I liked Argo but I didn’t love Argo. I watched it on a plane, after a nap. The man next to me was watching Pitch Perfect. I saw Pitch Perfect in the theater. I sort of wished I was watching it again, sometimes, while watching Argo. But. I had made a commitment, to myself, I said, I wanted to see at least all of the Best Picture nominees that were telling stories that were stories drawn from United Statesian history. Recent, less recent. I counted five: Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty. And I saw them all.
Because there’s a drum I like to beat, and it goes, despite my country’s unbelievable knack for self-aggrandizement, we have very little in the way of creative historical self-examination. A fragment of us likes a multipart PBS documentary; another fragment enjoys passing the time with Civil War pulps. But, countryfolk, think of the celebrated historical novels you’ve read or seen. Think of the successful HBO serieses, the costumed films. The Broadway transfers, even. A terrific amount of them are about lives lived overseas. And they are good, many of them, and come with their own cultural baggage, all of them, but. It has made me wonder. We’re a country of liars and repressives and marketers, how is it that for the most part the only cultural reference any of us have for Manifest Destiny is a computer game from two decades ago?
Okay, my thesis is broad. Okay, AMC is apparently developing a series about a Revolutionary War spy ring, and obviously there was Deadwood, and yes I too loved the John Adams miniseries. But these feel like exceptions to the rule, particularly considering the amount of lawless batshit crazy that went in (that continues to go in) to building this country. It’s a rich vein, people. In Karen Russell’s new story collection, Vampires in the Lemon Grove, there’s a brilliantly spooky story that takes one line of the Homestead Act and uses it to make you never want to sleep without a light on. This is iceberg-tip material. This is the reason they tell you to read everything, if you’re going to write anything.
So I saw all those movies and overall, mixed feelings about the quality of the films but really strong excitement about how different they all are. A heist, a fantasia, a revengesploitation, a Kushner, a bucket of ice water. And the arguments against many of them are, well, this and that was inaccurate, well, this and that was reductive, well, this and that was yes yes yes no yes these are all true THESE ARE ALL TRUE. But god have you ever seen so many people trying to reconcile art with history, all at once. It’s a good thing it’s a good start it’s a good it’s a conversation, you guys. Not only about the events in the films but about the way we tell the events in the films, about the way we tell our stories. About the way history makes us and we make it, and re-make it, and what that all says about then and what it all means for soon.