Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Revolution Is Dissent

"You separate a man from what he loves the most, what you do is purge what's unique in him, and when you purge what's unique in him, you purge dissent, and when you purge dissent, you kill the revolution—revolution is dissent." Warren Beatty as John Reed in Reds (1981)

I can't honestly say I'm a revolutionary or that I have ever even aspired to being a revolutionary. I'm much too pragmatic in a Burkean sense—18th century political philosopher Edmund Burke, that is, who I believe once said, "You say you've got a real solution, well, you know, we'd all love to see the plan"—to want to sweep away everything that's come before just because I hope for a future that promises something better.

As a practical matter, I gravitate more toward evolution than revolution, or at least I prefer a messy compromise that gets me a step closer to my goals to a perfect plan that goes nowhere and leaves me mired in the status quo. Which means if to get you to watch Chaplin's City Lights I have to run down Pennsylvania Avenue with the blogging equivalent of boxer shorts on my head, so be it.

And a necessary component of compromise consensus and evolution is a healthy respect for what Warren "John Reed" Beatty called dissent. For without dissent, there is no revolution, no evolution, no change, no compromise, no cheese crackers, no nothing. There's no learning either. And learning is what we're all about here at the Monkey.

(Of course, we're talking about what I would call engaged dissent, dissent grounded in fact and reasonably logical argument and a respect for a difference of opinion without bullying or feeling bullied. But that's a subject for another day.)

I was thinking about the role of dissent this past weekend after "Zak in the ATL," a fan of Norma Shearer, took exception to my blithe dismissal of the Oscar-winning actress (here and here). And he's was right to, of course. As I wrote in reply, "It's a big tent we've pitched here at the Monkey and we encourage all points of view. Hopefully, your enthusiasm for Norma Shearer's work will counter my own crabbier response and will encourage readers who stumble across this blog to give her a try. ... The goal of this blog, for me at least, is to encourage my readers to see as many movies as possible. I hope you stick around to cheer Norma on in the future and argue in support of your favorites."

Because that's really the point of the blog, right? To inspire you to see movies you might otherwise have missed, if only to prove to yourself that I am an idiot. The only proper way for movie fans to address a difference of opinion is to watch the movie. (Coincidentally, the only way to celebrate complete agreement is to watch the movie—indeed, the answer to every question for a movie fan is to watch the movie. Which perhaps explains why so few world leaders ever blog about the movies.)

I have another reason, though, a more selfish reason, for encouraging your dissent.

As you may have already guessed, I've actually spent the last ten months telling you what I don't know about the movies, and I've had to do quite a bit of scrambling to develop a working knowledge of the films of the silent and early sound eras. I've enjoyed the effort and hopefully the pleasure I've felt researching old movies has translated into some interesting essays.

But as I (very) slowly grind on toward the future, I find I have seen more and more of the top movies of a given year or if I haven't seen them, I'm at least aware of them and am chasing them down. In other words, I am arriving at my comfort zone. And as I become more comfortable, I am convinced blind spots will develop, that I will ignore movies I've already seen and dismissed, or assume an opinion I formed in my youth is an opinion I would still hold in my dotage. I'm counting on you to keep me on my toes.

If you don't feel comfortable disagreeing with me, this blog will never get anywhere.

"For in this very thing lies the difference between freemen and those that are not free," said Edmund Burke. "In a free country every man thinks he has a concern in all public matters; that he has a right to form and a right to deliver an opinion upon them. They sift, examine, and discuss them. They are curious, eager, attentive, and jealous; and by making such matters the daily subjects of their thoughts and discoveries, vast numbers contract a very tolerable knowledge of them, and some a very considerable one. And this it is that fills free countries with men of ability in all stations."

"But when you talk about destruction," he added, "don't you know that you can count me out."

Hear hear, Edmund, hear hear.


22 comments:

mister muleboy said...

To inspire you to see movies you might otherwise have missed, if only to prove to yourself that I am an idiot

Completely unnecessary, old chum -- completely unnecessary!

mister muleboy said...

Although I don't really like Norma Shearer either, I think you're right to encourage her fans [encourage all fans everywhere -- they're inspirational, even if only in inspiring my opposition].

But since you cited her, I had hoped to link to another photo.

But I failed.

So since you cite to Warren Beatty in Reds, here is my favourite photo of John Elroy Sanford, better known as Redd Foxx. . . .

Mythical Monkey said...

To inspire you to see movies you might otherwise have missed, if only to prove to yourself that I am an idiot

Completely unnecessary, old chum -- completely unnecessary!


I don't know if this qualifies as engaged dissent, but it's certainly engaging ...

thingy said...

Well, you know how I feel about Chaplin and the Stooges.
I agree that a blog is really no fun if there is no discourse, or if everyone agrees with your opinion.

Uh, what time will the running down the Ave. commence?

Mythical Monkey said...

Uh, what time will the running down the Ave. commence?

Metaphorically speaking, I run the route every day ...

KC said...

For the most part, I'm a fan of evolution. Revolution makes a big mess to clean up; I say save the energy if you know evolution will get you there anyway. That said, sometimes revolution is a necessity. And overall--dissent is essential. I love Norma Shearer--and I can't stand her! I have the same conflicting feelings about Joan Crawford. Their mannerisms can drive me mad, but I can't get enough of either of their movies. It is this sort of thing that keeps me movie geeking.

Mythical Monkey said...

That said, sometimes revolution is a necessity.

Well, you know, even crusty ol' Edmund Burke supported the American Revolution (while opposing the French one). He said if the Americans were on the verge of revolt, there must be a good reason for it.

No word on his feelings about Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford, although I imagine he'd have liked The Women regardless ...

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Hear, hear (Where? Where?) (though if you watch carefully at the :43 second mark you can see John, just to keep us on our toes, leaning forward to say “IN” right after he sings “You can count me OUT.” A wily young man was he in his own write.)

But revolutions do tend to run into the “Dissent for me but not for thee” syndrome. Even in recent years we’ve seen people who would say “don’t question my patriotism” when they were feeling on the out, blithely implying their critics’ dissent is unpatriotic once an election put the shoe on the other foot. At the extreme, it can be (as has been pointed out before) meet the new boss, same as the old boss … but in any event, dissent we must.

As you say, there are cheese crackers in the balance :-)

mister muleboy said...

As you say, there are cheese crackers in the balance :-)

Ah, Who AM Us, you must have been thinking of that ancient Asian wisdom: Never sleep on the Nip-Chee !

mister muleboy said...

-- To inspire you to see movies you might otherwise have missed, if only to prove to yourself that I am an idiot

Completely unnecessary, old chum -- completely unnecessary! --

I don't know if this qualifies as engaged dissent, but it's certainly engaging ...



You know, after painfully, resentfully taking it for years, I now understand

the singular attraction of the lobbed-in, gratuitous insult.

It has that certain Jeannie C. Riley. . . .

Mythical Monkey said...

“Dissent for me but not for thee”

We seem to be in year 17 of a 20 year cycle of this sort of thing, with the the two parties trading back and forth depending on who's in power.

Or maybe it's always been this way and I was just napping through Bush the Elder's one term because those also happen to coincide with the blissful honeymoon of my marriage to Katie-Bar-The-Door. After all, we did fight the first Gulf War, the banking system melted down and there was a recession, but Elder Bush was such a low-key, amiable fellow.

Or maybe it's just that Pat Buchanan's pitchforks were pointed inward at the Republicans' own left flank.

In any event, as the Monkey Kingdom's benevolent despot, I promise to allow all the dissent the market will bear. Or that Katie will allow.

(Love the Who video, by the way, my second favorite band after the Beatles.)

Mythical Monkey said...

You know, after painfully, resentfully taking it for years, I now understand

the singular attraction of the lobbed-in, gratuitous insult.


Personally, I think it's rude to ignore a perfectly-situated straight line. Like Ted Williams laying off a hanging curve. Just wrong, you know?

Of course, the difference between me and thee is that you earned all those insults. But I digress ...

mister muleboy said...

Of course, the difference between me and thee is that you earned all those insults. But I digress ...

I see.

"Insult for me, but not for thee" sorta thing, eh?

There's a difference between inviting the insults and actually earning them. . . .

Mythical Monkey said...

There's a difference between inviting the insults and actually earning them. . . .

Don't sell yourself short -- you don't just invite insults, you rent them a room and ask them to stay a while.

Ah, we kid because we love.

(I think he bought that. Do you think he bought that?)

Uncle Tom said...

heck I bought it but don't go by me - I'm punch-drunk from a lack of sleep and a house full of cats

Lupner said...

Pro dissent and evolution, and Beatles Revolution. I say 'yes' to cheese crackers, but more so to cheese and crackers.

He may not have bought it, but surely knows it --

Misters MythMonk and Muleboy -- you somehow each managed to choose one of my very favorite videos of each beloved band and include them in the same post . . .

Mythical Monkey said...

It's always so great to hear from you lupner. I should dig up some more music videos and think of ways to shoe-horn them in here. Did the Beatles ever sing about Lionel Barrymore's performance in Grand Hotel, for example?

Lupner said...

Sadly, no -- a missed opportunity for the Fab Four, no doubt. However, the great Ray Davies sang about many of our faves in 'Celluloid Heroes', in case you're not familiar with that lovely song -- though I suspect you may be . . .

Always such a pleasure to be here, Mister MythMonk! You must forgive the inconsistency of my participation, about which I have no excuse save lack of personal organization . . . Btw, came in a little late but saw most of 'Notorious' last nite, a film I've never managed to see for some reason. Cary G. and Ingrid B. had some serious screen chemistry goin' on there.

Lupner said...

p.s. Oops, didn't mean to leave out the rest of the Kinks in my previous comment, who were obviously also involved in performing 'Celluloid Heroes'! Thinking more about the fact that RD composed it --

Mythical Monkey said...

You must forgive the inconsistency of my participation

No need to apologize. Real life always takes priority, and we'll still be here for you when you have a moment.

saw most of 'Notorious' last nite

Vertigo may have been Hitchcock's most "personal" movie, but I think Notorious was his most intensely emotional and human movie. Grant and Bergman are so in love but so emotionally damaged and unable to trust, the movie becomes almost too painful to watch. And poor Claude Rains with his mother issues ... that's a theme you don't see much about, but Hitchcock keeps coming back to the role mothers play and the serious damage they do -- Psycho, obviously, but also Notorious, Marnie, The Birds and, I think, Vertigo (about which I will write a great deal come 1958) all show the damage that crazy mothers do to their children.

Great movie. Many Katie Awards awaiting ...

Mythical Monkey said...

In your honor, lupner, a link to the Kinks' "Celluloid Heroes" ...

Lupner said...

Thank you, Mister Monk!!! What a great version, and one I had never seen.

In the rare long version, which they hardly ever performed, there was another verse:

If you covered him with garbage
George Sanders would still have style
And if you stamped on Mickey Rooney
He would still turn round and smile
But please don't tread on dearest Marilyn
'Cause she's not very tough
She should have been made of iron or steel
But she was only made of flesh and blood

Thanks also for the thought-provoking commentary on 'Notorious' (and Hitchcock in general) -- was quite knocked out by the performances and definitely want to see it again in its entirety.