Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Stanley Kurtz, Film Critic

This is what I get for even glancing at the insane parade of jaw-droppingly stupid observations that is The Corner.

Kurtz reaches out with all of the genius he can muster to explain to us that Happy Feet, an animated film produced in 2006, is only part of the problem, with the MAIN problem being the 1990 film Dances With Wolves, which won the Academy Award. Somehow--somehow--these things are related to the war in Iraq:

Dances With Wolves... [Stanley Kurtz]
is the real reason the Dems can’t talk about, much less show their support for, the turnaround in Iraq. Happy Feet is how they’re working on their kids. Rich [Lowry?] points out that the press doesn’t want to report improvement in Iraq. Ralph Peters makes the same point, and goes on to highlight all those failed anti-Iraq films. But the real issue here is Dances with Wolves.

Now I think Dances With Wolves is a fantastic film. That’s the point. Dances With Wolves spins out an incredibly powerful and appealing narrative in which the American army features as the villain. That’s the narrative Hollywood has craved since long before 9/11. As for Happy Feet, those cute animal films (not to mention An Inconvenient Truth) are excellent opportunities for Hollywood to argue that "the enemy is us."

What Hollywood can’t abide is any John Wayne-style theme in which Americans are good guys, fighting a tough battle and prevailing over enemy bad guys. In the current cultural environment, that sort of war is equated by Hollywood with "genocidalimperialismracism." So the Iraq war is unquestionably part of the culture war, and the weapons of the left go far beyond all those anti-Iraq Hollywood flops. Films like Dances With Wolves and Happy Feet do much better. And that’s why Hollywood is still very much in the game.

Of course, Saving Private Ryan and We Were Soldiers are just two films that I will cite as being more than stellar examples refuting everything Kurtz is saying. Americans are not necessarily going to reject positive images of themselves--they crave something that hits at the truth of our existence. There are innumerable films that deal with people, not necessarily Americans, but people who are shown to be struggling, persevering, doing the right thing and winning it all--uplifting films that do major box office.

Here are the top 20 grossing pictures, of all time:

1 Titanic
2 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
3 Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
4 Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
5 Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
6 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
7 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
8 Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
9 Shrek 2
10 Jurassic Park
11 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
12 Spider-Man 3
13 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
14 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
15 Finding Nemo
16 Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
17 Spider-Man
18 Independence Day
19 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
20 Shrek the Third

For Kurtz to say that Americans don't want to see a John Wayne-style hero--hello? Did you see Independence Day? It's about an American President who wears a codpiece and actually fulfills his commitment to the reserves by volunteering to fight the enemy. No wonder you didn't mention it. If you go through that list of films, I dare you to make the case that any of them are anti-American or controversial or insidious in any way.

Wait--my bad. There's that scene in Shrek 2 where he makes a point about how America is failing to rally behind the President and fight Islamofascism. He does this through that most treacherous of plot devices. He farts a lot.

The real reason that films that deal with the current war in Iraq aren't doing well at the box office is very simple--the war isn't over yet. The war is too immediate and too close to the surface of American cultural life. If you had released Platoon, The Deerhunter, Full Metal Jacket and We Were Soldiers during 1971 or 1972, what would the impact of those films have been?

Successful films that dealt with Vietnam didn't appear until the war had been over for at least five years, starting with the Deerhunter. The definitive films, Full Metal Jacket and Platoon, didn't appear until 1986 and 1987.

And, please. Dances With Wolves is not about "The American Army" in relation to the US Army in Iraq. It's a specific period piece about the US cavalry and the Indians, and it tells the story with a viewpoint sympathetic to the Native Americans. Hollywood has depicted the US cavalry in We Were Soldiers by virtue of telling the story as the redemption of a unit that was surrounded and destroyed. It makes that point without condemning the actual act, but rather by blaming the person most responsible for The Little Big Horn, General Custer. In fact, you can hear LTC Moore lamenting the fact that his unit has been constituted as the Seventh Cavalry. He and his men go on to fight bravely and redeem the heritage of the unit, after a stern pep talk about how Custer was a "pussy." If you point out that Custer was a pussy, does that mean you hate America? Of course not.

There are so many variations on the depiction of the US cavalry. [Don't forget the TV show F Troop.] So what you have is really a history of films that depict both sides of the coin, the good and the bad, and in the case of Dances With Wolves, it cuts closer to balancing the story of what happened BEFORE the battle of The Little Big Horn. It depicts the US cavalry as being guardians of forgotten outposts during the Civil War.

Is Kurtz going to try to deny there was a genocidal policy against Native Americans in this country? Good luck selling that crackpot theory to pay for more blogging. For every Western that is sympathetic to Native Americans, there are at least a handful if not more that depict them as savages. Using a sympathetic view of Native Americans does not mean there is a hatred for the US Army of that era. Does that mean Letters From Iwo Jima proves that Clint Eastwood hates the US Marine Corps?

As for Happy Feet, it's an animated film. I, personally think that it's awful. [See my comments below on Robin Williams, who just riffs on and on and on throughout Happy Feet without anyone stepping in to turn off his microphone.] The thing I want to know is, how did they make a film called Happy Feet without getting Steve Martin to do one of the voices? Is this another example of Robin Williams stealing material?

Here's how simple it is to understand modern American cinema--the audience just wants to be entertained with a good story.

After I hand everything back to The Blue Girl, I've got a meeting with Pixar set up for next week, to do the story of a plucky band of conservatives who can't come up with a single sane idea or opinion between them and their struggle to fight their way out of a vast, incomprehensible wet paper bag.

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