SCREENnReturn to Remedial Physicsn5i/fea«orf; Directed by Mike Nichols;nWritten by Nora Ephron and AlicenAlien; ABCMotion Pictures/Twentielh-nCenturyFox.nby Stephen MacaulaynOne of the latest causes of self-righteousness,nposturing, and enlightenednindignation is not a person or place, but anthing: a group of heavy metals thatndisintegrate and emit various raysn(alpha, beta, gamma), or radioactivenmaterials. Everybody knows that radioactivenmaterials are deadly, period.nMention the physicians who practicennuclear medicine, and you’ll receive anchilling glare accompanied by a coldnshoulder. A point around which thenconcerned have flocked is the movienSilkwood. Not only have the predictablensources of liberal holier-than-thounmovie reviewing come out babblingnabout the movie’s correctitude andnwonder, but even The Wall Street Journalnpublished a minipaneg>Tic to whatnnot only has a pro-blue collar/antimanagementntheme (perhaps the Journalnwas smitten with “higher socialnconsciousness”), but which is, quitensimply, an awful movie by every criticismnassociated with not only socialnnormality, but even textbook reviewing.nIt’s obvious that Silkwood was madenin order to Make a Statement. It’s notnsurprising that an arm of the networknthat has set itself up as the public’s videonconscience (from nuclear war to incest,nit knows all), ABC, is behind Silkwood,nthe story of a proletarian heroine of then1930’s style who was thrust into thenI970’s in order to confront Big Power.nThe corporate executives behind thenmovie would undoubtedly say that itnwas made “in the public’s interest.”nPossible radioactive contamination duento faulty management controls or employeenfoul-ups is something that thenpublic should be concerned about. Butnis a lousy movie like Silkwood truly anmedium of education or is it merely onenof propaganda, full of half-truths, distortions,nand innuendoes? The answernshould be obvious, yet even educatednreviewers seem to have missed it.nNo layman would dare tell a particlenphysicist how to operate a microwavenoven, yet that same person somehownfeels qualified to speak on the subject ofnnuclear energy, based on informationngleaned from such movies, TV reports,nand the popular print media. This isnwhat’s called chutzpah or hubris innWebster’s. Take the rather ordinarynprocess of welding, which is central tonSilkwood. Everybody knows that twonMadness, Artists & the CinemanRichard Koszarski: The Man YounLoved to Hate: Erich von Stroheintnand Hollywood; Oxford UniversitynPress; New York.nFilmmakers, perhaps due to thenrelative infancy of their chosen medium,nare not really considered to be artists innAmerica, at least outside the pages ofnspecialized journals. Celebrities, yes;nauteurs, no. One reason why this is sonmight be that the preponderant numbernof productions are ephemeral, but thennone has to take into account the feet thatnmost bookstores are filled with flotsamnyet bona fide artists/authors can bendiscerned. A more basic reason might benthat people simply don’t think verynhighly of directors. When a film directornnnpieces of metal welded together becomena piece that is less strong andndurable than one whole piece. After all, ifnone breaks the handle off of a coffee cupnand then glues it back on, the joints arenmore fragile than the whole piece wasnprior to breakage. The metaphor works,nbut the reality breaks it: what “everybodynknows” about welding is incorrectn—a weld, properly made, is the strongestnpoint of an assembly, one that’s strongernthan the joined materials. But who wantsnto fool around with facts when badnfiction with the socially acceptablenmessage is so much more appealing? Dnof yore (i.e., pre-California film schoolnperiod) is crudely imagined, the figurenthat tends to emerge is that of a Prussiannwearing a beret, monocle, and jackbootsnwho is holding a riding crop in one handnand a megaphone in the other. Thatnimage is based on Erich von Stroheim,nwhose role as an actor, from For Francenin 1917 to Sunset Boulevard in 1950,nwas based on the elements of such ancharacter. Von Stroheim (himself a filmlikencreation, given that the touch ofnnobility was a pure fiction) was a mannwho tried to be an artist in Hollywood.nHe was not only an actor—indeed, hisnacting was often a means to ends: moneynand visibility—but a writer, designer,nand, above all, director. About vonnStroheim’s efforts in the first feature thatnhe made, Blind Husbands (1918), innwhich he performed all four activities,nJoel W. Finler notes in his Stroheimn(University of California Press; Berkeley;n1968), “Such a formidable directoralndebut was unmatched in the cinemanuntil over twenty years later whennOrson Welles made Citizen Kane.” Thenformer wunderkind, of course, is nownmost well known for his ample appearancenin TV wine commercials (whichnhave now been pulled); only buffs sayn”Welles” with sober reverence.niKJMiainJune 1984n