Archive for HBO

Gone Gone

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , on June 16, 2020 by dcairns

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movies are not just nostalgic because they offer a (tinted) window on the past, but they offer a chance to wallow in outdated social attitudes and pretend they’re not outdated.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.

The Fischer King

Posted in FILM, Politics, Science with tags , , , , , , , , on June 23, 2011 by dcairns

BOBBY FISCHER AGAINST THE WORLD, a fine HBO documentary about the mentally unusual chess champion, is screening at Edinburgh International Film Festival but not as part of the neuroscience in cinema strand, although it easily could be: with all the hints of autism, monomania, sensory hyperacuity and paranoid schizophrenia, Fischer’s brain would make an excellent object for study.

After three screenings (I’m such a lightweight) I was falling asleep at the start of Liz Garbus’s movie, but it woke me up and snapped me into attentiveness by the time it got to the epic championship bout between Fischer and Boris Spasski. Like WHEN WE WERE KINGS, the movie uses expert testimony to elucidate just enough of the strategy involved to allow the matches to transcend a mere score-sheet of victories and losses. The boxing movie had Norman Mailer helpfully outlining Ali’s moves so that someone like me, whose experience of fisticuffs is limited to getting duffed up in the school playground, could appreciate some of the craft behind the pummeling, and similar insights provided by experts and associates of Fischer allow the audience to get a sense of the tactics even if they don’t know Philidor’s opening from a hole in the ground.

Extracts from Pudovkin’s CHESS FEVER, the finest of chess-based movies, amusingly illustrate the long history of chess masters who suffered marble loss, my favourite being the guy who came to believe he was playing against God, via wireless — and winning.

Fischer, who I found weirdly sympathetic in spite of nearly every aspect of his personality, seemed to illustrate the particular dangers of monomania — as long as chess was the only thing in his life, and he was on an upward course in his career playing it, his psychological problems had a productive focus. Once he became World Champion, the terror of losing took chess away from him, and so he became narrowly focussed on other, less healthy subjects, such as his anti-semitic conspiracy theories. Since Fischer was himself Jewish by birth, it doesn’t take much analysis to see this as a manifestation of self-hatred, just as Fischer’s difficult and demanding behaviour at tournaments seemed to everyone but him like a kind of psychological warfare. “I don’t believe in psychology, I just believe in good moves,” he said. And with no belief in psychology, he had absolutely no insight or defense when his mind started deserting him.