October 3

There are 3 entries for this date: Gore Vidal Denis Villeneuve Philippa Foot

    Gore Vidal

    Gore Vidal

    On this date in 1925, writer Eugene Louis Vidal was born at West Point, N.Y., where his father was the first aeronautics instructor at the U.S. Military Academy. (He dropped his first and middle names when he was 14, exchanging them for Gore.) He largely grew up in the home of his grandfather, Sen. Thomas P. Gore, D-Okla. He graduated from Philips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and joined the Enlisted Reserve Corps.

    His first novel, Williwaw, was published when he was only 19. It was followed by the wave-making The City and the Pillar (1948), which featured a sympathetic gay protagonist. Vidal was the prolific author of many other novels and plays, many based on history and politics, and worked in TV and the movies. His novels include Julian (1964), Myra Breckenridge (1968), Burr (1974) and Live from Golgotha (1992), an irreverent satire imagining New Testament events if reported on TV.

    A cousin of former Vice President Al Gore, he made some political runs, including a try for the U.S. Senate seat in California in which he came in second out of nine in the 1982 race. Vidal was perhaps best-known as a public intellectual and for his refreshing and acerbic interviews and one-liners, such as his famous remark about Ronald Reagan: “A triumph of the embalmer’s art.” “Probably no American writer since Franklin has derided, ridiculed, and mocked Americans more skillfully and more often than Vidal,” wrote Gordon S. Wood. (The New York Times, Dec. 14, 2003.)

    Vidal’s essays, such as “Pink Triangle and Yellow Star” (1981), are collected in Armageddon (1987). Palimpsest (1995) was his well-received autobiography. He rarely missed a chance to diss religion or monotheism: “I regard monotheism as the greatest disaster ever to befall the human race. I see no good in Judaism, Christianity, or Islam.” (Letter to Warren Allen Smith, 1954, Who’s Who in Hell.D. July 31, 2012. 

    Carl Van Vechten public domain photo: Vidal at 23 in 1948.

    “Christianity is such a silly religion.”

    — Vidal, Time magazine (Sept. 28, 1992)
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor
    © Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

    Denis Villeneuve

    Denis Villeneuve

    On this date in 1967, Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve was born in Bécancour, Quebec, to homemaker Nicole (Demers) and Jean Villeneuve, a civil law notary. He made short films while attending a Catholic high school and studied science at a post-secondary school before enrolling in the cinema program at the University of Quebec in Montreal.

    He made his directorial debut with “August 32nd on Earth” (1998), which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. Villeneuve was disappointed with it and its follow-up “Maelström” (2000) and took a long sabbatical as a stay-at-home dad. He vowed to return “when I was ready to make a film I could be proud of.” (Internet Movie Database, Nov. 17, 2021)

    His controversial but critically acclaimed black-and-white film “Polytechnique” (2009) about the shootings at the University of Montreal in 1989 received numerous honors. It reenacted events of the gun murders of 14 young women and the wounding of several others. “Incendies” (2010) garnered critical acclaim when it premiered at the Venice and Toronto film festivals, was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar and was chosen by The New York Times as one of the top 10 best films of 2010.

    Villeneuve followed with the crime thriller “Prisoners” starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal. It was nominated for a 2014 Best Cinematography Oscar. He won Best Director for “Enemy,” also in 2014, at the Canadian Screen Awards. “Sicario” (2015) went on to gross nearly $80 million worldwide.

    “Arrival” (2016), starring Amy Adams, was his sixth film to focus on a female character and garnered eight Oscar nominations, including Best Director. Villeneuve built and grew his career making films about, and led by, women, a reviewer wrote. “For me, masculinity is about control, and femininity is more of an embrace, the art of listening,” Villeneuve said. (New York Times, Nov. 10, 2016)

    “Blade Runner 2049” (2017), the sequel to Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” (1982), did less well at the box office than it did with critics. (In a 2015 IndieWire interview, Villeneuve said ” ‘Blade Runner’ is almost a religion for me.”) He was named Director of the Decade by the Hollywood Critics Association in 2019.

    His movie “Dune,” based on Frank Herbert’s novel, premiered in 2021 at the Venice Film Festival. He told Esquire magazine that “Nature is the god in ‘Dune’ and biology is the religion.” Villeneuve: “One of the big qualities of ‘Dune’ is the idea that I can approach the dangerous cocktail of religion being mixed with politics into sci-fi so I don’t offend anyone. That’s the advantage to science fiction; you can approach very hardcore subjects.” (Houston Chronicle, Oct. 20, 2021)

    Villeneuve is married to Tanya Lapointe, a former journalist he met while she was working on “Arrival” as a production assistant. He has three children from a previous relationship. Warner Bros. announced in late 2021 that “Dune: Part Two” was scheduled for an October 2023 release.

    PHOTO: Villeneuve at the “Prisoners” premiere in 2013 in Beverly Hills, Calif.; photo by s_bukley/Shutterstock.com

    “For me, god is nature, so I tried to make sure that there were moments that are magical because you want them to be. But you can also explain them from a naturalistic point of view.“

    — Villeneuve, commenting on "Dune" in Interview magazine (Oct. 20, 2021)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn
    © Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

    Philippa Foot

    Philippa Foot

    On this date in 1920, philosopher and ethicist Philippa Ruth Foot (née Bosanquet) was born in Owston Ferry, England, to Esther (Cleveland) and William Bosanquet. Her maternal grandfather was U.S. President Grover Cleveland. Her mother, the only child to have ever been born in the White House, married her father, a member of the British Army’s Coldstream Guards and later the manager of a steelworks, in Westminster Abbey in 1918.

    Raised in patrician circumstances and educated by governesses and at Somerville College-Oxford, she earned a degree in 1942 in philosophy, politics and economics. She worked as a researcher during World War II at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, sharing a London flat with future novelist Iris Murdoch. She married British military historian M.R.D. Foot in 1945 after he and Murdoch had broken up. The Foot marriage ended without children in 1960. 

    She started lecturing on philosophy at Somerville in 1947, a year after receiving her master’s, and rose to the positions of vice principal and senior research fellow before retiring in 1988. In 1974 she became a professor of philosophy at the University of California in Los Angeles, where she retired in 1991.

    Foot posed her famous “trolley problem” in 1967, capturing the imagination of scholars outside her discipline. Described by The New York Times, it used “a series of provocative examples, the moral distinctions between intended and unintended consequences, between doing and allowing, and between positive and negative duties — the duty not to inflict harm weighed against the duty to render aid.

    “The most arresting of her examples, offered in just a few sentences, was the ethical dilemma faced by the driver of a runaway trolley hurtling toward five track workers. By diverting the trolley to a spur where just one worker is on the track, the driver can save five lives.” The problem took on a life of its own, inspiring variations such as “the fat man” and a host of others.

    “Foot was a giant of moral philosophy,” said her 2010 obituary in Philosophy Now magazine. “Her books include ‘Natural Goodness’ and two collections of essays, ‘Virtues and Vices: And Other Essays in Moral Philosophy’ and ‘Moral Dilemmas: And Other Topics in Moral Philosophy.’ These three relatively slender volumes represent decades of work at the very highest levels of philosophical sophistication.” She also wrote and lectured extensively on free will and determinism and was a pioneer in the field of virtue ethics.

    Nikhil Krishnanis, a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Cambridge, described her as “temperamentally unsympathetic both to religious solutions and to mystical ones” and as “a secular philosopher of broadly liberal opinions.” (Aeon magazine, Nov. 28, 2017)

    To others she was a rationalist or an atheist. Foot’s personal views on religion were nuanced and not worn on her sleeve. Nor was she simply dismissive of religion. In an interview with Philosophy Now editor Rick Lewis (Fall 2001), she said:

    “What is right and wrong for different societies will often be different. Things will be justifiable in one situation and not in another. And, of course, one of the determining factors will be religion, what people believe the gods will do; will offend them or bring their wrath down on the community. After all, it would be totally wrong to bring the wrath of the gods on your community – so religion comes in, too.”

    But her skepticism lurked beneath the surface: “I once asked [Oxford Catholic philosopher Michael Dummett], ‘What happens when your argument goes one way and your religious belief goes the other?’ And he said, ‘How would it be if you knew that something was true? Other things would have to fit with it.’ That I take it is the clue, that they think they know that and could as little deny it as that I am talking to someone now.” (The Philosophers’ Magazine, 2003)

    She died at home in Oxford, England, on her 90th birthday. (D. 2010) 

    “Foot herself, however, is a ‘card-carrying atheist.’ “

    — "Interview With Philippa Foot," The Philosophers' Magazine, Issue 21, 2003
    Compiled by Bill Dunn
    © Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

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