Monday, July 13, 2009

The Economist Film Review

"I’ll have that brand on enough beef to feed the whole country. Good beef for hungry people. Beef to make them strong, to make them grow."
--John Wayne in Red River (1948)

The Economist doesn't do film reviews, but after watching Red River again for the first time in years, I think they should.
If they can publish such amusing obituaries, I'm sure they could round up someone to write irreverant, insightful, and interesting pieces about the role of economics in film. And funny, of course.

Red River's emotional core is the competition and love between fathers and sons. This pair (John Wayne and Montgomery Clift) has different kinds of masculinity--the actors are perfectly cast to show that--and different ways of getting the meat to market, literally. Wayne is a brute whom men fear, an old-fashioned model of manhood who takes what he wants. Clift is more democratic--his men follow him because they like and respect him. He has a gun, of course, but he doesn't use it except in a game of compare and contrast with his fellow cowboy Cherry Valence (John Ireland, above).

This post-World War II film suggests that while the nation needed brute force to tame it, a modern nation needs a more flexible, diplomatic touch... Could it have been subtle propaganda for the new United Nations? The Marshall Plan? I have no clue.
It would take someone who knew economic history--and film history--and who had a sense of humor to write this column well. Does such a person exist?
I think it's a great idea, anyway, which I'm throwing out there.
I watched Picnic again too, and noted the grain elevators, serviced by the railroad William Holden rides into town on--and then out again.
That film is more about sex as a commodity than grain, but it's all tied together. The mother tries to convince her daughter Madge (Kim Novak) to use her sexuality--her only marketable skill--to get her rich boyfriend, whose family owns the granaries, to propose to her.

But Madge wants to be a free agent, and is attracted to the Holden character, who is an economic loser, but physically quite a towering pillar himself...
Now that I've launched into this idea about economics and film, it occurs to me I should google it. And I find a course
Economics in Popular Film offered at Mt. Holyoke College.

And, hey! the same prof offers (or offered in 2006, anyway) The Politico-Cultural Economic Analysis of Star Trek.

The course description doesn't promise witty, irreverant material for my proposed column, though:
"This course introduces students to political economy, post-structuralist methodology, and the application of economic theory to an important body of cultural artifacts [Star Trek]."
But maybe if you shake it out vigorously, something amusing would fall out?

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