Administratia, film, movies

A Note From The Movie Crash Course Principal

So we interrupt the regular Movie Crash Course semester for a special announcement.

It seems that HBO’s streaming service, HBO Max, has made the decision to temporarily pull some films from its library in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the growing support for the Black Lives Matter movement.  The films in question are ones with a…perspective on racial history in America which has as of late become problematic.  They plan to re-introduce them later, after adding some title cards or contextualizing discussing the racial attitudes that pose problems.

One of the films that Film Twitter are having a snit about is Gone With The Wind.  “It’s an historic film!” they are squealing.  “It’s the first African-American Oscar Winner!  HBO pulling it is just caving into the libs!” A couple people have pulled up the point that Hattie McDaniel’s birthday is this same day, and are hand-wringing over how she might have felt knowing that the movie where she won her Oscar was being singled out in this way on her birthday.

Here’s the thing, though.

The movie isn’t going away permanently.  It’s still available for streaming on many other services – Amazon Prime, YouTube, iTunes, and Google Play all show it as an option.  DVDs of the film also exist – I got a copy on DVD via Netflix’s DVD rental, and early reports show that Amazon is currently making a killing selling copies of the DVD now because of HBO’s ban.  This is not the complete and utter Orwellian erasure that the doomsayers are saying it is.

And again, this is a temporary move on HBO Max’s part.  They are figuring out how to provide proper context for the film for future viewers – much the same way that Warner Brothers added a statement to its screenings of older cartoons with problematic racial stereotypes.  “While not representing the Warner Bros. view of today’s society,” the statement explains, “these [films] are being presented as they were originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed.”  Arguably that doesn’t even go far enough.  But it’s something – it’s a reminder, before you watch, that some of this stuff is really, really not cool.  (Warner Brothers also is sitting on eleven shorts that it most likely will not show again no matter what because of how racist they are.)

And speaking of Hattie McDaniel – it’s true that she did win the Best Supporting Actress playing Mammy.  But the film fans who point to this fact seem to think that the mere token acknowledgement of her performance somehow negates the problems with the film.  “You can’t say it’s prejudiced, it’s got a black character!” the argument seems to be.  But this is treating Hattie McDaniel’s presence in the film like a shield preventing the film from being criticized on its other qualities – and it is by its other qualities that it is being judged.  Consider: if all that mattered when it came to a film’s significance was whether anyone of color won an Oscar in it, we have Lupita N’yongo winning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in Twelve Years A Slave as well.  Heck, she was also playing a house servant on a plantation as Hattie McDaniel did.  But no one would equate Twelve Years A Slave with Gone With The Wind simply because they both have Best Supporting Actress award winners who played house servants; that’d be like saying Children Of Paradise is like It because they both have clowns.  So falling back on Hattie McDaniel’s Oscar as a way to defend Gone With The Wind  smacks of the old “but I can’t be racist if I have a black friend” trope, and is missing the point of HBO’s move.

…There’s also the anecdote that even though Hattie McDaniel won that Oscar, she was not allowed to sit at the same table with her co-stars at the awards ceremony, but was instead relegated to a table in the back all on her own.  In fact, if her agent hadn’t cut a deal with the venue – then a whites-only establishment – she might not have even been allowed to attend at all.  McDaniel also wasn’t allowed to attend the premiere of  Gone With The Wind, because its world premiere was in Atlanta, Georgia, at a time when Atlanta had strict segregation laws.  Producer David Selznick tried to get her into the theater, but MGM told him to drop it, since even if Selznick had succeeded McDaniel would have had to sit in the “colored” section of the theater anyway.

This is all the kind of information that HBO is considering adding to its future presentations of Gone With The Wind, when it returns that film to its library (and you note that I do say “when”).  If I believe anything about the films I’ve been watching, I believe that the context in which they were made and the context in which you watch them can have a huge impact – so much so that the less you know about the history of the film you’re watching, or the time in which it was made, the more likely it is that you’re watching a completely different film than the one that the original creators intended to make.  In most cases, that’s perfectly fine, and in many cases that can’t be helped.  But I still think it’s important to  try to learn about a film’s context and history; the worst thing that happens is that maybe the things you’ve learned change your opinion.  But that kind of thing happens to all of us as we change and grow.  It’s also possible, too, that maybe you’ll come away from this with a greater respect for Hattie McDaniel than you had before, for keeping to such a standard of professionalism and dignity even when she was being horribly mistreated on what should have been a historic night.  Either way you’ll come away as a more educated person – and that should be something we all want.

Administratia, Blogathons, film, movies

In Search Of A Blogathon –

Friends, I have a sincere question for the movie blogger community.

Is anyone doing a blogathon in support of Black Lives Matter right now?  Or any similar “all y’all who want to understand this movement better, here’s a film to watch”?

I want to watch and read about some more films that will help me be a better ally.  I’m a supporter, but I’m white – like, I’m so white that I have an inner Karen that I keep under wraps – and that’s why I’m seeing this as an opportunity for me to watch and learn something new.

Let me know.  Thanks.



My latest review has been slow in coming, I admit.  That is because I saw another movie – the nine-minute footage of the murder of George Floyd, and writing about any other movie seemed a little frivolous for a while.

So I have a couple of other short films for you instead while I fire up my next review.

I’ve also discovered that 1920’s Within Our Gates is available, for free, on YouTube. You will remember that it is a film by African-American film pioneer Oscar Micheaux.

Administratia, We Have Buster Sign!

Social-Distancing Update

Image result for buster keaton sherlock jr

(I am cross-posting this with my other general blog.)

I usually only declare Buster Sign if the blog is having a technical crisis; but if the current state of the world doesn’t call for Buster Sign, I don’t know what does.  I just wanted to speak to how I was doing and give people space to check in.

….Miraculously, I not only am doing okay, I think I may have lucked into the best of all possible paths through this pandemic.  I’d lost a job mid-January, and was spending most of the ensuing few weeks on a job hunt.  By mid-February, that job hunt narrowed down to some leads in a business park that’s only three blocks from my house; I live very near a decommissioned Navy shipyard that New York has been turning into an industrial and business park, with about 450 different companies working there – many of them tech companies, media, or food-oriented.  Lots of artists have studio space there, there is a distillery and a winery, some movie soundstages, and even some small manufacturing companies.  I was hired in late February (not by the soundstage, and I suspect that would have been a bit too perfect if I had), and started there the first week of March.  I was thrilled about the new commute; instead of dragging myself onto a subway and riding an hour each way to get to work, now I have a pleasant 15-minute walk each way on largely quiet streets.  Maybe I pass the occasional jogger.

But then news of the Coronavirus started spreading, and people were realizing just how bad it was going to be. And I realized that I had been taken out of the subway system right before it had become a danger.  I thanked my lucky stars and kept walking to work.

Then New York started shutting down. First companies were shutting down of their own volition, encouraging everyone to work from home; Roommate Russ works somewhere where they require everyone to work from home.  My new boss also gave me the option to work from home if I wanted.  I thought about it; but I’ve decided to keep going in, partly to give Roommate Russ a quiet apartment during the day, and partly because my work space is actually a decently safe distance from other people even when everyone’s there.  And a week ago most of the other people in my office did start working from home; there were probably several dozen people in the office when I started there my first day, but now it’s down to about ten.  Most people are working from home, but there are a couple of people who have to head in – and a couple of stubborn folk like me who prefer going there. I’m actually less exposed to people at my office at this stage than I am if I stayed home.  And even more miraculous – the company I’m with is considered an “essential business”. So it will stay open.

My biggest worry was that I went to New Orleans in late February, right before starting work (when your 50th Birthday is the same day as Mardi Gras there’s really only one thing you can do about that).  The day after I got back, I felt something like the beginnings of a cold, but I dealt with that by horsing down several zinc lozenges and willing myself out of it; I didn’t want to call in sick my first day at work.  A couple friends joined me in New Orleans, and one of them said he also had a bit of a cold too; so I probably caught something there. But it passed within only a day.  And I am now past the window where anything stronger I may have caught in New Orleans would have shown up – and I continue to be fine.

This doesn’t mean I’m totally unaffected, of course.  Other than going to work, I’m hunkering down as much as possible; grocery runs and park excursions, and that’s it. I try to keep a good healthy distance from people even at work, and my grocery runs have been for oddball things like coriander seed, so I stay well clear of the whole toilet paper scrum.  I went for a bigger shopping run yesterday, and noticed that the store had set up barricades around most of the meat department and were letting people in one by one, like it was a velvet-rope nightclub; however, one section was left open. I discovered that that’s where the store had funky sausages and more exotic meats like duck breast, wild boar, and rabbit.  I took a look at the big line of people waiting for ground beef and chicken cutlets, then at the nearly-empty sausage-and-exotic-meat section, and then picked up a pack of merguez sausage and was on my way.  When the meat runs low in the house I may be back for the ground bison.  Roommate Russ and I have joked that Anthony Bourdain may be guiding our food choices from the afterlife.

Good thing, too, because cooking has been one of the ways I’ve been coping. I’ve got an overstuffed pantry even at the best of times, and a huge collection of cookbooks.  I also promised myself that I would be using a lot of the things I have this year, if only to clean them out and make room for new things.  So social isolation has turned into an excuse to amp up the cooking and baking like whoa.  ….We’re just about done with the pumpkin bread, brownies, and lentils de puy salad I made last weekend, and today’s menu includes three totally different curries, chickpea-flour crepes, chocolate cookies with cacao nibs, and an amazing mocha cake (to which I’m going to add some espresso chocolate chips I’ve been wondering how to use).

And I am still going to keep on with the movies.  I’m working on my latest review, and am exploring a couple of special events which those of you out there could join in.  (I need to explore the technical angle first; I’ll keep you posted.)

I’ve realized that I’m very, very, very fortunate. I’m very aware that others are not so lucky and are struggling; I’m trying to think of ways to help, above and beyond just being a responsible citizen by staying home as much as necessary. I’ve been blessed, but I’m still in the fight with everyone else. Mrs. Miniver was about England’s reaction to war instead of disease, but I think the last scene still speaks to what we’re all going through.

Be well, all.


And The Syllabus Grows

So!  Every once in a while the publishers release a new edition of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, with an amended list.  I decided that I was going to cover every movie that’s ever been in any edition.

There’s a new edition coming out within the next couple days, and advance word is that the new list includes the following:

  • The Greatest Showman
  • Avengers: Infinity War
  • Crazy Rich Asians
  • A Star is Born
  • Roma
  • Hereditary
  • The Favourite
  • Phantom Thread
  • Sorry to Bother You
  • BlacKkKlansman

In addition, it may also include:

  • Capernaum
  • Vice

Adding these to my syllabus now.

Administratia, You Like Me!

I Am Now A LAMB!


My next film hasn’t arrived for me to watch yet, but that gives me time to make an announcement: The Movie Crash Course is now a proud member of The Large Association Of Movie Blogs!

The LAMB is a movie bloggers’ network that I first heard about a year ago, when I started listening to a podcast by another 1001 Movies viewer.  It’s a network of movie bloggers of all stripes, and I’m looking forward to checking out who else is out there.  …I’ve already been finding that there’s a small community of 1001 Movies list bloggers, and have been wondering just how many of us there are….

Thanks to the LAMB network for letting me join the party!