The Hired Hand and the Interchangeability of Men

The Hired HandAlan Sharp wrote the screenplay for one of my very favorite films, Dean Spanley. It is notably superior to the Edward Plunkett short story it was based on. So I’ve been going back and watching some other films he wrote. Last week, I wrote about The Osterman Weekend, Idealistic Basis of Liberal Patriotism. And before I had written about another of his movies, Night Moves and the Tragic Search for the Truth. This last weekend, I got a copy of another film, The Hired Hand.

It is a Peter Fonda film, released in 1971, just a month and a half after Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs Miller. It shouldn’t be surprising that the films look a lot alike; they were both lit by Vilmos Zsigmond. But there is much less of a flamboyant quality to it in The Hired Hand. And that is what most comes across in the film: the effort to tell the story in the most direct way possible. But that’s not to say that film is all that direct. For one thing, Sharp leaves a whole lot unstated. For another, the editing by Frank Mazzola (at Fonda’s request) is ostentatious, even while it is largely effective.

The Hired Hand tells the story of Harry Collings (Fonda). When he was 20 years old, he married a 30 year old woman. She had a daughter and soon after, Collings hit the trail, spending the next 7 years wandering around with Arch Harris (Warren Oates). Collings decides to go back home and try to get back together with his wife. Complications ensue. First, his wife, Hannah (Verna Bloom) is not a shrinking violet, but a strong and self-assured woman. Second, the film is bookmarked by the story of the killing of a friend of Collings and Harris, and their reprisal and counter-reprisal.

In addition to McCabe & Mrs Mill, the film reminded me of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1970 classic El Topo. There is something about the pacing, the lack of specificity. Is the story really about Harry Collings? Certainly in the context of Hollywood it is. But he isn’t very interesting. By far, Hannah is the most interesting character. There is a clear reading of the film in which men really are interchangeable: the hired hands. At one point, Hannah even says so to Harris, “Wouldn’t really matter if it was you or him tonight.” Of course, you don’t need to see it that way. At The American Conservative, Bill Kauffman wrote that it was “a lovely meditation on friendship and responsibility.” I see that; I just don’t really agree with it.

But that’s when films are at their best: when they take the viewers seriously enough to have them take part in the creation of the work. Still, I think that both McCabe & Mrs Miller and El Topo are better. That’s mostly because The Hired Hand is too short. If you took out flashy transitions, I doubt the film would be 70 minutes long. So I think the viewer is left with the feeling that there isn’t quite enough material to gnaw on. But it still offers far more nourishment than most films.

Behind the Crazy Anti-Wind-Farm Arguments

Solar FarmWhenever there is a poll question about something stupid, you can depend upon a fair number of Americans holding the ridiculous position. For example, there was a recent poll that found that 29% of Americans think Obama is a Muslim. I’m generally sympathetic to the argument that these people don’t really believe this. They are rather signalling in whatever way the questions allow that they really, really, really don’t like Obama. But I’m not certain. I don’t really know what is going on in these people’s minds. Indeed, a recent article made me question the basic brain functioning of my fellow Americans. But when I dug down into it, I found it was more complicated than is being reported.

Samuel Osborne reported in The Independent, US Town Rejects Solar Panels Amid Fears They “Suck Up All the Energy From the Sun.” The town in question is Woodland, North Carolina. Strata Solar Company wanted to build a solar farm north of the town. This required that the land be re-zoned from manufacturing to agricultural. The town council rejected the plan, despite the fact that the planning board was in favor of it. But it’s worse than that. The council had previous accepted plans for three other solar farms. But at the same meeting, the council voted for a moratorium on solar farms.

What could be the cause of this reversal? Well, the people have risen up. Some of the complaints at least seem reasonable. Mary Hobbs said that the existing solar farms have killed the local economy. I don’t really see that. Woodland isn’t exactly a tourist destination. It’s probably dying for the same economic reasons that lots of other small towns are dying. But it is true that the solar farm is not like a factory; it would create few jobs. At the same time, the Strata farm would probably have been very lucrative because its location was close to an electrical substation. This kind of local investment is not likely to revitalize the community.

Other concerns were less debatable. Jane Mann argued that the vegetation near solar panels is brown because of lack of sunlight. Her husband Bobby concurred, saying that the solar farms suck up all the energy from the sun. They are also concerned about cancer deaths, which the solar farms are supposedly responsible for. But mixed in with all the crazy, there is some sense. The Manns are still primarily concerned with what is going to happen to the town because of the solar farm. As Jane Mann said, “I don’t see the profit for the town.”

That’s a good point. The site for the Strata solar farm is outside the town limits and so the town will get no tax benefit from it, “The only funding the town would get is approximately $7,000 per year for specialized training for the Woodland Fire Department in the event of an electrical malfunction at the solar plant.” Get that: the company is only going to pay to make sure that the publicly funded fire department is properly educated on how to serve the company’s interests. So regardless of how silly the concerns may be, there really is nothing to counterbalance it.

Now, I’m in favor of solar farms. This is exactly the kind of thing we should be doing. But we come back to the same problem as ever: inequality. The rich want to place their solar farms out where they don’t have to see them. They can just siphon off the profits to wherever they decide the view is nicest. And the people of Woodland get nothing very clear in exchange. It’s not surprising that they start talking about solar farms sucking.

Morning Music: The Rockford Files

The Rockford FilesI’m going to do another Mike Post theme today. It’s for The Rockford Files, and he wrote it with Pete Carpenter. I’m not that fond of it. It’s fine. It’s not annoying. But it is hardly the Barney Miller theme. But I wanted to related a story about the show.

When I was younger, I loved the show. (It is still a very good show with excellent writing.) My friend Will and I used to watch it when we were in middle school. And we saw one episode that had a great impact on us, “Beamer’s Last Case.” In it, Rockford comes back from vacation to find that someone has been impersonating him. He finds out that it is a mechanic at the garage he uses, Fred Beamer (James Whitmore Jr). Beamer has read too much Dashiell Hammett. But he has stumbled upon an actual case involving some local gangsters.

The problem is that he is getting in Rockford’s way. What’s more, Beamer is setting himself up to get murdered. So Rockford sends him away on a bus to northern California on the track of the “Artichoke King.” (There actually was a guy known by that, Ciro Terranova, but he died in 1938.) So Beamer is on the bus, but he can’t be silent. He loudly explains to the woman next to him what he’s doing. And this resulted in one of Will and my go-to lines to sum up stupid bravado, “Do I pack a gun? Yes, I pack a gun!”

This was back in 1978. There was no internet. So that line is just what we remembered after the show was over. And so that is what we repeated. But decades later, I saw the show again. Sadly, we got the line wrong. It is, “Do I carry a gun.” And it works brilliantly in the episode. But if you had to sum up the Beamer character in a short space, “pack” is really helpful because it adds that feel of 1930s hard-boiled detectives. Not that anyone knows what Will and I are talking about most of the time anyway.

I would like this theme a lot more without those Moog and harmonica synth sounds:

Anniversary Post: Harrods Bombing

Harrods Department StoreOn this day in 1983, the IRA exploded a car bomb at Harrods department store in London. Six people were killed and 90 others were injured. I wouldn’t bring it up, but I am constantly amazed at how many people are unfamiliar with the Troubles and the fact that it was largely a Catholic movement. Now I’m sure that intellects as great as Bill Maher would tell me that I’m wrong about it being a religious conflict — that it was much more complex than that.

The things is: I agree! It was more complex than that. It was a political fight based as much on Irish nationalism than anything else. It was also explicitly a reaction to UK rule and some bad policy. And I’m sure I would agree with Maher and his ilk about most other conflicts the world has ever seen. Where we disagree is regarding Muslim terrorism. In that regard, Maher has a convenient exception for our current official enemies. For that, it is all about the religion!

According to the Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Strategic Communication (pdf) in 2004, it ain’t about religion, “The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf states.”

I think the reason I find this so annoying is because what is said about the Muslims today is what was said about the Soviets when I was growing up. The point seems to be that I was growing up. Over time, I got to see that the Soviets had certain interests that they were pursuing. It wasn’t that they wanted worldwide domination. They were just another country pursuing what they thought was their best interests. And so we see the very same thing with Muslims. You could go point by point and compare.

My question for the Bill Mahers and Sam Harrises of the world is why they haven’t managed to learn this basic fact about people. But notice: I’m interested in why they haven’t learned this. I’m not interested in yet another apologist to explain why they are right to not have learned this lesson. I’ve heard it all before and it is exhausting without a hint of illumination.