Wednesday, June 23, 2021

                                                          June 23, 2021

 

MY CORNER by Boyd Cathey

 

The Film “Dixie,” Bing Crosby, and the Story of an American Treasure



Friends,

In past columns I have written about some classic films, some of which have been effectively banned or “cancelled” by our contemporary cultural gatekeepers.

The case of the immortal Disney hit, “Song of the South,” is perhaps the most egregious. I wrote about it back in July 2019 in an essay published by The Abbeville Institute, also describing a seller who made it available privately to purchasers in an excellent, pristine Technicolor copy. Alas, since then apparently Disney, now part of a progressivist “woke” conglomerate which includes the ABC broadcast network, has insured that the seller cease and desist offering copies to the public. Yet, just recently another superb copy showed up for sale, this time marketed by Amazon.com. The seller is listed as Brian’s Retro Collection. Fearing the same thing which happened to the earlier release, I quickly ordered a copy. It’s also excellent. And as of this writing it is still available, reasonably priced.

But “Song of the South” is just the tip of the iceberg. Potentially hundreds of politically-incorrect films that compose the rich history of American filmography may come under the “woke” microscope. At present the fanatical social justice warriors, intent on imposing their anti-Western, anti-white philosophy, have in their crosshairs mainly the more noteworthy cinema productions associated with our history and heritage, or what they term “systemic white supremacy” and racism--thus films like “Gone With the Wind” or “Song of the South.”

But as the impotent opposition to their cultural ravages—establishment Conservatism, Fox News and most Republicans—daily cedes more ground to them, the more their unquenchable search for targets expands. For their object is, in fact, the complete and total extirpation of Western culture, including its cinematic history.

Just the other day combing through the catalogues of several private film sellers I came across a title that was unfamiliar to me. The movie is “Dixie,” a 1943 Technicolor musical released by Paramount and starring Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour, and Crosby’s first major color musical. It appeared just as his “Road to” series with Lamour and Bob Hope was becoming very popular with moviegoers. And, despite mixed press reviews at the time, it ranked 15th in audience popularity in 1943.

The film recounts the story of Dan Emmett and his composition of the song “Dixie,” and it does so spotlighting Crosby’s notable vocal talent. Presently the movie is owned by Universal Pictures, a division of NBC Universal, and was last screened on television back in the early 1980s by American Movie Classics, but don’t look for it being aired any time soon.

As an account of the creation of what has been one of the nation’s most popular songs, “Dixie” combines historical fact, with a pinch or two of Hollywood magic. Dan Emmett, of course, was not originally from the South. Born in Mount Vernon, Ohio, in 1815, he was soon attracted to American folk melody and traditional popular tunes, joined a traveling circus, and by the 1840s had organized America’s first troupe of blackface minstrels, “The Virginia Minstrels.”

The film begins with Emmett (Crosby) singing his major hit “Sunday, Monday or Always” to his beloved Jean Mason (Marjorie Reynolds), whose father tells him that he cannot marry her, as he had just left his lighted pipe in the Mason home, which caught the house on fire. Only when he would return a success would that be possible. Emmett then assembles a minstrel troupe and travels, and finally arrives in New York continuing his composition and singing. Variously we hear Crosby in superb renderings of traditional favorites: “”Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Old Dan Tucker,” “Buffalo Gals,” and “She’s from Missouri.”

Historically “Dixie”—published as “I Wish I was in Dixie’s Land”—was first performed in New York on April 4, 1859, with Emmett in blackface. After its phenomenal success Emmett related several different versions of when he composed it, ranging from a couple of days before the initial performance to a period of over years prior (the version adopted by the film).

It was apparently “Dixie’s” performance at the French Opera House in New Orleans in March 1860 that soon made it the national hymn of the South and the soon-to-be-born Confederacy. Recounting the event, the film shows cinematically how that came to be.

For the French-descended aristocrats of New Orleans and the Louisiana planters, the French Opera House was a renowned cultural and artistic treasure. In truth it was the first major opera house in America, presenting premieres (in French) of such classics as Flotow’s “Martha,” Thomas’s “Mignon,” and Saint-Saens’s “Samson et Dalila.” But the theater also hosted grand carnival balls, concerts, and other types of entertainment.   The film rightfully illustrates that there would have been a hesitancy by some of its patrons to a musical variety show…all in blackface. But their qualms put aside, “Dixie” reaches its climax as Crosby, in blackface with around forty others equally in blackface, begins to sing the song that made Dan Emmett famous.

At first he intones it very slowly, having insisted that he wanted to sing it that way. But noticing a small fire in a side dressing room, the orchestra speeds up to a much more rapid pace. Crosby shouts: “What are you, just a bunch of Yankees?” The elite audience, at first unenthusiastic, now joins in with gusto. An audience member stands and gives what would become in a couple of years a classic “rebel yell,” and soon the entire audience is possessed by the magic and patriotic delight and erupts in singing the song.

And Emmett wins his bride, as the film ends with the triumphant strains of “Dixie” echoing over the credits.

In addition to Crosby and Lamour, the cast includes the inimitable Raymond Walburn (who also adds delightful humor to the story), classic vaudevillians Eddie Foy Jr. and Lynne Overman, and some of Paramount’s capable character actors, including Olin Howland, Billy de Wolfe, Stanley Andrews (later of “Death Valley Days” fame), and Willie Best, a fine black actor who performed comic roles in the 1940s and ‘50s.

As the last scene unfolded and Crosby began singing “Dixie,” joined in by the chorus and then the audience, and the music swells, emotion came over me, and I wanted to stand and join in, as well.

That has been—and continues to be—the power of this song, this part of our history, an indication of the power of music to evoke the most sublime of emotions: the love of country, of family, of heritage. And the film “Dixie” does it justice that will warm the heart of any Southerner or patriotic American.

The movie “Dixie” is available, in a very good Technicolor print (online orders) from the Vermont Movie Store. But, like in the case of “Song of the South,” my advice is to act soon. The Woke Monsters never sleep. As St. Peter warns us (I Peter 5:8):  “Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil walketh about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”

Friday, June 11, 2021

                                               June 11, 2021


 

MY CORNER by Boyd Cathey

  

The Battle for the West is Also a Cultural One

 

 


Friends,

One-hundred and eighty four years ago Danish playwright, novelist, and, most famously, fairy tale author, Hans Christian Andersen, published one of his most memorable stories: “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Appearing at the same time as another of his noted fairy tales, “The Little Mermaid,” that endearing story of pomposity and pretentiousness, finally revealed as one of a public convinced by fakery, has been translated into over 100 languages.

Children everywhere since have read it and heard it. It’s one of those quaint little stories from our past we were exposed to, we picked up, or maybe our parents told us.

Commentators have sometimes used the tale as a metaphor. In that sense it can mean the ability of adroit and cunning public opinion leaders—especially politicians and TV newscasters—to convince people to believe what they say and ignore what we actually see. In common modern parlance: “Who you gonna believe, what I say or your lying eyes?”

As a parable, in our contemporary age, it perhaps has more relevance than ever before.

Just recently several news outlets reported on a major artistic event which occurred in Italy…or should I say, a kind of mindless replication of Andersen’s tale of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”?  You see, noted Italian sculptor Salvatore Garau just sold his latest “object d’art,” an “invisible” sculpture for the fat price of 15,000 Euros ($18,300 US). Titled “Io Sono” (Italian for "I am"), the sculpture is "immaterial," meaning that the sculpture does not actually exist. It’s invisible. The buyer paid $18,300 for…nothing…only receiving a “certificate of authenticity” for his Euros!

Garau defends his “artistry” and the high price, telling reporters that his work of art is not really “nothing,” but a “vacuum.”  And a “vacuum is nothing more than a space full of energy, and even if we empty it and there is nothing left, according to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, that 'nothing' has a weight…Therefore, it has energy that is condensed and transformed into particles, that is, into us." Additionally, the now-purchased “creation” (if we can call it that), according to Garau’s strict instructions, “must be displayed in a private home free from any obstruction, in an area that is about 5 ft. long by 5 ft. wide.” No doubt, the new owner will want to proudly offer visitors an unobstructed and admiring view of his purchase.

Let me add, this is not the first such sculpture Garau has produced; even more striking, if I can use that word, is his “Buddha in Contemplation,” which is now displayed (sorry for the physical description!) in the historic Piazza della Scala, in Milan, Italy (photo above). For this “object d’art,” since it cannot be seen, its “location” is taped-off—obviously to prevent curious viewers from bumping into it. In Garau’s words:

"Now it exists and will remain in this space forever. You do not see it but it exists. It is made of air and spirit. When I decide to 'exhibit' an immaterial sculpture in a given space, that space will concentrate a certain amount and density of thoughts at a precise point, creating a sculpture that, from my title, will only take the most varied forms."

Ah, yes, and the propinquity of “Buddha in Contemplation” to one of the most historic and fabled opera houses in the world, the Teatro alla Scala, cannot but be noticed.

Regarded as perhaps one Italy’s supreme artistic treasures, arguably the leading opera theater in the world (along with the Vienna Staatsoper, the Metropolitan in New York, and the Bolshoi in Moscow), La Scala was built under the inspiration of the Empress Maria Theresa and inaugurated in 1778. The opera house has produced major works of musical art for 243 years. Equally, from an architectural viewpoint, it is quite stunning in its classical style, a remarkable icon of Western culture and tradition.

Reading this account, I remembered as a youngster experiencing the joy of discovering and listening to music, especially the great classical music of Western civilization.

I would do that in some curious ways.

Like a lot of boys my age, we would watch “The Lone Ranger” or “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon” on our little black and white TVs. For me the beginnings of my musical education had a lot to do with the music I heard played for those programs. Who can forget the stirring opening strains of “The Lone Ranger,” with its dramatic call, “Hi! Yo! Silver,” accompanied by the gallop of Rossini’s overture to “William Tell”? You could get an entire musical education listening to the background music of “The Lone Ranger.” Or, Emil von Reznicek’s delightful “Donna Diana” overture introducing each week the exploits of Sgt. William Preston, his dog King, and horse Rex?

During my first summer job for the North Carolina State Archives, I became friends with a person equally interested in classical music. One day he could not wait for me to “hear” his latest discovery: a 1952 work by American composer John Cage, his composition 4′33″, which is performed in the total absence of sound!  Musicians who present the work do nothing aside from being present for the duration specified by the title. The content of the composition is the sound of the environment heard by the audience during the performance, nothing else! I kept waiting in vain for an instrument to break in, something, anything…but just silence, and maybe a distant cough or muffled sneeze to punctuate the piece.

I thought: maybe I could write something just as good, and receive a hefty stipend like Cage would probably have gotten? I bet that my “nothing” would have been better than his!

Reading the account of Garau’s sculpture put me in mind of John Cage: we increasingly live in an age of “the emperor’s new clothes.” And we do that especially in what has become of—what we have done or allowed to be done to—our culture, our cinema and entertainment, and in the more generally, in the “fake news” that dominates our airways.

Music, architecture, painting, sculpture, and the arts in far too many cases no longer have roots in the traditions, history and culture of a people. Whereas Johann Sebastian Bach’s cantatas drew from the chorales and music of his German homeland, and built upon long and cumulative traditions of Western music, our modern artists it seems take delight in severing themselves from the culture they have inherited. In too many cases they create in rebellion, in rejection of what they have received, of the two millennia vouchsafed to them as a trust. And in so doing, they also disconnect themselves from the lived traditions and the wisdom of historic society, where our artistic heritage organically developed.

Now, with that separation, and lacking the recognition and appreciation of our civilization’s inheritance, we are starved for true greatness. Real inspiration in the arts has largely dried up, or, worse, become “Buddha in Contemplation” or “4’33”—a rotten porridge in lieu of what our ancestors confected and passed on to us as a trust.

Just watch a PBS “Great Performances” these days…or try to find a radio station, especially a commercial one that programs classical music. Even “educational” or university-connected stations have stopped doing that.

Have you been to an art museum lately and seen the accretions of “modern art”?

A culture—and its artists—which cuts itself off from its past, which rejects and debases it, will eventually dry up and die, its inspiration scattered and corrupted. Instead of “standing on the shoulders of giants,” as 12th century philosopher Bernard of Chartes declared that we must, and adding thereto, we despoil—and enable educators and politicians to destroy—our civilization and its culture. They are disparaged as “racist” and the product of “white supremacy” and hegemony, which must be canceled, banned, torn down, or ripped out. Far too many of our fellow citizens now think that way thanks to our educational system.

Too often these days I hear the echo of William Butler Yeats in his prophetic poem, “The Second Coming” (1919):

  “…Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

  Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, 

  The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere 

  The ceremony of innocence is drowned; 

  The best lack all conviction, while the worst

  Are full of passionate intensity.”

Our choice, then, is either to disappear into the pages of history, scorned and reviled by future generations, or, to fight like hell for our patrimony, our inheritance—because it is worthy of the fight, because it is glorious, and because it is ours.

We may not see victory in our lifetime or in our children’s, but Yeats’s words later in his poem point the way to our Hope, if we persevere:

          “Surely some revelation is at hand;
          Surely the Second Coming is at hand….”

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, June 3, 2021

                                             June 3, 2021

 

MY CORNER by Boyd Cathey

 

The Federalist, Abraham Lincoln, and the Misinterpretation of American History

 

The Federalist online magazine has a problem. It’s a condition that characterizes and infects almost the entirety of the present national conservative media.

This hit home for me on May 31, in an essay by Leslie McAdoo Gordon. Founded in 2013 by Ben Domenech, thefederalist.com it is not connected to The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, which is composed of conservatives and libertarians dedicated to reforming the current legal order.

I read thefederalist.com Webzine almost every day, and occasionally it is the source for items of value and good information. But Gordon’s ill-informed attack on Confederate iconography was not one of them.

Peddled as a defense of retaining “Antietam” as the name of an American naval vessel, she begins her piece: “There is a move these days to revisit our monuments and the names we choose to publicly honor. This movement is good and just. It is a sign of our mature democracy that we can choose to stop honoring things that do not reflect our American ideals and celebrate those that do,” including rejecting anything related to the Confederacy.

Honoring and celebrating the history and symbols of the old South, once a common occurrence in the pages of the conservative quarterly Modern Age or in National Review, are now verboten, beyond the pale. General Robert E. Lee, praised by President Eisenhower in 1960 as “one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation...noble as a leader and as a man, and unsullied as I read the pages of our history,” is now exiled from the conservative pantheon, as is anything memorializing or commemorating Confederate heroes and iconography. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Colonel John “the Gray Ghost” Mosby, General Nathan Bedford Forrest—are now canceled, their monuments ingloriously pulled down, and their exploits stricken from textbooks, or worse, treated like depredations of Nazi fanatics.

Like most established conservative media organizations, thefederalist.com appears to be part of what Paul Gottfried calls “ConInc.,” that is, the stagnated national conservative bureaucracy, centered in Washington DC, dominated by Neoconservatives, and more concerned about not rocking the boat too much so as not to be attacked by the frenzied Left as “racist” or protecting “white supremacy”—or perhaps being taken off the A-List of invitees to posh DC social events and soirees.

Perhaps the worst thing is to be a traditional or paleo- conservative type, most especially a representative of Southern traditionalism like the late Mel Bradford (who was unceremoniously dropped from National Review and whose nomination to head the National Endowment for the Humanities was torpedoed by the Neoconservatives) or Dr. Clyde Wilson (the world’s greatest authority on John C. Calhoun).

Now, whether hurled at us every night by Fox News, like bilge spewed from a broken drainage pipe, or screaming at us from the scurrilous pens of a Victor David Hanson, Rich Lowry, or Brian Kilmeade, our new icons to whom we must pay obsequious homage are Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and Frederick Douglass. I would argue strenuously that none of these personalities was a real conservative; indeed, I would suggest that they were revolutionaries who assisted in corrupting our original Constitution. An older generation of conservatives—a Russell Kirk, a Stephen Tonsor, a Peter Stanlis—understood this.

Gordon’s essay  of Memorial Day shows up in thefederalist.com’s daily assortment of essays where she is eager to present what she asserts is the “correct” interpretation of what battles like Antietam (AKA “Sharpsburg”) and Gettysburg were all about, what they mean. They “seared into the nation’s consciousness the immense human sacrifice her people were offering on the altars of union and universal freedom. Make no mistake, these Union soldiers died ‘to make men free’.” And then quoting from the ballad, “The Battle Cry of Freedom,” she ends with a flourish: “The people of the Union in the 1860s knew well what Antietam stood for”: to free the slaves.

That proposition is false and demonstrates Gordon’s basic ignorance of both American history and Lincoln’s enunciated war goals. From the very beginning of the war he saw the conflict as a battle over the interpretation of the Constitution and states’ rights. He stated this forthrightly to Horace Greeley, of The New York Tribune, on August 22, 1862, only a few months before the “Emancipation Proclamation”:

“If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union” 

As is abundantly clear from the press of the period, a large majority of Northerners would not have supported a “war to free the slaves.”  Lincoln knew that. The “Emancipation Proclamation” of January 1, 1863 only extended to states of the Confederacy not controlled by Federal arms. Thus, where it was intended to apply it could not free not a single slave, but it did not apply to the several Border slave states where it could have freed the slaves. It was, as Lincoln indirectly confirms, a propaganda measure, intended to buoy up sagging support for the war both internationally and among more abolition-minded citizens.

In more recent times especially the Neoconservatives and followers of academic Harry Jaffa have latched onto Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” (November 19, 1863), attempting essentially to amend by sleight-of-hand our understanding of the original Constitution and inserting a clause from the Declaration of Independence, via Lincoln, to the effect that “(f)our score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” In other words, 1776 was the real founding of the United States and that five little words define us, our history, and our goals as a people. It was a radical assertion greeted even at the time by many in the Northern press as “a perversion of history so flagrant that the extended charity cannot regard it as otherwise than willful.” It remains so today.

Leslie Gordon apparently accepts this fraudulent view of history. Ironically, in so doing, she like other Neocons who assert equality as America’s founding principle, places herself over with the progressivist vision of the country. For they also maintain that egalitarianism is the American “proposition,” the difference being that while establishment conservatives like Gordon believe we have substantially achieved the desired equality uttered in poetic terms in 1776 by what is basically a propaganda document stating American grievances against King George and the reasons for separation, the progressive Left sees equality as an always elusive goal, requiring continual government action to insure what is called “equity.”

The words recently written by David P. Goldman about such “conservatism” ring ever so true: “their ideology is a sort of right-wing Marxism,” with an origin philosophically in the not-so-distant past on the Trotskyite Left. And a movement based on what is essentially the same foundation as its supposed opposition is hobbled and fatally flawed from the beginning. It will always succumb to the greater logic and conviction of its progressivist enemies who will always out-promise and out-argue its votaries. 

Such a movement has little room for defenders of a Lee or Calhoun and those who rejected the idea of a “proposition nation” and understood that the United States was not founded on an idea, but on the concrete reality of families who brought their traditions and beliefs with them to a new land, created a new country, and made it their own.



                                                      July 13, 2021   MY CORNER by Boyd Cathey   How Southerners Committed Cultural...