Ghostbusters Shouldn’t be in National Film Registry

National Film RegistryEach year, the National Film Registry (NFR) designates up to 25 films for preservation because they are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” And this year, just to show what a sham it is, Ghostbusters, Top Gun, Shawshank Enter National Film Registry. Not one of those films deserve to be acknowledged in this way. It’s not that I think they are bad films. They all have notable aspects. But they are also all boilerplate creations. I’m sure the NFR uses the “culturally” part of its criteria to slot these in. But then all it means is that big hits are going to make the list because they were big hits.

I’m not just being an old crank who wants to see obscure films make the list. But what is the point of the NFR? Does anyone think that Top Gun will be lost to us? They just released it on Blu-ray two years ago. Meanwhile, old films are literally disintegrating as we make sure the existing print of utter pedestrian recent films get special treatment. It is appalling. Even in that year, 1986, there were films that are far more culturally significant: Platoon, Blue Velvet, and The Fly to name just three. Top Gun stands out for one reason alone: it was the biggest money maker of that year.

But I understand. The National Film Registry thinks that each year it has to include a certain number of “name” films. Last year they included Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Saving Private Ryan. Again: I’m not saying these films are bad. The question is whether they are significant. And they are significant in a way that doesn’t require the help of the government funded National Film Preservation Board. But I suppose there are a lot of would be fighter pilots in Congress who will be more willing to fund the program for another year because Top Gun was on the list.

But there are many worthy films that were added to the registry this year, and ultimately that’s a good thing. Perhaps most interesting is the inclusion of Fred Ott’s Sneeze. It was shot in 1894 and lasts a total of 5 seconds. Fred Ott was an employee of Edison, and in the film, he takes a pinch of snuff and sneezes (or pretends to — it doesn’t look very real to me). Of course, the film is already preserved by the Library of Congress. It is a wonder to me that we aren’t spending hundreds of millions of dollars finding old films like this, restoring them, and preserving them. It is our legacy.

Another worthy addition is the 1937 Disney short The Old Mill. It’s fabulous. But as you can see in the following print, it hardly needs preservation. But it deserves to be highlighted as an important moment in the history of animation. As usual with Disney, it is too cloying, but visually it is stunning.

Also on this year’s list is Preston Sturges’ Hail the Conquering Hero. Although I’m not sure just how important the film is, I think that Sturges has received too little attention. His films on DVD are not in the best of shape, with the exception of Sullivan’s Travels, which I think is overrated among Sturges’s films. Typical. Comedians don’t get much respect in Hollywood.

The 1929 short film Black and Tan is on the list. It is hard to find fault in that. It isn’t much more than an excuse to highlight Duke Ellington and his band. But it’s wonderful. There is a segment in it that took me a moment to figure out. Two men show up to repossess Ellington’s piano. His wife offers them five dollars each to just go away. They refuse. Then she offers them alcohol, which they accept. I thought that was odd, given that $5 is upwards of $100 today. But then I remembered: Prohibition.

There are lots of others, of course. Some I think really are important. For example, Imitation of Life is a great film that most people just dismiss as 1950s fluff. Yet it is a deep film that deals with racial issues more honestly than most modern films. If you haven’t seen it, you should seek it out. So I’m glad to see it added to the registry, even if there is little concern about it being lost or forgotten.

I’ll admit that I am offended by the inclusion of Ghostbusters on the list just because I don’t think it is a very good film. Last year, the NFR added Rio Bravo to the list and it’s kind of the same thing: a opportunity for a bunch of stars to mug for the camera. But it isn’t just that. LA Confidential was added as well, and although I really like that film, it doesn’t belong here. Big budget hits don’t need to be preserved.

One of the great things about these lists is that they introduce people to films they’ve never heard of. In my case, Symbiopsychotaxiplasm is new to me. And I see that my library doesn’t have it. But I suspect that now that it has been added to the National Film Registry, they will probably acquire it. But here it is on YouTube. I’ll give it a view tonight:

I realize that the people at the National Film Registry would claim that they have to include some “fun” films — that they want to present a variety of films. But surely there are far more worthy and equally fun films than Top Gun and Ghostbusters.

Eric Posner Wants to Help ISIS Destroy America!

Eric PosnerGlenn Greenwald wrote a depressing article, Those Demanding Free Speech Limits to Fight ISIS Pose a Greater Threat to US Than ISIS. Obviously, we know that the Republicans want to destroy everything that is good about America because they are vewy vewy afwaid. They’re like Private Hudson from Aliens: talking tough, but the moment there is a hint of danger, “Game over, man!” But I had hoped that the Democrats and other reasonable folk would be better. And to a large extent, they have been. They at least don’t wet themselves every time there is an attack. I noted before that Clinton wasn’t exactly great on the subject, Trump, Clinton, and the ISIS Freak Out.

Last month following the ISIS attacks in Paris, Cass Sunstein wrote, Islamic State’s Challenge to Free Speech. He starts off, “The intensifying focus on terrorism, and on Islamic State in particular, poses a fresh challenge to the greatest American contribution to the theory and practice of free speech: the clear and present danger test.” Oh yes! The clear and present danger test, which held that encouraging young men to resist the draft during World War I was a clear and present danger. I’ve always found it interesting that we shroud our authoritarian actions in a cloak legal mumbo jumbo. We should just be honest: we have freedom of speech so long as it doesn’t threaten the power elite.

It’s just depressing to see people like Professor Posner running around explaining that we have to get rid of freedom of speech, but not for authoritarian reasons, but for the good of the people. This is always what authoritarians say.

But now we have Eric Posner, clearly sitting in his own urine while he wrote, ISIS Gives Us No Choice but to Consider Limits on Speech. This is something that truly boggles my mind. When I was growing up during the Cold War, it was just assumed that people in the Soviet Union didn’t have freedom of speech because their leaders were evil and wouldn’t brook any dissent. And that was true! But that wasn’t what the people of the Soviet Union were told.

In the Soviet Union, the people were told that attacking the government was dangerous and that it put everyone’s life in peril. So it’s just depressing to see people like Professor Posner running around explaining that we have to get rid of freedom of speech, but not for authoritarian reasons, but for the good of the people. This is always what authoritarians say. It doesn’t matter how much you disguise it with nice words and legal reasoning. And where would it stop? “Terrorism” is a word that has no meaning outside, “Acts by people who our government has decided are enemies.”

But this is all about… what?! The Islamic State?! That’s the new boogeyman? As a country, we spend almost as much money on the military as the rest of the world combined. Yet some insurgent group half way around the world represents such a threat that we must destroy our most cherished ideals? And really, let’s face it: this is all about San Bernardino. Certainly, 14 people murdered is a tragedy. But if the shooters hadn’t been Muslims, no one would be talking about limiting the First Amendment or shutting down parts of the internet. (Although clearly Eric Posner has a long history of this.)

And then, I learned via Greenwald that the San Bernardino shooters were not radicalized by ISIS. According to PBS, “The FBI revealed in a criminal complaint this week that one of the San Bernardino shooters, the husband, Syed Rizwan Farooq, and an alleged co-conspirator who bought the couple’s assault rifles, were inspired by former al Qaeda leader Anwar Awlaki.” So it wasn’t even about ISIS. But that won’t stop the San Bernardino murders from being used as an excuse to dismantle our rights.

Eric Posner even cites the destruction of the First Amendment during wartime as a positive example. And since we are at war now, well, carve away my friends! The problem is that the United States is now always at war. But what does that matter to the authoritarians who want only to have the kind of free speech that they find acceptable. “You can say anything you want as long as I don’t mind!” It’s pathetic but not surprising. What is surprising is that people would be pushing this over such a minor threat as ISIS.

Morning Music: I Got Stoned and I Missed I

Best of Shel SilversteinLet’s go back to Shel Silverstein’s songs. As far as I know, he was not a drug user. But he wrote about drugs a lot. A good example of that is “I Got Stoned and I Missed It.” It’s a song that a lot of people have covered, most notably Dr Hook and Jim Stafford. The song sounds like a pro drug song, but the whole point of it is that the singer misses out on his whole life because he’s stoned all the time.

As is pretty much always the case, the music is super simple. The band might interject some passing chord, but it is just two chords: I and V. And truthfully, these are the kinds of songs that seem to be most joyous. Despite the lyrics, the song seems almost to be an advertisement for cannabis. Certainly the person who put this video together thought so.

Anniversary Post: Saddam Hussein’s Execution

Saddam HusseinOn this day in 2006, Saddam Hussein was executed. It’s an odd thing. I have very mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, he was an evil despot. On the other, far worse men live their whole lives in the lap of luxury. I certainly think he should have been brought to justice. But by the Bush administration?! It’s especially interesting because the Iraq War was only possible because of the 9/11 attacks, which Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with. So the mastermind of 9/11, Osama bin Laden, was totally forgotten by the Bush administration, but they got Saddam Hussein. Hooray!

I just don’t like the idea that Bush and Cheney will go to their very comfortable graves thinking that they somehow did a good thing in capturing and killing him. As it is, the net effect of the Iraq War has been the murder of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Is the death of Hussein in any way compensation for that? Indeed, his evil deeds were a thing of the past. He was a very useful tool in keeping Iraq stable without being able to do any major harm. He was put to death for things he did in 1982 — when he was our ally.

I don’t know. I suppose it is just the hypocrisy of the United States that most bothers me. And Saudi Arabia continues to be an absolutely horrible country, yet they are our ally. And it always will be. Because once fossil fuels become unimportant, we won’t care what despots in the Middle East do. We will just abandon them. We are a screwed up country. I remember watching during the lead up to the Persian Gulf War how Saddam Hussein was turned into some major villain. People like him are a dime a dozen. When they are useful to support, we support them. When they are useful to vilify, we vilify them. There is something really wrong with us. If the United States were a person, it would rightly be diagnosed as a psychopath.