1/7/19: Christian Bale Politics for an Oscar and Sells Tickets for “Vice” — Amoral
I would like to drop the subject of the movie “Vice,” but it won’t let me go.
I enjoyed “Vice” as an entertainment, but intuitively disapproved of it.
I now have more evidence for my disapproval.
Bale reportedly told Fox News that he admired Cheney. He said that Cheney was a great husband and father, “with a brain like a vice.” He was selling tickets to conservatives.
At the Golden Globes, Bale compared Cheney to Satan. He was trying to get votes from liberal Oscar voters.
Regular readers will not be surprised to know that I don’t give a damn about “Vice’s” box office take or Christian Bale’s career.
I do give a damn about the people of America and the world.
The subject matter of “Vice” is too important to merely serve the personal ambitions of its creators.
Shame on you, Christian Bale. You are a very talented man. I am sure that you can find a way to be rich and famous without dishonoring the truth.
I have included below my recent entries that discuss “Vice.”
I hope I can drop the subject, but who knows?
A real artist can want money and success for his work. Hell, I do.
But he wouldn’t change a word or brushstroke in order to get it.
Bale, you could be a great artist, but right now you’re just a salesman of questionable ethics. Do better with your enormous talent.
Muddy water pollutes people’s minds.
Here is what I wrote previously about “Vice.” I am sorry that I can feel so certain of what I wrote from insight that is now buttressed by facts. Bale’s contradictory statements before contradictory audiences are admissions of cynicism. If you think he is just an actor and unimportant, you don’t get the power of speaking to people who innocently look to you as an aid to make sense of the world. We all have that responsibility. People who have big stages have the greatest responsibility of all.
1/7/19: Movies in the Time of Trump
I am interested in the movies. Good movies, bad movies, movies, movies that reflect the current collective mind — commonly called “common sense”, movies with insight that lead the common mind to new places, movies that pander to markets of prejudice, movies that exploit human fear and desire …
Movies. I don’t want to make movies. I don’t want to just watch them. I want to talk and write about them.
Movies are documents of our inner world.
And our outer world reflects our inner world.
I am interested in power. More on what I mean below. Power is in the mind.
Movies reflect the consciousness of the world.
And that consciousness determines our fate.
I care nothing for aesthetics. To me an assessment of a movie begins and ends with what the movie says. To focus on the rest is to reward showing off which is just a distraction.
I feel the same way about politics. George H. W. Bush cared about being a good man. The only concern that he had above that was winning. He wanted to govern in a decent and responsible way. His1988 campaign was racist, however — see the Willie Horton ad, and it fostered the rise of the anti-religious right, see the Moral Majority. That tainted the way that he governed. He asked Viet Nam to apologize to America. He executed an unnecessary war, Iraq War I. He wanted to overcome the shame of the American military in that war. Overcome, not deal with … He also didn’t gloat at the fall of Russia and respected our allies. He wrote warm thank you notes, and treated all in his immediate orbit with respect. I could generously assess him as a mediocrity, but I won’t. The presence of a good man makes the world better. Bush did not make the world better. He promoted his namesake son George W., and his Defense Secretary Cheney, and the malevolent and misbegotten modern fanatical Republican party.
George H. W. Bush won office and riches, but he didn’t achieve what he set out to achieve — goodness, the minor to his major. The world is worse off as a result of his victories.
People often think, well — that’s life, and decency mixed with a struggle for power and glory is the best we can do.
People often think wrongly.
We all can do better.
George H. W. Bush was a failure.
I’ll define power now, my personal definition. Power is successfully accomplishing something good.
I’ll grade the movies of the time of Trump that I have seen in this awards season on a pass/fail basis. I’ll use George H. W. Bush as the template for failure.
Vice: Christian Bale’s Golden Globe acceptance speech in which he compared Dick Cheney to Satan, and wondered if Mitch McConnell should be next in line for a political biopic, was better than the movie Vice. And my recent article on Vice was better than Bale’s speech. The movie makes Cheney’s stealthy rise to power look sexy. Phallic bombers soar over Iraq. The movie portrays Cheney as a Citizen Kane, a mystery. The accurate take would have shown him as a cross between Babbitt and Chaplin’s Great Dictator. Vice shows authoritarianism as a point of view instead of the crime that it is. The movie disagrees with Cheney when it should condemn him. There aren’t two legitimate sides on this. FAIL.
Mary Poppins Returns: Set in Depression Era London, the film offers imagination, perseverance, friendship, community, faith in magic, family and another faith in a spiritual security never given by political and economic power structures as the antidote to the condescensions of greed, and class oppression. PASS.
The Favourite: An examination of the prison of competitive power relationships. One character is redeemed, a George H.W. Bush figure who transcends less than mediocrity and chooses the good for good by seeing the emptiness of winning. A Trump figure lies in her own filthy bed while narcissistically posing with the trappings of political power for its own useless sake. A third character is the rich powerful figure, a Koch brother, Robert Mercer, Sheldon Adelson type, who is beyond having to bother with the work of useless power, but pathetically sets all the objectives motivated by her own petty concerns. A portrait of privileged despair and personal liberation. PASS.
Roma: A story set in Mexico City in the early 1970s, it is about the United States today. The movie shows how the rise of violence and authoritarianism affects the lives of ordinary people who just want to go to the movies, watch TV, eat good food, celebrate New Year’s Eve, get married and have babies. The price of fascism, paid by the innocent. PASS.
See you at the movies, even if you aren’t there.
The movies are the common mind and heart.
All the writing about Trump and the movies is autobiographical and mirrors the events and feelings in my own private life — events that I sometimes share with you, and sometimes keep to myself.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
I don’t know why I ever thought that I wanted to be an actor.
I love Amy Adams. She is beautiful. I like her nose. She can play a Disney princess or Lady Macbeth.
I’ll just say it. She never went to college and she is waiting for someone else to tell her what to think. Or if she has a mind of her own, it has limited scope and she is happy to serve someone else’s idea if they are a nice person or the money is good.
It’s so silly that such a big deal is made of Academy Awards because acting is such a powerless occupation.
Amy Adams was at the service of Adam McKay in his movie, “Vice” which is like working for a high school history teacher with flair.
Vice does not reveal one journalistic fact that I didn’t already know. I don’t go to the movies to get my journalistic facts. I go to the movies to get insight, to get some better understanding of what it is to be a human being.
Or (most often) I go for the popcorn and a dark place where I can think my uninterrupted thoughts.
Amy Adams serves Adam McKay’s vision by making it seem wise and plausible.
She makes Vice look like a serious piece of work. It isn’t.
McKay is not a real writer. He is a great showman. He makes things interesting — Vice moves, it’s not a boring movie. It lags a little at the end because showmanship only takes one so far.
McKay never explores what the essence of Dick Cheney is, and since he doesn’t, I wonder what the fuck was I doing there.
Oh yeah. The popcorn and the thoughts.
I’m not really a critic. A critic looks at an external object with detachment. A critical tone is all about the object. With me, it’s all about me. All me, all the time. The world and me are on an even par. I write about my experience of the world. Most of the time, that experience isn’t too dramatic. But my responses are. I’m alive and everything interests me, even boredom as I discussed in my last entry.
I’m no Amy Adams. I’m the one who makes the vision of my world. I don’t serve someone else’s point of view.
I am a decision maker. Or an explorer of the decisions made for me by some divine source that ordained that I am the way I am.
I don’t want to be critical of Adam McKay per se. I am sure he works very hard and he is making good money. A lot of people enjoy his work. Hell, I enjoyed it. I looked forward to going to see Vice, and I am glad that I went.
I just think that Adam McKay’s vision is not nearly as mature as mine. I don’t think McKay understands Dick Cheney as well as I do. McKay gets distracted by how Cheney does what Cheney does. Mckay doesn’t bother himself with why.
That makes sense too. McKay is an engineer. He has done a lot of stuff. He learned how to direct a movie. That must be hard. He navigated a career and amassed a fair amount of power in his field, just like Cheney did in government. That is hard. A lot of brains. A lot of effort.
McKay opens the movie saying that Cheney didn’t talk much. He listened and never revealed his thoughts. Cheney patiently and stealthily amassed power.
I knew that already. Cheney wanted power and was cunning. He was a master of manipulation of bureaucracy.
Again, my question is why. McKay recites commonly known facts about Cheney: he flunked out of Yale, he got DUIs, his wife gave him direction and purpose.
After reviewing the facts as presented me by McKay in his engaging review of what is known, I conclude — not McKay ‘s conclusion, he really doesn’t have one— that Cheney has lived a life of sublimated despair. The source of evil is negation. Cheney’s intention was to throw his life away as a dropout and a drunk. His wife read him the riot act, and then he threw his life away as a powerful politician and business executive.
I saw Cheney discuss the surgical insertion of a stent into his heart on TV one time. His entire focus was on the procedure. He tellingly did not discuss the emotional or spiritual aspect of facing his mortality. Cheney was born without a soul. He wasn’t a man. He was a monkey wrench.
McKay has a scene in Vice where Lynne and Dick Cheney speak to each other in iambic pentameter. McKay would have been better off trying to be like Shakespeare instead of just making the shallow claim that the Cheney story is Shakespearean.
Check that, let’s leave Shakespeare out of it. There is no comedy or tragedy about Cheney. Nothing human is there.
Cheney was nothing masquerading as a lot. That’s what has been running America for the last forty years. The real story is the nascent life force that is pushing from under a pile of dead bodies to reclaim the world. And that story has nothing to do with Cheney.
I can see why McKay was drawn to Cheney. McKay likes the technical for its own sake too. McKay uses a waiter to explain the Unitary Executive Theory and other abstractions the way he used Margot Robbie in a bathtub to explain concepts of high finance in The Big Short.
Cheney and McKay are both materialists. They admire the thing for its own sake. Making war, making movies.
But if meaning is not given to the thing, the thing is no thing.
“Why ?”is the most practical question.
Cheney hit bottom when his wife told him to stop drinking and make something of himself or she was out of there. That was the turning point of his life. He could have gone inward and found a real purpose. Or he could be distracted by power. He didn’t even consider the possibility of meaning. He wasn’t equipped to do so. Power for 23 million, Alex.
And the rest is history.
McKay gave himself a very tough assignment. How do you make a story about a nullity, a void?
I was criticized by some for my anger when my writing focused on Trump. I am not angry now, but I am proud that I was. Anger was a phase of death, before acceptance. The death was not my own. Trump, and his supporters, and those that can’t be bothered about Trump, are dead. I was trying to jolt their hearts with paddles and bring them back to life. That was noble in its futility. I had to learn that they were dead already.
Let the dead bury their own dead.
McKay doesn’t want to argue with “conservatives.” He wants to talk with them. He is learning that you can’t get to them. I was the type kid who would stick it in my father’s eye. I never accepted the idea of his authority. McKay was the type kid who liked to please his father. That’s why McKay’s work gets money, power and awards.
And why he walks on eggshells instead of getting to the point.
I fought the dead. McKay romances the dead.
I’m now free.
Freedom is better than money, power and awards.
I am not being competitive.
I used to envy people like McKay, a long time ago.
I used to rage at people like Cheney, a lot more recently.
I have learned that the powers that be only reward what serves their morbid concrete ends.
And the answer to Cheney, Trump and the Boss in all of his forms, is to live in the real world not the worlds of their escapist visions because their egos think God’s creation isn’t good enough.
And that the ultimate reward one bestows upon oneself — the right to life — life as an important thing to care for and participate in, not to use and destroy because you stupidly think life’s not worth it.
Hollywood and The Unitary Executive Theory are abstractions and distractions. Life is the stuff of poetry, and poetry in its broadest sense is what gives meaning to my life.
I live my life with meaning and I tell you about it.
I’ve come to a humble place. And all the grand places that I thought were so important are pathetic.
You see Dick Cheney, and Adam McKay and Amy Adams, and me, of course, the dramatic personae of this little exercise are all me, of course. And I thank God for my frustration.
I escaped the prison of being an actor, whoring (sorry Amy) my gifts for others’ worthless schemes; I escaped the prison of power — amassing money and power through the exploitation and manufacture of suffering; I’ve escaped the prison of commercial art, restricting my depth of feeling to the outer edges of popularity, sacrificing my meaning to the sensation of technical mastery for its own sake.
On the local PBS show, “Check Please,” people from all walks of life get to be food critics. They review Chicago restaurants.
I’d rather hear the story of what happened at the restaurant, the alchemy of the person and the world. I don’t care about what those people like or dislike.
But then again, they are real estate agents and such. I’m the writer. So I do that part.
The alchemy, I mean.
The real writer.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
A friend of mine, who has been very supportive of my writing and sincerely wishes me the best commented about this piece on Facebook. Here is his comment and my reply.
Bill: I get all of this, but first and foremost, the guy’s gotta get asses in the seats. I think the quote was merely Hollywood PR.
My reply: Bill, I love you and I respect your point of view. I have a different “first and foremost.”
Bale said on Fox that Cheney was a good family man. Cheney betrayed his lesbian daughter to help his straight daughter win an election. Raw power trumped family for Cheney.
Bale said Cheney had a vice like mind. Cheney is a war criminal. The war was a disaster in every way. Like all criminals, Cheney is stupid. He made money by killing hundreds of thousands of people. He made money like all thugs make money. That’s cunning, not brains.
My “first and foremost” is searching for truth — that’s what artists do. I listed several movies that are doing big box office, getting awards and telling the truth.
Bale hypocritically called Cheney Satan to impress liberal Oscar voters. He misrepresented the movie as a condemnation of Cheney, which it is not. Bale puts his personal ambition ahead of the truth. The truth is more important than Hollywood PR. What good are asses in the seats if there is an asshole on the stage? Bale is an entertainer who could be a great artist — something much better!
I would love money and popularity, but I wouldn’t compromise a word to get it. And I would never misrepresent my work, because the misrepresentation becomes part of the work. Like I say in the piece, all my writing is autobiographical. The piece isn’t about Bale. It’s about me. I disdain his choice. I would never do it. I didn’t write it to criticize Bale. I admire what a trooper you are, and I love you for wishing me success. I thank you for your friendship. But I’m playing a different game. Best to your son. He has a great father.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas