In a 10.7 push-back piece, Roger Ebert has accused Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir of going all goony-bird on Secretariat by calling it “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…in its own strange way, Secretariat is a work of genius.”
It is necessary, of course, for O’Hehir to respond to Ebert today, and then for Ebert to respond again with an “oh, yeah?” and others jumping in. Let’s keep this thing going throughout the weekend, at least. Push comes to shove.
Ebert’s logical side argues that little if any of O’Hehir’s perceptions of underlying Secretariat creepiness are valid, and that O’Hehir is basically pulling these impressions out of hjs ass. That’s really not the case here. I for one believe that Secretariat is rancid with secular Disneyfied Republican nostalgia for the days of white-culture dominance and Christian picket-fence serenity.
Of course, Secretariat director Randall Wallace indulges in standard subterfuge by camoflauging his sentiments in the apparel of a standard horse-racing sports saga. Ebert knows, of course, that the essence of a film can always be detected in the things that are not precisely said — in the subtext and under-currents. And yet he seems to be saying in his retort piece that Secretariat has no subtext, that it’s a simple and straightforward saga with no tricks up its sleeve.
I was okay with much…okay, half of Secretariat. I loved the purely physical and purely spiritual horse-racing aspects. But without precisely “saying” what it believes, this is a film that infers the following in a hundred different ways: “Isn’t the affluent and hermetic white-person world we’re showing you a nice place? The middle-class propriety, ‘O Happy Day’ played on the soundtrack twice, the submissive and gentle-mannered darkie horse groomer and the inferences of Christianity and so on…and wouldn’t it be kinda nice if the world of today with Barack Obama messing things up was a bit more like it? Maybe if we all get together, we can bring some of this atmosphere back and restore some of the old greatness?” Michelle Bachmann, trust me, will absolutely adore this film.
Ebert’s own review, remember, called Secretariat “a great film.” Ebert clearly feels strong emotional ties to the Secretariat legend (as do I — I worship what that horse did in the ’73 Belmont Stakes race), and perhaps by recollections of his own life in 1973 and the way things were going…who knows? He says in his original review that the film made him choke up.
Let’s reconsider what O’Hehir said. Secretariat “uses a ‘true story’ as the foundation for a pop-historical reverie that seems to reference enduring American virtues — self-reliance, stick-to-it-iveness, etc. — without encouraging you to think too much about their meaning or context. Although the troubling racial subtext is more deeply buried here than in The Blind Side, 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.”
Responses from the HE chorus would be greatly appreciated.