Salon Reviewer Slams 'Secretariat' as Tea Party Fantasy 'Almost Worthy of Leni Riefenstahl'
At one point in the checkered writing career of your humble correspondent, he criticized children's cartoons for displaying fascistic attitudes such as Snow White unfairly taking advantage of the labor performed by the Seven Dwarfs. One important caveat; I was just kidding. Yes, even though some people took me seriously, I meant the story to be satire.
In the case of Salon.Com reviewer Andrew O'Hehir, he has no such excuse. He actually meant his absurd review of "Secretariat" to be taken completely seriously. Just how absurd was his review? Well, O'Hehir drops any semblance of sanity in his very first paragraph by claiming "Secretariat" was worthy of a Leni Riefenstahl Nazi propaganda movie. So here is the kickoff of the laughable "Triumph of the Will" (or "Triumph of the Horse") fantasizing by O'Hehir:
"Secretariat" is such a gorgeous film, its every shot and every scene so infused with warm golden light, that I began to wonder whether the movie theater were on fire. Or my head. But the welcoming glow that imbues every corner of this nostalgic horse-racing yarn with rich, lambent color comes from within, as if the movie itself is ablaze with its own crazy sense of purpose. (Or as if someone just off-screen were burning a cross on the lawn.) I enjoyed it immensely, flat-footed dialogue and implausible situations and all. Which doesn't stop me from believing that in its totality "Secretariat" is a work of creepy, half-hilarious master-race propaganda almost worthy of Leni Riefenstahl, and all the more effective because it presents as a family-friendly yarn about a nice lady and her horse.
Of course, no leftwing sanity-free movie review would be complete without the requisite gratuitous slap at the Tea Party movement and O'Hehir does not disappoint:
Although the troubling racial subtext is more deeply buried here than in "The Blind Side" (where it's more like text, period), "Secretariat" actually goes much further, presenting a honey-dipped fantasy vision of the American past as the Tea Party would like to imagine it, loaded with uplift and glory and scrubbed clean of multiculturalism and social discord. In the world of this movie, strong-willed and independent-minded women like Chenery are ladies first (she's like a classed-up version of Sarah Palin feminism), left-wing activism is an endearing cute phase your kids go through (until they learn the hard truth about inheritance taxes), and all right-thinking Americans are united in their adoration of a Nietzschean Überhorse, a hero so superhuman he isn't human at all.
Our Nietzschean Untercritic is on an unintentional comedy roll so far be it from me to stop him from digging deeper into the absurd:
The year Secretariat won the Triple Crown was the year the Vietnam War ended and the Watergate hearings began. You could hardly pick a period in post-Civil War American history more plagued by chaos and division and general insanity (well, OK -- you could pick right now). Wallace references that social context in the most glancing and dismissive manner possible -- Penny's eldest daughter is depicted as a teen antiwar activist, in scenes that resemble lost episodes of "The Brady Bunch" -- but our heroine's double life as a Denver housewife and Virginia horse-farm owner proceeds pretty much as if the 1950s had gone on forever. (The words "Vietnam" and "Nixon" are never uttered.)
The words "Salvador Allende" is never mentioned either. What a tragedy that a two hour movie about a superb racehorse couldn't take the time to make a meaningless detour to explore that topic and cut into yet more "Secretariat" story time.
O'Hehir also couldn't resist a quick shoutout to Glenn Beck:
...and I can't help thinking that "Secretariat" is meant as a comforting allegory, like Glenn Beck's sentimental Christmas yarn: The real America has been here all along, and we can get it back.
The "Secretariat" director takes the O'Hehir heat for religious thought crimes:
Religion and politics are barely mentioned in the story of Chenery and her amazing horse, but it's clear that "Secretariat" was constructed and marketed with at least one eye on the conservative Christian audiences who embraced "The Blind Side." The film opens with a voice-over passage from the Book of Job and ends with a hymn. Wallace, also the director of "We Were Warriors" and the writer of "Pearl Harbor" and "Braveheart," is one of mainstream Hollywood's few prominent Christians, and has spoken openly about his faith and his desire to make movies that appeal to "people with middle-American values."
GASP! One of the few...but that is still one too many for O'Hehir.
And one final O'Hehir nugget to demonstrate just how divorced from reality he is:
Big Red himself is a big, handsome MacGuffin, symbolic window dressing for a quasi-inspirational fantasia of American whiteness and power.
Just remain there in your Salon rubber room, Andrew. The nurse will be along shortly with your lithium shot and soon you might even shed some of your leftwing quasi-inspirational review fantasias.