Category: Film

Movies and capitalism

I continue to be amazed at the high-quality specialized blogs out there. The latest: a new blog about how capitalism is portrayed in the movies, courtesy of Larry Ribstein, legal scholar.

From the blog, here is a list of movies that portray business and private enterprise in a favorable or semi-favorable fashion:

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)
Executive Suite
Charley Varrick (1973)
Heaven Can Wait (1978)
Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988)
Do the Right Thing (1989)
You’ve Got Mail (1998)
Cast Away (2000)

Thanks to ProfessorBainbridge.com for the pointer.

Addendum: David Hecht points out that “Sabrina” and “Working Girl” are missing from this list. And I haven’t seen “You’ve Got Mail,” but I recall that the previews villainized book superstores.

Second addendum: Here is a very useful discussion of “You’ve Got Mail,” from ProfessorBainbridge.com.

French cultural protectionism

…the homogenization in question, which today is perceived most often as Americanization, is (insofar as it exists) American only in its most superficial and least durable aspects. It is above all the vehicle for popular culture–the entertainment, clothing styles, and fast foods favored by the young, and popular music (but not all of it, by any means). Here the word “culture” is being used in the rather loose sense that has prevailed because it is the entertainment industry that leads the choir in lamenting American influence. This influence may present a problem, but to identify the whole of cultural life with entertainment is a travesty.

Contrary to what Jacques Chirac maintained, globalization is not a “cultural steamroller.” It is and always has been an engine of enrichment. Think, for example, how the French artistic sensibility was revitalized by the discovery–or rather fuller knowledge–of Japanese painting afforded at the end of the nineteenth century, or by the arrival in France of African art ten or twenty years later. There are plenty of similar cases.

This is Jean-Francois Revel, writing in the latest New Criterion.

It is hard to tell you just how much I liked this article. Consider this:

And if the French film industry in 2001 has recaptured market leadership at home and found successes abroad, this is not because it is more subsidized than formerly, but because it has managed to produce a handful of films whose quality was appreciated not only by their auteurs, but by the public. A commercially successful French cinema, with international appeal, evidences a more authentic diversity than the kind preached by tedious diversity-mongers.

This article is just full of excellent bits:

…in the domain of languages too, globalization leads to variety, not uniformity. The spread of English facilitates communication and mutual influence between cultures; it is hardly a trivial matter when, thanks to the lingua franca, Japanese, Germans, Filipinos, Italians, Russians, French, Brazilians, etc., can participate in the same colloquium, sharing information and ideas.

Or how about this:

…the endowment of Harvard, certainly not the largest university in America, is close to $20 billion–more than twice the annual expenditure of France on its entire university system.

Here is another:

Giancarlo Pajetta, an important Italian Communist leader, once said: “I have finally understood what pluralism is; it’s when lots of people share my point of view.”

Highly recommended, go through the full text yourself, and prepare for the forthcoming book, entitled Anti-Americanism.

Does Hollywood like the free market?

Read this interesting paper by law professor Larry Ribstein, link courtesy of Ben Muse and ProfessorBainbridge.com. The question is why so many movies appear to be so anti-business. A money quote:

This article seeks to provide a plausible explanation of films’ bias against capital. It is not business itself that filmmakers do not like, but the capitalists who control it. This may sound like Communism, but it is not the classic view of the struggle between capital and labor. Filmmakers display little concern with the problems of the workingman, and they do not usually blame firms’ social irresponsibility on the fact that capital rather than labor is in control. Rather, the filmmakers’ main problem with capital being in control seems to be that the filmmakers are not. The “workers” that are oppressed are often creative types, and middle managers who stand in for them, who are being denied adequate opportunity to display their creativity. The point of displaying the evil that firms do seems not to stop it, but to show how much we need the artists and seekers among us to do the finding…

We are told that as technology lowers costs, and moviemakers become less dependent on capitalists, the problem will diminish. If this is true, drama should be less anti-capitalist than costly special effects spectaculars. I am not sure I buy this, but the paper nonetheless makes for interesting reading. For an alternative perspective, see my earlier post on movies for entrepreneurs.

Stalin, Shakespeare, and Tarzan

Dmitri Shostakovich noted that Stalin was forced to ban Shakespeare, as he understood all too well the political implications of Macbeth, Hamlet, and King Lear.

We also learn:

Dmitri Shostakovich recalled that ‘Stalin loved films and he saw The Great Waltz, about Johann Strauss, many times, dozens of times…Stalin also liked Tarzan films, he saw all the episodes.”

Tarzan was popular with Soviet citizens as well, which led to a “cult of youth” in the image of the Tarzan hero. Soviet leaders apparently were comfortable with the political implications of The King of the Jungle, raised by beasts.

From the recent book The Dancer Defects: The Struggle for Cultural Supremacy during the Cold War, by David Caute.

Movies for entrepreneurs

The new (and excellent) culture blog www.2blowhards.com directs our attention toward “Movies for Entrepreneurs”, by www.startupgarden.com, which offers resources for the teaching of entrepreneurship. The six movies chosen, for having significant lessons for entrepreneurs, are the following: Groundhog Day, The Music Man, Ghostbusters, Run Lola Run, Jerry Maguire, and Mary Poppins. The link offers plenty of explanation for these choices. What about Tucker: The Man and his Dream, starring Jeff Bridges, about the revolution in automobile design? And read this for their take on Monty Python and entrepreneurship.

Game theory in popular culture

This delightful site lists and describes the uses of game theory in film, television, music and other areas of popular culture. The entry for Dr. Strangelove, for instance, reads as follows:

Kubrick’s cold war dark comedy. One five-minute scene explains credible commitment, highlighting the importance of clarity, irreversibility, and public knowledge.

Maybe you already knew that one, but check out the takes on House of Games, Princess Bride, and War Games, all underrated movies, chock full of game theory. See also the site’s treatment of TV shows, the links on music and books are skimpier and less convincing. The book section could be much more complete, the music section is doomed to be short, at least they could have mentioned John Cage’s idea for “aleatory” (random) composition. We do learn that the Greek composer Xenakis once wrote an intentionally game-theoretic piece for two competing orchestras.