Dwight Macdonald on film; Good movies and good art
I had an argument with Smith of the classics department and police and the public discussion about Antonioni and the eclipse. And oppositions where of where I live because he's not his so I can summarize them as far as that that I have but I mean he wrote a history and I want to copy but I kept trying if there's a bad movie because it doesn't hang together because the cat isn't defined because it's dramatic and much too long to write it. Sad that he kept saying it's a good movie because it really does tell you something about the modern industrial urban civilization. At one point he hauled off and read from a volume of Spangler who wrote I thought he never got to be read through appropriate use of the modeless rhetoric of Spanglish which truly runs in the mood of the movie and I was our guide but it had nothing to do with the fact I mean I agree that Antonia was trying to do that but whether he succeeded or not is another question. So the intention of the artist is not the point in a work of art. Sometimes
very often the Debye in the very open to get it all about academic rock god all over intellectual age that we live in. Or often justified on the grounds that they have a purpose that they really are trying to reflect the nation at that time of the modern age. This doesn't impress me. You are listening to Dwight McDonald on film. During the past decade Mr. McDonald has been perhaps the senior critic among American film critics. And during this past year he was distinguished visiting professor of film history and criticism at the University of Texas. These programs were drawn from back to lecture series the topic for this program is good movies and good art. And once again here is
Dwight McDonald. Now first of all them on the question of what is a good movie wow. Otherwise how do you really tell about a movie and one of the packing of a good movie. People always ask me that how do you make up your mind and so on and so I thought that I would try to answer that question myself and then I would ask you. Either on the basis of what I've said on the basis of any objections to what you have or any questions you have or any remarks you want to make to tell me what you want to know or what you think about it well you know cause there's no way to answer that question you can't really generalize because it's the only generalization I can make at the moment about movies is that I don't think I good movie can have a be made by more than one man and that the best movies are always made by one man who was almost always the director so I say I don't think I can be read by committee and this is the main reason that
Hollywood films are often so ghastly cross you can have one man that dominates the thing and he can be a bad audience that's another question. But anyway you know at one time I thought that the basic film vocabulary and structure was montage was cutting and that's when I was on the influence of I just on the Russian side of the film and Griffiths and so on and this was to some extent true in the silent era although even then the German the 20 the Saddam film did not make very much use of montage. I didn't happen to be terribly sensitive to the German film and therefore I sort of overlooked that. But certainly now the recent film is the new way when the Italians go. Some people don't even use it at all I mean Antonioni has almost no money Taj in his films by montage in this sense every film has a montage in a sense you have different things. The only example of a movie that has no cutting or montage has ever been made. Interesting point is I had nickel tour de force by Alfred Hitchcock called a rope. Does anybody think about things.
Well this is night about 10 12 years ago. And just for the hell of it you know Hitchcock is a great experimenter and so I guess for the hell of it he made this continuously that is to say there are no cuts at all from beginning to end the whole thing is continuous because we all have to be in a very small place with all of the potman to solve a murder mystery and read it works fairly well and white tabby well but it's amazing he could do it you know. But anyway I otherwise of course you do have cutting you do have different segments in which the film literally is cut by scissors and spliced together but I don't mean of course that sense among Thais but I mean montage is a fairly aggressive and up troops of pot of the thing and the Russians are one example and well to some extent is quite a lot of montage and citizen kind although even there they are in so much but any way this cannot be taken for granted as a basic vocabulary so to speak. Nor is it true that realism is necessarily quite alien of the essence of a good movie. All of the movie
because the camera does real objects unlike a fighter and so on Therefore there is a time as it was realized but there have been some very great movies many of which have no realistic content whatsoever and caulk the blood of a poet on. Well there's zero for conduct and the race example of all of the children of Paradise which is a romantic beautiful very artificial movie in fact it's so OT official that it begins with a photograph of a stage proscenium you know that it is a stage and it's framed by the architectural pose India. And it's in two pots and then it begins with a cotton opening and then you see a stage. And action begins and then of course a comma goes in and out of cause it doesn't remain just a picture of a stage play but it begins this way and then the first part ends with the cotton closing and the second part begins with a kind opening and ends with a closing and otherwise he did everything possible to bring you back to the fact that you're going to look in at a very artificial kind of a thing. So therefore realism can't be the thing and of course
story. Most movies do have a plot and characters and so on but well you know as a movie Malyon bad didn't have one really. There's I never discovered what it was ever did have one and yet I've won three times a week I like very much. Well so what is that a good movie what is a movie really. First of all it's a form and that means it's not useful for anything practical in fact is not really useful in any meaningful sense of the time. It's an end in itself really art for art's sake. Now this is sneered at this slogan I never could understand why what better aesthetic I don't know what any other site. Now it's probably true that especially if you go back more than 200 years. It's probably true that almost all Ott was made for some other purpose and did have a practical use. The Athenian drama business was civic and religious business like tapped at the Tomb of the unknown
soldier today let's site something like that. Reminded the audience of the common national racial background and the Gothic cathedrals were cost built by craftsmen who didn't think of them sound whose names are not even known for the most part and was simply practical like men who were making a useful object like a factory an office building. The use was for the worship of God. But in those days haven't and how and God and so on were part of practical life today they are not that all this. Then it's about that. Lucy has been so anxious I mean so drum pounding about ever since I woke from a fight is about you know he wants to think that there's a great religious revival in this country rather a lot more people go to church you know and so on. But except for a few Catholics and perhaps a few Quakers that's nothing to compare with a real interest in religion. And the fact that now you have this big controversy in theological circles about the death of God it's called Why you have a lot of eminent theologians and the like Paul Tillich was one of them.
Selleck was probably the most respected theologian in this country until his death a few months ago. Who actually said you don't have to believe there's anything supernatural about religion or God. In fact I'm completely you know agnostic atheist why do I call I'm not interested in religion doesn't interest me and never has. And so I can agree with teller but I don't see how he gets off on a theologian it seems ridiculous. If God is dead then I would say that as Nietzsche said you know nature is that God is that world nature also was not very religious but now it's become part of a religious theology. Shakespeare fans of his historical plays was certainly very very reactionary doubt as they were on the side of the nobles in the monarchy. And they were also very nationalistic. I enhanced the sense of grandeur of the Elizabethan public of national grandeur and destiny. Milton about power as long as there is a great example as he said to justify the ways of God to
man. As a Venice Ah its kind of Madonna and so on the title of the King James Bible which is the greatest prose like in our language they weren't literary man but they were of Divines learned religious people their name was going to but there was a great work of prose but to make the Word of God clear and available to the common man and they could see that by the way I think the condensed version is the last successful work of God by a committee. You see I said now you can't make a will go out by a committee in the past you could print as Homer is probably you know what's the joke about homo you know in the poems of Homo were not written by Homer but by three other poets of the same name that we don't know you know about hum and there's a lot of evidence that there was more than one home Azotus we don't know anyway. My Well I've been a sort of a collective thing. The Gotha good there's another example but you can't do it any more often reasons too complicated to go into. But the mode of the artist is not
important and it is an important thing about the movies too. Sometimes movies sometimes very often today in this very OVAs if is the kind of academic over all over intellectual age that we live in. Movies are often justified on the grounds that they have a serious purpose that they really are trying to reflect the agony of the acts the alienation etc. etc. all of the modern age. All right this doesn't impress me they are the put into the eating. You can make a parody of terrible movie that does all these things in fact the make as crowd on some of these movies you're kind of see if you go I mean you want to go to one of the many white. In the cinema 40 program next month. I mean they're all in this category and the ones I've seen anyway don't seem to me to be successful as works of art so the intention of the artist is not the point and the work of art. I had an argument
with Smith of the classics the prominent place in the public discussion about Antonioni and the eclipse and oppositions were well live because he's not his so I can summarize them as follows that I don't know but I mean he wrote a myth history and what he would have been taught him but I kept saying this is a bad movie because it doesn't hang together because the cat is not defined because it's slow I'm dramatic and much too long for what it says and he kept saying it's a good movie because it really does tell you something about the powers of modern industrial urban civilization. At one point he hauled off and read from a volume of Spangler. He wrote I thought he never got stopped he read three or four pages of the modeless rhetoric of Spangler's which truly runs in the mood of the movie and I was all right but it has nothing to do with the fact I mean I agree that Antonia was trying to do that but whether he succeeded or not is another question. But anyway so I'm this business about the intention of the author. We're not interested for instance in
asking us and Sophocles from the point of view of the religious concepts that inspire them. And I at least am not interested in God religion and therefore have no interest in what the cathedral builders were trying to do. What Paolo to Francesca are Michelangelo. No one does and those in them so I got very broad within the budget but really those virgins after a while they kind of grow on you because I've done so many different ways and I think blues and reds and everything that are invested not the concept of the virgin birth or whatever it is which is nonsense anyway. And we can certainly thrill to the patriotism the music of Henry the Fifth without the slightest. Interest in which side want to engine cooling and power died last of course is a private example because here you have the great blank verse. Marvelous City of diction technical budget was ready. This is what we've waited for we don't care about the propaganda. Actually as has been observed since Dr. Johnson's time and must recently by William Empson in a
book called Milton's God a book devoted to this point an absence certainly proves that the real hero of power dies last of course is the devil is the real hero and the most sleazy and horrible cock as Marley God and Jesus Christ. But of course this is just the opposite of what Milton termed it but since he was a great artist and this is another point. A great artist the goddess of how he starts off what do you toss off to do will end up in a somewhat of a Right right. Example of the movies I think I've sent as of any other them of learning style made to order for them that is for Hitler made to order about the 1936 known by Congress of the Nazis which is supposed to be a graphic ation of Hitlerism and that says a man turns out to be nice to me and to other people I've talked to. Fans out that show you just how ghastly they were. An unpowered I'd lost the arguments by which God and His Son and capital letters
and gods are complex to. Which I try to justify their atrocious behavior towards both Siteman Adam and Eve. That's so specious these arguments and hypocritical that not anyone sympathy is with the devil because well just the most primitive argument. If God really is all powerful as Milton says he has to be called the militant theology then why does he allow Satan to corrupt Adam and Eve. Is he just sort of playing cat and mouse with them. And on the other hand if they have free will to resist citing which is the only second chances under which their failure to resist him would be a model. If they have that free world and of course God isn't all powerful. Well Milton was a great poet but he couldn't solve this problem. The last example I can think of are the only example in the past the last two centuries of really great OT being propaganda being intended as propaganda is the Soviet cinema of the 20s the silent cinema. You saw an example in the film. And here again we now know that the least I know and I hope that most of you by
this time know that the boss of revolution wasn't a whole of lot of unfortunate business and it wasn't that great liberating thing that it led directly to Stalin ism and what we have now which isn't my idea at all of a better kind of society this is still true of it that the Soviet cinema even though they haven't I mean they don't produce good films. But the difference has always been between their odd even and odd that their art is indeed propaganda it's devoted to the service of the state. It's essentially educational in a political sense whereas this same kind of auto a bad lot is really an attainment. I just I mean you can say that Hollywood has had an influence on a dress on some extent on our mores and behavior inside and some of it is a way you can say that but that isn't the end of it at all. We have entertainment over here and they have education that's the essential difference I mean they are trying to affect the conscious mind in Russia. And we're not trying to affect any We're just trying to make money at the box office which means of course that we do
affect the unconscious anyway. But for instance it's one of us it has been is about propaganda in this country and some of it doesn't seem to go down here friends and it was so noticeable during the years of Roosevelt when you're out to you know I mean three times anyway out twice three times I guess. You know all of the big advertising agencies which are all Republican they were all mob allies and all of the brainy guys to get the election for the land if anybody remembers their landing was you know doing poor little Tom Dewey who was it. How can you vote for a man that looks like the Blue Man on top of a wedding cake. That was enough to do it but I don't know why and I couldn't do it. Seconds our products but that's a very different problem but this seems to be something about. Our culture which resists propaganda direct propaganda. Now I want to vote then is not useful for any practical and that's a luxury a pleasure that I wink of God has no object at all except to give you pleasure really. But there are degrees of pleasure and this leads
into the question of entertainment vs. not by degrees of pleasure I mean there are certain pleasures which are higher than others and I will insist on a hierarchy here but I can objectively define the hierarchy as the mood of one's self. It involves the higher the pleasure then says I love pleasure when I was still a good one but a loved one is being a good my you know fine food fine cooking but that really only gets involved one one of your senses but on the high you get up into really it's some of your senses too I mean that's one of the actions of a movie it's a very sensuous kind of a thing but it also stimulates other things namely your mind and your feelings and involves your whole personality. Now at a time when advice is out this is often brought up. Well you know I find that with a James Bond movies value and a tiny but I know of course that they're not. Ah. Well that's true they're not they
are very good for what they are. I much rather go to the Bond movies than to a pretentious serious movie like a porn blogger which I think is a disaster but you know I like Obama better but I wouldn't be that one of the problems that we do have to get into is out of subject matter and content and this is another difficulty about criticizing things because if I were you shouldn't really it should be really that any subject could be used by an artist to make a masterpiece. What was it called a discourse on a broomstick because he was challenged to somebody said he said you know a good writer can write about anything and make it general. Well this would have a power play but he did write a model essay on the broomstick and otherwise his idea was this is an image of the life of man it begins very you know sweeping up everything fine and then a funny one down and then thrown away and dies and so on. Well I well I did I said one time much but he tried it. Yet this is a fallacy really not here in the Bond movie you might have much the same kind of clever cutting and so on. But if it's just for some trivial point. Somehow I
think it loses I don't think it's important but you can see the difference if you try to ask yourself whether or not the Bond series fans and how much of you that I really engage that only guys very much that's one of the charms in fact really that I don't engage much. You know I like to Bond movies in the right time where there are activated the thought that I'd rather read good that that this story than a poor novel because a detective story doesn't put any demands on you at all from an emotional Well perhaps mildly intellectual point of view except I never try to figure out whether the butler did it or not so I don't even get that out of them but I just sort of like to positively enjoy them that way. But it's a low form of enjoyment in an otherwise that where as you can have a kind of on a level kind of OT which gives you a simply enjoyment without anything else. Well an example would be for me anyway this show a lot of home stories of Conon Doyle which I read in Levy with great pleasure I know that there will be no good
and they're not comparable to talk thought flow bamp that's true and they're not very good but give me enjoyment. Now that's an example of that kind of that's perfectly respectable in his own way. But my point is that standalone tossed to and fro there have to give me some of that true and otherwise I've got to enjoy it otherwise a work of art is not something to be endured with good visit to princes that Hamlet Prince is Hamlet. Not enjoyable that's really what we get down to. You have to have to grit your teeth when you grow up. But inside I'm going to be instructed on going to learn what a great playwright is and so on all can you just enjoy the way that you would when at the sound of music with the Buster Keaton comedy listening. And otherwise I think that a successful likeable no matter how great and let's try as skilless taken something very forbidding and
dolled them I was doing so I want to show that I was pretty hard to get into. So take a play by as close unless this added tango as well as doing all the other things work about that is they are kinds of subtle and perhaps complicated aesthetic. Accept it then it's not a successful work of Roth for you and therefore you can't enjoy it the way that you would let's say the Sound of Music which has no pretensions of not at all. Now on the other hand all art is entertaining but not all that as entertaining as OT. You know that's one of those logical things. Now being specific about this. If you find a book or a symphony or movie burrowing it is not for you and you should not give in to professors or critics or maybe your cultural it's not and so I want to tell you that it's serious advanced or full of meaning. It's not OT for you if you find it boring on the other hand you should actually itself whether your notion of an atime it may not be a narrow one. You see I don't think that I'm at a time when I'm put on a stretch you know when I really have to make an effort and you do have to
make an effort with ought to that's another difference. The Bond movie you don't have to make an effort I think I want to do that in my essay mascot of Medco one of the main the points about this kind of prefabricated OT OT of facts not OT is that the reaction is built into them so it's pretty clear what just goes to think and so on and that of all of us on about on. You do have to make an effort both to understand because every work of a lot is original by definition because a work of art must be the product of one individual. And every individual in the history of the world. Every individual is and will forever more be different from every other individual. This can be proved biologically I decided. In a way this is true. So therefore if a work of a lot is by an individual therefore it must be original and therefore it must be difficult because anything that's new. Is difficult. You see what's easy is the routine what's easy is something you've seen before and this is
what Hollywood constantly avoids Hollywood is scared out of its pants if it has anything no one original. Because it doesn't want to make people like. And so therefore it gives you the same stuff and it's very easy to respond to it but not to respond to something that's new and work abroad changes you changes you're not the same price and after you've experienced a good picture or book or movie product teach you anything except the most general sense about what it is to be a man to be alive to be in life. And that sense of teaches you. Yes but indirectly yes. Yes I would say that A. Series work of odd bumps gives you enjoyment and also gives you some insight more insight into what it is to be alive. It shows you a way of looking at the world that you hadn't thought of before. But it does have to give you enjoyment. And there is a tendency going around now to think that that's somehow enjoyment isn't part of it but I think it is plot. You have been listening to Dwight McDonald on film in this program Mr.
- Dwight Macdonald on film
- Good movies and good art
- Producing Organization
- University of Texas
- KUT (Radio station : Austin, Tex.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- Good Movies and Good Art
- Other Description
- Series of lectures by Dwight Macdonald on film: its makers, its history, its future.
- Film and Television
- Media type
Announcer: Miller, Phil
Producer: Jordan, Bill
Producing Organization: University of Texas
Producing Organization: KUT (Radio station : Austin, Tex.)
Speaker: Macdonald, Dwight
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 67-16-17 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- MLA: “Dwight Macdonald on film; Good movies and good art.” 1967-07-18. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. October 25, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-jm23gq83>.
- APA: Dwight Macdonald on film; Good movies and good art. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-jm23gq83