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Good Morning Hollywood, October 8: Horsing Around

The horse movie replaces the Facebook movie as the controversy du jour


In this morning’s roundup of movie news ‘n’ notes from around the web, the horse movie replaces the Facebook movie as the controversy du jour.

Why, we have ourselves a critical brouhaha that doesn’t involve Armond White or  “The Social Network.” It seems Andrew O’Hehir wrote a review of “Secretariat” at Salon, and that review sent Roger Ebert into … well, not a rage, exactly, but it launched a 1,500-word tirade about the politics that O’Hehir saw in the film but Ebert didn’t. The whole thing, I suspect, has to do with Disney’s avowed plan to trot out some faith-based marketing, and woo the conservative Christian moviegoer the way “The Blind Side” did last year.

Diane LaneFirst, we have O’Hehir’s review, which is headlined “A gorgeous, creepy American myth,” and then tips its hand more overtly in the subhead: “a Tea Party-flavored, Christian-friendly yarn about one big horse and our nation's past.” In the first paragraph, he says he enjoyed the movie immensely, and then drops the bomb: “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.” The trouble with this entertaining movie, he swears, is that it’s “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,” and that it satisfies “our nonsensical but inescapable yearning to find the keys to the future in stupid ideas about a past that never existed.” (Salon)

Whereupon Ebert enters and says, essentially, “What the —-?”After noting his impeccable liberal credentials, he calls O’Hehir’s review “wildly eccentric” and says of the film, “[I]n my naïveté I … saw a straightforward, lovingly crafted film about a great horse and the determined woman who backed him against a posse of men who thought she should get her pretty little ass off the horse farm and get back to raisin' those kids and darnin' those socks.” And that’s just the beginning: Roger goes on to devote almost 1,500 words (more than O’Hehir’s original review) to explaining why Andrew is just reading way  too much into this movie. (Roger Ebert’s Journal)

Oh, and O’Hehir then tweeted, “do i really have to get into it with him over SECRETARIAT? Movie's not worth it, and his response is even weirder than what I wrote!”

Patrick Goldstein also thinks O’Hehir is a bit misguided for complaining that the movie doesn’t mention Vietnam or Watergate, and that the critic indulges in a “sweeping over-interpretation” of the film. “After all,” he writes, “it's one thing to be a fantasy ‘of American whiteness and power,’ as O'Hehir says of the film. It's another thing to simply be a reflection of an insular culture. Either way, I suspect the heated debate has only just begun.”  (The Big Picture)

By the way, that sound you hear is the backers of “The Social Network” breathing a sigh of relief that some other movie might be the one people are arguing about for a while.