What an awful year in movies that was, especially for Hollywood, but the ‘49 movies that are good, are real good, and unique in a way earlier movies weren’t. The end of the “golden age” was the end of one size fits all movies, and the beginning of “let’s try anything that could possibly draw some viewers away from television”.
There’s a lot of interesting psychological research about how the choices we make are influenced by the way the situation is framed for us. We’re not rational decision makers. We take shortcuts that approximate reason, but actually isn’t.
There are two lessons you can take from this. One is: This can help me learn to make better decisions.
Another is: Hey, I can use this to manipulate people!
Naturally, the second lesson appeals to politicians and other people who carry the blueprint of a perfect society in their hearts. Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler believe that “nudging”, improving people by presenting their choices differently, enables smarter, less intrusive social policies. Libertarian paternalism.
It sounds harmless. And it’s really clever. But I agree with Brendan O’Neill at Spiked Online: These ideas are repulsive.
It’s okay to try to change people. But the right way of doing that is by helping them become more aware their own choices, not tricking them into making the “right” ones.
Research on choice can be a force for good. It can be used to show that you have more choices than you realize. It can be used to shine a light on the shortcuts we take that sometimes lead to bad decisions. I know it has helped me become conscious of my own decision making process in a way I wasn’t before.
But that requires a bit of trust in people, some genuine respect for personal freedom. The courage to say: Here’s how your brain works. The rest is up to you.
The Quiet Duel (1949, Japan, Kurosawa)
Again Kurosawa uses disease as a theme. This time it’s syphilis, which the men carry home from the war, and are unable to cure. And the women suffer their own permanent consequences from wartime accidents. There’s no easy return to normalcy. Something good that once existed is irrevocably lost. But it’s still up to everyone how to deal with this loss: As honorable or dishonorable people. Watched it all.
Intruder in the Dust (1949, USA, Brown)
Hollywood continues to discover racial discrimination. Once again the main characters are all white, because, come on, you have to draw the line somewhere. Watched: 10 minutes. Btw, I think Rich Hall mentioned this movie in his excellent BBC documentary The Dirty South, which you should go and watch now.
.. and, dear god, that was it for the 1940′s. I can’t believe I actually did it. As far as I know I’m the first person ever to do this – at least on this scale, and in this particular way, with several thousand movies unfiltered by critics, watching everything until I get bored, and writing about it afterwards. And this really is a fantastic way to watch movies. I don’t think I can go back to the old way now. In fact, I think I’ll continue right on to ..
Tension (1949, USA, Berry)
I love how they’re beginning to push the noir formula to its extreme: Here, the unfaithful wife is practically a prostitute, and the cuckolded husband is particularly pathetic – until the tension tears him apart, like the rubber band in the brilliant intro (above). Watched it all.
Batman and Robin (1949 serial, USA)
Worst. Batmobile. Ever. And worst Robin. Batman’s not too bad, just very very dull. I’m beginning to see what they were parodying in the 1960′s. Watched: Half an episode, then fast-forwarded to see the hilarious cliffhangers, and to look for interesting villains. There aren’t any, just some stupid guy in a mask.
The Third Man (1949, UK, Reed)
However it may seem to naive American authors, with their pulp stories about gunfights at noon, real life isn’t like a western story. Real life is more like film-noir, with shadows and desperate women and the kind of cafés Peter Lorre might hang out in, even though he isn’t actually in this movie. Watched it all. Even movies I’ve seen several times before appear in a new light as part of this marathon. For instance, the plot here always was a little hazy to me, but after a decade’s worth of this sort of thing, it now seems quite straightforward.
The Great Madcap (1949, Mexico, Bunuel)
Luis Bunuel, isn’t he the Spanish surrealist who made incomprehensible movies with Salvador Dali in the early 1930′s? This is decidedly unsurreal and comprehensible. I guess everyone has a mortgage to pay. Watched: 5 minutes.