“Great” Movie Lists Are Fun But Shameful

1001 Movies You Must See Before You DieOver the weekend, I picked up a copy of, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. I think I like checking out books like this because I know they will annoy me. It doesn’t matter if they are overall reasonable, I have strongly held iconoclastic opinions about film, and over the course of 1001 films, many things are bound to set me off. But while I’m on the subject, I should note that the book is pretty interesting. It contains a lot of great films and the discussions of them are not bad. But enough of the good!

The very idea of a book like this is stupid. There are two competing impulses. On the one side, you have all the supposedly great films that everyone has seen. And then, on the other side, you have all the films that this or that cinephile holds as a personal treasure. And this book represents a lot of cinephiles: 59 of them. I love the latter impulse. And this is certainly one reason I check books like this out; I’m always curious to see interesting films I’ve missed. But the first impulse is just boring. And they aren’t even all great (or even good) films. Is it really necessary to watch When Harry Met Sally before I die? I certainly hope not!

This is part of the selling of the book. People only buy it because it contains films that readers have seen. This allows them to flatter themselves on having enjoyed some of the films that are so good no one should die without seeing. And this is manifested most clearly in the overabundance of recent films. Consider the list of Stanley Kubrick films: Paths of Glory; Spartacus; Lolita; Dr Strangelove; 2001: A Space Odyssey; A Clockwork Orange; Barry Lyndon; The Shining; Full Metal Jacket; and Eyes Wide Shut. I will discuss the issue of the overloading of particular directors in a moment. But Eyes Wide Shut was released in 1999 and this version of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die was from 2003. So they threw in that film even though no one actually thinks it is indispensable when limited to 1001 films.

A new edition of the book comes out almost every year. That in itself shows what a farce the book is. The list is so eternal that it must be updated year to year? The 2013 edition of the book sported an image from Life of Pi. I’m not suggesting that it isn’t a good or even great film — I haven’t seen it and I really don’t think I should waste my precious film-watching time on yet another big budget, special effects derived film. Regardless, the film was on that cover because it was a big hit in 2012 and Ang Lee won the Academy Aware for Best Director.

But my biggest problem was the way that the book fetishizes certain directors. I thought it did a good job with Russ Meyer. He got one film, and it is his best, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! I could have done without the condescending description of the film. But while I admire other work of Meyer, in a list of 1001 films, one film is about right. I’m also okay with Samuel Fuller getting three films because of the diversity of his work. But nothing can justify the inclusion of 18 Alfred Hitchcock films. I won’t list them all, but it includes a number of mediocre films, which I will: The 39 Steps; Shadow of a Doubt; Rope; Vertigo; North By Northwest; and The Birds. Don’t get me wrong: I like most of the those films well enough; but only The 39 Steps was impressive in its own time and it has aged poorly.

As I indicated, I generally pick up books like this because it is fun to be annoyed by them. And I’m not immune to feeling a good that Pickpocket and El Topo are in the book. But ultimately, such books are bad for us. If those 18 Hitchcock films really are so important, they deserve to be presented as a narrative within the context of film at the time and Hitchcock’s career. But books like that don’t sell well. So we get these kind of books as magazines — printed on slick paper with color photographs, which, above all, never require an attention span of more than three minutes.


Since writing this, I went through the book from beginning to end. This is a pleasure. If you know film fairly well, you can see the historical arc of the art form. I was surprised just how many films I’ve seen — more than 70%, certainly. I think it does a particularly bad job of representing international filmmakers in the 1920s, 1930s, and into the mid-1940s — and then only really the Italian Neorealists. It also does a pretty bad job of picking Orson Welles film, most especially including The Stranger!

Political Harassment — It’s the Economics, Stupid!

Corey RobinSince the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Citizens United, critics on the left, including Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, have been outraged by the claim that a corporation is a person. That claim actually plays far more of a role in Justice Stevens’ dissent than it does in the ruling opinion of the majority. It’s also hardly an innovation of Citizens United; it goes back to the 19th century. By focusing so much attention on it, critics misstate the actual problem of corporate power and political influence.

The real problem is that workers are the instruments of their bosses’ will. If a corporation were just a person, it’d have only one vote. But corporations and firms have more than one vote. Those additional votes can’t be measured by the money those firms spend in a campaign, by the ads and lunches firms buy. Every CEO’s vote is augmented by the workers he controls, by the votes he can deliver like the ward bosses of old. While Citizens United made that problem worse — not because of the unlimited cash it allows into the political sphere but, as some of its earliest critics noted, because of the restrictions it removes on the power of employers to influence and mobilize their workers — it was always and already there.

When we think of corruption, we think of something getting debased, becoming impure, by the introduction of a foreign material. Money worms its way into the body politic, which rots from within. The antidote to corruption, then, is to keep unlike things apart. Take the big money out of politics or limit its role. That’s what our campaign finance reformers tell us.

But the problem isn’t corruption. It’s capitalism. Workers are dependent on employers for their well-being. That makes them vulnerable to their bosses’ demands, about a great many matters, including politics. The ballot and the buck are fused. Not because of campaign donations but because of the unequal relationship between capital and labor. Not just in the corridors of Congress but also in the halls of the workplace. Unless you confront the latter, you’ll never redress the former. Without economic democracy, there’s no political democracy.

—Corey Robin
Your Boss Wants to Control Your Vote

See Also

Political Harassment in the Workplace
More on Political Harassment

Will Greece Finally Exit the Euro — I Hope So

GreeceFor years I’ve been arguing that Greece should exit the Euro. Partly, this is axiomatic for me. A shared currency was always a bad idea. And the way it has played out is that Germany — as the dominant economy on the Euro — has almost total power. And Germany — as it has for the last hundred years and more — has abused that power. It’s nothing personal against the Germans. Truthfully, I just assume that the Germans will act like Americans and I’m never disappointed — which is to say that I am always disappointed but never surprised.

So I have never thought that Greece would get a fair deal. It’s really simple: the Greek government screwed up. Unlike the other European countries that got into trouble, it was culpable. And given that, Germany and the other countries were going to have to show Greece mercy. Fat chance with that. So I always thought that it was a matter of Greece exiting the Euro early or exiting it late. And once you conclude that, it really doesn’t make much sense to torture yourself for years while putting off the inevitable. If Greece had exited in 2010, it would have taken a year or two to get back on its feet. If it does it now, it will take a year or two to get back on its feet.

Matt Yglesias, surprisingly, thinks that Greece doesn’t have much bargaining power right now, Greece Is in Crisis (Again), and Here’s What You Need to Know. He argued that if Greece exits the Euro, it would actually hurt the moderate parties in the rest of Europe. But why does that matter to Greece? This should be the great concern for the European establishment. If Greece exits the Euro and manages to do well within a couple of years, this will embolden more extreme parties in other countries. Many of those parties are not too nice. That provides a great deal of incentive to the rest of Europe, if only it were worried about, you know, World War III as much as it was worried about bankers losing a bit of money.

Yglesias has an answer to my concern, by responding to — of all people — Josh Barro. Barro has been saying the same things I have, “Doesn’t Greece need to leave the Euro for the same reason everyone needed to leave the gold standard in the 1930s?” Yes, it does! It needs to lower the value of its currency. And, “I get it: transitioning off the Euro would be very very painful. But not transitioning off also looks very very painful!” But Yglesias’ response to this again makes me scratch my head. He puts forth the European project as one to minimize conflict — to avoid World War III, if you like. And he noted Greece had previously been mired in civil war. But again I say: isn’t this a bigger issue to Europe than to Greece? Isn’t this the reason that the Germany and the rest should really want to make a deal with Greece?

Yglesias does mention an idea for keeping Greece in the EU that was proposed by Wolfgang Münchau. It sounds reasonable. But then most of what Greece has proposed has sounded reasonable. It doesn’t seem to me that it has been Greece that has stood in the way of a deal. If Münchau’s idea was reasonable, why didn’t the more experienced bureaucrats of the EU push it? I think the reason is clear enough. The European Union Commission is really not interested in doing what is best for the people of the EU. They are focused on the interests of the power elite. And like such people everywhere, they have pushed their financial interests to the point where they may end up hurting themselves.

Morning Music: Silly Symphony

The Wise Little HenThis is a special edition of Anniversaries and Morning Music. Back in 1934, Donald Duck made his screen debut in the Silly Symphony short, The Wise Little Hen. It is based on “The Little Red Hen” — you know: “Who will help me bake the bread?” But in this case it is all about corn, “Will you help me plant the corn?! Will you help me plant the corn?!” It is an annoyingly catchy tune!

One thing that’s interesting here is that Donald Duck shows up pretty much exactly as he later is. Compare this to Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny, who are almost unrecognizable. This may be why the Warner Bros Cartoons were so much better: they were constantly tinkering with things. Also, of course: Disney was so committed to a moralistic approach to its content. Growing up watching only Disney cartoons, you would conclude that the worst sin is to spend your time singing and dancing.

But I find this particular cartoon charming. It has a number of clever visual gags. And like I said, the song is catchy. I’ll bet you will be singing it all day!

Anniversary Post: Black Mormon Priests

Blacks Get PriesthoodOn this day in 1978, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the Mormons — started allowing black men to serve as priests in the church — just 92 years after the first American Catholic priest. It was announced the day before by the church fathers in the 1978 Revelation on Priesthood, “He has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed that the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the church may receive the Holy Priesthood, with power to exercise its divine authority, and enjoy with his loved ones every blessing that follows there from, including the blessings of the temple.” The previous 148 years, God was busy — or something.

Interestingly, when the church first started, it didn’t have any restrictions at all. Up until 1847, there had been two African American priests. The explicit racism toward blacks seems to have started with everyone’s favorite polygamist Brigham Young. He made speeches about how anyone with a single drop of the Curse of Cain could never be a priest. Even if race weren’t a myth, such ideas are submental.

The Utah territory got the right to decide for itself if it would be a slave state. It decided yes. But the fact was that there were very few slaves in the territory. When the Civil War started, Utah sided with the patriots and outlawed slavery in 1862. Say what you will about the Mormons — they are a practical people. I admire that.

So we mark this day, 37 years ago, when God finally got back to the elders at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Because, you know, how would we know that racism was wrong except through divine revelation? God has yet to reveal his ideas regarding sexism.