“Master-Race Propaganda”

Randall Wallace‘s Secretariat (Disney, 10.8) is currently running with a 63% Rotten Tomatoes rating. I used to get grades like this on high school exams. It basically means “fail” although you got more than half the questions right. Secretariat gets some things right also, but it’s an overall flunk. I didn’t hate it — the racing footage is wonderful — but I loathe the white-ass Republican atmosphere. As I wrote last Sunday, “You never forget you’re watching a Randall Wallace family-values movie for the schmoes.”

You can be emotionally affected by Secretariat (fine, knock yourself out), but you can’t call it a “great movie,” which is what Roger Ebert has done. It’s a disproportionate use of the term and unfair to films that truly deserve it. I do, however, agree with this Ebert passage: “There’s a scene here when Penny Chenery and her horse look each other in the eye for a long time on an important morning. You can’t tell me they weren’t both thinking the same thing.”

I agree with Awards Daily‘s Sasha Stone that O’Hehir’s Salon review, titled “A Gorgeous Creepy American Myth”, is the best of the lot.

“In its totality Secretariat is a work of creepy, half-hilarious master-race propaganda almost worthy of Leni Riefenstahl,” he says early on, “and all the more effective because it presents as a family-friendly yarn about a nice lady and her horse.

Secretariat [presents] a honey-dipped fantasy vision of the American past as the Tea Party would like to imagine it, loaded with uplift and glory and scrubbed clean of multiculturalism and social discord.

“In the world of this movie, strong-willed and independent-minded women like Diane Lane‘s Penny Chenery are ladies first (she’s like a classed-up version of Sarah Palin feminism), left-wing activism is an endearing cute phase your kids go through (until they learn the hard truth about inheritance taxes), and all right-thinking Americans are united in their adoration of a Nietzschean Uberhorse, a hero so superhuman he isn’t human at all.

“Religion and politics are barely mentioned in the story of Chenery and her amazing horse, but it’s clear that Secretariat was constructed and marketed with at least one eye on the conservative Christian audiences who embraced The Blind Side. The film opens with a voice-over passage from the Book of Job and ends with a hymn. Wallace, also the director of We Were Warriors and the writer of Pearl Harbor and Braveheart, is one of mainstream Hollywood’s few prominent Christians, and has spoken openly about his faith and his desire to make movies that appeal to ‘people with middle-American values.’

“It’s legitimate to wonder exactly what Christian-friendly and ‘middle-American’ inspirational values are being conveyed here, or whether they’re just providing cover for some fairly ordinary right-wing ideology and xenophobia. This long-suffering female Job overcomes such tremendous obstacles as having been born white and Southern and possessed of impressive wealth and property, and who then lucks into owning a genetic freak who turned out to be faster and stronger than any racehorse ever foaled.”

  • Eloi Wrath

    That still just screams “Sunday afternoon on TNT”.

  • Travis Crabtree

    Forget that it looks like a seen-it-all-before, not-terribly-original, Disney-fied bland fest… my biggest reason for not wanting to see it is that there are just TOO MANY white people in it. And apparently they never once mention the war of imperial aggression by the U.S. against the people of Vietnam. PASS!

    Jesus what an angry, bitter, petty smarms y’all sound like. Thank christ I don’t go to movies loaded up with all that baggage.

    Lighten up. It’s a fucking Disney movie for godssake, not a freshman level history class.

  • Thunderballs

    Chenery is just a little too close to Cheney! I smell a conspiracy, a right wing conspiracy!

  • Cadavra

    Cadavra to Wells: Just out of morbid curiosity, did you find any political/religious undercurrents in SEABISCUIT? I’m not defending SECRETARIAT, as I obviously haven’t seen it yet, but as Freud might have put it, sometimes a horse movie is just a horse movie.

  • raygo

    After finally seeing The Blind Side, I don’t get a similar vibe from this, and calling it “this year’s Blind Side” is probably grasping for straws, I hated the ads for The Blind Side, but when I saw it, it turns out that all those emotional clips were actually surrounded by much more interesting scenes and dialogue, and Sandra Bullock had an easy grace and elegance that I hadn’t seen before. I’ve always liked Diane Lane, and I really hope there’s more to her performance than the trailers indicate, but it doesn’t seem likely.

  • Manitoba

    Roger Ebert does admit he has a hard time doing a straight review of the film because it is based on a book by a close friend since their days at the University of Illinois in 1962.

  • Gaydos

    Shoutout to John Anderson in the New York Times who delivered this GREAT zinger quote from the real (and clearly sharp-eyed_ Chenery in his story on “Secretariat.”

    “Ms. Chenery, now 88, is less romantic abou the kind of human-animal bond at the heart of “The Black Stalliion” or even “Secretariat.”

    “I’ts a Disney movie, she said, laughing, by phone from her home in Denver.

    “It’s a very good Disney movie and I enjoyed it, but we know they have to convey certain values and photogenic moments.”

    Time to listen to T Bone Burnett’s “Hefner and Disney” again.

  • Krillian

    “I used to get grades like this on high school exams. It basically means “fail” although you got more than half the questions right.”

    You never had Armond White and Rex Reed answering two questions for you on every exam.

  • Gabe@ThePlaylist

    I swear, you’d assume Hollywood has no idea some Christians live on the coasts.

  • Gaydos

    Gabe: I don’t think this is about Christianity. So here’s a bit of T Bone’s “Hefner and Disney” for reference (T Bone’s’s a Christian, btw)

    “…And the neighborhood children loved them

    They had lots of fun playing in Hefnerland

    And looking at all Disney’s go-go pictures

    Because they didn’t know any better

    And they didn’t know any worse….

    But between you and me they were really dupes of the Wicked King

    Who wanted to rob the children of their dreams.”

  • http://moviebob.blogspot.com THE MovieBob

    The “master-race” thing re: the horse is pushing it, but it DOES hit on why the damn thing just doesn’t work: There’s NO real stakes or drama, but the music and the editing keep acting like there are – it’s almost hillarious at times.

    The horse comes from an ultra-impressive bloodline and has a unique combination of speed and endurance that EVERY CHARACTER is constantly aware of, so the “horse part” of the story is essentially “the one who had the best chance of winning won.”

    Since inspirational sports stories are about underdogs, and the horse ISN’T one, they have to try and make one out of Lane’s character… except she doesn’t have much at stake, either – she’s already comfortably upper-class before the horse racing even enters the picture, and she’s not going to be destitute if the horse fails; so the “big choice” is whether to sell out and stay rich or take a big risk and become RICHER – who gives a shit?

    So they have to do it by going the “woman in a man’s world” route – except the can’t go TOO far with that, because “feminism” is a dirty word to the “white-wing” family-values crowd they NEED to show up for this thing. So she never really undergoes any real hard-choices or heavy prejudice other than from the bad-guy owner of the bad-guy horse, who’s a toothless caricature. In real life, it seems as though she actually DID undergo a sort of “new woman” transformation i.e. being a horse-breeder is more interesting/fulfilling than being a housewife, seeing as though she DIVORCED a year after the Triple Crown. THAT would actually be an interesting movie – woman leaves family for horse, was she right? – but it’s not one you’re gonna make “Blind Side 2″ out of.

  • LicentiousMaximus
  • LicentiousMaximus

    We’ll see more of this with the end of the white majority in sight.

  • Kevin Marshall

    Everything about this movie’s promotion – from the presentation of the film itself to the selling of its story – is ringing through like a poor man’s “Seabiscuit.” Which people already saw and liked, and weren’t exactly clamoring for another.

    The film provided a more unique look at the industry and a more intriguing come-from-behind story.

    So the question is, who’s this movie for? People who want to see a family movie? Sure. Will enough of them want to see a family movie about horse racing?

    Probably not.

    This thing’s going to bomb. Hard.

  • reverent and free

    Nah Kevin, it’ll do well. It’s the only family film in sight and what other movie is there for older moviegoers to see? The only weakness is with the 16 to 30 crowd who stay away from period movies.

  • DiscoNap

    The Chenerys were almost certainly Democrats.

  • crazynine

    To quote a wiser man than all of us, all that hate’s gonna burn you up, Wells.

  • moviechick44

    I saw it last night with my mom and my brother ( we used to go to the track when we were kids )

    I feel like I saw a different movie than people that didn’t like it. I thought it was a awesome film. I really thought Diane Lane was very good. Malkovich not great but good at least.

    I really don’t see what the problem is with the haters. It’s an uplifting story however you look at it. We have so much negativity in the world, so much hate, how can you not wrap your arms around this film. I don’t care about Penny’s chauvinist husband and how he thinks. I admire her for taking the steps she had to take to get Secretariat where she wanted and knew she could.

    Also it’s widely circulated online that Ron Turcotte really liked the movie as well. So the jockey who rode him gave it a thumbs up.

    But I’m never, ever swayed by a negative review from someone until I see ia filmfor myself. Oh… and the cinematography is this film is stellar.

    See the film for yourself without any preconcieved notions. Don’t let the hate sway you from the film. And read Eberts 4 star review. That’s the movie I saw.

  • rayciscon

    crazynine brings up a good point… what happened to good ol’ fashioned Blue State tolerance?

    If the elections go the way they appear to be going, this is going to be a VERY interesting web site on November 3rd.

  • SpinDozer

    ‘If the elections go the way they appear to be going, this is going to be a VERY interesting web site on November 3rd.’

    Why? It’s virtually guaranteed that the US Congress will get dumber/accomplish less good, more evil. I think you foret that less than 2 years ago, a complete asshole was President and the American people elected him, you think that electing Obama made them smarter? We could only hope. Just like hoping that Obama would do everything right all the time. It’s a goal.

  • TheCahuengaKid

    Wells – Wasn’t Wallace atached at one time as screenwriter for Angelina Jolie’s movie of Ayn Rand’s “ATLAS SHRUGGED”?

  • LicentiousMaximus

    “what happened to good ol’ fashioned Blue State tolerance?”

    Killed off by good ole fashion red state intolerance. Whatever gains the KKK makes in the fall will be washed away and then some in ’12.

  • Krillian

    Secretariat is compared to Nazi propaganda and now we get the KKK card.

    Some sections of the universe are just joyless.

  • Lena

    Moviechick, I’m DEFINITELY going to see the movie this weekend. Right now my family is going through a deep tragedy and we all need to be uplifted. Watching this inspiring tale (and for the record, I’m not a right-wing Christian fundamentalist and I’m certainly not from the South–a Bible Belt product I am not) about that beautiful racehorse I remember as a child is very welcome.

  • DeafEars

    “…a Randall Wallace family-values movie for the schmoes…”

    What I wouldn’t give to see that on a poster on the side of a bus…

    No thanks, I did my time with SEABISCUIT. I don’t even mind the Christian stuff, it’s just one movie about a horse is enough to do me for a decade or so. Carol Ballard’s THE BLACK STALLION still beats them all.

    What the hell happened to him, anyway?

  • rayciscon

    I’m alarmed, but unfortunately not surprised by the level of oikophobia demonstrated by the comments here.