- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 15, 2008

POLITICALLY INCORRECT CINEMA FROM THE BIRTH OF A NATION TO THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST

By Mark Royden Winchell

ISI Press, $28, 490 pages

REVIEWED BY WILLIAM MURCHISON

”Miss Scarlett, I don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout birthin’ babies!” Care to appraise the chances of such a line’s appearing in a modern movie? Zero? Less than that? Sounds about right, never mind the classic stature of “Gone With the Wind,” which dates after all from near the end of the Jim Crow era, and wouldn’t be offered in the same manner today, so help us, Oliver Stone!



As most Americans understand clearly, and often enough sadly, the movie industry tends to see the older style of movie as unsuited to the vital project of demolishing class barriers, mocking authority, putting supernatural religion in its place and making it up to long-suppressed cultural and ethnic groups, such as blacks and American Indians.

“Miss O’Hara, I regret I have yet to complete my obstetrics course at Harvard Medical School,” would today be a more plausible, certainly more politically correct, rejoinder to Vivien Leigh’s demand for a little help delivering Miss Mellie’s baby.

Mark Royden Winchell reminds us, indeed, that GWTW ranks right up there with those movies most unacceptable to the present guardians of our consciences. Consider Mammy - Hattie McDaniel, who won for her role the first Oscar ever given a Negro actor or actress.

The problem with her, Mr. Winchell says, isn’t skin color but “the content of [Mammy’s] character … . Her sense of propriety and love of home are too credible to be endured. They are aspects of the pervasive bourgeois sentimentality that underlies both the novel and the film. None of the characters grows in a way that a critic from the adversary culture would approve”

I think we intuit already that movie critics, professors and Rosie O’Donnell aren’t prospective fans of this book, critical as it is of the social and cultural liberalism that dominates movie-making. No doubt that’s fine with Mr. Winchell, who has a merry time with his catalogue of movies you’re not supposed to like on account of their antiquated or outrageous viewpoints.

It’s quite a list, beginning, as serious moviegoers would suspect, with David W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” - wherein the Ku Klux Klan wins some laurels - and going right up through “The Passion of the Christ” (“perhaps the most genuinely religious movie ever produced in Hollywood”).

In between come “Ben Hur,” “Song of the South,” “Patton,” “The Deer Hunter,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Straw Dogs,” “Gods and Generals” - more than 100, all told. A few may surprise. “Dawn of the Dead” - the zombie flick? Yep: “[T]he collapse of civil order results not in liberation but in a threat to all humane values.” “The Queen,” whose Charles-Diana setting set my teeth on edge, Mr. Winchell lauds as “captivating” - a tribute to Queen Elizabeth II’s quest, in the post-Diana era, to reaffirm the ties between sovereign and people.

From such a list we receive an enhanced sense of what bugs the left about patterns of thought and conviction capable of slipping by the cultural censors even now. Racial considerations, certainly (the same considerations that seemingly underlie liberal zeal for the cause of Barack Obama).

A movie like “Gone With the Wind,” not sufficiently opprobrious concerning the fallen order of the Old South, may be popular, but it sure ain’t venerated in certain circles. “Driving Miss Daisy” did entirely too little by way of redressing proper white guilt for centuries of oppression. Why, the white lady and her black chauffeur (he worked for her!) became trusted friends.

“The Passion of the Christ” drove some reviewers and columnists to near-hysteria. The generally sensible Leon Wieseltier in the New Republic called it “A repulsive masochistic fantasy, a sacred snuff film,” dripping with “classically anti-Semitic images.” Mr. Winchell attributes negative reaction to the movie, which made a bundle, chiefly to secularists, liberal Christians, and, somewhat weirdly, “neoconservatives” unenthusiastic about Catholic traditionalists of the Mel Gibson stamp.

John Wayne, the actor, and George Patton, the general are unpopular types as well for their embrace of the martial and the manly (to use an out-of-fashion word). “The Deer Hunter” gets thumbs down from antiwar types for “its refusal to spout any of the familiar pieties about Vietnam.” In “Straw Dogs,” a “meek-spirited intellectual” becomes “a courageous defender of hearth and home.” Booo!

Mr. Winchell, an English professor at Clemson University, hasn’t come to say the only good picture is one in which the Klan romps and stomps on the hippies and Ol’ Massa converts the pointy-headed profs to Jesus. What the author has to tell us is that the popular arts, e.g., the movies, don’t and can’t exist for the delectation of the soi-disant culturally superior.

How did so many of these movies get made in the first place? They got made as, of course, good stories, and also as expressions of ideas and ideals held closely, affectionately by audiences. Had “Birth of a Nation” flopped, there might have been no “Gone With the Wind.” But it didn’t flop, and Tara duly came into view.

Both movies said things viewers wanted to hear, and not for the discreditable reasons that critics of the left-wing variety often adduce. Something in all these politcally incorrect movies affirmed decency and kindness and hope: Reason enough to make them.

Oh - and they’re all, I think, at the DVD store. Go and see what Professor Winchell is talking about.

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