That Time Orson Welles Edited a Porn Film

3 AMOther than Hitchcock, Orson Welles is probably the most overrated film director in history. But unlike Hitchcock, Welles remains under appreciated — and under watched. I love Welles’ work. But I hate the Welles legend. To me, he’s perhaps the greatest idiosyncratic filmmaker ever. He had a personal vision and made roughly a dozen films under generally difficult conditions. And all of those films deserved to be made, even if most of them have problems — almost entirely because of Welles’ lack of creative or monetary control.

Getting past the Welles legend, the story of how he made his films is fascinating — from effectively hoodwinking the studio on The Magnificent Ambersons to the three years of on-again-off-again shooting of Othello to the taking over of a documentary project of another filmmaker that led to F for Fake. During the last couple of decades of his life, Welles existed in the down-low of the film world. In general, truly independent filmmakers will do just about anything to get their work done. Welles was such a filmmaker and he worked with a lot of similarly inclined people.

Still, I was a bit surprised to read this article at Vulture over the weekend, Watch the Porn Scene Edited by Orson Welles. For those who have seen the amazing truck sex scene from the as yet unreleased (They keep promising!) The Other Side of the Wind, this may not come as too much of a surprise. And this isn’t just any porn film. It is 3 AM — a fairly high brow affair. It was released in 1975 — when the porn industry still had illusions of making something like art, before it all degenerated into filmed (video taped) gynecological exams.

The director of the film was “Robert McCallum.” And that was the pseudonym of Gary Graver — the cinematographer for a couple hundred films, including Welles’ last three: F For Fake (all the American footage), Filming Othello, and The Other Side of the Wind. I don’t think that Graver was paid for any of the work that he did for Welles. Obviously, he was paid for his work in the porn industry. That’s an interesting counter example for those free-marketeers who claim that value is determined by payment alone. If that’s the case, then what our society stands for is porn films and not one or possibly two of the greatest films of the 20th century.

According to the article, Welles became involved in editing 3 AM because he was annoyed that Graver has holding up production on The Other Side of the Wind with his paying work on porn films. (Graver directed almost 150 porn films in his career.) So Welles came in and did some editing to move things along. This should not be shocking for a couple of reasons. One is that Welles was no prude. The other is that filmmaking is filmmaking. What makes an art film work on a technical level is no different than what makes a porn film work. In fact, I’ve argued before that there isn’t that much of a difference between art, horror, and fetish films.

The Vulture article asked filmmaker and writer Bilge Ebiri about the seven minute long scene. Although he hedges, his conclusion is the same as mine: there is nothing especially “Wellesian” about it. For one thing, Welles was using material that Graver had shot. Of course, it is possible that the old man’s style had rubbed of on the younger man’s porn work. But Ebiri noted something that I can’t speak to because I haven’t seen the whole seven minute scene, “I guess the thing that most distinguishes this scene might be most ‘Wellesian’ thing about it: It’s a nice scene. Even almost kind of (gasp) moving.”

So here is a bit less than two minutes of the shower scene from 3 AM. It contains comments by Bilge Ebiri. Regardless of everything else, it is still an explicit depiction of two women having sex in a shower. But I really do think there is something wrong with anyone who would find this footage scarring.

Who Will Be Blamed If Court Guts Obamacare

Jonathan ChaitThe first question Republicans have to decide is, should the Court decide in their favor, do they need to do anything at all? The lawsuit would eliminate tax credits for residents of some 34 states, depending on what definition is used, whose health-care exchange is run by the federal government. This would, for the first time, bring Republicans face to face with the political fallout of taking away actual health care from current, rather than prospective, beneficiaries of Obamacare.

The most ideologically hard-core elements of the party have tried to make the case that Republicans should do nothing at all. One libertarian organization commissioned a poll designed to show that voters would not blame Republicans for doing nothing in the face of massive suffering. The poll has an unusually blunt method for producing this result. It asks, in the event the lawsuit is successful, whom voters would blame. The choices are: Congress, for poorly writing the law; the IRS, for giving out illegal subsidies in the first place; States, for refusing to establish Obamacare exchanges; unsure.

Notice that, even aside from the loaded terms (“poorly writing,” “illegal”), none of those choices allows voters to blame the current, Republican-run Congress for failing to fix the law. The only “Congress” voters can blame is the old Democratic one that wrote the law in 2009–10. The poll does prove that the public will not blame Republicans in Congress if it is given a fixed menu of choices, of which blaming the Republican Congress is not one.

Most actual Republicans in Congress realize, however, that this is not how political debates really work. In the real world, voters are allowed to blame you for stuff if they want to. An Associated Press poll finds that Americans by a 56–39 margin would want the tax credits to continue to be extended to all 50 states, even if the lawsuit prevails. As Republican Senator Ben Sasse warned several months ago, in a column urging his party to unite behind his plan, “Chemotherapy turned off for perhaps 12,000 people, dialysis going dark for 10,000. The horror stories will be real.” Obama would be able to urge Congress to simply fix the confusion by passing a law reaffirming that customers in federal exchanges are also eligible for tax credits.

—Jonathan Chait
The Obamacare Lawsuit Is a Government Shutdown, but for Health Care

All Our Identity Politics

Matt YglesiasMatt Yglesias has an amazing ability to summarize complicated issues simply. Last week, he wrote, All Politics Is Identity Politics. He noted that people generally define “identity politics” as those of race or gender — and increasingly sexual orientation. And he summed up his point with two simple but powerful sentences, “The implication of this usage is that somehow an identity is something only women or African-Americans or perhaps LGBT people have. White men just have ideas about politics that spring from a realm of pure reason, with concerns that are by definition universal.” Yeah, that’s about right.

This is the essence of “white male privilege” — at least as far as I’m concerned. There are other elements to it of course: having an easier time finding a job and not having police think the default way to deal with you is to kill you. But the fundamental issue is the invisibility of whiteness and maleness. If you are a white male, you are an individual in our society. If you are a woman or a person of color, you are seen through the prism of your membership in a particular group. And that’s what’s so great about Yglesias’ observation. The “identity” is not about the individual; it is about the label that the society broadly places on the individual.

Yglesias goes on to highlight complaints about Bill de Blasio focusing on racism in New York City policing. He noted that not focusing on this is as much of a choice as focusing on it. But we see this kind of thing all the time. Allowing corporations to continue to illegally bust unions is considered somehow morally neutral in a way that doing something about this illegal activity (which the federal government has ignored for four decades now) means siding with one side. Implicit siding with the corporations is oddly considered not taking a stand.

Here is where it is really helpful to be identity invisible. Let’s suppose that it is the 1970s and you get cheaper housing because you aren’t black. You have the luxury of thinking the status quo is “natural.” You aren’t getting a lower interest rate on your mortgage; you are getting the just interest rate. And those African Americans are asking for laws that apply specifically to them — because of their identity. That’s so not you because you aren’t asking for anything because of your identity. Because you are already getting it by default.

Yglesias summed up the situation perfectly:

All politics is, on some level, identity politics. The idea that it’s some special attribute of black politics or feminist politics is just blindness. And while identity politics can be practiced in bad ways or in pursuit of bad goals, that’s simply to say that politics can be practiced both for good and for ill. The idea that gendered or ethnic claims are despoiling a liberalism of pure selves and neutral rationality is little more than an unselfconscious form of identity politics. Politics is about collective decisions. This necessarily implicates individuals’ identities by defining who is inside and who is outside the community of concern and under what terms.

Ultimately, this is all about who sets the parameters of the debate. This is why I have little tolerance for all the whining about the “new political correctness” and things like that. At core, it is all about powerful people claiming that their their power is being challenged. The great thing about privilege is not having to ask for special rights. But that doesn’t mean the privileged don’t still ask for them.

GOP Candidates Iowans Will Consider Voting for

J Ann SelzerThe pollster J Ann Selzer wrote a very interesting article over at The Des Moines Register, Selzer Score Helps Bring Order to GOP Herd. It tries to get a handle on what will happen in the Iowa caucus. The issue is that caucuses work in a more “hands on” way and so there is jockeying for support during the caucus. The Democratic process is even more interesting in that only candidates who get at least 15% of any given caucus’ vote are allowed; so if someone votes for, say, Lincoln Chafee and less than 15% of the people there vote for him, they will have to switch to their second favorite candidate. The Republican caucus is more straightforward, but the same kind of thing will happen. And over time, this is what happens in the overall election as the weaker candidates drop out.

So Selzer put together a system where she looks at voters secondary choices. She uses three components. First, she gives double weight to people’s first choice. Second, she gives regular weight to people’s second choice. And third, she gives half weight to whether they would ever consider voting for the candidate. It’s a clever scheme. But I don’t see any reason to believe it. The results say far more about the model than about reality. Still, there is some explanatory value in the exercise.

What I think is most interesting are just the numbers of people who would consider even voting for different candidates. That to me seems like a reasonable way of looking at the long term potential of each. Obviously, these opinions can change. But it is hard to take serious a candidate that 58% say they would never vote for. I’ve taken Selzer’s data and put it together in the following chart:

Candidate Consider +Don’t Know
Scott Walker 68% 85%
Mike Huckabee 68% 77%
Marco Rubio 67% 82%
Rick Santorum 63% 74%
Rick Perry 63% 73%
Ben Carson 62% 82%
Ted Cruz 62% 80%
Rand Paul 60% 70%
Jeb Bush 54% 64%
Bobby Jindal 50% 75%
Carly Fiorina 43% 73%
Chris Christie 42% 55%
Donald Trump 34% 42%
John Kasich 32% 72%
Lindsey Graham 31% 56%
George Pataki 21% 59%

Let’s start by discussing the second column: Consider. This is the percentage of people who say they would consider voting for the candidate. Donald Trump is a great example. He clearly is a non-starter as a viable candidate, but he still has 4% of the vote in terms of first choices. As Selzer noted: “enough to rank him in the top 10.” And that means it is enough to put him in the first presidential debate. Yet only 34% of those polled say they would ever vote for him. Similarly, Jeb Bush just makes it into the top ten by this accounting.

The third column provides an important caveat. It is the total “Consider” column plus the number of people who said they didn’t know. This provides some insight into people who might get some traction as they make their way through the campaign: Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorina, and John Kasich. But that speaks really poorly of Jeb Bush. By this accounting, he comes in 12th place — only a bit ahead of George Pataki! There are also people like Ben Carson who lots of Republicans think they know because he’s gotten so much attention on Fox News. But I think in an actual election, he’s going to show himself to be the political amateur that he is, and his numbers will come down accordingly.

The Republican Party would be smart to look at something like this for their debates. It has the advantage of weeding out two of the most embarrassing candidates: Donald Trump and Chris Christie. Just the same, there is plenty of crazy getting high scores: Carson, Huckabee, Cruz. I don’t understand why Republicans think so lowly of Trump (42%) and so highly of Cruz (80%). But given that there isn’t much in terms of ideological difference between “establishment” candidate Scott Walker and “crazy” candidate Ben Carson, maybe there isn’t anything to understand. Maybe it’s just random.

Morning Music: Dan Hill

Longer Fuse - Dan HillThere are three things that I most associate with “romantic love.” The first is the Franco Zeffirelli filmed version of Romeo and Juliet. This is because my older sister dropped my younger sister and me off at a theater playing the film when I was perhaps ten. She did this so she could go out with her friends, and as I recall, my younger sister and I saw the film a dozen times — but it was probably just twice.

While at that movie, I had a notebook that had some kind of jasmine perfume spilled on it. Yes, even at ten I always carried a notebook around with me. You got a problem with that? Anyway, as a result, jasmine makes me think of the same kind of immature “I love you so much because I know nothing about you!” infatuation that we in America mistake for love.

The third thing has nothing to do with that long night of Shakespearean tragedy. When I was a teenager, I had my first dance during the playing of Dan Hill’s “Sometimes When We Touch” off his third album Longer Fuse. The music was written by the excellent Barry Mann. The sentimental lyrics are Hill’s fault. But I should be clear. While I have a weird kind of admiration for Romeo and Juliet, the smell of jasmine, and the song “Sometimes When We Touch” — I generally think they are dreadful. Or at least socially dangerous. I suppose I’m being a bit hard on jasmine — but it’s a very potent smell, the slightest hint of which makes me go all weepy. And I think Zeffirelli did a great job of bring Romeo and Juliet to the screen, but it’s an annoying play. As for the song: “I wanna hold you til I die; til we both break down and cry”?

But here’s the song:

Anniversary Post: Kangding-Luding Flood

Dadu RiverOn this day in 1786, the Kangding-Luding flood occurred killing more than 100,000 people. On 1 June 1786, the Kangding-Luding earthquake occurred with an estimated magnitude of 7.8. Over 400 people were killed by the earthquake itself. But the quake also caused a number of mudslides. One of them created a dam blocked the Dadu River, creating an enormous lake — over 200 feet deep holding back almost two billion cubic feet of water. As of 9 June 1786, water began to overrun the dam. And on 10 June 1786, an aftershock caused the dam suddenly to collapsed. It must have been like an explosion.

To give you some idea of just how powerful this flood was, it caused the collapse of part of the city walls of Leshan. Leshan is over a hundred miles away from where the mudslide was (I’m assuming somewhere near Kangding-Luding). I have a hard time getting my head around it. But as you can see in the photo, it is surrounded by hills, so there isn’t anywhere for the water to go except where the river normally went. It must have been a horror show.

We mark this sad anniversary 229 years ago.