the suzi parker files

Politics, Pop Culture and Ponderings

‘True Grit’ Then and Now: Political Eye Patches and a Girl Named Mattie Ross

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“True Grit” is legendary in my neck of the woods.
Before Bill Clinton or Mike Huckabee, there was “True Grit,” a 1968 western novel about Arkansas by an Arkansan named Charles Portis.
Portis, now 77, worked as newspaper reporter but abandoned the deadline life to become a novelist. He struck gold with “True Grit,” his most successful novel about Mattie Ross, a feisty and fearless 14-year-old, who sets out to avenge her father’s death in Oklahoma’s Indian Territory.
A year after the book was published, John Wayne starred in the movie adaption and won an Academy Award — his only one — for his portrayal of legendary U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn.

true grit. jeff bridgesPortis
, a recluse who lives in Little Rock and shies away from media, is about to reach a new generation. On Wednesday, Ethan and Joel Coen’s remake of “True Grit” premieres with Jeff Bridges in the Cogburn role, Matt Damon as Le Beouf, a Texas Ranger, and, as Mattie, teen newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, who was chosen from 15,000 girls.
Portis, who has been called a modern-day Mark Twain, can only be happy. The Coen brothers’ $35 million remake is a much richer, smarter and truer adaption of Portis’ novel, with Steinfeld’s Mattie stealing the show.
The story takes place in 1880 in Fort Smith, Ark., a town near the Oklahoma border that shares more history with the Wild West than the Old South. Mattie, a ferocious protagonist, pairs up with Le Beouf and drunken bounty hunter Cogburn to search for her father’s murderer, Tom Chaney.
Wayne’s portrayal of Cogburn, a Civil War veteran who lost his eye and never “knew a dry day in his life,” wasn’t as gruff or edgy as Bridges’ rebooted version, which is similar to Portis’ vision of the character. Still, Wayne was The Duke and with that comes loyalty and even political controversy.
This past summer, the blog “American Thinker” wrote that Wayne, a vocal conservative, may be rolling in his grave over the remake. That’s because the Coens’ cast is made up of liberals (Bridges, Damon, and Josh Brolin, who plays Chaney) who support President Obama.

The blogger wrote, “If this film should achieve the level of success that many are predicting it will, it could open the door to other revisionist remakes. Imagine if you will Matt Damon starring in ‘Sergeant York,’ Sean Penn and George Clooney in ‘Big Jim McLain‘ or Jose [sic] Brolin playing George Gipp in ‘Knute Rockne, All-American.’ ”
A conspiracy also brews around Cogburn’s eye patch.
Wayne wore a patch over his left eye, which allowed him to view the world through his right one. That made sense, according to “American Thinker,” because of Wayne’s politics. Bridges, however, wears his patch over his right eye, allegedly allowing him to see the world . . . well, differently.
Bridges is aware of the patch brouhaha. When a Quincy, Mass., newspaper asked him about it, the Oscar-winning actor joked, “I’m a commie.” But then he simply explained, “I tried it on the right eye, and it felt good. But on the left eye, not so good.”
Wayne, of course, stirred the political waters back in his day. He was a conservative Republican who helped to create the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, and was elected its president in 1947. He was also avidly anti-communist and supported the House Un-American Activities Committee. His movies often reflected his beliefs, including 1952’s “Big Jim McLain,” about two investigators hunting down communists, and “The Green Berets,” a 1968 film in support of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, released when public outcry over the war was rising.
In 1968, Republicans lobbied for Wayne to run for national office, but he said no, thanks. He did support Ronald Reagan in his California gubernatorial runs in 1966 and 1970.
Wayne’s “True Grit” was produced at the height of the Vietnam War and can be viewed through a filter of 1960s radical politics and Wayne’s right-wing views. Even the Academy Award he won was tainted with controversy, and some observers still claim that Wayne didn’t deserve the award — it was simply a token Oscar for a Hollywood veteran.
The Golden Globes recently shunned the remake, but many critics believe it will earn Academy Award nominations.
As for Bridges and Damon and Brolin, they may support Democrats, but moviegoers will have a hard time finding any 21st century politics or political code words in the movie, except maybe a few from the Bible. Instead, the Coens stay strictly in the gun-slinging Arkansas of the 1800s, with Mattie Ross leading the charge with wit and a gun bigger than she is.
And for a little over two hours, that’s not a bad place to be.


One Response

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  1. I enjoyed both versions and your analysis as well.

    Andrew Petcher

    March 11, 2011 at 3:35 am

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