You wanna understand America, don't come here — go to the movies
November 16, 2014 7:37 PM   Subscribe

Rich Hall’s How The West Was Lost (What started with Red River mostly ended with Blazing Saddles; from 20th C. cultural behemoth to object of satire; the Western genre and the archetype of the cowboy.)

There’s a tradition of Brits coming to the US to explain this young country and expose the folks back home to America. From Charles William Janson and Thomas Ashe on through Stephen Fry and Jeremy Clarkson, foreigners with funny accents and strange vocabulary have set foot on American soil in an effort to explore the place and its people. But for the Brits to truly understand America, two things might be necessary: an American expat and (more importantly) MOVIES! Because an insider’s take on Hollywood’s misportrayal, mythmaking, stereotypes, historical ignorance, misunderstanding, bullshit, and skewed lens through which we see (and are shown) ourselves as Americans can get pretty interesting as well as informative.

Stuff like:

Rich Hall’s Inventing The Indian (Before there was an America to wonder at, there was an inconvenient bunch of extant civilizations that had to be dealt with first. Cinematically, the Indians had to be killed off before they could be reinvented on screen starring non-Indians. With Dallas Goldtooth.)

Rich Hall’s California Stars (Fraud, vice, technology, fantasy, corruption, sex, sunshine, drugs, freedom, violence, money, madness, fame, and the dreams at the root of them all. The past is prologue in the Golden State.)

Rich Hall’s You Can Go To Hell, I’m Going To Texas (Cowboys; oil; truly EPIC expanses of open space; handegg football; graceless, cigar-chompling, neauveau riche good-ole-boy petro-barons; and an anti-littering campaign as statement of identity. Plus, you don’t pay for the 72oz/2.04kg steak if you finish it in under an hour.

Rich Hall’s The Dirty South (Heat, whiskey, violence, the Civil War, sex, racism, ignorance, hospitality, family dysfunction, nature, religion, music, “rednecksploitation”... and Burt Reynolds.)

Rich Hall’s Continental Drifters (“As a rule, road movies end badly; the main characters either die, or go home.” Ennui, disaffection, rebellion, the Dust Bowl, hobos, wanderers, freedom, possibility, and the hypnotic embrace of forward motion on the Interstate Highway System.)
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey (19 comments total) 73 users marked this as a favorite
Huh, that's apparently the same Rich Hall who was in Not Necessarily the News. I wondered what ever became of him.
posted by octothorpe at 7:47 PM on November 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

i love rich hall so much. you know it'll be a great episode of whatever panel show it is when he's introduced.
posted by nadawi at 7:52 PM on November 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

He was also on SNL Season 10, and did a terrific Doug Henning, and felt like a kinder, gentler Norm McDonald. I also submitted Sniglets on occasion; none made the cut. When I found out he was huge in Britain, I thought, "Really! Well, good on him and the UK."
posted by not_on_display at 7:55 PM on November 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

Yes, regular viewers of Fry's QI panel show know Rich Hall as (my description) "the token Ugly American".

I still have a copy of his Sniglets book somewhere, although I can't remember when I last used one of his "words that don't appear in the dictionary, but should", for which I feel regrethalfful.

I do wish he'd return to the USofA to cause more trouble here. But when Whose Line was imported, I was hoping for more Mike McShane and less Ryan Stiles, so you don't always get what you want - at least I don't.
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:03 PM on November 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Huh, that's apparently the same Rich Hall who was in Not Necessarily the News. I wondered what ever became of him.

He is much loved on the comedy festival circuit.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:06 PM on November 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have the sniglet book, and my sister and i use one of them regularly:
Yinkel, N.: A person who combs his hair over his bald spot, hoping no one will notice.
posted by jonathanhughes at 8:09 PM on November 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Americans are very happy people.
What are the reasons? They own guns!
And it's very important to keep Americans happy
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 8:23 PM on November 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

IIRC, he's not entirely an expat. He has a farm in Montana or one of the Dakotas he lives on a few months out of the year, but the vast majority of his work is in the UK.
posted by chambers at 8:28 PM on November 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was in a western tourist town (Medora ND) with a family from Sweden. A local cowboy who dresses up for the tourists rode by on his horse, in full Old West regalia. He stopped and talked to us for a while. The little Swedish boy with us dissolved into tears at the sight of a real cowboy on a horse. Damn, that imagery is really hard-wired into foreigners. Hell, it's hard-wired into Americans.
posted by Ber at 8:33 PM on November 16, 2014 [7 favorites]

I'm reminded a bit of Doug Stanhope's bits on Newswipe and Screenwipe, which are a distillation of his particular American views for a british audience. (I'll let you look them up, they are probably a bit more biting and biter than Rich Hall.)
posted by Catblack at 10:01 PM on November 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hall's an excellent stand-up, but his skills don't end there. I've seen all of his movie documentaries listed above, and they're all full of well-researched expertise, insight and wit. Well worth seeing.
posted by Paul Slade at 1:07 AM on November 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

This American seconds not knowing what happened to him after Not Necessarily the News. Sniglets was awesome, kind of an Urban Dictionary before Urban Dictionary or the Internet itself.
posted by zardoz at 4:39 AM on November 17, 2014

A nod to Alistair Cooke, explainer in chief to more than one generation of BBC listeners.
posted by IndigoJones at 8:52 AM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I used to own one of the Sniglets books when I was a child. I remember two:

nop - verb - the move you make while holding an open newspaper where you bump your nose into the center crease of the paper in order to turn the page/fold it up

Eastro turf - noun - the fake cellophane grass you put in Easter baskets
posted by Atom Eyes at 8:59 AM on November 17, 2014

wow, the first link was a fantastic overview of the myth of the west in cinema. thank you for that!

His point at the end is fascinating -- you literally can't make a western that isn't away of Westerns as a genre anymore. Got me thinking about what other styles of movies might evolve in a similar way. Superheroes? maybe. I'm tempted to think that no one genre can be as important to an entire culture as westerns were again, and therefore no genre can really ever arrive at the strange place that westerns hold in culture today.

Either way, great documentary! I'm off to explore another one.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 11:13 AM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

If there's one thing that stands out from watching "Stephen Fry in America," it's that he's steeped in American culture and movies.
posted by Flexagon at 12:04 PM on November 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey: Rich Hall’s The Dirty South
Oh, wow. I'd seen How The West Was Lost and a few of the others, but this one slipped below my radar. Thanks, PBZM!
posted by ob1quixote at 8:07 PM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

The little Swedish boy with us dissolved into tears at the sight of a real cowboy on a horse. Damn, that imagery is really hard-wired into foreigners.

When we visited Sweden, we drove quite a bit, and somewhere in the middle we turned down a narrow road and came across a cartoonish place named something like "Björn's Dude Ranch". Seriously, it was on the level of Disney's Frontierland. Really underlined the point for me that American culture is all over the world.
posted by dhartung at 12:03 AM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I basically binge-watched this entire series. It's a very fascinating insider-as-outsider viewpoint on exactly in the media what creates the American Mythos and how it should not be applied to Reality. With a lot of snark, some of which contains some actual insight that left me nodding my head in agreement with the points made even while I was shaking it against the method of presentation.

Quite good stuff, all around. Probably pretty valuable viewing for anyone who is looking at US culture, although I think the people who might need it the most (those from the US who have never once thought about how the US is perceived abroad or at home, let alone thought about how Hollywood might have shaped those perceptions) will probably never see it.

Good on the BBC for hosting this (apparently) expanding series of looks at US culture and depictions in film. I hope it continues to grow over time.

Thanks so much for posting this!
posted by hippybear at 12:23 AM on November 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

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