Hail, Caesar! (2016)
February 4, 2016 6:24 PM - Subscribe

A Hollywood fixer in the 1950s works to keep the studio's stars in line.

Rolling Stone: Hail, Caesar! is set in 1951 Hollywood, when studios turned out movies on an assembly line that sometimes, often accidentally, produced art. The irony is that making movies is often easier than keeping the talent in line. That task falls to Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a studio fixer who can't let the gossips – the brilliant Tilda Swinton plays two of them – know which star is secretly cheating or pregnant or gay or crazy or a Commie bastard.

NYTimes: “Hail, Caesar!” is one of those diversions that they turn out in between masterworks and duds. It’s a typically sly, off-center comedy, once again set against the machinery of the motion-picture business. And, as usual with the Coens, it has more going on than there might seem, including in its wrangling over God and ideology, art and entertainment. Some of it is familiar and satisfyingly funny, even if there are laughs and bits that seem as if they were written to amuse only the Coens and the Turner Classic Movies crowd.

The Verge: It's another farce, not as wandering as Big Lebowski or as goofy as Hudsucker Proxy, but with some of the former's outsized characters, and the latter's swooning love of Golden Age cinema. In a blind viewing, the average cinephile could probably identify it as a Coen Brothers picture, because it has so many of their signatures: serious people taking ridiculous situations with grave equanimity, straight-faced film references, a stable of distractingly famous people taking on cameo-level roles, and George Clooney playing an affable, noisy nitwit. Again, the central theme is a man following his code — more successfully than most Coen characters — and the lines between drama and comedy get blurred. But so do the lines of what makes a good story. Hail, Caesar! is immensely entertaining, but it's also frustratingly discursive, with so many incomplete sidelines and distractions that it suggests an overcrowded but exciting TV pilot more than a self-contained film.

NPR: Hail, Caesar! doesn't have the weirdness of its authors' other Old Hollywood film, 1991's Barton Fink (which also concerned the fictitious Capitol Pictures), or the weary soul of their prior feature, 2013's haunting Inside Llewyn Davis. Its pleasures are piecemeal and peculiar, like the way Sir Michael Gambon, the film's narrator, elongates the phrase "in Westerly Malibu." Or the way Tilda Swinton plays a pair of identical—and fiercely competitive—twin gossip columnists. Or the way that a work print of Hail, Caesar! includes a title card reading DIVINE PRESENCE TO BE SHOT. They're not the types to go fumbling for profundity, those Coens. Profoundly funny will do.

posted by MoonOrb (54 comments total)
“Hail, Caesar!” is one of those diversions that they turn out in between masterworks and duds.

So it's another Ladykillers? I can live with that.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:36 PM on February 4, 2016

Surely following that model it would be before Ladykillers.
posted by fullerine at 3:42 AM on February 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

So Intolerable Cruelty, then?

I'm not sure that helps.

Before that was The Man Who Wasn't There, which I liked a lot, but is in no way a fun diversion of a movie. Before that was O Brother, Where Art Thou. Bingo! This is what I'm looking for. Kenneth Turan even compared it to O Brother this morning on NPR. So I'm up for another goofball George Clooney romp with the Coens reminiscent of O Brother. I am very up for that.
posted by Naberius at 6:12 AM on February 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think these comparisons really minimize the movie. I would rank it far above Ladykillers, Burn After Reading, etc. This Slate review and this Flavorwire review are the most spot on, for me.

Flavorwire describes it as fanservice for the TCM crowd, and I agree with that. If you're not immediately familiar with 1940s Hollywood tropes, I would recommend seeing it in an Alamo Drafthouse theater if possible. Their preshow included a sort of crash course on the particular films and actors being spoofed in this movie. 'Spoof' is not exactly the right word, though. It's somewhere between parody and homage and an effective modernization. It can be hard to watch and appreciate much older films because audiences at that time had a different sort of film literacy than we have, and the pacing and editing is designed to accommodate that. A modern audience might find it hard to understand why once audiences thrilled to movies of women swimming. Their swimming scene is a more or less spot on representation, with enough of a nod to current sensibilities to give you the same thrill that those audiences must have felt.

The movie is extremely dense. Every scene has an interplay between thoughts on faith, the relationship between Romans and Christ as a metaphor for those thoughts, and the spectacle of Hollywood... and then of course a close attention to detail, visual puns, wordplay, and other surface elements that alone would make it a lovely movie. There would be moments in the theater when only three people would be laughing at a seemingly serious scene and I would think, "what did they catch that I didn't?". Comparing my thoughts with my date after, I realized that we each picked up on strands and jokes that the other didn't, so I feel the immediate need to rewatch it.
posted by tofu_crouton at 7:00 AM on February 5, 2016 [13 favorites]

I am excited to see this. I like the Coen Brothers when they're not doing funny-smart instead of funny-gore/terror.

I am chiming in to say their recent comments on diversity and the Oscars seemed idiotic. On one hand, they are right to point out that each individual movie does not need to contain characters of all ethnicities. On the other, their movies, taken in aggregate, are a sea of whiteness. They could also hire POC to their production teams in even a movie about white characters. They could also lend their money and names to produce movies by upcoming POC filmmakers. They don't.
posted by latkes at 8:15 AM on February 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

Yeah, for people who actually managed to make Parchman Farm a story about white prisoners, they may not be the best spokespeople for diversity.

I don't quite know what to make of Hail, Caesar. The brothers did not use the lightness they brought to past comedies, but instead the film has the weird stateliness of, say, Inside Llewen Davis. I don't know whether they are doing this deliberately to leave audiences uncertain about tone -- I presume they are -- but I'm not clear on why.

I mean, this is a very, very silly film, and some of it ranks among the silliest the Coens have ever produced (the cowboy movies are wonderful, as is Clooney using Marxist language to explain his displeasure at shaving Danny Kaye's back). There are moments when the film becomes effervescent, especially those involving Ralph Fiennes, but there are also moments when poetentious music rises, the movie slows down, and the tone goes sideways.

This is, however, a great example of a film whose story continues after the film ends. The seems to end on with Clooney slapped back into line, starring in the Christ movie, and Eddie Mannix back to his job, happier at it.

But the film is set in the early 1950s. HUAC was already in Hollywood (thus the commies horror when Clooney says "name names.") Because Mannix tracked the truck used to kidnap Clooney, Burt Gurney's home has been raided. In commies, in the meanwhile, photographed Clooney at their meeting and, we briefly see, have filled out paperwork identifying him as a member of the Communist party.

Mannix's problems are just beginning. Also, things were about to get weird for the actual Eddit Mannix, who the story is based on. In 1951, his wife, Toni, had stated an affair with George Reeves. Revves would die of a gunshot wound, ruled suicide, in 1959, and rumors persisted that Mannix was behind the death. This was the basis for Hollywoodland, so Hail, Caesar is, in its own way, a prequel to a much darker story.
posted by maxsparber at 9:24 AM on February 5, 2016 [13 favorites]

Their preshow included a sort of crash course on the particular films and actors being spoofed in this movie.

That is so awesome, I love the Alamo Drafthouse, and I am sad none are closer to me (somehow, I moved to a state right next to Texas, and I see there are locations in all neighboring states, yet I was closer to a location when I lived in California).
posted by filthy light thief at 9:27 AM on February 5, 2016

The movie is extremely dense

In both theme and plot. In the showing I saw, a woman left (perhaps to visit the washroom) while Hobie was following Burt's car down a road and returned perhaps two minutes later to see Burt and his dog being taken away by a Soviet sub. Excellent, although I wondered if she was able to pick up the thread again.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:48 AM on February 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Featuring John Bluthal as Herbert Marcuse. Only the Coen Brothers.
posted by How the runs scored at 11:24 AM on February 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Reportedly the movie was originally going to be set in the 1920s, which, given the Ben-Hur-esque central film-within-a-film, and given the studio fixer and gossip columnist and Catholic soul-searching and Communist affiliation, leads me to strongly suspect that the project started out as a Ramon Novarro biopic.

I really hope that's not the case, though; I'd like to think the Coen brothers have more sense than to turn a story like that into a movie like this.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:49 PM on February 7, 2016

I would like to thank Harvey Danger, for making sure I caught the Vertigo reference.
posted by ckape at 8:29 PM on February 7, 2016

Now I have seen Channing Tatum dance in Magic Mike XXL and in Hail, Caesar!.

I want to go back and rewatch this, and rewatch Sullivan's Travels to compare and contrast their defenses of the film industry.
posted by brainwane at 8:39 PM on February 7, 2016

Even after all that, I still got goosebumps during Baird's speech at the end, at least until he forgot his line.
posted by ckape at 12:32 AM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I completely enjoyed this in the sense that. Like Hudsucker, it felt completely trailored to exactly my tastes and obsessions

Of course it's going to bomb.
posted by The Whelk at 10:32 AM on February 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

"Your search for Hobie/Laurence has produced : 0 results" get with the program people.
posted by The Whelk at 10:49 AM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

God, Hobie. I could have watched an entire film of him lassoing things.
posted by maxsparber at 10:52 AM on February 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

Please tell me you had Fleur-de-lis business cards printed, too.

Also-this is FanFare reaching its optimal utilization, right here in this thread. I'm serious. This thread is interesting and informative and also fun.
posted by MoonOrb at 11:17 AM on February 8, 2016

also, this is like, the least mean spirited a Coen Brothers movie has been in a while
posted by The Whelk at 11:25 AM on February 8, 2016

You would think, after A Serious Man, that they would have had enough of just torturing their characters because they can, but, man, they obviously haven't.
posted by maxsparber at 11:28 AM on February 8, 2016

It was SO SWEET! I loved that! Somewhere around the middle of the movie, I realized that there are practically no villains, and that no one had died or been maimed! If you knew a ten-year-old who hated gore but was preternaturally hip to HUAC, you could take her to this movie.
posted by brainwane at 12:33 PM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have a lot of ...ideas about how this movie deals with communism/leftism in Hollywood and in portraying Mannix but mostly, can I just say that riff on South Pacific AKA The best musical number about situational homosexuality was just a DELIGHT.
posted by The Whelk at 4:55 PM on February 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

You would think, after A Serious Man, that they would have had enough of just torturing their characters because they can, but, man, they obviously haven't.

Was there a lot of torture in this?* I mostly saw things starting out a bit shaky and then working for everyone out left, right, and centre. Often even working out way better than their wildest hopes.

Take the conclusion of the submarine scene. It seems on the face of it like everybody loses, but really, they're all leaving with everything they expected to get when they started rowing. There's no "god damn it!" or "aw, shucks" or anything; everyone's both the correct and incorrect definitions of nonplussed.

Even Hobie in the tuxedo, the most obviously doomed situation of them all, works out just fine once Lorenz gives up line-reading and just changes the line to something more suitable -- and altogether better. What we are led to believe is a terrible flaw in Hobie (or at least in his casting) is really a bad script badly directed. (Very meta.)

The one thing that doesn't work out is Baird's speech, but is there any doubt he'll nail it on the next take? And, come to think of it, that's pretty much the whole thing of the thing. Everything will eventually work out if you just have





*Other than the crucifixion scene, which was awesome.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:09 PM on February 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

The torture in this film all takes place after the movie ends. But I agree with The Whelk, that this is one of the nicer Coen brothers film. My comment about their pleasure in torturing their characters comes from looking at their post Serious Man filmography in general, not this specific film.
posted by maxsparber at 7:33 PM on February 8, 2016

The torture in this film all takes place after the movie ends.

Not in my version.
posted by dogwalker at 8:21 PM on February 8, 2016

I mean, I'm thinking about what I know about Hollywood history and Max Sparber's comment about how everything is about to get worse and how setting this in 51 is really as late as you could get in the classic Hollywood thing before you had to have Grim Existentisal Shadows and Dreads on everything. TV wasn't a thing yet, HUAC wasn't a thing get, the breakup of the studio systems by the government was kind of ongoing , and the kind off total top down control of actors, image, and media was only JUST starting to break.

Like I figure the end of the classic studio era was after the 1950 premiere of Sunset Boulevard, when Billy Wilder told Mayer to go fuck himself in front of a crowd and that's mostly when the movie takes place. It's a big rich entrenched way of abiut to get punched in the face by The Future.
posted by The Whelk at 9:05 PM on February 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

Also that Eddie Mannix's wife would have a multi-year affair with George Reeves that would end with his suicide and her heartbroken, and he would die of a heart attack.
posted by maxsparber at 9:40 PM on February 8, 2016

HUAC was very much already a thing in 1951, and the Screen Writers Guild and Screen Actors Guild -- also very much already a thing -- were major targets from '47 on.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:50 AM on February 9, 2016

Ok I just watched this and it was unwatchably white. Like, I've never seen a whiter film before. I'm actually white, and I'm very accustomed to white films, and I've seen more color in nazi era swedish cinema than this film. I don't even notice or care about whiteness normally but this actually made me feel awkward. worse than a wes anderson film
posted by special agent conrad uno at 1:38 AM on February 9, 2016

I came in prepared to dislike the lack of people of color. (I am Indian-American.) And then I didn't mind. I don't know why. I'm going to re-watch it and that's one of the things I'm going to watch for, is my own reaction at its super whiteness. (Current hypothesis: the TV I've been watching most in the last several weeks is Twin Peaks and Orphan Black, both of which have pretty white casts, so I didn't notice contrast, as I would have if this had come out while I was watching Battlestar Galactica or the Prime Suspect series.)
posted by brainwane at 7:39 AM on February 9, 2016

brainwane, that would make sense, because all I've been watching are Beyonce videos.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 4:01 PM on February 9, 2016

I was EXTREMELY fond of the Frances McDormand scene. So much so that I started thinking, "Hmm. What if FRANCES is Roderick Jaynes????"
posted by St. Hubbins at 10:16 AM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I loved this movie, although I'm still grappling with it. My girlfriend was not terribly impressed, compared to other films in the Coen canon, and while I think I understand her point I disagree. She thinks - like a lot of reviewers - that it's a "love letter" to a classic era of Hollywood, a celebration of it in a goofy and cartoonish style, and points out that furthermore all the nice things it says about Hollywood have been said by other films for a long time (since at least Singin' In The Rain.)

But I don't think that's really the case with Hail, Caesar! I don't think it's a loving tribute to 1950s Hollywood at all; it certainly feels to me as though the darkness under the surface almost rises up at several points. The fact that Eddie Mannix was actually awful and violent "in real life" is important - how do we know he isn't in Hail, Caesar? His climactic scene with Baird Whitlock has him slapping the man forcefully before giving a charismatic little speech about getting out there and doing his job. We have no idea what happened to those goofy communists, who couldn't even kidnap someone violently without inviting him in for finger sandwiches and conversation - it can't have ended well, with those lawmen roaring in to pick them up.

And what struck me leaving the theater was: we don't even see what ought to be the most important moment in the film; it's offscreen, and is barely described. When did Eddie Mannix figure out what had happened to Baird Whitlock? We see him wandering the sets at night, and he comes to stand at the foot of the cross, looking up where Jesus will hang during shooting the next day. Then the cowboy kid is discovering where Baird is being "held," and the lawmen are roaring in. The next morning, Mannix nonchalantly tells Tilda Swinton's gossip columnist character that he "talked to Laurence Lorentz at the studio last night" and "put two and two together." Huh? When? And what would that even look like? Apparently that talk led him to realizing that Burt Gurney, whom he knew was Laurence Lorentz' 'protege,' knew and was spreading it about that Baird had slept with Lorentz to get into his first major role. But how did that lead to knowing that Gurney was a communist, or party to Baird's kidnapping? Or did it? It seems clear that there are answers to these questions - they just aren't answered directly, because everything in this movie is misdirecting the viewer.

That's why I think people didn't like it much, honestly. Everything is misdirected and undercut at every turn. It's ostensibly a caper movie about the kidnapping of a movie star; but the kidnapping carries apparently no danger, and the saving of the movie star, presumably the climactic moment, is completely overshadowed by the appearance of a Soviet submarine. The denouement, Baird Whitlock's transcendent "all I saw was light" speech at the cross, is ruined when he forgets the word "faith" and the crew busts up. The movie seems intended to sabotage itself - which is why it's hard for me to feel as though there's a lot under the surface.
posted by koeselitz at 10:03 AM on February 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

(Correction - it's hard for me to feel as though there's not a lot under the surface.)
posted by koeselitz at 10:55 AM on February 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

We have no idea what happened to those goofy communists, who couldn't even kidnap someone violently without inviting him in for finger sandwiches and conversation - it can't have ended well, with those lawmen roaring in to pick them up.

Worst case, they're blacklisted. Neither the ransom nor the hostage -- who would immediately be back to work no worse for wear -- was in their possession when the cops got there. There's nothing to connect them to the crime.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:04 PM on February 11, 2016

Maybe. I guess. It's all completely vague, isn't it? Who knows who they even were? Normal cops? FBI agents? In any case it wouldn't be weird, in that era, for either to put in a few kicks or string somebody up, even if they didn't have enough evidence to bring them in cleanly.
posted by koeselitz at 4:34 PM on February 11, 2016

Oh, by the way, in the interest of historical context and because for some reason nobody seems to be mentioning it:

The whole "we'll conceal your pregnancy by having you adopt your own child" narrative is also a true story. It's what happened to Loretta Young in 1935. As with all the "true stories" in Hail, Caesar! the truth was much seamier than the Coen brothers let on; Loretta revealed to a close family member many years later that she'd gotten pregnant because Clark Gable raped her, and in any event the whole thing was terrible for her career and let to a lifelong reputation as a prude who couldn't admit she'd had sex.
posted by koeselitz at 2:03 PM on February 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

I came in prepared to dislike the lack of people of color.

I felt perhaps they were super-aware of this, though? The Hollywood they were skewering was, in 1951, overwhelmingly white, and to reimagine it as something else would seem to me to be too kind to that era.

It struck me that the films within the film--the singing cowboy, the song and dance, the swimming musicals--even the religious epic--had an aesthetic much more suited to the 1930s or 40s than the early 1950s. It, to me, placed the movie more squarely back in the Big Studio Era heyday; I suppose what we were seeing was the twilight of this era--would Mannix join The Future, or stick with old ways? He stuck with the old ways in the end, worshipping his own god--the mysterious New York studio owner Mr. Skank--who seemed to hold more power over him than his actual God, considering we didn't see Mannix confess the worst of his sins to his priest. I felt as if Mannix had much more of a zealous belief in the religion of Hollywood than in his own religion of Christianity.
posted by MoonOrb at 4:32 PM on February 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Hollywood they were skewering was, in 1951, overwhelmingly white, and to reimagine it as something else would seem to me to be too kind to that era.
Just saw this last night, and the only two people of color I can recall were Carlotta Valdes and a young Roman slave boy during the drugging scene; it seems that both were making some kind of statement on race in Hollywood.

On an unrelated note, Wayne Knight has never looked so compelling.
posted by redsparkler at 12:01 PM on February 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have a classic Hollywood AskMe
posted by The Whelk at 12:03 PM on February 16, 2016

Just saw this last night, and the only two people of color I can recall were Carlotta Valdes and a young Roman slave boy during the drugging scene

Mannix met the guy from Lockheed at a Chinese restaurant, whose owner and waitress were Asian-American actors.

I do wonder whether the casting was commentary, but the Coen's comments about race seem a little defensive - rather than supporting the idea they made a deliberate choice. They made the easy choice.

I don't really want to criticise the film for this choice, but the idea there weren't non-white people in Hollywood at the time is false. You could absolutely have had non-white actors playing as actors and crew in this film. Louis B Mayer and Jack Warner might have wanted people to think the movies were filled with white faces, but they just weren't.
posted by crossoverman at 5:38 AM on February 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Finally saw it this afternoon, and it's the most wonderful confection of silliness. I think a lot of things that are wrong are wrong deliberately - for example, the Laurence Lorenz movie is shot exactly like a 1930s film, but the sailor musical would have come in the late 1950s. Obviously there weren't really cabals of communist screenwriters trying to warp American sympathies. The film is set in our imaginary version of what Hollywood was like.

(I would compare it to Brahms and Simon's wonderful book Don't Mr Disraeli, which is set in the popular imagination's idea of what the Victorian era was like - a sixty year period all at the same time.)

I also enjoyed spotting actors - Michael Gambon! John Bluthal! The guy who collapses behind the diner in Mulholland Drive! I even said "Newman!" in a Jerry sort of way at the first appearance of Wayne Knight.

Like Burn After Reading I suspect it's the Bros wanting to fuck with people's expectations of how a movie is supposed to go.
posted by Grangousier at 4:32 PM on March 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Would that it were so simple scene was great, and I keep wanting to say the line in response to everything I hear.
posted by rollick at 6:06 PM on March 18, 2016

Yeah I liked that aspect of it, it's like the 30 odd years of the "Classic Hollywood Era" got collapsed into one time period and the Coens do 'Movie movies' well (and it's my favorite sub genre!)

Also it literalized one of thier favorite tropes, a genre character stuck in the wrong genre, and now people are *literally* cast in the wrong movies.
posted by The Whelk at 6:47 PM on March 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed seeing Jeff "Vork from The Guild" Lewis and I hope he becomes a Toblowsky-level character actor.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:08 PM on March 18, 2016

I watched this yesterday with Kitteh, and I don't think it's as light and frothy as many reviewers seem to think it is... I want to see it again, because there's a lot of stuff I want to unpack here about the nature of faith and belief.

Mannix is (somewhat) agonized over "doing the right thing," which is most focused on the Lockheed offer, his blind trust in Mr. Skank, and, in the end, his total dedication to the system. A compulsion to confess most things that would slip under the sin radar (cigarettes).

Baird's belief system can be completely overwritten at the drop of a hat, with a cucumber sandwich or a slap to the face. At the end of the movie, and as the punchline to the whole thing, he literally loses faith.

That entire scene with the religious leaders debating the religiousity of Hail, Caesar's Christ, and the whole project itself as a backdrop.

DeeAnna's blind faith that she can hand her baby over to a stranger and get it right back. He's bonded, miss.

The Communists' faith in, well, Communism, right down to literal leaps of faith off a dinghy to a submarine. Giving $100K in cash for the cause.

Even the Swinton Twins' careers work entirely on a trust-based system of scoops, exclusives and secrets.

There are other reasons I want to watch it again -- I think there's a lot in there I missed the first time (did anyone else catch the audio cue of a distinctly-not-eagle squawking every time somebody mentioned Baird's first film? I'm not sure if it's the same bird each time, but I want to know).

But I think there's more than romp here. Whether it's a successful more-than-romp I'm less sure of, but there's something to this one.
posted by Shepherd at 4:35 AM on March 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

Finally caught up with this and was frankly pretty disappointed. I love the Coens and old Hollywood and movies about movies but somehow this just didn't gel for me.
posted by octothorpe at 4:41 AM on September 12, 2016

This is one of my favorite Cohen Bro's movies. I read a lot of reviews when it was released, and people treated it as a trifle, and a "love letter" to studio era Hollywood. I just finished watching it, and I have to wonder what movie people watched.

The Cohens seem to casting serious doubt onto the very power of movies themselves. Their masterful recreations of genre pieces aren't tributes: they're parodies. The faithless convert, the crass virgin, the homosexual lady's man, the debonaire charmer who can't speak. Just like when Hobie pulls his teeth out, we're seeing the fake underside of the dream. In A Story of Film they call this era the "bauble" era - it's when Hollywood was most concerned with selling a mainstream American dream. Or, at least, when it was least concerned about hiding that motive.

Our protag, Mannix, actually seems to be our antagonist, in truth. His confessionals aren't the act of a man who's persnickety about morals. They're the act of a man who is so able to compartmentalize his life that he doesn't see lying about the birth of a child so he can adopt it to its own mother as a sin. Instead, he confesses about lying about smoking one less cigarette (hence the priest's frequent sighs of frustration). That's why Lockheed is so interested in him (whether either knows it or not) it's that he's a system man that is able to see a "bigger truth". He is given a mission and will do anything to make that happen. Mannix is not a good person. He's a cog, which is a subtle aspect of his recurring leitmotif, the watch.

That's an interesting parallel with Tatum's role. Notice what Tatum does when he gracefully boards the Soviet sub. He looks at his watch. This has been the recurring symbol for Mannix throughout the film, and we have a connection between these two characters who are able to use other people in order to pursue their higher goals. Tatum for Communism, and Mannix for the unsubtly named "Capitol" studios.

Mannix is a true believer in a lot of things. His faith carries him through that belief system, but his critical, rational thought never seems to enter into it. He gets an unsuitable actor for a picture because a voice on a phone tells him. He takes care of a problem in a remarkably unchristian way because of the same. I think that this might be a significant aspect of Clooney forgetting his pivotal line. Faith is only worth so much, and this is also a recurring theme in A Serious Man (among others of their films). If we place blind faith in a system, then we can ignore the horrors that system asks us to perpetrate. Hence the picture of the atom bomb.

Clooney's character, Baird, actually has a hilarious shadow life of his character in the film. A man uncritical of an oppressive system, who is taken on a journey into that system, sees the light (and really, Baird grasps the dialectic very well, even if he totally misapplies it), and comes to grasp its antithesis. But then, a few slaps to the face, and Baird is cured, back to making the Jesus picture that the studio wants as its jewel piece for the award season.

So I get back to what I said before, that the Cohens seem disgusted with movies as a form. Even those revolutionaries are being played. Why does Tatum care more for the life of a dog than 100,000 dollars in cash? Either because the cash was never the point and he's already used these men for what he wants, or because he's secretly stolen the cash already and knows the briefcase is empty. Either way, the pinkos on the raft are so much driftwood to him, as he takes his star turn on the communist stage. The weak efforts of these men to insert revolutionary messages into the film are subverted by the very form itself. A parallel is drawn between Brolin and Tatum's characters for this reason.

There will always be the system men to make the cogs turn cleanly. I think that this is what the Cohens are doing with setting the movie so much in the studio lot, so much seeing the stagey aspects of Hollywood (e.g. Cesar's half-finished legs, because that's all the camera ever needs to shoot without a matte shot). I think it's why we see the gears of the big dance numbers (the joints of the whale, the tracks that the floor pieces of the Dangling Dinghy ride on). I think it's why certain real-life shots of the movie ITSELF looks stagey (e.g. the sub shot, which transparently looks like it was shot on a soundstage, and with the stage light moon reflected in the water, calls to mind Hobie's film premier). It's because they want us to see the gears turning, they want us to see the lie, and they want us to question the truth of how we consume and discuss film.
posted by codacorolla at 7:41 PM on December 26, 2016 [15 favorites]

codacorolla's comment made me realize that Mannix may actually be this movie's manifestation of Leonard Smalls/Chigurh/Grimsrud, the violent enforcer come to assert the unnatural order he represents. That he's now the nominal protagonist here in Hollywood is a pretty devastating inversion, almost to the point of making me wonder how and whether they could make another movie after this one.
posted by invitapriore at 11:19 PM on January 2, 2017

So I watched Oh Brother Where Art Thou? today, and in a lot of ways it feels like the compliment to what I wrote above about Hail Caesar!

This deals with a different period of American conflict - the great depression, and it takes pains to show the way that entertainment media helped people to get through that. There's the satirical song, Big Rock Candy Mountain, there are spirituals, there are protest songs. Eventually, the thing that allows the Soggy Bottom Boys to get back into society, and to run the fascist out on a rail, is music. People can accept a black man as an equal with white men if he can play a guitar.

There's still, certainly, cynicism. Pappy is an asshole, a racist, a cheat, a liar, a thief. Is he that much better than Homer? Well, he's not a Klan member. He rides the Soggy Bottom Boys popularity to a populist victory. You get a little flavor of Tatum's character in Caesar, where the left side of the coin is doing a lot of the same shit that the right side is. Near the end of the movie, Baby Face is frog marched through the town by an angry mob, playing bluegrass music and celebrating. It's played for comedy, since Baby Face has gotten his wish to be executed as a celebrated criminal, but it's also grotesque, and reminiscent of the Klan lynch-mob scene with its chanting.

The epilogue portion, where they're ambushed by the sheriff at the familial manse, shows that even the soft power of culture has its limits. Guns and force are still there at the end of the day. Everett says, of the pardon, "it went out on the radio," and the sheriff says, "We ain't got a radio." Culture only applies to those who listen and are receptive to its message.

It makes me wonder what a toad like Spencer, or a monster like Bannon sees when they watch this movie (if they watch it at all). What do they feel when the bible salesman gets squashed? That's who they're rooting for, after all. It also resonates with the Christofascist movement to forcefully extract their children from culture - any culture but their own. Our narratives very often highlight the importance of tolerance and acceptance - the anathema to people who frame everything as some abstract globalist plot re: diversity and an attack on nostalgic white supremacist 'values'.
posted by codacorolla at 2:35 PM on January 30, 2017

Render Unto "Hail, Caesar!", Jeet Heer - "IF GOD IS in the details, then in a movie, theology is in the credits — the oft-ignored info-dump where the secrets of creation and the law are spelled out to the hyper-attentive. If you stick around to near the very end of the Coen Brothers’ 2016 movie Hail, Caesar!, you’ll be rewarded with this exegetical note: “This motion picture contains no visual depiction of the godhead.” This might seem like a typical Coenesque leg-pull, like the reassurance in A Serious Man, whose main character is inflicted with a rain of Job-like misery, that “[n]o Jews were harmed in the making of this motion picture.”"
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:15 PM on February 21, 2019

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