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After the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, it became common to proclaim in the press that there aren’t actually any average differences between the Nilotic Tutsis and the Bantu Hutus, that Tutsis don’t actually tend to be taller than Hutus, that these perceptions are just some sort of mass delusion socially constructed by Belgian colonists. 
I can understand why the Tutsi minority that has ruled Rwanda for the last 17 years, and has ruled the Hutu majority in neighboring Burundi for the last half century, wants to propagate a myth intended not only to keep them unchopped up, but also keep them in power undemocratically. But having never felt the urge to chop up a Tutsi, I don’t feel much compulsion to believe it, just as I don’t feel the compulsion to avoid noticing that most of the people in the news in recent decades in Mexico (e.g., Vicente Fox, Jorge Castaneda, Carlos Slim, or Subcomandante Marcos) don’t appear to be terribly Indian by ancestry, even thought the Mexican ruling class made up the La Raza Cosmic ideology/mythology in the 1920s to prevent further race wars.
Razib Khan decided to check out the genetics of this assertion, so he looked for a volunteer for his genetics project. He eventually found somebody who was 3/4th Tutsi and 1/4th Hutu. Sure enough, even with a sample size of N=0.75, he can see that Tutsis show up as different than Bantus.
Still, that raises the question of how in a culture with some degree of intermarriage over the last 500 years, can you still have somewhat distinct Tutsis and Hutus. I think an instructive analog for Rwanda is Mexico. Both were invaded by taller people about 500 years ago. Despite twenty or so generations of intermarriage, taller people still tend to rule there. (E.g., the previous president of Mexico is 6’5?). In my movie review of “Hotel Rwanda,” I explained a likely mechanism for these patterns:

Unfortunately, the screenplay aims at self-absorbed white liberals who think all Africans look alike and that white racism is the root of all evil. The script even claims that it’s merely a white myth that Tutsis tend to be taller than Hutus, asserting that the Belgian imperialists arbitrarily assigned those identities to random Rwandans. Yet, soon the Hutu Power radio station is broadcasting the prearranged code to begin exterminating the Tutsis: “Cut down the tall trees.” 

Rwanda’s true history is more instructive. The medium-height Bantu Hutu farmers arrived 2,000 years ago and drove the pygmoid hunter-gatherer Twa into the forests. Then, about the time of Cortez, the tall, slender Tutsi herdsmen invaded from the north and, according to Gary Brecher, the acerbic “War Nerd” columnist, “claimed all the land, on the legal basis that if you objected they’d kill you.” 

The Tutsi rulers treated the Hutu peasantry with the same contempt the Norman lords display toward the Saxon yeomen in Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. Commenting on Rwanda’s “indigenous racism,” Congo-born sociologist Pierre L. van den Berghe reported that the Tutsis, like other aristocracies, saw themselves as “astute in political intrigue, born to command, refined, courageous, and cruel.” 

The Tutsi ascendancy resembled the white pre-eminence in Latin America. Intermarriage was frequent, yet physical differences between the classes endured, just as they have in Mexico, where despite five centuries of intermarrying, the elite remains much taller and fairer than the masses. The trick is that Mexico’s most successful short, dark men often wed tall, blonde women and have more European-looking offspring, thus replenishing the caste system. 

Likewise, in “Hotel Rwanda,” Cheadle’s ultra-competent Hutu executive is married to a Tutsi beauty who is taller and fairer than he is. (She’s played by Sophie Okonedo, whose mother is a Jewish Englishwoman.)

 I gotta say, that while I have my weaknesses as a movie reviewer, I don’t think too many other critics offer novel explanations for major global conundrums in the course of reviewing the Movie of the Week.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Film, Movies 
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Here’s my full review from The American Conservative of the recent Italian film, which I’m posting to provide some perspective on my subsequent post, “The Deep State:”

Most movie critics are more concerned with film than with life, but my goal has been to help make movies, those pungent yet unreliable distillations of life, more compelling for the reader who is more interested in the world than in the cinema.

Consider “Il Divo,” a baroquely stylized biopic about Giulio Andreotti, seven times Prime Minister of Italy in the 1972-1992 era, and then a perpetual defendant in murder and Mafia trials in 1993-2003. Paolo Sorrentino’s “Il Divo” is clearly a film of aesthetic ambitions (the owlish politician inhabits a De Chirico Italy of sinisterly empty arcaded streets) and some historical significance.

Still, the labyrinthine “Il Divo” would be impenetrable to any American who hasn’t read up on Italy’s lurid recent past, in which Andreotti’s rival, ex-Prime Minister Aldo Moro, was kidnapped and murdered by the Red Brigades, various Vatican-connected bankers died in fashions that would have amused the Borgias, a Masonic lodge served as a seeming government-in-waiting for a post-coup Italy, and brave magistrates investigating the Mafia blew up.

Italian politics, with its constantly collapsing governments, strikes Americans as a joke. Yet, the fundamental questions of Italy’s Cold War years were deadly serious: Would the unruly joys of Italian daily life succumb to the grayness of a Communist state, the Cuban tragedy writ large? Yet, just how many Machiavellian machinations in the name of saving Italy from the Reds could be borne?

We often heard in 2002 that the U.S. did such a wonderful job reforming Germany and Japan after WWII that we were bound to accomplish the same in Iraq. Unmentioned went the 1943 American invasion of western Sicily. Needing to keep civil order without tying up troops, we turned control over to local anti-Fascist men of respect: i.e., Mafiosi who had been lying low during Mussolini’s crackdown. It worked, but the blowback lasted 50 years. After the war, to keep Italy’s huge Communist Party out of power, the U.S. subsidized the Christian Democrats, who relied on Mafia get-out-the-vote capabilities in the South.

In the Anglo-American world, to label anything a “conspiracy theory” is to dismiss it out of hand. In Italy, in contrast, conspiracy theories are the default explanation for how the world works, because conspiracies are the main mechanism by which politicians get done what little they do. In Italy, the political is personal. To understand historical events, you need to tease out the occluded connections among the players.

As “Il Divo” demonstrates, Italy apparently needed to be led during those difficult decades by the least operatic politician imaginable, and can only now afford to revert to more stereotypically Italian showboats such as current Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Like a more cultivated, less bumptious version of the Daleys who have ruled Chicago for 41 of the last 54 years, Il Divo is not a diva. Andreotti doesn’t bluster from balconies, nor even bother to cut a stylish figure. He listens carefully, forgets nothing, and confines his own utterances to mordant witticisms. As portrayed by Toni Servillo of the recent Neapolitan mob movie “Gomorrah,” Andreotti is a thin, stoop-shouldered man who never talks with his hands. Telegraphing his introversion, he keeps his chin tucked to his sternum, his elbows tight to his ribs, and makes only the most primly clerical symmetrical gestures. Servillo’s characterization is reminiscent of Austin Powers’s nemesis, if only Dr. Evil were underplayed by Jack Benny.

Margaret Thatcher reminisced about Andreotti, “He seemed to have a positive aversion to principle, even a conviction that a man of principle was doomed to be a figure of fun.” “Il Divo’s” nightmarish depiction of Italian politics raises an unsettling point. In Andreotti’s defense, he at least was born into his system, while America is now led by a man who, with every opportunity in the world beckoning, carefully chose to make his career in our closest equivalent: Chicago politics.

Having been acquitted on a second appeal in the shooting of a journalist investigating Moro’s death, and saved by the statute of limitations from conviction for his 1970s alliance with the Sicilian Mafia, Andreotti is still influential as a Life Senator at 90. The unflappable maestro commented on “Il Divo,” “I don’t agree with Sorrentino’s portrayal of me, but I understand he had to make certain dramatic choices to make it interesting; my real life is actually quite boring.” Unfortunately, an American would have to be as well-informed as Andreotti to make sense of “Il Divo.”

Unrated, but would be PG-13.

• Tags: Film 
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Here’s an excerpt from my review of “Gone Baby Gone” in the November 5, 2007 issue of The American Conservative:

With The Sopranos wrapped up, there’s a general feeling that the Italian mafia has finally been exhausted as grist for movies and TV. What Hollywood needs now is a new favorite crime-prone immigrant group, of which there is no shortage of candidates.

Here in Los Angeles, the more dismal murders — such as one teenager shooting another over graffiti-tagging rights to an alley — are committed mostly by the usual suspects. In contrast, the colorful capers that Quentin Tarantino or the Coen Brothers would find cool, the seemingly brilliant schemes that somehow go awry and end in a bloodbath, are perpetrated primarily by white newcomers from either the Middle East or the ex-Soviet Union: Armenians, Israelis, Persians, and the like.

Yet, Hollywood seems instead to be falling in love with an ethnic group that has been here even longer than the Italians: the Irish. Working class white Boston, where killings, while rare, frequently remain unsolved, has been the setting for the recent Oscar-winners “The Departed” and “Mystic River.”

Now, failed leading man Ben Affleck (perhaps most notorious for bombing in “Pearl Harbor”), who won a screenwriting Oscar a decade ago with his best friend Matt Damon for their movie about a Boston prole, “Good Will Hunting,” has returned to his roots. He has co-adapted and directed “Gone Baby Gone,” a detective thriller by Mystic River novelist Dennis Lehane set in Boston‘s grimy Dorchester neighborhood.

Well, Dorchester is not exactly Ben’s roots. He, personally, was born in Berkeley, California and was raised in Cambridge, which is just like Dorchester, if Dorchester were home to Harvard and MIT.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Film, Immigration, Movies 
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An odd duck of a movie, but one I rather liked. It starts out as a tragedy and ends up as a comedy. David Duchovny plays an affluent Seattle developer who dies suddenly, leaving a widow (Halle Berry), two cute kids with amazing hair, and a best friend from childhood (Benicio Del Toro) who is a lawyer turned fulltime heroin junkie, whom the widow despises. It’s like a lighter, more watchable version of “21 Grams,” which starred Del Toro, Sean Penn, and Naomi Woods.

Mostly because she doesn’t have anything else to do, the widow Halle invites Benicio to move into the garage, and she tries to get him to go to his NarcAnon meetings. The bald, fat, rich white guy next door helps Benicio get a job because it will piss off his insufferable, status-climbing wife. By the end, Benicio has passed the mortgage broker test and gotten a new girlfriend (Alison Lohman, who still looks like the 14-year-old she played in “Matchstick Men“), but he still has this dream of perfect happiness: having a needle full of junk in one hand and the money for his next score in the other.

Obviously, in real life, recovering heroin junkies are not welcomed into upscale neighborhoods, but the Danish lady director Susanne Bier, making her first American film, gives the impression that she’s perfectly aware that charming Benicio and gorgeous Halle aren’t real people, they’re Hollywood movie stars! There’s an early scene where Duchovny and Del Toro talk about how beautiful Berry’s character is, which is unusual in movies: we’re usually supposed to assume that the ultra-good looking star is a just plucky underdog fighting against all odds.) So, the film has this strange conditional realism: this is what could happen to a heroin addict if he was as lovable as Benicio Del Toro.

The main reason for seeing this film is if you like to watch Benicio (the Oscar-winning Mexican policeman in “Traffic”) overact, which I certainly do. In his ability to make his face jump around, he’s like an ursine, flabby Jim Carrey. His facial gymnastics are particularly enjoyable during the early scenes for their contrast with the woodeness of Duchovny, the yuppie Charles Bronson. Del Toro’s performance as a junkie appears to be modeled on heroin addict Lou Reed’s affected vocal in the Velvet Underground classic “Sweet Jane.” (I know that sounds like I’m just making it up, but “Sweet Jane” is played three times in the movie, so the Lou Reed comparisons are inevitable.)

I think I’ve finally figured out the Halle Berry question: How exactly is she both a (not undeserving) Oscar winner for “Monster’s Ball” and notoriously bland in superhero films like “X-Men” and “Cat Woman?” Here, her acting starts out strongly in the emotionally-charged scenes at the beginning, but then, as things settle down in the plot, she loses screen presence. She’s still easy on the eyes, but by the second half of the movie you’re done marveling over how petite her chin is (Can she eat steak with that little jaw?) and there’s not much else going on with her.

In other words, she’s good at the big, hard stuff (like grieving over her slain husband), but not at the little things. She’s like an Olympic figure skater who nails her triple toe-loops but doesn’t do anything interesting in-between the jumps, like 1998 winner Tara Lipinski or Tonya Harding, in contrast to, say, Katarina Witt (1984-88) who couldn’t do triple jumps, but was a dream of feminine charisma when she was just skating around. With Halle, though, it’s confusing; because she’s so pretty, you expect her to be good at being ingratiating but not at the big tragic emoting, when, in fact, her skills are the reverse.

So, Halle was quite good in a fairly short role in the lurid melodrama “Monster’s Ball” playing the operatically absurd role of a widow who falls in love with the prison guard (Billy Bob Thornton) who executed her husband (Puff Daddy), but she’s lousy in a comic book movie where only charisma is required.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Film, Movies 
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Here are reviews of three 2006 Oscar winners from The American Conservative that have never appeared online before:

- The Lives of Others

- The Last King of Scotland

- The Queen

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Film 
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The Man Called Thursday argues that the show’s peak was the second through fourth seasons way back in the early 1990s, which was when Matt Groening lost interest and control shifted to the Harvard Mafia (as my former neighbor, a screenwriter on the meat and potatoes sit-com “Married With Children,” called them with fear and loathing in her voice). I can’t disagree, although the show’s consistency held up well through the end up the decade. Were the Simpsons’ 1990s the greatest decade any television show ever enjoyed? I’d say so, but lots of people would vote for more recent hour long drama on cable, such as The Sopranos. The funny thing is that drama doesn’t hold up as well as comedy. Stations paid a lot of money in the late 1980s for the hour long dramas thirtysomething and Miami Vice, and never got their money back. Meanwhile, “I Love Lucy” is still playing somewhere right now.

The Simpsons Movie concentrated too hard on telling what we already knew — the Simpsons may be dysfunctional, but when they pull together, they can triumph. I would have like to learn knew things. For example, we get to meet Nelson “Ha-Ha!” Muntz’s mom. Why couldn’t the backstory of other characters be covered?

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Film 
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From my review in the August 28th issue of The American Conservative:

“Sunshine” is a medium budget ($40 million) science fiction thriller with art house pretensions about eight astronauts on a last-chance-for-mankind mission to reignite the dying Sun with a “stellar bomb” the size of Manhattan. The movie falls uncomfortably between the grand heroism of the old sci-fi and the petty self-absorption of our reality television shows.

Granted, the physics of the premise are unworkable — for one thing, it takes a half million years for light to jostle its way out from the dense solar core to the surface, so by the time we noticed anything was wrong with the Sun, it would be too late — but, some of the film’s conceptions of how much the freezing folks back on Earth could do if they had to are thrillingly old-fashioned. For instance, this bomb is humanity’s final hope because “all the fissile material on Earth has been mined” to make it.

On the other hand, by 2057 NASA appears to have delegated personnel selection to a TV network. The crewmembers of Icarus II look great but display all the competence, cohesiveness, and cool-headedness of a losing tribe on Survivor. With the oxygen running out, they sit and debate whether it’s morally justified to kill one person to save the entire species (uh, yup). “Sunshine” isn’t quite as inane as last year’s apocalyptic “Children of Men,” which kept getting distracted from its plot about saving humanity from extinction to protest the plight of illegal immigrants, but it’s close.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Film 
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I’ve long felt that the individual film critic’s job isn’t really to give you a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on whether a movie is good or not. You’d be better off looking up on Rotten Tomatoes an aggregation of critics’ ratings to even out the random perturbations.

Now, there are a tiny number of unjustly-overlooked movies that I’ve helped call to public attention — “Idiocracy,” of course, but also Stephen Fry’s Evelyn Waugh adaptation “Bright Young Things” and bring back to the conversation John Huston’s “Man Who Would Be King” during the Afghan War, but, in general, I’m too old to care whether I’m succeeding in imposing my personal tastes upon the world. (Which is good, because I’m not!)

Instead, I see my job in my movie reviews as adding value. Some critics do this by being amusingly snarky, but I’m more earnest. I go read the book, Google the history, think about the issues the movie brings up. For example, my review of the Oscar-winning “Capote” came to the same conclusion as everybody else’s: Philip Seymour Hoffman is great! I don’t have the skills to explain much about why Hoffman was great within 735 words (but not too many other critics do, either). I do think I made some contribution by reading Capote’s In Cold Blood and pointing out that the film screenwriter’s unthinking bias against capital punishment made the film unfair to Truman Capote and his small but influential place in literary history.

Anyway, I don’t think it’s very hard to give a reasonably accurate thumbs up or thumbs down on individual movies, and most critics aren’t bad at that aspect of the job. As I wrote to The Audacious Epigone:

There is a fair amount of agreement between critics and the public on movies within various classes: e.g., that “Saving Private Ryan” was better than “Flags of Our Fathers,” or that “Gladiator” was better than “Alexander.” Movies tend to “work” or not work, rather like a good band within a musical genre is pretty clearly better than a bad band.

Fortunately, he took me up on this and crunched the numbers on the correlation between critics’ ratings and box office dollars. In “Movie Critics and Movie Mavens,” he reports:

Steve’s comment is borne out for the most part–critics do well … by genre, except for horror (which they despise) and romance (which, not surprisingly, they just don’t seem to get). Criticism and cynicism are often mistakenly thought to be synonyms, and this provides some justification for that confusion, as these genres are the two most susceptible to it. In action and science fiction, they do very well (.55 and .59 r-values, respectively). The disdain for horror extends across the board, as it received the lowest average score of all of the genres considered. For drama and children’s movies, they perform about as well as movies at large.

Drama films are most likely to be heavily politically or culturally ideological, which is probably why critics don’t do so well in this serious genre. It’s similarly a tough one for the general public, as the characters and the actions they take are often judged in many gradations, open to more interpretation than say, concluding that Scar is a bad dude.

Fat Knowledge, in wondering how the general public fared compared to the critics, pointed me to Yahoo, which constructs an average user score based on thousands of online ratings. The folks obliterate the critics. Rotten Tomatoes’ critic scores, the most reliable relative to box office receipts of the different services looked at, correlate with revenue at .295 to the Yahoo users’ .405.

While the critics do a little better by genre than by all movies in general, Yahoo users beat the critics in every genre, excepting action and science fiction, by slim margins. Romance is the most glaring. Critic scores and box office performance correlate at a meaningless .06 to users’ .77. That blossoming could never happen in real life! But two cowboys… Horror was similarly divergent. Apparently stuffy critics cannot degrade themselves enough to review horror movies with any seriousness–they all belong in the garbage bin!

The genre-to-revenue relationships (r-values) for professional critics, Yahoo users:

Genre, Pros, Yahoos
Action: .55, .48
Comedy: .41, .58
Drama: .28, .38
Horror: .09, .61
Kids: .27, .79
Romance: .06, .77
Sci-Fi: .59, .55
Thriller: .31, .42

Simply put, if you want to know how a movie will do, ask the moviegoing public that will go to see it. Not only do the movie-maven plebeians do better than the putative experts at predicting actual box office performance, they’re a lot more stable across the board, always providing at least a moderate amount of insight. Of course, uppity critics would hate to be amalgamated as a group, so unique are their individual opinions! Find a critic that you feel to be insightful, and his criticism becomes valuable.

The data, via Swivel, is available here.

One addition that could be made to his analysis would be to make it a multiple regression analysis and add in budget as independent variable. Critics tend to grade on the curve, demanding much more from a $100 million movie than a $1 million dollar movie. (Perhaps we assume that the marketing budget is proportional to the production budget, so we can help a small budget movie more than a big budget one.) For example, the tiny Irish musical for heterosexuals “Once” got huge ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, with 97% positive reviews. On an absolute scale, it’s really not that good, but it’s the “Citizen Kane” of $150,000 movies. And the public seems to agree: it’s made $6.5 million domestically, which is a huge return on investment.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Film 
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The Scott Thomas Beauchamp brouhaha: There’s no market for first novels these days, but there’s a big market for memoirs, so a variety of autobiographical fiction manuscripts have been relabeled as autobiographies: most notoriously, “A Million Little Pieces,” but also, perhaps more relevantly, “Jarhead,” a first Gulf War novel that got sold to the public as autobiography and made into a based-on-a-true-story movie, even though it contains a lot of old Marine lore passed off as actually happening to the narrator. (Here’s my American Conservative review of “Jarhead.”)

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Film 
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According to Google News, none of the 1,294 news stories on the Swedish movie director’s death mention that he finally admitted in 1999 that he had been a Nazi-supporter all through WWII, when he was in his 20s, because he found Nazism to be “fun and youthful.” Bergman’s Nazi enthusiasm wasn’t unknown back in Bergman’s heyday: Richard Grenier, Commentary’s film critic, wrote a hostile article about it in the 1980s, but, otherwise, Bergman seems to have gotten a free pass over it.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Film 
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Stephen Hunter: Less Park’s “Oldboy” than Woo’s “The Killer:” The Washington Post’s Pulitzer-winning film critic Stephen Hunter analyzes my guess that the Virginia Tech mass murderer was influenced by the South Korean film “Oldboy.” Maybe, he says, but:

Many of Cho’s pictures — 11 out of 43 — featured guns. And when I looked at them, another name struck me as far more relevant than Park Chan Wook. That’s John Woo.

Hunter definitely knows his guns! I reviewed for VDARE Hunter’s nonfiction book, American Gunfight, about the 1950 terrorist assault by Puerto Rican nationalists that nearly succeeded in assassinating President Truman.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Crime, Film 
Steve Sailer
About Steve Sailer

Steve Sailer is a journalist, movie critic for Taki's Magazine, columnist, and founder of the Human Biodiversity discussion group for top scientists and public intellectuals.

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