Hey, I wrote a book called In Praise of Commercial Culture, and even I think movies have stunk this year. The only three compelling Hollywood entries I can think of are Finding Nemo, Kill Bill, Part I (for a dissenting opinion, Gregg Easterbrook offers what is about the most negative serious review of a movie I have ever read), and now Mystic River, directed by Clint Eastwood. See the latter before it disappears from theaters. The celebrity system in Hollywood comes under much attack, but a movie this serious and this expensive probably could not have been made without Clint’s hold on the public imagination.
And, by the way, what would Dirty Harry think of Alex’s recent reassurance, directly below, that the government of Singapore tracks the movements only of “scofflaws”?
Here is a list of twenty ways in which movies alter our usual presumptions about scarcity.
Here is one of my favorites:
6. The ventilation system of any building is the perfect hiding place. Nobody will ever think of looking for you in there and you can travel to any other part of the building undetected.
The entire list is amusing, courtesy of the ever-inventive geekpress.com.
Or how about this one:
8. Should you wish to pass yourself off as a German officer, it will not be necessary to learn to speak German. Simply speaking English with a German accent will do.
OK, the end of the year is approaching, here are my “best of” lists:
1. Classical music CD: Bach, St. Matthew’s Passion, conducted by Paul McCreesh. As good a recording as you will find, and this is arguably the best piece of music ever. One voice to a part, as they did it in Bach’s day, but never stale or musty.
2. Popular music CD: Outkast, Speakerboxx/The Love Below. Starts at hip-hop but spans the entire musical map, from an immensely talented duo.
3. Book, fiction: J.M. Coetzee, Elizabeth Costello. The finest novel yet by this year’s Nobel Laureate in literature, deep and philosophical, but also a great read.
4. Book, non-fiction: Michael Lewis, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Games. Baseball puts me to sleep, this book is actually about human irrationality and performance. Everyone should read it.
5. DVD: Jean-Luc Godard, Band of Outsiders. OK, so he was (is?) a commie. Still, he understands the power of cinema in a way that few other directors do. The screen sparkles in every frame, the release is of course by Criterion.
And if you really want to go on a shopping spree, here is an article about notable art masterpieces still in private hands. I would recommend the Pollock at $50 million, except that the owner is not selling at that price.
In a word, disappointing. Not only didn’t they answer the interesting questions raised by 1 and 2 they didn’t even try. Moreover, most of the zowee special effects were in 2. As my also disappointed colleague Bryan Caplan put it, they did backwards induction but we didn’t.
The U.N. convention on cultural diversity, championed by Canada and
France, would take cultural goods such as films, plays and music out of
the realm of trade negotiations. It would exempt them from free-trade
rules, allow governments to protect and support their cultural industries,
and enshrine the “cultural exception” that European nations have defended
in international law.
It amazes me how many “free speech advocates” have no qualms about restricting consumer choice in the cultural marketplace, which of course is another forum for speech and ideas.
That being said, this news is probably not as bad as it sounds. First, American cultural presence is losing ground when it comes to both television and movies, the two most sensitive cases. Most people want to see locally produced TV programs, which reflect their language and culture. American shows dominate the television market only in parts of the English-speaking world, such as Canada. In cinema, France has shown some ability to capture more than half of its home market, thanks to films such as Amelie. Even Quebec, a very small region, has produced some box-office winners (“The Barbarian Invasions”) as of late.
Quite simply, most of the rest of the world is becoming more entrepreneurial in its cultural production. New technologies, such as digital moviemaking and editing, will only accelerate this trend. So putting in quotas is addressing a dilemma that the marketplace is already solving.
Second, the importance of the quotas is often more symbolic than anything else. France, for instance, does not strictly enforce its quotas against foreign films in French theaters. Anyone who has visited Paris knows it is a wonderful place to see foreign movies of all kinds. The French, for all their noises about the cultural exception, are remarkably open to outside cultures; the musics of Algeria and Zaire have been centered in Paris for some time now. In part, granting the French a symbolic victory on trade policy makes it easier for them to be more open in the long run, and this is what I predict from the U.N. convention. What the French, and many others want, is the ability to win a symbolic victory, and then the ability to choose what they want in the marketplace.
Here is full link, and thanks to Eric Crampton and Michael Giesbrecht for the pointer.
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)
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.
…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.
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.
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.
Here is the link, the interviewer is Nick Gillespie of Reason magazine, reproduced on www.aldaily.com. I talk about global cinema, music, free trade, Islam, and cultural protectionism.
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.
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.