Looking at the people the Left designated as America’s enemies during WWII and the ones it designates today tells us a lot about the modern American Left.
We tend to have a romanticized view of the past because the good stuff has legs, while the bad stuff drifts to the wayside. In centuries past, there were innumerable bad artists producing the equivalent of the landscapes on black velvet that used to hang on motel room walls when I was a child. A lot of this stuff simply vanished with time. Meanwhile, discriminating people had enough sense to cherish the Van Eycks, Reynolds, and Rembrandts.
Even when the bad stuff survived, we still manage to ignore it today. If you go to any of the great museums across Europe (the Hermitage, the Rijksmuseum, the Louvre, the Prado, the Uffizi, the Vatican, etc.), what comes as a surprise is the fact that these museums have so much dreadful stuff mixed in with the art that’s aged well. The rich people and royals of the past were not necessarily discriminating collectors. As people still do today, they bought a lot of stuff just to cover spaces on their walls. At most of these museums, therefore, the good stuff might make up 40% of the art displayed . . . if you’re lucky.
The same holds true for old movies. TCM plays all the oldies, but only a few are timeless classics. The rest are dreck meant to grab a contemporary audience and make a few bucks along the way. Despite knowing this, I can never resist at least trying out old musicals and rom-cons from the 20s through the 50s. To me, they’re time capsules. I can sit before my TV and peer back into the world 70 or 80 years ago.
Surprisingly, this time capsule quality is especially true with the lousy movies. The best ones have a certain timelessness, while the worst ones are bad, in part, because they are unable to break the chains of time.
Just this past weekend I watched a real dud from 1944: Meet The People. The movie’s premise is that a male shipyard worker has written a play celebrating the ordinary people who helped build the ships America took to war and a female Broadway star who is interested in both the playwright and the shipyard. Dick Powell, who radiates resentment that he’s still trapped in bad musicals when he was ready to break out into mature noir thrillers, is the charmless shipyard worker. Lucille Ball, who was still kicking around as a mediocre glamour girl 8 years before she became a recognized comic genius, is utterly bland. Bert Lahr pours a lot of energy into shtick but, sadly, the writers didn’t pour any energy into making the shtick funny. It’s a cheap musical comedy without any good music or any laughable comedy.
If you want to know just how bad it is, check out this Ziggy Talent novelty number, I Can’t Dance (I Got Ants in My Pants). No patina of time will ever make this number good: [Read more…]