and placard that says, “This movie operates on the idea of the lost cause of the Civil War, a perncious and dangerous propaganda” is fine. Especially given that it’s on streaming where audiences will see it from the start unlike channel hopping on TV where people come in around the middle and so on.

  7. Tony Williams Says:

    To answer your last point first, I’m no fan of GTWTH and believe it should “wither away” to allow attention to those other better films you cite. But “political correctness” is no” right wing-neologism” but has been used by leftist critics to condemn one-dimensional interpretations used by the “pseudo-left” who go after Woody Allen when there is abundant evidence to show that he is not guilty of the accusations made against him (as the documentary cited in a post some weeks ago states. If patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel then “political correctness is the last defense of the one dimensional critical who reuses to recognize complexity and engages in knee-jerk responses.

    You also should read THE HUMAN STAIN by Philip Roth that deals with the railroading of a Jewish professor. It is very similar to the witch hunt techniques again used against this ethnic goup (though Roth is much more omplex)

    Now to Fetchitt. If you claim that it is only “white film buffs” like McBride who defend him, then why, pray, did Muhammad Ali allow him into his entourage? You will see him briefly in William Klein’s documentary on Ali. Also, years ago I was taken aback by an African-American graduate student from Chicago who told me how much Fetchit was loved by her community. At least I listened to that student, overcame my initial prejudice, and understood how Fetchitt was understood by that community. You must also understand that Ford had to move in stages and the brief musical scene between Will Rogers, Hattie McDaniel, and others speaks volumes in its potential utopian possibilities.

    Yes, the issues in GTWTW are there but wartime audiences looked on the film in a different context and that must be understood. rather than rigid one-dimensional thought.Complexity is the key not one dimensional political correctness. I once spent 30 minutes countering the objection of a gay student who stated that “All westerns were about genocide and racism” by citing the very films you do above.

    Finally, I’ll now return to David E’s link which is one of the ways that the absurdity of GTWTW can be countered – by humor and satire, not by dogmatic Orwellian censorship.

  8. So long as HBO does return the film to its platform with the promised context, we can’t really call it dogmatic, or Orwellian, or censorship.

    There’s a tendency to mock millennials for being offended by stuff us older folks already knew was offensive. But young audiences seeing GWTW and being shocked at its underlying assumptions aren’t being silly, they’re just seeing the thing with fresh eyes. We might say, “But we already knew it was offensive,” but we’ve been acting as if it wasn’t. It may not be AS toxic as Birth of a Nation but it surely deserves to be treated the same way, as a thing that shouldn’t be shown without some discussion, to avoid it being used as propaganda (Griffith’s film was used as a recruiting tool by the Klan, Drumpf has name-checked GWTW as a dog-whistle to his base).

  9. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    This article provided a history of the word “political correctness” (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/30/political-correctness-how-the-right-invented-phantom-enemy-donald-trump) and yeah its current meaning was engineered by the right. And again, just because “cancel culture” (which in its current form can indeed be absurd and childish) is excessive and overly zealous against WA, that doesn’t mean you are automatically aligned on the side of every film that attracts criticism on issues of representation and history. I’ll withdraw my points about Lincoln Perry but I don’t think the impact of his character and negative influence that it had can be safely discounted nor is Ford and others off the hook so easily for that.

    GWTW is not someone anyone in film studies should make alliance with just because you don’t like the people arguing against it. There have been instances where aesthetic issues or quibbles have led people to be overly generous to Gone with the Wind, like Gavin Lambert (who was English and a fan of Cukor and perhaps not particularly equipped to dealing with this historical issue) used GWTW as a cudgel against The Godfather (the movie that replaced GWTW as a “national epic” of American cinema). I mean say what you want about Michael Corleone, but he wasn’t a slaveowner like Scarlett O’Hara and so a far greater gangster than him. Parodies of GWTW don’t do anything against the proliferation of the original in question. Far more people see GWTW than that Carol Burnett special.

    And again Charles Dickens himself eventually altered and diluted his original depiction of Fagin and in later public readings (which is how many people consumed his novel in the Victorian era), he actually avoided doing funny accents with Fagin and so on and presented him neutrally. He altered the editions of the text so that the original version where the character is addressed as “The Jew” 250+ times more than his given name is dialled down. So this kind of thing isn’t new or uncommon. Were the English Jews who complained about this personally to Dickens agents of political correctness too?

  10. Lynching is back. As if to underscore the rhetorical violence of public monuments, one black man was lynched near a public library and the other near a government building — murders whose formal expression dovetails with the racist statuary activists have been toppling. Are we supposed to relish “art” whose seemingly permanent rah-rah perspectives on war and slave-ownership express nothing more than allegorized violence? After centuries of tolerating this nostalgic junk, people have the good sense to tear it down; and defenders of government kitsch immediately hit their empty, apoplectic noggins on pavement at the mortal affront of public speech: lived beauty destroying silent figures that require pricey, tax-payer protection from uncouth pigeons and acid rain.

    Is a Hollywood film sacred?

    I’m linking two expressions of power. Why do self-appointed defenders of “free speech” seem to believe that powerful institutions equate with individuals — worse, that these enormously invasive projects should enjoy absolute freedom while the rest of us (mere individual persons… “pfff”) should get little to no freedom?

  11. Tony Williams Says:

    David C, The Klan used BOAN much longer. Donald has just decided to use GWTW. It is another mark of desperation just like his medical remedies and he is also stirring up those who think Selznick’s film should be totally banned.

    SR, Development, alteration, and translation of characters from Shakespeare to Dickens is nothing new. But you must remember that people appreciated Wagner well before the Nazis (and afterwards beyond Chereau) and if you read Ernest Newman’s multi-volume biography of the composer as well as his WAGNER NIGHTS, you will see many different types of interpretation. Other diverse adaptations have also occurred since Chereau but Harold Bloom is also correct in his SHAKESPEARE: THE INVENTION OF THE HUMAN when he warns against travesties such as new conclusions to THE TEMPEST when Caliban does rape Miranda and sticks it to Prospero at the end – tackly and trendy politically correct endings.

    Finally, granted that not many people have now seen the Carol Burnett skit (and the show was never syndicated in the UK but what about the original time of its broadcast?) David E. is doing us a great service by providing us with another important link that here will result in nobody ever taking the original seriously again. Promotion of knowledge, recognition of satirical alternatives putting the original into its latent absurdity, are far more important than dogmatic repression and the vaporisation now suggested by our present day equivalents of Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth.”

  12. I’m in NYC where omnipresent police helicopters have parked themselves, like noisy statues, in the sky. We are abolishing police. RIP Sarah Grossman, 22. RIP movies, and the silly discussions that fetishize them — “The Great Winnowing” of cultural institutions has begun. Thank you COVID for plunging the experts into obscurity.

  13. As COVID pulverizes jobs, life becomes increasingly (let’s hope abidingly) human. White people are cop fighters; former yuppies are discovering barter, mutual aid and the fact that they have neighbors. I’m liking the looks of this emerging mode: American Middle-class Anarchism. COVID hits black neighborhoods hard. And that has become a thrust in unprecedented (multi-racial, multi-national, anti-police and increasingly anti-capitalist) activism. Cliched Hollywood relics will survive, sadly.

  14. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    The problem is that we think of criticisms of such kind in entirely right-wing terms like political correctness and now Orwellian. Orwell as is now clear, a creature of the right. He was a liar and homophobe, who misrepresented his thrill-seeking killing of an elephant, ratted out boys he thought were gay to his schoolmaster (and then projected his actions by making Eton the worst place ever), who in his final moments on his deathbed took time to prepare a list of subversives that included Chaplin’s and Robeson’s names on them. Do we really need to give such a figure unquestioned and unexamined license as language? I mean a lot of people say these days, “Orwell didn’t write that as an instruction manual” but based on what the man was and what he did, can we actually be sure of that? Edward Said himself mocked Orwell for his pretenses and his actions.

    Bloom in the same Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human asserts quite clearly that The Merchant of Venice is an anti-semitic work and that people who reinterpret and center it around Shylock are also travestying the original play. That Bloom is able to be more partial when Shakesepare attacked his community than in the case of when he’s attacking others (The Tempest) is a blindspot that many people have.

    To Daniel Ricciuto,
    “Is film history sacred?” The answer is no. It’s gloriously profane. For a long time, film history and treating cinema as art was heresy, and film buffs asserted Termite Art over White Elephant Art (and Gone With The Wind is a White Elephant in so many different senses). Gone with the Wind is not a movie that’s gonna bring people to see say Joseph H. Lewis’ My Name is Julia Ross (a movie that I saw on Criterion Channel and is very prescient in terms of the evil things that the likes of Epstein and others do). It’s not a movie that is in service to auteurism, the revival of Film Noir, the Western genre, or the B Movie ingenuity that people made progressive arguments for. Cinephiles have long thrown that out of the canon. The larger culture industry still clung to it on the classic. The way I see it we were at the vanguard of this debate, and now that the public has caught up, we are propping up the deposed royalty.

  15. Chuck V. Says:

    “I once spent 30 minutes countering the objection of a GAY student who stated that “All westerns were about genocide and racism” by citing the very films you do above.” [emphasis added]

    (Insert eye roll)

  16. Well, “gloriously profane” equates with “sacred” in this context. And I think you know that.

  17. PS — The “gl;oriously profane” period to which GWTW belongs was under the loving care of a global child rape factory AKA The Cathoilic Church and its secular foot soldiers in The Legion of Decency. So your empty (on a critical level) expression is a mere echo of layered power.

  18. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    You are right that gloriously profane is not a useful phrase. But not all classic films are tainted with baggage. Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, and Casablanca remain popular among young people, as do Film Noir movies, and even screwball comedies and musicals. Yes classical film studies are in danger of being associated with white supremacy but it’s not quite there yet and there’s still time to counter it. Someone like Martin Scorsese in his excellent documentary did a great deal to prevent that. Citizen Kane by Orson Welles is actually quite popular these days and other Welles movies hold up well…Touch of Evil’s criticism of police is quite prescient. Imitation of Life by Douglas Sirk has also come to be valued as has Carmen Jones by Preminger (even if the latter was criticized seriously by James Baldwin himself).

    A lot of the auteurist standbys are actually finding public favor these days.

  19. Sudarshan: Minneapolis, where George Floyd was murdered, has seen a supermajority — 9 members of its city council — vote to abolish the police department. A global movement coalesced in days to push back on the systemic role police play. When we demand the abolition of police departments, we threaten the domestic wing of capitalism’s armed forces. Further, in seizing what we demand from a government that refuses to take human need as its guiding principle, there’s no room for purity. Nor for those who exaggerate “violent protest” while minimizing police riots. (I’m looking at you, Bill de Blasio…) You’re not America’s most hateful politician. But you may be its most contemptible — sputtering “violence” about politically acute action to abolish your gendarmerie. Anyhow, I’m suggesting that the bulk of Hollywood film IS white supremacist in light of recent events. Worrying over the “classic” is a symptom of that infectious disease. It’s time to act, not watch movies.

  20. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    I don’t think the films of Orson Welles are in any way white supremacist though it’s debatable if he qualifies as Hollywood.I am thinking of that line of dialogue in TOSOW where Hannaford talks about how Hollywood was built on land appropriated from Native Americans, who were victims of genocide.

  21. If the tide of public opinion continues to turn, and we all look back on our complicity with appropriate shame, parsing Hollywood in search of vaguely less complicit “Ars Gratia Artis” may soon be considered mentally ill behavior. What a few weeks ago seemed a leftist fantasy — broad public recognition that police wage, now intolerable, war on black people — is changing our perspective on everything. Again, focusing on the canon is a bizarre choice when police are maiming peaceful protesters and (possibly) lynching black men.

  22. David Cairns: as you know, I have been interviewing Jonathan Rosenbaum (one proper interview and two quick one-offs, all thanks to David Ehrenstein!). Here’s an email exchange hot off the griddle…

    Me: I’ve been chiming in at Shadowplay, run by my friend David Cairns, as cinephiles worry over Gone with the Wind — and whether it is indeed Gone Gone Gone. Let me know if you’d care to go on record at The Chiseler. Personally, I think we have bigger fish to fry than worrying over the film canon.

    Him: I think your caveat that we have bigger fish to fry is correct. Nobody is “censoring” GWTW, but capitalist censorship continues to rule our culture when it comes to products that don’t guarantee making fat tycoons fatter.

  23. Yes, the power of the marketplace is far more oppressive than political correctness or any other force at work in what movies get made or seen.

    Money makes movies possible, but also imposes so many limits.

    But I’m not going to apologise for talking about movies on a movie blog. Just as I don’t believe Cannes needed to shut in ’68. (In 2020, yes.)

  24. Ha! No need for apologies. I just think that sometimes cinephiles (not you) make a strong case for abolishing the canon with their own behavior: worshiping films and yawning while human rights are being robbed.

  25. I had a long, brilliant post almost done when my laptop burped. I’ll try agin with a more concise statement:

    When people yearn for simpler days, what they truly yearn for is not having to give serious thought to consequences or implications. The Mad Men smoked, drank, and ate steaks because they wanted to. Health considerations were ignored or mocked; the sole concern was what they wanted. The same extended to matters of sex and race, of morals and justice. If the status quo was stacked in your favor, you could enjoy and even enlarge it guilt-free. You might pity the molested secretary or exploited janitor, but then you’d congratulate yourself for pitying them and all was well. Easy to find politicians, academics and preachers who’d assure you this was the correct order of things.

    For the extremely fortunate, this infantile thinking is still embraced: Rich people are genuinely shocked and offended when a showing of excess or a morally repellant opinion draws fire. It’s not so much the bad choice they defend but their absolute right to have what they want without even criticism. I imagine them keeping fine hardbound copies of the Bible and Ayn Rand side by side. They’ve read neither, but they’ll brandish them if their personal superiority and entitlement is questioned.

    There are plenty of less fortunate who cling to the fantasy they will someday be able to ignore all considerations beyond what they want at that moment, like in “the good old days”. They are led to believe that bad health choices, irresponsible behavior and voting against their own interests is standing up against the forces of oppression — lately those dang doctors and scientists who tell you to do what is inconvenient and expensive, and have the nerve to tell you to wear a mask to protect OTHER people. They also seek out religions that give the illusion of moral strength but actually license ungodly beliefs and behaviors. The evangelical movement appears to be based entirely on sex-based bigotry and opposition to abortion; hate the the right things and you get a pass on everything else. In fact, the Christian behavior you were once expected to emulate is not only dismissed but conveniently demonized with the term “Social Justice Warrior”,

    Now, how does this relate to film? On animation sites I frequent, I often find posts by fans who feel positively victimized by the fact a handful of shorts are locked up by Time-Warner. They even see injustice in being forced to endure a mute disclaimer card. Are they bigots? Perhaps. But I think it’s more a matter of rejecting consequences. They want their enjoyment “pure” — unimpaired by thought or reflection, or any civic or moral responsibility that might ensue. Children who want all dessert and no vegetable. Christians who want heaven without giving up pride, anger or hatred. Self-styled Randians who contort self-indulgence and rejection of responsibility into philosophically based virtue. The guy who tells dirty jokes and says courtesy requires you to laugh.

    And the film buff who wants to watch GWTW without the ugliness of reality intruding on the Technicolor fantasy — or even having to address that it’s a fantasy, about as factual as “Wizard of Oz”. He, without irony, takes offense that others are offended. He is outraged when his offense doesn’t trump theirs. This is not entirely about bigotry. It’s about people used to having their way without thinking about it.

    There’s an old cartoon of a father yelling at his son across the dinner table: “You ruined hot dogs for me. You are NOT going to ruin Jello for me!” Myself, I eat hot dogs and worse knowing full well what goes into them. Just as I’m aware much of my tech, my clothes and everything else I own likely comes from sweatshops. Just as I know some of my favorite authors and creators were miserable people. Just as I know tuning out the news will have consequences.

    But I need to know all that, and to recognize all that, for the sake of my health, my mind and my soul. Everything has a price, and pretending it doesn’t will not simplfiy life but ultimately destroy it.

    Now I’ll go back to being part of the problem …

    Loose bonus thought: Now and again somebody will cite a woman or a person of color as proof something is not offensive — the Good Sport gambit. I equate this with the relative or coworker who says something grossly inappropriate, then demands not forgiveness but recognition he said nothing wrong. Unless somebody has the power to physically eject him, the abused party usually shrugs it off simply to let the conversation move on.

  26. I’m sure libertarians object to the warnings on cigarettes, but I think disgruntled film fans objecting to an intro being added — a few of whom I just engaged with on FB as a result of posting this — are motivated by an incoherent racist nostalgia they’re too dumb to recognize. And with the current incumbent flattering their prejudices, every little bit of resistance is a help.

  27. David Ehrenstein Says:

    So glad everyone’s pleased by my Carol Burnett link.

    The “outcry” over GWTW strikes me as rather odd. it’s an old warhorse that many have enjoyed while others have snoozed through. It’s subject is not “The Old South” but the overweening ego of David O. Removing it from the HBO platform scarcely constitutes “censorship” as the damned thing is widely available and always has been. The “Lace Curtain Racism” of GWTW is a very small “near beer” compared to the heroin of “The Birth of a Nation” which isn’t on cable EVAH and is very rarely given a public screening. I saw it eons ago at the complete Griffith retro at MOMA, where it was met with stone cold silence. The perfect “answer” to it is of course “Mandingo” where the sexual hysteria of racism is explicated in stunning detail.

    Glad Steppin Fetchit’s appearance in William Klein’s “Cassius Le Grand” was brought up, The great and much-missed Taylor Mead declared in an article written way back when that Steppin Fetchit was “a black Revolutionary.” Food for thought.

    It has just been announced that “Aunt Jemima” will no longer appear on the cover of her pancake mix and syrup that one bore her name. Who are they going to have instead? Beyoncé? Oprah?

  28. NYT ran a story on black protests during the making of GWTW, which tends to make cries of “political correctness” a white liberal dog whistle.

  29. “Among those who saw it around this time was a teenage Malcolm X. ‘I was the only Negro in the theater, and when Butterfly McQueen went into her act, I felt like crawling under the rug,’ he wrote in his autobiography.”

  30. Or, why not let HBO pair GWTW and The Spook Who Sat by the Door?

  31. I’m not sure this is a discussion about censorship, since we’ve established that no such threat exists in the case of GWTW. Rather, it’s a glimpse inside middle-class cinephile ideology, whose reflexive paranoia sees existential threats in popular movements for systemic change.

  32. Abdul-Jabbar’s article is marvelous.

    I don’t think there’s any way for HBO to force viewers to watch both halves of a double feature.

    An intro appeals to me, because it could be entertaining and it might give work to starving film critics.

  33. It’s a strong article. “Marvelous” sidesteps the whole question of spondoolix. Becoming a cinephile means adapting oneself to a wholly middle-class perspective. One must equate “free speech” with the marketplace and, on the flip-side, “censorship” with popular movements for systemic change. George Floyd is a perceived enemy, an existential threat to HBO (and, therefor, to ideological consumers of movies.) Hence, long discussions about the imagined fate of a permanently ensconced Hollywood product like GWTW — and a concomitant lack of context on the politics of BLM.

  34. My comment about TSWSBTD (a truly revolutionary film) was just that: a horselaugh at any argument that stays within the realm of commerce when the politics assailing that world are, at least implicitly, anti-capitalist.

  35. One last earnest troll against bourgeoise rectitude and I’ll wander back into the forest. HBO is only a corporation making a public relations move, so starting an ersatz conversation is just nutty; it implies a) your belief that private tyrannies can be meaningfully engaged on the plane of moral philosophy and b) that HBO is not an engine of market-driven censorship as a matter of basic design. (Nice that you finally acknowledge this latter point deep in the thread — FOR A HOT SECOND!) Also: If you’re in a conversation about BLM protests, remember one thing… Even those apparently neutral references to “Political Correctness” are a sign of ideology at work, since the politics of PC belong to the 1990s — i.e., the irrelevant past. The aftermath of George Floyd’s murder has seen whites going toe-to-toe with cops because these protests exist in a here-and-now defined by CLASS ISSUES. The ongoing collapse of capitalism is no longer happening in slow motion but in real time. (Tee. Hee.) In other words, “Intersectionality” is antique lingo. Everyone knows in their common experience, seven-syllable words be damned, that being progressive on race means opposing capitalism in its death throes, quickening its entombment. LONG LIVE HBO!

  36. David Ehrenstein Says:

    “The Spook Who Sat By The Door” is an excellent film whose auteur was one of the stars of “Hogan’s Heroes” One of the most bizarre sitcoms in history, it turned a Nazi-run POW camp into a retread of “The Phil Silvers Show” (aka “Bilko”)

    “Political Correctness” began as a left-wing in-joke about doctrinaire types but has been swallowed up by the Right to describe The Left meaning anyone opposed to racism and homo/trans-phobia.

  37. Actually, David, Joe Stalin invented it. Decades later, it was appropriated by an American “left” that despised class politics (because it hated workers). THEN the right fashioned it as a club to beat anyone with decent politics. Hey, thanks again for introducing me to Jonathan Rosenbaum — a mensch!

  38. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Stalin beat the Nazis and won the war, you know. But it’s “Politically Incorrect” to note that fact.

  39. Grant Skene Says:

    I didn’t participate in this discussion, but very much appreciated reading all the comments. A cynic might say that HBO has successfully generated interest for new viewers wanting to see what all the fuss is about, when they do bring GWTW back. Those new viewers will no doubt discover that it is an overlong soaper, full of clichés, and a fair representation of the casual and overt racism of 1930s America. I saw the film once and have no intention of revisiting it. It was a triumph of Hollywood glitz and promotion at the time, but has no lasting value.

    I would like to hear some women’s views, though. Many women used to love this picture, and it clearly was directed at the women in the audience. Scarlett O’Hara once offered a compelling figure for the female audience. Thankfully, there are many other compelling female characters, especially since the 1970s (sarcasm). At least golden age Hollywood saw the (white) female audience as something worth catering to. And their marginalizing and stereotyping of minorities was as much to do with a production code forced on them by a racist and class-conscious ruling elite, as it was their own biases.

    Let’s not forget that culture is always discriminating against and marginalizing many people. The only group who seems to get constant and fair representation is white boob-loving, gun-toting males. I suspect modern Hollywood will pat themselves on the back for being so much more sensitive to black lives while still suggesting everyone from the middle east is a terrorist, every eastern European is a brutal gangster, and every woman should is there for eye candy or to nag the white male protagonist. But, we have successfully shamed 1930s Hollywood for their racism.

    All we can do, is keep calling this stuff out and at least make the bigots retreat to their front porch. Thank you, David, for doing that and giving us a forum to rant.

  40. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    Anti-corporate sentiments isn’t sufficient grounds to disavow GWTW from being taken to task. At the end of the day, cinephiles depend on corporations to take these old movies seriously and not grind the nitrate and destroy it for vault storage…that’s what Scorsese’s entire mission has been about. As David Cairns’ recent post on Brahm’s movie goes, Disney potentially putting the Fox movies in Vault Storage (which means those Ford at Fox and Borzage/Murnau at Fox DVD sets from a few years back is not likely to lead to Mankiewicz at Fox, let’s say) means scarcity for a lot of titles.

    A lot of people have found value in GWTW for its focus on the female perspective and as a “woman’s film” and Molly Haskell has written about how New Hollywood for all its rebelliousness led to a decline in the “women’s picture” that the Old Hollywood centered on far more. But at the end of the day, stuff like A Woman under the Influence or Wanda was made in the 70s and could never have been made in the old days.

    And even then why focus on GWTW rather than Sirk’s Imitation of Life which was a nuanced look at how gender, race and class interwove in a fine mess. Not saying that Sirk’s movie doesn’t have issues (Susan Kohner as a white girl playing a mixed-race girl is far from ideal though she and Juanita Moore act the hell out of their scenes…and you can argue in terms of optics that Susan Kohner accepting Juanita’s Annie as her mama is its own unique power). Likewise there are other excellent movies with strong female roles to choose from. Vivien Leigh’s performance as Emma in THAT HAMILTON WOMAN, or you know in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE as Blanche DuBois (semblable soeur to Scarlett). And yeah I can see why people might latch on to the idea that a movie centered on a woman made more bank than anyone, but again why GWTW when you have TITANIC (a fairly unoffensive movie) waiting in the wings to prove that argument.

  41. Grant Skene Says:

    I agree Sudarshan, there are many better women’s films than GWTW. I just felt that side needed to be said. Personally, I find it troubling that the Astaire & Rogers film that the AFI puts on their greatest 100 list is is Swing Time, showing the obliviousness to racism as Fred does blackface as tribute to Bill Robinson. Yeesh! So many better choices could have been made. Top Hat, for me.

  42. David Ehrenstein Says:

    What’s most problematic about Astaire’s “tribute” to Robinson in “Swingtime” is less the make-up than the loud flashy suit he wears. Robinson ALWAYS dressed in a well-tailored suit or a tuxedo.

    Being of Mexican heritage Susan Kohner’s casting as a “passing for white” isn’t so far off. More important her performance is absolutely magnificent. When in that dressing room scene she embraces Moore for the last time and silently mouths “Mama” I just lose it. And don’t get me started on the film’s finale — one of the greatest of all time. Lana Turner is the film’s star but at the end Susan Kohner completely takes it away from her. No wonder Sirk retired right afterwards. You can’t Top This!

  43. On a very different subject, but with overlapping themes, I just saw Spike Lee’s latest Joint. Lee can be lyrical. But NEVER when he takes on capital “H” History while wedding it to fiction.

    David: you know I spent loud, obnoxious years. screaming about the bigoted and stupid Quentin Tarantino. BUT!

    Tarantino has such godawful politics that he can fully inhabit grindhouse, even elevating the genre from within — minus sanctimony. Spike Lee is a hack preacher, almost always sacrificing story to argument (AND THEN ARGUES INCOHERENTLY) with over-the-top bourgeois self-righteousness. Lee’s racism against Asians is about as ugly as the Big R ever gets in movies. But white liberals are too guilt-ridden (as well they should be) to say boo.

    The timing of DA 5 BLOODS (arriving as it does after decades of Oliver Stone trash) makes its comic-book vision of Vietnam colossally dull. (Where the fuck is Roland Barthes to pronounce the genre “an exhausted signifier”?) Lee is willing to piss all over MLK in his hideous distortion MALCOM X, and then use MLK as a throw-away reference at the end of his buddy picture, in which a man taking a shit on Vietnamese soil finds gold. Not. Profound. Spike.

    I hear his straight documentaries are terrific.

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