Dispatches from the Frozen Land: What’s To Be Done?

Otto von Bismarck never actually said that oft-attributed phrase “laws are like sausages,” but I’m sure someone, at some point, said that about showbiz.  It doesn’t have to be that way, it shouldn’t be that way, plenty of us thought it wasn’t that way anymore, but here we are.  I feel like a vile, mocking voice out of the past is screaming, “See, look, for all your thoughts of progress my horrors are still with you.”

I’m not naive enough to think that harassment, exploitation, and abuse were exorcised from the makings of movies – there has been plenty of evidence to the contrary.  What strikes me this week is the prevalence, and the shrugging in the face of that prevalence, of grotesque behavior at the highest levels of Hollywood.   If one of the top producers in the business has been getting away with this filth for this long, what else is going on that hasn’t been reported yet?

It brings me to question what’s to be done, not just with the people responsible, that’s obvious (or at least should be obvious), but what’s to be done with the art?  We could gather a bunch of Miramax DVD’s and burn them in the town square for all to see.   We’d be creating one heck of a bonfire, to potentially no end except for momentary catharsis and permanent air pollution.  Besides, film is a collaborative artform.  Should the hundreds of people who worked on these films be punished for the actions of one of the lead producers?

I think we can separate art from its process by placing it in context.  Once we start censoring and boycotting any artistic expression, that’s the beginning of the end.  That seems easy, but it’s not.  Lauding the art and ignoring the process enables that process.  After all, that’s why Weinstein got away with it for so long.  If his movies had failed fewer people would have put up with his criminal behavior.

So what can be done? First, the industry needs to shine light on other abusers and scumbags.  Second, the industry needs to deny short-term rewards to these people.  This is easier said than done.

The first depends on people working in an industry where the most vulnerable are the least free to speak out.  “You’ll never work in this town again” is a real threat in Hollywood.  The second depends on audiences, critics, and awarding organizations knowing about the behavior and punishing it by staying away.  This is problematic because it potentially punishes a lot of hard-working cinematographers, makeup artists, set designers, etc. who may have had nothing to do with the actions of an actor/director/producer.  Action needs to be taken before these productions start, not long afterwards.

I’m encouraged by the voices that have been out there this past week, but the pressure needs to be kept up.  Things can change, but if we lose focus, that’s how the status quo resumes.  With that, I hope this past week is the start of something big, rather than a blip on the radar.

(c) 2017 D.G. McCabe






2016 Year in Review

“When she [Philosophy] saw that the Muses of poetry were present by my couch giving words to my lamenting, she was stirred a while; her eyes flashed fiercely, and said she, “Who has suffered these seducing mummers to approach this sick man? Never do they support those in sorrow by any healing remedies, but rather do ever foster the sorrow by poisonous sweets. These are they who stifle the fruit-bearing harvest of reason with the barren briars of the passions: they free not the minds of men from disease, but accustom them thereto.””

– Boethius

What of 2016?  As the Roman philosopher Boethius wrote of his consolation by Lady Philosophy, we have a choice.  We can indulge in our lamentations, or we can, through our reason, find a way forward.  Perhaps we can let Lady Philosophy take it from here to guide us in this way.

I thought of many muses to guide me through this past year, when a woman came to me in classical robes.  She was at once as tall as a giant, yet comforting and approachable.  Then she began to speak.

“I see you, reading the various years in review of 2016 to draw inspiration for this annual post,” she began, “I see nothing but hot takes and articles dripping with lament or sarcasm.   Let me assure you, this 2016 had its positive aspects.”

2016 Was a Good Year to Be…

1) Animators

Lady Philosophy continued, “Behold my friend, for the medium of animation, that artform long taken for granted, had a very strong 2016.  Six of the twenty top grossing movies of the year were animated.  With each passing decade, animation continues to bring inspiration and joy without the limitations of live action film. 2016 was in many ways a landmark year in this regard.”

2) HBO

“I should also point out to you that a great year need not mean a consistently great one wire to wire.  If something is felled low by the failure of an ill-conceived vanity project about classic rock in the spring, it can rise again through the premiere for two excellent shows in the fall.  Westworld has broken HBO’s losing streak when it comes to new dramas, and Insecure has continued its success in popular comedies”

3) Broadway

“If it is further inspiration you seek, behold the resurgence of the Great White Way as a force in American popular culture.  Hamilton was the most popular musical in decades, and live broadcasts of musicals on network television are exceptionally popular.  Indeed, one of this year’s top Oscar contenders, “La-La Land,” is a Hollywood musical of the old style.”

2016 Was a Bad Year to Be

1) A Franchise from the 1980’s or 1990’s

Lady Philosophy continued.  “While there were failures in 2016, I would counsel to learn from them rather than merely list them in a vain and sarcastic manner.  Box Office disappointments from the Ninja Turtles, Ghostbusters, Independence Day, and Zoolander sequels should not be seen as affecting those fine memories of past success, but rather stand as stark reminders that not everything deserves a reboot or a sequel.”

2) “A List” Hollywood Marriages

“I also prescribe an end to your consideration of the troubled Depp/Heard and Pitt/Jolie marriages.  As troubling as the allegations associated with these divorces are, it is important to remember that you don’t know these people.  You will never meet them.  Their relationships have no impact on your life whatsoever.”

3) Internet and Social Media

“At last, I see that you are troubled by what you read on the internet and on social media platforms.  It might feel as though you cannot escape the constant stream of opinion and information.  You might feel that this has damaged your interactions with your fellows beyond repair, or trapped you in a vicious cycle of anger and mistrust.  Let me assure you that the old ways are still alive.  You can read a book and discuss it with a friend.  You can watch a movie with your significant other and discuss it over snacks afterwards.  You might feel the need to broadcast your feelings to the masses, but I would counsel you to remember that your friends and family are much more receptive to your ideas than the faceless void of the internet will ever be.”

Best Movies

Lady Philosophy cautioned me against creating a list of best movies this year.  She said to me, “Indeed you have not seen enough movies to truly make an honest “best of” list.  But keep in mind that such lists are flawed.  They lack the distance truly needed to examine and appreciate film as an artform.  As much as you enjoyed “Captain America: Civil War,” can you say it is the best blockbuster of the year when you haven’t seen the new Star Wars movie yet?  As for artistic films, look at past years.  Does anyone really believe, with the proper distance, that “Crash,” “The English Patient,” or “The Greatest Show on Earth”  were worthy of Best Picture Oscars?  I would advise against indulging in such listicles.”

Dispatches from the Great Ale House in the Sky

This year, Lady Philosophy especially wanted to talk about the Great Ale House in the Sky.  She said, “I will prescribe the strongest medicine of all to help you acknowledge the many fine artists that left you this past year.  It is medicine that you, yourself, have often shared.

“Remember, it is the story that matters, not how long it lasts or how it ends.  Artists and inventors have the greatest stories of all, for their influence stays with us the longest and carries us all forward.  If it is useful for you to imagine these great artists together, I will partially indulge in this fantasy, but I will do so in a way that will help you, rather than a way that extends your sorrow.

“Perhaps this Ale House is in the form of a great music festival, where Prince, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, George Michael and others come together.  You could find great joy in that fantasy.  But you need not – for the music is still there.

“Or maybe, you imagine that Carrie Fisher, Alan Rickman, Florence Henderson, Abe Vigoda, Gene Wilder, Kenny Baker and others are still in talks for various roles.  These people may have never met in life, but it is fun to think about them doing so in your Great Ale House in the Sky.  I would advise an alternative – put on their films and television shows.  You can even do so with the fights of Muhammad Ali – which are readily available on the internet.”

And with that, Lady Philosophy left me in a better place.  The place that honors rather than mourns.  The place that learns from the mistakes of others.  The place that sees and emphasizes the positive.  There is great strength and great joy here.

(c) 2016 D.G. McCabe



Movies by State: So It’s Come Down to This…

Movies By State Map

And we’re back!  After the usual summer hiatus, I’m back publishing articles.  I’m going to start by wrapping up a project I got about halfway through last summer: Movies by State.  You may ask, interested reader, does this mean another 10 or so posts with detailed analysis?  No!  Instead we’re just going to mop this project up in one fell swoop.


One day I’ll do Minnesota justice with a long post, but today I’m just going to quickly summarize.  Let me start by pointing out that a number of movies are set in the North Star State, more than one would think given the New York/LA bias of movie settings.  Fargo (1996) is probably the best known.  The Coen Brothers grew up in St. Louis Park, MN right outside of Minneapolis, so Minnesota references tend to crop up in their movies pretty often.  A Serious Man (2009), one of the Coen’s bleaker efforts, is also set here.

Need a state to set your hockey or winter movie?  Hollywood usually picks Minnesota.  The Mighty Ducks series (1992, 1994, 1996), Jingle All the Way (1996), Miracle (2004), Inside Out (2015), meet this description, although they are films of varying quality to say the least.

Choosing a non-Fargo “definitive” movie set in Minnesota is a tough one.  I would call it a draw between Purple Rain (1984) and Juno (2007).  These movies couldn’t be more different, but that gets to the heart of the matter.  When a state is at once Western, Midwestern, and Northern, it’s hard to pin down with a “definitive” film.


We’re starting to get into Western country, and not just the region, but the genre.  Films set in the Mountain West and Southwest tend to be Westerns.  Montana is no different, although the modern Western tends to dominate with films such as The Horse Whisperer (1998), Legends of the Fall (1994), A River Runs Through It (1992) and The Revenant (2015).

Oddly enough, arguably the best Star Trek movie (at least tied with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)) has large portions set in Montana.  Star Trek: First Contact (1996) takes the best parts of the Next Generation series and successfully translates them to film.  It includes call backs to some of the best episodes of the Next Generation series and the Original Series for good measure.


While Washington State finds itself home to a few notable teen movies, such as The Twilight Series (2008-2012), and 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), films about extraordinary animals seem to be the main attraction.  These include Harry and the Hendersons (1987), Air Bud (1997), and Free Willy (1993).

For more definitive Washington State films, one should check out either Nora Ephron’s Sleepless in Seattle (1993) or Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971).  These are two very different films about the things that isolate us.  One is positive, one is not.


For movies set in the Pacific Northwest, Oregon doesn’t get nearly as much love as its northern neighbor.  The films set here tend to be a mixture of old, mostly forgotten westerns like 1946’s Canyon Passage or random films like Short Circuit (1986).

Fortunately for the State of Oregon, one of the heavy hitters of cinema history is set here too.  1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is one of only three movies to win Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay.


There are a lot of potatoes in Idaho, but not a lot of movies set there.  2004’s Napoleon Dynamite is probably the best known to modern audiences, or any audiences for that matter.


Wyoming is home to a surprising number of important movies. Heaven’s Gate (1980) was such a massive flop that it brought down an entire studio and effectively ended the career of director Michael Cimino (although its reputation has improved over the years).  As for traditional westerns, Spencer’s Mountain (1963) is key Henry Fonda film, Shane (1953) is considered by many critics as one of the top echelon of old Hollywood movies, and The Virginian was once such a popular tale that they made four movies about it (1914, 1923, 1929, 1946).

For a definitive movie for Wyoming, for breaking conventions but also for being a damn good story, I’m picking 2005’s Brokeback Mountain, whose reputation has only grown more positive in the last eleven years, even after being widely acclaimed when it first came out.  A close second is 1992’s Unforgiven.


Colorado is pretty fertile ground for movie settings, especially movies involving mountains.  There are “weirdos in the mountains” movies like Misery (1987), skiing in the mountains movies like Dumb and Dumber (1994), fire in the mountains movies like Always (1989), and chaos in the mountains movies like South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut (1999).

Needless to say, the definitive Colorado movie is also set in the mountains.  Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) plants itself firmly in the first category of weirdos in the mountains.  Dangerous, axe murdering weirdos that is.


John Ford famously filmed a ton of movies in Utah.  Unfortunately most of them are “set” in Texas.  There aren’t a ton of notable films set in the Beehive state.  Carnival of Souls (1962), 127 Hours (2010), and Con Air (1997) pretty much sum up the selection – the strange, the independent, and the violent.


Viva Las Vegas!  No, seriously, if it weren’t for Sin City there’d be like two movies set in Nevada.  I should note that one of them is The Godfather: Part II (1974), although much of that movies is also set in New York, Florida, Cuba, and Italy.

As for Vegas films, there are no shortage.  Both Ocean’s Eleven (1960 and 2001), Swingers (1996), Rain Man (1988), Leaving Las Vegas 1995), and Showgirls (1995) are a few examples, many of which came out in the mid-90’s.  It’s hard to call a definitive Vegas movie, although 1995’s Casino has pretty much all the elements that you expect from the Vegas strip: sleaze, flashiness, and knockoffs.  In this case, Casino is essentially a re-run of Goodfellas, although with a juicer part for Robert DeNiro.

New Mexico

The most iconic film set in New Mexico is not a film at all, rather the TV series Breaking Bad.  Otherwise, it’s mostly Westerns set here, like Stagecoach (1939), For a Few Dollars More (1965), High Noon (1952), and City Slickers (1991).

There’s quite a few random films you wouldn’t think of set here too, such as Thor (2011), the High School Musical series, Natural Born Killers (1994), and Contact (1997).


Arizona has a similar profile to New Mexico when it comes to films set there.  There are random movies, such as Raising Arizona (1987)and Little Miss Sunshine (2011), but mostly it’s westerns set here.  My Darling Clementine (1946), Tombstone (1993), 3:10 to Yuma (1957) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)  are some examples.

The most iconic Arizona movie?  By far Psycho (1960), which is a contender for best American film overall.


The Hawai’i movie usually involves some combination of surfing, beaches, and vacation.  Movies such as Lilo and Stitch (2002), Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008), Blue Hawaii (1961), and North Shore (1987) meet this description.

That isn’t to say that all Hawai’i movies are fun and games.  Consider for example The Descendants (2011) or Tora Tora Tora (1970).  Indeed, the most iconic Hollywood film set in Hawai’i is From Here to Eternity (1953), which is about the waning days before the bombing at Pearl Harbor.


Movies set in Alaska usually involve sled dogs such as Balto (1995)  or the Alaska Gold Rush, such as North to Alaska (1960).  Insomnia (2002), Mystery, Alaska (1999), and The Grey (2011) are set in The Last Frontier too.

The most iconic Alaska film is one of the oldest Hollywood classics.  The Gold Rush (1925) is commonly cited as one of the finest silent films.  Considering that his later masterpieces had some element of sound effects or speech in them, it could also be considered Charlie Chaplin’s finest purely silent film.


How many American films do you think are set in California?  I would guess roughly every 2 or 3 out of five.  Hollywood may have mastered the art of filming far away lands in Southern California back-lots, but when they are reaching for a setting, the American film industry has a tendency to settle in its own backyard.  I’ve avoided “top 5” or “top 10” lists in this project, but I’ve decided that it’s the easiest way to talk about films set in the Golden State.  Here, therefore, are your top 10 California films in alphabetical order:

  • Back to the Future (1985)
  • Blazing Saddles (1974)
  • Chinatown (1974)
  • Double Indemnity (1944)
  • East of Eden (1955)
  • The Graduate (1967)
  • The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
  • Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
  • Sunset Boulevard (1950)
  • Vertigo (1958)

Feel free to disagree with the above list.

Anyway that’s (finally) a wrap on Movies by State.

(c) 2016 D.G. McCabe