Friday, April 13, 2007


My favorite recent films are both deeply philosophical. Hurry up and rent them
so we can talk about them!

The first is 'The Devil wears Prada" which asks the question, "What kind of person really makes the world work?" The film's amazing answer is, a mean, self-centered, dominating, talented tyrant like the character Maryl Streep plays.
I believe it. My hunch is that at the heart of everything really worthwhile is a tyrannical genius who wills the thing into existence and who sacrifices everything to keep it alive (no, I'm not talking about John K.). Everyone else is either too dumb or too inept to do it. This person is indispensable.

A lot of people would be willing to accept all this providing that the tyrant isn't dominating and self-centered after work. Under the gruff exterior some people demand a heart of gold. I'm not sure if I go along with that. It seems to me that in the real world you have to play rough to keep the ship afloat. Nice guys would sink it because nice guys can't keep the bad guys at bay. And you can't play rough part time. You'll never be good at it unless you're rough all the time and unless you actually enjoy it. Our tolerance of people like this enables the rest of us to live the humane and stimulating lives we currently lead.

Are there exceptions? Of course! John K 's a nice guy, so was Clampett. So was Bach! So was Mozart! But every leader and innovator can't be like that. We should have the wisdom to accept antibiotics with gratitude regardless of whether or not Pasteur was nice to his assistants.

The other philosophical film was "Pursuit of Happiness" with Will Smith. I almost didn't see the film, it looked so hokey. Boy, am I glad I did! The film reminds me of the old saying, "Nothing is as beautiful as a good man struggling against adversity." Smith's character is such a man. He doesn't blame anybody for his problems, he doesn't turn cynical, he just keeps focused on finding a solution, no matter how bad things get.
I don't know much about the Stoics but I can't help thinking about Smith's character as a stoic hero. I never took the stoics seriously because I thought their way of dealing with loss is never to want things in the first place, which seems drastic and unnatural to me. Things I've heard lately make me wonder if I misunderstood them. Smith's character definitely has an effective philosophy and if it turns out to be stoicism then I want to find out more about it.


Anonymous said...

This question refers to an earlier post of yours, Eddie, but I'm not sure that, if I posted the question in that older entry, it would ever be read. So if you don't mind, I'm asking here. On the subject of painting backgrounds, have you any idea what kind of paint was used to do all those crazy "splash" backgrounds in Ren and Stimpy? Like when everything would go nuts with splatters and sprays, and flash in intensity for a moment, then fade away? You know what I mean! Thanks. :)

Michael Sporn said...

You didn't mention how great the acting of Meryl Streep was. Her performance takes what could easily have been a cliched character, and she turns it into a vulnerable complicated woman. The scene where she, in her bathrobe, barefoot felt, in some ways, like the heart of the movie to me. Animators trying to act in their performances should watch what this great actress does.

Lester Hunt said...

It sounds to me like the ideas in these two movies conflict with each other (full disclosure: of the two I've only seen "Happyness"): the Will Smith character makes things happen, but he doesn't stomp on other people. My boringly moderate conclusion, I guess, is that effective people come in many different types. There are Beethoven-types (abrasive, domineering) and Mozart types (gentle, decent, fun to be with), and of course quite a few others. We ought to tolerate some of the obnoxiousness of the Beethovens, because of all the good they do, while prizing the Mozarts all the more for their rarity!

BTW, Paul Johnson says, in The Birth of the Modern, I think, that the idea of the creative person as an obnoxious jerk doesn't appear in history until Beethoven's time.

Jenny Lerew said...

I'm with Lester Hunt on this.

I'm aware that many of the people I've admired above the rest--say, Michael Powell, Hitchock, David Lean, to name film directors I've read a lot about(and met 2 of them!)--have been to put it mildly "tyrannical" on set.
Anyone would agree that a dominating personality is absolutely necessary to getting things done, sure.

But, imho a truly great person--including great leaders--needs humanity, humor, empathy. Or sensitvity. Which usually comes with real intelligence.

The woman who makes the world work (like a slave) in "Prada" is, after all, just running a vapid fashion magazine, not curing cancer, nor doing anything for anyone's benefit but her own status. The character's personality is that of someone with NO humor, with such a monstrous idea of their own importance that they are a fountain of hatred towards other human beings. Everyone is judged, and everyone is lacking. Her assistants are actually totally MIS-managed, as they're expected to do meanlingless, useless tasks that waste company time to satisfy passing whims of the Boss-whims even she can't remember an hour later. It's a study of power run completely amok, that's become totally decadent and self-serving, entitlement that's crazy out of control.

I think there are indeed other ways to lead effectively. I'm not talking about tolerating mediocrity, or encouraging lameness in the name of Being the Best. That's a false choice. I've worked personally with real barracudas who also have real heart. It's those type As that I respect, that I think can accomplish much more because they use a little sugar--or have a little sugar to offer their fellow human beings.

So, yeah, I'll go with the "Happyness" guy over Henry Ford. ; )

{P.S. I only read the roman a clef of "Prada"; haven't seen the movie--I'd easily believe that Meryl Streep managed to invest the horror-woman with a character that one could empathize with.}

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Lester: Interesting comments! You made me realize that I made a mistake. I started out talking about what it takes to be a creative person who's also burdened with keeping a business together and I ended up talking about what it takes to be creative, period. The two types are really different.

Paul Johnson's great! I'm guessing that he said what he did to show how silly and excessive the Romantic Era was. He seems to have a love/hate relationship with that time and so do I.

Jenny: Managers have it tough and you have to admire the ones who can lead and still be nice people. I imagine that creative founders and owners have it even tougher.

If you haven't seen it you should get hold of Rod Serling's film,"Patterns." It's the best film on this subject that I know of.

Leadership is an interesting subject. So is followership. Somebody should do a book about it.

Sean Worsham said...

I missed out on both films and almost saw one of them. I paid for my ticket for the movie, "The Pursuit of Happiness" and was too ill to begin watching it all of a sudden (I got stomach cramps and couldn't stop wanting to go to the bathroom). I got a refund and slept my sickness off.

I was real busy and it soon went away in theaters. I almost forgot about it until you mentioned it Eddie! I have been hankering to see it (the trailer looked good) and I could empathize with a character like the kind Will Smith plays.

I'll get this on Blu-Ray if I like it enough and I'll give The Devil Wears Prada a rental try too.


Anonymous said...

>My hunch is that at the heart of everything really worthwhile is a tyrannical genius who wills the thing into existence and who sacrifices everything to keep it alive

Wow!! I was just thinking about that this morning, as I was mulling over my Sinatra/Stewart theory at work.

My theory is that most creative geniuses are grumpy/mean/gruff because they see how stupid or superficial everyone around them is. It must get irritating. The rest of mankind is like retards to (some) geniuses, which explains their personalities. A partial list could be:

Frank Sinatra
Chuck Jones
OJ Simpson
Ralph Bakshi
John Kricfalusi
Friz Freleng
Robert Blake

The antithesis is the James Stewart/Tom Hanks/Dave Grohl types.

Anonymous said...


I think that some geniuses get bullhead complexes because others refuse to give them total control. Others feel the need to throw in their two cents despite not only not having been asked for it, it's a total insult to someone who knows what they're doing (or at least thinks so).

The only people mean geniuses listen to are other geniuses. And even then after much deliberation.

The nice geniuses are geniuses because they see genius in everyday life and others. The steal rather than invent. Most people follow routines. Over time they are perfected through repitition to maximum efficiency. There's genius in those routines. Michael Caine is a genius in that respect. He knows where to steal from.

Jenny Lerew said...

I can't beleve even Jorge would group John Kricfalusi with--O.J.?

First, OJ isn't a genius by any stretch. Talented athletically, but not a genius.

Secondly, John isn't grumpy or mean and I've never even seen him be "gruff" in everyday circumstance. Have you ever actually met the guy? Don't put too much store by his blog voice. And whiole Sinatra could be an arsehole, he too was primarily known for his charm, loyalty to friends and generosity. Likewise Bakshi; yeah, wild stories abound and he has a large manner but he too is also very charming and funny.
Jesus, I still can't get over the inclusion in your Pantheon of...OJ?!

Anonymous said...

>Jesus, I still can't get over the inclusion in your Pantheon of...OJ?!

LOL, Jenny, I actually got that list from another site and added some of my own choices in there.

Alot of people say OJ was a genius in a sports sense.

I've never met John K so I'm only going by stories I've heard. On one of the R&S commentaries he even said himself that the Games animation guys thought he was a mean director, which they parodied in "Stimpy's Cartoon Show." He doesn't seem the kind of suffer fools. Then again, the stories could be wrong. I'll never meet him anyway so I can't go on anything but.

>And while Sinatra could be an arsehole, he too was primarily known for his charm, loyalty to friends and generosity.

Hey, there's not bigger fan of Sinatra than me, but he would get his mafioso pals to hold comedians down so he could sock 'em, just for making jokes about him.

He once called Glen Campbell a "faggot."

One time some Senator requested a song from him and Sinatra went "Hands of the suit, creep"

Sinatra was mean. But you still appreciate his work because he's so freakin' good.

Miles Davis
Alex Toth
Joe Barbera
Woody Allen (whose legs Sinatra offered to break)
Jack White

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Jorge: John's never mean at work though he did make me watch "Pie Pirates" a bunch of times, which was a truly torturous experience.

Kali Fontecchio said...

"Frank Sinatra
Chuck Jones
OJ Simpson
Ralph Bakshi
John Kricfalusi
Friz Freleng
Robert Blake"

Holy crap.

Lester Hunt said...

"If you haven't seen it you should get hold of Rod Serling's film,"Patterns." It's the best film on this subject that I know of."

What a coincidence that you mentioned this! I just read the teleplay on which the theatrical film was based last summer, because I was writing on Serling. Yes, it is exactly on this issue. Serling dealt with this theme several times. Remember the brutal boss "A Stop at Willoughby"? That's the one about the junior ad exec who steps off the commuter train into the idyllic nineteenth-century town - and the next thing we know he's dead as a doornail in the snow. He's trying to get away from that boss! (Also his Lady MacBeth of a wife.) Usually Serling is totally against the tyrannical boss.

Tom said...

I can't say with a clean conscience that John K is a "nice guy." Sure he has given plenty of great advice that I admire in his blog but meeting him in person I felt that he was really in your face almost like a "Ralph Bakshi". I had just a bad experience meeting him for the first time and it cut me rather deep. Sure I was babbling because he was a great man but I felt that he "slapped my face" with his talent right in front of my 2D animation teacher who happened to be there right at that moment. I felt smaller than a bug that day after the lecture. If I ever get to meet him next time I will have to find the right words to express how I feel is all. Of course if John K found out of this he will think that I am a wuss but that is one man's opinion. What do you think?

I.D.R.C. said...

A lot of assholes like the idea that being an asshole is what gets things done.

Being an ashhole is how the inconsiderate, megalomaniacal talentless get things done, while telling themselves the world turns on their excesses. Met too many to be impressed.

I.D.R.C. said...

P.S. That was about the real world, not about Streep's character.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

tom: Maybe John had an off day when you met him. Ray Bradbury, who's one of the nicest people you'll ever meet, yelled at me once. I didn't hold it against him. We all have moods.

Anonymous said...

>Holy crap.

LOL!!! Robert Blake and OJ were from the other list (the discussion was whether or not you could appreciate art if the artists was a jerk, and Fag Komorowski said no, so somebody posted this in rebuttal. I added Friz myself, because I heard he`s grumpy.

John joked that Friz taught him how to crab!

David Germain said...

"Frank Sinatra
Chuck Jones
OJ Simpson
Ralph Bakshi
John Kricfalusi
Friz Freleng
Robert Blake"

Jorge Jorge Jorge. I can't believe you left out the one man who pretty much defined this complex, the one and only Orson Welles. All those others are mere restaurant patrons complaining about their soup compared to him.

Anyway, a previous boss I had (and still have under a certain capacity) said once that he never ever yelled at anyone under his employ. The reason was that the yelling didn't make anyone work faster or better, it merely made them nervous. And, the more they were yelled at, the more nervous they got and thusly the more mistakes they made until there was no other option but employment termination. Worse still is that this nervousness would follow them to their next job where the downward spiral might continue. So much potential is wasted by this.

And really, barking at people in order to gain their respect is the same as those mediocre talk show hosts who have to turn on the Applause Sign just to get applause. They don't deserve it so they have to beg for it.

Anonymous said...

I worked with a Meryl Streep at my last job. She was evil in its purest form. My only joy from her was knowing from her good friend that she was very lonely and hardly anybody liked her, men included because she treated everyone so shabbily. Did she run a tight ship and raise the bar, oh yea, but god knows how many she threw overboard in the process (myself included).