tv QA with John Podhoretz CSPAN October 3, 2016 6:00am-7:01am EDT
with a preview of the debate. at 8:30 p.m., the briefing for the audience. and then :00 p.m., live coverage and event viewer reaction. the vice presidential debate live on c-span and anytime on demand at c-span.org and listen on the free c-span radio app. , "q&a," and next then washington journal. ♪ >> this week on "q&a," john podhoretz, editor of commentary magazine and movie critic for the weekly standard. he talks about his career, and discusses movies he has reviewed over the past few years,
including "lincoln," "spotlight," and "straight outta compton." ♪ brian: john podhoretz, we would normally ask you here to talk straight politics. but, for years, you have been a movie critic. john: 37 years i have been a movie critic. brian: when did you get interested in movies? john: i started publishing in the american spectator when i was 18 years old. i grew up in manhattan, and from the age of 11 or 12, i would wander around to movie theaters and revival houses and see stuff after school and on weekends. i got fundamentally literate in movies enough that i could write about them. that was over 37 years ago. so now, if you are 18 or 19 years old, you have another 37 years that you have something to
be responsible for knowing something about, i don't know if it is as easy as it was then. movies had only been around for 50 to 60 years then, and now they have been around for 90. and so there are a lot more movies to take account of. brian: when you read your reviews, you see politics in your reviews sometime. how influential have movies been on what our political culture is? john: it is always a great question about whether they reflect it or lead it or guide it. i think for the most part, movies reflect our political culture, and they are an effort to gain the largest possible audience by being the most capacious they can possibly be and offend as few people as much -- as possible. they don't tend to try to make breakthroughs politically. culturally, i think it is a little different. culturally, you can see how a lot of what i think has been the culturally liberal direction in
which the country has gone, particularly in the last 20 years, you do see how popular culture and its portrayal of what we used to call alternative lifestyles and alternate ways of living have now become mainstream, because they were presented as such in popular culture, and made more palatable. of course, there is this great question -- disregarding the legal and criminal issues surrounding bill cosby, even i think barack obama would tell you that the "cosby show," 20 years before barack obama's election, made barack obama's election possible. the show portrayed an upper middle-class black family as the ideal american family. that went a long way to allowing this image to become one that would not be too provocative for people upon seeing a black man
running for president. brian: back in february 2014, you wrote this -- "successful entertainers are often awful people. if you put fame, wealth, and narcissism in a blender, the resulting brew can be toxic. fame causes ordinary folk to worship the entertainer and to view him as a superior being to be served. wealth provides the means and the opportunity for indulgence. narcissism makes it also natural, appropriate, deserved." john: that is pretty good. i do not recall having written that. thank you for quoting it. brian: why did you write that? john: since i don't remember having written it, i don't recall which work of popular culture might have inspired it, but i think if you think about some of these people, cosby, woody allen is another good example, and to an extent donald trump could be in this category,
you see how success and fame can liberate people from conventional social norms, and make them feel as though they are untouchable and they don't need to follow the same rules as everybody else, and indeed they often don't. and then the question is how far, what it is inside of them that they can liberate and do that stretches the boundaries of what is proper? many people just aren't bad people, so they would not really use their fame and wealth and celebrity as tools to get what they want, whether what they want is moral or legal or permissible. but some do, and it can be horrifying when it becomes public. brian: how many movies do you see a year?
john: probably 100, 120. maybe something like that. probably. brian: when do you decide to review a movie, and why? john: the deadline is a good driver. i have about 45 deadlines a year for the "weekly standard." i write 45 times a year. generally speaking, i have to have a piece in on wednesday night. and so i have a full-time job and other responsibilities, three kids, and a busy life, so i can't just go to screenings at will the way a lot of other people who do this for a living do. i tend to duck in and out of a movie that i think has promise, or suggests that there might be something to say about that. having done this so long and and having written about so much, it becomes a challenge sometimes if
i am writing about the 11th or 12th superhero movie that is made in the last two years. what am i going to say about that? it is often easier to write about smaller movies, what are now considered independent or art-house movies, because they have stories that are really about the way people live, and they are not just fantasy , so theref our lives is more meat there. brian: let's see what you remember from the movie "selma." you reviewed that for the weekly standard back in january 2015. we will run a clip, and that i will read what you said, and you can embellish on that. [video clip] >> this violence continues toward the unarmed people of selma while they are assaulted with tear gas like an enemy in a war. no citizen of this country can call themselves blameless, for they all bear a responsibility for our fellow man.
i am appealing to men and women of god and goodwill everywhere -- white, black and otherwise, if you believe all are created equal, come to selma. join us. brian: i am not going to read anything. i am going to ask you, what do you remember from seeing "selma"? john: i was disappointed in "selma," because i thought it was a hagiography. which is understandable. martin luther king was a great man and he changed the world. he was a very interesting and complicated, complex person, and aside from the fact that it showed that he had done things that had a been harmful to his marriage, he was very much a saint walking through the movie. and that makes for something that is really not that interesting. brian: by the way, what is hagiography? john: hagiography would be a term for a biography that is a
portrait of somebody entirely without warts. it is just simply a celebration that flattens a person out and turns them into a godlike figure. brian: you wrote the marketing genius of movies like "selma," the highly praised docudrama about the march in alabama that triggered the 1965 voting rights act, is that they simultaneously confuse and intimidate critics and audiences by making them feel as though it would be an act of disrespect to speak anything but words of praise for the way they depict life and death, historical events of great moral moment." john: yeah, i think that is one of the problems you face when you make movies about people and events -- or people make these movies, and then they feel constrained, because they know that kids are going to see it,
and they want it to become the definitive portrait of something and don't want to feel as though they are doing anything to tarnish the reputation or worldview or views of a figure that they admire. i tend to think that dramatically, that is a great problem, because what makes movies or stories about people in a crisis, and the crisis either changes them or changes everybody else. and if you don't show conflict and don't show flaws and don't show someone growing out of their flaws or something like that, you are seeing something you cannot really connect to, and it doesn't quite have the same impact. brian: you said, by the way, "selma" is actually quite boring. john: i think so. by the way, i think i was
justified in this view in the end by the public perception of it. people were not engaged by it sufficiently for it to be the movie of the year, which a lot of people thought it would be before it came out. because it was talked about in that way. advanced word was so positive, but the performance of king by british actor david oyelowo was , i thought, very stiff. king was a very charismatic and interesting, flavored guy with a sense of humor and spirit. and he led and guided people in all kinds of different ways, and if you make him into a plaster saint, you're taking away some of those things that will help people connect to him. brian: we need to update the john podhoretz story. you have been married how long? john: 14 years this october. brian: and the three kids are
how old? john: my three kids are 12, almost 10, and 6. brian: what do they think of your reviews? john: i do not think they have read one. they would not have -- i do not think they have seen "selma." they were too young when it came out. i have written about some of the likes they have seen "inside out" and the pixar movies. it'll be interesting to see now that they are getting older -- not only do i write reviews, but i write columns for the new york post and edit a magazine. it will be interesting to see how they respond as they return to the point of wanting to read what i write. brian: who reads the commentary you edit? john: the commentary has about 30,000 paid subscribers. on the web, we have about 500,000 unique visitors a month. , my math is bad,
so 10-15 times the size of the paid readership. it is like all things older, people over the age of 45 or 50 for the most part, mostly jewish because it is a magazine that focuses to some extent on jewish affairs. it is a conservative jewish publication, so the liberal jewish community being mostly liberal, it is a minority publication within the cohort it serves. it is a publication that serves a minority of a minority of a minority. in that context, we publish a lot of good stuff, and a lot of provocative stuff, and have some real influence on the national debate. brian: your dad, norman podhoretz and mother, midge okay? -- are
john: my dad is 86 years old, my mother is 89 years old. they are both in relatively good health, with some back problems. they are all there. my father was the editor of commentary from 1960's through 1995. there was a 14 year separation between him and me when the magazine was edited by my friend, neil. and i was then recruited to take over by the board. it has been an interesting experience. because of course i grew up with the magazine, and it was the formative intellectual experience of my life to be the son of these two intellectuals. and at the age of 48, i took over this publication and have had to put my own stamp on it in a much different time. brian: you see the movies that you watch and critique where? john: movie theaters, always. brian: new york? john: new york. upper west side of manhattan, usually.
brian: ok. let's go to another movie. the boston globe story, a movie called "spotlight." [video clip] >> this is it. >> this is the law covering for one priest. there's another 90 up there. >> we have to go with us now. >> i am not going to rush the story. >> we don't have a choice. if we don't rush to print, someone else will butcher the story. joe from the herald was at the courthouse. >> mike. >> why are we hesitating? he told us to get the system. >> he told us to get the system. we need the full scope. that is the only thing that will put an end to this. brian: you say, "i feel about the often insanely false and widely romanticized depictions on screen of the way newsrooms function, and the glamorized portraits of those who work in them, the way many people feel about nails upon a black board." what did you think about
"spotlight?" john: i thought it was the best movie of 2015. it is easily the best portrait of the functioning's of the inside of a newsroom that i have ever seen or ever hope to see. it was set in the year 2000, so what it portrayed is a world that is now gone. physical libraries, where clips are kept in file folders and envelopes that you can search through piece by piece, dogging itort of doing most of their work on the , phone or in the office, having to hustle to courtrooms. a lot of this has been superseded by the internet and searchable functions that way. a lot of people working from home and remotely. what spotlight captured was what happens when a newspaper that is
serious about something commits s somethingnd let bubble for a long time, with the real possibility that what it is searching for, they will not find. in this case, they did in fact find this astonishing scandal involving the archdiocese of boston and how it covered up these molestations, hundreds and hundreds of molestations and hid the molesters from justice. it is one of the signal achievements of journalism in our time. , tonally and in spirit, is just a spectacularly good piece of work, partially because it is so quiet, it is so unflashy. it almost looks like an old
television show, without effects. brian: let's go to another movie, a whole different feeling. "straight outta compton," back in 2015. a little bit different than what we saw. let's watch. [video clip] >> what do you have us on the ground for? >> sit tight and let us do our job. >> officer, what is going on? >> can you stay right there please? we are trying to check these bangers. >> these are artists. >> excuse me, artists? what kind? >> rappers. they are working with me in the studio right now. >> rap is not an art. who are you? >> i am the manager. >> you are wasting your time. >> you have got to be kidding me. >> these clients look like gang members. >> you cannot arrest people just because of what they look like.
brian: "straight outta compton," compton, california. paul giamatti. john: a strong, vibrant, kicky movie. recall inelieve, as i my review, i was already too old for rap when it came in. it is a form that does not speak to me at all, and i never felt any connection to it. i am much squarer than that. but the movie itself, as a kind of update of the classic showbiz story about how the band got together and recorded its big hits, it was strikingly effective. and of course, there are manifest ironies in it, liked fact that it kids very
sentimental even though these guys that -- some of them did very questionable things in their lives, and the fact that people have wound up playing cops on tv having recorded very anti-cop lyrics, about which i was very disapproving of the time. again, another story about how american success changes everything. because if you have ice-t -- brian: that is dr. dre. f the police," and then 20 years later, he is playing a cop on law and order. you can see how the culture kind of takes things in. it homogenizes them, softens them to a point where you can barely remember where they came
from. when this anti-cop rap started, there were major political issues. huge crime waves. you had people attacking cops. they did not want to get out of their cars to do anything. they were scared about getting out of their cars. policies were not in place to handle crime prevention before these crimes happened. there were hearings in congress about it. and as i said, 20 years later, one of the major guys portrayed in "straight outta compton" plays a cop in the movies. brian: you have three young kids. you talk about language. i want to read this from your twitter account. if anybody wants to get on google and see it. john podhoretz, contributing editor of the weekly standard -- "lately i have taken to cursing quite a bit. life is short."
john: now we're moving on to twitter. brian: the reason i bring this up is because, at the time of this recording, you have tweeted 126,000 times. what are you doing? john: i don't know. [laughter] john: here is what i know. the good part of that is that there are 63,000 followers there, all of whom i got one by one over the course of those eight years. what am i doing? so a tweet is 140 characters, a one-liner basically. i am, in some ways, a frustrated standup comedian. and twitter is a form of haiku performance art for me. and it is also like -- it is a weird thing. it is like a virtual cocktail party 24 hours a day. let's say you are sitting at your computer, doing something,
and it is just too much. you get anxious because you are writing and just want to turn your attention for five minutes to something else. you can kind of open this door and go in and there is this big conversation going on that you can join for a while, and then you can step back out, close the door and go back to work. it is a form of procrastination. it could be considered a form of creative process working itself out in another way. the cursing thing is i think a residue of what is to me the nightmarish quality of the election that really began in march of 2015, which i think is driving a great many people to near insanity. like 59,know, we have 58 more days of this. brian: by the time people see this, it'll be a lot fewer days. john: ok, a lot fewer days. and it can't come soon enough,
because the heightened emotions and feelings and the hostility with which one is greeted, that causes one to respond with hostility. whereas one could respond not at all. brian: are you cursing on twitter because you are feeling hostility? john: well, it started -- [laughter] brian: your kids know you are doing this? john: they are not on twitter yet. when they are on twitter, i will do almost none of it. my kids are not on social media, except someone has an instagram account, which is private. but a lot of this started because of confrontations that i had with a group of people who have come to be known as people who heard hillary clinton's phoenix, august, in
known as the alt-right. it is a group of people on twitter with extreme nationalist views. a lot of them are disgustingly anti-semitic. and so they would send openly and disgustingly anti-semitic tweets toward me, saying just the most horrific things like you should get in an oven, and it is too bad that hitler did not kill you or kill your grandparents, or your children should be in an oven. and so there are three ways to deal with it. you can ignore it, you can block those people, and the third is to engage with them. and i decided for a couple of months to engage with them. my form of engagement was to spew invective at them. brian: did it make you feel better? john: i don't know. i think it is an ongoing dispute about this question of what do you do in these three cases? right?
i felt gutturally that not to respond is a form of acceptance. if you do not respond, you are essentially either suggesting that they got you and you are cowardly about responding, or that it is ok to talk this way. and so particularly since this , is public, that somebody tweets something at me, people who follow me can see it in my timeline. i felt -- a lot of this was instinctual, but i felt like i couldn't not respond, and that the only proper way to respond was not to say "how could you say such a terrible thing?" but to go at their jugular. sometimes that involves profanity. brian: we talked about tweeting and language. and then we go back to august 20
we can go back to august 24, 2015. right now, the big news is the broadway opening of a musical biography of alexander hamilton told in hip-hop. it is grounds for deep skepticism. i have not seen hamilton and may not get a chance to see it for a year given its $35 million advance, but it is not my inability to get a ticket that has brought this sadness. it is the fact that so little produceds that is provokes the anticipatory thrill , that once went hand-in-hand with being a serious customer, consumer and enthusiast of culture. there is a lot of swearing and hip-hop. and now you have seen it. john: i have seen it twice.
brian: it is a huge success. what you think of it? john: i think hamilton is a masterpiece. it is so far the great cultural masterpiece of the 21st century. i say that not only because i myself find it immensely stirring and listenable, and i have listened to it a thousand times. i heard many times before i saw it. brian: your kids sang it. john: my kids know it by heart. they started listening to it at school. i don't know, maybe just a couple weeks or a couple months after i wrote that. and they engaged with it in a way i've never seen them engage with anything. i took them to see it in june, and these are kids, because they are new york city kids, they have seen a lot of theater, even though they are 12 and 10. i have never seen a response the
way that i have seen them respond to this one. laughing, crying. it is -- what i was talking about in the passage that you read is that from the time of my early teens when i really started paying attention to culture, the release of certain things were events. you know, like a big book coming out was an event. the big novel of the year, a much-anticipated biography, it was an event. people knew about it, waited to see the reviews. movie openings were an event. in new york city in the 70's, a woody allen opening was an event. there was a director who had a moment of great celebrity in the mid-1970's her movies were , events. francis ford coppola opening was a big event. these were things people waited for and read articles about before they came along, and they saw the ads in the sunday new york times and got excited about it and talked about it, and try
to go on the opening night to the one theater in the city that was showing it, and it was sold out so you would wait for the next show. and you would wait in line for two hours. this sense that there was real, pressing importance. and that is almost entirely gone from culture, in part because there's just so much of it. there is so much stuff on tv, there is so much stuff streaming. every week it seems, amazon or netflix releases a new series, and hbo has a new series. 42 different channels have new series. there are more books published than ever before. and there are way more movies released than ever before. most things do not achieve that kind of level of excitement. that anticipatory excitement. hamilton did. it opened downtown in new york at the public theater and people started buzzing about how interesting and funny it was.
and what was most interesting about it, and i say this as someone who edited pieces before i saw it, it was transideological. i run a conservative magazine. a law professor at syracuse university, she wrote me and told me, "i have just seen hamilton and it is astounding." and i would like to write about it because she writes a lot about the founders and the period in which the constitution was written in, and there's a lot to be said about how it talks about the constitution and what this could mean for americans today. i published that. meanwhile, everybody on the other side of the political aisle was falling before the feet of lin manuel miranda, who wrote the music, the book and the lyrics and was the star of it. by the time i saw it, in the winter, last winter, you know,
was the oneough it thing that people would say, have you seen hamilton? really? i'm not going to see it until july. how was it? who is the best one in it? like that. brian: let me interrupt to show you a couple of clips of some professors, phd's who are historians, who have met and talked about "hamilton." we have had people here that have talked about it on both sides. you are not an academic. john: no. brian: but there is beginning to be a sense of unhappiness amongst some of the academics about "hamilton." here is a professor from the city university of new york, graduate center. first of all, he is talking
about the problems with "hamilton," the musical, and i want you to hear what he has to say and give it your perspective. >> number one, it is celebratory of the founders. but, number two, it is neo-federalist, so it is celebratory of particular founders. i made this clear last night. it gives neoconfederalist interpretation of every aspect. it is privileging character and personality over political issues and content and is tied to issues of leadership and the looking of things from the founder's perspectives. so all of those three things. and the fourth thing, which increasingly buttresses it all is this idea that these good founders were anti-slavery. brian: suggesting that they were not. are 10,000 there things i could say about
whatever that was, 45 seconds. brian: say whatever you want. john: i mean, you know, it is not neofederalist. it is federalists. the big debate, the remarkable scene, and the fact that it is a scene in a musical done in rap that is totally historically, in which he takes great pains to get the debate correct, a song called "cabinet battle one," in which hamilton and jefferson go after each other over hamilton's famous proposal to create, establish a state bank. and you know, the debate that , was going on is jefferson essentially says in rap, this is going to privilege new york over virginia. we are growers and all you do is move money around. and we have paid our debts from the revolutionary war, and new york has not. you are just pushing us around and how dare you. hamilton, in response, says you
have paid your debts because you do not pay for labor because you have a slave economy and we do not in new york, and so do not try to get on your high horse with me about this. ok, now i take my children as an example. my 12-year-old now knows more from this one song that is an accurate representation of the battle between the federalists and the non-federalists, than she would from anything else at the age of 15 or 18. this is a central debate. hamilton was in fact the head of the manumission society in new york city. he was an anti-slavery activist.
his friend, john cornyn, attempted to set up to fight in the revolutionary war, and radical historians want to claim that the late 18th century men who created the united states were morally compromised in all sorts of ways. of course, they were. because everybody was morally compromised. these are also among the greatest men that ever lived in the history of the world. they created the greatest political experiment that has ever been seen. they are giants beyond our reckoning. brian: more from the historians, a professor with this brief comment. i want to get your reaction. [video clip] >> i do not think some of the folks celebrating the musical realize how much of a wall street view that is. brian: he has written a book on john d. rockefeller and
warburg's. john: he is a financial historian. his biography of hamilton which is the source material for the musical is and is a celebration of hamilton, unquestionably a look at how he helped structure the financial -- create the basis of the financial structure of the united states, which was a very complex thing and did not even conclude in its firming up for another 120, 130 years. the idea that that is a wall street view is such a parody of left-wing academicism. it is not a wall street view. hamilton is a very complicated person who was dealing with the difficulties of creating a democratic-republican system. so it was a system of the
people, for the people, by the people in which direct democracy was viewed as problematic because it would be too chaotic and structurally impossible. brian: one more on this. nancy isenberg, an lsu professor and historian. again a phd. here is her view from the same conference, a different subject on historians that are academics and the more popular historians. >> it is important to understand the founders with all of their flaws, not just remembering what we want to remember or shading it the way we want to highlight because they become a symbol, and they have been icons, symbols, and that is historically true. it is not that this is new in terms of making hamilton into the new symbol. he is a new flavor of the month. we had john adams before. now we have moved on and that is going to keep happening.
we cannot stop that. but we have to engage and we teach thetually lessons that are distinguished, what real historians do as opposed to popular culture. our knowledge matters and we have to defend it. john: of course knowledge matters, and of course the portrait of alexander hamilton in a broadway musical should not be the last word on alexander hamilton. david mccullough's biography on john adams should not be the last word on john adams. if the ideological purpose of nancy isenberg, if it is, is to defame the founding of the united states and act as though the founding of the united states was basically a giant con, then her view, academic or not, is incorrect, and their view of celebratory is correct. and no amount of shading or detail will take away the fact
that americans have responded to the portrait of alexander hamilton and this musical because it is positive, because they are hungry for a portrayal of the united states that does not treat the united states as a great evil, but rather as a great experiment in goodness. the model, the reason hamilton is the new flavor of the month, in her terminology, is precisely because he sets a more liberal-modern liberal anti-trump view. he is constantly portrayed as in the immigrant. here, goes to college, teams up with the marquis de lafayette and the two of them together, at some point say in the middle of the show, immigrants, we get the job done. the audience erupts in applause because we are at a moment in which there's a big debate in the united states about whether or not we are a nation of immigrants or whether we need to tighten our immigration system,
and most people that are going to go to a broadway theater are liberal and they are excited to see this. and they are also very excited to see this portrayal of a, i am just like my country, young, scrappy, hungry and i'm not giving away my shot. that is hamilton's first portrayal of himself in the show. this notion that the united states is a great thing and an experiment that we are all still participating in is something that is desperately needed in this country. in another piece about about hamilton after i saw it, i said that i had gone to mount vernon with my kids in february. it was freezing cold, walking through washington's house and i'm thinking about the 2016 election and the rise of donald trump, for whom i have very
feelings, and the rise of hillary clinton for whom i have dark, negative feelings and how low the election had , gotten at that point and how low the debates were particularly in the republican party. i found myself dissolving into tears at the thought that we are walking through washington's house and this is how we have treated the country 240 years later. 240 years after the declaration of independence, that this is what we have presented ourselves with and have been presented with. brian: back to john podhoretz, the movie reviewer in the "weekly standard." this is from 1995. anthony hopkins playing richard nixon. and sam waterston playing director of the cia. [video clip] >> i suppose you are unhappy because i have not implemented your domestic intelligence plan. >> that is correct.
i am concerned the students are funded by foreign interests, whether they know it or not. the fbi is useless in this area and i want your attention on this matter. >> of course, we have tried to and so far we have come up with nothing. >> well, find something. i want these leaks stopped. jack anderson, the state department, i want to know who is talking. >> i am sure you realize, mr. president, this is a very tricky area, given our charter and the congressional oversight committee. >> i know damn well going back to the 1950's, this agency reports what it wants. , that is aing this terrible movie, one of the worst movies ever made. hopkins was a great actor but gives one of the worst performances. you watch that, it is almost like a parody. i thought when the music comes up behind them, i started giggling because it is so over-the-top ridiculous. oliver stone, who made that
movie, has a movie coming out in september about edward snowden called "snowden," which i basically think, having gone to this litany of anti-american movies about how jfk was killed by the government and nixon is the worst person ever. bushwas pretty bad, and and all of that is horrible -- this is basically a movie about snowden which is effectively a , tool of russian intelligence. i have not seen it yet, but based on what i am reading in the articles about how it was made, we have gone from 1995 two of ridiculous movie with richard nixon, a person you could make 10,000 really good movies about how terrible he was, but this one posits that nixon is controlled by the same
texas rich guys that controlled lyndon johnson in jfk which is preposterous. nixon had his own set of rich guys in california that were not the texas guys with jfk. now, he is basically making movies that appear to putin's intelligence service. the late mike- nichols made a movie called "primary colors" with john travolta. it was written by john kline and was anonymous until he was discovered. you have written about this. let's watch a clip of that. [video clip] >> what i'm going to do? i am going to do something really outrageous. i am going to tell the truth. [applause] >> i know what you are thinking. you are thinking he must be really be desperate to do that.
if you had to swallow enough garbage. [laughter] >> you can say it. we are x-rated. >> me too, if you believe what you read in the papers. [applause] all right. here is the truth. no politician can bring back the shipyard jobs or make your union strong again. no politician can make it the way it used to be because we are living in a new world, a world without economic borders. a guy can push a button in new york and move a billion dollars to tokyo in the blink of an eye. in the world, muscle jobs go to muscle labor where it is cheap and that is not here. brian: what kind of job did he do playing bill clinton? john: not very good. you can hear every second how he is trying to get the accent together. not convincing, and in fact, the portrayal of clinton during 1992, that was a totally
fraudulent view. clinton was a far more stiff and programmed and robotic person then you see there. the clinton we know after his presidency, although this was made during his presidency, the kind of loose, funny guy that ended up being a standup, that was not the clinton of 1992 and he was very focused. andas talking point focused was not the type of person that let it all hang out. tried to tell the truth, that was not him at all. the book is much better than the movie. the movie had a real problem because it did not know -- elaine may wrote the script, and mike nichols did not know what they thought of clinton. in the end, if you see the movie , they do not know whether they
liked him or disliked him or whether he is good or bad. you do not really have a view on whether or not hillary and him have a loving marriage or a bad marriage. you are left as an audience member, it is like seeing something, seeing a sketch of something that keeps getting blurry and then coming into focus and getting blurry again. because you do not know if what you are seeing is supposed to say, it's not really clinton, but it is a parallel. so it was very jarring to watch because it was neither an attack nor a celebration nor praise or nothing. and he did not really come across as anything. brian: here is the movie "lincoln" with sally field and daniel day lewis playing the part of lincoln back in 2012. [video clip] >> you wake up ignorant of what you're up to. when have i ever been so easily bamboozled?
i believe you when you say you want to abolish slavery. what will happen if you fail to pass the amendment? >> i do not want to be leaving big, muddy footprints all over town. >> no one who has lived knows better than you the proper placement. because if you live to acquire the necessary votes. brian: steven spielberg, did he do the job you expected? john: it is a complicated movie because the movie is daniel day-lewis and he gives one of the greatest performances ever committed to film in the movie, and he does 150 unexpected things that make it so memorable. i think the key thing is the voice he found himself speaking in for lincoln.
there is a 6'4" guy that matthew brady photographed, and he has this kind of tenor with a slightly backwoods accent. it is startling at first, because you would think lincoln spoke in tones like this. and suddenly by doing that he becomes a much more intimate portrait. for capturing that, forgiving r giving daniel day lewis that room to do this astonishing performance, the movie is a success. it is a very interesting perspective of the passage of the 13th amendment which is an unexpected way to tell the story of abraham lincoln. you do not think of the 13th amendment as key. we talk about the 14th amendment being the most important.
tony kushner wrote the screenplay and it was an interesting way of going at lincoln, portraying him as a successful politician who knew how to create alliances and get legislation through congress. but it is also a little stiff and a little wooden. and when spielberg decided to have the last 15 minutes be the assassination and the aftermath and the funeral and all of that, it just becomes a kind of wooden pageant. and that i think that was unfortunate. and sally field kind of eats the scenery there. brian: would you rather write a negative or positive review? from a writer's standpoint. john: negative. absolutely. a much easier to write negative. a really negative review, some thing just keys up for you and you can just make fun of it. brian: where was the last review where you were really ticked off? , in: a couple of years ago
reviewed a movie called "spring breakers" a source of enduring interplay on twitter between me and a funny bunch who a critic who claims to like this movie, which i thought was literally the worst movie i had ever sat through all the way. and i went back the other night, because we were jousting about it and read the review and it is basically a joke every other sentence about how bad it is. and that is fun. finding the right tone to strike when you are writing something favorable, which is nice because you can actually say, you should really see this. it is really interesting. it is a trickier thing. you want to get the tone right. most recently i wrote a favorable review of a movie called "hell and high water," a
bank robbery story set in west texas, and i thought it was really good. i did not think it was great. i thought it was really good. and i did not want to over praise it because i did not want to disappoint people that went to see it who would be disappointed because they thought they were seeing something wildly exceptional. so getting that tone right is hard. brian: do you know how popular your columns are in terms of others? have they ever done a survey? john: i do not know. i know, word-of-mouth, i have been doing this on and off for 21 years. pretty much on for 21 years in the weekly standard. we started in september of 1995, so 21 years. i was one of the three founders of the magazine. editor for the first two years of its existence. and so you know, it is pretty , much that.
and as a writer, it is the most enduring feature of the magazine, my movie review in the back, aside from the parity which is the back page done by a lot of different people and the scrapbook in the front, which is done by a lot of people, it is there and is an anchor of the magazine. brian: a lot of people can read it online. one last clip before we close it down. explain who ethan and joel coen are. this is from "hail, caesar." [video clip] >> as for the religious aspect, does the depiction of christ jesus cut the mustard? >> the nature of christ is not quite as simple. it is not simply that god is christ, christ is god. >> you can say that again. he was a man. >> the rabbi, all of us have a little bit of god in us. don't we? >> it is the belief that christ is properly referred to as the
son of god. it is the son of god who takes the sins of the world upon himself so the rest of god's children, we imperfect beings, through faith, may enter the kingdom of heaven. >> so god is split? >> yes and no. >> there is unity in division and division in unity. >> i am not sure i follow. , you do not follow for a simple reason. these men are screwballs. >> god does not have children. he is a bachelor and very angry. [laughter] brian: the coen brothers. explain them. do you like them? john: the coen brothers are the most interesting american filmmakers to have been making movies in the period in which i have been writing movie reviews. they are brothers from minneapolis. they have made 18 or 19 movies together. they write and direct them together.
since 1982 or 1983, they are the most literate, the most stylistically interesting, and the most challenging american filmmakers. "hail, cesar" gives you a sense of their slightly absurdist tone, slightly removed from reality. you have a hollywood executive trying to sell a movie like "ben-hur" to religious leadership of los angeles so nobody will attack it for being blasphemous. and so this guy is sitting in a room doing a sales job while listening to them, and the movie itself is a bizarre combination of satire and tribute to
hollywood and affectionate parody and kind of savage parody, and i think may be somewhat inaccessible to some people. but they made movies like the remake of "true grit" with jeff bridges, which is very emotionally powerful. "fargo," which has a flip, nihilistic tone that turns very moral and emotional. they won oscars for "no country for old men" in 1980 and how people deal with a kind of relentless evil. they are remarkable moviemakers. brian: unfortunately one last question, out of 100 movies you see in a year, how many of them would you give an a? john: four or five, maybe.
the program has featured other contributors from the weekly standard. in 2006, we set out the founder william kristol. we have also spoken with the executive editor fred barnes and andrew ferguson. you can watch a those interviews online at c-span.org. here on c-span, washington journal is next. at 10:30 a.m., the future of afghanistan with dana petronius and u.s. ambassador's. this afternoon, the agricultural secretary speaks at the press club about priorities for his department. on today's washington journal, a look at the supreme court's new term, starting today. then the natural resources defense counsel on the obama
administrations claim power plan -- clean power plan. and then david french on what is ♪ good morning, it is october 3. the first monday in october, marking the start of a new term of the u.s. supreme court. live pictures on this monday morning. it is a court the remains justiceseight beginning to focus on a number of key cases. center republicans holding firm on not holding any confirmation nominee,on a ninth merrick garland. ohio for trump, in hillary clinton.