The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. Even when the revolutionist might himself repent of his revolution, the traditionalist is already defending it as part of his tradition. Thus we have two great types — the advanced person who rushes us into ruin, and the retrospective person who admires the ruins.

— Chesterton


[Orson] Welles is a versatile, centrifugal, all-round talent in eclipse; but even in eclipse, unique. Would you hear the prefect apercu about the relationship between such an artist and his audience? It is contained in a tale about Welles, Arriving, some years ago, to deliver a lecture in a small mid-western town, he was faced with a tiny audience of listeners and no one to introduce him. He decided to introduce himself.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began, “I will tell you of the highlights of my life. I am a director of plays. I am a producer of plays. I am an actor on the legitimate stage. I am a writer of motion pictures. I am a motion-picture actor. I write, direct, and act on the radio. I am a magician. I also paint and sketch, and I am a book-publisher. I am a violinist and a pianist.” Here he paused, and rested his chin on his hands, surveying the sparse congregation. “Isn’t it strange,” he said, quizzically but with clinching emphasis, “that there are so many of me—and so few of you?”

— Kenneth Tynan

Definitely apocryphal, but a nice parable.

Our Greatest Living Film Critic, IX

July, 2019

Ice Station Zebra (1968)

Watched Ice Station Zebra (1968), a cold war technothriller in which Rock Hudson plays the Commander of a submarine taking an assortment of spies, traitors, and marines to a remote arctic research station where something went wrong. This is the movie that Howard Hughes got obsessed by, and forced TV stations in LA to play over and over so he could watch it. I don’t see why, it’s just okay. They didn’t even use real snow for closeups, and nobody’s breath froze. Good underwater photography, good submarine interiors (I assume). It seems like John Carpenter got inspired by this movie to make The Thing: a paranoid action movie set in an arctic base, where people aren’t what they seem. Actually, the traitor is exactly who I thought it was: Ernest Borgnine! I give it 3 oxyacetylene torches out of a possible 5 oxyacetylene torches.

Miami Vice (2006)

Rewatched Miami Vice (2006), Michael Mann’s update to the TV series he produced in the 80s. I saw this movie when it came out, and remember nothing about about it except that I didn’t like it. It’s still an extremely sweaty and incoherent tone poem, but I liked it more this time. The score is like Jan Hammer and Soundgarden worked together. It has a Nu Metal cover of In The Air Tonight. Ciaran Hinds does an Al Pacino impression, then disappears forever. The low light graininess is awful, and even daylight feels too dark. Jaime Foxx forced Mann to rewrite the entire ending when he demanded it be shot in the U.S. instead of Uruguay. Whatever it was supposed to be, the ending is now Ricardo Tubbs doing a somersault and shooting a grenade through someone’s chest. This movie is the artifact a flawed but sacred process sometimes produces. I give it 3.5 L-shaped ambushes out of a possible 5 L-shaped ambushes.

Seven Men From Now (1956)

Watched 7 Men From Now (1956), a Budd Boetticher western starring Randolph Scott. My man Lee Marvin plays the bad guy, and is the most interesting performance in the film. Scott is on the path of the 7 thieves who shot his wife by accident during a robbery, and Marvin is the evil guardian angel who will keep him alive long enough to betray him for the gold. A brisk 78 minutes, including credits. Randolph Scott looks like a handsome PE teacher, and was pretty robotic in this movie. He was almost 60 when he filmed this movie, which relaunched his career. I give it 3 men from now out of a possible 5 men from now.

Blackhat (2015)

Watched Blackhat (2015), a Michael Mann technothriller where handsome gray hat hacker Chris Hemsworth has just got to track down a malicious cyberterrorist before he strikes again. For all his movies involving criminals, Mann hires real criminals to be advisors or actors, so a lot of the hacking stuff is probably very realistic. But even when it makes sense, it looks dumb, because hacking in movies always looks dumb. Plus, Mann doesn’t care about computers, so he shouldn’t make a computer movie, he should stick to opening bank vaults with a thermal lance. The best parts of Blackhat are the things that are always good in Michael Mann movies: handheld photography, supporting actors with great faces, crazy lighting, very loud guns, and lots of tactical movement. You can see him using wildly different digital cameras throughout the movie, and it’s jarring. The movie starts out poorly, but gets better in the second half, when they mostly dispense with the computer shit. Why do you need to hack a water pump when you can apparently just let yourself into the unmanned facility any time you want? I give it 3.25 homemade shanks out of a possible 5 homemade shanks.


An invention that is quickly accepted will turn out to be a rather trivial alteration of something that has already existed.

— Edwin H. Land


We need but look upon a man advanced to dignity; had we but three days before known him to be of little or no worth at all: an image of greatness and an idea of sufficiency doth insensibly glide and creep into our opinions; and we persuade ourselves that increasing in state and credit and followers, he is also increased in merit. We judge of him, not according to his worth, but after the manner of casting-counters, according to the prerogative of his rank.


The thing I adore in Kings is the throng of their adorators. All inclination and submission is due unto them, except the mind’s. My reason is not framed to bend or stoop: my knees are. 

— Montaigne


Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?”—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill.

— C. S. Lewis, On Reading Old Books