Friday, November 30, 2007

Hollywood Goes to War

Currently there are two contradicting pieces on the web that attempt to explain why Hollywood's anti-American antiwar films are bad movies that Americans are staying away from in droves. (A Hollywood mogul in the old days once said, "If they don't want to come, you can't make them." It's still true.)

The first explanation is from a liberal, Sudhir Muralidhar, writing in American Prospect (a magazine earnestly subtitled, "Liberal Intelligence"). The piece is called, "Why Are Iraq War Movies Box-Office Flops?" It should be called, "Why Are Anti-American Iraq War Movies Box-Office Flops?" Sudhir says the problem is too much passion:

In many respects, the greatest risk of making political art during wartime is that heightened political passion will trump artistic judgment, which in the case of moviemaking means that expressing a political stance will take precedence over character development and plot structure. For example, in the heat of the political moment, with a war raging on, producing a movie that features Robert Redford lecturing on the importance of civic engagement just might seem like a good idea.

Sounds plausible. But neoconservative Roger L. Simon, writing in Pajamas Media, says the problem is too little passion:

The movies are essentially inauthentic. The filmmakers think they are supposed to be antiwar, but they don’t feel it in their guts.

How do I know that? Part of this is admittedly a gut feeling on my part. This feels to me like a cinema of “received wisdom,” not based on personal experience or “emotional knowledge” of any kind. No matter how you stand or stood on the Vietnam War, compare these recent ventures (Lions for Lambs, Rendition, Redacted, The Valley of Elah) with, to pick one example, Oliver Stone’s Platoon. The director’s passion is literally splattered all over the screen. Ditto for his Born on the Fourth of July. And, not surprisingly, the audience went.

No passion, no conviction of this sort, is evident in the current movies. And that is lethal. Art without genuine conviction is boring and worthless. What else does the artist (filmmaker) have to give to the audience but his or her passion? It’s no surprise the audience is disinterested without it.

So, who is right? Too much passion or not enough? The answer is neither. Moviegoers are staying away because they don't like depressing movies.

Imagine a friend or lover asked you, "Do you want to see X? It's a depressing movie about moral corruption. The film is steeped in cynicism and shows man as inherently depraved." Do you want to sit through two hours of that?

Sometimes Hollywood can fool us into seeing a depressing, cynical movie if they advertise the values we want to see, such as action, plot, drama, romance and humor. But with these anti-American antiwar movies, we know what we'll get from liberals.

The left believes capitalism, America, Republicans and Bush are all bad. It's impossible for them to make a movie about our current war without portraying the war and America as immoral. As altruists, they think they have a duty to tell the truth about selfish America killing third world people out of greed or whatever. Of course, their premises have nothing to do with reality, so they wouldn't recognize the truth if it tap danced beneath a blinking neon sign that read, "THE TRUTH IS TAP DANCING BENEATH THIS SIGN."

If filmmakers had infinite resources, they would continue to make these anti-American antiwar movies and bask in the satisfaction that they had done their moral duty by exposing the corruption that lies beneath the glittering surface of our capitalist society. They would make these movies despite the fact that Americans are too shallow and stupid to buy tickets to see these masterpieces of cinematic art.

Fortunately for moviegoers, Hollywood does not have infinite resources. The studios must make a profit and the filmmakers must make money so they can send their grandchildren to Ivy League schools. They will get back to making Mindless Man IV and Total 'Splosions XIII, the physicalistic, spectacular blockbusters they do so well. They will tell themselves over martinis at night that they tried to show us the truth. But to paraphrase the Jack Nicholson line, they can't handle the truth.

1 comment:

EdMcGon said...

Hollywood too often forgets the old MGM slogan "Ars gratis artis" (art for art's sake). It's ok to make art with a message, but the art has to come first.

Consider Orwell's "1984". Frankly, it is one of the most depressing books ever written. I was 18 when I first read it, but I couldn't put it down. As depressing as it was, I was glued to it. Of course, the message was unavoidable.

I think we all know examples of "art with a message" that worked. The key is to tell the story. Don't lecture or preach. As soon as the "consumer" thinks you are lecturing/preaching, you've lost them.

The beauty in art is the ability to show why something shouldn't or doesn't work within the framework of a story.