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Emotionally Exhausted and Morally Bankrupt? By Mike Holsclaw

So, as we approach the end of the year, what can we say that we’re thankful for?

I’m thankful for remembering that, after the Nazis told director Fritz Lang that they would not allow his latest film, “The Testament of Dr. Mabuse”, to be shown but they did want him to become the head of UFA (the largest film studio in Germany), he packed his bags and emigrated to America. As Henry Rollins says, “In the worst of times the best among us never lose their moral compass, and that is how they emerge relatively unscathed.”

I’m thankful that “The Other Side of the Wind”, the last film of my hero, Orson Welles, was finally released. It only took forty years and the herculean efforts of a legion of Welles partisans, but it finally became a reality. It’s very existence is a triumph but it also disproves the myth that, in his later years, Welles became a dilettante who played at film making but never really intended to finish anything. It breaks my heart to consider the obstacles he faced at the end of his career (in a better world, he would have been lionized, not penalized, for his cinematic genius), but, at least now, he’s finally starting to be appreciated for being an innovative, independent filmmaker before the category even existed.

I’m thankful that, when I turn over to Turner Classic Movies, I often see promos featuring twenty- and thirty-somethings who are as enthusiastic about the Golden Age of film (and everything in between) as I am; I become sad sometimes thinking that, after my generation is gone, there won’t be anyone who still remembers and appreciates one of America’s great, original art forms at its peak. Seeing the passion of these relative youngsters makes me think that some of the better parts of our popular culture will still persist.

I’m thankful that, because I’ve been writing about film, in one form or another, for the last ten years, I’ve become more sensitive to the ethical subtext of many of the best movies ever made and grateful that directors like John Ford, Howard Hawks, Jean Renoir, and, yes, Orson Welles used the medium not just for the aesthetic pleasure it could provide (which is considerable) but also to explore the moral dimension of being human. Hawks’ “Red River” looks at the sometimes unreconcilable tension between family obligation and personal honor, Ford’s “The Searchers” takes an unflinching look into the abyss of racial bigotry, Renoir’s “This Land is Mine!” discovers an unexpected but stirring courage in the face of totalitarianism, and Welles “Touch of Evil” considers the tragedy of a once great man who becomes corrupted by his own sense of moral infallibility. Pauline Kael famously said she “lost it at the movies” but, as these examples show, you can also find it there, especially if you’re looking, with a certain degree of attentiveness, for some basic lessons on the art of living.

In a classic episode of M.A.S.H., Frank Burns becomes inebriated and passes out, at which point B.J. and Hawkeye attach a tag to his toe that says “emotionally exhausted and morally bankrupt”; I’ll admit, in the past year, there have been more than a few occasions where I’ve felt emotionally exhausted and morally bankrupt but, of late, I’ve begun to think, perhaps irrationally, that there are glimmers of hope on the horizon. I can’t explain it but, my intuition says that 2019 has to be better than 2018 (it would be hard for it to be any worse, right?) If nothing else, maybe I’m just tired of being discouraged and am ready to feel better; as Camus once remarked, happiness, too, is inevitable. So, finally, I’m thankful that there appears to be the first faint glimmer of sunrise in the long night of my soul.

These are just a few of the things I’m thankful for this year. I hope that your inventory of things to be grateful for was as long, if not longer. Happy Thanksgiving, one and all!