(Interviewed by Louis James, Editor, International Speculator)
This interview was first published on February 17, 2010
Editor’s Note: In yesterday’s Weekend Edition, Casey Research founder Doug Casey told us his all-time favorite movies. Today, Doug discusses his modern favorites, including V for Vendetta, The Matrix, and Lord of the Rings…
Louis James: By the way of philosophically sound - meaning, pro-individual, pro-freedom, laissez-faire, etc. - that draws me back to your mention of The Matrix. While not explicitly libertarian, its central theme is choice, which is an essentially libertarian concept. One way of describing a libertarian is to say it’s someone who’s pro-choice -on everything.
Doug: [Laughs] Yes. And when it comes to the choice, always take the red pill. That’s my advice.
L: Right. But while the Matrix movies were not explicitly political, the same guys made V for Vendetta, which is very political. It’s so in-your-face political, it’s amazing it ever made it through Hollywood.
Doug: Yes, the Wachowski brothers. V for Vendetta is another of my all-time favorites. V also, I have to say, uses one of my favorite rock songs of all time for its end-theme music: The Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man.” It’s a fantastic movie; anyone who hasn’t seen it should go out and buy it. Right now.
L: One SF movie that didn’t have great production values, and totally butchered the books it was based on, but did have interesting socio-political content, was Logan’s Run.
Doug: Logan’s Run was good. It makes the point that it’s worth living past age 30. But could they remake it to show that it’s worth living beyond 60?
L: I’m sure they could - and use the same actors. Any others?
Doug: A genre I have mixed feelings about is the war movie. Well done, they can be riveting; whether they’re pro-war (we’re the good guys, and the enemy needs killing - the kind John Wayne liked to make) or anti-war (war is a terrible thing, no matter who the good guys are - and good guys engage in wholesale murder).
The problem with either type, philosophically, is that the individual is caught in a hellish situation where he has little control and has to follow orders. That said, Apocalypse Now Redux (which has many important scenes that were cut from the movie theater version) offers a surreal thrill ride. Stalingrad is horrific, almost putting you in the battle. Saving Private Ryan is equally good. Alien is SF, but it’s actually a well-done war movie as well.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a fantasy, of course, but something of a war movie as well. It’s as perfect a translation of the books to screen as can be done. I read the books, and it’s as if Peter Jackson, the director, reached into my mind and put my own visualization of the books on film. It’s a work of genius. And it demonstrates that a movie can be just as good as the book it was made from, while making the experience accessible to vastly more people.
Doug: One movie that’s outside of these genres but is just an excellent, well-done drama is Casablanca. It’s a classic for the ages, for good reasons.
L: Hm. I saw that a long, long time ago. I don’t remember it having any particularly strong ideological content. You like it just for being a good movie?
Doug: That’s right. But it does have a sort of philosophical content, in that Rick is a cynical, nihilistic guy who makes a point of looking out only for number one. But he gradually redeems himself in the end, proving to have a heart of gold. There’s something to be said for people finding themselves and going off in the right direction. Also, the dialogue in the movie is first class.
L: Are you a fan of Humphrey Bogart in general?
Doug: No question about that; Bogart is one of the greats. I like almost all of his movies.
I’m trying to think of who else is a great actor on that level, whose movies are reliably good.
L: How about Charlie Chaplin? You must have loved his film The Great Dictator…
Doug: You sent me that, but I haven’t made time to watch it.
L: You still haven’t seen The Great Dictator?
Doug: No. I’ll go watch it when we’re done here.
L: I won’t twist your arm, but I think you’ll really like it. The movie is totally amazing in many ways, not just intellectually. Chaplin was one of the few old movie actors who made the transition to being a “talkie” actor. Not only did he make the transition as an actor, but he uses his voice absolutely brilliantly, speaking pseudo-German via his Hitleresque character that’s very, very funny. And special effects too, including an upside down scene shot 70 years ago! He even wrote the music for the film. He was a true genius.
Doug: Ah, yes… Well, Gibson appears to be a religious fanatic, but Braveheart is a fantastic movie, and The Patriot is both excellent and well done.
L: I especially like the way the nobles in Braveheart are always turning their backs on the people - when they are not actively abusing them. Something to think about, for those who imagine that government attracts any more of the best and the brightest now than it did then.
Doug: Another actor comes to mind who had very few clinkers: Steve McQueen. His movies don’t necessarily have a lot of ideological import, but I’ve enjoyed them. My favorite by him is probably The Sand Pebbles, in which he plays a China sailor during the Boxer Rebellion. Another Western starring McQueen is Nevada Smith. Great movie, very underrated.
Another big movie is The Aviator, which is about Howard Hughes, before he went off the deep end. The movie presents many important values positively and shows what a creative man Hughes was. That scene where he’s testifying before Congress, being interrogated by the scumbag senator, is, alone, worth the price of admission.
L: What about ladies? Any favorite female actresses?
Doug: Well, there was Katherine Hepburn, who played with Bogart in The African Queen, a super movie.
L: That’s right. She also played with John Wayne in at least one movie.
Doug: I think that was Rooster Cogburn. I like John Wayne’s Westerns, of course. I might put my finger on Hondo as one of his best. The thing about Wayne, like Eastwood, Bronson, Bogart, and Lancaster, is that they basically just played themselves. A lot of these guys got into movies by accident, with no acting training at all. Many actors today - I’m thinking Ed Norton, Johnny Depp, and Orlando Bloom, for instance - have better technical skills as actors. But because of that, it’s much harder to tell who they are as people.
L: So, who’s your favorite femme fatale? La Femme Nikita?
Doug: La Femme Nikita impresses me as a very anti-government movie. And it’s a hell of a good story. And the same director, Luc Besson, did The Professional with Jean Reno and Natalie Portman. It’s about a very sympathetic and competent, but somewhat naïve, hit man. He’s the good guy, and all the cops and government agents are the bad guys. The movie fires on all cylinders, as does Besson’s The Messenger: Joan of Arc.
L: Who would you say was the most beautiful lady of the silver screen? Marilyn Monroe? Bo Derek?
Doug: Cameron Diaz may the best looking. But she appears, based on what I’ve heard her say in real life, to be a ditz. Angelina Jolie is much more interesting; her character Laura Croft could have been a Randian heroine. And I understand both she and Brad Pitt, whose stuff I also like, are fans of Rand. Charlize Theron is incredibly beautiful, incredibly talented and, based on what I’ve read in an interview, very intelligent. But one of the most appealing roles I can remember is that of Naomi Watts in Peter Jackson’s King Kong. That guy is probably the best director in the business, but Watts was perfect in that role.
L: This may surprise some people, but I found the original Star Wars movies uplifting and even philosophically useful. I liked that Han Solo was an unabashed capitalist and black-marketer. George Lucas’s first movie was called THX 1138, which was the name of a man in a dystopian future, in which the totalitarian government kept everyone on drugs all the time to control them. THX-1138 becomes guilty of criminal drug evasion. But in spite of the interesting concepts, the movie was slow and rather boring. I always thought that some older hand must have taken Lucas under his wing and said, “George, that was great, really important stuff, but people won’t get it. There were no explosions, no villain in black, no jet fighters. Try throwing in a princess that needs rescuing next time. Maybe some funny robots…”
Doug: Well, as I said, most SF movies, like most Westerns, tend to be sound. It’s really too bad they are such underrated genres by the critical powers that be, in most cases. It’s really shameful.
L: But does that matter? The movies make money in the box office anyway, so good storytellers like the Wachowski brothers can get powerful ideas out to lots of people, as they did with V for Vendetta.
Doug: True enough. But I’ve noticed that once people rise to a certain level in the world, they tend to disavow those two classes of movies and the values that they tend to represent.
L: Okay. Hm. Investment implications?
Doug: In a way, it’s all just good fun. But I’ll say again that movies are the literature of our times. Books are wonderful, of course, and until computer graphics came along, there were many things you could describe on paper that you just couldn’t show in a movie (except in the case of some really good cartoon animation). But movies shouldn’t be put down, as compared to books, as a form of literature.
That’s because the amount of information you can take in, in a minute, from a movie is an order of magnitude, maybe two, above what you can take in from a minute of reading a book. That time is often wasted in bad movies, but in well-done films, vastly greater volumes of subtle meaning, sense, emotion, and just straight data about the world being shown can be transmitted. That’s a power that can be used to create powerful, meaningful art. Literature.
L: That thought has crossed my mind, particularly in terms of power to persuade the masses. If Thomas Paine were alive today and were of a mind to write a new version of his pamphlet that so inflamed colonial America, Common Sense, he wouldn’t write a pamphlet. He’d make a movie. That’s why movies that are propaganda for destructive ideas, like Avatar, as we’ve discussed, are so dangerous.
Doug: Exactly. Movies engage almost all of the senses today - and eventually they will engage them all, including smell, touch, and taste. That will give them even more power to reach deep into people’s emotions and thoughts.
L: This is Big Business. Would you invest in new movie technology? I don’t know who did the 3D graphics for Avatar, but would you invest in that company? Would you risk venture capital in the first company to introduce smell and other sensory input to movies?
Doug: Well, believe it or not, I’ve actually invested in several movies. Small indie things. But that’s been leading with my heart, not my head. It’s a long shot to make any money investing in movies, especially with Hollywood accounting; it’s legendary how those people will find some way to screw you, no matter how much money a movie makes in the box office. But still, if there were a great script and good, independent actors, I’d be up for investing in a movie, because you don’t need to have a $400 million budget like Avatar’s to have a good movie. Casablanca had a very low budget. I think there’s room for something like that out there.
So, I wouldn’t recommend investing in movie studios, but if you can get a good script and good actors who will work for nothing, as Harrison Ford did in Star Wars - he worked for $50,000, realizing that if he got lucky, it would make his name - taking it on as your own start-up would, if nothing else, be fun. It’d be extremely high-risk, but very high-reward.
I remember Ford also had a bit part in American Graffiti. I liked that movie because I had a few nights that seemed like cuts from it. It’s a must-watch, but there are so many of those.
L: What about movie technology? If someone came up with an idea for “smell-a-vision,” would you invest in it?
Doug: Probably not. The first guy to invent something rarely makes any money from it. But I’m very interested in successful companies in new fields.
So that’s how I’d play the movie industry: Either taking it head-on, getting involved in an indie project yourself - but for love more than for profit - or through new technologies. But at a minimum, our readers have a whole bunch of movies now that are worth watching.
L: Okay, then. Thanks, Doug.
Doug: My pleasure. Talk to you next week.
Doug Casey is a multimillionaire speculator and the founder of Casey Research. He literally wrote the book on profiting during economic turmoil. Doug’s book, Crisis Investing, spent multiple weeks as number one on The New York Times best sellers list and was the best-selling financial book of 1980. Doug has been a regular guest on national television, including spots on CNN, Merv Griffin, Charlie Rose, Regis Philbin, Phil Donahue, and NBC News.
Doug and his team of analysts write The Casey Report, one of the world’s most respected investment advisories. Each month, The Casey Report provides specific, actionable ideas to help subscribers make money in stocks, bonds, currencies, real estate, and commodities. You can try out The Casey Report risk-free by clicking here.