Friday, December 31, 2010

Two New Movies the Stix Family Will Not be Watching

By Nicholas Stix

Little F-----s and the Coen Brothers’ remake of True Grit were just released, but we won’t be seeing either of them.

Hollywood types like Barbra Streisand, who have contempt for the ordinary Americans who have made them rich (and who was in both films), loved the title of the previous film, Meet the F-----s. And their contempt was reaffirmed, when the little people made the movie a hit. Well, I haven’t seen the first F-movie, either. When I find movies with foul language on the TV, I change the channel. The only exceptions I make are for masterpieces of historic significance, such as Saving Private Ryan, though I was disappointed that Ron Howard had some unnecessary profanity in Apollo 13.

Hollywood used to be able to make movies on all sort of brutal subjects, without recourse to profanity. And the introduction and routinization of showing cursing and sex in the movies has made the entire culture not just more coarse, but more violent and immoral. Not only is one no longer permitted to speak home truths, but one is not permitted to say “No” to all sorts of immoral behavior, even in the classroom. We are told that the vulgarity and viciousness are “real” (that was rap impresarios like Russell Simmons’ line, too), but just being part of reality doesn’t make something fit for depiction on the screen. After all, we’re not permitted to depict the reality of black-on-white crime, or black racism, in general. Or girls saving themselves for marriage. And movie executives lied for years, in claiming that their refusal to make movies on Biblical themes was based on box office reality, as Mel Gibson proved, when he produced and directed The Passion of the Christ, which has gorssed over half-a-billion dollars.

So, the last thing that folks in the entertainment business are interested in is “keepin’ it real.”

On St. Patty’s Day of 2009, we saw True Grit together, which was the first time for my now ten-year-old son. When John Wayne won his Oscar for Best Actor for his over-the-top performance as Marshal Rooster Cogburn, some of his friends, like Ronald Reagan, seemed embarrassed, saying that the award had essentially been a career achievement award. But Wayne gave a marvelous performance.

I wasn’t much of a fan of Wayne’s during my childhood, because he made a bunch of clunkers, towards the end; I hadn’t seen his great pictures with the likes of John Ford; and I looked down on him for taking on a royal nickname (“Duke”). It was long after his death that I learned that when he was a boy, some firemen had named him “Duke” after his trusty Airedale, and that I saw masterpieces like The Searchers. I concluded that though there are many actors I’d place before him (Alec Guinness, Fredric March, Spencer Tracy, Jimmy Stewart, et al.) Wayne had grown into a fine actor.

A critic I know would rank actors a mite differently.

A few days before Christmas, as I was walking my boy to school, I mentioned that a couple of brothers named Coen had re-made True Grit, though they denied that it was a re-make. I said of their star, “Jeff Bridges is a fine actor, but he’s no John Wayne.”

Son: “John Wayne is the greatest!”

Dad: “Well, he’s a marvelous actor, but I’d say that Fredric March was America’s greatest actor.”

Son: “Well, that’s your opinion!”

(That boy of mine knows darned well who Fredric March was! He saw him last summer in The Best Years of Our Lives, prior to which I’d had him read MacKinlay Kantor’s 268-page poem, Glory for Me, which was the basis for the picture.)

Movie Videos & Movie Scenes at True Grit, Then and Now


Californian said...

It seems to me that the use of "four letter words" in movies is a substitute for good or even competent writing. It's a way to push an emotional button without having to earn it.

Anonymous said...


I'm a big fan generally of your blog, but this one seemed to run off the rails from the word "go." If someone pressed me to name the best film maker (s) working in America today, it would be a no-brainer toss-up between Scorcese and the Coens.

"Goodfellas" is a bravura piece of film-making and probably has more swearing in the first fifteen minutes than John Ford's entire catalogue. But an honest look at the mafia could not function sans profanity.

As for the Coens', they're perfectly capable of making movies without much profanity like Barton Fink, or their best one (imo) "A Simple Man," probably the best meditation on Jewishness by anyone besides Mamet.

John Wayne was great, but revisionism followed a lot of his work like a bad smell. Remember the pine-trees in that sanitized Vietnam in "The Green Berets." Or Wayne as Genghis Khan?

Most movies about the western frontier are pure fantasy. There's little doubt that the language of real cowboys was saltier than MSG.

But I'll concede that using four letter words generally demonstrates a lack of imagination. The best movie ever made, "Chinatown," had very little. I think the worst word was "screwed."

Sorry to bust your chops.


Anonymous said...


I went to see the 2010 version of True Grit on the day it opened, a Wednesday afternoon. There was a medium-size crowd, older than the usual audience. It seemed to be made up of people (like me) who had seen the original movie in the theater.

I went again today (Friday December 31). The crowd was larger, but still an older group.

The audience seemed to enjoy the film both times. The multiplex is in a medium-sized Middle Tennessee city.

Unlike what you read, the 1969 film also closely followed the book. The current film has some of the same dialogue as the first.

Jeff Bridges doesn't do as well as John Wayne in at least two areas. Bridges can't carry off the scene where Rooster charges the four bad guys ("Fill your hand, you sonofabitch!") nearly as well as the Duke. No comparison.

Also, Bridges uses a raspy voice that is hard to understand and sounds like mumbling at times. John Wayne always clearly enunciated his lines. The subtitles on the DVD will come in handy on the 2010 version.

This film also has a triple hanging scene. It has two white men and an Indian. One of the white criminals wimpers that it was an accident while he was drunk. The other white man is a typical crook who is where he expected wind up. When the Indian thinks it is his turn to say something, the hangman slaps the hood over the Indian's head and pulls the trapdoor.

Here, and in a couple of other scenes, I think the film makers were showing how harshly nonwhites were treated, but the audience laughed in approval of a murderer receiving short shrift.

When in the Territory, there is an unpleasant scene. Cogburn and Mattie Ross come to a store with two young Indians on the porch. Bridges as Cogburn kicks them off the porch going in and out of the store.

John Wayne as Rooster kicked a prisoner to get him moving early in the 1969 film, but nothing like what Bridges does here.

While he is excellent in True Grit, my favorite John Wayne pictures are Hondo, The Searchers, and Rio Bravo.

David In TN

Nicholas said...


You’re absolutely right.

A year or two ago, I started watching Die Hard Three again. I’d forgotten what the dialogue was like, except for the scene where Bruce Willis is surrounded by East Germans dressed as NYC cops in an elevator, who are about to kill him, and asks them if they played the lottery that day. When they all say they haven’t, he knows that they’re fakes and kills them all.

The movie opens in Harlem with Samuel L. Jackson saving Willis’ life, and half of the words are curses!

While we were in Trinidad (from Thanksgiving ‘til around the 11th), I took my boy to visit one of my sisters-in-law and her kids. They have a ton of pirated DVDs. The problem is they’re full of curses and sex. We start one picture: bleep, bleep, bleep. I shut it off so quickly, I don’t even remember the title. The next one is The Man in the Iron Mask, circa 1999, with Leonardo DeCaprio, Jeremy Irons, et al. The first couple of minutes there’s some cussing, but I don’t make my move yet. Then a character enters a room, and two characters are loudly making whoopee, just off camera. I shut it off.

We go through the stack, and almost nothing is suitable to anyone but longshoremen or feminists.

The third movie we try is Batman: The Dark Knight. There was only one instance of foul language: A character says that someone “saved our asses.”

And the morality and tragic nature of the story, I found breathtaking.

There was only one line I would have changed from the ending, as Batman flees the police.

Batman: You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain. I can do those things because I'm not a hero, not like Dent. I killed those people. That's what I can be.

Commissioner James Gordon: No you can't! You're not!

Batman: I'm whatever Gotham needs me to be.

[We cut to a funeral for Harvey Dent.]

Gordon: Not the hero we deserved but the hero we needed.

[Gordon is shown on top of Gotham Central. An axe is in his hand. He is being watched by an assortment of reporters and police officers. The next lines are heard in voiceover.]

Gordon: They'll hunt you.

Batman: You'll hunt me. You'll condemn me. Set the dogs on me.

[Gordon takes the axe to the bat light.]

Batman: Because that's what needs to happen.

Batman: [Alfred is shown holding the envelope from Rachel. He lights it on fire and watches it burn.] Because sometimes the truth isn't good enough.

[We see Lucius Fox type his name into the sonar machine. The machinery around him sparks and the sonar screen fades out. Lucius smiles and walks away.]

Batman: Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.

James Gordon Jr.: Why's he running, Dad?

Gordon: Because we have to chase him.

James Gordon Jr.: He didn't do anything wrong.

Gordon: Because he's the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we'll hunt him, because he can take it.
Because he's not our hero. He's a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A dark knight.

“Because he's not our hero.” But he really is our hero. However, I’m not sure how to re-write it.

Hollywood today is full of mooks who would rather have made the Joker the hero. Evilists, I call ‘em.

Nicholas said...

I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1931?)
The Public Enemy (1931)
Scarface (1932)
Little Caesar (1933)
The Petrified Forest (1936)
Dead End (1937)
Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)
The Roaring 20’s (1939)
High Sierra (1941)
The Killers (1946)
Key Largo (1948)
White Heat (1949)
The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
On the Waterfront (1954)
The Killing (1956?)
Murder, Inc. (1960)

Hirsch, the above titles are classic gangster pics, movies in which gangsters played central roles, or prison pics, all of which I saw as a child. None of them has any profanity, and I don’t recall them being damned for their lack of it.

And those were just the titles that came to me, off the top of my head.

And we could go through the same round about westerns. Cowboys and shootists alike cussed their heads off in real life, but there was no need to make great westerns full of gutter talk.

Nicholas said...


Thanks for the report. I guess the Coen Brothers know which side their bread is buttered on. If they want the characters at Salon and other lefty rags to uncritically quote their line about this not being a re-make of the John Wayne/Henry Hathaway version, they have to pay the freight, and depict white men as evil.

I notice too that Matt Damon is involved. Of late, he seems to have become quite the Hollywood PC enforcer.

As for the big gunfight scene, I recently read that Wayne didn’t like horses, but he sure knew how to ride ‘em. And the same source (John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth), said that he was up and at Deb’s Meadow (the shooting site) at 6 a.m. the day that scene was shot, working on how to properly twirl the shotgun.

My favorite Wayne picture (and performance) is The Searchers, followed by The Quiet Man. I like Rio Bravo a great deal, and he is excellent in it, but Hawks marred what otherwise might have been a classic by casting squeaky-voiced, scrawny non-actor Ricky Nelson as “The Kid.” And he handled the girl (Angie Dickinson) badly, too. Too syrupy. In his prime, Hawks’ heroines had been smart and wisecracking.

I’ve seen a lot of other good performances of his in recent years, e.g, his swan song in The Shootist, El Dorado, Fort Apache and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, but I saw some of his most heralded characterizations—in Red River, The Sands of Iwo Jima, and The Cowboys—over 30 years ago, and would need to go back and see them again, before saying more.

I have yet to see Hondo.

Anonymous said...

Pay closer attention to the scene where Rooster kicks the Indian kids off the porch. Right before he does, the kids are tormenting a mule with a pointed stick.