Like it or not, movies are the art form of our age, incomparably important in shaping our view of the world. In the 20th century they performed the same role as Homer and Virgil in the classical time, the Scriptures in the Middle Ages, and great novelists and poets in the 19th century. Whether this will be true for the 21st century, with all its new forms of communication, remains to be seen. We may be entering the age of the Tweet.
No one can possibly master the immense body of film that has been produced. The writers of Reckonin.com will provide in this series some guidance by describing the movies that have been most important to them in the course of a lifetime of viewing.
Myself, I am the most moved by what may be called “poetic realism,” films that do not avoid the raw tragic reality of our existence but that also convey a sense of the triumphant human spirit---the eternal verities described in Faulkner’s Nobel Address. In Southern literature, beautiful examples of “poetic realism” can be found in the works of Elizabeth Madox Roberts and George Garrett.
In my view, the French are the greatest filmmakers, the Germans, who cannot entirely escape the nihilism of their national character, are the worst. The French make movies for grown-ups, the Germans for disturbed adolescents. I cannot share in the current hysterical hatred of Russia and Iran when I remember the beautiful films that they have produced. The Brits were great, at least until recent times. Little Norway and Korea have produced some gems and Italy, Japan, and China in their best films show they have real cultures.
My dozen best:
1. A Sunday in the Country (French, Un dimanche a` la champagne, 1984). This quiet masterpiece recounts the joys and sorrows of everyday life, the most important things in our human experience, and the centrality of family to that experience. (I cannot find a U.S. playable DVD of this film, only a VHS and an absurdly over-priced Blu-Ray. It may be downloadable, however.)
2. Pathfinder (Norwegian, Veiviseren, 1987, not to be confused with a number of other movies with the same title in English). The heroic resistance of the Sami people to a brutal Viking invasion. (As with A Sunday in the Country, I can find no U.S. playable DVD.)
3. The Winter War (Finnish, Talvisoto, 1989). As a Southerner I cannot help being sympathetic to the struggle of small countries against foreign conquest. This portrays soldiers in little Finland’s heroic stand against the Soviet Union in 1939-1940.
4. Ballad of a Soldier (Russian, 1959). The tragic human experience of war and Communism, softened by young love.
5. Heartland (U.S., 1979 ). A calmly realistic portrayal of the hardships of American pioneers in Wyoming in the late 19th century and a “feminist” classic in the true sense of that term.
6. Zulu (British, 1964). Dramatisation of the true story of a company of British (mostly Welsh) soldiers who defeated a massive Zulu attack at Rorke’s Drift in South Africa in 1879. Zulu Dawn is a prequel.
7. La Scorta (Italian, 1993). An honest judge and his bodyguard attempt to fight the Mafia despite the interference of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. (Politicians and bureaucrats seldom avoid corruption in all times and places.)
8. For Whom the Bell Tolls (U.S., 1943). Hemingway’s moving story of people caught in the Spanish Civil War. Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman were never better.
9. 55 Days at Peking (U.S./British, 1963). Europeans defend themselves against the murderous Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900, a heroic chapter in the white man’s burden that brought civilisation to half a planet. Charlton Heston as the U.S. Marine colonel, David Niven as the British ambassador, and Ava Gardner as Russian nobility turned angel of mercy are perfection.
10. The Way Home (Korean, 2002). What happens when a surly city-bred boy is left with his rural grandmother.
11. The Cruel Sea (British, 1953). Perhaps the best of a number of British films which portray the devastating naval warfare in the North Atlantic in WW II. I can hardly decide between The Cruel Sea and other examples: Sink the Bismarck!, In Which We Serve, and The Sea Shall Not Have Them. The greatness of these films is that they realistically show serious men at war without the technicolour explosions and wisecracking sailors from Brooklyn that Hollywood requires.
12. Apocalypto (U.S., 2006). Among the numerous movies directed and produced by Mel Gibson, this amazing one seems to have been overlooked. A family of remote peaceful Indians resist death at the hands of the barbarous Mayan “civilisation.” Truly stunning and uplifting in regard to those eternal verities.
I have dealt with individual movies. However, there are Television series that have meant a lot to me: Danger UXB: British soldiers charged with dismantling unexploded bombs in WW II; The Flame Trees of Thicka: British settlers in Kenya in the early 20th century; Tenko: British and Dutch women in Japanese prison camps; Sharpe: Napoleonic War adventures; and A Year in Provence: an English couple copes with life in Southern France. I would also add A French Village: French lives during the Nazi occupation.
If one is to judge by literary production, Dixie is still very much alive and kicking. Just within recent weeks four important new books have been published in celebration and defense of our homeland.
Yankee Empire: Aggressive Abroad and Despotic at Home by James Ronald Kennedy and Walter Donald Kennedy (Shotwell Publishing: 377 pp., paperback and Kindle). In 1866, the year after the War for Southern Independence, General Robert E. Lee reflected on the results of the war. Responding to a British historian, he wrote that he feared that the U.S. would now follow the path of all consolidated governments---it would become “aggressive abroad and despotic at home.” “Unfortunately, for the people of the South and the world,” write the authors in this latest book, “General Lee’s prediction has become our reality.” The Kennedy brothers, famous for The South Was Right! and other classic works, have added a new dimension to the Southern story. They expose in historical depth the greed, violence, and pseudo-morality of U.S. imperialism, a Yankee-generated thing. The South was its first victim but it is now grown to a global danger. They alert us to the folly and fallacy of Southerners who believe they are part of (and thus support) the Yankee Empire, when we are and always have been its victims. This work, a unique view of American history, is not only for Southerners but for every American and European who is uncomfortable with today’s U.S. global empire---a sad condition for the federal union that our forefathers bequeathed us. Yankee Empire joins the Kennedy work earlier this year, Punished With Poverty, as a strong presentation of Southern history as it should be told. With that history, we can see clearly the justice of Southerners being conscious of our identity as a separate people.
The CSA Trilogy, by Howard Ray White. (Paperback and Kindle.) Its subtitle describes this extraordinary work: “An Alternate History/Historical Novel about Our Vast and Beautiful Confederate States of America: A Happy Story in Three Parts of What Might Have Been, 1861—2011.” What would the world look like today if our forefathers had won their gallant battle for independence? Howard White, author of the massive and highly original War Between the States history Bloodstains, imagines it for us. The world would be one of confederate self-government, flourishing free enterprise, and genuine and healthy “diversity,” without the ravages of Yankee empire. There is nothing else quite like this amazing and inspiring work. It is a treasure for all who cherish the good things about Dixie.
Snowflake Buddies ABC: Leftism for Kids by Lewis Liberman (Shotwell Publishing, paperback and Kindle.) A full-colour, creatively illustrated, memorably rhyming alphabet primer for children (and everyone else also.) From “Antifa Al,” to “Lester the Lincoln Lover,” and beyond, all the current leftist types and their strange and usually malevolent or stupid behavior are portrayed. There is a lot more in the way of bonus material. Why hasn’t somebody thought of this before?
The Land We Love: The South and Its Heritage by Boyd D. Cathey. (Scuppernong Press, hardback.) History is not a science, it is a story. A story has to be somebody’s story, the remembered past. Otherwise it is just abstract speculation, useless and potentially destructive. We Southerners are blessed to have a rich story that is still powerful among us and also far beyond our borders. That history is envied and hated by postmodern Americans who have no story of their own and work to destroy the memory of ours. Defending our story is not backward and provincial but is a part of the defense of civilisation as we have known it. Seldom has this defense been made by writers as eloquent and as vastly and broadly knowledgeable in history and theology as Dr. Boyd Cathey. The collected essays are learned but also have a down-home touch which never loses sight of the South as a living and valuable thing.
Clyde Wilson is a distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at the University of South Carolina He is the author or editor of over thirty books and published over 600 articles, essays and reviews