Pointless Re-Releases; “The Book will Kill the Building”; A Most Unappealing Patriotic Duty; Mistaking Trump for a Neo-Confederate; The Coming Historical Revision

Should I go to the theater to see the re-release of Schindler’s List?

[I wouldn’t. These digital re-releases are pretty cheesy, in my opinion. It was pretty cool in the old days, when studios would unearth the original 35mm print of some classic, but nowadays, when a theatrical re-release is nothing more than a big-screen presentation of a Blu-Ray disc, you kind-of have to ask yourself, “What’s the point?”]

Yeah, I remember going to see Finding Nemo when it was re-released in, what was it, 2012? 2013?

[Was that in 3-D?]

It was offered in both 3-D and standard. I chose the latter, partly because that’s how Finding Nemo was originally released, partly because I still have never experienced the 3-D effect that everybody else always describes. Maybe there’s something wrong with my eyes, but to me, these 3-D movies always look flat. But anyway, when I was watching Nemo on the big screen again, I kept thinking to myself, “I’m paying to borrow the world’s most expensive DVD player.”

[The concept of a theatrical exhibition of a reel has become antiquated rapidly. Do you remember how many people were bewildered—disgusted, even—by the intentional blemishes of the movie Grindhouse? And that film was released in 2007, long before everyone had a smartphone, or even a cell phone. Can you imagine what would happen if that film were re-released today?]

It’s funny you mention that: I’ve been meaning to re-watch Grindhouse for months, but I wonder if the film’s deliberately imperfect visual style is undone by the polish of a Blu-Ray touching-up. I’ve already seen it on Blu-Ray once before, but that must have been eight years ago, at least. I’ll get around to it, one of these days, but I wonder: is that film already an anachronism?

[Digital exhibition killed the theater. What did Frollo say in Notre-Dame de Paris? “The book will kill the building.” Meaning: if everyone owns a Bible, then what is the point of going to church? He referred to the diminishing authority of the clergy, the declining power of the priests to control the people’s interpretation of the text. I’m not sure if the rise of digital exhibition has inspired the moviegoing public to “re-interpret” films, although it has raised the inevitable question “What is the point of going to the movies when everyone already owns a copy of the film?”]

Well, you could make an exception for a re-release of an original print—of a film, not a Bible—but that isn’t even feasible anymore, not with the displacement of reel projections by their digital counterparts. Don’t get me wrong: I would be delighted to see a theatrical presentation of one of the original prints of Schindler’s List, preserved by some prescient studio watchdog in the spring of 1994, but that isn’t what is being offered at the cinema this weekend. We’re invited to pay ten or fifteen dollars to rent a Blu-Ray disc, albeit with the “privilege” of seeing it on a gigantic screen.

[So, the big-screen format isn’t an incentive? The fact that it’s “big” doesn’t really matter?]

It depends. Sometimes, it’s nice to go to the IMAX theater to watch a re-release; I didn’t mind the digital presentations of Titanic and Jurassic Park, not when they were on such an enormous screen. But in the case of Schindler’s List, there isn’t really any reason for it to be displayed in IMAX, and it isn’t playing there, anyway: it’s in standard theaters only.

[Didn’t you see the IMAX re-release of 2001: A Space Odyssey?]

Oh, yeah: I did see that. That was fantastic. But, again, there was that “eye candy” factor, which doesn’t apply to Schindler’s List. Unless, of course, one were viewing the original print, which, as we know, is not the case, sadly.

[And without that “historical” factor, that concept of “cinema as museum”, the re-release is quickly exposed as a gluttonous, hollow, capitalistic venture.]

Absolutely. This shameless consumption is especially apparent in this example, as Schindler’s List is being re-released to capitalize on the political mayhem transpiring in America today.

[I suspected that was the primary motivation. Schindler’s List is not a film for the inattentive: it is very gradually paced, characterized more by its long and thoughtful pauses than by the shocking violence of the notorious “liquidation” sequence. It does not reward impatience, which makes it a most unfriendly film for this restless culture. If you’re inclined to stare at your cell phone whenever there is silence for more than seven seconds, then Schindler’s List is going to repel you, possibly from the very beginning.]

True, very true. But what does that have to do with the current political crisis?

[Schindler’s List would never interest the perpetually distracted people of this country, not as it is, not as a work of cinema. It needs some other element, some other aspect to grant it legitimacy and meaning. A pretty dour proof of our astigmatism, that: a film about the Holocaust, of all historical subjects, cannot warrant our attention on its own. It has to be tailored to these times, to us: it has to be all about us, or else it doesn’t matter. Fortunately, there is an active preoccupation with such issues as bigotry and political persecution in this day and age, and therefore, Schindler’s List fills, or can be made to fill, the all-encompassing niche.]

This preoccupation being our obsession with Trump?

[Naturally. We are told that Trump is Hitler—partly because Trump does not conceal his penchant for authoritarianism, at least not as successfully as his presidential predecessors, and partly because we want to believe that Trump is Hitler. If this equation of the two men is sound, then there emerges a desire—and an imperative, as well—to brush up on media relevant to Hitler. A media company such as Universal will always be prepared to exploit this neurotic compulsion, and in these times, they don’t even have to disguise their methods! Take a gander at the tagline for this re-release of Schindler’s List: “A story of courage that the world needs now more than ever.”]

Hey, remember that scene in BlacKKKlansman wherein we see the Nixon re-election poster with the slogan, “Now More than Ever”?

[I do recall that, actually. Are you recognizing a parallel of sorts?]

I’m not sure. In BlacKKKlansman, Spike Lee was linking Nixon’s slogan to racist paranoia. Now, I don’t have to tell you that paranoia is the order of the day in the Trumpish Age.

[Not at all. Now, I’m not suggesting that we should shrug our shoulders and act as if Trump poses no threat whatsoever, but somehow, I don’t think the preservation of humanity is incumbent upon the box office receipts for the re-release of Schindler’s. This isn’t the first time the corporate media has tried to swindle us with an insincere call to action of the purse: Wonder Woman was derivative and dull, but it was deemed our feminist duty to support and praise it as a transcendental triumph.]

We’d better be a bit charier with our words, lest someone accuse us of supporting the president.

[Are you suggesting it is insufficient to accuse Trump of revealing his, how do I put it, “penchant for authoritarianism”? It isn’t good enough to say that he is wrong; we have to lend our unmitigated support for the Democratic Party, as well?]

Be that as it may, let’s limit ourselves to Universal, the organization standing behind this re-release. The promotional campaign has obviously targeted this anti-Trump fervor. Certainly, you can argue that, in this respect, the re-release may be a very good thing: it may be the most powerful reminder yet of the catastrophic outcomes of bigotry, and with any luck, it may convince a number of hateful zealots to see the error of their ways. And for the record, this psychological transformation could be quite successfully effected, even if the anti-Trump hysteria is someday proved unfounded.

[That’s true, but at the same time, it’s unfortunate to see a monumental film like Schindler’s List reduced to, or even bastardized by, the present political culture. It just seems to be so shortsighted and petty, even if Trump has deliberately given rise to anti-Semites, and the like.]

Do you think he has given rise to such radicals and bigots?

[Deliberately, you mean? Trump really doesn’t strike me as an anti-Semite. There’s something so crude and so malignant about anti-Semitism that those afflicted by it, those who have contracted this psychic disease—which Christopher Hitchens once assessed as the surest sign of moral failing in a person—are seldom capable of disguising their symptoms, even in public.]

Richard Nixon notwithstanding?

[Ah, that’s a good one. But no, I really don’t think Trump hates Jews. I haven’t seen any evidence of it.]

Do you think he hates other minorities, though? What do you think of Trump’s racial philosophy?

[Please don’t ever again suggest that Trump possesses anything resembling a philosophy. Now, in all seriousness, I’m not convinced that Trump is consciously racist. I don’t believe he sneers when he sees a black man walking by. The hardest evidence anyone has furnished of Trump’s racism is his comment about there being good people “on both sides” during the Charlottesville eruption. It was an incredibly idiotic comment, I agree, but I don’t think it betrays racist sympathy.]

What does it reveal, then?

[Well, that’s very complicated. If we may attempt something of an introduction here, I would say that, like many people on the Right, Trump suspects, probably correctly, that multiculturalism will engender a new interpretation of American history, one that shall cast unflattering light upon every white man of the past.]

In other words, he fears that Howard Zinn’s account will become the standard?

[Basically, yes. There is a conversation to be had about what, exactly, is at stake in such a process, but that is a conversation we are incapable of having, as the Left and the Right cannot communicate at all. You will recall our recent discussion about opinion as language, and how there really seems to be no potential whatsoever for reconciliation. Such salubrious dialogue is doubly precluded by the intensity of activity transpiring—in this case, the removal of tributes to Confederate soldiers.]

Is the removal of such tributes really the most radical of all conceivable action?

[Well, we have to keep in mind that America is a very militaristic country. So much of our culture is predicated on our militaristic strength, and this shapes our psychology in interesting ways. Some of our more depressive commentators might describe this as a problem of jingoism, but regardless of the implications, the phenomenal condition is there for all to see. Now, there has always been a contentious disagreement about the moral validity of our various conflicts, but still, we’ve always strived to maintain a unilateral veneration for those who died in such conflicts.]

The Vietnam War being a great case in point: plenty of Americans think that we should never have involved ourselves in that mess, but still, we pay tribute to all of the American soldiers who were killed.

[Exactly. Such tribute has been largely uncontroversial, probably because, here in America, we are seldom confronted by the Vietnamese victims of the war. The same cannot be said of the American Civil War: there are plenty of black people, as well as many white people, who are expressing their displeasure with the legacy of that conflict, and part of this legacy is the proliferation of symbolic honors that are bestowed upon Confederate soldiers in the South.]

In other words, we may be unable to agree to disagree, as we are in the case of the Vietnam War.

[Right: eventually, someone is going to have to make some kind of moral assessment. Many in the South believe that they are being denied a say in that moral assessment. More importantly, it seems to them that the toppling of Confederate statues represents a kind of cultural invasion, a disturbing example of outsiders entering the South and enforcing their own arbitrary and unsolicited moral code.]

Of course, the rebuttal is that, last time we checked, slavery is evil—

[But that is separate from the problem, or the perceived problem, of a “cultural invasion”. We all agree that murder is immoral, but if a mass of people from another country enter the United States and start telling us how to speak of murder in public, then obviously, we’re going to be rubbed the wrong way.]

But that isn’t what is happening here, though. African-Americans are not outsiders. They have the same right to be here as the rest of us.

[I’m not concurring with the South’s interpretation of this “process”, as it were. I’m just describing their point of view.]

Isn’t it interesting how one runs the risk of engendering serious, possibly even violent, controversy simply by articulating someone else’s perspective? Doesn’t this prove what we were saying about opinion as language, about the cognitive polarization of the American people?

[Yes, it probably does. Now, despite what I have stated herein, the extrication of the Confederate statues is not the most radical form of cultural-historical revision: it is not equivalent to replacing the American flag with an ISIS insignia, or something. However, the progression from one act of remodeling to another seems to be perfectly plausible in the eyes of many. The slippery slope: it’s everyone’s favorite logical fallacy.]

And, to be fair, the Left does engage in many behaviors that would appear to justify such fears. It shouldn’t take a genius to see the problem with The New York Times supporting a racist like Sarah Jeong.

[Correct. There’s a lot more to this issue, of course, but as we’ve said, people are looking at very carefully selected sources of information. They’re not hearing the whole story, and Trump is one of the guiltiest, in that regard. He sees the problem from the limited and imperfect perspective of the Right, rather than from the narrow and incomplete perspective of the Left, and so, he comes to his conclusion that there is something to be said for the people who want to keep Robert E. Lee on his perch.]

But he’s still wrong.

[He is, and he was wrong to make the comments that he did. He lacks the prescience, or even the basic consciousness, to see that those comments will give rise to any number of overreactions and misconceptions, one of them being the idea that he is a neo-Nazi.]

And in this culture of mistake, we may become so limited intellectually that we recognize no better outlet for our frustrations and fears than a dishonest re-release of Schindler’s List.

[Precisely. So, are you gonna go to the theater to see it?]

Yeah, probably. As I said, I can’t think of anything better to do.

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