Thursday, July 14, 2022

Eight great films for those with eyes wide open


If you’re a daily reader here, I figure that, like me, you’re utterly disgusted by the anti-human crud now gushing, more than ever, out of Hollywood (I still wake up screaming from The Power of the Dog), and so are always looking for some movies that affirm humanity, so as to help us through this daily horror.

Now, there are countless films, and TV shows, that bring us back to life, with stories, told exquisitely, of worlds in no way like the one we’re living in. Those are restorative indeed, and I could recommend so many that I’d have to sit here listing them for days. I just (almost) finished bingeing on John Ford’s work (reading Joseph McBride’s superb biography), and rewatched Shtisel a few months ago (it’s on Netflix); and there are many, many works of that sort.

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And then there are those movies that don’t just lift us way up out of the peculiar hell we’re living in, but that actually reflect on it, in one way or another—by anticipating it, as certain older movies have, or by presenting it somewhat obliquely. Whether they were made decades ago (with actors who, perhaps, don’t “get it” under COVID), or came out fairly recently, these are, or were, the works of kindred spirits, reassuring us that we are not alone, that others also understand— and, therefore, that we will prevail at last.

Here, then, are some movies that (I hope) will entertain you in that oddly bracing way:

Coma (1978), a thriller that now seems astonishingly prescient:

Invasion of the Body Snatchers, both the 1956 and 1978 versions. (I can’t recommend Abel Ferrara’s 1993 remake.) The first one, by Don Siegel, is a masterpiece, worth watching for itself, but also as the template of Phil Kaufman’s sequel, which relocates the story from a small town in California to New Age San Francisco—foretelling the absorption of “the left” (including “natural medicine,” organic food coops, yoga studios, etc.) into the bio-fascist juggernaut now shadowing the Earth.

The Stepford Wives (1975), another masterpiece, about a prior version of transhumanist misogyny. Katherine Ross shines. (I wonder where and how she is today.) Note how Disney figures in the story. (I strongly urge you not to watch the heinous remake from 2004, starring bug-eater Nicole Kidman.)

Eyes Wide Shut (1999), Stanley Kubrick’s last film (not quite finished), on the ritual depravity, and all-pervasive power, of our overlords. (As Kubrick clearly worked himself to death, I for one don’t think They murdered him, but that they left it to the New York Times et al. to slime him, and the film, on its release.) Though Kubrick said he based his vision on what he had seen in Hollywood decades before, it’s clearly based on something bigger still—and whose depravity is now quite obvious to everyone with eyes wide open. Tom Cruise is great in it—and so, it must be said, is Nicole Kidman. (The artist is one thing, the work another.)

A Hidden Life (2019), Terrence Malick’s story (“inspired by true events”) of Franz J├Ągerst├Ątter, an Austrian farmer who, conscripted into fighting for the Nazis, refused to swear an oath of loyalty to Hitler. This film was so quietly released (was it released at all?) that I never even heard of it until a good friend praised it to the skies, and rightly so. The ordeal of that lonely hero speaks to all of us now saying “no” to you-know-what.

Judas and the Black Messiah (2021), Shaka King’s extraordinarily bold and accurate retelling of the story of the murder of Fred Hampton by the FBI, and his betrayal by an informant. To see how radical this movie is—a cinematic tribute equal to its subject—compare this unabashed portrayal of Hampton’s pointedly colorblind activism (he organized Appalachian whites and Hispanic street gangs along with blacks) with The Trial of the Chicago Seven, Aaron Sorkin’s narcissistic “woke” revision of that “iconic” Sixties episode. A minor character in that abysmal film, Hampton is a sullen, utterly uncharismatic BLM-type before his time, contradicting everything the real man did and stood for. In any case, this movie is especially germane to what the FBI’s still doing to prevent “all power to the people.”

Inside (2021), on Netflix—a dazzling one-man musical comedy, all of it the awesome work of comic genius Bo Burnham, who made it while in hiding from “the virus.” On the devastation—cultural, social, psychological—wrought by digital technology, this work is in a class all by itself, and should be part of any thorough college course on all such issues (assuming that there are such classes anywhere).

Enjoy! And please feel free to post your own suggestions in the comments.

News from Underground by Mark Crispin Miller is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.