Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"America is a place, fictional no doubt, in which that happiness can be found."

by Ryland Walker Knight

I believe in America, and rivers.

September 11th is huge. So huge it compels people to place purple fliers in the shape of over-sized "9/11" on a deliciously green hill on the aptly named Memorial Glade outside Doe on campus here at UC Berkeley. I wanted to vomit. I said to my friend, "This is a real day, right? They don't do that kind of shit on December 7th, do they?" He replied that "they" do not and that today is, in fact, a real day. It felt good to be affirmed. But you know what? That misses the point, as funny as it may have been to me. The point is not that such displays are naive and silly. The point is that such displays are perfectly American. This place breeds that kind of ostentation, and entitlement. "These are my feelings, writ as large as possible, and you will have to deal with them. I will force them on you." Funny, I find the sentiment adorable, even rousing, in films like 25th Hour (a personal touchstone). But stapled purple fliers on a green hill? Please: there's no magic there. America is a magical place. It only exists as a myth, as a fiction, continually rewritten by its people through its events small and big, domestic and abroad: everything everywhere.

The words of the title of this post come from that Stanley Cavell essay on North by Northwest I mentioned in my brief missive about my Honors Thesis. It's a phrase that continues to astound me, and reverberate in my headspace, when I think about the kinds of American films I cherish. The New World is not a comedy, nor is it really a melodrama (who thinks they have a genre to slot it into?), but its core is in that Cavell aphorism. There is hope in the new world: possibilities abound for life to work. Even in death, America's afterlife thrives in the present. The waters run, the trees sway, the leaves fall. Things continue, and they are beautiful. John Rolfe returns home, anew, and America will embrace him, prepared to propel him forward. 25th Hour's fantasy finale is the same thing. It's also a spirit found in Preston Sturges films. With my fall disbursement I treated myself, finally, to that box set that came out last year. It's fantastic. But it is missing two crucial films: 1944's The Miracle of Morgan Creek and 1948's Unfaithfully Yours. The former stars Betty Hutton and Eddie Bracken and cannot be capsulated. The latter is available from Criterion Collection and it is phenomenal, hilarious, and dark. Both are as much about America and its arms-open plenum as the other films I cite. So, on a day like today, I say we salute that which we only continue to lose sight of: the foundational perfectionism, the gumption, and the hilarious hubris of America.

[Trailer 1: Unfaithfully Yours / Trailer 2: The Great McGinty]

[Pic: The Main Salmon River in Idaho, Salmon Falls. As I always say, "I believe in America, and rivers."]

UPDATE, 9/12/07, 5pm: Kevin Lee's most recent Shot-Down picture is Sturges' Unfaithfully Yours. You can read his take here or watch his video essay here. Kevin's project is nothing if not ambitious and extensive but I fear there's a tendency to foreground psychobiography, at least here, comparing Rex Harrison's conductor character to Sturges himself. This can only illuminate so much of the film. I much preferred reading the excerpts from the other sources, and figuring out what made those links between quotes significant for Kevin's argument. Perhaps I can offer more thoughts later after I re-watch the film. Still, do read Kevin's work: he is a fine writer, and committed.


  1. Oops, my bad. They weren't purple fliers. Just a bunch of little American flags. Which is kind of worse, to me. Still silly.

  2. Lindy's birthday was yesterday. Put yourself in those shoes.

    Welcome back to Netflix old chap. You and I have more in common than both of my brothers, my father and Sean.

  3. Happy belated, Lindy. Let's make 9/11 a great day, not a solemn one. Netflix is really easy to get sucked into. But it's really helpful for writing projects, and avid cinephilia.

  4. Yay Netflix! Yay America! Yay Lindy!

  5. Hey there,

    This is Caroline from SocialRank.

    I am trying to get in touch with you but couldn't find your email address.

    We're launching a new Web 2.0 site dedicated to Movie lovers and we have started indexing your blog posts as part of our

    content filter.

    I'd like to send you an invite to a beta preview. Can you get back to me with your email address.

    Mine is caroline@dailymovieguide.com

    Kind regards,