The State of Origins, Pt. 1

It was quite a filmic weekend.

On Friday night, Beth and I went to a packed Filmhouse 2 to see The Hateful Eight. Definitely in my top three Tarantino movies.

Although it’s reminiscent of Reservoir Dogs in its bunch-of-desperados-trapped-in-a-room central conceit, a number of Leone-esque shots of a mythic American landscape pepper the movie.

Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West – Best Actor: Spain, as a mythic America

On Saturday, we stayed in and (finally) watched There Will Be Blood. Like The Hateful Eight and Once Upon a Time in the West (both scored by Ennio Morricone), it’s got a great score that carries long, dialogue-free stretches of film. In this case, the score is by Johnny Greenwood (or Radiohead and collaborations with the terrifying Krzysztof Penderecki).

Watching these two movies in quick succession got me to thinking…

[For more thoughts, sign up for the Apoplexy Newsletter here.]…about my adopted homeland in the States. For each of these films is, in its own way, the telling of an origin myth of the United States. And this is an idea that is of some interest to me at the moment. While studying for my Creative Writing degree, three of the novels I enjoyed most were different origin stories of different versions of the modern U.S.:

  1. Willa Cather’s O Pioneers!, the story of a family of Swedish immigrants at the turn of the Twentieth Century;
  2. Louise Erdrich’s Tracks, mostly set on a Native American reservation between 1912-24; and
  3. Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, a story of two young cowboys which begins in 1949.
Hold on. Is this Spain?

On Sunday, we started Wall Street. But that might be a different story.

After all this middle-brow culture, my weekend finished with a quick blast of the Westminster Hour on BBC Radio 4. This aired in the aftermath of David Cameron being very clear that the UK’s referendum on Brexit from the European Union will take place in June (or September. Or later if that’s how long it takes to achieve the right deal in negotiations). And also the aftermath of his declaration that, to be very clear, government ministers would be able to campaign against the official government line on the referendum.

The Chancellor made it very clear that this was not a U-turn on the part of the PM.

‘…and I’ll say it in a Bill Clinton voice, if that helps.”

That’s Call-me-Dave on The Andrew Marr Show.

The Andrew Marr Show, Jan. 2015: Asked whether he would allow government ministers a free vote, Cameron said, “No, I have set that out very clearly in the past.”

So that’s all clear, then.

So no doubt there’s going to be a lot of talk in the coming months about what it means to be British. We certainly heard a lot of talk in the run-up to the Scottish independence referendum, and then the General Election, about “British values“. As Gav Prentice wrote, this seemed to amount to a statement by the speaker in each case that “I like good things, [and] I don’t like bad things.”

When pressed [politicians say “British values” are characterised by] things like ‘common decency’ – a platitude which to my mind could be used by any individual on earth to describe the principles they themselves hold.
Oh yeah. We watched this, this weekend, too.

The French have a little potted set of values set forth in their national motto – Liberté, égalité, et fraternité.

America’s motto is In God We Trust. Which might be difficult to set forth as a set of national values, given that the Constitution sets forth the separation of Church and State. There’s another American origin story:

  • pilgrims at Plymouth Rock on the one hand, and
  • on the other, the flight of Roger Williams from religious oppression in the Massachusetts Bay Colony to found the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations on the principle of state neutrality in matters of faith.

All of which would suggest that origin stories, national values, and national mottoes are not easy to pin down. So let’s look a little further next week.

Till then:

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