This blogger's current nightstand reading is True Grit (1968) by Charles Portis. It is an experience that must be akin to reading the Coen brothers' script for "True Grit" (2010). No film version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been as satisfying as the two (1969 & 2010) film versions of True Grit. Today, the NY Fishwrap's Butcher (formerly on Broadway) Frank Rich considers "True Grit" (2010) and "The Social Network" and the blogger is reminded why he unsubscribed (unfriended himself?) from Facebook after seeing "The Social Network." Give this blogger Rooster Cogburn's "Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!" over Mark Zuckerberg's "I'm the CEO, bitch!" any day of the week. When the Winklevoss twins met with Fishface (Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard University) about their intellectual property disupte with Mark Zuckerberg over what has become Facebook, they needed to call upon their inner Mattie Ross. Alas, the twins lacked true grit and now regret their settlement with Zuckerberg. Mattie Ross never regretted one damn thing to the end of her days; she had true grit. If this is (fair & balanced) social criticism, so be it.
PS: Mattie Ross (with the threat of her "lawyer Daggett") would've kicked Fishface's ass all the way from Cambridge, MA to Fort Smith, AR.
[x NY Fishwrap]
The One-Eyed Man Is King
By Frank Rich
Tag cloud of the following article
A month before John Wayne won the 1969 Best Actor Oscar for “True Grit,” Richard Nixon wrote him a “Dear Duke” fan letter from the Oval Office: “I saw it in the W.H. with my family and for once we agree with the critics — you were great!” Some four decades later, his rave was echoed by another Republican warrior, this time in praise of the “True Grit” remake with Jeff Bridges in the role of the old, fat, hard-drinking, half-blind 19th-century United States marshal Rooster Cogburn. Shortly after New Year’s, Liz Cheney told The Times that her parents saw “True Grit” at the Teton Theater in Jackson, WY, and gave it “two thumbs up.”
The double-barreled success of “True Grit,” then and now, spreads well beyond those conservative gunslingers. In our current winter of high domestic anxiety, as in the politically tumultuous American summer of 1969, it is a hit with the national mass audience and elite critics alike. The new version is doing as well in New York and Los Angeles as in red Cheneyland.
That “True Grit” still works is first a testament to the beauty of the remake, as directed by the Coen brothers, and to the enduring power of both films’ source, a 1968 novel by Charles Portis that refracted a Western yarn through a scintillating and original comic voice. But the latest “True Grit” juggernaut also has something to say about Americans yearning at a trying juncture in our history — much as it did the first time around.
The original film opened at Radio City Music Hall on July 3, 1969, the same day that antiwar protestors incited a melee at the adjoining Rockefeller Center, shutting down Fifth Avenue. In that climate, the movie’s success was hardly foreordained. The previous year, “The Green Berets,” Wayne’s jingoistic Vietnam potboiler, had divided audiences, been ridiculed by the press and shunned by the Oscars. The Western, like the war movie, was seen as a dying genre, usurped by darker and ever more violent takes on frontier mythology like the 1967 “Bonnie and Clyde” and “The Wild Bunch,” which opened just a week before “True Grit.” July of ’69 would also bring “Easy Rider,” the iconic ’60s dope-and-biker movie in which Dennis Hopper, who played a villain in “True Grit,” would reinvent himself as an era’s archetypal cultural antihero. The “Easy Rider” ad copy ran: “A man went looking for America. And couldn’t find it anywhere.”
Such was the dyspeptic mood of a nation deep into a fruitless war and a year after a summer of assassinations and riots. Yet “True Grit” was warmly received, including by the Times critic, Vincent Canby, who put it in a year-end list of bests dominated by such antiestablishment fare as “The Wild Bunch,” “Easy Rider,” “Midnight Cowboy” (that year’s Best Picture Oscar winner) and the ultimate anti-Western, Andy Warhol’s sexually transgressive “Lonesome Cowboys.” Canby described “True Grit” as “a classic frontier fable that manages to be most entertaining even when it’s being most reactionary.”
He was right. Its story and themes could hardly have been more retro. A 14-year-old girl from Yell County, AR, named Mattie Ross hires Rooster to help track down an outlaw who murdered both her father and a Texas state senator before fleeing into Chocktaw territory. Though Mattie is a stickler for the law, she’s not averse to frontier justice if that’s required to avenge her dad. But to the grizzled old Rooster’s dismay, the girl insists on joining him on the trail to make sure the job gets done.
Like classic Hollywood Westerns before it, “True Grit” in all its iterations has an elegiac lilt. Uncivilized hired guns like Rooster may have helped tame the West and dispatched bad guys, but they were also capable of lawlessness and atrocities. As a young Confederate soldier, Rooster had joined in the 1863 Lawrence, KS, massacre. Ultimately, law, religion and domestic institutions like marriage — which Rooster failed at — had to prevail if America was to grow up. The Matties had to outlive the Roosters. And so they did. For a weary mainstream 1969 audience, and not just a reactionary one, the restoration of order in “True Grit,” inevitably to be followed by Rooster’s ride off into the sunset, was a heartening two-hour escape from the near-civil-war raging beyond the theater’s walls.
In 2010, expectations for the new “True Grit” may have been lower than they were for the first. The Western has once again been written off as an endangered species. The Coens’ critically admired filmmaking has never generated blockbuster box office. An added indignity was the complete shutout of “True Grit” from Golden Globe nominations — a measure of a movie’s advance buzz, if nothing else.
Nonetheless, it is already the biggest draw of any Coen brothers film — poised to at least double the business of “No Country for Old Men,” their biggest previous hit. Revealingly, I think, it is attracting an even larger audience than “The Social Network,” a movie of equal quality with reviews to match and more timely cultural cachet. It turns out that “True Grit” is as much an escape for Americans now as it was in the Vietnam era.
Our age is hardly identical to that one, whatever the resonances between the Afghanistan and Vietnam wars, and whatever our own bouts of domestic violence. The new “True Grit” took off before the Tucson cataclysm in any event, and the movie’s broad appeal, like the demographics of its audience, transcends our running right-left debate. What is most stirring about “True Grit” today — besides the primal father-daughter relationship that blossoms between Rooster and Mattie — is its unalloyed faith in values antithetical to those of the 21st century America so deftly skewered, as it happens, in “The Social Network.”
At its core, the new “True Grit” is often surprisingly similar to the first, despite the clashing sensibilities of their directors (Henry Hathaway, a studio utility man, did the original) and the casting of an age-appropriate Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) in lieu of the 21-year-old Kim Darby of 1969. But what leaps out this time, to the point of seeming fresh, is the fierce loyalty of the principal characters to each other (the third being a vain Texas Ranger, played by Matt Damon) and their clear-cut sense of morality and justice, even when the justice is rough. More than the first “True Grit,” the new one emphasizes Mattie’s precocious, almost obsessive preoccupation with the law. She is forever citing law-book principles, invoking lawyers and affidavits, and threatening to go to court. “You must pay for everything in this world one way or another,” says Mattie. “There is nothing free except the grace of God.”
That kind of legal and moral cost-accounting seems as distant as a tintype now. The new “True Grit” lands in an America that’s still not recovered from a crash where many of the reckless perpetrators of economic mayhem deflected any accountability and merely moved on to the next bubble, gamble or ethically dubious backroom deal. When Americans think of the law these days, they often think of a system that can easily be gamed by the rich and the powerful, starting with those who pillaged Lehman Brothers, A.I.G. and Citigroup and left taxpayers, shareholders and pensioners in the dust. A virtuous soul like Mattie would be crushed in a contemporary gold rush even if (or especially if) she fought back with the kind of civil action so prized by the 19th-century Mattie.
Talk about Two Americas. Look at “The Social Network” again after seeing “True Grit,” and you’ll see two different civilizations, as far removed from each other in ethos as Silicon Valley and Monument Valley. While “Social Network” fictionalizes Mark Zuckerberg, it mines the truth of an era — from the ability of the powerful and privileged to manipulate the system to the collapse of loyalty as a prized American virtue at the top of that economic pyramid.
In contrast to Mattie’s dictum, no one has to pay for any transgression in the world it depicts. Zuckerberg’s antagonists, Harvard classmates who accuse him of intellectual theft, and his allies, exemplified by a predatory venture capitalist, sometimes seem more entitled and ruthless than he is. The blackest joke in Aaron Sorkin’s priceless script is that Lawrence Summers, a Harvard president who would later moonlight as a hedge fund consultant, might intervene to arbitrate any ethical conflicts. You almost wish Rooster were around to get the job done.
“The Social Network” is nothing if not the true sequel to “Wall Street.” The director, David Fincher (no less brilliant than the Coens), makes the atmosphere almost as murky and poisonous as that of his serial killer movies, “Seven” and “Zodiac.” In “Social Network,” the landscape is Cambridge, MA, but we might as well be in the pre-civilized Wild West. Instead of thieves bearing guns, we have thieves bearing depositions. Instead of actual assassinations, we have character assassinations by blog post. In place of an honorable social code, we have a social network presided over by a post-adolescent billionaire whose business card reads “I’m CEO ... Bitch!”
This hits too close to home. No one should have been surprised that those looking for another America once again have been finding it in “True Grit.” Ω
[Frank Rich is an op-ed columnist for The New York Times who writes a weekly 1500-word essay on the intersection of culture and news. Rich has been at the paper since 1980. His columns and articles for the Week in Review, the Arts & Leisure section and the Magazine draw from his background as a theater critic (known as "The Butcher On Broadway") and observer of art, entertainment and politics. Before joining The Times, Rich was a film critic at Time magazine, the New York Post, and New Times magazine. He was a founding editor of the Richmond (Va.) Mercury, a weekly newspaper, in the early 1970s. Rich is the author of a childhood memoir, Ghost Light (2000), a collection of drama reviews, Hot Seat: Theater Criticism for The New York Times, 1980-1993 (1998), and The Theatre Art of Boris Aronson (with Lisa Aronson, 1987). Rich is a graduate of the Washington, DC public schools. He earned a BA degree in American History and Literature from Harvard College in 1971.]
Copyright © 2011 The New York Times Company
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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at sapper.blogspot.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.
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