How Much Time Do You Spend Consuming Pop Culture?

by James Wallace Harris, Saturday, June 24, 2017

In past centuries, living left little free time. Survival was all time-consuming. Twelve-hour workdays were the norm once. Few people had time for hobbies or pursuing pop culture. And if we weren’t working we were raising families or maintaining our little castles.

Times have changed. The work week keeps getting shorter. More people choose not to have kids or even marry. Some people spend as much time watching TV as working. And a lot more people are retired or unemployed. Probably, if you’re not depressed, strung out on drugs, or chasing someone to have sex with, you’re consuming popular culture with all that extra time.

Pop culture

How many hours a week do you spend reading, watching television, going to the movies, listening to music, binge-watching the internet, looking at comic books, going to museums, attending plays, or any other popular pursuit reported on by Entertainment Weekly? And what about video games? Or VR? Are they pop culture or something new?

Are the hours starting to add up? Is mass consumption of pop culture good or bad? I really don’t know. As a retired person I realize most of my time is occupied with pop culture pursuits. I’d like to think I’m consuming art, that I’m psychologically imbibing in the most creative cuisine our culture offers. Is that true? I also like to believe I’m learning about the past through consuming popular culture from other eras. For example, how well can I understand the 1920s from reading Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Wharton, Joyce, Lawrence, and Hemingway, listening to old jazz, watching silent films, look at art, and reading history books?

Would the time I spend on consuming pop culture be better spent on hobbies? TV watching and going to the movies are a big part of my social outlet. Music and reading are solitary pursuits. Hobbies are generally solitary too. I could get up every day and do something more productive than consuming art and writing about it.

Most biological beings spend most of their time looking for food, mating, rearing their young, and avoiding being prey to other biological beings. Isn’t it rather fascinating that humans excrete art and consume it? We used to say humans were the only animals that made tools – until we discovered a whole bunch of other tool using species. Then we said humans were unique because we have language. Well, we discovered that wasn’t true either. More and more we’re finding examples where animals play, have friends, and show curiosity. But do other animals create art? What about the bowerbird?


Is art tools we make to stimulate our minds? Or is art external remembrances we make for shared memories? Pop culture is art for the masses. Art used to be unique, a one of a kind piece. Pop culture depends on mass producing artwork that we like to share. Pop culture feels more nourishing to my soul than air, water, and food, although I couldn’t survive without them, and I could survive without pop culture.

Maybe I shouldn’t use the word soul. The soul doesn’t exist. It was a creative fiction of religion. (And couldn’t religion be the first pop culture creation?) Even though science cannot find any evidence for the soul, and philosophers have refuted its existence, we all feel we have one. Science shows we are not minds and bodies, but just bodies that are biologically programmed to react to our environment. So what is pop culture?

Pop culture is something we add to reality. Of course, we rearrange atoms and molecules that already exist to create art, but there is something new there. Yesterday I read “All the Animals that Love Touchscreens” and learned another way humans are not unique. Pop culture is something that even animals might perceive.

Pop culture is mass-produced art. But that also means it is art that can be saved and preserved. Pop culture artifacts remember aspects of our collective souls. There’s that word again. Religion is wrong about immortal souls. Nothing lasts forever. Neither we, our culture or our art will survive forever.

If you spend several hours a day watching television you’re consuming pop culture. Is it just a way to kill time. To distract you from life? Or do you value pop culture as an artistic achievement?


My Favorite Angels and Ghosts

by James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Have you ever wondered why you watch TV? It’s kind of weird to think about how much we stare at screens. Have you ever analyzed what actually entertains you? Last night I had a friend over to start watching season 5 of House of Cards. I had watched season 1 with her but she leaped ahead through seasons 2-4 without me. As we watched Frank and Claire Underwood I was horrified by the show. Those characters were as depressing as Donald Trump, and I’m definitely not entertained by him. Our current prez has turned me off to all politicians both real and imagined. Then I remembered the movie I had watched the previous night, about angels. Now that was entertaining. And, I don’t even believe in angels.

For-Heavens-Sake-1950-1I suppose it’s rather odd for an atheist to enjoy movies about angels, but I do. I had watched For Heaven’s Sake (1950) with a couple of friends. My friends weren’t aficionados of old movies, so it was kind of them to hang out with me while I had such a good time. I had first seen For Heaven’s Sake decades ago and remembered it mainly for one scene and concept. Back in 2008 when I wrote “Angels in the Movies” I remembered that unique take on angels and wanted to see it again. It wasn’t available. Years later I saw it was out on DVD but the price was too steep. I didn’t buy it, but the urge to see it lingered. The other day I was in the mood for an old movie and saw For Heaven’s Sake was two dollars off, and clicked the order button. It really wasn’t worth $18, but it was cheaper than three people going to the movies. And I laughed out loud a great deal during its 87 minutes, so it was entertaining.

Angel-aThe reason why I remembered For Heaven’s Sake all these years is its unique take on angels. (Of course, the most unique is Angel-A (2005).) For Heaven’s Sake is about a little girl (Gigi Pereau) and boy (Tommy Rettig) waiting to be born, and two angels (Clifton Webb and Edmund Gwenn) trying to assist them. Every movie about heaven, angels, and ghosts have a different theory about how the afterlife works. In this one, kids exist in heaven as angels or angel-like beings before they are born on earth. I thought that a neat idea. Sort of a version of reincarnation. However, seeing the film again last night I heard a line that suggests a problem. Evidently, little angels are created in heaven and begin aging before they are reborn in our realm. If they have to wait too long to make it to Earth they mentally develop in heaven. Clifton Webb tells the little girl she doesn’t want to become a child prodigy and compose music at age four as if that was something nasty.

Many anti-abortionists believe souls are conceived when human eggs and sperm hook up. This movie, as does the theory of reincarnation, suggests that souls exist before birth. Most scientists and philosophers have abandoned the concept of the soul. I like to use the word soul as a label of our sentient/self-aware mind, which I believe develops well after birth. Sentience is a difficult concept, especially if you think about animal rights and artificial intelligence. Stories about angels and ghosts are really speculation about non-human beings, souls, immortality, reincarnation, mind transfers, multiple dimensions, and other philosophical questions. They explore some of the same concepts that science fiction explores.

However, most movies about angels are light-hearted and fun, and this one was too. I tend to over psychoanalyze everything, but then that’s entertaining to me.

the-bishops-wifeThere’s a problem with angel movies. Originally, as told in The Bible, angels were another species of beings that existed with God before creation. Often angels are God’s henchmen, doing his dirty work – his enforcers.  In modern times people believe when you die you become an angel. I don’t know when that idea got started. Two movie classics, It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) and The Bishop’s Wife (1947) seem to be in between on this idea. Clarence has to earn his wings, but he remembers Mark Twain.  Dudley remembers a lot of human history, but I’m not sure if it was from human experience.

Here Comes Mr JordonIn Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), are we dealing with angels, ghosts, or former humans now residents of heaven? The film has a hierarchy of bureaucratic workers who manage heaven and its potential residents. Are they angels? Maybe our culture has repurposed any occupant of heaven to be angels. Me, I prefer angels to be different from humans. Movies like Wings of Desire (1987) (remade in 1993 as City of Angels) have angels envying humans because we can experience things they can’t. Isn’t it ironic that we want to go to heaven, but angels want to come to Earth and live like us? I’ve always loved the title of this book PKD interviews, What If Our World Is Their Heaven. Even though there is great suffering on our planet, what if Earth is the hot destination for the advanced soul?

Mr. BrinkAnd what is Mr. Brink in On Borrowed Time (1939)? Is he death? Or an angel of death? Is he related to the specter of death in The Seventh Seal (1957)? I like Mr. Brink far better. He’s far more philosophical and worldly, and not a strange biblical creature that tags us out when our time is up. Death is played even more suavely by Fredric March in Death Takes a Holiday (1934). In it, Death envies us and tries out being human for a while. In For Heaven’s Sake, Clifton Webb the angel is corrupted by taking human form. Dudley, in The Bishop’s Wife, is also tempted to become human because of Loretta Young.

TopperIn the world of Topper (1937) Cary Grant gets to play a ghost. Strangely, he has some of the same powers as Dudley, the angel he played in The Bishop’s Wife. I think that might be why people are confused by ghosts and angels, they often have similar magical abilities in stories to teleport, appear and disappear, and watch people while invisible. Most of the time angels in movies don’t have wings, at least not like John Travolta in the 1996 film Michael. My favorite fun ghosts are Horatio Prim (Lou Costello) and Melody Allen (Marjorie Reynolds) in The Time of Their Lives (1946), where Abbott and Costello are separated by the veil of death. Do Horatio and Melody convert from ghost to angel when released from their curse?

I wonder why I love movies about angels so much? Generally, I’m not fond of fantasies. I prefer science fiction, but as I’ve written elsewhere, science fiction is a modern substitute for religion. When you think about it, religion, fantasy, and science fiction are fun forms of speculation about what’s possible in reality.

Which makes me wonder if House of Cards is too realistic? I loved Breaking Bad, which was also very realistic, and I cared about Walter White, even though he became a monster. Frank and Clarie are monsters I want burned at the stake. We switched from House of Cards to Better Call Saul and I immediately realized why I liked it better. I care about what happens to Jimmy McGill, Kim Wexler, and Mike Erhmantraut. I couldn’t care less about Frank and Claire. In every scene they were loathsome.

Maybe movies about angels are inherently likable because their stories are about caring about people. Angels are usually guardian angels in most stories. Maybe that’s why people like the concept of angels – they love the idea that someone is watching over them. (Of course, if you think about that, that’s an invasion of privacy. The next time you take a moment out for onanism, just think about what beings might be watching. It does help to be an atheist sometimes.)

I still don’t know why I love movies about angels. If you’re a perceptive reader you might have noticed that most of my favorite angel movies are old, and in black and white. If you’ve seen these films you know they have a certain feel. Maybe I just love the vibes of B&W 1930s and 1940s. I’m not sure I find that same vibe with modern shows. When we watched Big Little Lies I was caught up in the mystery and story, but I found the characters revolting, until the very end, when the show provided a feel good ending, and the characters became likable.

I wonder how Big Little Lies would have felt if it had one additional character, Dudley the angel from The Bishop’s Wife to help those women. Were we better people back in the 1940s?

I’m reminded of this quote from Abraham Lincoln:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Maybe just the idea of angels are the better angels of our nature. Frank and Claire Underwood have no better angels in their nature. And do we when we watch them? My wife has always hated many of the modern TV shows and movies I love because I like stories about complex characters which often means unlikable characters. As much as I hate Donald Trump, I’m sure even he has a better angel in him somewhere. However, watching the nightly news I wonder if all our better angels have flown away to another planet.

I recommend watching On Borrowed Time, a richly complex film, showing both our better angels and worse devils of our nature. And then ask yourself, “How much have we changed since 1939?” Maybe not that much. Is Mr. Smith Goes To Washington that much different from House of Cards? Our entertainment is more explicit, violent, and sexual – but have we really changed? Liberal philosophy has made us better people in many ways, more conscious of the diversity and equality of being fully human. And that’s often reflected in our entertainment.

I think something has been lost. I can’t say what. I believe conservatives are looking for it too, but their nasty belief that the end justifies the means suggests they have already lost their souls. What we watch on TV is revealing. Do people love House of Cards because they despise our government? It’s probably Pollyanna of me to suggest that what we watch does affect us.

Even though I’m an atheist maybe I love movies about angels because I believe humans could be more angelic, even without the fear of God.


Old Movies on Big Screens Again

by James Wallace Harris, Thursday, December 1, 2016

Last night I went out to see Breakfast at Tiffany’s at the movie theater. It was absolutely wonderful to see on the big screen. Generally, we see movies on the big screen first, and then watch them again on the little screen at home. We’ve gotten used to seeing old movies small, but when you see one again big, it’s almost mind altering. And even though my little screen is 56”, and I have a Blu-ray copy of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, it’s just not the same – not even close. While watching the movie last night I wondered why I even bothered with watching movies on television. I even wondered about getting a video projector to create my own home theater. I doubted if I could make the image large enough. If I could convince my wife to allow me to cover the windows in the living room with movie screen I might buy a video projector and try.

Breakfast-Tiffanys ending with cat

I was at a multiplex that has 16 screens, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s was on one of the small-to-medium size screens, and it was damn impressive. Month ago I saw The Maltese Falcon on one of the larger screens, and it was amazing. We’re so used to seeing classic films on a small screen that we forget what they’re really suppose to look like. Back in the 1970s there were old theaters here that played old movies – at least for a couple years. I’d go two or three times a week, and got to see many famous flicks, including silent films, on a big screen. It’s worth both the money and effort, although I don’t know why an old movie should cost more to see than a new movie. Last night it was $27 for 2 tickets. I’d go once or twice a week if it was $5-7 and old shows were available to see.

The Maltese Falcon

Be sure and check out Fathom Events to see if old movies, plays, concerts, operas and other special films are shown in your area. Test out an old movie on a big screen. This month they will be showing From Here to Eternity. I’m still kicking myself for missing when they showed Dr. Strangelove. What I’d love to see are my favorite westerns from the 1950s at a theater. And I’d really love seeing old movies from the 1930s. I consider myself lucky to have seen films like Grand Hotel, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity and Dodsworth on big screens. I’ve also seen Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Buster Keaton like they appeared in the 1920s. Silent movies don’t look so quaint and archaic when shown in a theater at the right film rate.

City Lights

I guess this might be the only thing I envy the rich. I don’t care about privates jets, exotic sports cars, or mansions. But I’d love to have a large home theater and a 4K projector.


Science Fiction: Books v. Television v. Movies

By James Wallace Harris, Thursday, September 29, 2016

50 years ago tonight, “The Naked Time,” the fourth episode of Star Trek was shown. “The Naked Time” allowed the actors to chew the scenery, but wasn’t that science fictional. The context of Star Trek was very science fictional, with a spaceship exploring the galaxy, but often the episodes plot’s were centered around mundane conflicts or fantasies. Mostly the show liked allegories over speculation. My assumption then and now, was television and movie science fiction had to appeal to millions, and thus any real science fiction was watered down.

The Naked Now

This will reveal my media snobbery, but I’ve always felt science fiction I read was more advanced than science fiction I watched. That might be less true in 2016, because television has evolved a great deal in fifty years, but I think it’s still true. Because we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of Star Trek premiering in 1966, I thought it might be fun to look at the other science fiction from that year. Were the 1966 SF novels and short stories more sophisticated than first fifteen episodes of Star Trek? I’m not comparing the quality of storytelling, but examining which science fictional ideas from 1966 was most innovative.

It’s rather ironic that the beautiful film version of Fahrenheit 451 premiered in England just days after Star Trek.  Directed by François Truffaut, Fahrenheit 451 was science fiction attacking a future where people gave up reading for television and comics. Few episodes of any version of Star Trek can compare to that film, but why haven’t we seen celebrations of its 50th anniversary? Why have we seen no public praise for the novels and stories below turning 50? Star Trek was loved by millions, and I’m afraid the science fiction books and magazines of 1966 were read by just thousands at the time.

Fahrenheit 451

We think of Star Trek as classic science fiction, but what most fans love are the characters, and the show’s allegorical content. If you compare it to the science fiction that was being written in 1966, I don’t think Star Trek was innovative, at least in terms of science fictional ideas. It was innovative television. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking Star Trek. It was fun, and I’m very nostalgic about it. I’m just trying to put it into context of written science fiction of 1966.

The two Hainish Cycle novels by Ursula K. Le Guin that appeared in 1966, were far more mature science fiction than what Gene Roddenberry was pursing.  Even the two short novels published by the youthful Samuel R. Delany were far more philosophical, and intellectual. And if you compare the two tales of young men named Charlie, “Charlie X” and Flowers for Algernon, you’ll see that Star Trek went for the easy and obvious. And let’s face it, Star Trek just couldn’t take us to the strange alien headspaces that Philip K. Dick, R. A. Lafferty, and Cordwainer Smith could. Nor did it have the style of Roger Zelazny or J. G. Ballard. And it certainly didn’t have the elegant beauty of what Keith Roberts was writing. And it’s a real shame that Larry Niven, Anne McCaffrey, Keith Laumer, Gordon R. Dickson, Jack Vance and Fred Saberhagen weren’t writing for Star Trek because they had wonderfully cool ideas for galactic civilizations – although Desilu didn’t have the budget to produce what they imagined.

A great deal of science fiction from the 1960s assumed humans will be part of a galactic civilization in the future. The difference between the famous TV show and what we read was the depth of those assumptions. Star Trek existed between the two most remembered science fiction novels of the 1960s: Dune by Frank Herbert (1965) and The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (1969). Can you imagine Captain Kirk visiting Arrakis or Gethen? What kind of exploration of those societies could a 50 minute TV show give us? Especially, when the plots usually involved Kirk being held hostage, and centering around escape.


Episode Idea
The Man Trap Alien that can shape shift, or telepathically make people think it looks different. Reminds me of “Who Goes There?” (1938) and The Body Snatchers (1954).
Charlie X Human raised by advanced aliens and taught psychic powers, must learn to live with normal humans. Reminds me of Stranger in a Strange Land (1961).
Where No Man Has Gone Before Two humans acquire god-like powers. Reminds me of Slan (1940).
The Naked Time Disease causes crew to lose their inhibitions.
The Enemy Within Transporter creates two Captain Kirks – one aggressive the other passive.
Mudd’s Women Space age mail-order brides with siren like abilities.
What Are Little Girls Made Of? Robots replace people. Reminds me of Philip K. Dick.
Miri On a mirror-Earth, the crew meet children that have very long childhoods and die when they reach puberty.
Dagger of the Mind About a penal colony and mind control.
The Corbomite Maneuver Advanced alien plays cat and mouse with Enterprise.
The Menagerie, Part I Mr. Spock commits mutiny.
The Menagerie, Part II Mr. Spock takes Enterprise to planet where aliens can control human thoughts.
The Conscience of the King Unmasking a mass murderer. Made me think of Nazi war criminals in hiding.
Balance of Terror The Enemy Below played out with Romulans.
Shore Leave Crew visits a planet where thoughts come true. This was written by Theodore Sturgeon but it felt like something Thorne Smith would have written.



Title Idea
Samuel R. Delany
Linguistics, poetry. Language influences thought and perception. Code breaking an enemy alien language.
Empire Star
Samuel R. Delany
The novel referenced in Babel-17. About simplex, complex and multiplex thinking.
D. F. Jones
A U.S. military supercomputer takes control and allies with a U.S.S.R. supercomputer.
Destination: Void
Frank Herbert
Developing an artificial consciousness, and cloned humans.
Laumer & Brown
Trying to find lost mythic Earth after humans moved to the stars.
Retief’s War
Keith Laumer
Intergalactic diplomatic hijinks and humor.
Flowers for Algernon
Daniel Keyes
Mentally challenge young man artificially evolved into a genius.
Make Room! Make Room
Harry Harrison
A 1966 extrapolation of year 1999, speculated about the horrors of an overpopulated world of 7 billion.
Robert Sheckley
A comedy about a man who vacations across the galaxy by swapping his mind into various alien bodies.
Now Wait for Last Year
Philip K. Dick
Drug causes time travel and addiction during a time of war with aliens.
Planet of Exile
Ursula K. Le Guin
Anthropological study, and racial conflict on a colony planet.
Rocannon’s World
Ursula K. Le Guin
An ethnological mission to another planet. The word ansible, for faster-the-light communication was coined here.
The Crystal World
J. G. Ballard
Apocalyptic novel about life on Earth turning into crystal.
The Eyes of Heisenberg
Frank Herbert
Genetically modified humans, and longevity.
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
Robert A. Heinlein
An artificial intelligent sentient machine evolved out of a network of computers on the Moon. The AI joins an anti-colonial rebellion against Earth.
The Solarians
Norman Spinrad
Space opera, about a star-drive that can destroy stars.
The Dream Master
Roger Zelazny
Citizens of an overpopulated Earth suffer psychologically and use dream therapy where their therapist enters their dreams.
This Immortal
Roger Zelazny
A devastated Earth is now a tourist destination for alien races to view our ruins.
The Watch Below
James White
Humans are stranded underwater. Think if The Poseidon Adventure had been science fiction.
World of Ptavvs
Larry Niven
Earth and “Belters” in a cold war, with story of ancient alien discoveries, and telepathic amplifiers.


Short Stories

Title Idea
Neutron Star
Larry Niven
Humans and aliens study a neutron star.
Light of Other Days
Bob Shaw
Invents slow glass, where light can take years to pass through, thus capturing scenes from the past.
The Last Castle
Jack Vance
Far future humans battle enslaved aliens
For a Breath I Tarry
Roger Zelazny
After the extinction of mankind, a sentient computer remembers our species
Call Him Lord
Gordon R. Dickson
Aristocrat from galactic empire visits old Earth.
Bookworm, Run!
Vernor Vinge
About an uplifted chimpanzee.
Pavane stories
Keith Roberts
About an alternate history of England where Queen Elizabeth was assassinated and Protestantism failed, and the technology we know never developed.
Day Million
Frederik Pohl
Love affair between two altered humans on what would be the millionth day AD.
In the Temple of Mars
Fred Saberhagen
Humans versus intelligent machines.
Nine Hundred Grandmothers
R. A. Lafferty
Humans visit planet and learn about a strange ontology.
Philip José Farmer
Humans reincarnated in another existence, one that stretches along one immensely long river.
The Ship Who Killed
Anne McCaffrey
Spaceship with a cyborg soul.
We Can Remember It for You Wholesale
Philip K. Dick
Recording false memories.
Under Old Earth
Cordwainer Smith
A visitor to an underground world without laws.
The Age of the Pussyfoot
Frederik Pohl
A man from our time visits the future via suspended animation. He is given a computerized personal assistant.
When I Was Miss Dow
Sonya Dorman
Sexless alien impersonates a woman to understand gender.
You: Coma: Marilyn Monroe
J. G. Ballard
Contemplating geometry and time
The Primary Education of the Camiroi
R. A. Lafferty
About a society where everyone is expected to be an expert.
Behold the Man
Michael Moorcock
Time traveler looks for Jesus.
The Keys to December
Roger Zelazny
Genetic modification.
The Secret Place
Richard McKenna
Science versus myth.



Title Idea
Fantastic Voyage Raquel Welch is made small enough to travel in tiny submarine inside a human body.
Fahrenheit 451 About a near future where books are banned, and society wants people to watch large flat-screen TVs or read comic books instead.
Seconds A rich middle-age man buys rejuvenation and attempts to be young again living with bohemians.
One Million Years B.C. Raquel Welch is cavewoman back when humans lived among the dinosaurs. (Not joking)

Is it surprising how many stories involved intelligent computers? In 1966, mainframe computers were common, but few people interacted with them. AI was a concept them emerged in the 1950s, and science fiction had grabbed it. Most of science fiction before the 1950s dealt with exploring the solar system. The idea of interstellar travel and galactic civilizations boomed in the 1950s, so by the 1960s writers were refining those ideas. Writers blended AI with spaceships. And sociology, anthropology, and psychology was embraced. Stories about human colonized worlds and aliens became richer. Much of the science fiction we read in the 21st century is based on science fictional ideas first developed in the 1950s and 1960s. What’s really evolved since then is the art of storytelling. We exist in a Baroque period of science fiction, where novels are gigantic, and often multi-part, but still exploring the same ideas science fiction fans first encountered in 1966.


Collecting Great Westerns

by James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Yellow_SkyMy primary goal here is to identify and remember all my favorite westerns. Because I focus on collecting, this page will be updated periodically. I also want it to be of use to others, so I’m adding links. Clicking on the year will take you to a description of the film (to Wikipedia until I can write my own reviews). Titles will link to Amazon. The letter grades represents my reaction to the film, and not a critical judgment. Many films won’t have a grade until I see them again. I’m going to also list the format of the discs I own, but that’s only useful to me. Most of these films I’ve seen once, for many, twice, and some, many times. I will eventually add television westerns.

Finally, I want to analyze why I love westerns and what makes a good western. That will happen in the future. Today, I’m just starting with a list. I’ll eventually add content after the listing. I’ll also write reviews to films and link to them when I get time.

Westerns represent a philosophy, reflected in the genre. I’m a liberal, so explaining why I love a genre that’s so conservative will take some effort. Westerns portray details about history, while revealing changing attitudes towards history. Eventually I want to rate both historical value and how well each film fits the genre. For now, I’m going to use a very simply list format to make it easy to expand and edit. In the future, I’ll convert the list to a table, add film cover images, and other annotations.

I should point out I only collect films I enjoy rewatching. There will be many omissions. That means I either don’t like the film, don’t think its fits the genre, or is set outside of the 19th century.

My Favorite Westerns:

  1. The Big Trail (1930), John Wayne, A+, [Blu-ray]
  2. Cimarron (1931), Richard Dix, Irene Dunne, B+, [DVD]
  3. The Plainsman (1936), Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur, A
  4. The Texas Rangers (1936), Fred MacMurray, Jack Oakie, B+, [DVD]
  5. Destry Rides Again (1939), James Stewart, A+, [DVD]
  6. Dodge City (1939), Errol Flynn, A+
  7. Jesse James (1939), Tyrone Power
  8. Stagecoach (1939), John Wayne, A+
  9. Union Pacific (1939), Joel McCrea, Barbara Stanwyck, A+, [DVD]
  10. Santa Fe Trail (1940), Ronald Reagan, Errol Flynn
  11. The Westerner (1940), Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan, A+, [DVD]
  12. They Died with Their Boots On (1941), Errol Flynn, B+, [DVD]
  13. Western Union (1941), Robert Young, Randolph Scott, Dean Jagger, A-, [DVD]
  14. The Outlaw (1943), Thomas Mitchell, Jane Russell, B-
  15. The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Harry Morgan, A+
  16. Tall in the Saddle (1944), John Wayne
  17. Along Came Jones (1945), B, Gary Cooper, Loretta Young [DVD]
  18. Duel in the Sun (1946), Gregory Peck, Joseph Cotton, Jennifer Jones
  19. My Darling Clementine (1946), Henry Fonda, Victor Mature, Walter Brennan, A+, [DVD]
  20. Angel and the Badman (1947), John Wayne, Gail Russell, A+
  21. Ramrod (1947), Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake
  22. 3 Godfathers (1948), John Wayne, B+, [DVD]
  23. Blood on the Moon (1948), Robert Mitchum
  24. Fort Apache (1948), John Wayne, Henry Fonda, B+, [DVD]
  25. Four Faces West (1948), Joel McCrea
  26. Red River (1948), John Wayne, Montgomery Cliff, Walter Brennan, A+
  27. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), Humphrey Bogart, A
  28. Whispering Smith (1948), Alan Ladd, Robert Preston, A-, [DVD]
  29. Yellow Sky (1948), Gregory Peck, Anne Baxter, Richard Widmark, A+, [DVD]
  30. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), John Wayne, B+, [DVD]
  31. Broken Arrow (1950), James Stewart, B+, [DVD]
  32. The Gunfighter (1950), Gregory Peck, A, [DVD]
  33. Rio Grande (1950), John Wayne
  34. Winchester ‘73 (1950), James Stewart, Shelley Winters, A+, [DVD]
  35. Rawhide (1951), B+, Tyrone Power, Susan Hayward [DVD]
  36. Westward the Women (1951), B+, Robert Taylor
  37. Bend of the River (1952), James Stewart, B, [DVD]
  38. The Big Sky (1952), Kirk Douglas, B+
  39. High Noon (1952), Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Thomas Mitchell, A-
  40. Rancho Notorious (1952), Marlene Dietrich, B
  41. Man in the Saddle (1952), Randolph Scott, B
  42. Hondo (1953), John Wayne, [Blu-ray]
  43. The Naked Spur (1953), James Stewart, A-, [DVD]
  44. Shane (1953), Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, A+, [DVD]
  45. The Far Country (1954), James Stewart, Walter Brennan, B+, [DVD]
  46. Garden of Evil (1954), A-, Gary Cooper, Susan Hayward, Richard Widmark, [DVD]
  47. Johnny Guitar (1954), Joan Crawford, B
  48. River of No Return (1954), Robert Mitchum, Marilyn Monroe, B+, [Bluray]
  49. Vera Cruz (1954), Gary Cooper, Burt Lancaster, B+
  50. A Lawless Street (1955), Randolph Scott
  51. The Far Horizons (1955), Fred MacMurray, Carlton Heston, Donna Reed, B
  52. The Man from Laramie (1955), James Stewart, B
  53. Ten Wanted Men (1955), Randolph Scott, Richard Boone
  54. The Searchers (1956), John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, A+, [DVD]
  55. Seven Men from Now (1956), Randolph Scott, Gail Russell, Lee Marvin, A-, [DVD]
  56. 3:10 to Yuma (1957), Glenn Ford, Van Heflin, A
  57. Decision at Sundown (1957), Randolph Scott, [DVD]
  58. Forty Guns (1957), Barbara Stanwyck, C+
  59. Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas,  B+
  60. Night Passage (1957), James Stewart, Audie Murphy, A, [DVD]
  61. The Tall T (1957), Randolph Scott, Richard Boone, Maureen O’Sullivan, B+, [DVD]
  62. The Tin Star (1957), Henry Fonda, Anthony Perkins, B+
  63. The Big Country (1958),  Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker, Charlton Heston
  64. Buchanan Rides Alone (1958), Randolph Scott, [DVD]
  65. Cowboy (1958), Glenn Ford, Jack Lemmon, B+
  66. The Law and Jake Wade (1958), Robert Taylor, Richard Widmark, A, [DVD]
  67. Man of the West (1958), Gary Cooper, [DVD]
  68. Saddle the Wind (1958), Robert Taylor, Julie London, B+
  69. Day of the Outlaw (1959), Robert Ryan
  70. The Horse Soldiers (1959), John Wayne
  71. No Name on the Bullet (1959), Audie Murphy, [DVD]
  72. Ride Lonesome (1959), Randolph Scott, [DVD]
  73. Rio Bravo (1959), John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, B+, [Blu-Ray]
  74. Comanche Station (1960), Randolph Scott
  75. The Magnificent Seven (1960), Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Eli Wallach, A
  76. The Unforgiven (1960), Burt Lancaster, Audrey Hepburn, Audie Murphy, A
  77. The Comancheros (1961), John Wayne
  78. One-Eyed Jacks (1961), Marlon Brando, Karl Malden
  79. Two Rode Together (1961), James Stewart, Richard Widmark, Shirley Jones, B+
  80. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), John Wayne, James Stewart, Lee Marvin, B+
  81. Ride the High Country (1962), Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea, A-, [DVD]
  82. A Fistful of Dollars (1964), Clint Eastwood
  83. For a Few Dollars More (1965), Clint Eastwood
  84. The Sons of Katie Elder (1965), John Wayne, Dean Martin
  85. El Dorado (1966), John Wayne, Dean Martin
  86. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), Clint Eastwood
  87. Nevada Smith (1966), Steve McQueen, A
  88. The Professionals (1966), Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin
  89. The Rare Breed (1966), James Stewart, Maureen O’Hara, Brian Keith, B
  90. Hombre (1967), Paul Newman, Fredric March, Richard Boone
  91. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), Henry Ford, Charles Bronson, Jason Robards
  92. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Paul Newman, Robert Redford
  93. The Wild Bunch (1969), William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, [Blu-ray]
  94. Chisum (1970), John Wayne
  95. A Man Called Horse (1970), Richard Harris
  96. Little Big Man (1970), Dustin Hoffman, A+, [Bluray]
  97. McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, A-
  98. Jeremiah Johnson (1972), Robert Redford, Will Geer, A+, [DVD]
  99. Ulzana’s Raid (1972), Burt Lancaster
  100. High Plains Drifter (1973), Clint Eastwood
  101. Pat Garret and Billy the Kid (1973), James Coburn, Kris Kristofferson, B+
  102. The Missouri Breaks (1976), Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson
  103. The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), Clint Eastwood
  104. The Shootist (1976), John Wayne, Ron Howard, Lauren Bacall, A-
  105. Heaven’s Gate (1980), Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, Jeff Bridges
  106. The Long Riders (1980), David Carradine, Stacy Keach, Dennis Quaid
  107. Pale Rider (1985), Clint Eastwood
  108. Silverado (1985), Kevin Kline, Kevin Costner
  109. Lonesome Dove (1989), Robert Duval, Danny Glover, Tommy Lee Jones, A+, [Blu-ray]
  110. Dances With Wolves (1990), Kevin Costner, A, [Bluray]
  111. Unforgiven (1992), Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman,  A+
  112. Tombstone (1993), Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Dana Delany, A
  113. Wyatt Earp (1994), Kevin Costner, Dennis Quaid,  A, [Blu-ray]
  114. Riders of the Purple Sage (1996), Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, A-
  115. Open Range (2003), Robert Duval, Kevin Costner, A
  116. 3:10 to Yuma (2007), Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, A
  117. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), Brad Pitt, [Blu-ray]
  118. Appaloosa (2008), Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, A+
  119. True Grit (2010), Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, A
  120. The Revenant (2015), Leonardo DiCaprio A+

Westerns I want to see:

  1. The Covered Wagon (1923)
  2. The Iron Horse (1924)
  3. Tumbleweeds (1925)
  4. Pursued (1947)
  5. Wagon Master (1950)
  6. The Shooting (1966)
  7. The Great Silence (1968)
  8. The Hired Hand (1971)
  9. The Claim (2000)
  10. Meek’s Cutoff (2010)



The Psychology of 1, 10, 100 and 1,000

By James Wallace Harris, Sunday, May 15, 2016

1 is a special number. We can only be in love with 1 person at a time, like ducklings imprinting on their mother. This week 2 of my friends told me The Game of Thrones was their all-time favorite TV show. We can only have 1 favorite of anything—books, friends, movies, beverages, television shows, foods, songs, photos. There must be a psychology that’s special to that number. 1 is never enough, is it? How many people can we love, how many good friends can we have? I believe there’s a practical limit to that too. It might be 10 at any one time, and maybe 100 in a lifetime. Some people claim 1,000s of friends. Really?

1 10 100 1000

Psychological researchers used to say 7 of anything is the most images people can retain in their mind at once. Newer studies claim fewer. Multitasking is a myth. We’re like old Macs, good at quick task-switching. I can picture 6 marbles in a triangle pattern of 3, 2, 1. When I add number 7 next to the group of 6, the group of six disappears. Back to 1.

This is why we make lists. You might remember to bring home 4 items from the grocery store, but probably not 10. And certainly not 100. On Spotify I’ve been building TOP 1000 playlist of my favorite songs. When the list approached 500 songs, I realized there were songs I loved way more than others. So I created a TOP 100 list. It quickly filled to 123. As I listened to that list, I realize that some of those songs didn’t belong. The list is shrinking towards 100.

If asked, what my TOP 100 favorite songs were, could I recite that playlist from memory? No, that’s doubtful. That’s why we have TOP 10 lists. Few people think in lists like I do. But if they did, there’s a psychological dynamic that works with the number 10. Maybe because we have 10 fingers, or we use a base-10 numbering. 10 is memorable, but we want more than 10. That’s why we see people listing their 12, 15 and 25 favorites. I’m guessing we have the capability to love 100, or even 1,000 things. Yet, I think 10 is the around the limit we can recall quickly. A TOP 10 list can be recited to a friend, but a TOP 100 requires writing down.

I can love a 1,000 songs, but not a 1,000 movies or books—definitely not 1,000 people. A 1,000 song playlist is manageable, but not memorable. The songs are unforgettable, but I could never recite 1,000 song titles. If I had more bookshelves, I could fit 1,000 books in this room where I write. I had over 800 before the last culling, but I’ve since pared them down to less than 400. Even that many is too many for me to handle at age 64. I’m forgetting what I own.

Sometimes 1,000 is practical. Other times 100 or 10 is workable.

When Olivia and Annie told me their all-time favorite TV show was The Game of Thrones, they asked me about mine. My immediate answer was Breaking Bad. I think it hurt their feelings I didn’t agree with them. I assured them The Game of Thrones was in my TOP 10. But I was mentally rattling off many shows I liked more. In no order, Downton Abbey, Humans, Mr. Robot, Big Love, The Man in the High Castle, Battlestar Galactica, The Sopranos, Fargo, Deadwood, came quickly to mind. Ooops, did that make The Game of Thrones number 11? Were there older shows I love more, but I just couldn’t remember them at the moment? In 1961, my list would have included The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, The Twilight Zone and Have Gun-Will Travel. Would any old favorite make it to my current TOP 10?

Time constrains the numbers we can embrace, the magnitudes we can grok. On my TOP 100 playlist is “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo” by Duke Ellington from 1926. A TOP 10 list tends to focus on the current, but a TOP 100 can span time. My TOP 100 songs span 106 years. The oldest song I love is a 1910 orchestral arrangement of “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (Pavane for a Dead Princess) by Ravel. My TOP 1000 contain choral, classical and operatic works created 100s of years ago.

My guess is TOP 10 lists focus on recent experiences, whereas TOP 100 lists will span decades, and TOP 1000 can cover centuries. The beauty of subscribing to Spotify is I have a fantastic library for building my playlists. Back in the 1970s, when I haunted record superstores, I used to wish that I owned all the albums in the store. Spotify grants that wish times 100. For the past couple years I’ve been searching out my favorite songs from a lifetime of listening. That list is at 444. I’m guessing it will get close to 1,000 by the time I finish. I know collectors can own 1,000s and even 10,000s of LPs, but physically ownership is not the same psychological awareness.

I wonder, and this is just from personal experience, if 1,000 is the upper limit of our comprehension? I used to own 1,001 Books To Read Before You Die. I never read it all the way through. I eventually gave it away because it overwhelmed me to think I still had another 800 books I had to read. I figure I’ve read at least 2,500 books in my life, and probably seen more than 5,000 films, but I doubt I could ever remember more than 1,000 of each, even if I starting writing titles down with the aid of Wikipedia and IMDB. I can handle a playlist of 1,000 songs, but not a bookshelf 1,000 books, or a rack of 1,000 DVDs. When I was younger, I did, but getting old is shrinking my universe.

For a while, maybe into my 70s, I’ll search out the TOP 100 books and movies I want to cherish. I expect, as the years go by, that number will dwindle. Eventually, I’ll be down to remembering my TOP 10 of everything, and finally, if I have the right kind of death, my TOP 1 of favorite people and things will pass through my thoughts as I fade away. If I can distill that number down before I die, I’ll tell my last friend to mention them at my funeral.


Movie Memories From Growing Up

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Yesterday I watched two movies I had first seen in the 3rd and 5th grades. I don’t know what spurred this bout of nostalgia, but I wondered enough to write this essay. I don’t think I’m unique in wanting to see shows again from childhood. I often read customer comments when buying DVDs on Amazon that start with phrases like “I’ve been searching for this movie for decades.” Been there, done that, more times than I can count.

Cooper and Beery - Treasure Island

The first film I watched yesterday was Treasure Island from 1934, with Jackie Cooper and Wallace Beery. I was in the third grade, and we were living in New Jersey. I believe I saw the movie first, then my mother got the book and read it to me, or with me. It’s the only memory I have of her reading to me. I also remember going to a costume party that year dressed as Long John Silver. I’ve seen this film countless times over my lifetime, and it always evokes strong wistful emotions. I don’t know if it’s the story, or memories of my own feelings from long ago. It’s funny, there’s been many versions of Treasure Island since 1934, but I’ve never seen any of them. I either feel the Wallace Beery version can’t be beat, or I’m afraid of ruining my nostalgia. For some reason my memories of black and white movies are stronger than movies in color. There were some old films that were in color, but I first saw them in B&W because we didn’t own a color TV until 1965.

The Time of Their Lives

The second movie, the one I first watched back in the 5th grade with my sister Becky, is The Time of Their Lives, an Abbott & Costello film from 1946. Lou and Marjorie Reynolds play revolutionary war ghosts, falsely condemned as traitors, cursed to haunt the Danbury estate where they were killed till the crack of doom. Bud plays a guy in the past and the present, but kind of an asshole in both eras. The neat thing about this Abbott & Costello flick, is the duo are separated. Even as a kid, I could only handle so much of their standard shtick, so The Time of Their Lives was refreshingly different. Becky and I loved the story of very old ghosts interacting with the modern world. Of course, we also love the Charlie the Tuna commercials that came on with the movie. Today, I can enjoy parts of The Time of Their Lives but it’s pretty damn silly. Mostly, it’s nostalgia that keeps me watching. The Time of Their Lives is often referred to as the Abbott & Costello film for people who don’t like Abbott & Costello.

Death Takes a Holiday

As a kid, I didn’t really like a lot of kid flicks, not even Disney films. But I did love films about pirates, folks stranded on desert islands, ghosts and angels. The first film I remember seeing, High Barbaree, I’ve written about a number of times, included a mystical island and a stranded naval pilot. Did that film start me on my road to loving fantasy, or was I born with a fantasy gene? Or is it just typical for kids to love movies about ghosts and angels? Doesn’t everyone love It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, The Bishop’s Wife, For Heaven’s Sake, Angels in the Outfield, Death Takes a Holiday, On Borrowed Time – wait, I seem to be remembering only old black and white angel movies. I do love Wings of Desire, City of Angels and Angel-A, and other modern angel movies, but not like I love the old ones.

What’s hilarious is I’m an atheist, but love angel movies. Go figure. Even as a kid I was skeptic. When I was very young I was extremely gullible that attracted torment. I was a year younger than all the kids my grade. For example, they picked on me for being the last kid to believe in Santa Claus. So I guess I turned towards fantasy in movies and books, my secret way to enjoy ghosts and angels, knowing they weren’t real, but still getting to believe in an approved way.

On Borrowed Time

I have to wonder why the movies I saw before age 13 burned deeper into my consciousness than the movies seen since? I’ve watched thousands of films, and I know intellectually that modern films are far more sophisticated, better made, better acted, and better told, than my old favorites. But it’s the old films that have glued themselves to my neurons. It’s also these films first seen in childhood, that I buy and rewatch. Is that just me, or true of everyone as we get older?

National Velvet

Which reminds me, I also loved old movies about dogs and horses, especially National Velvet and Lassie Come Home, or maybe as a kid I just had a crush on the young Elizabeth Taylor. During that time I used to love reading books by Jack London and Albert Payson Terhune.  And don’t forget Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan flicks, and shows about monsters like King Kong and Frankenstein. But by the time I was in the sixth grade, I had developed a passion for 1930s movies, especially for MGM and Warner Brother pictures. I didn’t know anything about the studios back then, I just loved black and white movies from the 1930s. That’s what showed on TV growing up, so I was conditioned by them. Films like Manhattan Melodrama and Grand Hotel seemed otherworldly to me then, and maybe now too.


Maybe one reason why those old films are so well buried in my brain is I used to stay up late watching them. During the summer vacations my parents would let Becky and I watch the all-night movies. I realize now my mother probably allowed this because we’d sleep until noon, and this would give her some private time before she had to be at work at 2pm. Anyway, maybe I love these films more because I watched them instead of getting my REM sleep. To me, one of the most powerful forms of nostalgia is watching old black and white movies late at night in a darken room. I love the flicker of movie light being the only illumination of reality. Hell, I had VR sixty years ago.