Friday, January 21, 2011

Camera Obscura: The Horrible Mistake of Remaking 'The Wild Bunch'

Bad ideas float up and out of Hollywood so often, you'd think it was a required habit.

Recently a Warner Brothers exec, Jessica Goodman left the studio, and some projects she had shelved were dug up and are now being hoisted about town as 'good ideas'. That includes a proposal to shoot a remake of Sam Peckinpah's masterpiece, "The Wild Bunch".

This is ridiculous and dangerous. Dangerous because any producer worth two cents knows full well that Peckinpah will claw himself out of the grave and haunt the living hell out of anyone who tries to tinker with "The Wild Bunch." If Sam were alive, he'd take far more grievous action. A producer or writer or director who does not fear Peckinpah, even today, is doomed. Remakes are common, true, but you just don't remake a masterpiece unless you desire to be made a fool.

Word this week that Clint Eastwood is exploring a remake of "A Star Is Born" starring singer Beyonce causes no ill will - the movie has been made 3 times already and a new one can not be any worse that the Barbara Streisand-Kris Kristofferson version from the 1970s.

But "The Wild Bunch" is solely and utterly the creation of Peckinpah. It's not based on some novel which is open to differing versions. Peckinpah punched an un-healable hole in cinema history with his movie, and no one - ever - is going to be able to match or top that creation. Not. Ever.

It's a flawless movie. As one writer recently noted, the movie is torn from a fever dream in Peckinpah's skull, no other person could have made it. And the movie isn't a 'franchise' to be cultivated.

It breathes and moves like a bone-weary fighter struggling to stand for one more fight, much as Peckinpah himself. That's his guts and his worries and his strengths up on that screen.

Peckinpah and actor William Holden on set

And yes, the movie is one of my all time favorites to watch, since it never fails to offer something rewarding with each viewing. True, for many years, the movie was shown only in a shorter version than Peckinpah made, as the studio wanted a movie that would allow theaters to reload ticket buyers faster. But even that shorter version forever changed the way films were made, especially action films.

The 144 minute version fleshes out the past of the character Bishop Pike (William Holden), exploring how mistakes he made in the past with his friends have haunted him and motivate him to never fail a friend again, no matter the personal cost. Also, the opening scenes of the movie as bounty hunters gun down anyone in their effort to kill off Pike and his gang are longer - Peckinpah's goal was to make everyone watching feel that keen horror and shock of actually being in a gun battle and the terrifying toll such violence takes.

There's so much to be said of the movie - the complex layering of relationships, the unflinching examination of violence, the brilliant editing which creates tension and terror, the attention to the details of place and time, the performances of the actors, the music, and on and on.

Film critic Roger Ebert penned a great essay on the restored version in 2002 on the genius of the movie, which you can read here. He also writes about the day the first time the movie was screened for some seriously stunned critics back in 1969:

After a reporter from the Reader's Digest got up to ask "Why was this film ever made?" I stood up and called it a masterpiece; I felt, then and now, that "The Wild Bunch" is one of the great defining moments of modern movies."

Masterpiece. That's it.

One imagines the producer or studio which aims for a remake of "The Wild Bunch" also has plans to remake "Citizen Kane", or "The Godfather", or "Dr. Strangelove". All fools' errands.

And true, a remake of Peckinpah's controversial "Straw Dogs" is headed to theaters this year. Since the movie was based on a novel, I say have at it. But the movie was not welcomed in 1971 and I doubt it will find much of an audience in 2011 - still, have at it, I say, as new interpretations on film of a book are quite common and can often be well done - see the new version of "True Grit" for proof of that.

Yet, Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch" is the work of an artist at his best, a personal story of honor and of deciding when to take a stand, no matter the outcome. And the outcome was not good for Pike or his gang, just as Peckinpah's constant battles with studio heads, alcoholism and his own demons ended badly for Peckinpah.

That's a story than can never be remade.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Outrage at the Outrage of Congressman Cohen

There's a momentary online/news-cycle of outrage 'n infamy swirling around Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen for comments he made this week criticizing opponents to the Health Care Reform Act. He said there was a "big lie" made when claims were made that the law was a government takeover of health care, and he attributed the power of a repeated lie to Nazi propagandist Josef Goebbels.

Here's a link to the actual speech from Rep. Cohen (I did not hear him say the word "Nazi".)

Predictably, outrage at his outrage followed from Republicans.

Likewise, a steady defense of Rep. Cohen's comments and views emerged too, such as from TN blogger Vibinc. Vibinc points to the reality that "propaganda" tactics harm the nation, and he's right about that.


Everyone, including the congressman, is having a tough time accurately detailing where the phrase "big lie" or about repeating lies originates.

It was Lenin who said "A lie told often enough becomes truth."

Hitler - according to WikiPedia - coined the phrase "Big Lie" in his 'Mein Kampf" book, claiming Jews used such a tactic to lay blame for World War 1.

Goebbels wrote that is was the British who used "big lies" to create truth. "
The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it."

In the U.S., a psych profile from the OSS on Hitler during the war reads:

His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it."

As Vibinc wrote - the tactic being overworked in our time is relentless propaganda.

Truth or facts are dubious clouds we might perceive but cannot grasp as they shoulder out the sun above. And apparently, for most folks, history is a murky place from which we draw out incorrect information at a steady clip.

Passionate cries of outrage overlap and fill news reports and political commentary, obscuring the issues. Word games obscure policy debates, and we all lose when that happens.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Loving The Technology That Does Not Love In Return

I'm well aware that I have "friends" and "relationships" with people I have never met face to face. We interact with a technological extension I (or they) have made - blogs, email, social networks, etc.

There are also "bots" and other types of software which try and capture my attention, want me to respond, to form a "relationship". Some folks, for instance, use Facebook and become "friends" with a manufactured, non-human product. One can, for example, be a "friend" with Tide detergent. Tide's Facebook page reads on Jan. 2, 2011 - "Tide wants to know if you made any New Year's resolutions?"

It's rather unsettling to consider that a box of detergent "wants to know" anything.

Professor Sherry Turkle at MIT has been studying the impacts of technology on society and has a new book on the way out, "Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other", which examines the current usage/relationships with social networking, with robotics and other similar issues. She's considering how the habits we cultivate now with technology might play out --

During her research, Turkle visited several nursing homes where resi­dents had been given robot dolls, including Paro, a seal-shaped stuffed animal programmed to purr and move when it is held or talked to. In many cases, the seniors bonded with the dolls and privately shared their life stories with them.

"There are at least two ways of reading these case studies," she writes. "You can see seniors chatting with robots, telling their stories, and feel positive. Or you can see people speaking to chimeras, showering affection into thin air, and feel that something is amiss."

In the article linked above, another researcher, David Levy, considers that robots which might attend to the elderly or babysit to be a wonderful concept, but Turkle views such ideas dangerous:

David Levy is saying: For someone who is having trouble with the people world, I can build something. Let's give up on him. I have something where he will not need relationships, experiences, and conversations. So let's not worry for him. For a whole class of people, we don't have to worry about relationships, experiences, and conversations. We can just issue them something."

Turkle continues: "Who's going to say which class of people get issued something? Is it going to be the old people, the unattractive? The heavy-set people? Who's going to get the robots?"

Levy's response: "Who is going to get the robots is an ethical question, and I am no ethicist. What I am saying is that it is better for the 'outcasts' to be able to have a relationship with a robot than to have no relationship at all."

It's a fascinating article worth reading and considering and I look forward to reading Turkle's new book. I have many, many books, and some are among my favorite things to read. But I doubt a book ever has thought of me.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Time For Congress to Telecommute to Work?

In November of 2010, The Telework Enhancement Act was signed and adopted by the Federal government. It requires Fed agencies to develop policies and guidelines so that all Fed employees can use our Internet to telecommute to work. Democratic Congressman John Sarbanes of Maryland sponsored the bill, which aims to reduce the cost of agency operations and allow employees to work from home or other locations to get their jobs done. Rep. Sarbanes has more on the new law here.

Today, Oak Ridge resident and writer Richard Cook takes the next logical step in this area and proposed in his editorial in the Tennessean that Congress itself needs to adopt telecommuting to conduct business too. It would keep them at home in their districts more often, and keep representative in closer touch with constituents and reduce the time they spend being surrounded by lobbyists - and perhaps offer much more to the nation:

Members now live in Washington. They get soaked in the power, the money and the lobbyists with the money. It stains their perspective and warps their judgment. They forget whom they work for. A virtual Congress will have them live among the people they serve.

The public's business can be conducted online, while politicians attempt to be in line with their constituents.

Committee meetings can be held online, with members participating from their offices or even a local elementary school. That will be a wonderful civics lesson.

Citizens can travel a few hours to attend these Internet committee meetings. Lobbyists can attend those committee meetings, too. That would be a civics lesson of a different sort.

A virtual Congress will give members real time feedback on their decisions. Congressmen will vote online in the late morning and then will have to defend their vote at the local Rotary Club luncheon a few minutes later.

Richard is not alone in his call to consider such a change.

Of course, the Always-Oppose-Obama crowd sees nothing but horror when it comes to any change in the way government works, as evidenced by this response to telecommuting from Instapundit, who worries it would make it impossible to fire someone.

Since Congress has required every Federal agency to develop telecommuting practices, then why not Congress itself?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

TN Tea Party Supports More Stupidering of History for Students

Those damn dirty history books has just done plain ruint Amurica and TeaNessee and hit all needs a good cleanin' 'n white-warshin'!

The material calls for lawmakers to amend state laws governing school curriculums, and for textbook selection criteria to say that “No portrayal of minority experience in the history which actually occurred shall obscure the experience or contributions of the Founding Fathers, or the majority of citizens, including those who reached positions of leadership.”

Fayette County attorney Hal Rounds, the group’s lead spokesman during the news conference, said the group wants to address “an awful lot of made-up criticism about, for instance, the founders intruding on the Indians or having slaves or being hypocrites in one way or another."

Will the Tennessee Legislature adopt these ideas? I'll bet the answer is going to be "Youbetcha!"