(Interviewed by Louis James, Editor, International Speculator)
This interview was first published on February 17, 2010
Editor’s Note: Longtime readers know Casey Research founder Doug Casey is a big movie fan. In today’s edition, Doug discusses his all-time favorite movies, including some you might not expect…
Louis James: Doug, we’ve promised to talk about what you call the literature of today’s world: Movies. So, let’s talk about the silver screen.
Doug: Good idea. Some may dismiss this as fluff, but I think it can be very important, as per our conversation on Avatar a couple weeks ago. In today’s world, movies, not books anymore, are the most important media for transferring memes.
L: Okay, but there’s so much to say – we could do a long interview just listing your favorite movies and saying why. But we should also talk about the medium as an art form and a social phenomenon itself. And the movie industry is a kaleidoscope mix of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Where do we start?
Doug: Well, let’s start with The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. I think it, and almost all of Clint Eastwood’s movies, are going to have staying power. That’s partially because he’s in them. He projects a certain strength of character and a certain attitude towards life that has justifiable appeal. He’s also one of the few overt libertarians in Hollywood, along with Kurt Russell and Charles Bronson, who died a few years ago. In addition, Eastwood has almost always selected his roles very well. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a favorite of mine, and not just because of the great theme song…
L: A theme song we heard played live by an orchestra in Lithuania, conducted by the song’s composer.
Doug: We caught that show in Vilnius in 2008.
L: Even jetlagged, that was fun. But back to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly…
Doug: It’s not just that movie, but Westerns as a genre, that tend to be the most reliably engaging movies, in my view. As a group, I’d put them absolutely at the top for almost always having the most heroic themes and being philosophically sound. There’s a reason for that. They deal – they must deal – with the basic stuff of life: Man and woman. Life and death. Earth and sun. Courage and cowardice. Survival against hostile opponents and hostile nature. The one against the many.
L: You know, I never thought of it that way. Of course it would tend to be so; Westerns deal with life on the frontier, and that’s what it was like then.
Doug: Exactly. On the frontier, you’re forced to be independent and solve problems yourself. There’s nobody that’s going to bail you out when you live in a solitary little house way out on the prairie. Of course, the cavalry can always save you in the final reel, but that’s deus ex machina on the part of lazy scriptwriters. It would have been an exceedingly rare occurrence in real life, and it’s not common in good Westerns. On the frontier, you have to solve your own problems and create your own future reality.
That’s why I think Westerns are so great. And incidentally, I think that’s why the chattering classes, as a group, tend to hold Westerns in low regard. Anything that smacks of individualism, independence, and industry will go against the grain of their values. I intuitively distrust the motives and values of people who dislike Westerns. Could Woody Allen produce a Western? I think not.
L: “Westerns” aren’t movies about Western Europe nor Western China, they’re about the American West, a place and time that highlighted the virtues of “rugged individualism.”
Doug: That’s right. It’s a uniquely American genre, and I mean American in the best sense of the word, dating to the time when America was America and not just the United States.
L: So, let’s list some examples. What other Westerns are among your favorite movies?
Doug: Well, there’s no question that my favorite Western, and perhaps my favorite movie of all time, is The Wild Bunch. I called my polo teams in Palm Beach and New Zealand by that name. Anyway, it’s the movie that put Sam Peckinpah on the map. One reason that movie made such a splash, set a trend, really, was that it was the first movie that showed graphically detailed violence. It showed, for example, bullets hitting bodies and going out the other side. It had shock value, but that’s not the reason I like the movie.
I like it because it is pure Aristotelian drama. And by that, I mean that it has a beginning and an end, joined by a plot line that has a crisis followed by a catharsis, in which the Good Guys wipe out the Bad Guys. Or, in the case of The Wild Bunch, in which the Kind of Good Guys wipe out the Really Bad Guys. It’s an excellent film from that perspective. And I think that William Holden and Ernest Borgnine were both truly excellent.
Another thing about it is the era it’s set in, 1917, the end of the Long 19th Century (which really went from about 1776 to 1914). It was the end of the Belle Époque and the end of the Wild West. The protagonists, the Wild Bunch led by Holden, are aging outlaws looking to make just one more big score before they have to hang up their spurs. If they hadn’t known that it was the end of an era and that they were dinosaurs, they wouldn’t have taken on the Mexican army/bandits at the end.
I believe that we’re at the end of another epoch now, for what that’s worth. That’s something to talk about another day…
But there are a lot of other Westerns that fall into the great category. All the Clint Eastwood ones, certainly including Pale Rider and Unforgiven. Hombre, with Paul Newman, is fantastic; definitely one of the best ones. It, like The Wild Bunch, has great Mexican bandits.
Incidentally, the portrayal of Mexican bandits in movies is almost a subgenre in its own right. The Professionals had excellent Mexican bandits. It was an underrated, but terrific, movie starring Burt Lancaster, also set in 1917. I’d put Burt in the same class with Clint Eastwood; all of his movies are worth seeing, just because he’s in them. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre also had excellent Mexican bandits. Everybody knows the classic line from it, “Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no stinking badges.” A great attitude I’d like to see more of from the general public.
Another characteristic of Westerns is their attitude towards weapons. Everybody is expected to defend himself and, if he’s smart, comport himself in a way that simultaneously won’t make that necessary but will gain the respect of others. I’ve got to believe that’s another reason statists tend to hate Westerns. A proper Western naturally makes the typical self-loathing liberal very uncomfortable.
But not all good Westerns are confined to the cinema.
L. You mean TV? I don’t know of any currently being aired.
HGWT was on TV from about 1957 to 1962. Interestingly, everybody has heard the phrase, but apparently very few who weren’t around in those days have seen it. HGWT is the original thinking man’s Western. Paladin, who’s perfectly played by Richard Boone, is, if you will, a professional problem solver. More important, he is a true Renaissance Man. Each 30-minute episode opens with him at his hotel in San Francisco, living the high life, a sophisticated man of the world. He might be outplaying a chess master, or commenting on a rare wine, or returning from the opera with the prima donna. Or he might be reading the paper, looking for a situation ripe for him to set right. After the catharsis, when justice is done, Paladin usually offers a quote from one of the Greek or Roman classics, or at least Shakespeare, to enlighten anyone left standing. I have the whole series.
L: Sounds quite a bit different from Deadwood…
Doug: Oh yes. Deadwood specializes in the gritty reality of the eponymous town in South Dakota, at the time of both Custer’s misadventure at Little Big Horn and the discovery of the Homestake Mine. It’s one of the best series ever done…and I mean ever.
The story revolves around Al Swearengen, the proprietor of a saloon and cathouse. Aside from the well-drawn characters – and I believe they must have somehow channeled Wild Bill Hickok, who was famously killed in a poker game there – I love the use of language in it. Most people will be shocked by it, of course, since it’s at least as colorful as any you could hope to hear in the roughest barracks. But that’s not the point. Many of the episodes are written in Shakespearean blank verse and are highly poetic. The series is good enough to be worth watching more than once.
One more that was made for TV: Lonesome Dove. Larry McMurtry did it, and he’s not only an excellent writer but a scholar of the Old West. It’s very well acted by Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones as the main characters.
L: Okay, I’ll look into getting the ones you mention I haven’t already seen. What about beyond Westerns? I know you like SF movies, and I’d guess you like most or all of the ones with Arnold Schwarzenegger in them.
Doug: Yes. I think the first two Terminator movies are absolutely fantastic. As I pointed out at the time, I think both The Terminator and especially Terminator 2 showed the direction in which nanotechnology is going, that will make actual terminators possible. I do enjoy watching Arnold on screen; it’s a pity he turned out to be such a terrible Governator.
The Matrix was even better, and it appealed to my solipsistic tendencies, with all of reality being a shared illusion.
Blade Runner is another fantastic movie that deals with the essentials of life. Blade Runner is in many ways a Western, set in the future. I’d say it makes my Top 10 list, especially the Director’s Cut version.
And that reminds me of another Western that can’t be overlooked, and that’s High Noon with Gary Cooper.
L: Ah, yes. Did you see the SF version, called Outland?
Doug: With Sean Connery. Yes. It was interesting, but not as good as the original, in my opinion. The originals are almost always the best in every genre.
But, you know, there’s a similarity between SF movies and Westerns. If Westerns deal with the raw essentials and a related worldview set in the past, SF movies often portray the exact same essentials and worldview and set it in the future. That’s why both genres of movies are generally disrespected by the so-called intellectuals of our day. Those people come from a totally different place, psychologically and philosophically.
L: I never thought of it that way before either.
Doug: Those two genres of movies are my favorites. They both take you out of the present and catapult you into a Once and Future reality. As any Zen master will tell you, it’s important to live in the present, however sordid and degraded it may be. But stories about a heroic past and a heroic future help frame the present. It’s myth, as good as, and in many ways similar to, that of Homer. It helps you keep your eye on the way life should be lived.
Doug: Ah, yes. I’m glad you mention that. It was you and another friend of mine who thought enough of it that you both gave me a set of Firefly discs. I would definitely recommend it to our readers, both the TV series, which only lasted one season, and the Serenity movie based on it. They’re very worthwhile, entertaining, and philosophically sound.
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.