Counter Cultural Programming

Just a link for now, but I didn’t want to forget to link to (and re-read) Michael Atkinson’s list of fifty films, “the best left movies ever made [to] keep the flags of discontent flying,” starting with Zero de Conduite, running through It’s a Wonderful Life (which I would argue used to be a left film, but is no longer), finally to Errol Morris’ amazing documentary, The Fog of War. On a quick glance, I’m surprised there was no mention of any Spike Lee films (particulalry Do the Right Thing), but in general, it looks like a nice break from summer blockbusters, a good mix of popular and more obscure films. Link via GreenCine Daily.


  1. Chris Said,

    June 3, 2004 @ 1:12 pm

    I personally have a low opinion of Do The Right Thing because it tries to make us feel compassion for people who actually don’t deserve compassion. I know that puts me in a minority but Atkinson might share that view.

    As a centrist, I found some of the films in his list not that leftist. The Manchurian Candidate, Wag the Dog, and Paths of Glory for example are about politics in general. They could have easily been set in a country with a left-wing government. In general, suspicion of power is part of the conservative manifesto, so it’s unusual for Atkinson to consider it a leftist attribute.

    Lawrence of Arabia is equally critical of the colonists and the Arabs. Network is about the shallowness of TV, which upsets both liberals and conservatives. It also portrays leftist rebels as willing to sell their souls for money. Thelma & Louise I find morally despicable–much like DtRT. Pleasantville and The Handmaid’s Tale are paranoid martrydom fantasies. And of course, Bowling for Columbine, though effective, is too simplistic and deceptive to deserve real praise in my opinion.

    I hope I don’t sound too harsh. I suppose coming up with a list of fifty good left films is tough, though. I wonder why he chose fifty, rather than, say, 10.

  2. chuck Said,

    June 3, 2004 @ 1:57 pm

    Yeah, the GreenCine blogger seemed impressed that Atkinson named *fifty* films. I agree that “Manchurian” and “Wag the Dog” aren’t necessarily leftist in their politics. Wag, especially, seemed to be a response to the Clinton image factory, one that certainly would have resonated equally on the right. I have some mixed feelings about “Bowling.” I certainly enjoyed it, but the film’s rhetorical approach alienated many viewers. Not sure how I would see “Pleasantville” as a paranoid martyrdom fantasy? I think you’re rigt about “Lawrence” and “Network.” I don’t particularly like “Lawrence,” anyway, and I might sub “Network” with “Dog Day Afternoon,” another righteous Lumet film from the 1970s.

    I probably would have named “Cradle Will Rock,” with its scathing critique of redbaiting and its Brechtian celebration of the WPA). And one could easily make a case for “Citizen Kane” being a left film…

  3. Chris Martin Said,

    June 3, 2004 @ 2:34 pm

    You know, I still haven’t seen Cradle Will Rock. I just realized that the list starts at 1933, so he misses Battleship Potemkin, Metropolis, All Quiet on the Western Front and Intolerance. He also misses Modern Times, The Great Dictator, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Die Weiße Rose. I could go on and on. Maybe I should make a list of my own 🙂

    I suppose “martyrdom” wasn’t the right word to use for Pleasantville. But seems like a slick setup against straw men. It also makes the fifties look less complex than they probably were.

  4. chuck Said,

    June 3, 2004 @ 2:55 pm

    Yes, Pleasantville certainly sets up a straw man, which is one reason I find it unconvincing and shallow, and ultimately “color” goes from something vaguely progressive to emotion (specifically in the courtroom scene). I suppose one could make the case that the film argues that status quo conservatism requires the repression of emotion, but that seems like a pretty flawed thesis.

    I’d agree that the fities were more complex than the images from Pleasantville, but I think its critique may be functioning solely on the level of images (nostalgia for past TV shows, etc) rather than on any level of actuality. In defense of the film, it’s actually an interesting response to Forrest Gump and develops its critique at the same level, through the (obvious) manipulation of images.

  5. chuck Said,

    June 3, 2004 @ 3:04 pm

    Its politics may be a little more complicated, but what about John Ford’s “Grapes of Wrath?” Granted, Ford’s politics were more conservative, but the Tom Joad speech at the film’s climax is pretty heavy on the righteous indignation…

    And, where is John Sayles? Matewan? Lone Star? Wow, I need to install MT on my computer at school…

RSS feed for comments on this post

Leave a Comment

Subscribe without commenting