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Moriarty's Rumblings from the Labs: Special July 4th Edition

Hello folks, Harry here. Folks, the original plan was for me to write my top ten films about America interspersed amongst Moriarty's... But ya know what? There's not enough room to do it in this frame, so... instead, you will see mine next year on July 4th. Till then, lay back and enjoy. Moriarty details his 10 films that define the United States for him. Personally this is a very telling window into Moriarty's sense of what this country he hides in is about. It's far more cynical in tone than mine... but that list is a year away, till then enjoy everything that Moriarty ponies up... his look at the Conan film you never saw is particularly wonderful. enjoy....

JULY 4th SPECIAL EDITION!!

RE: The Unseen CONAN; The 10 Best Films About America!!

Hey, Head Geek...

“Moriarty” here.

I hope everyone is having a holiday weekend that’s as relaxing and as enjoyable as mine. It looks like many of you have seen THE PERFECT STORM. Some of you might even be the people that sold out the showings I’ve tried to attend. I’m beginning to think I’m never going to actually see that film, that the entire ad campaign has just been a cruel hoax, designed to make me think that someone had actually made a film of Sebastian Junger’s book. I’ll be giving it another try in the next day or so, and I hope this time I actually make it inside the Chinese.

We’re just two weeks away from the release of X-MEN now, and the hype machine is quietly kicking in. Bill Mechanic may be gone, but everything was already in motion, and the release of the film is moving ahead with no snags, no interruption. There’s a one-hour special that Fox has prepared that gives a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the making of X-MEN that will be shown July 11th on Fox and then again on July 16th on FX. I’ve heard from inside the X-MEN camp that the special is actually fairly awful and does a poor job of setting up the tone of the film, so if you’re a shameless clip whore like me who will watch just to get a look at the characters in motion, remind yourself as you watch that this is not the film, and you shouldn’t get discouraged if the special comes across as flat.

Now, since it’s a holiday weekend, I’m going to try to just hit a couple of things this week, not overload the column, and I’m going to hold over all the other little stuff I had planned. The 1996 installment of the ‘90s list will be included with my next column so that I can bring you the special feature that will close this week’s July 4th edition.

THE CONAN THAT NEVER WAS

I first saw CONAN THE BARBARIAN on the eve of my 12th birthday. The film was a hard R, and I remember the tricky negotiations that went into convincing my parents that I needed to see this movie. Thankfully, I grew up in a house with a mother who read science fiction and fantasy as much as I did, so all I had to do was feed her a steady diet of the Robert E. Howard collections for a few months before the big day. By the time CONAN was about to come out, she was as ready for the film as I was. That poster hypnotized me every time I saw it in the lobby. There was something about the stark image of Conan, his sword, and the warrior woman at his side... it promised me an adventure as grand as STAR WARS, mythic and fantastic, and I couldn’t wait for it.

And when it finally arrived, it was one of those perfect magic movie experiences for me. I fell hard in love with the film on first sight, and that affection hasn’t wavered one bit since. Sometimes when I bring the film up to someone, I get a look like they can’t believe I’m serious. Ten times out of ten, the ones who look at me like that are the ones who have never seen the film, who judged it based on the plethora of shitty sword-and-sorcery movies that came out in its wake. I find myself extolling the film’s many virtues with an almost evangelical zeal, and the only difficult part is figuring out where to start raving. Do I praise Arnold Schwarzenegger for turning in genuinely strong and emotional work in his first major starring role? Do I praise the oddball supporting cast like surfing icon Gerry Lopez and Mako? Do I bring up the hypnotic, powerful work of James Earl Jones as Thulsa Doom, one of the best cult leaders in film history? Is it the staggeringly great score by Basl Paledouris, used to such rousing effect in the GLADIATOR campaign this year, that I mention? Or do I emphasize the surprisingly affecting and adult love story anchored by the tender work of Sandahl Bergman? Or do I mention the dancer’s grace and authority she brings to every major fight scene?

Or do I start with John Milius? I think perhaps that’s where any serious discussion of the film and its place among the classics begins. Milius is a curious filmmaker, a guy with undeniable skill and and style, and he’s been associated with a number of great or greatish films like BIG WEDNESDAY, APOCALYPSE NOW, THE WIND AND THE LION, and RED DAWN. He’s been spoofed mercilessly by the Coen Bros. in the form of Walter, John Goodman’s character in THE BIG LEBOWSKI. He’s a name that most film geeks know, but for some reason, he’s never had the career that he should have. For me, there’s no pinnacle in his resume that stands higher than CONAN. It’s a great story, breathtaking in its simplicity but rich in detail, mature and sweeping and sad and intense and exciting. The visual panache that Milius brings to the movie is evident upon viewing, but I never understood just how much of the story was his. For years, I’ve been raving about how smart the screenplay for the film is, giving the lion’s share of the credit to Oliver Stone, who shares screen credit with Milius.

It was only in the last month, though, that I learned exactly how wrong I was about the project’s pedigree. Two things happened. First, Universal DVD issued their magnificent new Collector’s Edition of the film, complete with a one-hour documentary on the movie produced by Laurent Bouzereau (who performed similar duties with JAWS and 1941, among others), new footage that’s been incorporated back into the movie, and a secondary audio track that features both Milius and Arnold. Second, I finally got hold of a copy of Oliver Stone’s original August 1, 1978 first draft of CONAN, written for Ed Pressman’s company. Now, I can finally see what everyone brought to the table, and the result is that I love the film even more, even as I also regret deeply that Stone’s film doesn’t exist.

From the very opening of the film, what we are seeing is Milius’ vision, inspired in places by what Stone had written, but undeniably different. Milius opens his film with a Nietszche quote, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger,” which seems apt when you look at the life this character leads. There’s nothing but misery after misery, loss after loss, pain and death to mark each milestone. In black, we hear the voice of Mako, the film’s narrator, setting the tone for us, finishing with the promise, “Let me tell you of the days of high adventure!”

And then “Anvil Of Crom” begins, the film’s main theme. It’s one of those perfect pieces of film music that does it all. It manages to convey all the emotion, all the adventure that the film holds in store, all in three minutes of music. And as we’re swept away by this pounding, insistent score, the film’s other major theme is set up by the first actual image we see, the glowing hot red liquid outline of metal being poured into the mold of a sword. Right away, we are introduced to the one visual motif that ties the film together... we see the making of a sword, a strikingly fashioned blade that’s as distinct as Luke’s lightsaber. Conan’s mother and father work together on the sword, him forging it, her wrapping the handle.

And as the theme fades, Conan’s father sits with him, examines the sword, and speaks to him of their god, Crom. Both Milius and Stone have this scene in their scripts, but Milius makes it more of a mystic exchange, an elder handing down a secret. He speaks of how man came to possess the secret of steel, a secret that used to be the sole domain of gods and giants. “No one in this world can you trust. Not men, not women, not beasts.” He touches the blade of the sword, as does Conan. “This you can trust.” That one bit of dialogue was Stone’s first, and it is crucial to the way Milius imagined the rest of his film.

In Stone’s script, there is an attack on Conan’s village. His parents are quickly killed, but curiously, the young Conan is simply left alive to make his own way in the world. Once they’ve killed the adults, the raiders simply ride off. It’s exciting, but it feels incomplete. Milius knows the value of an origin, though, knows that we need to really feel where Conan begins, feel it deeply, if we’re going to care about where he’s going in the film. There are two main missions Conan has in the movie. First and foremost, there’s revenge against whoever wiped out his village and his parents. Milius plays the sequence for all it’s worth, staging a brutal, visceral assault that lets us know right away just how dangerous this world is. Limbs are hacked off, bodies attacked by dogs, horses felled. It’s overwhelming, and at the end of it, young Conan stands with his mother, her holding a sword, protecting her boy. They’ve already seen Conan’s father fall, and all the warriors assemble, surrounding the woman and the boy. The leader of the attackers reveals himself as a young Thulsa Doom, and our first impression of him is magnetic. His blue eyes, his long hair, and that serpentine stare... Jones exudes menace. He is set up without one line of dialogue as a presence to be reckoned with. Just as our first glimpse of Darth Vader told us all we needed to know about his character, so does our first scene with Doom. He approaches the woman, his eyes never leaving her eyes. Finally, as if in a dream, she lowers her sword. Doom turns away, then suddenly spins and takes her head off with one clean stroke. The image of her body falling away from Young Conan, who is still holding her hand, and of his face as she pulls away, is chilling and memorable. Doom and his men walk away from the boy, taking his father's sword with them, and he sees the standard they carry, a carved totem featuring two snakes joined in the middle, facing one another across a black sun.

Young Conan is then taken to the Wheel of Pain, another invention of Milius’, and again, he seems to understand that there are significant stops that must be made along the way when setting up a truly epic myth. Stone’s script is impatient to get to the adventure, which is part of what makes it such a compulsively addictive read. When we first meet the adult Conan, he’s being chased by wolves across an open plain. He finally turns and fights them all in a pretty crazy action scene. He stops for comfort and aid at the home of a woman who turns out to be a witch. She speaks of a prophecy that seems to refer to Conan. There’s events that mirror these scenes in the final film, but Stone’s world is rougher than Milius’, more barbaric, and he etches things in quicker. He doesn’t show us how Conan grows up; it’s enough to just know that he did. In Stone’s script, these events just happen, one after another.

Milius is after something greater, though. He takes his time, and the sequence that he’s invented to show Conan’s passage from boy to man is probably my favorite section of the film. All the children of the village are spared, chained together, and marched away as Mako’s voice over returned. “Their ashes were trampled into the earth, and the blood became as snow.” The children are sent away, to the North, where they are sold to a slaver, strapped to a giant Wheel, where they simply walk in endless circles, pushing the Wheel forward. Using the Wheel, Milius lets the years themselves roll by, and we see a boy grow into a man, until finally Arnold himself looks up through his now-shaggy mane of hair, pumped and buffed from the years of toil. He’s sold into a life of pit-fighting, where he picks up the skills to match his impressive size, and where he is taught the savage philosophy of the day. What good fanboy doesn’t know the response to the question, “CONAN! What is best in life?!” It’s only after all of this experience, only after Conan has earned his freedom, granted to him in the middle of the night, that we find him on the run, the wolves at his heels. It’s eleven pages into the Stone script. It’s twenty-five minutes into Milius’ film. It makes a world of difference. Now we are invested in seeing what Conan, a slave since childhood, will do with his new freedom, what place he will find in the world. Milius adds one last mythic touch, though, before momentarily returning to Stone’s script. He interrupts the chase by the wolves as Conan finds an underground crypt. In that crypt, he finds an Atlantean sword, waiting, ready for Conan to claim as his own. It’s in the hands of a skeletal warrior who crumbles in front of Conan. Conan has now finally claimed his own steel, his own gift from Crom, and it completes him as a free man.

Both Stone and Milius use the robbery of a temple as the first major set piece of the film, and the two sequences are similar in the broad strokes, but this is where the films begin to take radically different directions. Milius has Conan pick up a companion named Subatoi, a thief, after leaving the witch’s house, and then has the two of them head into a town together. Once they arrive, Conan begins to ask around about the standard that he remembers from his childhood, the symbol of the two snakes. There’s a natural flow to the way they find the tower at the center of town. It’s not just a random robbery. This is part of Conan’s main quest in the film.

In the script, Stone has Conan drift into a tavern alone, and there’s a sense that he’s experienced, knows how to work the angles in any town he rolls into. He listens to the various conversations around him, then intrudes into the one he finds most interesting. In this case, it’s between a priest and a pickpocket who are discussing a Stygian tower in the city’s center. Conan walks right up and joins in with them, setting both men on edge immediately. There’s an arrogance to Conan. He’s more of a bastard in Stone’s draft, less motivated by some driving sense of revenge or loss and more of a mercenary, cold and cruel. When Conan suggests scaling the tower, they laugh at him, but he is determined. They tell him about the Stone of Set, a fabulous jewel that’s kept in the heart of the temple, but they warn him that any attempt on it is suicide. Conan is unimpressed by the warnings. Before he can leave the tavern, he has an encounter with a thief almost as big as Conan himself, and there’s almost a fight. At the last moment, bloodshed is averted, though, and Conan fades away into the night.

Then Stone does something that Milius never does, and I think it’s the one real weakness of Stone’s script. He shifts the focus of the film away from Conan for a fairly major sequence that sets up the bad guys of the film. Milius is already tying in the opening of his movie, moving it forward as one singular narrative, and Stone’s cutting away to introduce new characters, the princess of the kingdom Conan has stumbled into. Yasmina is in the midst of a crisis as her brother the king wastes away from a mysterious illness that no one can stop or even identify. In a crazy, terrifying sequence, Yasmina is left alone with her brother, who finally reveals himself to be possessed by some evil entity called Taramis. Yasmina recognizes the name, but protests that Taramis is dead. The king attacks his sister, and she has no choice but to fight back. She stabs him to death, then collapses, destroyed by the encounter.

It’s cut back to Conan, who is staking out the Stygian Tower, but only briefly. Almost immediately, we’re back to Yasmina, who is getting ready to leave the palace, to go for help. She’s panicked now, and as her aides help her prepare, one of them calls her “Your majesty,” and the weight of what’s just happened sinks in.

In Stone’s script, Conan encounters another thief who is going to try to take the Stygian Tower, someone named Taurus. In Milius’ film, Subatoi and Conan are about to try the tower when they encounter Valeria, the warrior woman who becomes Conan’s lover and partner. Milius is laying the groundwork for his film, always advancing the story. Stone just sets up the barbarian equivalent of a STAR TREK red shirt, a thief who can get ripped apart by the tower’s mutant guard so we get a good look at the creature in action.

Yes, that’s right... I said “mutant guard.” The main reason Stone’s script wasn’t made in 1978, I’m sure, was budget. It certainly wasn’t because the script was poorly written or unimaginative. Just the opposite is true. The script is dense with descriptions of monsters and settings that seem to have been taken directly from the pages of the pulp stories of Robert E. Howard. Maybe today, with modern CGI and makeup effects, and with a budget the size of LORD OF THE RINGS, someone could capture the scale of Stone’s vision onscreen. In 1978, STAR WARS was still state of the art. Jodorowsky’s ambitious adaptation of DUNE had been budgeted at $400 million, and it would have taken a similar amount of money to do what Stone proposed. He starts with one creature, a freaky thing that guards the Stygian Tower, and he has Conan fight the thing in a sprawling action set piece that establishes Conan as the equal of any beast or man. During the scene, we get a look at the snake cult that occupies the temple, and we hear the name “Thulsa Doom” for the first time. He’s not referred to as the leader of the cult, though. Instead, he’s described as the minion of Set, a creature that will rise up in the final days and rule over man with sorcery and slavery. We see that Yasmina has come to the Stygians for advice, and they offer up a terrifying vision of the end days, which they say are at hand. She doesn’t know how to react. Meanwhile, Conan’s epic battle with the creature and the giant snake that guards the Stone of Set rages for six pages of densely described action. Stone may have missed his calling when he chose to become a social moralist with his films instead of an action writer. He’s got a brutal sense of pace, and he punishes Conan in scene after scene. There’s no easy victory offered here. When Conan flees the temple at the same time that Yasmina is leaving, their paths cross in an unexpected manner. She is attacked by a group of men, and they attempt to kidnap her for ransom. Conan hears the scuffle and intrudes. When he sees that it’s the pickpocket and the thief from the tavern earlier, he can’t help but interfere. It’s that arrogance again. He ends up having to kill all four men, and when he finishes, he wrestles her down and claims his reward from her, a savage kiss. Stone actually sets Yasmina up as Conan’s first romantic interest in the film, and this introductory sequence sets up their chemistry in the rest of the script. She’s both horrified by and attracted to his rough manner, and he is delighted by her pampered softness, but unwilling to put up with any royal temper. She realizes quickly that Conan is a valuable ally, and she offers him money to escort her home. When they reach the palace and he realizes she is Queen of Zamora, he’s shocked. She offers him even more money to stay and be her closest bodyguard, and Conan accepts.

From this point forward, there’s little or no reason to compare the two scripts. Milius seems to have read Stone’s draft and taken ideas and elements that he thought were interesting. Stone has Conan crucified on a tree at one point, and Milius does, too. They’re totally different scenes in terms of what they accomplish and where they fall in the film, though. In Stone’s draft, Yasmina doesn’t even last one full night as queen before Taramis shows up. An animal-like resurrection of Yasmina’s evil sister, Taramis brings Thulsa Doom and an army of mutants with her when she sweeps into Zamora. She is disguised perfectly, transformed into Yasmina, and the palace coup takes place in the dark, behind closed doors. No one knows. Taramis effectively becomes Yasmina and begins to turn Zamora into a hell on earth. Conan is taken out into the desert and crucified to get him out of the way. There, he is discovered by a gang of thieves who see some merit in this impressive form, who see a possible ally. One of the thieves is Valeria, a beautiful warrior who rides at the side of Janus, the leader of the thieves. They rescue Conan and take him back to camp, where Janus’ taunts cause Conan, already weakened and injured, to take up arms against Janus. There is a fight, and Janus ends up dead. On page 84 of the script, the entire camp of thieves picks up a chant of “CO-NAN! CO-NAN!” as they surround their new leader. Valeria watches, impressed, and we fade to black for an intermission.

Stone actually has his script divided into two distinct parts, but the Milius film still manages to feel like more of an epic. Maybe it’s the way Stone breaks his story up, making it episodic, like a number of short Conan stories strung together. Eventually, everything does indeed come around to Conan and Valeria riding on Zamora and rescuing Yasmina. There’s an ungodly battle against a seemingly endless mutant army that closes the script that really is like madness, like a nightmare that Stone somehow spilled onto the page. The problem is that there’s no sense of character carrying us through. For all intents and purposes, the second half of Stone’s film exists just to set up a romantic triangle between Conan and the pampered Yasmina versus the spirited Valeria. Milius makes Conan and Valeria immediate soulmates, and the intensity of their passion really pays off after Conan’s near-death, when Valeria literally fends off the spirits of death to keep him on Earth. When Thulsa Doom strikes her down in a chilling scene near the end of the movie, it’s shattering. Their love is simply doomed, no matter what, and even bringing him back from the dead isn’t enough to keep them together. I’ve always loved the line as Conan lights Valeria’s funeral pyre, when Subatoi is standing with the wizard played by Mako. Tears course down Subatoi’s cheeks, and the wizard ask why Subatoi cries. The little thief gestures at Conan and says, “Because he will not.” There is a sense of strong bonds between these characters, a depth to the friendships that is earned over the course of Milius’ film. In particular, there’s a scene that has been restored in the new DVD that takes place just before the final massive battle among the rocks, where Conan and Subatoi talk about their outlooks on life. It’s maybe the finest moment of performance that Arnold has ever given. It’s sad, tempered with the disappointment and pain that his life has been made up of, and I believe him absolutely. There’s more of a human heart beating inside Milius’ Conan. Strangely, he does this by using less dialogue, not more. The film uses dialogue sparingly at best, and it’s to the great advantage of the experience. Stone’s script is talky, and much of the dialogue sounds like it comes from the ‘70s, not from the Hyborean Age. Think of the temple theft or the orgy in Doom’s hideout or the battle at the end... these are extended sequences, ten minutes or more each time, that feature no dialogue whatsoever. In that final battle, Milius has a moment that is positively operatic in which Conan finally comes face to face with his father's sword, stolen all those years ago, and must break it in order to move on with his life. It is rich with subtext, but it's also great action cinema. Bravo.

Stone sets the character up for further adventures by having him finally choose Valeria and the wind at his back, the two of them riding away as the script comes to an end. Milius hints at further adventures, but his film ends on a somber note after Conan finally destroys Thulsa Doom and the snake cult, cutting off James Earl Jones’ head and burning down the giant outside altar where all the followers are gathered. It’s the end of the first chapter of Conan’s life, and it is a perfect place to leave him. The new DVD cut incorporates a bit more footage involving another princess, the daughter of Max Von Sydow, who is the focus of Conan’s secondary mission in the film. I don’t mind the addition, but I didn’t need it. To me, the film’s ending always felt complete and perfect before. Now the focus is diffused a bit, and it may end up actually hurting the picture.

No worries, though. In any form, John Milius’ CONAN THE BARBARIAN is worth another look for fans of the film and is a must-see for those of you who have never seen it before. And the Oliver Stone script is a fascinating look at what could have been, a great adaptation of the material that steered the way for what we eventually saw. I’m not sure I would have preferred it to what we have, but I’m glad I finally got the chance to compare the two and share these thoughts with you.

THE 10 BEST FILMS ABOUT AMERICA

So here we are... the 4th of July. This is a day when we’re supposed to reflect on America, on who we are and what we are and what it’s taken to get us to this point. This is a day when we celebrate all that is American. In that spirit, I decided to put together a list of films that best sum up what I consider to be the identity of America. No one film can do it all, either, since there’s so many facets to the country, so many voices and personalities and ideologies and issues and influences. As a result, I’ve tried to hit a number of different sides of America in picking these ten films. I’m sure America means something different to each of us, so keep in mind, this is not meant to be a comprehensive list... just mine.

I’d like to exclude five films from the list right off since they seem so obvious to me that they’re almost not worth including. I’d rather mention films that there’s a chance some of you haven’t seen but might. Anyone can pick CITIZEN KANE, MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, PATTON, GRAPES OF WRATH, or THE GODFATHER. Right there, you have our relationships with media, wealth, politics, the military, our neighbors, all summed up along with a brilliant treatise on the nature of the American family as filtered through the Immigrant experience. Those films have been picked apart for decades, and deservedly so. Let’s look at ten more films that help fill in the details that bind us together, tear us apart, and continue to make us the craziest bunch of motherfuckers on the planet.

(In No Particular Order)

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS

The one I’m referring to is the original masterpiece, the Don Siegel film that still maintains the power to terrify. There’s a starkness to the film that no doubt informed Romero’s classic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, but the power of the film lies in the way its metaphor bends to adapt to the times. Many people labeled this film a McCarthyism metaphor, and it certainly worked as one when released in 1956, but this is a work of remarkable sophistication, like a science-fiction twist on THE CRUCIBLE. Like Miller’s seminal stage work, BODY SNATCHERS has survived various reinterpretations and always managed to work, but it’s the original film that still has the most power. Working from a novel by Jack Finney, Daniel Mainwaring, Richard Collins, and an uncredited Sam Peckinpah crafted a taut, smart screenplay that tells the story of Dr. Miles Bennel, a smalltown doctor who watches his community slowly crumble around him as paranoia sets in like a slow rot. The brilliance of this film is how it keeps the same face on things so that the horror in the film comes down to the perception of something being wrong with our neighbors, our lovers, our children, or even ourselves. As American became choked with suburban sprawl, the lessons of this film have remained important, immediate. Each new cloistered community faces the same dynamic, the same struggle with trust. Other filmmakers have worked to tap this idea, but this is where it was said first and said best. The very beginning of the film and the very end are tagged on at the studio’s insistence, and the original bleak ending with Kevin McCarthy screaming at passing cars, his hopeless, “YOU’RE NEXT!” ragged in his throat. It’s a nightmarish, painful place to leave him, and the film offers us no hope, no light. The questions about how we relate to one another that BODY SNATCHERS raises are still important today, and the answers seem no clearer. Moralists like Rod Serling, Steven Spielberg, and even Sam Mendes last year have all played with these ideas, dressing them up in different ways. The fact remains, though, that we work as a mob at our worst moments, and provoking those reactions doesn’t seem to be much of a trick. It’s a painful message, to be sure, but one that can’t be ignored.

THE RIGHT STUFF

God bless the brilliant Philip Kaufman for this film. Part of why we carry certain films closer to our hearts has to do with the circumstances in which we saw them, and I remember the release of this film in vivid detail. It was Christmas of 1983, and this was one of the most advertised, most written about releases. It was also a film that no one I knew wanted to see. I told them that Tom Wolfe’s book was amazing, that it was life-changing, that the film had to be brilliant simply by association, but all anyone heard was, “It’s about the Mercury Seven astronauts,” and they just zoned out. Not interested. Finally, I was on vacation, the whole family together, and I managed to shanghai two of my aunts, two particularly hip ladies who fell prey to my well-rehearsed patter on why the film would be brilliant and they would be better for having seen it if only they would trust me and more importantly DRIVE. I got lucky, too. One of the local engagements was in 70mm, and since I was in charge of finding the movie times, I conveniently forgot to mention any other theaters that were closer that were showing the film. As a result, my first exposure to the movie was less a viewing and more an immersion. It transported me, got inside me, and I found myself shaken to the very core. I maintain that it is not a conventional film about a historical event. Much like THE THIN RED LINE is a tone poem about war and nature and man’s warlike nature, THE RIGHT STUFF is a poem about dreams and determination and heroism and celebrity and ego and optimism. The cast is note perfect, from the largest role to the smallest, and Philip Kaufman’s adaptation of the sprawling non-fiction novel by Wolfe is ambitious and bold and surprisingly funny. He finds the humanity in everyone, and he turns what could be a dry slice of history into a personal story. He shows us the faces of these men who challenged the rules of the world as we understood them, these foolhardy daredevils who pushed the envelope just to see if it pushed back. The texture of the film is wonderful, with DP Caleb Deschanel (who shot this weekend’s THE PATRIOT to such beautiful effect as well) and Kaufman using documentary footage, newsreel material, and his work with the actors to create a persuasive permanent record, a snapshot of the very best that we have to offer one another. The men that THE RIGHT STUFF celebrates are the kinds of men who do not come often, and who can never be celebrated enough. They are pioneers in every sense of the word, and they embody that part of the American Spirit that we are all dared to rise to, playing at a level that almost none of us can ever hope to reach. It’s an intimidating portrait, even though it lets us inside and shows us the frailties that keep the men real. Kaufman knows that the thing that makes them truly great is that they aren’t superheroes. They aren’t any different than any of us, except for the fact that they did it. They didn’t talk about doing something great. They didn’t make plans and wait for an opportunity. They pointed at the horizon, said, “I’m going there,” and went. They broke the sound barrier, broke free of the orbit of this fragile little globe, and changed us all from citizens of the world to citizens of the universe.

THE SEARCHERS/THE GENERAL

There is something about Americans that is slightly Quixotic. It’s in our blood. We can’t help ourselves. We get an idea in our head, no matter how damn fool it is, and we chase it with a dogged determination that is uniquely ours. THE SEARCHERS and THE GENERAL both stand as testaments to that determination, but they’re two sides of the same coin. If you go to the IMDb to look up THE SEARCHERS, they list the film’s tagline as “He had to find her... he had to find her...” which just about sums up the film’s entire plot. John Wayne, one of the most distinctly American icons, never had a better role than Ethan Edwards. His obsessive search for his lost niece, his slow, insane drive into Indian territory, is more relentless and crushing than Martin Sheen’s trip down the river in APOCALYPSE NOW. Edwards is fascinating, a racist thug who’s completely right when he begins his quest, but who lets himself slowly rot, and John Ford’s longtime collaboration with Wayne pays off in a rich and complicated performance, as powerful and rich in its own right as Jimmy Stewart’s shattering work in VERTIGO. In both cases, the men took their images and twisted them, using them to comment on the very idealism they once embodied. It’s telling that this film was released in 1956, late in the career of Ford, after they had already worked together many times. It’s as if Ford and Wayne had grown tired of artifice, of the perfect face they put on the West, and they decided to set the mask aside and start telling the truth. On the other hand, Buster Keaton taps into the truth and still comes away with his optimism intact in THE GENERAL, a film in which nothing will stop Buster. Set against the backdrop of the Civil War, this film offers up some spectacular war footage that is beautifully mounted, still some of the best on record. Keaton moves through this moment in history, an unstoppable force for good. He is the very best of what we all hope we can be, pure energy, directed with compassion and heart, able to accomplish anything. The fact that he never breaks a sweat while doing it only makes him more of an ideal. I hope that when I close my eyes at night and make my plans and dream my dreams, I am able to retain the purity of focus that Keaton has in this film. It’s a standard I think we all secretly hope for.

THE MOSQUITO COAST

Well, here’s a movie that makes powerful, brilliant observations about America without even being set in America for the most part. It’s directed by Australian Peter Weir, and it was adapted by Paul Schrader from a brilliant novel by Paul Theroux, who has written some amazing travel books as well as some other piercing, intelligent novels. This book is a scathing indictment of the failure of the American Dream, and Allie Fox is as tragic a figure as I’ve ever seen in a movie. I adore the work Harrison Ford does here, and it’s another case of an iconic actor counting on you underestimating him and how far he’ll go. When Allie Fox first rants about America and what’s wrong with it, he makes good points. He may sound eccentric, but he’s almost never outright wrong. He’s fed up with things that many of us are fed up with... things like commercialism and greed and the media. When he decides to leave, to find a place where he and his family can start fresh, he’s looking to build a model of what he believed America could be, and that’s what makes the film such a powerful microcosm. It’s violence that starts the rot that eventually drives the Foxes from paradise. It’s ego, hubris if you will, that proves to be Allie’s eventual downfall. Weir never tips his hand, never shows us the grander metaphor he’s striving for, instead trusting that Theroux’s story and characters and Schrader’s expert adaptation will carry the day, that we will understand what we’re seeing. I would say the failure of the film at the box-office proves that. People were disturbed by this particular mirror being held up to them, and Ford’s never corrupted his image to the same extent since. There’s a bitter taste left by this film, but its lessons are profound and important, and it’s an experience I cannot recommend strongly enough.

THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH

Here’s another film by a director who wasn’t even born in America, starring an English icon. In adapting Walter Tevis’ cult science-fiction novel, Nicolas Roeg turned an outsider’s eye on America, and the result is unflinching. Bold and experimental now, this film must have looked like a transmission from another planet to audiences in 1976 when the film was released. This is definitely not a ride like STAR WARS was. Keep in mind, also, this was the Bicentennial, and patriotic fever was at a public high. There wasn’t a single thing I can remember seeing that summer that wasn’t red, white, and blue, and that 4th of July is the one that all others have been compared to since in my mind. Along comes this bizarre film in which David Bowie plays Thomas Jerome Newton, an alien who lands on Earth in an effort to save his dying planet. His scheme is simple. He’s going to patent certain alien technologies he’s brought along, then use the money to build a device that can transfer water back to his planet. Everything’s fine at first as he hooks up with Rip Torn and Buck Henry and gets everything rolling on his fortune. He quickly finds himself to be absurdly powerful and wealthy, though... Bill Gates rich... and his new insulation numbs him to his original mission. He becomes immersed in American popular culture like television and drugs and music and sex, and he gradually forgets himself and his purpose. The more he becomes like us, the less reason there is for him to even exist. It’s a brutal movie, and to be understood, it must be seen in its full widescreen ratio. The screen credit for screenplay may go to Paul Mayersberg, but there’s no question who the author of the film is. Nicolas Roeg made a few masterworks in the ‘70s like this, WALKABOUT, and DON’T LOOK NOW, and the sophistication of his technique is what keeps this film fresh and relevant now. The alien is us. We are him. And our culture is killing us. Magnificent stuff.

NETWORK

It’s no accident that this was also released in 1976, the Bicentennial. Just as 1999 inspired people to reflect, inspired filmmakers to try and sum up where we are as the millennium ended, 1976 inspired a whole kaleidoscope of views on America. Paddy Chayefsky was, simply put, one of the greatest voices in American drama. Important, humanistic, and tough as nails, he told the truth every time out, pushing himself and his collaborators. This script was his masterpiece, a meditation on the responsibility of the media and the power of the media. Whenever there is a Columbine and people turn and point the finger at movies or TV or rock music, this film becomes relevant all over again. It looks positively prophetic when you watch it today and realize this was before cable, before television became the freak circus that it is today, where there were just networks, and things were still corporate and buttoned-down. In today’s world, NETWORK makes perfect, terrible sense. It’s crushing to watch Peter Finch in this blistering tightrope walk of a role, knowing he’s doomed, knowing he’s never going to be allowed to say everything he says. There’s something terrifying about listening to someone tell the naked truth about media, about the way we are bought and sold, the way our opinions are preshaped, predigested, and the meek acceptance with which we all greet this multinational conglomerate con job. Finch’s voice rings true across the decades, and Chayefsky’s words seem to grow in power. I hope that this remains a cautionary tale, that its imagery remains a warning, because if we ever see the end of this film play itself out for real on our nightly news, we’ll know it’s time to pack it in. Put a fork in our ass, turn us over... we’re done.

THE GRADUATE

One part of the American identity that filmmakers have never really nailed in a definitive way is our relationship with sex. Kubrick scored some smart wicked points on us with his adaptation of Nabakov’s LOLITA, and great filmmakers have made noble attempts at the subject time and time again. There’s something impossible to catch on film, though, about our peculiar combination of third-grade prurience and our inability to let go of our Puritan sense of shame about our bodies and our sexuality. Mike Nichols got closest, I think, with the tale of Benjamin Braddock, played to comic perfection by Dustin Hoffman in the role that he literally was born to play. I can’t picture anyone else in this role, no matter how many times I hear Nicols talk about other actors he saw for it. Hoffman is perfect at capturing this boy wrestling with a man’s desires and responsibilities, paralyzed on the verge of real adulthood. In America, we’ve created a false adolescence, a prolonged period in which we don’t just encourage people to behave like children... we legally define them as such. The way we make 18 a landmark and 21 a final frontier almost gives people permission not to grow up. They want to play with the trappings of adulthood, though, and none moreso than sex. Braddock is bullied into his relationship with Mrs. Robinson, and the levels at which is it unhealthy are too numerous to list here. His relationship with Elaine Robinson is no smarter, no better considered. It’s just more like the norm, therefore it’s more acceptable. In both cases, Benjamin has no idea what is expected of him, and he is horrible to himself and to the women. It’s a miracle that he makes it through the film intact based on the way he seems to simply pinball along, unaware of the damage he leaves in his path, unconcerned with anyone’s happiness or peace of mind but his own. A generation embraced Benjamin as a symbol of themselves, and I think it’s a telling statement. When Elaine and Benjamin take their seats in the back of the bus, their ride into an uncertain future signified the death of a certain type of American romanticism, a belief in a world where there was love at first sight and musical numbers and happily ever after. Some might call the new attitude cynicism, but it might just as easily be called realism. Either way, THE GRADUATE hasn’t lost one bit of its bite.

BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY

Oliver Stone is one of the filmmakers whose name I kept coming back to as I considered films for this list. Obviously, he’s obsessed with the character of America. He’s looked at it from every angle he can so far, and he’ll probably keep poking at it, picking it apart, for the rest of his career. By choosing to dramatize the story of Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic, Stone found a perfect brilliant metaphor that, to me, elevates this above a simple story about war or the cost of war or patriotism or even sacrifice. This is a shattering look at what happens when a dream is sold to someone, a promise made, that can never be made real, that can never be fulfilled. Ron Kovic grows up watching John Wayne movies, seeing Audie Murphy at war, the image of heroic men in heroic battles burned into his little-boy brain. He is raised in a devoutly Catholic, devoutly American house, God and Country more important than anything else. When Vietnam arrives, Ron Kovic can’t wait to volunteer. He wants to serve his country. He believes that he can make a difference, and there’s nothing stupid about that belief. It’s what he was raised for. Ron is a great kid when he goes off to fight, a huge heart, full of fervor and the desire to do right. What happens to him over the course of the rest of the film is devastating. The thing that makes the movie so great is watching him slowly reject everything he’d ever learned, watching him rebuild his identity out of the ashes of the life that is taken away from him. Ron Kovic may not be a great patriot at the end of this film, but he’s sure as shit a great American. He still believes in truth and justice, and he still believes in protecting those who need it. Kovic is shown picking up a fight that puts him on the side of right, a fight for respect and for a certain degree of treatment. His journey from naïve boy to shattered man to political activist is an example that even when things seem impossible, there is hope, and there is a chance to contribute. The Kovic we meet in this movie is the kind of American I hope I am... imperfect, but determined to never stop striving to be better.

ROCKY

The final entry on this list from the year 1976 is screamingly obvious, but there’s no denying the chord that ROCKY struck in a country that was struggling with the death of innocence. We were coming out of Vietnam and Watergate and the gas crisis was kicking in and celebrating the idea of being American seemed almost insane. Yes, people celebrated and put brave faces on things, but it was not the proudest hour for the country. This film became a phenomenon because it reminded everyone that it all begins with the individual. We are great as a nation only when we are great as individuals. If Rocky Balboa, the bum we meet in the first half of this film, can somehow transform himself into the guy who stands toe to toe with Apollo Creed and never goes down, then any of us can transform ourselves into anything. Any child from any background can beg, borrow, or steal an education, enough to build a dream, to become something great, to make a mark. It was a reminder that we all needed, that we all wanted. If movies are our collective dreams, our shared inner lives, then ROCKY was an essential Band-Aid to our national spirit. Every sports film since owes a debt to it, and every story about the triumph of the human will borrows from it. Sylvester Stallone became a superstar because he didn’t just write ROCKY, he embodied it. Even when Sly has been furthest off-track, no one can take away the incredible achievement of this film, of his Oscar-winning screenplay, affecting and simple and above all else, a truth we want desperately to believe.

WACO: RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

The exact opposite of ROCKY, this is the truth that none of us want to embrace, but one that cannot be ignored if we are to understand exactly what world it is we live in. William Gazecki’s Oscar-nominated 1997 film will make you angry. There’s no way it won’t. It has to make you angry, because it is as unbiased and as meticulous a piece of documentary work as I have seen. It uses facts, documentation, evidence, and it paints a persuasive picture that points to one unavoidable fact: we, the American public, were lied to in a willful and knowing manner by a small group of federal authorities who committed mass murder on a group of innocent people. If you believe anything else, you are wrong. A landslide of information has led to constant, ongoing investigations since the release of this film, and new information continues to come to light. All of it reinforces this film’s conclusions, only making it more infuriating to watch today. The importance of this film is almost too much weight for any film to bear, and I’m sure there are detractors who will attack this choice and this picture in the forum below. I understand. It’s terrifying to be confronted with proof that your government will lie to you if need be, and they will kill you if need be. It’s horrifying to realize that every paranoid fantasy that Hollywood has spun about the intelligence community has a basis in fact, that abuse on a massive level is possible. The only thing that allows me to continue to sleep at night is that this information is available, and there’s more where this came from. This action wasn’t accomplished in a dark alley or a quiet warehouse where no one saw. The American people may have been fooled into believing that Koresh and his followers were a suicide cult, and the story may still have its supporters today, but there’s proof available, and in a media age, maybe it’s possible that we can turn the harsh glare of public knowledge on these events and others like them. Maybe these murders will not be forgotten. Maybe there is still a dream of justice, no matter how tattered. I hope so, and it’s that hope that I celebrate today.

Just listing these films makes me want to discuss others, to really break down the American character further. We could spend the entire 4th debating the relative merits of THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, MELVIN & HOWARD, TAXI DRIVER, GATES OF HEAVEN, THE THIN BLUE LINE, CITY OF HOPE, SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS, MEET JOHN DOE, SCARFACE, FEAR & LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, BOOGIE NIGHTS, DAYS OF HEAVEN, BADLANDS, HAPPINESS, DELIVERANCE, FIELD OF DREAMS, BREAKING AWAY, HOOSIERS, RAMBO, DIRTY HARRY, WALL STREET, MENACE II SOCIETY, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, THE NATURAL, PARADISE LOST, CITY LIGHTS, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN, JFK, THE 20TH CENTURY, LOST IN AMERICA, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, THE PARALLAX VIEW, SHAMPOO, DAZED & CONFUSED, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, A FACE IN THE CROWD, UNFORGIVEN, AMERICAN GRAFITTI, DINER, and GLORY, just to name a few examples, but hey... that’s what Talk Back is for.

Happy 4th, Everyone. Congrats again, Harry, to Sister Satan and Lobo and the entire Knowles clan on the birth of Kubla Khan. I’m surprised to hear that he’s already walking and talking, and that he’s seen 36 movies since early Saturday morning. Sounds like a film geek in training, to be sure. I’ll see you back here soon. Until then...

“Moriarty” out.

Readers Talkback
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  • July 4, 2000, 5:53 a.m. CST

    I Am The Champion!!

    by Vyse

    and i take AllThumbs as my queen...oh, yes...i am first!!

  • July 4, 2000, 5:56 a.m. CST

    The John Holmes of Movie Articles

    by reni

    Jesus Christ, I'll never read all this..!

  • July 4, 2000, 6:08 a.m. CST

    Taxi Driver

    by maxpower

    it's the greatest movie of all time...moriarty's top 10 films about america are great...but what really gets a good talk back going are the 10 worst...suggestions? it's late and i can't think of any. by the way, i'm still the champ, and i'm in love with AllThumbs. one last thing...congrats to sister satan and lobo. the next harry? sweet jesus, i can't imagine two of them...

  • July 4, 2000, 6:12 a.m. CST

    Punishment Park

    by reni

    All good things come to those who wait but I'd like to add Punishment Park and Woodstock as movies that talked most intelligently about America. Peter Watkins made a brilliant Drama-Documentary film about the Peace Protesters in 1971. Well worth a mention. Happy 4th of July, you crazy Yanks!!!

  • July 4, 2000, 7:07 a.m. CST

    alt.nerd.obsessive

    by maxpower

    i was reading the list over and over again...and it just didn't seem complete. then it hit me, i know exactly what's missing. South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut...my personal #1. I absolutely agree with all the other selections, however (especially wall street and rocky). Moriarty certainly has outdone himself (yes, i realize i'm an ass kisser, so keep it to yourself). Just a thought...the rest of you might want to wait to make your lists until my film comes out...the working title is "ron wells drinks his own pee"...i'm shooting for a christmas 2000 release. it's holiday fun for the whole family.-Max

  • July 4, 2000, 7:19 a.m. CST

    The thing about lists . . .

    by RogerOThornhill

    The thing about lists--as we all know from the AFI 100 among others--is that they make you think of what's left out. In this case, I notice that nearly all the movies listed have been in the last thirty or forty years. (And Keaton feels like a ringer.) If I can make just one suggestion, what about Preston Sturges' "Hail the Conquering Hero"? Especially if I can't include "Grapes of Wrath," which no matter how much it is hyped is still one of the greatest films ever made, particularly out of a studio. P.S.: Your piece made me want to go back and watch Conan again. In other words, it performed the primary function of all well-made criticism. As many yakkers seem to forget, appreciation is just as important--if not more important--a function of criticism as discrimination is. Thanks.

  • July 4, 2000, 7:55 a.m. CST

    Better Documentries about America than Waco

    by Raven 8

    Don't get me wrong, I love Waco but I feel there are more telling documentries about american society. Roger & Me told us what happened to those who wittnessed the American dream slowly crumble around them by Big Business. American Movie showed a portrait of one man quest through poverty delays and just plain insanity to achieve his goal. The Thin Blue Line shows how our society is quick to condemn and nearly execute the wrongfully accused in favor of expediency. I could go on and descirbe Woodstock and The Atomic Cafe and many more but in the time alotted I will only mention the three.

  • July 4, 2000, 8 a.m. CST

    My god is greater...He is the everlasting sky!..Your god..lives

    by twindaggerturkey

    I just wanted to mention that Farewell to the King is another great John Milius movie. Not as good as Conan, but great. It has a really good Basil Polydouris (sp?) score, too.

  • July 4, 2000, 8:17 a.m. CST

    Has anyone optioned Slaine?

    by Tempe Terra

    He's obviously the next great incarnation of that genre.

  • July 4, 2000, 8:24 a.m. CST

    Moriarty, you are WRONG!

    by Kurgan

    You are not the only one to make that mistake about the swords in Conan the Barbarian, but it still irks me every time I hear it said. The sword that Conan finds from the cave after being chased by wolves is _NOT_ the sword his father smithed in the beginning. No. One of Thulsa Doom's henchmen (I think his name was Rexor) has that sword. I will return to this soon :) The sword Conan finds from the cave is an Atlantean sword (how do I know this -- from the soundtrack! :) One of the pieces is called "The Atlantean Sword".) This sword is the one Conan uses until the end. Now, what became of his father's sword after being taken by Rexor (after it was used to chop off the head of Conan's mother)? Well, we see it in the hands of Rexor in the final battle among the tombs. Conan shatters the sword his father made with the Atlantean sword and kills Rexor. He then picks up the broken sword and salutes Valeria's pyre. Then, he goes after Thulsa Doom and hacks off his head with the broken sword (symmetry, see -- he killed Conan's mother with that sword, now Conan kills him with the same sword). But that is not all. In the beginning Conan's father schools him on how he can not trust anything else in this world except this (pointing at the sword). The entire movie then sets out to _prove this wrong_. Yes, you can trust your friends (who save Conan from the Tree of Woe). Yes, you can trust beasts (well, at least no horses or camels throw Conan off :). As Thulsa Doom says: "Steel isn't strong, boy. Flesh...is stronger." Some call this fascist, but I'm not that certain. Be that as it may, as Conan shatters the sword his father smithed (and which he was supposed to be able to trust), he truly discovers the Secret of Steel. Thulsa Doom was correct. "What is a sword compared to the hand that wields it?"

  • July 4, 2000, 8:42 a.m. CST

    Some of The Worst...

    by Jed

    I think I can say with some certainty that the Rambo films, particularly Rambo First Blood Part II, fall into this category. Bloated, meandering, foolish films all. I'd like to also mention a film that wound up on the AFI list, actually--Guess Who's Coming To Dinner. This movie's serious core is glazed over like a donut, and it's a shame that everyone worked so hard (especially mr tracy, who died very soon after filming was completed) to produce a film so banal. What list of this sort would be complete without mentioning --oh, let's just make an unholy trilogy of Independence Day, Armageddon, and Deep Impact. i'm sure I'll come up with a few more at some point. and to Kurgan--Damn, son, You know you some Conan!

  • July 4, 2000, 8:50 a.m. CST

    you must be kidding . . .

    by ol' painless

    "Great or Great-ish" and RED DAWN . . . these are two things I never thought I would ever see in a sentence together . . . or want to. I saw it when I was about 12 and liked it - saw it again when I was 28 and found it the worst kind of jingoistic, anti-Russian, Reagan-ass-kissing, cliche-ridden twaddle this side of RAMBO: BLOOD PART II. And it could have been a good movie, if Milius has toned down his hamfisted Gahd blay-iss Aymerrricar tendencies. Unfortunately, he's always come off as the kind of guy who polishes his gun collection in the dark, muttering revenge against the world. Kind of like me (except for the gun collection: I have knives. SEE HOW THE LIGHT DANCES IN THE BLADE!!)

  • July 4, 2000, 8:59 a.m. CST

    Conan wasn't great...

    by SamIAm

  • July 4, 2000, 9:10 a.m. CST

    Network

    by houndog

    I totally agree with this choice, but to say you fear the day WHEN it will come to pass: IT'S ALREADY HERE! Didn't the recent execution of Gary Graham in Texas come extremely close to a "DEATH GAME" show? CNN's coverage was truly nauseating, BUT I COULDN'T TURN IT OFF. I kept waiting for them to do it. Beats the hell out of "SURVIVOR" or "MILLIONAIRE".

  • July 4, 2000, 9:25 a.m. CST

    Conan wasn't great...

    by SamIAm

    First, let me say I liked "Conan" as much as the next guy. As "Sword and Sorcery" fliks go, it's at the top, but I never thought the movie "Conan" captured the true essence of Howard's written "Conan". Conan, the Conan of my youth, Howard's Conan was the ultimate expression in BADASS. He's the ultimate fantasy warrior. He's IMPOSSIBLE to best in battle. Even when he loses, you know it's only a matter of time before the gore flys. Now, you say the movie did this. Yes, to a certain degree, but not to the insane level of the literary Conan. I guess the thing that bugged me about Arnold's Conan was he seemed so passive. Things keep happening TO him, as opposed to him taking the bull by the horns. In the movie, he seems so incompetent in everything except killing. In the novelletes, he's Eastwood's "Man With No Name" with a sword. He's cruel, smart and brutal. He's a match for any man, not only physically, but mentally as well. Not due to formal education, but to living life. He was just plain better than anyone else. It was interesting reading about Stone's treatment because he seemed to understand Conan's pyshe better than Millius. I didn't really think the plot itself was better than the movie, but the character is right on. The scene were Conan walks into the tavern is the Conan of the pulps. Re-read some of Howard's original works and see if I'm not right. I'm still waiting for Conan.

  • July 4, 2000, 9:28 a.m. CST

    Please give Kurgan his own weekly Conan Spot...

    by reni

    Kurgan, your Conan talkback was excellent. I'm stuck in Manchester and there's not much on Conan here. Any chance of continuing your talkbacks a little bit more...?

  • July 4, 2000, 9:43 a.m. CST

    "Birth of a Nation"

    by crimsonrage

    You forgot "Birth of a Nation". It is a landmark of American film-making, and suprisingly it chroncles the birth of a nation (namely, America)! And while the film is overtly racist, this shows the mindset of our country's past, and gives a good example of how most Americans used to think. Oh and it also started America's great trend of rewriting history in film. Yet for all of it's faults, it is the first true American classic. Oh and "Conan" is great up until they meet Valeria (or whatever her name was). Bye.

  • July 4, 2000, 9:54 a.m. CST

    Red Fuckin' Dawn?

    by Hannibal King

    I concur that Conan the Barbarian is a fine movie - but I also quite like Conan the Destroyer in a cheesy pulp kind of way. But Red Dawn is the worst excess of Right wing propoganda in the history of celluloid. At least Rambo's 2 and 3 had a comic book feel about them (they both suck big time though) Red Dawn was shit - from it's massive paranoia that every left wing government in the world was going to invade the States and machine gun school children to the bullshit A-Team heroics of the Wolverines. Powers Boothe's speech about how the rest of the world coped or reacted showed an unhealthy feeling of isolationism and the general mythic qual;ities that were aimed for made Red Dawn a painful experience to watch. And it spawned the devil child that was Chuck Norris' Invasion USA! Damn it to fucking Hell! Hannibal

  • July 4, 2000, 10:01 a.m. CST

    Yes!! Give Kurgan A Weekly Post!!

    by Duty

    Give Kurgan A Show!! whoo-hoo..I wanna know more of whats it that bitch's Head!!! Ye-eell-Yeaaaa -Duty

  • July 4, 2000, 10:05 a.m. CST

    Worst "American" Films

    by Smilin'Jack Ruby

    Excellent article, Moriarty, actually. I agree with Raven 8 about "Roger and Me" as an incredible American documentary, but any list like that is going to leave stuff off (Roger Corman's "The Intruder" anyone?). When somebody wanted a list of worst "American" films, I wasn't quite sure if they meant bad films that portrayed America in a certain light ("Forrest Gump") or excellent films that showed the really ugly side of our country ("The Ugly American"). It's more fun to do the list of awful films that I feel thought they were saying something about America and failed - here goes: "Chain of Desire," "Mandingo," "The Electric Horseman," "A Perfect World," "Bronco Billy," "American Flyers," "F.I.S.T.," "Last Action Hero," "Nixon," "Star Spangled Girl," "Black Like Me," "American Hot Wax," and so many others that I'm getting tired of this. Long live Co-Dependence Day!

  • July 4, 2000, 10:05 a.m. CST

    Rumbling On The 4th Of July

    by mrbeaks

    I can't believe someone beat me to HAIL! THE CONQUERING HERO. Sturges film has often struck me as the quintessential "American" film (along with THE RIGHT STUFF;) as it satirizes our largely futile aspirations to greatness in an effort to prove our worth to God and Country. On the flipside of that, I would also include a film that stands as a staggering monument to those that served our country at its most crucial moment, and that is SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. Carp all you want about the bookending, at it's core is a wrenching film about duty and sacrifice. "Earn this" might strike the most cynical as a hollow charge, but, for me, it rings true. As for the film that lets America have it with both barrels, I'd like to go with PLANET OF THE APES. We did it. We finally blew it up. Damn us. Damn us all to hell. Well rumbled, Moriarty, and happy 4th, y'all.

  • July 4, 2000, 10:14 a.m. CST

    If you mention Red Dawn...

    by Chris Waffle

    ...then don't forget BOB ROBERTS. It's a great movie and a biting satire of American politics. Plus, the songs are hilarious! Hear Tim Robbins sing: "I'm a bleeding heart-let's give money away!"

  • July 4, 2000, 10:37 a.m. CST

    Conan's Sword

    by seamus

    The sword that Conan finds in the tomb is not the sword his father made. The sword of his father was taken by Thulsa Doom's cronies. Conan gets his father's sword back later in the movie...

  • July 4, 2000, 10:40 a.m. CST

    Only 364 days, 14 hours, 14 minutes, and 32 seconds until Harry'

    by Samthelion

    I'll be waiting . . .

  • July 4, 2000, 11:14 a.m. CST

    Some other possible items...

    by MediaSlave01

    Nice list, Moriarty- I have to admit that the inclusion of the Waco documentary raised my eyebrows. One notable omission that I noticed was a lack of anything regarding race dialogue- "Do the Right Thing," "Six Degrees of Separation" (although I realize it was a play first). Keep up the good work.

  • The E! True Hollywood Story. Don't miss it. SEGUEWAY, I remember seeing Conan when I was quite young with my Dad and being embarrassed by the sex scenes. Hard R is right, at least in those days. (Funny, the gratuitous violence wasn't an issue. Now THERE'S America for you.) Meanwhile, I would like to nominate The Brothers Karamazov as the great American movie. Sure, if you can get past the fact that it's really a book, about Russia, in the 19th century, you can really see how it gets under the skin of what's it's really like to be an American. (Ok, I'm just being silly. Moriarty's list was fine, and I just can't think of anything.) Finally, don't you people read the Talkbacks before you post? Criminey, if I read one more post in which someone makes the exact same point without any acknowledging that someone else has made the exact same point right above them, I'll. . .continue to be frustrated. Happy 4th everybody!, but before I go, let me just point out that it wasn't Conan's father's sword in the crypt, and that it was stolen by one of the hoardesmen in the beginning of the movie.

  • July 4, 2000, 12:06 p.m. CST

    Of course the X-men special won't be very good, did anybody reme

    by EL Duderino

    For those that remember, most of it was just fake "war of the worlds" news reporting. I think the only aspect about ID4 that kept it from grossing more on that opening weekend was that GOD AWFUL SPECIAL! Somehow, I feel the X-men special will probably mirror the ID4 special in that it will just be a big campaign special of Senator Kelly's.

  • July 4, 2000, 12:19 p.m. CST

    Conan

    by Alessan

    Good one, Kurgan. I never thought of that. My assumption had always been that the sword broke because it was Conan's father's sword, and it would never allow his son to be harmed - but I like your explanation better. It adds a little philosophical twist I didn't expect. ********** Sam.I.Am, I've read the origial Conan stories, and they're fun, in a bubblegum-literature sort of way. Milius's movie is better than anything Howard ever wrote, transcending its pulp origins and becoming something (dare I say it?) almost Tolkienesque.

  • July 4, 2000, 1:21 p.m. CST

    Thank you all . . .

    by Kurgan

    . . . and in my next column, I will explain how Supernova would have benefited from some serious T&A -- but y'all knew that already. So why bother? :)

  • July 4, 2000, 1:53 p.m. CST

    My Ten For America

    by The Gline

    Punishment Park (I can't believe someone else knows about this astounding little movie); Salt of the Earth; Roger and Me; Gates of Heaven; Rebel Without A Cause; Bulworth; Instrument (a truly astounding documentary about Fugazi that says as much about America as anything else I've seen); Fight Club (love it, hate it, or indifferent to it, it still tries to say a lot); Unforgiven (the cowboy myth, deflated at last); and finally, GoodFellas.

  • July 4, 2000, 2:21 p.m. CST

    I nominate "The Russians Are Coming!" as Best American Comedy

    by Bari Umenema

    HILARIOUS! PATRIOTIC PANDEMONIUM AT ITS ZENITH!

  • July 4, 2000, 3:35 p.m. CST

    WACO

    by swavill

    While I agree with most of your statements in regards to Waco.This film was hardly filled with startling revelations.Our leaders and their representatives have been lying to us on a daily basis at least as far back as Eisenhower's denial of the U2 spy plane and probably as far back as George Washington.George Carlin is fond of saying he has one simple rule "I don't believe anything the government tells me." I take most things coming out of Washington with a grain of salt.The assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco began when Federal Agents after months of surveilance decided to arrest the groups leader David Koresh.This arrest could have been handled in town.Koresh was hardly a hermit going into town freaquently for supplies.ATF officers instead chose to arrest him at the compound. At this point someone within the compound made a fatal mistake. They opened fire on federal agents.Not a bright move.We live in a society of laws.The legal system however slanted towards the rich and powerful it may be is all we have to protect us from government abuses.The government has to have all its "T's" crossed and its "I's"dotted and convince a jury of your guilt to get a conviction.If federal agents show up on my front porch whether they have a warrant or not I will cooperate with them or require them to obtain a legal warrant.If they dont have their shit together my lawyer will tear them a new asshole.But if I start shooting at them and then barracade myself in the house I fully expect them to burn my house down and kill everyone inside.While I agree that most of the people inside the Branch Davidian compound were innocent of any crime if they did not leave the compound when the siege began they were either stupid or being held hostage by those who were guilty.The children in the compound I have always felt were hostages either held by criminals or the stupidity of their parents. Either way the governments cheif blame in this affair comes from the fact that they did not storm the place on day 1.Many lives could have been saved had they not given the Davidians time to prepare for an assault.I have never bought into the theory that the Davidians were a so called "suicide cult".Nothing about their previous behavior suggested this.The federal government is to blame for botching this operation from the very begining and it is par for the course that they tried to cover it up.The children in the compound were the true tragedy. they never had a choice.But from the moment the siege began I didnt think it would end without most everyone inside winding up dead.Shooting federal agents usually winds up with the perpetrators and anyone harboring them dead.Ruby Ridge and Waco were just the most publicised.I agree with Moriarity in that iI am glad we live in a society where these things are out in the open and we can discuss them without fear of reprisal.Maybe one day the government will learn to trust us with the truth and take the consequences but i doubt it.

  • July 4, 2000, 3:49 p.m. CST

    An OK List, But...

    by RodgerDodger

    I'd have put 'The Wild Bunch' in the list. And 'Elmer Gantry', too. Then there's 'The Wind And The Lion'. Brian Keith unleashed as Teddy Roosevelt. "Gentlemen, if we should die, I hope the world does go to war." John Milius, you are a god! Somebody give that guy $100 million and turn him loose.

  • July 4, 2000, 4:15 p.m. CST

    Swavill

    by Anton_Sirius

    The only fatal mistake the Davidians made getting out of bed that morning. As has been clearly demonstrated the infrared (FLIR) footage shows that the goverment fired first. Funny, too, how those experts that contradict the government's version keep having fatal and near-fatal accidents... I can't believe nobody's mentioned Easy Rider yet among the Great American Films.

  • July 4, 2000, 4:39 p.m. CST

    Conan

    by Buzz Maverik

    The original film is an early 80s masterpiece. Milius has not been that good since. Stone's script sounds more faithful to Robert E. Howard in spots but I think the film shows the best of both screenwriters' enormous talents, with the feeling of Howard. The destruction of Conan's village clearly came out of Stone's Vietnam experiences, if you've seen PLATOON. And the destruction of Thulsa Doom in front of his followers echoed the death of Kurtz in APOCALYPSE NOW.

  • July 4, 2000, 5:12 p.m. CST

    Riiiiiight

    by MajorY2Kaos

    Well I have to say I haven't read shit like that in a long time. Damn Moriarty what kind of binge were you on when you wrote this? This list for the most part is pure shit. There are pathetic nerds who live in their parent's basements who couldn't have come up with such an overblown list of eclectic, obscure movies that I never thought my eyes would be cursed to see. Damn you Moriarty! Damn you! I hope a bottle rocket gets shot up your cold tight foreboding ass!

  • July 4, 2000, 5:14 p.m. CST

    By the way Happy July the 4th to all

    by MajorY2Kaos

  • July 4, 2000, 5:59 p.m. CST

    Why do Americans hate their own government?

    by Alessan

    I think that today is the right day for me to ask a question which has been bothering me for such a long time: why do so many Americans see their own government as a force of evil? Everywhere I go, I see you people developing conspiracy theories, inventing class struggles, defending yourselves against the advent of right- or left-wing totalitarism. Where does all this come from? Suspoicion of those in power is fine, but is there any real-world basis for this paranoia? I mean, unlike a whole lot of other people out there, you guys have yourselves an actual working democracy. How can you hate the very people you vote for... or is it because most americans don't vote? And how do you think the fascists, or communists, will take control? Do you actually think your own army will open fire on American citizens? I doubt it. I think most of sentiment is less an assertion of individualism and more a need to justify buying cool handguns.

  • July 4, 2000, 8:48 p.m. CST

    where's Conan The King?

    by holidill

    I remeber when they said they wanted to make a trilogy of the Conan films, but after Conan The Destroyer they decided not to. DOn't you think that it's about freaking time for a return to the Conan mythos, get Arnold to return maybe? We need a good sword and sorcery fix to prepare us for what will probablt a banner year for Sword and Sorcery with Dungeons and Dragons and Lord of the Rings. What do you all think? Is it about time for Arnold to return one last time? He's about the right age to play the King. Also my column I have away from AICN is actually looking for some people's worst films of all time. E-mail me, if you can! Or just leave a talkback on here. Is that considered cross-promotion? If it is Harry I apologize man.Hey if you want you and your gang can give me some feedback to.

  • To the person who asked, "Why do we hait our government?" Well, I for one LOVE my country, but am not too happy with its government. While I think this country does pretty well... and is number one when compared to many of the other countries out there (in regards to personal freedom, etc.), I think the government could be a thousand times better. Stop the corruption. But what government isn't corrupt in one way or another? I just wish we could pass all of the bullshit and nominate a president that isn't full of shit... someone like JFK. Sure, he had his personal problems (womanizing, etc.), but at least he had a vision for the future of the country. Not the same old "I'll do this for education, I'll do this for social security..." while all of that is important, why can't we elect a true visionary? Enough about that shit. Sorry. Now, to Nay sayers of RED DAWN!!!! How could you?? How could you come up with that bullshit about "left wing this... yada yada"?:) It was a concept that said, "Hey, what if America was invaded for once???" Nothing more. It was a realistic look at that concept... that obviously had to take some creative measures in order for the story to flow with the general public. It was a hell of a lot better than most patriotic action films out there. Basically, it was a good concept... don't read into to much. What else.... oh yeah, CONAN THE KING. Well, if you listen to the commentary with Arnold and Milius.... you will hear Arnold say at the end of the film (when they show Conan the King), "Yes... I'm still waiting for you to write the third one!" They talk a little bit more about the vision of a Conan Trilogy. What does that mean?? Not a whole lot here in Hollywood... but we can all dream. For me, I'd rather see him in CRUSADE!!!

  • July 4, 2000, 11:13 p.m. CST

    Alessan

    by Ynlan

    Well, Allessan it is not that we are afraid that the government will turn their troups on us. The real fear is that the rich and powerful, (and this includes Companies, Industries, Mega-Corporations, Religions,and such) will deprive the average American citizen such things as right to PROPER medical attention, or take away more of our personal freedoms. Another possibility, is entering into our home, our personal life, and even our bedroom deciding EXACTLY how we should perform sex. Right now, we smoke cigerettes in our home, but not in MOST public places. How long will it be before we are not allowed to do this in our own home? AND THIS IS ONLY AN EXAMPLE. Or the 6 yr old child who literally was arested for having a "nail clippers" in his possesion in the classroom. ISN'T THAT CARRYING THINGS TOO FAR??? I can go on with some more examples...but suffice it to say that I think you get my meaning.

  • July 4, 2000, 11:20 p.m. CST

    Moriarty wonders why Milius never had career...

    by Ex-Lurker

    he could have had? Well, he shouldn't if he's read this far into the thread. look at the reaction you get to the mere mention of "Red Dawn." I didn't particularly care for it as a film, but the ideological bias against it you see from the others in this thread is undoubtedly mild compared to how most Hollywood folk viewed it. There's a reason why conservatives in Hollywood are largely closeted. "JFK" was about as distant from reality as "Red Dawn," but Stone is revered in the industry (which isn't to say that "JFK" isn't the better film, as it is IMHO). And if you pointed your browser to reviews of "The Patriot" in papers like the New York Daily News, you would see the same sort of bias is fairly rampant among film critics as well. "Patriot" doesn't even pretend to pass itself off as historically accurate, but most of Hollywood (and most big-city critics) would prefer that a "JFK" or a "Reds" be passed off as pseudo-history to our poorly educated youth. Consider Spielberg's comment that he considered "Saving Private Ryan" an anti-war film. How PC does Hollywood have to be? I don't think by any stretch that Spielberg meant to imply that the US should have stayed out of WWII. But the idea that someone that powerful in the industry felt like he had to or should make that comment ought to tell you why Milius was never going to have the career he could have had if he had kept his mouth shut.

  • July 4, 2000, 11:49 p.m. CST

    ALESSAN Cont...

    by Ynlan

    To tone it down a little, Alessan, to put it quite simply it is one of our most basic freedoms, "Freedom of Speech". We have that right and as Americans we use it quite readily. And sometimes, we will run into a "brick wall" with our expression of "our own opinion" and then there are the times that there is someone out there who is actually listening and most amazingly "actually" takes action to better our democracy. Granted at times we may do too little, and OMG, those times when it seems they have LOST ALL COMMON SENSE and have gone way TOO FAR. We do live in a democracy where we are allowed to actually state our opinions. Then there are times that we can not because we have gone "overboard" with trying to "fix" something. That exists right now in our public schools. Anyway, because we are a democracy, we will forever be stating our opinions, be they right or wrong. And as Americans, we can do that WITHOUT fear of retaliation, or we should be able to. SO WE DO!...lol.

  • July 4, 2000, 11:51 p.m. CST

    ALESSAN

    by swavill

    Most of us don't hate our government. While there are times when most of us wish they would wander off and get lost we don't generally see them as a force of evil.A force of ineptitude perhaps but not really evil.The main problem with our "working democracy" is that ideally it was supposed to be the best and the brightest of us who were elected to lead us.The reality is the country is run by career politicians most of whom are for sale to the highest bidder because the system requires lots of money to keep getting reelected.The best and brightest among us wouldn't run for public office at gunpoint. When these career politicians and their underlings make mistakes as they inevitably will they try to sweep it under the rug or blame someone else.If they are caught redhanded they will usually try to distract us with something else hoping we will get bored and forget about it.All the while paying lip service to whatever cause is popular at the time and voting their wallet instead of their conscience.All of that said our system of government is still light years ahead of everything else on the planet. Most forms of government just dont work .This one works it just doesn't work well. We criticize our government because we can and that i believe says it all.

  • July 5, 2000, 12:03 a.m. CST

    Swavill

    by Ynlan

    Thank you for so elequently putting what I could not.

  • July 5, 2000, 12:07 a.m. CST

    allesan

    by Reverendz

    quote "I mean, unlike a whole lot of other people out there, you guys have yourselves an actual working democracy. How can you hate the very people you vote for... or is it because most americans don't vote? And how do you think the fascists, or communists, will take control? Do you actually think your own army will open fire on American citizens? " end quote. Allow me to retort. The American army has opened fire on it's citizens several times. Read a little American history. Pick a decade. People mistrust their government because they perceive their government as interfering further and further in their personal life while giving more kick backs and freedoms to large corportions. Do you trust someone who accepts large donations from special interest groups? I don't know that I would trust myself. Don't get me wrong, I have much love for my country and by no means consider myself liberal or left wing. Just don't go spewing off about people who don't blindly accept whatever it is the government is doing this week (whether it be passing laws enabling the government complete access to your personal bank accounts, without a special warrent, or the infamous "Paperwork Reduction Act" passed in the 80's which greatly reduced Citizens access to government actions and laws). Good citizens should be mindful of what our government is doing and fight to protect the freedoms this country is built on, whether it be the right to bear arms, to have sex in any way you wish, or ingest substances which may be considered "harmful". ****** And while I really dig the Conan movie, it pales in comparison to the sense of adventure and brutality in Howard's novels.

  • July 5, 2000, 12:09 a.m. CST

    Not Waco but.........

    by Jem Finch

    HOOP DREAMS!!!!! I am pretty shocked no one has mentioned this, the best American documentary. Period. No other film captures the way we glorify atheletics beyond all other accomplishments and hand inner city kids (i.e. minorities) the quioxtic idea that pro sports is their best and only way to a better life. Also, I agree that The Wild Bunch is the best western, no contest. Other greats- In The Heat Of The Night, The Candidate (no offense to Bob Roberts lovers- I'm just showing my age), and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. Remember folks lists are just lists- everyone is entitled to their opinion. Peace.

  • July 5, 2000, 12:32 a.m. CST

    FACTUAL ERROR

    by Count Vicous

    In your Rocky segment you talked about "Stallone's oscar winning screenplay", when I can tell you for a fact that Paddy Chayefsky won that Year for Network. I am among the few who believe the ROCKY RIGHTLY WON THE BEST PICTURE AWARD, its not as it is commonly believed a sports picture, but a fable about a lonely man in the cruel streets of Philedelphia. His early scenes with Talia Shire are about to opposing yet symbiotic characters that their first kiss is almost unbearably intense. Ny favourite scene in the film would be the one with the little girl he picks up from the corner, and starts mouthing of this lecture to her, about how she could be considered a slut, and then she unnexpectadly agrees with him, he turns around, bounces his ball, the music swell behind him and he say "Yea, who are you creepo to give advice. who are you". Or later when his coach comes to visit him, he starts screaming at, the guy leaves hurt, but Rocky soon follows him, but director Avildsen only shows them making up from afar, and for some odd reason its more moving that way. I absolutely agree with anyone that points out that the rest of the series is trash, but this is one of the most uplifting, beautiful and since its not really a sports movie unique films I've ever seen. I'm not an American, but my top five films that really are cause for introspection,thought, and are obviously richer and just as rewarding the fith time you see them are: 5-Rocky 4-Red 3-The Shawshank Redemption 2-Once Upon A Time in America (remember the scene where the kid waits outside the hookers house with a cake he plans to trade for a blow job, and can't help but eat it) 1-The Thin Red Line: Undoubtdly the greatest film ever made. Well good articly Moriarty, to quote Miller's Crossing "Whats the rompus".

  • July 5, 2000, 1:13 a.m. CST

    Bullworth

    by Ynlan

    Granted...a dream come true, but the one thing that "got" me about this movie is that everything Bullworth says about politics & politicians is SO true. (Just ignore the language...lol)

  • July 5, 2000, 3:06 a.m. CST

    Americans hate their government?

    by Mr_Sinister

    I thought the US loved whoever was in power. Compared to the way politicians in general are viewed and treated here in AUSTRALIA, I really thought governents were adored everywhere else. Oh well, just shows how naive I am then, I suppose.

  • July 5, 2000, 3:46 a.m. CST

    Milius is still going strong!

    by Vern

    I gotta admit I had the same "what in fuck's name?" reaction everyone else had when I read the sentence implying that RED DAWN is "great or greatish". I mean if I remember correctly this is the movie about the high school football team drinking blood and then defeating the russian army so as not to disappoint harry dean stanton. If that's the one Moriarty is talking about, well I'll be damned if that movie isn't one of the biggest loads of shit ever made. And it's a good load of shit but a load of shit nevertheless. Anyway, I wanted to point out a couple more things about Milius: 1. isn't he the individual who wrote the famous "all my buds got eaten by sharks" speech from JAWS? 2. I think it is unfair to say that Milius is out of the picture when in fact he has been going strong on one of his most important works, as creative director for Ultimate Fighting.

  • July 5, 2000, 4:45 a.m. CST

    ID4

    by Andymation

    I haven't got a thing to say about your top10 selection, I just thought that you should at least have metioned ID4 (this is, like, 4th of July)Not I'm not saying that it's even close to that top10 list (Hell, it wouldn't be close to a top500 list)What I do miss in your list is "Forrest Gump"! It sure as hell has much more to do there than "Conan" and "Invasion Of The Body Snatchers" (The last one sure as hell is a good film, nut I thought the issue here was uncle Sam!!!) By the way, if they have to make another COnan-flic they should cast Brendan Fraser or Casper van Dien. I'm out....

  • July 5, 2000, 6:06 a.m. CST

    Conan isn't *that* good

    by ellid

    I'd also feel a bit better about Moriarty's paean if he had spelled the composer's name correctly... But the thing that really bugs me is that his Top Ten list doesn't include a single film about being female in America. Why wasn't "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" even mentioned? Or "Welcome to the Dollhouse"? Or 1999's searing indictment of small town intolerance, "Boys Don't Cry"? It sure would be nice to see the occasional mention of women on this sight that didn't concentrate on their appearance, status as eye candy, etc.....

  • July 5, 2000, 8:47 a.m. CST

    Re:ellia

    by rossimus

    The reason that there are no films that deal with being female in America is this, it is a list that defines living in America FOR HIM.I imagine that he is not black either, but neither am I and Roots would have been on my list.Also, someone said Dr.Strangelove, which I would definately include.One thing that is missing is comedy.I would HAVE to have Animal House on my list.I would also include Full Metal Jacket, Heathers, and New Jack City.

  • July 5, 2000, 8:49 a.m. CST

    sorry, should be Re:Ellid

    by rossimus

    sorry bout that!

  • July 5, 2000, 10:14 a.m. CST

    by valdar

    I would respectfully include "In the Heat of the Night," "Rain Man," "West Side Story," "A Christmas Story," "The Great White Hope" (also James Earl Jones' most compelling performance), "The Breakfast Club," and "The Great Santini." And I do have to mention that although it took Mr. Matthau's unfortunate passing to bring a great movie back to life, those of you who have never seen "A Face in the Crowd" have just gotta rent it! Like so many other actors who surprise, this movie shows that Andy griffith is more than a good-ol-boy small town sheriff with a thick accent. Get "The Great White Hope" while you're at it.

  • July 5, 2000, 10:59 a.m. CST

    Mo' Best American "America" Movies

    by bswise

    Moriarty, I Completely agree with your selection of NETWORK and THE GRADUATE, also INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. THE SEARCHERS and THE GENERAL are movies I've been meaning to see for the last 15 years. But, you're other choices seem a bit pat. As for Westerns, for those who thought that UNFORGIVEN was the first demythification of the American West, might I suggest THE CULPEPPER CATTLE COMPANY, Fuller's 40 GUNS or Peckinpah's THE WILD BUNCH and PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID (restored cut). Just saw the wide-screen version of Boorman's DELIVERANCE and it is a completely different film from what is screened on TV - maybe the best movie about the raping of the environment with a not-too-subtle subtext on Vietnam. Speaking of great wide-screen, what about IN COLD BLOOD? In the killer-on-the-road genre, Mallick's BADLANDS is also well-deserving of top-10 status. Moriarty, haven't you ever seen any Samuel Fuller movies? For WWII movies, I'll take THE BIG RED ONE over Savin' Private Ryan any damn day. Fuller probably said more about the American culture than anyone with flicks like WHITE DOG, PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET and THE NAKED KISS. Where is the film noir? What about THE BLACK DAHLIA or FAREWELL MY LOVELY? For that matter, how can you omit Lynch? BLUE VELVET and TWIN PEAKS were two of the most influential works in redefining the American landscape. To that, I might say THE STRAIGHT STORY is one of the best American road pics if only 'cause Alvin Straight had the "James Dean gene." And for that matter, where is Nicholas Ray's REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE or Kazan's EAST OF EDEN? Well, I can't really expect you to understand can I Moriarty, being a bloody Britt and all. Yers, B.S. Wise

  • July 5, 2000, 11:37 a.m. CST

    Conan's swords

    by Tunesmith48

    Excellent observations and ruminations about a favorite movie of mine. I have to offer what seems to me as a factual misstep in this article, which is very rare from your minion. The sword Conan finds in the ancient cave while eluding the wolves is *not* the sword his father made for him, as mentioned above. He is not reunited with that sword until he kills the large, longhaired henchman at the climactic battle and takes it from him, broken. Evidentally this bad guy had been carrying that sword since it was taken from Conan's mother at the beginning of the film. This is the sword that Conan uses to make Thulsa Doom lose his head, thus completing the circle of retribution. Check it out.

  • July 5, 2000, 12:07 p.m. CST

    Allessan,

    by KingMenthol

    The answers you seek lie in the message of the film Bulworth, a fantastic comedy which, in my opinion, is more uniquely 'American' than Network, only because it illustrates not only our virtues and wondrous freedoms as a democracy, but it exposes our dark sides as greedy capitalists and opportunists. Understand this: Americans do not hate their government per se. As someone alluded to in a post above, we fear that special interest and the corporate sector are aiming to control Washington, thereby exercising an increased control on the populus. Bulworth puts this idea to the test and what we find is that it is these groups, not government, who wish to silence the uprising. If any revolutions are coming, they must be fought with money, because guns are worthless against the power of the dollar. And this is a big, big problem. The hood has enough guns to take over entire cities, but does this make them more powerful? Not in the least bit. They're fighting for the last morsels of bread! Less and less dough equals more guns and more dead. This is why Americans "hate" our government. But sadly, as Fight Club (poorly and not deeply enough) illustrates, American Idealism has given way to complacency, and no one will fight these new tyrants for the good of the oppressed. We're all so fucking happy with our fireworks, our Starbucks, our medical plan, our Toyota Camrys, our 30-year mortgage, our war on drugs, our warning labels on cigs and cd's, our perfect Ikea living room set, our cell phone service, and our nice, big Army that fights so we Americans, defenders of the free world, can whine endlessly about the price of fucking gas. THAT is why we hate our government.

  • July 5, 2000, 12:19 p.m. CST

    I Went Lookin' for America and I Couldn't find it Anywhere......

    by Roger U. Roundly

    Easy Rider************************ ************************************** Bob Roberts*********************** ************************************** Dr Strangelove******************** ************************************** Full Metal Jacket***************** ********************************** **** All The President's Men*********** ************************************** Inherit The Wind****************** ********************************** **** The Unforgiven******************** ********************************** **** It's A Wonderful Life************* ********************************** **** Deep Throat*********************** ************************************** The Right Stuff******************* ********************************** ****

  • July 5, 2000, 12:43 p.m. CST

    The 400 million dollar mutant?!?!

    by Syd Mead

  • July 5, 2000, 1:02 p.m. CST

    The 400 million dollar mutant?!?!

    by Syd Mead

    Oops...wrong button. Any heck, I don't buy the "it would have cost 400 million" to make an army of mutants, as it was 1978 when Stone wrote his script when effects were limited. Huh? Anybody heard of Ray Haryhausen? Or The Planet Of The Apes films made a decade before Conan? While I like Conan, I thought the giant rubber snake was a joke. It could have stood to have some decent effects. Dragonslayer had an AWESOM puppet animated dragon that still looks spankin' good today and it was made a year after Conan. The problem is that like many D&D sword swinging movies made at the time...it was just cranked out. --Syd.

  • July 5, 2000, 1:40 p.m. CST

    Here are the movies which say "America" to me:

    by DarthSlater

    First of all, "Labyrinth", which is one of the best examples ever of American perseverence in the face of impossible odds and David Bowie, the Goblin King. Next, who can forget "Das Boot," one of the most harrowing looks ever at what our boys in blue went through in the Big One? Don't forget "Men in Black!" If aliens ever decide to invade our planet, I hope they watch this movie first, just so they know how easily Will Smith could kick their asses! And he'd probably make a song about kicking their asses, and gosh, that's just fine with me! Also, nothing stirs my patriotic heart strings more than that sweeping American classic "Good Burger." Every time that scrawny black kid leans across the counter and shakes that customer who ordered a "shake", I feel the urge to stand up and scream, "God bless democracy!" Finally, nothing says "America" like a good old-fashioned snowball fight, and that's why "Mad Max" isn't on my list. But "Snow Day" is! Truly, has the American public ever been gifted with a better actor than Chevy Chase? I think not, my friends. I think not.

  • July 5, 2000, 1:42 p.m. CST

    My list made about as much sense as Moriarty's did . . .

    by DarthSlater

    I mean, SERIOUSLY! Waco, Rules of Engagement?!? What the fuck? Hey Moriarty, whatever you're smoking, pass it along, brutha. Share that love.

  • July 5, 2000, 3:40 p.m. CST

    The original "He-Man" cartoon kicked ass but the he vanished for

    by Roger U. Roundly

    Sorry. The above subject header is only related to "Conan" in a cod-piecey kind of fashion. Ooh! who remembers "Red Sonja"?. Where would "Xena" be without Sonja. Of course "Sonja" didn't have the lesbian sub-text. Well, apart from the bit about only women being able to handle the woman thingy properly. Brigitte! Lucy! you leather-clad minxes! I bet those sandals really chaffed. Mmmmmh...chaffing. I'm off to polish my broad-sword, <> Now, where was I...ah yes XXXena.......

  • July 5, 2000, 3:49 p.m. CST

    RE: the gov`t

    by Elgyn6655321

    I don`t know about HATING the government, but here`s a few things off the top of my head that make me DISTRUSTFUL of it: vietnam, bay of pigs, Nixon & pals, JFK assassination, politicians are arrested with crack and hookers - THEN GET RE-ELECTED!

  • July 5, 2000, 3:52 p.m. CST

    Like your Earth insects, only larger...

    by bswise

    Oh man, I completely forgot about Billy Wilder in my above talkback, and so did that accurssed Moriarty. Damn him to haillllll!!! Sure SUNSET BOULEVARD is my favorite movie about movies, but his best ever about America and American Media has got to be ACE IN THE HOLE (also known as THE BIG CIRCUIS). Y'all ever seen this one? It's got to be about the most cynical movie ever made. Kirk Douglas plays this funny and sleazy reporter who wears out his welcome in NYC and winds up in the sticks of New Mexico hoping for a big story. A year passes but it's nothing but rodeos and rattlesnake roundups. So, when he discovers a man trapped in an Indian cliff dwelling, he's found his "ace in the hole" and starts milking it for all it's worth. Robbed recently by Costa Gravis for the bad MAD CITY, this is one of the best movies ever about American media and, like NETWORK, still holds true today. Elian, O.J., the entre cast of Clintongate, and every kid who's ever been stuck down a well have all been the media's Aces.

  • July 5, 2000, 4:47 p.m. CST

    Arnold is the worst part of Conan.

    by superninja

    He plays it too dumb. But then I read the comics, and not the pulp novels. Also, in the comics, though he sometimes makes unwise decisions because of his youth, he is still not a grunting idiot. I couldn't believe it when they send that girl in to make it with Conan in the film and he acts like a gorilla-boy. C'mon! Conan wasn't smooth, but he wasn't a drooling imbecile!

  • July 5, 2000, 5:05 p.m. CST

    Here's one reason I don't trust the government:

    by superninja

    http://www.accessone.com/~rivero/POLITICS/ARCHIVE/ciamedia.html Because they don't stay within those confines. They placate us then seep into the everyday aspect of our lives. Paranoid? Maybe. But maybe justified as well.

  • July 5, 2000, 6:34 p.m. CST

    Nothing says 'America' like...

    by The_Tooth

    The Atomic Cafe. Remember, even a piece of paper can protect you from a nasty burn.

  • July 5, 2000, 7:56 p.m. CST

    Moriarty - Conan errors

    by PistolPete

    Come now, Moriarty. For someone who loves the film so much, you made some rather blatant errors in your summary. Firstly, the "Wheel of Pain" is not some arbitrary torture device where the children "simply walk in endless circles". It's rather obviously a grain mill, powered by human slaves instead of pack animals, wind, or water. Secondly, there's the issue of the sword. In the film, Conan doesn't find his father's sword in the tomb - the sword is that of an ancient Atlantean king. When Conan takes the sword, the king's corpse "bows" to him, symbolic of the fact that someday Conan will himself be king. This is the sword Conan keeps through the rest of the film, and is very distinct from his father's (which is the one that bisects the word "Conan" in the logo). His father's sword is carried by the older of the two Norsemen (the name escapes me at the moment) until the end of the movie. The sword is broken in the final duel with Conan, and is then used to decapitate Thulsa Doom - appropriate, since Thulsa used the same sword to decapitate Conan's mother. Still, after reading your comments on the Stone script, it reads a rather awful lot like the abyssmal "Conan the Destroyer". Good riddance that it was never made! The original film is a true masterpiece, a far better exposition of the ancient hero cycle than anything that pretentious sell-out Lucas could ever dream up. Thulsa Doom (Doom, as in "Fate", not as in "Destruction") is perfect as a cult leader. The tale is one of the struggle between the individual and the many - we see this as the cult's bewitched followers extinguish their multitude of lights (their candles) when their leader is destroyed, while Conan - the consummate individual - counters with a light of his own, the bonfire of Thulsa's temple. As you said, the terseness of the dialogue adds to, not subtracts from the film's power. And you're also spot-on about the score. I've known people from the classical music world, and those friends of mine who are in it list the Poledouris score as one of the great symphonic suites of the century, ranking it up there w/ Prokofiev's "Alexander Nevsky" and "Lieutenant Kije", and Orff's "Carmina Burana". This film is definitely a treat for fan, mythologist, and music-lover alike. If you thought it was just Arnold in a loincloth (ironicly, he wears this on the poster, but never in the film), it's time to take a second look.

  • July 6, 2000, 5:47 a.m. CST

    John Milius washed up...I don't think so

    by lb

    Didn't any of you see the "Rough Riders" miniseries from a couple years back, which Milius co-wrote and directed? Great cast, and it had plausible historical accuracy. Milius is a born storyteller, and it would be great to see him at the helm of a high-profile project again. While a third Conan would be great(especially since "Crusade" looks increasingly unlikely to happen), I think that an ideal project to re-team Milius and Arnold is "With Wings as Eagles". Milius would not allow it to become a gung-ho Arnold vehicle. He took Conan from what could have been a cheesy 80's effects fest and turned it into a timeless sword and sorcery epic. All right, "Conan" is not "Excalibur", but I'll still be watching it twenty years from now. I agree with a previous talk-backer who talked about how conservatives are unfairly chastised in the entertainment industry, but try and imagine the industry without Charlton Heston, Clint Eastwood, Cecil B. DeMille, James Cagney, John Ford, Jimmy Stewart, and of course, John Wayne.

  • July 6, 2000, 2:58 p.m. CST

    How can I get my blue hands on that script!

    by Blue Devil

    What are the odds of posting Oliver Stone's draft of the Conan script? I love Stone's work and his draft seems like it would be a pretty wild read. Anyway, here's to hoping it gets posted!