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Cinematic Thoughts

Essays on Film and the Philosophy of Film

by Gary James Jason (Author)
Monographs XII, 472 Pages

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Dedication
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Part I Essays on Propaganda and Film
  • 1 “Beauty’s in the Eye of the State”, My Movie Review of Belief & Beauty, Appeared in Liberty, October 6, 2018
  • 2 “Another Small Piece of War,” My Movie Review of Propaganda Swing, Appeared in Liberty, December 4, 2017
  • 3 My Book Review of Karen Liebreich, The Black Page, Appeared in Reason Papers, Vol. 39, (2): 105–107, (Winter 2017)
  • 4 “Whence Did German Propaganda Films Derive Their Power?” My Book Review of Ian Garden’s The Third Reich’s Celluloid War Appeared in Reason Papers, Vol. 38 (1): 166–181 (2016)
  • 5 “Film and Propaganda: The Lessons of the Nazi Film Industry,” My Movie Review of Erwin Leiser’s Germany Awake!, Appeared in Reason Papers, 35 (1): 203–219 (July, 2013)
  • 6 “A Cry for Justice,” My Movie Review of The Stoning of Soraya M Appeared in Liberty, October 2009, p. 54
  • 7 “Filmmaker, Heal Thyself,” My Movie Review of Manufacturing Dissent, Appeared in Liberty, August 2008, pp. 44–45
  • 8 “Ein Volk, Ein Fuhrer,” My Movie Review of Triumph of the Will, Appeared in Liberty, April 2007, pp. 48–51
  • Part II Essays on Genocide and Film
  • 9 My Review Essay, “Memorializing Genocide I: Earlier Holocaust Documentaries,” Appeared in Reason Papers, 38 (2): 64–88 (2016)
  • 10 My Review Essay “Memorializing Genocide II: Later Holocaust Documentaries” Appeared in Reason Papers, 40 (1):67–86 (2018)
  • 11 My Review Essay, “Selling Genocide I: The Earlier Films,” Appeared in Reason Papers, 38 (1): 127–157 (Spring 2016)
  • 12 My Review Essay, “Selling Genocide II: The Later Films,” Appeared in Reason Papers 39 (1): 97–123 (2017)
  • Part III Essays on Ethical Theory in Film
  • 13 My Review Essay, “Portraits of Egoism in Classic Cinema I: Sympathetic Portrayals,” Appeared in Reason Papers 36, No. 1: 107–121 (July 2014)
  • 14 My Review Essay, “Portraits of Egoism in Classic Cinema II: Negative Portrayals,” Appeared in Reason Papers 37, No. 1: 119–136 (Spring 2015)
  • 15 My Review Essay, “Portraits of Egoism in Classic Cinema III: Nietzschean Portrayals,” Appeared in Reason Papers 37, No. 2: 150–162 (Fall 2015)
  • 16 My Review Essay, “Classic Problem, Classic Films: Conflicts of Loyalty in War Films,” Appeared in Liberty, September 19, 2011
  • 17 “Beyond the Textbooks,” My Movie Review of Good, Appeared in Liberty, November 30, 2010
  • 18 “Why Men Fight,” My Movie Review of The Hurt Locker, Appeared in Liberty, December 2009, pp. 52–53
  • 19 “Guys and Dolls,” My Dual Movie Review of The Kite Runner and Lars and the Real Girl, Appeared in Liberty, September 2008, pp. 50–51
  • 20 “Completely Charming,” My Movie Review of Once, Appeared in Liberty, October 2007, pp. 52–53
  • 21 “Orphans on the Silk Road,” My Movie Review of The Children of Huang Shi, Appeared in Liberty, December 2009, p. 54
  • 22 “Hearts of Darkness,” My Movie Review of The Last King of Scotland, Appeared in Liberty, April 2007, p. 44
  • Part IV Essays on the History of Film
  • 23 “The History of Cinema and America’s Role in It,” My Review Essay of Gomery and Pafort-Overduin’s Movie History: A Survey, Appeared in Reason Papers, 35 (1): 170–186 (July 2013)
  • 24 “Restoring a Lost Art,” My Movie Review of The Artist, Appeared in Liberty, January 11, 2012
  • 25 “Against the Grain,” My Review of God, Man, and Hollywood by Mark Royden Winchell, Appeared in Liberty, December 2010, pp. 46–48
  • 26 “Mercurial Theater,” My Movie Review of Me and Orson Welles, Appeared in Liberty, March 2010, pp. 48–49
  • 27 “On the Road Again,” My Movie Review of the TV Series Route 66, Appeared in Liberty, July 2010, pp. 50–52
  • Part V Essays on the Aesthetics of Film
  • 28 “Infinity in One Hour, 48 Minutes,” My Movie Review of The Man Who Knew Infinity, Appeared in Liberty, June 3, 2016
  • 29 My Movie Review Essay “Artists in the Movies: The Ten Best Films” Appeared in Liberty, January 05, 2011
  • 30 “Breaking Out of the Box,” My Movie Review of Temple Grandin, Appeared in Liberty, January 31, 2011
  • 31 “The Rest of the Best: Ten Great Actors Snubbed by Oscar” Appeared in Liberty, August 2010, pp. 41–46
  • 32 “Through Other Eyes,” My Movie Review of Séraphine, Appeared in Liberty, October 2009, p. 49
  • 33 “Final Trip,” My Movie Review of Taking Chance, Appeared in Liberty, September 2009, p. 39
  • 34 “The Rise of the Comic Book Movie” Appeared in Liberty, October 2008, pp. 46–47
  • 35 “Imagining the Young Jane Austin,” My Movie Review of Becoming Jane, Appeared in Liberty, November 2007, pp. 43–44
  • 36 “Tour de Paris,” My Movie Review of Paris, je t’aime, Appeared in Liberty, October 2007, pp. 50–52
  • 37 “Dinner’s Coming, Rat Now,” My Movie Review of Ratatouille, Appeared in Liberty, October 2007, pp. 50–52
  • 38 “Lost Classic,” My Movie Review of The Lost City, Appeared in Liberty, December 2006, pp. 52–53
  • Part VI Essays on Classical Liberalism and Film
  • 39 “Beating the Heat,” My Movie Review of Cool It, Appeared in Liberty, November 22, 2010
  • 40 “Why Jonny Can’t Reed,” My Movie Review of The Cartel, Appeared in Liberty, May 2010, pp. 44–45
  • 41 “Breaking the Shackles,” My Movie Review of 2081, Appeared in Liberty, April 2010, pp. 53–54
  • 42 “Hobbesian Hell,” My Movie Review of Gomorra, Appeared in Liberty, June 2009, pp. 46–47
  • 43 “Sicko Ideal,” My Dual Review of A Short Course in Brain Surgery and The Lemon, Appeared in Liberty, August 2008, p. 14
  • 44 “Forgotten Horror,” My Movie Review of Nanking, Appeared in Liberty, August 2008, pp. 46–47
  • 45 “Dissent for Me, not Thee,” My Movie Review of Indoctrinate U, Appeared in Liberty, July 2008, p. 57
  • 46 “Out of the Lenin Shipyard,” My Movie Review of Strike, Appeared in Liberty, January–February 2008, pp. 65–68
  • 47 “The Importance of ‘Happyness,’” My Movie Review of The Pursuit of Happyness, Appeared in Liberty, March 2007, p. 38
  • 48 “Cancer Merchant,” My Movie Review of Thank You for Smoking, Appeared in Liberty, March 2007, pp. 51–52
  • Part VII Miscellaneous Essays
  • 49 “Art for the Sake of Art,” My Movie Review of Georgia O’Keeffe, Appeared in Liberty, August 2010, pp. 39–40
  • 50 “Last Rites,” A Review of Departures, Appeared in Liberty, June 2010, pp. 43–45
  • 51 “Swedish Sherlock,” My Movie Review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Appeared in Liberty, June 2010, pp. 43–44
  • 52 “The Breeding of an Empire,” My Movie Review of The Young Victoria, Appeared in Liberty, April 2010, pp. 51–52
  • 53 “Style with Substance,” My Movie Review of Coco Before Chanel, Appeared in Liberty, March 2010, pp. 52–53
  • 54 “Tragedy and Triumph,” My Movie Review of La Vie en Rose, Appeared in Liberty, December 2008, p. 52
  • 55 “Old Genre, New Treat,” My Movie Review of Trans-Siberian, Appeared in Liberty, April 2009, p. 52
  • 56 “A Good Vintage,” My Movie Review of Bottle Shock, Appeared in Liberty, April 2009, p. 52
  • 57 “From Russia with Mob,” My Movie Review of Eastern Promises, Appeared in Liberty, December 2008, p. 52
  • Index

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 Introduction

In this anthology, I bring together 57 essays I published mainly between 2012 and 2018, but with some pieces—mainly movie reviews—published a few years earlier. (By “essays” here I mean articles, book review essays, film review essays, book reviews, and film reviews). They all center on film and the philosophy of film.

At least as a low-resolution generalization, I believe we can say that starting in the last century and continuing onto this new one, philosophy has been broadly of two strands: “analytic” and “continental.” The terms here are of course to some degree inexact. For one thing, many thinkers born and educated in continental Europe—one thinks most immediately of the logical positivists (whose movement started in Vienna and Berlin)—are rightly characterized as analytic. For another thing, many thinkers born and educated in the analytic milieu that dominated (and dominates) Britain, Canada, Australia and the United States have embraced enthusiastically various continental movements—existentialism, post-modernism, various sorts of “critical theory,” and so on—faster than one can say “Rorty.”

As a philosopher, I proudly identify myself as an analytic sort of fellow. I take this to mean most importantly that I should try to write with the simplest and clearest language possible. Of course, it is hard to explain (say) inter-theoretic reduction without some jargon. But on the subjects covered in this ←1 | 2→anthology—about film and its history and philosophy—I have tried to keep my prose jargon-free. I hope to engage not just the relatively small number of philosophy professors, but anyone with a reasonably basic education, a passion for film, and a fondness for philosophy.

I have divided the essays contained in this anthology into six parts.

The essays comprising Part I center on film as a propaganda medium. The most powerful of the totalitarian tyrants of the twentieth century—Hitler, Lenin, and Stalin—were unanimous in their esteem of cinema as a tool to advance their power-seeking agendas. I try in these essays to explore just how film works a propaganda tool, and why it is so effective—arguably more effective than any other medium. My essays mainly focus on the paradigm case of a police state with a powerful propaganda film industry, Nazi Germany.

In the 1st essay, I review two short documentary movies explain the Nazi regime’s youth movement for girls—the League of Young Girls, the League of German Girls, and the Belief and Beauty society. The films illustrate the intentions of the Nazi Party regarding women, but they never saw wide release. I raise the issue of why they never saw greater release by the Regime.

The 2nd essay is again a review of another recent documentary, namely, the curious case of Charlie and his Orchestra. While swing music was outlawed in Nazi Germany as “degenerate,” the Nazi regime created a radio program called “Charlie and his Orchestra” for foreign consumption. The propaganda lay in the changes to the original lyrics of the songs played, making them convey the anti-Semitic and other themes of the Nazi ideology. The review discusses just how good the musicians were, and how popular the program was.

The 3rd essay is a review of Karen Liebreich’s book The Black Page. Liebreich is a film historian who in the 1990s conducted interviews with many of the key film industry players—actors, directors, cameramen, and so on—active in the Nazi era. Her book provides fascinating insights into the thinking of these individuals—most of whom showed no real remorse for participating in the production of the evil regime’s propaganda.

In the 4th essay of the anthology, I review in great detail Ian Garden’s outstanding book, The Third Reich’s Celluloid War. Garden begins by discussing propaganda theory, and then discusses not just Nazi feature films and documentaries, but television as well. (The Nazis had the earliest TV network). All in all, the regime produced over 1,300 feature films during its time in power. Garden also compares Nazi propaganda films to British and American ones.

The 5th essay is my review of Erwin Leiser’s excellent documentary film Germany Awake. This classic film first aired in Germany in 1968, and remains to ←2 | 3→this day one of the best surveys of major Nazi era movies and exactly what messages they were meant to convey. The film underscores the emphasis the regime put on film as one of the premier mechanisms of propaganda, though Leiser’s film points out that most of the cinema produced by the Nazi regime was not pure propaganda, but mainly entertainment. In the review I put forward a list of criteria for evaluating the degree of deceptiveness of propaganda, and why cinema is so apt to exploit those criteria.

The 6th essay is not about the Nazi film industry. Rather, it is a review of a film about more contemporary human rights abuses. The Stoning of Soraya M. is the true story of an Iranian woman falsely accused of infidelity by her husband, condemned by rigged Sharia trial, and stoned to death. The authorities try to cover up the brutal affair, but with the help of a journalist, the story got reported to the outside world, shaming Iran religious-fascist regime. It illustrates vividly exactly how much totalitarian regimes fear the free flow of information.

The 7th essay is my review of a documentary by Rick Caine and Debbie Melnyk, Manufacturing Dissent. This film critically examines the documentaries of Michael Moore, documentaries they hold involve much outright deception. For example, they allege Moore misrepresents President Bush’s views by pulling quotes out of context. Especially revealing is Moore’s hypocritical refusal to allow himself to be interviewed by the filmmakers, who trailed him the way Moore trailed Roger Smith (CEO of General Motors), pestering him for an interview, in Moore’s Roger and Me. Actually, Caine and Smith discover that in fact Smith did speak with Moore, but that the material was cut from the final version of the film.

Finally, in the 8th essay, I review one of the most successful of the early Nazi propaganda films, Triumph of the Will. This documentary by highly praised director Leni Riefenstahl did much to sell the Nazi Party to the German public. I try to explain why it was so effective, and why film leads itself so readily to propaganda.

In Part II of the book, the essays concern the use of cinema in the Holocaust—but in two contrasting ways: first, as a tool to document the Holocaust for all posterity; and second, as a tool the Regime used to convince the German public to support it. In the first two—essays 9 and 10—are my pair of essays reviewing major Holocaust documentaries. In essay 9, I discuss in detail two of the earliest such documentaries: Death Mills (1945), directed by Billy Wilder; and Nazi Concentration Camps (1945), directed by George Stevens. Both film-makers were able to get direct footage of the newly-liberated concentration camps from the U.S. Army. Wilder served as a Colonel in the U.S. Army’s Psychological Warfare department in 1945, and was tasked with producing a documentary on the death ←3 | 4→camps as well as helping to restart Germany’s film industry. Wilder, a German émigré, had lost several close relatives in the camps, and he produced a powerful, graphic documentary—intended to be used by the Allied Occupation forces as a part of the “de-Nazification” campaign. Stevens had joined the Army’s Signal Corps in 1943, which was tasked with documenting the mass atrocities. Stevens’ work was used in the Nuremberg Trials.

I next review the great French Holocaust documentary Night and Fog (1955), directed by Alain Resnais. This was a widely acclaimed film, winning the Prix Jean Vigo in 1956. Resnais employed a camp survivor (Jean Cayrol) to write the dialogue, and it is powerful, indeed, truly lyrical in places. The cinematography and film score are excellent, and the understated tone works well to underscore the material presented.

The last film I review in the essay is a generally overlooked British Thames Television documentary, Genocide: 1941–1945 (1974), directed by Michael Darlow (and narrated by Sir Laurence Oliver). It was the first of the major Holocaust documentaries to focus on the point that the Nazi genocide targeted first and foremost the Jewish people, and to explore the development of Nazi racial theory, and the rise of the SS.

I finish the essay by discussing two controversial issues. The first is a question raised by Billy Wilder’s early documentary: were the Germans of the Nazi era “collectively guilty” for the mass atrocities inflicted upon the Jews? I discuss this issue in the broader context of the post-war de-Nazification of Germany. The second issue is the ambiguous meaning of the term “Holocaust.” Should it refer to the Nazi killing of all targeted groups—Jews, Soviet POWs, ethnic Poles, the Disabled, the Roma, and so on—totaling about eleven million people? Or does it refer specifically to the killing of six million Jews?

In the 10th essay, I review more recent Holocaust documentaries, viz., those produced by Irmgard Von Zur Muhlen and those by Claude Lanzmann. I begin by reviewing in detail three of Von Zur Muhlen’s documentaries: Theresienstadt: Deception and Reality; The Liberation of Auschwitz; and The Liberation of Majdanek.

In Theresienstadt: Deception and Reality, Von Zur Muhlen tells the story of the use of an old Czech city as both a ghetto and a holding camp (for transfers to the killing camp). It was used for propaganda purposes—to reassure Jews that they were being sent East for their own safety, and to reassure Europeans the Jews were not being abused.

The Liberation of Auschwitz is interesting in that it uses all of the footage taken by the Soviet Army (which liberated the camp) took. The Soviet narrator of ←4 | 5→the film acknowledges that the main victims of the camp were Jewish. The film shows SS records that hundreds of millions of Reichsmarks had been stolen from the inmates. The Liberation of Majdanek is also based on Soviet Army footage, and explores the brutality directed at the Soviet POWs.

The documentaries produced by Claude Lanzmann are widely considered to be among the finest documentaries ever made. Lanzmann’s central work is Shoah (1985). One major feature of the documentary is its sheer length: 9 ½ hours. Another is that his documentary—unlike all the others review—contains no archival footage. It consists of contemporaneous footage of the remains of the concentration camps together with interviews of survivors and others involved in the system. In the years after Shoah, Lanzmann used his extensive unused footage to produce four more documentaries: A Visitor from the Living (1999); Sobibor (2001); The Karski Report (2010); and The Last of the Unjust (2013).

After reviewing all of these documentaries, I then attempt to answer two questions. First, are these documentaries themselves deceptive propaganda? Second, what are the tools that documentary film-makers have at their disposal?

In the 11th and 12th essays, I explore in depth the major propaganda films the Nazi regime used to prepare the non-Jewish Germans to hate Jews so deeply that they would—if not support—at least tolerate the extermination of the Jewish people.

In the 11th essay, I reviewed two earlier anti-Semitic propaganda films of 1939, to wit, Robert and Bertram and Linen from Ireland. I begin by rehearsing some of Abram de Swann’s analysis of genocide, and then discuss in greater detail a classic sociological analysis written during WWII by Hans Speier. Speier distinguished three broad kinds of war of increasing ferocity: instrumental war, agonistic war, and absolute war. While the first two sorts of war are relatively constrained, in absolute war the in-group regards the out-group as inherently evil, and consequently the goal of such a war is exterminate the out-group, with no limitation on methods.

I suggest in the piece that the focus of these films is precisely to get the audience to view Jews as three different things: different (not Germans as “Aryans” are supposed to be); disgusting (loathsome, somehow degenerate); and dangerous (a threat to Aryan Germans by their very nature). I cover both films, pointing to the scenes that are crafted to engender in the audience exactly these feelings. To help explain how the various scenes manipulate the audience to push the regime’s Anti-Semitic narrative, I use Robert Cialdini’s theory of the use of psychological mechanisms in marketing.←5 | 6→

In essay 12, I take up the later major anti-Semitic propaganda pieces, all of them released in 1940. They were produced under Goebbels explicit orders to each of the three Nazi-controlled studios to produce an anti-Semitic film. The three films produced were: The Rothschilds Shares at Waterloo; Jud Suss; and The Eternal Jew. These films were much more powerful propaganda pieces in intensifying anti-Semitic feelings—those feelings of difference, disgust, and danger. For each film, I point to the scenes that arouse the feelings even more profoundly than did the earlier films.

The Rothschilds’ Shares at Waterloo put forward the conspiracy theory (widespread to this day) that Jewish bankers form a conspiratorial cabal bent upon world domination. Jew Suss (which was presented as historically true) pushes the narrative of Jews using money to take power, and of their boundless lust for young Christian women (hence the danger of “racial pollution”). Of all the anti-Semitic propaganda films the regime produced, the top regime figures considered this to be the most powerful—about 40% of German adults of the time saw the this film. It is banned in Germany to this day. Finally, The Eternal Jew—perhaps the most infamous of the group—is presented as a truthful documentary. While this sham documentary was a comparative box office flop, it was widely used as a training film.

The essays in Part III explore how various films can illustrate ethical theories, as well as how ethical theories can help us appreciate a film’s narrative structure and character presentation. The three ethical theories I illustrate and use as exploratory tools are ethical egoism, multiple rule deontologism (also called “ethical pluralism”), and virtue ethics.

This section starts with a trio of articles—essays 13, 14, and 15—on how egoism is portrayed in film. Most ethics texts give ethical egoism short shrift, considering it an obviously untenable theory. Among major modern philosophers, only Hobbes and Nietzsche have expounded it. But egoism is a phenomenon that people find fascinating, and it is well illustrated in film.

In essay 13, I look at more or less sympathetic portrayals of egoists in film. I start by explaining some basic concepts: psychological egoism; ethical egoism; default egoism; rational egoism; egotism; cynicism; narcissism; and psychopathy. I then review is depth two excellent WWII films, Stalag 17 and The Bridge on the River Kwai. I note that the key protagonist in both pictures is the same type of character—both played by the same fine actor, William Holden. The main protagonist in both is a soldier in a POW camp, who appears completely egoistic; however, in both cases the movie shows that he is just a man acting for ←6 | 7→self-preservation, but within moral limits. The character in both cases is certainly not an egotist, nor a narcissist, much less a psychopath.

In essay 14, I look at two negative portrayals of egoism. I summarize in detail the superb All About Eve—which won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The movie is about the rise of a ruthlessly ambitious actress, and how she treats her main competitor. Eve Harrington worms her way into top theatrical actress Margo Channing’s inner circle by pretending to be an admirer, but she is really a schemer who wants to eclipse Margo’s star in the theater universe. However, Eve runs into trouble when she attempts to manipulate tart-tongued theater critic, Addison de Witt. The movie portrays the New York theater industry as being full of narcissists.

I then review the classic film noir The Third Man (1949), rated by the prestigious British Film Institute as the greatest film the twentieth century. The film centers around a charismatic, handsome criminal mastermind Harry Lime living in bombed-out post-War Vienna. Lime is a man of no conscience or empathy—a true psychopath. He cripples children by selling hospitals adulterated penicillin. But we (the audience) still feel sympathy for him. I end the piece by explaining the psychological mechanisms at work that give rise to our paradoxical sympathy.

In essay 15, I look at two films as possible exemplars of the Nietzschean view of egoism. Compulsion is based on the infamous 1924 Leopold and Loeb murder case. In the movie, two arrogant young men—one of whom admires Nietzsche and preaches the (apparently Nietzschean) view that the strong and superior don’t need to follow conventional morality—kill a boy to prove they can outsmart the unter-menschen police.

For a different take on what Nietzsche may have had in mind as “the Overman,” I also look at the film The Moon and Sixpence. Here the protagonist isn’t violent or aggressive, but a completely self-absorbed artist, who paints with genius but uses others without feeling any gratitude or friendship, let alone love.

In essay 16, I use four war movies to explore conflicts of loyalty and how they are resolved, all to illustrate W.D. Ross’ multiple rule deontologism. The films are all fine WWII movies: The Enemy Below; Decision Before Dawn; John Rabe; and The Bridge on the River Kwai. In my analysis of each, I show how the protagonists face conflicts of their loyalty to themselves, their countrymen, their friends, and humanity in general, and resolve them in the face of changing factual backgrounds.

The next five essays are reviews of movies that illustrate in various way the theory known as virtue ethics. In essay 17, I review the movie Good. Good tells ←7 | 8→the story of moral corruption of its protagonist, a writer, who is seduced by blandishments and material rewards given to him by the Nazi regime. It is a nice illustration of corruption—the degradation of character wrought by desire for wealth and fame—what Aristotle would call “pleonexia.”

In essay 18, I review the film The Hurt Locker, about a number of a U.S. Army bomb disposal team operating in Iraq. It won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for its director Kathryn Bigelow. She is the only woman to have directed a Best-Picture-winning film. I argue that while the film views the soldiers as fighting for the thrill of it, soldiers are in fact often looking to achieve happiness by exercising the virtue of courage.

In essay 19, I briefly discuss two movies—The Kite Runner and Lars and the Real Girl. The first movie centers around a friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his family’s servant. An act of cowardice by the rich boy estranges them, but later he is able to overcome his cowardice and atone for his earlier misdeeds. In the second movie, the protagonist is Lars, an intensely introverted young man. Lars is constantly prodded by friends and family to start dating, and decides to buy a life-sized “sex doll,” which he introduces to his family and friends as his Brazilian girlfriend. At first his family and the local townspeople are unsympathetic with his delusions, but they soon sympathize, and with their support and the help of an empathetic doctor he is able to transition to normal life, and find a real girl. Both pictures suggest that with the support of one’s family and community, one’s character can be improved.

Essay 20 is my review of a fine little indie film, Once. In this quirky musical, there is a guy and a girl, as there usually is in a musical—but we never learned their names. Also—novel in a musical—the character are both aspiring musicians and sing only as part of their performances on recording sessions. And especially novel is that the lead characters don’t fall in romantic love, but form kind of Aristotelian friendship of virtue.

In essay 21, I review a fine film based upon the true story of George Hogg, an English AP reporter who was able to sneak into Nanking at the time of the Japanese invaded. He is moved by the atrocities he witnesses to take—with the help of a Chinese partisan and an Australian nurse—a group of orphaned boys from the besieged city on a trek of 500 miles to a city on the edge of Mongolia. The film shows how a flowering of virtue can occur in challenging circumstances.

Essay 22 also discusses the concept of corruption, or loss of virtue. It is my review of The Lost King of Scotland, about a young and morally shallow Scottish doctor being drawn in by a charismatic but psychopathic dictator (Idi Amin), and seduced by power, flattery, and sex—pleonexia again.←8 | 9→

The essays constituting Part IV (numbers 23–27) focus on the history of film. Essay 23 is my extended critical review of Gomery and Pafort-Overduin’s excellent survey of the film industry. They give an excellent account of the history of the cinematic arts, from the early shows through the flowering of the silent movie era, both American and foreign films. They then discuss in detail the Hollywood studio era (1928–1950), and look at film industries in other countries. The third section of the book is on the Television era (1950–1977), and the final section is on the video to digital era (1977–2010). I critique their casual acceptance of film industry subsidies and other protectionist measures many countries adopted to protect their domestic film industries, and their tacit approval of the 1948 U.S. Supreme Court ruling forbidding film studios from distributing their own product. I adduce evidence that in fact this resulted in a lower quality of film-making.

I published this review in 2013, and I note with satisfaction that in 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it was pulling down the regulatory barriers that have prohibited content producers from distributing their own products. It is fascinating to think where this may lead—perhaps the rise of theaters run by Netflix and Amazon, or even Walmart and Target.

In essay 24, I review a French-American gem of a movie, The Artist. This movie was homage to the silent film era, and is itself almost all silent. I discuss both artistic and financial success of silent movies, and I praise this film for successfully interesting modern theater-goers despite its almost total lack of sound. The film won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and—for its outstanding lead actor, Jean Dujardin—Best Actor. It is the only French-produced movie to win Best Picture, and the only (almost entirely) silent movie to win Best Picture since the start of the Academy Awards in 1929.

In essay 25, I review a fine book by Mark Winchell of movies that film critics in particular and the film industry general considered “politically correct.” The book—God, Man, and Hollywood—notes that while the film critics and community are generally politically left, movie audiences—like the country’s population from which they are drawn—are politically center-right. So occasionally movies are produced that are politically incorrect with the critics but highly popular anyway. Winchell reviews eighteen major movies at length, and has short reviews of 100 other films.

Essay 26 is my review of a delightful movie about the great American actor and director Orson Wells. The film—Me and Orson Welles—is based upon actor Arthur Anderson’s recollections of bluffing his way into working with Orson Welles and his working with Orson Welles and his famous company of actors ←9 | 10→(the Mercury Theater) in 1937. The film shows how a young man can be seduced by the theater, and the charm of a great if narcissistic genius.

Essay 27 is my review of the classic TV series, Route 66. It was a classic “buddy movie,” with two young men who tour the country in a gorgeous 1956 Chevy Corvette, staying in various towns and working at various blue-collar jobs. The acting was generally superb, and the scripts were mainly written by the fine scriptwriter Stirling Silliphant, and produced by the famous producer Herbert Leonard.

I suggest that this fifty-year-old series tells us a lot about cultural change in America during that time. I suggest also that it helps demonstrate that the charge made by a famous culture critic of the time—Newton Minow, who was Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission from 1961 to 1963—that this period of commercial TV was a “vast wasteland” was not merely arrogantly elitist, but was in fact patently false. The 1950s and early 1960s saw many amazingly good series in a wide variety of genres. I find it richly ironic that more and more of these old series are now being shown on Amazon Prime, and through its ad-supported streaming service IMDb TV.

The essays that make up Part V (essays 28–38) illustrate various points in the aesthetics of film. Essay 28 is my review of the movie The Man Who Knew Infinity, a bioflick about the great Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. I talk about the I talk about the challenges of the genre of biographical film. One such challenge is avoiding being excessively critical or admiring of the subject of the story. Another is showing exactly what the accomplishments of the subject of the bioflick are. This is especially difficult in the case of a mathematician, whose intellectual successes are hard to show. I explain how this film succeeds in showing his achievements.

In essay 29, I briefly review ten of the best bioflicks of artists. After laying out my criteria for assessing biographical films about artists, I review my ten choices. These films are: The Agony and the Ecstasy; Frida; Local Color; The Moon and Sixpence; Girl with the Pearl Earring; Pollock; Rembrandt; Moulin Rouge; Modigliani; and Lust for Life. For each film I try to explain the ways in which the directors were able to show the artist’s creative processes and personal challenges.

In essay 30, I review an extraordinary bioflick, Temple Grandin. Temple Grandin is a professor of animal science, and to achieve her distinguished career she had to deal with her autism. The film explores what it is to suffer this disease, but it also explores her extraordinary work involving making slaughterhouses more humane. The director shows us exactly how she explores the pathways cattle ←10 | 11→walk before they are killed to see what might frighten them, and so lessen the fear they experience before dying.

In essay 31, I turn from how movies can portray the work of extraordinary people, to looking at some extraordinary actors who never got their due—actors who had distinguished careers, but never won an Academy Award for acting. I review the work of: Joseph Cotten; Orson Welles; Edward G. Robinson; Cary Grant; James Mason; Richard Burton; Claude Rains; Alan Ladd: Robert Mitchum; and Fred MacMurray. In each case, I explore the actor’s best work, what made his acting outstanding, and offer possible explanations why he was not so honored.

Summary

Cinematic Thoughts: Essays on Film and the Philosophy of Film is an anthology of essays Gary Jason published (mainly) between 2012 and 2018. The book has seven parts. Part One consists of essays on propaganda films. The topics include how the Nazi Regime used film as a tool of propaganda, and its use of radio for propaganda. Part Two contains articles on genocide and film. These include two broad surveys of Holocaust documentaries, ranging from those that were done at the end of WWII to Claude Lanzmann’s work. Also included are pieces reviewing the five major propaganda films the Nazi Regime produced aimed at arousing anti-Semitism in the populace leading up to the Holocaust. Part Three of the anthology concerns ethical theory as explored in film. Included here are three essays surveying how egoism is portrayed in classic movies, as well as one showing how Rossian ethical theory can be used to analyze conflicts of loyalty in classic war movies, and pieces illustrating virtue ethics. Part Four includes various articles on the history of cinema. One of the topics raised was whether the American film industry produced better films under the old, allegedly "monopolistic" studio system. Part Five of the anthology contains articles on the aesthetics of film. The topics here include how creativity can be portrayed in film, and why some great actors never win Oscars. Part Six contains pieces on classical liberalism in film, and Part Seven has miscellaneous articles on topics ranging from artists to criminals.

Details

Pages
XII, 472
ISBN (PDF)
9781433185304
ISBN (ePUB)
9781433185311
ISBN (MOBI)
9781433185328
ISBN (Book)
9781433185298
Language
English
Publication date
2021 (June)
Published
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2021. XII, 472 pp., 1 table.

Biographical notes

Gary James Jason (Author)

Gary James Jason has an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Philosophy (University of Illinois), an M.S. in Computer Science (Kansas State University), and B.A. degrees in Physics and Philosophy (UCLA). He is a senior lecturer at California State University, Fullerton, and author of seven books and numerous articles.

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Title: Cinematic Thoughts