Friday, June 12, 2009

Long Live the Duke: Thirty Years Since John Wayne's Death

John Wayne passed away thirty years ago and the commemoration of his passing proves he's a uniter, not a divider. Two sites, each from the other end of the political spectrum, give the Duke his due.

First up, NRO's symposium; my favorite is by Michael Long:
John Wayne made entertaining movies. That was the point of his career, the key to his success, and the main reason he is remembered. That he was conservative and a man of character is incidental; a few people go to see a movie for the star or the subject matter, but the mass audiences that create a hit come for the story. John Wayne made sure his movies told interesting stories. Thus the way in for those who believe conservatives are forever shut out of Hollywood: Tell good stories. Make movies people want to see. Inform your work with your conservatism (or whatever is in your personality, because that is what will make your movie unique), but create true entertainment. Preachy pictures generally fail: Witness the dozens of recent anti-war movies with a box-office take less than Michael Moore’s annual budget for exercise clothes. John Wayne was not a conservative entertainer; he was an entertainer who happened to be conservative. Being that is how our side will finally gain traction in Hollywood.

Exactly right. First and foremost, Wayne was an entertainer. The rest is just gravy.

Next up, the great movie critic himself, Roger Ebert:
The first time I saw him, he was striding toward me out of the burning Georgia sun, as helicopters landed behind him. His face was tanned a deep brown. He was wearing a combat helmet, an ammo belt, carrying a rifle, had a canteen on his hip, stood six feet four inches. He stuck out his hand and said, "John Wayne." That was not necessary.

The NRO symposium is more political, of course, because it's a political site which makes Ebert's inevitable foray into politics a little more awkward. Ebert's statement that he believes John Wayne "would have had contempt for the latter-day weirdos of the Right" sounds wore like projection on Ebert's part than anything. Still, it's a fine essay, leavened by bits and pieces from Ebert's earlier interviews and articles about John Wayne, and isn't to be missed.

In reading over these articles, you can't help but realize that no other actor, living or dead, could claim such a long string of classic movies. Were they classic because of John Wayne? Of course! Try to imagine of any of them with a star other than John Wayne in the John Wayne character. See?

If nothing else, John Wayne was an original, an American original, and to dismiss him and the importance of his impact on art is to make a grave mistake.

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