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Joseph Sobran on film

When I wrote Joseph Sobran's obituary last year, I mentioned at the end that there were things I wanted to write about him that I left out for brevity, and that I might write about them in other posts. Among these topics were Sobran's writing on films.

I was reminded of that vague promise last week when lewrockwell.com reposted his review of The Third Man. It was as insightful and well written piece as any Sobran has written. His analysis of the famous ferris wheel scene was particularly good. He sees a strong connection between Harry Lime's view of the people down below as "dots" and Lime's subsequent comparison of himself to governments. But Sobran's analysis is not merely political. He sees Lime as a case study in the seductiveness of evil, which in Sobran's words often "comes with a winning smile, an exaggerated warmth, an offhand joke, and an offer that's hard to refuse".

Like this review, Sobran's views on films were often informed by his political and moral views. But not always in the way you would think. For instance, he didn't like nudity in movies, but this view did not come from prudishness. Sobran was too honest to try to say the sight of a nude woman offended him. His complaint was that it broke the fourth wall. I hear him in a radio interview that his first thought when Gwyneth Paltrow disrobed in Shakespeare In Love was "so that's what Gwyneth Paltrow looks like naked." He'd previously made a similar observation about Ann-Margaret in Carnal Knowledge.

I thought about these remarks during Julianne Moore's famous bottomless scene in Short Cuts. Well, not actually during the scene. I was too busy looking at Julianne Moore. But when I think of that scene, I think of what Sobran said about nudity.

He had other opinions on film that were surprising to hear from a conservative. He wrote a favorable review of Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing. I have googled all over the place to find it, but to no avail. I do remember he found himself as surprised as anyone else that he liked it. And I don't need the internet to remember the column's closing line. In reference to Sal the Pizzareia owner's  confrontation with Radio Raheem, he said "And even Dr. King would have smashed that damn boom box".

Besides the Third Man review, I have found one more piece of Sobran's writing on the internet.  It's called Wilder And His Betters. "Wilder"  of course refers to Billy Wilder. His betters are The Coen Brothers. Sobran sees them both as rare cases of film makers who justify the auteur theory of film criticism, and also as very talented filmmakers. I've often said that the Coen brothers are incapable of making a bad movie.  Billy Wilder was no slouch either.  Sobran exhibits his usual literary skill in this piece, as well as taste and insight. It's worth reading. As was damn near everything he wrote.