In the wake of the 'Best Picture' win by Green Book, which film we'd seen several months ago, we celebrated heartily Sunday night. However, we could scarcely believe all the snark, moaning and whining by the losers (and a bevy of critics, and would be critics) in the aftermath. It almost seemed like every loser or misfit with a grudge had crawled out of the woodwork to direct twitter fire or mount attack articles at the award. Even Spike Lee who'd already received his first Oscar (for best adapted screenplay) "lost it" and compared the award to an NBA ref making a "bad call." Whereupon Janice wondered what he'd been inhaling with that little vaping pipe at the Oscars.
In particular, it seems to be the film's racial tropes "have been around too long", and were more apropos to a period 50-60 years ago in the Jim Crow era? WTF!? Hello! That is when the events on which the film is based took place! DOH! So no, it doesn't need to be "woke" to that degree in today's hip parlance. But still, wifey and I could not believe all the caterwauling that emerged after the big win, as if every little dingbat who believed he or she had skin in the Oscar's game had to toss in their two cents. That included overpaid, art-obsessed critics like the LA Times' Justin Chang who wrote the movie was an "insult to viewers' intelligence".
Janice could only shake her head in dismay and say: "Well, maybe to his rarefied intellect which resides somewhere between cloud nine and the elevated heights of art film genre!" In other words, films that virtually no real, red-blooded human actually goes to see - say like the black and white silent flick, 'The Artist' - when the Academy really screwed the pooch on the Best Picture.
But 'Green Book'? No way! Delightfully entertaining and engrossing all the way, never mind it's a "buddy movie" and "road trip film" rolled into one. It is the dynamic that plays out between the two lead characters (Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali as Don Shirley) and which we see transforms each one during their tour of the Deep South, when blacks had to go by the "Green Book" to determine where they could lay their heads at night, if traveling.
Some complainers, like the Shirley family (Don's nephew Edwin Shirley III and brother Maurice) insisted the film was "a symphony of lies" because Don Shirley didn't actually go to musical venues to perform as the film portrays. So what? Ever heard of artistic license? And while we're at it, Spike Lee needs to take a chill pill after pitching a hissy fit (waving his arms in anger and trying to leave the Dolby theater) when the last award was announced. Don't look now, but Spike took his own liberties with the book 'BlacKkKlansman' by inserting a Jew (Adam Driver's character) into the script when no actual Jewish person was ever involved in the book's account.
As for the curmudgeon critics and other whiners and detractors now hurling rotten tomatoes in the aftermath of the win, they need to get a grip, climb down from their sour grapes roosts, rarefied arts perches and pay attention. As Variety noted:
"When “Green Book” premiered at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, the response to it was ecstatic. Audiences gave it rapturous ovations and voted it their favorite movie of the festival, and critics swooned. Many of us felt that “Green Book,” directed with grace and crack timing by Peter Farrelly (from a script he co-wrote with Nick Vallelonga and Brian Hayes Currie), was a crowd-pleaser in the best way — a feel-good movie, yes, but one built around a series of honest observations about what it showed you. The dialogue went ping without calling attention to itself (William Goldman, I think, would have approved), and you could use the movie in a master class for acting."
(Highlighted section from yours truly.)
Variety did go on to give some agreement with critics' top pet peeves in terms of the specific telling, i.e"
"That said, there’s no denying that the tropes that thread through “Green Book” have been around a long time. It’s a buddy movie. And a road movie. And a Hollywood liberal message movie, set in the days of Civil Rights and Jim Crow, in which a white guy and a black guy start off by taking the stuffing out of each other until they gradually get to be friends. “Green Book” has been compared to “Driving Miss Daisy” due to its racial theme (and hired-driver plot), but when I first saw it the movie it reminded me of, in a funny way, was “Rain Man,” another on-the-road two-hander that elevated formula to artistry."
To which I say, 'So what?' Those of us who went to see it did so as ordinary, (hoi polloi) theater goers not artistes, or grads of Julliard or Yale Drama School. We weren't sitting there with note pads in hands, ticking off every imagined minor plot transgression or whether it fit our expectations of what a best picture caliber film ought to be - say like the farrago of pretentious rubbish from that twerp Justin Chang, e.g.
So why the bitch fest now? The same Variety piece offers, I think, one of the best insights, apart from all the side show hullaballoo that erupted which reminds me of the ancillary noise that accompanied Ron Howard's film 'A Beautiful Mind'. (Trying to attack mathematician John Nash for not being "woke" enough. ) As if every little jealous meat head who believes he has skin in the game - is compelled to comment or critique. My biggest beef is with the imposition of so-called "wokeness" on a film portraying an era in which "woke" meant one had just awakened as his alarm went off. It had nada to do with some higher level of consciousness, or transcendent moral sensibility.
"Those who are woke claim, through their very wokeness, to have allegiance to one thing: the transcendent morality of their cause. "
Let's pause right there to call 'bullshit!' In fact, there is no "transcendent" morality in any cause, or any code, including that of the RC Church. Buddhist philosopher Alan Watts perhaps provided some of the best insights when in his book, 'The Wisdom Of Insecurity' - he quoted (p. 111) Emerson: "Your goodness must have an edge to it, else there is none."
In other words, there is never perfect, seamless or absolute goodness. Goodness has bounds and limits on account of humans' possessing a defective brain, which retains more ancient regions that compromise reflective thought. This means the person who strives to be absolutely good or moral will be exposed sooner or later as a pretender and plaster saint, with feet of clay. Anyone recall the holy roller televangelist, Jimmy Swaggart?
Watts goes further than merely accepting the edge of goodness by noting (ibid.):
"For all the qualities which we admire or loathe in the world around us are reflections from within... "
In essence, we are beings already enfolded in a biological and neurological matrix replete with its own negative moral potentials. It is as impossible to escape from these limiting potentials as to escape one's own shadow. Hence, "goodness" exists not as some separate pinnacle or absolute standard of decency and moral perfection but a relative aspiration which we can only seek within the limits of our own understanding and conscience.
The achievable morality then - which is attainable within this limiting matrix - can never be "transcendent" because no one can escape the material matrix. But given we are grounded in an imperfect world and universe this is as good as it gets, no pun intended. What was it philospher N. M. Wildiers wrote? "An evolving world and a perfect world are two mutually exclusive propositions."
To which he might have added the corollary: "In an evolving world all aspirations to perfect or transcendent moral behavior are futile."
Thus, we can seek a functional moral individualism, imbued with relativism and provisionalism. This moral individualism entails each person acting according to the dictates of his or her conscience - while grasping that conscience itself may not be perfect- in terms of moral sensibility or moral knowledge.
Overlaid on this, however, we can invoke or appeal to provisional ethics such as described by Michael Shermer in his book, 'The Science of Good and Evil. Thus:
“In provisional ethics moral choices correspond to scientific facts in being provisionally right or wrong, where moral or immoral means confirmed to an extent that it would be reasonable to offer provisional assent. It remains provisional because, as in science, the evidence might change. “
This is crucial to note, because once ethics -morality is tied to science, say evolutionary ethics, then the aspiration to moral absolutism (and transcendence) becomes redundant. So those who tie "wokeness" to the latter are operating on a false premise as well as wasting their time and energy.
Let's go on to further insights on cultural wokeness in the context of the movie, Green Book:
"Yet woke culture, as practiced in America in 2018, also carries an undercurrent of competition. As in: How woke are you? Not as woke as me! I’ll see you one courageous, self-lacerating woke insight and raise you two! In this atmosphere of a never-ending contest of righteous one-upmanship fought out on Twitter, the middlebrow Hollywood liberal attitudes on display in “Green Book” can look like something from a vanished world of movies that pretend to liberate but really just pander. “Green Book” has been condemned, in certain circles, as if it were a racially stodgy and unenlightened embarrassment — the “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” of 2018 awards ."
This is absolutely true when one reads some of the vacuous, even ridiculous complaints and tweets based on this "wokeness" meme. In effect, the Woke-ites have lost their marbles and are judging a film retelling 1950s-60s events with 1950s-60s characters using subjective current standards that are as irrelevant as they are unreal. (Again, refer above to why moral transcendence is impossible and indeed, incoherent, because it implies humans can become literal angels). In this nonsensical context , of course "woke" competition is possible given it embraces the delusions Alan Watts excoriates in another monograph, Does It Matter? Know what? Both Janice and I revel in the "unenlightened embarrassment" of older flicks like 'Guess Who's Coming To Dinner', as well as 'Heat of the Night' and yes, 'Green Book'. And if that means we grovel in "middlebrow Hollywood liberal attitude" so be it. At least we aren't duped into the delusionary twaddle of moral "transcendence" or trying to be more "woke" than others!
Most spot on - and here's a redress for those snippy critics like Justin Chang:
"But really, what is the movie’s crime? It’s based on a true story, which it tells with considerable depth. It’s not trying to make a grand statement about race except for the idea that white people and black people, to the extent that their backgrounds and experiences separate them, should try to understand each other better. Sorry, but I must have missed the place where that became a reactionary message."
Again, in the mythological land of the latter day Woke-ites, this perception of the reactionary message is totally possible. To the Woke-ites and their illusory standards it is natural to make the perfect the enemy of the good, or almost good. Never mind the latter more conforms to the Emerson ideal of goodness having an edge, the Woke-ites want no part of it. Oh no. Their goodness is transcendent and has no "edge". Hence, by extension, any characters in a movie about race relations (or the actors) must have no edge. How dare that Viggo Mortensen utter the N-word in an impromptu interview despite having no malicious intent. He transgressed the Wokies' first commandment! Thou shalt not ever, ever display human foibles....faux pas... or general fallibility!
How dare the producers, writers have this prejudiced white guy "saving" the black gay musician! Of course this is tommyrot and reveals how clueless these critics are. There is no "white savior" theme or message. Even the most rudimentary, non-Mensan intellect ought to easily grasp (once aroused from the wokiness dopiness) that the personal dynamic evident in their shared experiences is mutually transformative. Both Don Shirley and his white driver, Nick Vallelonga are in the end changed - for the better- by virtue of their going through the Jim Crow south. Many critics who cried the loudest appeared to forget the scenes where Shirley is patiently teaching Nick how to write a proper love letter to his wife while on their road trip. Or maybe they chose to ignore that because it didn't fit their prejudgment of the film. Who knows?
When all is said and done, and leaving out all the irrelevant controversies and side kerfuffles, Green Book is a great film - even if so many dunderheads don't appreciate it or like it. Possibly because they lost big in Vegas, making reckless Oscar bets on Roma or Bohemian Rhapsody. Well, cry me a river, do. But now it's time to put on your big boy pants, suck it up and grow up already!
Look, if a Civil Rights icon like Rep. John Lewis - one of the Best Picture presenters - could advocate for 'Green Book' as he did, then it's past time for the whiners and Wokies to get a life and move on.