Sunday, August 25, 2019
What is a Conservative Movie? Notes on Conservatism and Nostalgia in the Arts and Cinema.
The discussion of THE LEOPARD(link above) reminds me of National Review's list of BEST CONSERVATIVE MOVIES: https://www.imdb.com/list/ls000074133/ http://brothersjudd.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/reviews.moviedetail/movie_id/19 https://www.nationalreview.com/magazine/2009/02/23/best-conservative-movies/ https://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2009/feb/20/1
What a philistine list by hack ideologues with no sense of culture. Works like THE LEOPARD weren't listed. Instead, there was PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS, THE PATRIOT, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, and BICYCLE THIEVES.
PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS and PATRIOT, which I haven't seen, are surely crap. IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE and BICYCLE THIEVES are great works and one can find conservative elements in them, but it's disingenuous to call them 'conservative' because IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE has too much that could be called 'liberal' and the script of BICYCLE THIEVES was by a Marxist-Humanist. One can say the family values element is conservative(but back then, the left wasn't anti-family like it became under increased Jewish, family, and homo influence), but its social critique is essentially leftist.
As for LIVES OF OTHERS, its anti-communism isn't necessarily pro-conservative. If anything, it is an example of Liberal Anti-Communism as the real message of the movie is that inferior hoi polloi like you and I should risk everything, even our lives, for the well-being and privilege of cosmopolitan artists who are surely our superiors.
The National Review list was petty, predictable, partisan, and jingoistic. It lacked imagination, movie knowledge, and bigness of heart. Hardly different from 100 best list you'd find in Premiere magazine if published by GOP hacks.
A genuine list should not favor films simply because conservatives tend to like it. Nor should a movie be chosen because it was made by a conservative, a rare breed in cinema. Movies that could just as easily be labeled liberal should be excluded, like WONDERFUL LIFE. (Indeed, the most ridiculous aspect of the National Review list is the tortured logic that deigns certain works as 'conservative' because of their social policy implications in the Current Year, e.g. if the movie has a high-spirited individual go-getter, maybe it's about libertarianism and lower taxes. There is an air of exaggeration and even desperation in National Review's list because there are so few card-carrying conservatives, let alone Republicans, working in the movie industry here or elsewhere. So, National Review twists logic to argue that certain apolitical or even liberal movies are really 'conservative'. As for films with genuine conservative pedigree, National Review has no interest because, being a hack journal of establishment conservatism, it dares not go near a work that might displease its donor base and philistine readership. Notice there is no mention of Andrei Tarkovsky, the greatest rightist film artist of the 20th century. Too Russian for the NR crowd, it seems. And of course, no mention of THE BIRTH OF A NATION by D.W. Griffith, the father of cinema, because NR is afraid of being called 'racist'. Maybe Dinesh D'Souza can argue that THE BIRTH OF A NATION is really a communist movie.) We must keep in mind that a leftist can make a conservative film just as Jew or atheist can make a Christian film. Some of the greatest Westerns have been made by Europeans who knew little about the real West. Each film need to be judged on its own merit. One must also dispense with the notion that a movie is deserving simply because it's conservative. Too many movies on the NR list aren't all that good but overrated for their presumed(or imagined) ideological content. For a list that bills itself as the BEST Conservative Movies, the works have to be conservative and excellent.
Also keep in mind that because some of the sentiments in the movie are conservative or sympathetic to the conservative viewpoint, it doesn't follow that the movie was conceived or intended to be conservative. Indeed, this applies to THE LEOPARD as well. Luchino Visconti was not proposing the restoration of Sicilian aristocracy. He made it as an elegy to the beauty and majesty that were lost with progress and development; for every gain, there is a loss.
We need a clearer meaning of 'conservative', especially when we are dealing with something as multi-faceted as the Arts. Firstly, it mustn't be confused with reaction or fascism. Both reaction and fascism are activist whereas a certain gentlemanly or dignified passivity is at the core of conservatism. Reactionaries single-mindedly seek to turn back to clock, to reclaim what was lost. They see the past as a golden age. They seek to destroy or suppress innovations whether they be economic, political, technological, or whatever.
Fascism is trickier for it incorporates elements of both right and left. It combines reverence for the past with excitement about the future. It fuses the virility of primitive nature worshiping paganism with transcendental aspirations of higher civilization.
While reaction, conservatism, and fascism can be said to belong on the right of the social or political spectrum, they are not synonymous. This gets even trickier in our age because what passes for conservatism is free market capitalism, the most dynamic and transformative force in the world. Marxists can dream up utopias all they want. In truth, all truly lasting revolutionary economic, social, scientific, and political innovations and changes have arisen from capitalist forces. Even social-democratic nations have economies mainly fueled by capitalism.
So, how odd that today's 'conservative' espouses the most dynamic and uprooting force the world has ever known? A modern conservative basically conserves the most powerful engine of socio-economic change. Take China and India. Since they've adopted global capitalism and free markets, their societies have been changing and growing at breakneck speed. Ideologically, they can be said to have gone 'conservative' in having abandoned their socialist or communist ways. But, capitalism is changing those nations like nothing ever before.
More meaningfully, one can define conservatism thus: The outlook that stands for reverence for the past, preservation of cultural heritage, longing for what may be lost, and etc. A conservative is different from a reactionary in that the former ultimately accepts change even while mourning what will be lost. Reactionaries doggedly cling to the past or struggle to restore it. A conservative understands that change is either necessary or inevitable even as he is threatened by it.
Now, what sets a conservative apart from a liberal(despite the conservative's acceptance of change) is that the former is less willing to simply dump or forget traditions or established conventions as the world changes. His feelings are more invested with the past or the status quo; it's not just a matter of his own power or privilege; he may actually be a poor person but sentimentally attached to the 'old ways'; in this sense, a poor Evangelical in America or poor Italian Catholic woman who feels a sense of loss from change(even though it may economically benefit him or her) can be said to be conservative; he or she doesn't define meaning of life simply on basis of materialism but on cultural norms of what constitutes virtue, sacredness, nobleness, etc. Even if a liberal says "I'll give you $1,000 a month in welfare if you support 'gay marriage'", a poor Evangelical or Catholic will refuse. For many people, a vision of society is as or more important than economic status or power.
Another way to define conservatism would be a search or longing for some core values(in the absence of such), a desire to set down firm roots, to possess a moral compass in life. In this sense, 'Amores Perros' can be said to have conservative themes — though it's certainly not blatantly so and is questioning of globo-capitalism(that prior to 'woke capitalism' was associated with the 'right') — in its rejection of moral relativism and a world defined solely by radicalism or materialism. This isn't to say liberals are immoral or amoral vis-a-vis conservatives. The difference is liberals are less interested in the idea of Core Values. They often take core values as stuffy and rigid or 'essentialist'; they favor fluidity of truth(albeit with rigidity of self-righteousness of the Current Year) in moving away from what society has traditionally deemed as core values, though they tirelessly establish new faddish orthodoxies via political correctness. This venturesomeness can be daring and useful, but it can go off the rails and lead to a world where there is no strong core meaning to guide the individual or unite a increasingly alienated people. Therefore, there lingers a longing for firm values, which is what conservatism(the real kind) offers.
Also, conservatism, though antithetical to relativism, gains special meaning within a relativistic context. In a way, a nostalgic communist in the Russia of the early 1990s could be said to be conservative in the sense that he sought to preserve what had been built up and passed down during 70s yrs of communism. At one time, Christianity was a peripheral and defiant(and even radical) faith; then it became the official dogma and thus 'conservative'. So, conservatism isn't merely about ideology. It can also be a state of mind, a sense of not wanting to let go of what has defined a community and individuals within it. A man can be of leftist ideology yet of conservative personality/mentality/temperament or of rightist ideology yet of liberal personality/mentality/temperament. The mother in GOODBYE LENIN is a diehard communist but also an emotional conservative who clings to what has become familiar to her.
We are largely defined by the ideology we grew up under, yet our personalities and inclinations define how we deal with handed-down spoon-fed values. Newt Gingrich is ideologically conservative but has a somewhat radical personality. Even when conservatives adopt something radical-crazy like 'gay marriage', they try to give it a trad-moralist spin. i.e. "It's conservative cuz 'gays' are adopting family values."
There were Democrats like Richard Daley who were ideologically liberal but had the personality of a conservative family man and head of Irish clan. A conservative is less likely to look down on the past and feel smugly superior; of course, he may feel smugly righteous with established norms(like Archie Bunker). Some conservatives feel it's their duty to counter the rapid pace of change demanded by liberals. As such, they aren't so much anti-liberal as anti-accelerationist. At their best, Liberalism is the accelerator pedal, Conservatism is the brake pedal. There are times when history must be slowed down to make change more cautious and palatable. When Liberalism and Conservatism work together, history works well. Obviously, a car doesn't move forward with its brakes. But then, a car without brakes will soon crash and burn. Today, when Liberalism puts pedal to the metal and Conservatism just cheers it on, we have the currently crazy West of degeneracy and Great Replacement. Of course, most of today's so-called Liberals are white dupes of Jewish supremacist globo-homo power.
In more respects than one, modern conservative reacts against the official ideology of the so-called 'Right'. Though a free market capitalist, he may realize that his favored economic system is overly dynamic and uprooting, therefore needs to be balanced by core values, timeless themes, and even a bit of socialism. (Consider how Tucker Carlson is sounding lately.) He values conservatism precisely because he values change. Because change + change is too much for humanity, he opts for change + balance. He may feel that a counter-power system is necessary to tame the bull-like nature of capitalism. In this sense, a modern conservative is at war with his own party. It's like sailing. To harness the shifting winds to move from place to place, the mast has to be strong and steady. A conservative may feel that extreme liberalism is eager to surrender to the winds whereas his own kind seeks to use them for the ship. He appreciates the power of winds but as something that serves the ship than vice versa. Today, those on the Right want to use the international system for the good of one's own nation, whereas the so-called 'progressives' want to offer up one's nation to the global system. It's 'use the world for the good of our nation' versus 'lose the nation for the good of the world'. (Granted, 'progressives' are really tools of Jews whose secret motto is 'use all the goy world to ensure Jewish supremacist rule forever.') Western Expansion could be said to have been an artful combination of liberal and conservative principles. There was the curiosity to find new lands and go where the winds carried the ships, and yet, there was also mastery of machinery and methodology to ensure that the forces of nature served man than man surrendered to forces of nature. Thus, the West could expand far and wide but still maintain their ways, manners, and values far away from home.
Conservatism has a certain sentimentality for the past, traditions, established conventions, long standing rituals. But, conservatism doesn't have a clear agenda like reactionary-ism nor does it have the quasi-radical edge or the fighting spirit of fascism. Conservatism in the modern era is essentially bourgeois(especially in Europe) or about the Common Man(especially in the US). Conservatives come in different shapes and colors. Some resemble reactionaries. Some tend to be liberalish. But even liberal-ish conservatives who realize that change is necessary may lament that something grand, beautiful, or meaningful will be lost, perhaps for good, with the necessary change. There is a sense of elegy with the resigned acceptance of progress. It's there in MAKIOKA SISTERS and MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS. Neither film suggests the past was preferable, but they do invoke a sense of what's been lost, forgotten, and paved over by progress. Also, there is a subjectivity to nostalgia. Those without memory of what had once been won't understand the poetry and melancholia. It is why the ending of MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS is doubly sad. Not only is something lost but there is no one around to share the character's sense of loss.
Conservatism is also a matter of personality, i.e. some feel the loss with greater sensitivity than others do, just like some people mourn the death of their loved ones more strongly. Conservatism isn't merely a preference for previous power-arrangements but nostalgia for how it used-to-be, even if what-had-been was far from ideal. In more ways than one, THE LEOPARD(the film) is more a work of nostalgia than conservatism. It doesn't long for the past in terms of power-politics but acknowledges the regal splendor that passed away with change and modernity; it's like what Ruth Gordon says in HAROLD AND MAUDE: "I don't regret the kingdoms - what sense in borders and nations and patriotism? But I miss the kings. Also, those who knew nothing of this past, culture, and order could hardly miss it as nostalgia is about what one remembers but no longer has. As most people weren't aristocrats, they could hardly feel nostalgic for the aristocratic order, of which they have no memory. For the hoi polloi viewers, their impression of THE LEOPARD will be less of nostalgia than of fascination with a world of riches and grandeur. Still, even the hoi polloi may feel a certain shared-nostalgia because fiction allows the audience to empathize with the characters. To the extent that the viewers come to intimately participate in the life of a prince(especially in a work as masterly as that of Visconti's), they do feel some measure his grief and quiet tragedy.
Libertarian movies shouldn't count as conservative because there is little sense of love or reverence for the past or tradition. Libertarianism is free-market-'fascism'-of-the-individual. If Italian Fascism said there is one and only Il Duce in the form of Mussolini and all Italians must gather around him, Ayn Randism says each person should be his or her own Mussolini(and since she knew everything, every individualist-Mussolini would really be her mental minion; Rand was a radical mono-individualist who decreed how all individuals must think and feel in order to be 'free' and 'rational': Like Her). Rand, as we know, had little respect or love for American or Russian heritage(or for the Jewish one for that matter though she certainly had a Jewish Personality & radical will and supported Zionism against Arabs whom she denigrated as 'barbarians'). What she liked about America was the opportunity for growth, riches, and change fueled by radical individualist freedom. She couldn't have cared less about American folks lived in prairie towns who wore Sunday best for Church attendance.
List of conservative movies should be chosen based on merit alone. Suppose some Homo-Marxist made a movie with noticeable conservative themes. His inclinations shouldn't negate the work's content. But suppose an inferior work was made by a prominent someone known to be 'conservative'. If it isn't good, there's no sense pretending it is just because he happens to be in the 'right' camp. No sense lauding something just because it was made by Mel Gibson or happens to be pro-family or pro-Christian. PASSION was underrated by its detractors but way overrated by hardcore Christian types and Conservatism Inc., which also dutifully wet its pants over BRAVEHEART and THE PATRIOT. Furthermore, no special consideration should be given to crowd-pleasing movies. It's dubious that FORREST GUMP is really a conservative movie, but people like Pat Buchanan slurped up its cheap sentimentality.
It's worth noting that some of the greatest films ever are conservative-themed(or right-wing) yet made by liberals. Why would that be? Maybe because liberals are artistically more curious, open-minded, and experimental whereas conservative themes are meatier and/or more substantive: The bond of blood or triumph of spirit runs deeper than ink of justice. It's rightness vs righteousness. The Right feels right, whereas the Left has to feel righteous. 'Being' itself is right enough for the Right, whereas only 'being right' is right for the Left. We see this in the dichotomy of the White Right and White Left. White Right is content with being white and would be happy to have their own homelands and be left alone. White Left feels justified only when it feels righteous about something, and if opening white nations to the world is deemed the 'right thing to do', they must hysterically go about realizing such vision... if only to feel more self-righteous.
Also, art works through friction and tension, and the tension between liberal curiosity and conservative density makes for interesting dynamics. APOCALYPSE NOW is more interesting for the creative tension between Francis Ford Coppola's liberal leanings and John Milius' right-wing vision. A liberal making a liberal movie might be comfortable with the material; he merely has to endorse it. The element of friction would be absent. However, a liberal working with conservative themes must struggle with them; this makes for creative tension and dialectic sparks.
Also, power, privilege, sanctity, spirituality — the favored themes of conservatism — are ultimately more interesting and resilient than do-goodery and social consciousness. Would most people rather see a movie about Don Corleone or a do-gooder social activist? A leftist revolutionary can be an interesting material for a movie, but he has to be hyper-charged with action. A leftist is interesting for the way he tries to change the world. A conservative is interesting simply for being a part of the world. A leftist must transform the world to have meaning, whereas a conservative already has meaning in his world. The prince of THE LEOPARD merely needs to be an aristocrat to be regal and majestic. In contrast, a leftist revolutionary has to throw bombs or make speeches to be somebody. The king is interesting because he lives in a castle and HAS power. The rebel trying to overthrow the king is interesting because he WANTS power. To the extent that all rebels eventually want power and to rule, they are working toward what eventually becomes the New Conservatism. In the end, it's about power than ideals, and all leftisms become rightisms. Indeed, leftism is essentially the wanna-be new rightism. Look how the Jewish 'Liberals' became the new ruling class in the West and will go about doing just about anything to conserve their power. Granted, Jews aren't merely conservative because they aren't content merely with keeping with what they got but salivate for more and more. They are conservatives with what they have and expansives with what they don't yet have but crave.
Despite being mass entertainment and perhaps the most democratic of art-forms, cinema may essentially be a very conservative art form in one sense: Nearly all movies create larger-than-life-heroes. Rightism is distinct from egalitarian leftism in the acceptance of hierarchy. To be sure, there are different kinds of hierarchies — based on blood, merit, or gangsterism. The thing is, even a movie about leftists like Karl Marx or Vladimir Lenin would mythologize them as a Special Higher being, a king-like or even godlike figure. Presence of larger-than-life figures runs against the ideal of leftism that is egalitarian and says NO ONE should be bigger or larger than anyone else.
But, movies make the heroes and main characters larger-than-life, larger than ordinary mortals. They give us heroes who dwarf the hoi polloi both figuratively and literally(as they're magnified on the big screen). So, 'Michael Collins' isn't just an Irish revolutionary but something like a demigod. Even a whacko like Travis Bickle in TAXI DRIVER becomes a mythic anti-hero. This wouldn't necessarily be the case with drama or novel. Both work on the human level and proportions. They don't present giants on the big screen, whose moments are further heightened by music. Opera's exaggerated vocals may be the closest thing to the exaggerated image of cinema.
Movies almost always create mythic heroes; it's largely due to the size of the screen but also the power of editing and the sped-up narrative(that takes us all over the map across time and space). Now, this isn't the case with the films of the Dardennes Brothers or Jean-Luc Godard. Or with something like Ermano Olmis' TREE OF THE WOODEN CLOGS where the realist-setting and the way of life are more important than any single character. Still, especially with the impact of the Auteur Theory, we do feel the personal signature of the star director as a near-godly presence. Most movies have this power over us. Even a movie about leftists or leftist ideals become rightist or even 'fascist' in its presentation. A profound sense of hierarchy is unmistakable. Take V FOR VENDETTA(a terrible movie to be sure) where the hero becomes not just a warrior for justice but a demagogic super-duper-man of awesomeness. Or take MALCOLM X. He is elevated to silver screen aristocracy, and all the Negro kids in the audience were supposed to stand up and say "I's Macum X."
Now, some genuinely conservative films:
The Leopard, Makioka Sisters, Tokyo Story, Apu Trilogy (boy grows to manhood, seeks freedom, but realizes he's part of something bigger, part of a continuum), Music Room (leading character is a decadent aristo BUT the film captures the seductive allure of leisure and privilege), Andrei Rublev, Stalker, Tree of the Wooden Clogs(critical of social inequality of Old Italy BUT a paean to the virtues and decency of simple god-fearing peasant folks), Diary of a Country Priest, Time Regained, Sunshine(by Szabo, conservative at least in its insistence on importance of Jewish memory), Ride the High Country, Ivan the Terrible, Alexander Nevsky, Nixon, The Godfather, Six Moral Tales, Fanny and Alexander(for family and liberalism), High and Low, Magnificent Ambersons, Chimes at Midnight, Barry Lyndon, An Unfinished Piece for a Mechanical Piano, Burnt by the Sun(revolution destroys a national hero and devours the family unit), Siberiade, Ugetsu, The Long Riders, Birth of a Nation, Once Upon a Time in the West, Farewell My Concubine, Earrings of Madame de, Christmas Story, Radio Days, Man Who Knew Too Much, The Birds, My Father's Glory, My Mother's Castle, Age of Innocence, Time of the Gypsies, Great Expectations, Amorres Perros, Notre Musique, The Return(Russian), Nostalghia(Tarkovsky), Metropolitan, Last Days of Disco.