morris mn - We're a community on the grand, seemingly endless prairie of the Upper Midwest. Empty, you might say? It's the epitome of richness, both in the overall environment and the hardy souls who populate. Morris is home to the University of Minnesota-Morris, a small public liberal arts college of distinction.
History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).
Monday, December 5, 2016
Movie "All the Way" (2016) shows LBJ's good side
America in a time of consensus? That's what we had in 1964, comparatively speaking. Lyndon Johnson was serving a partial term due to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Somehow the tremendous glamour of the Camelot presidency spilled over to the successor. JFK gave way to Johnson, a man who had hardly been a cheerleader for JFK prior to 1960. Such is the nature of politics: unlikely alliances. Geographic alliances.
We see the underbelly of politics in the movie "All The Way." It parallels the wonderful movie "Lincoln" in this regard. I watched both "Lincoln" and "All the Way" on DVD thanks to our Morris MN Public Library. I wrote about "Lincoln" as a movie that wasn't likely to get young people very interested. It might be deemed boring as it plodded from one scene to the next as the political dealmakers simply hashed things over. I complimented the movie on authenticity with its dimly-lit conditions (no electricity yet).
Lincoln kept the Union together. Lyndon Johnson orchestrated major civil rights inroads. Educated, proper people really had no problem with that. Thus I never sensed any overriding controversy with it, although my perception would have been different in the Deep South. Remember when Jerry Lewis caused a stir when he joked that he "waited to use the bathroom (and flush) on the plane until we were over Mississippi?"
Today there appears to be major pushback against progressive civil rights ideals. In 1964 there was general agreement that we had to move forward. It's amazing how much momentum LBJ mounted to crush the Republicans and their ideologically pure nominee, Barry Goldwater. I was never revulsed by Goldwater, not the way I'm revulsed by many of the modern-day conservative crusaders. Goldwater went on to become an elder statesman with a sense of humor.
Today's conservatives just have their knives sharpened. We're waiting for the worm to turn now, naturally. The Republicans now own everything that happens to America. No excuses for them. We must hope things go fine. If they don't, the door will be opened for progressives to come in and soothe, no matter how much ranting we hear on Fox News and its echo chambers in the media: what David Frum calls the "conservative entertainment complex." Frum stated openly he'd vote for Hillary Clinton. He seems to have had a low profile since the election.
Bryan Cranston in his prime
"All the Way" is a very well-made movie. It's a fine vehicle for Bryan Cranston who is having his "run" as the most celebrated movie actor, riding the coattails of "Breaking Bad." He's following the tradition of Wilford Brimley ("The Natural"), Brian Dennehy ("First Blood") and William Macy ("Fargo"). Congrats to these guys who found their perfect vehicle and then rode the gravy train. Remember the drink that Dennehy ordered in the bar scene of "First Blood?" It was "wild turkey." What a dated scene: people sitting around, talking and consuming alcohol. Today you cannot drive a car if you have been imbibing.
Roy Scheider had a nice acting run with his primary vehicle being "Jaws" of course. He was Bruce Willis before Willis came along and made the explosions even bigger. But I had problems watching him after the movie "Marathon Man" for reasons I won't explain here. Maybe you know.
Yes, "All the Way" is a most crisply executed movie. It commands your attention. It makes the civil rights heroes look like the icons they were. There is an air of triumph. The movie for its entertainment components deserves a high grade, and certainly it reflects historical accuracy. Let's take a look deeper, though. If you grew up in the 1960s you know it was no bed or roses - anything but.
A brief scene speaks volumes
IMHO the most striking scene in the movie is brief and may come and go in the minds of many. But that brief deliberation about the Gulf of Tonkin was ominous. LBJ is briefed about this notorious non-crisis. Ambiguity covers it all. Were U.S. interests assaulted? We're not sure. But LBJ fears being assailed by Goldwater and the political right if he is not seen as decisive. We speculate that LBJ is especially fearful because on the domestic front, he was surely pursuing left of center goals. So he was vulnerable.
Chris Matthews of MSNBC once commented that the Viet Nam war was the price we paid for moving forward on the domestic front with progressive principles. We got the Great Society, an unlikely outcome from a politician like LBJ who was from the South: Texas.
We might speculate that the '60s were simply different times: people in the know, who were really sensitive to the needs of America, were convinced something had to be done about extreme poverty and extreme racism. Johnson rammed through programs. But he was wary of the wrath from the kind of right wing hand-wringing that originated from the U.S. South, exemplified by George Wallace.
So LBJ felt he had to show assertiveness in foreign policy, as a means of trying to appease the right wing. And we paid with something like 60,000 lives lost in a sinkhole. And there was Johnson, such a powerful man who had all the political instincts, having to answer for it all. The Viet Nam war ran him instead of him running the Viet Nam war. So he was in an untenable position for the 1968 election and he bowed out.
I cannot forgive Johnson for the Viet Nam war. No matter how Cranston plied his acting talent to portray an important man, I cannot ultimately develop any sympathy for the man, who Matthews said, upon completion of the presidency, "went back to Texas and smoked himself to death."
The Viet Nam war was a specter that absolutely tainted the growing-up years of boomer males. It affected their whole course of life. It lasted so long, I expected it to last forever as a hovering sort of bad spirit. Our ultimate departure was a pathetic disaster: people clinging to helicopters which were taking off from the tops of buildings, helicopters pushed into the water off ships to make more room for refugees, partners of the U.S. effort left behind to the mercy of victorious forces. Such were the scenes ultimately bequeathed to us by the LBJ years.
Cranston projects a concerned look in the movie when he gets the dope on the Gulf of Tonkin. It seems almost like he's distracted by an uncomfortable topic, as he's working on his big domestic agenda. He seems to get talked into the assumption that something was up and we'd have to retaliate. But there is no extended curiosity to untangle the facts. The alleged Gulf of Tonkin incident did not in fact happen. The discussion in the movie comes off as fleeting and transitory. The scriptwriter did this deliberately I'm sure, to project the reckless manner in which the U.S. dove into the disastrous involvement in one of the world's least significant countries.
Arriving at an assessment
The passage of time often softens our view of otherwise uncomfortable things. Time heals all wounds? Shall we accept Cranston's masterful portrayal of Johnson as a brilliant political tactician and pragmatic soul? Shall we now see LBJ as more dynamic than what we thought we saw on our TV screens in the '60s? He sure didn't look dynamic. He looked like a man who smoked too much. He rode JFK's coattails into his heyday as a politician. He picked Hubert Humphrey from our Minnesota as his vice president.
Bradley Whitford does a masterful job playing the clearly liberal Humphrey in "All the Way." I loved that scene of him and LBJ in the "water car." It will stick with me. Humphrey might be a prime hero in U.S. history had he become assertive about leaving Viet Nam. He did not. He narrowly lost the 1968 election. We got civil rights for sure but wasn't that inevitable? Jim Crow had to go.
Civil rights principles appear to be hanging by a thread today. We might even regress. I'm scared by the Trump presidency. It may be an existential threat to the U.S. In which case, we may never see any movies about it. We may not have come "all the way" after all.