New Year’s Ethics Warm-Up, Entertainment Edition

Thats enter

1. “That’s Entertainment!” Once again, Turner Movie Classics ran all of the “That’s Entertainment!’ series as its New Year’s Eve programming. Last time TCM did this, primary host Ben Mankiewicz won ethics points for having the guts to say, as his fellow hosts were gushing about MGM musicals between “That’s Entertainment!” 1 and 2, that he regarded movie musicals as in the same category as super-hero movies today: diverting fluff, but not cinematic masterpieces. I don’t completely agree with him, but as Mankiewicz has shown before, he has integrity as an expert analyst, and does not hesitate to register opinions that his audience might not like. (Where Ben is wrong in his comparison is that the old movie musicals showcase astonishing talents that we are unlikely to see the like of again—Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Danny Kaye, Julie Andrews and others—while the super-hero movies merely display special effects that we are doomed to see repeated for the rest of our lives. In support of Ben’s point, I have to admit that watching “That’s Entertainment” one is struck by how few truly great movie musicals there were.

Last night, Ben scored again as a truth-teller. After mouthing the conventional wisdom that Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire were regarded as the greatest dancers in Hollywood history, he added, “Of course, Eleanor Powell and the Nicholas Brothers might disagree.” As an early clip in “That’s Entertainment!” shows, a dance-off between Astaire and Powell, she could match Fred step for step. The Nicholas Brothers, who only appear briefly in TE1, never had a chance to impress white audiences, but when you watch them, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that they could perform feats of feet that neither Kelly nor Astaire could match.

2. “That’s Entertainment!” (cont.) The series is as good an example as one could find of why sequel are cheats most of the time. The first in the series was perfectly conceived: at a time of national cynicism in the wake of Watergate and Vietnam, during a period where movies were becoming violent and bloody and MGM, once the “Dream Factory,” was being sold off. Jack Haley, Jr, the son of Judy Garland’s Tim Man and an MGM executive, had the idea of using old clips and old stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age to show a new generation what thrilled their parents and grandparents. In part because of Haley’s clever choices of material and his editing, the movie worked better than anyone could have imagined. I saw it in D.C. grand Uptown theater (it just closed it doors forever, killed by the lockdown) with a packed house of Baby Boomers. During the opening credits, the audience broke into spontaneous applause as each names of the co-hosts, past their primes all (except for Liza Minnelli), appeared on the screen. Donald O’Connor! (Applause)…Mickey Rooney! (Applause). I’ve never witnessed anything like it.

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The New “Ben-Hur” And The Casting Ethics Double Standard

Thank-you, O producers of the new “Ben-Hur,” for so quickly after my post ridiculing the new politically correct casting ethics in Hollywood—according to Turner Movie Classics, it’s just soooo wrong to cast an Anglo Saxon like Charlton Heston as a Mexican, for example—-coming out with the official trailer proving that the new, enlightened casting ethics really only applies when it means it takes jobs away from white actors. Okay, just American white actors. Or something….actually, this casting ethics rules are  kind of made up as things shake out.

Which was what I thought all along.

In the 1959 Ben-Hur (starring, ironically, White Guy Charlton Heston as Judah Ben-Hur ), the plum part of Shiek Iderim was played by brilliant Welsh character actor Hugh Griffith, whose performance rightly won him an Academy Award. Yes, he wore dark make-up, because actors wear make-up. Ah, but these are enlightened days, and now we know, because it has been decreed by Ben Mankiewicz and the rest of the heralds of politically correct casting, that the casting of a master comic actor of unique gifts who was an audience favorite to play the sheik was insensitive and essentially racist, not to mention unfair to all of those unemployed but equally adept Arab actors qualified to play the part. So who plays the sheik in the new, improved, enlightened “Ben-Hur’?

Morgan Freeman.

Who looks as much like an Arab as Bruce Lee. Continue reading

Sorry To Be A Pest, But Yes, It Matters: There Was And Is Nothing Wrong With Casting Charlton Heston As A Mexican D.A.

Quiz: which is obviously unethical? Casting a Scotch-English actor as a Mexican, or casting a Cuban-American as a Sicilian-American?

Pop Quiz: which is obviously unethical? Casting a Scotch-English actor as a Mexican, or casting a Cuban-American as a Sicilian-American?

I was watching Turner Movie Classics over the weekend, and guest Louis Gossett Jr, best known for playing the drill sergeant who makes An Officer And A Gentleman out of jerk Richard Gere, had chosen the Orson Welles cult film “Touch of Evil” for the evening’s viewing. Host Ben Mankiewicz noted that the film, which he agreed was a classic, now causes politically correct eyes—like his and Gossett’s— to roll because Charlton Heston had the role of a Mexican district attorney. Without saying why, both Ben and Lou tut-tutted and agreed that this would never be tolerated today, and the role would obviously be cast with someone like Antonio Bandaras. It was too obvious to decent viewers to explain, I guess.

We have gone over this issue before here, and more than once, but what was special and disturbing about this conversation was that it assumed a new cultural ethics standard as if everyone agrees with it; the previous standard, we now know in our wisdom, was wrong; and now it’s clear what is the right path going forward. This is how mass media, which is pervasive, powerful, and overwhelmingly controlled by none-too-bright and none-too-ethical knee-jerk leftists, accelerates the natural evolution of societal and cultural ethics. When the media sends a united message that an issue is decided, those of slug-like alertness and apathetic mind—and there are a lot of them— will simply absorb the edict without applying critical thought.

Oh…the right thing is to just let anyone who wants to come to this country jump the border. Got it. Oh…guns should be confiscated and banned by the government if it can save one life. Of course. Oh…the minimum wage should be a living wage. How true…

The fact that there is not and should not be cultural consensus on such conclusions because they make no sense logically or ethically will be buried  by sheer repetition and certitude, unless sufficient numbers of people who are paying attention and do not surrender to false authority protest loudly and repeatedly. In a previous post on this topic, I wrote…

“Through the fog of such distortions, the idea of rigid ethnic casting doesn’t seem so crazy, though it is crazy indeed. I regard it my duty as someone who has both professional expertise in ethics and casting to slap down this rotten and indefensible idea every time it raises its repulsive head.”

Thus I am keeping my promise. The principle that Ben and Lou are assuming our society accepts is nonsense. It is also bad ethics. Continue reading