Since the handful of conservative filmmakers in America are more interested in making movies about why Michael Moore is a big fat phony or why Hillary Clinton is a dirty Red or why Canada's health care system isn't all it's cracked up to be or how Israel is a paradise right here on earth or how Islam will destroy us all, narrative fiction films were in short supply at the Liberty Festival. And by "in short supply", I mean "completely nonexistent". Perhaps the dearth of conservative filmmakers Town Hall is always decrying is not so much due to liberal blackballing, as they claim, but due to the inability of conservative filmmakers to understand that audiences, as a rule, are more interested in being entertained than in being harangued.
In order to avoid being nothing but non-stop angry documentaries about the evils of progressivism, they did manage to scare up one feature-length narrative film by a conservative director, and it's so good it seems petty to point out that the director has been dead for 32 years. It's John Ford's brilliant The Searchers, which conservatives have inexplicably co-opted as "their" movie, and it inspires Appuzo to do some light-headed pontificating:
Because Wayne and Ford made the mistake of being openly God-loving patriotic Americans they’re often sneered at by the liberal elite who now own film opinion.
I read a lot of film opinion, and I don't find many people sneering at John Ford. Orson Welles, one of the most notorious leftists in Hollywood history -- back when leftist really meant communist or socialist and not simply liberal democrat -- called him the greatest director of all time, and I can't think of many critics or film theorists who don't place him in the ranks of the elite in Hollywood history, regardless of what they think of his politics. Speaking of which:
Since they can’t deny Ford’s genius, they go after his character. They portray him as a knee-jerk right winger whose depiction of the American Indian was racist. They lie.
I suppose they would be lying if they ever made any such charges. This is a favorite tactic of null-grade rhetoric, to portray as outrageous a claim which no one has made (see yesterday's entry on Theodore Dalrymple), and it certainly seems to be used here: I may not be as well-versed in film criticism as the legendary Jason Appuzo, but I have read a good bit of it, and I don't remember anyone ever calling John Ford (who, by the way, thought John Wayne was an idiot) a "knee-jerk right winger". Was he conservative? Certainly. Was he more conservative than most mainstream filmmakers in a conservative era in Hollywood? Possibly. But was he some kind of Rush Limbaugh figure? Nonsense. If anything, he kept his politics to himself more than most people did (unlike every exhibitor at the Liberty Film Festival). And while I don't think it's a lie that Hollywood movies of the era were pretty racist in their portrayal of Indians, I've never heard anybody single out John Ford's movies as anything more than typical of their day, and I've certainly never heard anyone call him racist. (In fact, plenty of liberals have detected in The Searchers a condemnation of racism in the obsessive, violent nature of John Wayne's character.
With Wayne it’s racism and more: I actually read a review where in the same paragraph he was ridiculed as a phony due to his hatred of horses, and then had his acting ability questioned (?).
You know what? I don't think there's anything outrageous and stunned-question-mark-worthy of questioning John Wayne's acting ability. He was a Hollywood icon, to be sure, but he wasn't the most versatile thespian the town had ever seen. Implying that criticism of his rather limited, if effective on its own terms, acting ability is some cheap tactic of pinkos with an ax to grind betrays an ignorance of the history of film criticism; reviewers have cast a dubious eye at Wayne's acting since the 1940s.
And of course Wayne will never be forgiven for The Green Berets. Oh, not because he backed the Vietnam War, but because he was right.
Uh. Critics didn't hate The Green Berets because of its neanderthal political message (which, sorry, wasn't right); they hated it because it was a total piece of shit. It was one of the worst movies of its era, one of the worst movies John Wayne ever made, and quite possibly one of the worst movies of all time; it routinely shows up on critics' lists of utter disasters, and it has much less to do with its reactionary politics than it does with its total incompetence. It's the people who watch that pile of crap and claim it's brilliant who are blinded by their ideology, not the opposite.
The movie tells us the Vietnamese are our allies, counting on us to keep our word to fight for their freedom with them - and if we abandon them they’ll be butchered (sound familiar?). And after the John Kerrys and Jane Fondas had their way 2 million innocents died. But liberals don’t mention that … They just assassinate the characters of those who do.
Ladies and gentlemen: this man follows up the claim that two million innocent people died because of John Kerry with the claim that liberals are fond of character assassination. Ta-da!
But it’s the racist charge that’s always bothered me. Not because I thought it was true, but because I worried it might stick. Anyone who’s actually seen Ford’s and Wayne’s films knows that while they sometimes depict Indians as the enemy, it’s always with respect. And Wayne’s Alamo treated Santa Ana’s troops with near reverence for their bravery and sacrifice. It’s darn-near politically correct and a much better depiction of the Mexicans than the stupid new version that lazily stereotypes everyone.
Note that he doesn't mention much about the respect shown by Wayne to the Japanese in his films, where they were called "animals", "savage barbarians", and "bug-eyed monkeys". Of course, this can be explained away by the fact that we were at war or not far removed from war and racist dehumanization of the enemy is common in war; less easy to explain is Wayne's (curious, given persistent rumors about his personal life) homophobia, friendship with American Nazi Party boss George Lincoln Rockwell, and use, in his personal life, of racist language like "slope". A lot of people have rushed to defend this quote from a 1971 interview in Playboy: "Blacks are not yet qualified to hold high public office because discrimination prevents them from receiving the kind of education a political career requires." At face value, this actually doesn't seem that racist -- he seems to be condemning systemic discrimination. But taken in context, it's indisputably racist, or at least remarkably ignorant. How can anyone in 1971 -- after W.E.B. DuBois, after Thurgood Marshall, after Martin Luther King, after Ralph Abernathy and Ralph Bunche and Frederick Douglass and Mary Bethune -- claim that blacks are not yet qualified to hold high public office? Although this goes unmentioned by Appuzo, Wayne also says, in the same interview, that "until blacks are educated enough to take a more prominent role in American society" (when that might be, he doesn't mention), he "believe(s) in white supremacy" -- a pretty bad choice of words for someone who's trying to dispel the belief that he's racist. Of course, Appuzo hopes that if he 'proves' that John Wayne wasn't racist against Indians, we'll forget about his unimaginably low opinion of blacks.
He then goes offers said 'proof' by noting that lots of Indians liked him, and he helped the Indians. (He misses a bet by not mentioning that Wayne was twice married to Latino women.) It apparently escapes him that you can like some members of a racial group and still be racist against the group as a whole (Louis Armstrong: "You take the majority of white people, two thirds of them don't like niggers, but they always got one nigger they're just crazy about. Every white man in the world has one nigger at least that they just love his dirty drawers."), or that you can like one racial group and hate others and that doesn't mean you're not racist, or that whether or not Indians think John Wayne was a racist depends a lot on what Indians you ask. He concludes:
There are a lot of nasty things said about Ford and The Duke. But it’s said by those with an axe to grind. By those who tell us the anti-Communists who forced a few writers to find a pseudonym were worse than the actual Communists who butchered untold millions. It’s said by those who would consider a repeat of the Cambodian Holocaust in Iraq a victory. So, pardon me if I don’t buy it.
Yes, that's right. Because I think John Wayne was a racist, I would like half the population of Iraq to be slaughtered. Elvis was a hero to most...