Category Archives: romance

Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

Widely perceived as throwaway 70’s kitsch, Smokey and the Bandit deserves a second look for numerous reasons. Not the least of which is how far Hollywood has moved the PC threshold. Smokey and the Bandit is a mere 41 years old and it already feels wildly transgressive with its unabashed glorification of the the Southern rebel archetype, fast muscle cars, heterosexual romance, unforced biracial harmony and the sweet glory of black market Coors. Admittedly, it was also a seminal entry into a subgenre of trucker-themed 70’s films that canonized the mythology of the modern outlaw in his 18-wheel stagecoach. Smokey and the Bandit is properly viewed as a contemporary Western with cars and trucks instead of horses. Where classic Westerns glorified law and order, this film inverts those classical conventions and places your sympathies solidly with the outlaws. With a plot that amounts to an interstate beer run set in motion by a couple of oligarchs, Smokey and the Bandit sanctifies the presumed American virtue of profit and glory for its own sake.

Bandit: For the good old American life: For the money, for the glory, and for the fun… mostly for the money.

Featuring a star making turn as the Bandit, Burt Reynolds’ character is the kind of leading man Hollywood once served up regularly without reservations. A handsome, lovable rogue who was a brash, reckless show off, but had a romantic heart and sweet side underneath it all. Unequivocally masculine, charming, and tough, but unpretentious and easygoing at the same time. Intentionally written as his diametric opposite, Sally Field’s Carrie is neurotic, artsy, cosmopolitan and flaky. After a hasty roadside introduction, Carrie hurls herself into the Bandit’s caper after fleeing marriage to the son of the film’s villain, Sherriff Buford T. Justice.

As Justice, Jackie Gleason absolutely dominates the film with an outrageous performance. Spewing vitriol and contempt in every line, Gleason is a veritable supernova of politically incorrect piss and vinegar. Besides setting the template for Rosco P. Coltrane in the Dukes of Hazzard, Gleason’s character is also the bumbling, racist caricature of Southern law enforcement that will repeat itself in countless subsequent films. Seething with rage over the Bandit’s consistent ability to outmaneuver him, Justice is Ahab to Reynolds’ Moby Dick. Ironically, in our age of revolutionary orthodoxy, Gleason’s character has come full circle. While there’s never any doubt that the film wants you to root for the Bandit, the overwhelming prevalence of the outlaw antihero casts Justice’s most famous line as a perfectly valid commentary on the present.

Buford T. Justice: What we’re dealing with here is a complete lack of respect for the law.

Smokey and the Bandit is also noteworthy from a predictive programming perspective because it is unequivocally a film designed to mainstream the subversive nature of the CB radio. The Bandit and Cledus are consistently able to outfox law enforcement by tapping into the CB radio underground. The film portrays a perfectly coordinated #RESISTANCE whose allegiance to the Bandit and his mission are never in question. The Bandit was just trying to give the people what they wanted! It’s just plain un-American to deny Coors, dammit! I suggest that this was a precursor to the smartphone revolution and a critical building block towards the larger goal of global digital panopticism.

Most of all, Smokey and the Bandit succeeds because all it wants is to make you smile, laugh and cheer. While Hollywood seems increasingly reliant on CGI driven sci-fi and superhero franchises, Smokey and the Bandit feels downright organic and tactile by comparison. Films like Fast and Furious certainly lay claim to this film’s legacy, but there’s something refreshingly simple about Smokey and the Bandit. The car chases nowadays may be more outrageous and the actors more ripped, but the self-conscious multiculturalism feels forced and the cool, sophisticated outlaw is now a boring cliché. Perhaps it’s the rose tinted glasses of nostalgia, but this film feels like a pop culture high water mark. It may have been a harbinger of a deluge of SJW degeneracy to come, but it had a joyful, old fashioned spirit that’s sadly absent from any contemporary film you can name.

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La La Land (2016)

It’s not going to replace The Sound of Music in the pantheon of greatest musicals, but it’s a nice throwback to Old Hollywood with a modern sensibility.

La La Land is the kind of film that you thought was consigned to the scrap heap of Hollywood history. In other words, it’s a boy-meets-girl love story with song and dance performed by two charismatic and attractive leads. It’s colorful. It’s fun. It’s a film with a smile on its face that wants to entertain you. Ryan Gosling is the idealistic jazz musician, Sebastian, and Emma Stone is aspiring actress, Mia. Even with its bittersweet ending, the film is refreshing because of its unabashed old fashioned approach.

Besides the love story, La La Land deals with the question of what it means to be an artist and how to be true to your principles by finding your own voice. Sebastian is the quintessential jazz purist who wants to rescue jazz from cultural oblivion. He dreams of opening a club that features Honest Jazz, but bides his time playing lounges and 80’s cover bands. Mia is just another actress hunting for scraps in the Hollywood meat grinder until Sebastian encourages her to tell her own stories by developing her long abandoned writing.

More specifically, the film addresses the ideological divide in jazz between innovation and tradition, and which takes priority when it comes to attracting audiences. Is jazz a fixed tradition with specific, definable parameters or is it a blank slate which must incorporate modern technology and borrow from other idioms in order to innovate and attract audiences? In Sebastian’s case, his version of artistic radicalism was to return to jazz tradition despite being given an opportunity to play in John Legend’s globetrotting pop/R&B act.

In one scene, the film reveals the chasm of misperception that lies between the jazz aficionado and the casual consumer. Mia tries to explain that she finds Kenny G perfectly enjoyable and had no objection to her parents’ affinity for smooth jazz as background music. Instead of being an elitist snob, Sebastian draws her attention to the musical action happening on the combo performing in front of them. The film clearly wants us to see the beauty in jazz that Sebastian sees and show what makes jazz such a dynamic and rich art form.

Where La La Land really shines is in the romance between Sebastian and Mia. How long has it been since Hollywood unironically presented the pursuit of love and companionship between a man and a woman as a virtue? Hollywood has been so far up its own ideological ass for so many years trying to fulfill every politically correct agenda that a scene with Sebastian and Mia holding hands in a theater while watching Rebel Without a Cause feels pretty radical.

It’s multicultural, but it is blessedly free of hamfisted racial or identity politics. Sebastian’s sister marries a black man, but they didn’t insert some tortured narrative about racism. The jazz club scenes contained multiracial audiences and showed people getting along and having a great time enjoying an art form that has succeeded in building cultural bridges. Since Hollywood seems so solidly intent on propping up politically divisive narratives by constantly emphasizing America’s sordid history in films like Race and Birth of a Nation, the absence of these tiresome themes in La La Land is noticeable and welcome.

The film is not just a candy coated sugar high though. The tradeoffs, compromises, self doubt and financial insecurities which come with the territory of being an artist create the emotional and dramatic tension between the characters. Artistic idealism is an admirable virtue, and one which resonates with me, but Damien Chazelle is correct to point out that absent clear communication, the pursuit of a stable family life and the artistic dream can easily become irreconcilable goals. It’s great to see that the pursuit of artistic individualism is upheld as a heroic virtue, but it’s worth remembering that it is not an ironclad promise of financial remuneration or commercial recognition.

Needless to say, the SJW media factions and progressive Twitterati have predictably heaped condemnation on La La Land for the very reasons that it’s good. Hopefully, studios will pay more attention to the positive acclaim and box office receipts, think twice about pushing ideological agendas, and remember that people enjoy being entertained and watching attractive people fall in love on screen.

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