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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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No more Sean Penn poison darts: Hollywood's top conservative gunslinger flees town

July 6, 2011 |  2:26 pm

Sean_penn I know it's going to sound weird, considering how many times he's whupped me up the side of the head, but I'm going to miss John Nolte, the editor in chief of Andrew Breitbart's conservative Big Hollywood website, who's just announced that he's literally heading for the hills, leaving Hollywood for the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. When Breitbart decided to launch a website dedicated to bashing showbiz liberals for excesses real and imagined, he couldn't have found a better gunslinger than Nolte, a sometime screenwriter who first made a name for himself writing under the nom de plume of Dirty Harry for the conservative Libertas website.

Nolte rarely has had anything nice to say about any showbiz liberal, convinced that they were all hypocrites, wusses and closet bigots. The title of his farewell post captures his attitude perfectly: "In Which I Say Goodbye to Los Angeles and Tell Paul Haggis to Go to Hell." Nolte relentlessly mocked Sean Penn, calling him an ignorant movie star who "sees himself as the Great White Liberal Hope of Haiti." He loathed "Avatar," viewing it as "a sanctimonious thud of a movie infested with one-dimensional characters and PC cliches. ... Think of 'Avatar' as 'Death Wish' for leftists, a simplistic, revisionist revenge fantasy where if you hate the bad guys (America) you're able to forgive the by-the-numbers predictability of it all." 

Whenever I would complain that Nolte was blinded by his own ideology, he'd dismiss me as Hollywood's left-wing enforcer. But here's why I actually believe that I'm going to miss him. Underneath that prickly exterior, Nolte loves movies just as much as I do. When he wasn't busy picking fights with some new political adversary, Nolte would make time to sing the praises of great films from the past, always finding a new and interesting perspective for his criticism.

Earlier this year, he compiled a list of the 25 greatest left-wing films, with Oliver Stone's "JFK" topping the list. It was a fascinating exercise, because it illustrated the often tortured ambivalence of a conservative writing about a liberal art form. In his essay on "JFK," Nolte pointed out all of the film's political excesses, but still found himself madly in love with the movie, writing:

For 205 minutes, Stone takes your hand and walks you through the chronological psychology of a reverse-engineered conspiracy; an exploded bomb of motives, shadowy movements, dueling agendas -- and then he puts the pieces all back together and makes it tick with precision. The fact that none of it is true is meaningless. Within the world of a frenzied imagination desperate to rationalize the irrational, Stone creates his own logic and truth. Everything incredible becomes credible and every new revelation something that somehow helps to connect dots that have no business being together. It is wizardry, black magic, a practicing of the dark arts you can't look away from.

If Nolte and I had discovered each other's writing 10 or 20 years ago, we probably would have found a way to be pals, because at least for me, a love of film trumps anyone's political leanings. But that was before the era of blogging, an era where you lead with your best left hook or right jab, rarely ever having the time to get to know a fellow writer or rival pundit as a real person.

I'd read Nolte for years, cringing at all of his potshots at the leftist media, but only in his farewell blog post did I realize he was, like me, from the South. And only when he said his goodbyes did he admit that he actually loved the people he'd met in Los Angeles, something that got lost in all his negative descriptions of the creative people who work in Hollywood. It turns out that Nolte lived in Monterey Park, in a neighborhood that is 80% Asian and Latino, which alone would have given us lots of talk about.

But we were bloggers, always eager to rev up our engines and voice our opinions, so all we did was snipe at each other about our political differences. We missed a chance at sharing something more important -- a love for movies. So even if I don't think Paul Haggis should go to hell, I do think Nolte should come back and visit L.A. There are about 1,000 movies that we need to spend some time talking about. 

-- Patrick Goldstein 

Photo: Sean Penn at the Actor's Fund's Tony Awards party last month in Los Angeles. Credit: Valerie Macon / Getty Images