Category Archives: Culture

Film: We the Living 80 Update

I last wrote about the 80th anniversary restoration of the 1942 film adaptation of Ayn Rand’s We the Living back on April 28, 2022. Here’s another update from Duncan Scott.

We wanted to take a minute to say thank you to all of the great people who contributed time, money, and encouragement towards restoring We the Living.

This Labor Day weekend marks the exact 80th anniversary of the film’s premiere in 1942 at the Venice Film Festival. So it’s the perfect time to share some terrific news: All the finishing touches to the We the Living 80th Anniversary Restoration have been completed!

The last major challenge was restoring the audio. Previously, static, popping, and hum could frequently be heard in the film. After a six-week process, those defects have been almost completely removed. The movie now sounds as good as it looks—nearly as good as when it first played in theaters in Rome!

Next, the critical distribution and promotion phase begins. ​We the Living will enjoy a wide release that includes art-house movie theaters, DVD, and video-on-demand. In addition, it will be distributed to colleges and schools through educational distribution services. Audiences around the world will be able to discover this inspiring movie and the fundamental values it so powerfully dramatizes.

And if you haven’t heard the news: We the Living was honored at Il Cinema Ritrovato (Cinema Rediscovered) on June 27, 2022, in Bologna, Italy. Il Cinema Ritrovato is the world’s major festival of film restoration. This brought the movie to the attention of distributors of classic films. Discussions with three of those companies are underway.

Also, a sneak preview of We the Living was shown on July 5th at OCON, the Objectivist Summer Conference hosted by the Ayn Rand Institute. Over 350 people attended the screening and several hundred more attended a one-hour presentation on the history of the film. These events heightened awareness of the upcoming release among a key audience—fans of Ayn Rand’s works.

A theatrical booking service has been engaged and is now setting up art house theater engagements in New York City and Los Angeles. These two markets are critical to the successful launch of any film, but they are particularly important for bringing attention to a newly restored film classic. Other cities across North America and overseas will be added as the general release of the film gets underway. After the theatrical release, it will be distributed to home video, video-on-demand, and to educational markets.

The premiere engagement had been long planned for the fall of 2022, but for strategic distribution reasons, it will be a few months later. October to December is “award season” in the movie industry. During the flurry of award-qualifying screenings, theater availability is very limited and the movie would not get maximum attention from the media.

We the Living 80th Anniversary Restoration will open as early as possible in 2023. We will be excited to announce to you the specific theaters and dates as soon as these engagements are confirmed.

Stay tuned!

We the Living 80

BB, EC, BCS: A Dialectical Unity

There are no spoilers here, after the grand finale of “Better Call Saul” (BCS). But after finishing what is, in my view, one of the best written, well-acted, finely-plotted television series I’ve ever seen, I am now convinced more than ever that one cannot reasonably separate “BCS” from its predecessors, “Breaking Bad” (BB) and “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie” (EC). There is an organic unity to these shows that deeply enriches one’s experience of each show, such that the universe they constitute is more than the sum of its parts.

Recently, I began re-watching BB, and noticed just how much more I am appreciating that series in light of the backstories the writers created with BCS. Likewise, BCS cannot possibly be fully appreciated in the absence of BB (and EC, which expands on aspects of the BB story). Each is an extension of the other; each could not be what it is in the absence of the other. They are the very exemplars of a dialectical sensibility, both constituting and being shaped by the wider context of which they are a part.

Above all, the universe that Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould gave us is epic storytelling at its best. I will miss it—but return to it, and hopefully write about it much more extensively than I can here. Suffice it to say, I am not suggesting that the creators of this franchise had all the plotlines worked out from the very beginning. Of course they didn’t! But as their stories unfolded, as their characters came to life, there was an evolution in both the plot and its central players that was almost inexorable. That is what makes the achievement all the more remarkable—that its creators didn’t know from the beginning where it would go, even as they propelled us toward such a well-integrated conclusion.

Bravo to the creators, writers, directors, production teams, and to the terrific actors who delivered performances that humored us, enraged us, touched us, and broke our hearts. Bravo to this great franchise for delivering an unforgettable ride.

Check out the nice discussion of this on Facebook. Therein, I compare the BB/BCS “epic” to another: “The Godfather Epic.” In response to a point that Ayn Rand would have dismissed BB as the “dead end of naturalism,” I stated:

I don’t think BB should be dismissed because of its naturalism. Though Rand never wrote on it, producer Al Ruddy told me that he provided her with a private screening of “The Godfather”, which deeply impressed her. It is what convinced her that he could be the man to bring “Atlas Shrugged” to the screen. (This later fell apart because he refused to give her final script approval; as it happens, he now owns the film rights!)

Sometimes you can depict the importance of values by showing what happens in their absence, or, more tragically, what happens when you choose “bad” means of trying to preserve “good” ends. That is precisely what “Breaking Bad” depicts in painful detail. Indeed, I’d argue that there are very strong parallels between the “Godfather Epic” and the epic that constitutes the BB/BCS narrative. But that’s a post for another day.

Bob Odenkirk—who would go on to star in “Better Call Saul”—tells us, with regard to his final moments on the set of “Breaking Bad”, that Vince Gilligan provides people with an illustration of the ways in which bad decisions create severe unintended consequences that undermine the human ability to survive and flourish. (Indeed, I think Rand herself does this in her most ‘naturalistic’ of novels, “We the Living”, which shows how the “airtight” environment of totalitarianism destroys the human capacity to either survive or flourish.)

Check out Odenkirk’s comments here.

I made these additional comments on two other threads. In response to those who would attempt a chronological reordering of the BB/BCS landscape, similar to that in “The Godfather Epic,” I wrote:

It worked a lot better in “The Godfather Epic” IMHO than it ever could in the BB-BCS universe, especially because in the Epic, they added over 50 deleted scenes to the chronology and kept intact a key flashback scene toward the end. I understand why Coppola in “Godfather II” chose to counterpose the rise of young Vito and the loss of his son Michael’s soul … but I think a lot gets lost in the translation and so much is gained in the reshuffling of that story, chronologically, especially with those added scenes that were not in the theatrical releases. I think it would do a lot of damage to the artistry of BCS if somebody reshuffled those scenes, so I agree wholeheartedly on that score.

And in response to this article in The Guardian, which hails BCS as “more profound” than BB, I wrote:

Insofar as it is possible to evaluate BCS singularly, it is the greater achievement. But I don’t think that can be done reasonably. It would not have been what it became without BB, and BB is all the more enriched because we now have BCS. They constitute an organic whole, IMHO. Can’t be sundered or separated without doing damage to our overall conception of their universe.

Major League Sportsmanship from the Little Leaguers

After the batter was hit by a pitch and takes first base, he comforts the pitcher… who is so obviously shaken up. Now granted, this wasn’t a purposeful drilling. But I can think of a few major league ballplayers who can take lessons from the kids on great sportsmanship.

Check out more on this story here.

40 Years Later: 1982 Films Still Having an Impact

Check out this NY Times article, “Five Sci-Fi Classics, One Summer: How 1982 Shaped Our Present.” This is a really interesting read on 5 films from 1982 that are still having an impact on the sci-fi genre 40 years later: “ET, The Extra-Terrestrial,” “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” “Blade Runner,” “Tron,” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing“.

Also see the discussion on Facebook.

Vin Scully, RIP

A great baseball broadcaster, Vin Scully (1927-2022), has died at the age of 94. Check out retrospectives on the life of the man who started broadcasting for the Dodgers back in 1950, when they were still in Brooklyn! 67 seasons, not only as the Voice of the Dodgers but of so many memorable moments in baseball history …

In the NY Times here and here, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and MLB. It was actually through the NY Yankees that I learned of Scully’s passsing late last night; they put up a loving tribute to him. Also: check out Mike Lupica’s tribute.

Vin Scully (from Wikipedia)

Notablog: 20 Years, 3500 Posts

On July 26, 2002, I posted my first Notablog entry. It was to announce the New York Daily News publication on that date of my essay, “From The Fountainhead: Howard Roark“, part of the newspaper’s series, “Big Town Classic Characters: New Yorkers of the American Imagination.”

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of that first post. And this just so happens to be my 3,500th blog post in two decades. And if you believe this is a total coincidence, I got a nice bridge in Brooklyn I can sell you!

I started posting on Notablog when it was on the NYU server (archives of all those posts, July 26, 2002 to August 1, 2020 can be found here). On August 1, 2020, I migrated to my own Notablog.net.

Speaking of dates, it was back on May 14, 2022 that my long-time friend Roger Bissell said, tongue-in-cheek, “Chris himself has a long-running internet presence he styles in delightfully quasi-Hegelian fashion as ‘Notablog’.” Though I clearly have my quasi-Hegelian tendencies, I have indeed long been asked why I call what is obviously a blog, “Notablog”. As I explained on February 15, 2005:

Some readers have wondered why I continue to call this site “Not a Blog,” even though it seems to become more blog-like with each passing week. Well, it’s going to stay “Not a Blog”—though from now on it will appear with closed spaces between the words: “Notablog.” That phrase can just as easily be viewed as an acronym for “None Of The Above Blog” (as suggested here) or “Nota Blog” (as suggested here), recalling the Latin phrase “Nota Bene,” featuring entries on topics of which one might take particular notice.  

In any event, I’m happy that I’ve not let up in twenty years. I hope to continue blogging for a long time to come, and to continue sharing some of the blog’s contents on Facebook as well!

Postscript: Discussion of this post can be found on Facebook. Also: Much thanks to Tom Knapp for his kind congrats!

Song of the Day #1954

Song of the Day: Strawberry Fields Forever is considered part of the Lennon-McCartney Songbook, but John Lennon was its composer. In the wake of his tragic death, a section of New York City’s Central Park was declared Strawberry Fields, where his ashes were scattered by Yoko Ono in 1981. The song, recorded by The Beatles, was released as a double-A side single (along with “Penny Lane“) in 1967. It had a huge impact on the development of the emerging psychedlic genre and is credited as a pioneering work in music video. Check out that video, as well as a really cool jazzy rendition by the Nick Grondin Group and a Latin-tinged rendition by vocalist Karen Souza [YouTube links].

Dexter the Dog

Dexter the Dog … an inspiration, from Ouray, Colorado (the place that inspired Galt’s Gulch in Ayn Rand‘s Atlas Shrugged) …

“The Dialectics of Liberty” Reviewed in RAE

I was notified today of a wonderful review of The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom (2019, Lexington Books) which I coedited with Roger Bissell and Ed Younkins. “Freedom in Context” by Alexander W. Craig, appears in the current Review of Austrian Economics. An excerpt from that review is on the book’s homepage.

Perhaps the following remarks fall under the category of “reviewing a review” of a book, but, in my opinion, Craig provides the most insightful and profoundly dialectical discussion of this eclectic volume yet published. In short: He gets it! What he has to say about a dialectical mode of inquiry is worthy enough to have been included in the anthology. He writes:

The contributors to ‘The Dialectics of Liberty’ demonstrate that libertarians can engage in a careful context-sensitive analysis of social behavior and political ideals. The book refutes the notion that libertarians must be insensitive to nuances in social environments and reliant on a woefully oversimplified conception of individuals, businesses, and governments. In this review, I first discuss the nature of dialectics, making explicit the mostly implicit definition running between the chapters of ‘The Dialectics’. I then summarize several of the chapters, synthesizing from them generalizable lessons about what Austrian economists and classical liberal scholars more generally can learn by being mindful of social context, synthesizing disparate ideas, and transcending dichotomies. …

Where logic supplies the principles whereby one may validly move from premise to conclusion and empirics discover the line between what is actual and what is merely possible, dialectics serves to keep the analyst mindful of how propositions surrounding the main object of study may change the meaning of facts under discussion. … Although all data is theory-laden, data never speaks for itself, etc., one can often take these data as they are and proceed, the empirical stage of research now giving way to the analysis stage. Logic retrospectively analyzes an argument and declares its conclusion valid or invalid based on the premises, which it has relatively little ability to discuss in themselves. Dialectics, however, is an approach to active inquiry. It makes recommendations about how an investigator might make progress in understanding a subject. Many issues one encounters in ongoing research are not so much questions of the internal and external validity of one’s empirics or the logical validity of one’s argument. They are issues of relevance and salience. …

This orientation towards the active process of investigation raises two more salient features of dialectical thinking: tacking between subjects; and transcending divides. In many situations, a researcher must find their place between at least two alternatives that are in tension with one another. … Dialectics often proceeds by transcending such dichotomies by situating them within a context. …

[The] deliberate intention to think dialectically about one’s work is likely to yield fruit for Austrian economists and classical liberal scholars. … [This book] succeeds in demonstrating the existence and value of dialectical thinkers. It is a stimulating series of inspirations for further work, and a useful reference for many interesting directions of contemporary libertarian scholarship. I would be pleased to see more scholars ask themselves not only ‘Is my evidence compelling?’ and ‘Is my argument sound?’ but also ‘Have I considered the context carefully?’

The review consists of a nice survey of many of the articles within the book. I heartily recommend the review—and the book (!)—to your attention! Readers can pick up a heavily discounted autographed copy of the volume from the C4SS Store.

James Caan, RIP

I first saw the Bronx-born James Caan in a heartbreaking 1971 ABC Movie of the Week, “Brian’s Song“, about the life of Chicago Bears football player Brian Piccolo, who died of cancer at the age of 26. The poignant story was told through the eyes of Piccolo’s friend, Gale Sayers (played by Billy Dee Williams).

Nothing in that tearjerker of a film, about the deep friendship of two men from different backgrounds and different races, could have prepared me for Caan’s explosive portrayal of Sonny Corleone in the 1972 film, “The Godfather“, for which he received an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor (along with two of his costars, Robert Duvall and Al Pacino). In 1999, his hilarious sendup as another mob character in “Mickey Blue Eyes” showed yet another side to his talent. And in a standout performance opposite the Oscar-winning Kathy Bates, he made us feel the “Misery” in the 1990 film adaptation of the novel by Stephen King. He was in nearly 70 films in a career that spanned from the early 1960s thru 2021, from “Lady in a Cage” and “Cinderella Liberty” to “Funny Lady“, “Rollerball” and “Elf“.

I was saddened to learn that James Caan died yesterday at the age of 82. RIP. [See some discussion on my Facebook post.]

James Caan (1940-2022)