Thursday, November 22, 2007

The best account of Hollywood's anti-American films

... is in Maclean's by Mark Steyn. Here. It will disappear after awhile, so check it out.

I myself don't take movies except as light entertainment. I also regard the "documentary film" as, by definition, propaganda - and that includes even ones with which I agree 100%, such as Indoctrinate U. Cognition requires reading, not watching. Anyone who gets their politics or, worse, the confirmation of their politics, from the movies and actors, music and musicians, teachers or professors deserves exactly what they get. Excerpts from Steyn:

***
Hollywood shoots itself in the foot:

Its anti-war films may be aimed at Bush,

but what they're really destroying is storytelling

Maclean's
MARK STEYN

November 15, 2007

A few months back, Peter Berg attended a test screening of his new film in California — not Malibu or Beverly Hills, but out in farm country. The Kingdom is about FBI agents (Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, etc.) investigating a terrorist attack on Americans in Saudi Arabia, and finally, about two hours in, the star talent gets to kill a bunch of jihadists. As Entertainment Weekly described it, "the packed house went completely bonkers, erupting in cheers" — and poor old Berg was distraught. "I was nervous it would be perceived as a jingoistic piece of propaganda, which I certainly didn't intend," the director agonized. "I thought, 'Am I experiencing American bloodlust?' "

You really want an answer to that? Okay, here goes: No. It's not American bloodlust. As they say on Broadway, the audience doesn't lie, and, when they're trying to tell you something, it helps not to cover your ears. For all Mr. Berg's pains, The Kingdom was dismissed by the New York Times as "Syriana for dummies." That's to say, instead of explicitly fingering sinister Americans as the bad guys, it merely posited a kind of dull pro forma equivalence between the Yanks and the terrorists. It came out, oh, a week and a half ago and it's already forgotten in the avalanche of anti-war movies released since. There's Lions for Lambs and In the Valley of Elah and Redacted — no, wait, Rendition. No, my mistake. There's a Redacted and a Rendition — one's about American soldiers being rapists, one's about American intelligence officials being torturers. Every Friday night at the multiplex, Mr. and Mrs. America are saying, "Hmm, shall we see the movie where our boys are the torturers? Or the one where our boys are the rapists? How about the film where the heroic soldier refuses to fight? Or the one where he does fight and the army covers up the truth about his death?" And then they go see Fred Claus, which pulled in three times as much money as Robert Redford's Lions for Lambs on both films' opening weekend.

As Roger L. Simon of Pajamas Media (and a screenwriter himself) put it: "Hicks Nix Peaceniks' Pix." These films tank at the box office, and disappear from the shopping malls before you've had time to refill your popcorn, and next Friday there's a brand new critically acclaimed anti-war movie in its place. The faster they fall, the more Hollywood is convinced of the "courage" of its "dissent." Tired of hailing pictures no one goes to see, the New York Times' film critic A. O. Scott now routinely pre-empts accusations that the drearily consistent world view of these works is "anti-American." Of Rendition, he wrote:

"It has timely issues and serious ambitions, and it also has movie stars — Reese Witherspoon with a huge pregnant belly! Meryl Streep with a Southern accent! Jake Gyllenhaal with sad, sleepy eyes! — as well as young romance, breathless chases and violent explosions. Honestly, what could be more American than that?"

Mr. Scott trembles, albeit accidentally, on the brink of a great insight here. Hollywood assumes that if you have enough beautiful stars making out and getting shot at and running up stairwells and diving through windows and outrunning the fireball, that that is sufficiently "American" (as Mr. Scott puts it) that the absence of a heroic narrative won't matter. The movies have divorced the form from the content, or, if you prefer, the telling from the story. You see it most obviously in almost any remake. Take the old 3.10 to Yuma, which chugged in last month, remodelled for the 21st century. The 1957 western was nobody's idea of a masterpiece but it had a moral seriousness: Van Heflin's broke and he'll lose his farm so he agrees to escort a violent felon to meet the train that will take him to prison. He's doing it for the 200 bucks — or so he thinks. But along the way he comes to understand that he's doing it for rather more. When a disaffected sibling of one of Glenn Ford's victims tries to kill him, Heflin prevents him — because, in a civilization as fragile as the young West, he thinks it important that it be the law that dispatches the prisoner.

All that's gone in the new version, with Christian Bale in the Heflin role and Russell Crowe as Ford. For Bale, it's just about the money. Now the guy who tries to intercept the prisoner en route is not a vigilante who wishes to shortcut the law but the law itself — a rogue cop as brutal as the man he pursues. Oh, and the 2007 3.10 also gives us a Pinkerton agent who enjoys killing Injuns just for kicks, which even Russell Crowe primly draws the line at. There's no moral universe, just a rotten state in which wickedness and violence are tempered only by degrees of politically correct squeamishness.

A decade or so back at some confab at Paramount, I met Lionel Chetwynd, a writer and producer who was raised in Montreal and in his pre-showbiz days served in the Black Watch (the Royal Highland Regiment), in the course of which he met several Canadian veterans of the Dieppe raid. After recounting their story one night at a party in Malibu, he was invited to pitch it as a project to some network honcho. He laid out the bones of the plot — a suicidal dry run for D-Day against a heavily fortified European port.

"Who's the enemy?" asked the network exec.

"Hitler," said Chetwynd. "The Nazis."

"No, no, no," she pressed. "Who's the real enemy?"


"It was the first time I realized," Chetwynd later told Cathy Seipp, "that for many people, evil such as Nazism can only be understood as a cipher for evil within ourselves." Who's the real enemy? Ike. Churchill. The Imperial General Staff. Us.

Ed Driscoll, who's been scanning the shrivelled horizon of an ever more parochial movie industry for some years now, likes to cite that anecdote as a kind of shorthand for the Hollywood aesthetic: who's the real enemy? In this season's crop of movies, the enemy is never al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the Baathists . . . Sure, they're out there somewhere at the fringe of events, but they're just Hitchcock's MacGuffin — the pretext for the real story. And that means the heroes can never be, say, a bunch of U.S. Marines who leap from their Humvee on the outskirts of Ramadi because something goofy's going on. No, the heroes have to be dogged journalists or crusading lawyers or obstinate wives who refuse to swallow the official explanation. And the real enemy are renegade government officials, covert agencies, right-wing senators, Halliburton. And, unsurprisingly, despite the unpopularity of Bush and the Iraq war, the public simply doesn't buy the idea of their country as a 24/7 cover-up for rape, torture and war profiteering.


Which brings us back to those yelps of delight when the Americans clobbered the jihadists two hours into the test screening of The Kingdom. Pace Peter Berg, it's not "bloodlust": if you want that, you're best to stick to the amoral fetishization of violence in the 3.10 remake. What the preview crowd were telling Berg is, hey, we'd love to see one film where our guys kick serious terrorist butt — and there isn't one, and there hasn't been one for six long years. If you buy the argument that Hollywood's anti-Americanism derives necessarily from its role as purveyor of entertainment to the entire planet, well, so what? Terrorists killed a bunch of people in Bali, Madrid, London. Alongside the kick-ass Americans, sign Hugh Grant as an MI6 agent and Penelope Cruz as his Spanish dolly bird and Cate Blanchett as the head of the Australian SAS and Russell Crowe as her Kiwi bit of rough. As long as the enemy's the enemy, and not a Dick Cheney subsidiary. It's fine to show the American war machine warts and all, but Hollywood is showing only the warts — and, even if you stick perky little Reese Witherspoon in the middle of it, it's still just another pustulating carbuncle.

***
(Etc.)

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