Farthing & Schmidt: Reel Reviews
by Stella Maria Perry
[transcribed from an original broadcast that aired on January 20, 2015 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa]
F: Farthing and Schmidt here on this beautiful Tuesday morning in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It is currently 5:31 a.m. and twenty-two degrees. Joining our film discussion today from the Master of Foxhounds Association of America is Darby Johnson. I would like to begin today's broadcast with a quote on fox hunting, by Oscar Wilde:
“The unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable”
F: Let's think about that as we discuss the film Foxcatcher, which opened in the United States last Friday. The film, directed by Bennett Miller, of Capote fame, features a triptych of artistic expression from Steve Carrell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo. [Thomas] Schmidt, any opening thoughts?
S: Well, Jeb [Farthing], I think artistic expression is stretching it a bit. There was quite a bit of expression but it stemmed more from the physical and lacked emotional identification. Tatum and Carrell, seem to coast through on their outward appearances, albeit the former sporting a glorious set of the pectoral major muscles and the latter, an elongated septum. Then, you throw Ruffalo in there as a fulcrum to these counterweights and suddenly it's a “balanced composition.” Suddenly, it's art.
F: Certainly Schmidt, you are not suggesting that athleticism lacks artistry? The sport of wrestling, and also the medium for this profoundly metaphorical film, dates back even further than Du Pont lineage, fox-hunting, and the invention of the gun itself. The way in which a person's body must maneuver and weave through the flesh of another is dynamic, it's art-
J: If I may interject gentleman, as a Master of Hounds myself and very much in tune with the noble and time-honored tradition of foxhunting, I thought the absence of the fox in this film was significant.
F: Well, Darby, one could suggest that Mark Schulz was the symbolic fox in this film.
J: From my viewpoint, the character of David Schulz would be more akin to the huntsman, or kennel-man, as sometimes they are the same bloke. This man is responsible for directing the hounds and completing tasks. Mark is one of the foxhounds. He cannot be the fox because once the Master of Hounds Du Pont has captured him, the chase or hunt would be over. But, the story continues.
F: So, who is the fox?
J: I don't know.
F: Maybe it isn't who. Maybe it's “What is the fox?” The American Dream?
S: Jeb, that would be too easy. We could say all American films are about the American Dream, in either Dystopian or Utopian field of vision. If we look at the self-contained film, which this is, David is the fox. He represents wholesomeness, paternal and brotherly love, athleticism, compassion – I mean the man is complete. But on either side of him are these half-men and for Du Pont this is most apt, since the real Du Pont was apparently missing both testicles from a horse riding accident.
J: My word. A tragedy indeed.
S: And Mark is portrayed as a loner with no romance in his life. So, in society's eyes, he is incomplete.
F: But, no one really needs to hunt down foxes. I mean, let's face it, foxhunting is an elitist sport. It really should be banned in the same way that cockfighting or bear baiting have been but, the privileged wealthy get to keep their so-called nobility-
S: I fail to see-
F: Let me finish. Du Pont needed David Schulz. He was the only man capable of leading the wrestling team. He cannot be the fox. That's the beauty of this film. The fox is not there. It's elusive. For John and Mark, it fell below the surface, into the darker corners of human history.
J: For the record, gentlemen! We no longer call it foxhunting in America but fox chasing, as it is not our intention to kill the fox, but rather take pleasure in the pursuit. Our association does a lot to maintain fox habitats and populations. We believe in land stewardship. Cock fighting and bear baiting involves torture and that is not something I endorse. On my part, I found John Du Pont to be a terrible Master of Hounds, despite his immense wealth. He lacked acumen. One does not kill their best huntsman. If this film were a metaphor for the sport of fox chasing, it best illustrates the degradation of tradition in the hands of false nobility. Now, I am going to get some tea.
S: David was the fox. John lured Mark onto his farm in order to get his brother. It was never about Mark. In this film, it was about David. “The unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable.” John could only look through his binoculars at David. That would be the closest he could ever get.
S:Three bullets closed that gap.
F: Which takes us back to our earlier argument. The characters aren't there for us to identify with emotionally. In Noh theater, characters wear a dramatic mask, a social mask, to portray ideas instead of personality. When I look at Tatum and Carrell, I see that social mask. For Tatum, there is always that edge. As Mark, he has a body built for physical domination and yet, it is Carrell's Du Pont that dominates. Even at the film's end, Du Pont has dominated over the trajectory of all the remaining characters.
S:That gun made up for all that he lacked physically. Ah, where would we be without guns?
F: Where would we be without madness? That's the unspeakable. It's there in the ballroom brooding and we walk by with our capers and cheese as the tumor grows. We won't speak of it. It's just there. Any final thoughts, [Thomas] Schmidt?
S: Samuel Beckett summarizes it best. “We are all born mad. Some remain so.”
F: We've managed to bookend this session with two great Irish men. Shhh. Don't tell Darby.
S: I think he was insulted by our crumpled Lipton packets.
F: This has been Farthing & Schmidt, Reel Reviews. The temperature has now climbed three degrees and the morning commuters are on their way. Thank you again for choosing AM 1180 and stay tuned for more film talk next week.