Yesterday, the two seminarians helping out over Christmas break and I went to see True Grit, the remake by the Coen brothers, starring Jeff Bridges in the role made famous by John Wayne.
I enjoyed it; and I am a fan of the Duke and his 1969 performance, for which he won his only Oscar. I was both interested in the new version, as well as how the seminarians, younger than I, saw it.
They weren't familiar with John Wayne's performance, so they didn't make that comparison. While they enjoyed the movie, they were less taken with it than I, whatever that means.
We all liked Jeff Bridges; he really is a solid actor, someone I always seem to enjoy. He did a great job, and I can't argue with the reviewers who said he out-did John Wayne.
To Mr. Bridge's credit, he paid respect to Wayne, saying he wasn't going to try to fill the Duke's boots. That was classy, and takes nothing away from Bridges.
But I was struck by comments from the Coen brothers, who have made many fine films (I think "Brother, Who Art Thou?" is one most would remember, but they've made a slew of well-regarded films); they were dismissive (I thought) of Wayne's version of the film, trying to claim they weren't doing a remake. Well, you are; deal with it. If you don't like being compared, don't do a remake.
Maybe the Coen brothers didn't really mean to give John Wayne and his film the back of the hand, but that's how they came across to me, saying in an Associated Press interview,
“It’s weird,” Joel said, in an interview held in one of the hotel’s suites earlier in the day, where his tall, wiry frame was sprawled out on a sofa, one long leg propped up on a coffee table. With his thick-framed glasses, graying beard, and wild, shaggy hair, he looked like a professor on his coffee break. “I remember a couple points in production, actually saying, ‘You know, I should rent the movie and see it.’ And I just never got around to it. It’s really funny. It sounds unbelievable, but I just didn’t get around to it.”
“Yeah,” chimed in Ethan, the quieter of the two, who seems more like a grad student, with short, curly hair, and less prominent spectacles, “We just weren’t interested enough.”Maybe it's just me, but I think, show some class, be generous, and tip your hat to those who went before you.
I'd read their comments at the Daily Beast, but realizing it was just one interview, I did a search, and found the AP item I also quoted, along with Bridge's more generous remarks.
Then I found a review by the New York Times, which made me laugh because of its obvious, mean-spirited axe-grinding and admitted score-settling: "Maybe the picture will also settle some old business in the film world," referring to disagreements, in 1969, about Wayne meriting his Oscar. The Times dredges up producer Robert Evans to say,
“It was a token Oscar,” said the producer Robert Evans when queried this week about the best-actor trophy that went to Wayne on April 7, 1970. Mr. Evans was head of production at Paramount at the time, but while Paramount released “True Grit,” it was produced independently by Hal B. Wallis, and Mr. Evans reckons his own creative input to have been “zero.” (He does say he was happy with the film.)
Gee, no hint of any score-settling there!
The Times also points out,
It was also the year of countercultural statements like “Easy Rider,” “Medium Cool,” “Alice’s Restaurant,” “The Sterile Cuckoo” and “If”; the European flair of “Stolen Kisses” and “Z”; and the retro sophistication of “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?,” “The Wild Bunch” and “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.”
In the face of all that, Paramount made what many saw as a clumsy attempt to position “True Grit” as part of the revolution. One program for an early studio screening, now preserved at the library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, called it a “Brand New Brand of American Frontier Story."
The Times' article goes like that, finding more reasons to compare Wayne and his film unfavorably. The funny thing is, of the films just mentioned, how many are remembered? Some, deservedly so. Apparently, Wayne's "True Grit" doesn't deserve such company.
One wonders why the Times--or anyone still around from those Hollywood days--would feel the need, in promoting the new "True Grit," to drag Wayne through the dirt to do so. Then one reads the following:By the time the Oscar was awarded, Wayne was being described as a “sentimental favorite.”
But other film devotees were less charmed, particularly when they viewed “True Grit” through the filter of Vietnam-era politics and Wayne’s conservative principles — which he had said were illustrated by a scene in which Cogburn shoots a rat after demonstrating the futility of trying to treat it under due process of law. (The new film has no such moment.)
Writing in The New Yorker, Penelope Gilliatt complained of the movie’s “very right-wing and authoritarian tang.” She was particularly put off by the frontier stoicism, which she described as “near-Fascist admiration for a simplified physical endurance of pain.Heh. It's been 40 years, and the Times, and the cultural elites to whom they cater, and for whom they speak, still resent the h*** out of John Wayne and all he stands for. So, naturally, they drag out his corpse so they can give it a few kicks, saying all the while, "Wayne? Who? No one anyone remembers!"
Heh. Yeah, right.