This week the Siren begins what are scheduled to be regular monthly postings at Fandor, a new site that describes itself as "a curated service for exceptional independent films on demand." The piece itself is behind the subscription firewall, but can also be accessed via Facebook, here. Up first: the Siren's review of the documentary The Eleanor Roosevelt Story, which won an Oscar for Best Documentary in 1965. The film can be viewed on the Fandor site.
Revisiting the Roosevelt era while a midterm election looms sent the Siren's mind whirling through past and precedents. So, with a hat tip to buddy Glenn Kenny, from whom she has shamelessly lifted the "Literary Interlude" conceit, the Siren offers this passage from Since Yesterday, Frederick Lewis Allen's book about the 1930s in America. The Siren is crazy about both Since Yesterday and Allen's preceding book about the 1920s, Only Yesterday. His picture of both decades has done a lot to flesh out her perceptions about the movies made then, and she returns to both books over and over.
The chapter section is called "They Hated Roosevelt."
He set out to champion the less fortunate, to denounce such financiers and big business men as stood in his way, and as their opposition to him hardened, so also did his opposition to them…
It was natural, then, that men and women of means should feel that the President had changed his course and singled them out as objects of the enmity of the government. It was natural that they should have become confirmed in this feeling when, with half an eye to undermining Huey Long's "Share Our Wealth" offensive, he backed in the summer of 1935 a revenue bill which stepped up taxes on the rich. It was even natural that they should have felt so strongly about what had happened since 1933 as to seem to forget that there had been anything wrong with the country before 1933.
Yet the lengths to which some of them went in their opposition, and the extent to which this opposition became concentrated, among a great many of them, into a direct and flaming hatred of Roosevelt himself, constituted one of the memorable curiosities of the nineteen-thirties.
All the fumbling of a government seeking to extricate the country from the world-wide Depression which had followed the slackening of nineteenth-century expansion; all the maneuverings of an Administration trying to set right what seemed to have gone wrong in the financial world during the previous decade, to redress the disadvantages under which the common man labored, and simultaneously to maintain its political appeal to this common man--all these things were reduced, in the minds of thousands of America's "best people," to the simple proposition that Franklin D. Roosevelt was intent upon becoming a dictator at their expense. Much that Roosevelt did lent a color of justification to this version of history; yet in reducing so much to so little these people performed one of the most majestic feats of simplification in all American history…
Sometimes the anti-Roosevelt mood was humorous. On the commuting trains and at the downtown lunch clubs there was an epidemic of Roosevelt stories, like that of the psychiatrist who died and arrived in Heaven to be whisked off to attend God Himself: "You see, He has delusions of grandeur--He thinks He's Franklin D. Roosevelt." But there was nothing humorous in the attitude of the gentlemen sitting in the big easy chairs at their wide-windowed clubs when they agreed vehemently that Roosevelt was not only a demagogue but a communist. "Just another Stalin--only worse." "We might as well be living in Russia right now." At the well-butlered dinner party the company agreed, with rising indignation, that Roosevelt was "a traitor to his class." In the smoking compartment of the Pullman car the traveling executives compared contemptuous notes on the President's utter ignorance of business. "He's never earned a nickel in his life--what has he ever done but live off his mother's income?" In the cabanas at Miami beach the sun-tanned winter visitors said their business would be doing pretty well if it weren't for THAT MAN. In the country-club locker room the golfers talked about the slow pace of the stock market as they took off their golf shoes; and when, out of a clear sky, one man said, "Well, let's hope somebody shoots him," the burst of agreement made it clear that everybody knew who was meant.
There was an epidemic, too, of scurrilous Roosevelt gossip. Educated and ordinarily responsible people not only insisted, but sincerely believed, that "everybody in Washington knew" the whole Roosevelt family was drunk most of the time; that the reason why Mrs. Roosevelt was "so all over the place" was that she was planning to succeed her husband "until it's time for the sons to take over"; and that Roosevelt was insane. Hadn't a caller recently sat with him and tried to talk public affairs, only to be greeted with prolonged and maniacal laughter? From this point the gossip ran well over the line into the unprintable…
Yet to the extent that it stopped factual inquiry and thought, the Roosevelt-bashing was costly, not only to recovery, but to the haters themselves. Because as a group (there were many exceptions) the well-to-do regarded the presence of Roosevelt in the White House as a sufficient explanation for all that was amiss and as a sufficient excuse for not taking a more active part in new investment, they inevitably lost prestige among the less fortunate.
The Siren finally has been catching up on her blog reading, and here are some highlights.
Rectifying a slight committed in the midst of a dire September, the Siren urges you to read Flickhead's tribute to the late Claude Chabrol. She traces her own fascination with this great filmmaker to Flickhead's encouragement. There has been no greater champion of the director on the Web, and no better analyst of Chabrol's work. The Siren heartily echoes Flickhead's advice: "You shouldn't read about these films before seeing them." Chabrol films are best viewed as cold as possible. But once you've seen them, you will want to read Flickhead.
This is also from a while back, but the Siren never linked to it here, and oh lord she should have: Gregory Peck asks Pauline Kael why she's picking on him. At the Man From Porlock, Craig Porlock's marvelous blog.
At Cinema OCD, Jenny the Nipper's funny, lovingly comprehensive post about Jane Eyre and movie Rochesters down the years inspired the Siren's new banner. Jenny on Colin Clive's performance: "Clive is surely all wrong: he's congenial and handsome, and when he says he's been living in torment for 15 years his tone of voice seems to say, 'It's dashed inconvenient having an insane wife, you know, old sport. Bloodcurdling screams interrupting house parties and all that.' "
Zipping back to the New York Film Festival, of which you have not heard the last here--the favorite of just about everyone the Siren spoke to was Abbas Kiarostami's magnificent Certified Copy. Her favorite write-up so far was also the first she saw: Jaime Christley at Unexamined Essentials.
"You push me one more time and you’ll wear this suitcase as a necklace!": a line that might come in handy on the subway sometime. Back in April Laura Wagner gave gorgeous, tough tootsie Ann Sheridan her due in a tribute to Torrid Zone, which Laura considers an unjustly neglected classic. The Siren has fond memories of the film herself; Sheridan and Cagney were a fabulous team.
God it's good to have Greg Ferrara back, as demonstrated by his list of "BAMFs." (The straitlaced Siren wasn't familiar with that acronym, and if you too need it explained you'll just have to click through.) Amen to Rosemary's Baby.
Edward Copeland, prompted by Tony Curtis's passing, looks at The Boston Strangler, and mostly likes what he sees. He points out that this was Richard Fleischer's follow-up to Doctor Dolittle, which bit of trivia the Siren will probably spend all week recovering from.
"No matter how godawful you may think the [Hollywood] present looks, in five years' time it's going to look better": The Siren had a great time listening to Tom Shone's recent podcast about his witty history, Blockbuster: How the Jaws and Jedi Generation Turned Hollywood into a Boom-town. She highly recommends the book, even if it covers an era outside her usual jurisdiction. (Hey, if you asked the Siren to name something great this country has produced, aside from the Roosevelts, her blink-of-an-eye choice would be Myrna Loy, but that doesn't mean the Siren can't appreciate a well-stated case for somebody who definitely isn't Myrna Loy.) And Tom says nice things about James Cameron; the Siren likes Cameron too.