It's always heartening to see a tyrant fall.  It reminds us that
tyrants are all paper tigers in the absence of the support or apathetic
consent of the people they rule.  This political truth is one that
people habitually forget — even in countries like America which were
founded on an absolute faith in this truth.

But something more important has been shown in Egypt over the past three
astonishing weeks.  We have seen a nation of decent, peaceable,
creative, idealistic, brave people . . . most of whom happen to be
Muslims.  It's no wonder that the lunatic fringe on the American right
is upset over this vision — demonizing Muslims is the cornerstone of
much of the foreign policy of that fringe.

But you cannot demonize the young people in the streets of Egypt right
now.  You cannot demonize their joy, their desire for freedom, their
humane methods, their sweetly earnest pride in who they are and what
they have done.  Even if their movement is hijacked by a new autocracy
or by fanatics — which is very hard to imagine happening — we have
seen surging crowds who represent the real Egypt, and they are not
fanatics, they are not violent, they are not anti-American.  They are
just good, dear people who want liberty and economic opportunity.

Many of them hold religious views which we in the West would call
barbaric.  Slavery, enshrined in our Constitution, and the exclusion of
women from political power, back when America began its experiment in
democracy, were similarly barbaric .  But democracy, a free market for
ideas, is the only known road from such barbarism to an enlightened
society.  No other system of government has ever traveled it.

If the Egyptian people want democracy, they want a chance to change and
to grow — to be born again as a nation.  They know, in their hearts,
what we all know — that he not busy being born is busy dying.  Egypt
has decided to get on with the business of being born.

[Images from The Boston Globe's The Big Picture]


This week, Henry's Western Round-up — a blog devoted to news of Westerns in all media — features my Western short story “Tracker” (available here for 99 cents) and an interview with the author.

Henry (Henry Parke) has these kind words to say about the story:

I must admit I was initially intrigued about reading “Tracker”
not for the story itself, but for how it was offered –- as a download
from Amazon, for a Kindle.  It only cost a buck, but I hesitated because
I don’t own a
Kindle, and don’t even want one, but it
turns out there’s free Kindle Reader software that I could download to
my PC.  I’m glad I did.

“Tracker” is a western short story about an unexpected alliance between
a bounty-hunter with a wounded shooting-arm, and a desperate young
woman with a skill for shooting.  It’s written in a very crisp and
direct, unadorned style, and it goes places that I did not expect. 
While the tone is not grim, let me warn you that elements of the tale
are very dark indeed.  I strongly recommend anteing up the dollar.

The full post is here, and the free Kindle Reader software is here.


I’d never even heard of Elia Kazan’s Man On A Tightrope until I encountered it in the new Elia Kazan Collection DVD box set, so I was a little surprised to discover that it’s a minor masterpiece.  Kazan dismisses it as a misfire in his autobiography, probably because Daryl Zanuck took it away from him and edited it himself.  Kazan didn’t like what Zanuck had done with it, and when it flopped at the box office, he may have just wanted to forget it.

It doesn’t deserve to be forgotten.

If Ingmar Bergman had ever made a cold-war thriller, it would probably have looked a lot like this film.  It’s about a shabby little circus troupe behind the Iron Curtain which plans to escape across the border to freedom in the West.  According to Kazan, Zanuck cut the picture to emphasize the suspense element, losing a lot of Kazan’s nuance and atmosphere, but the truth is that it works as a thriller and has plenty of nuance and atmosphere — beautiful and surreal images of the circus world that elevate the film into an eloquent metaphor for artists struggling to escape restraint.

Frederick March gives one of his best performances as the leader of the circus — quiet, understated, touching.  Gloria Graham is as vexing as she often was as his wayward wife and Adolph Menjou has a brief but effective turn as a Communist internal security operative.

The film was shot in Germany, mostly on location, and looks terrific, blending the poetic and the documentary with a sure eye.

It was the first film Kazan made after naming names before HUAC and earning the eternal enmity of progressives, but the interference with the arts depicted in the film echoes the interference attempted on American soil by the members of the American Communist Party whom Kazan “betrayed” to HUAC.  It was this interference which caused Kazan himself to leave the Party in the 1930s, and Man On A Tightrope was a kind of defiant defense of his actions, then and later.  It reminds us that, however opportunistic and hypocritical the Communist witch hunters may have been, they were hunting real witches — real and ruthless apologists for Stalin and Stalinist methods.

That ought to be taken into account in judging Kazan for “ratting them out”, but none of it needs to be taken into account in appraising Man On A Tightrope, which is a fine and masterful work of art.


In a recent episode of PZ's Podcast, my friend Paul Zahl paid tribute to The Circle Theatre in Washington, D. C., a now vanished palace of dreams where he and I first encountered foreign films.  It was in the early 1960s and we were about 13 years-old at the time, living in an age before cable and home video, when finding “art films” required the sort of effort usually associated with obtaining illegal drugs or firearms.

I'm not really sure what drew us to The Circle, an art house cinema — we were monster movie fans at the time — or what we thought we would find there.  We didn't know anyone who either knew or cared much about “art films” and we certainly didn't know anyone who thought they were cool.  I know that what we did find at The Circle was a series of revelations about the possibilities of movies, and glimpses of adult sexuality, and the beginnings of lifelong passions for the French New Wave and the works of directors like Ingmar Bergman and Roberto Rossellini.

The Circle was demolished years ago and youth has long since fled, but the wonders we encountered at that theater remain as bright as when we first beheld them.

Listen to Paul's podcast here — The Circle.