Hollywood's New Dirty Dozen
Slagging off US foreign policy is a widely practised form of abuse from Basra to Bonn, and London to Lima, but surprisingly, it’s now being preached in the home of US propaganda: Hollywood.
From the staged exploits of Errol Flynn and John Wayne in their west coast theatres of war, to Rambo and Chuck Norris SWAT-teaming foreign stereotypes like flies, Hollywood’s leading men and women have generally proudly flown the stars and stripes. But the emergence of a dozen or so movies criticizing current US policy suggests writers and directors feel the nation is ready to take a harder look at itself.
Among the anti-war movies slated for this year are Lions for Lambs, directed by Robert Redford and featuring Tom Cruise and Meryl Street; Rendition, starring Reese Witherspoon; and The Valley of Elah, based on a true story about a soldier with PTSD, drawing on the talents of Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron and Susan Sarandon. All question US involvement in various present conflicts.
A burgeoning anti-war climate is making these story lines more palatable. The influence of 24-hour news in bringing these horrors ‘live’ to our homes may be another contributory factor as is the increasing tendency of modern filmmakers to bypass the Pentagon for ‘help’ with military hardware and the unofficial script approval that may influence such co-operation.
US paranoia over the enemy within is rarely based on hard fact. Despite the ranting of ‘Mad Dog’ McCarthy, communism wasn’t rampant in 1950’s America and the high-profile actor-activists lampooned in Team America have rarely spearheaded movements that have successfully mollified aggressive foreign policy. And while most Vietnam movies portray war as hell, those who suffer on screen are invariably the innocent grunts of the US. The hordes of cannon fodder represented by the forces of the invaded are invariably filled by faceless extras rather than the craggy familiar faces of the leads.
Perhaps this new genre represents an honest maturity in many Americans to re-evalute their nation’s role in shaping world events. Placing ourselves in others shoes is a major step towards understanding the other and as lack of empathy is a prime characteristic of a psychopath, it might not be such a bad thing.
Germany has declared war on Tom Cruise’s ambitions to star as the man who tried to blow up Hitler in the film Valkyrie. Defence minister Franz-Josef Jung has turned down a request to use the Berlin courtyard where Count Claus von Stauffenberg was shot after the bomb he planted failed to kill the Nazi leader.
Behind it is the German government’s refusal to recognize Scientology as a legitimate religion. A taskforce, which has been investigating the group closely for more than a decade, claims it advances the cause of totalitarianism. Civil servants have been banned from belonging to the sect.
The bad blood is likely to stem from the comments of the sect’s founder L Ron Hubbard some 30 years ago. The science-fiction writer criticized Germany in a lecture – a viewpoint partly attributed to his belief that he had fought the Germans… as a Roman soldier in another life.
The Scientologists built a Berlin HQ earlier this year to launch its own publicity counter offensive along with the bridgehead established by its office in London. Bryan Singer, director of The Usual Suspects, is due to start filming on July 19, the day before the plot’s 63rd anniversary. He may need a creative location scout.
Welcome Flood Of Foreigners
No doubt the Albert Hall will soon resound to a chorus of Briton’s Never Will be Slaves as the Proms wind up to their nationalistic conclusion. And if you forget for a moment the Romans, Normans, Angles, Saxons and Jutes, the cheery flag wavers are almost right.
But maybe the island mentality towards invasion by outsiders is becoming more nuanced … because foreign films, like fine cheeses and wine, have been increasingly slipping beneath the radar of our popular culture. Without a BNP picket in sight, thousands, nay millions of Britons are queuing up to admire and enjoy the produce of Johnny Foreigner flooding our multiplexes.
In the 90’s, nine foreign language films broke the million pound mark. In this decade thus far, 23 subtitled movies have broken that barrier. This year’s offerings alone cover French, Chinese, German and the Esperanto of the Ancient Mayan world, Yucatec. Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto was responsible for the latter and followed on from the use of street Latin and Aramaic in The Passion of the Christ.
The most significant change is in the demographics. The English middle classes have always had a sneaking admiration for the French way of life. But alongside their delicate corn-fed posteriors are the wider slung butts of the lumpen proletariat, whose very ancestors gleefully waved two fingers at the French before delivering upon them another wooden arrow from their longbows. Saint George must be turning in his grave. If only we knew what country that swarthy Greek was buried in.
Virus Of Video Nasties
In Russia, a student has been arrested for posting a video on the Internet purportedly showing two gagged migrants being savagely murdered beneath a Swastika.
It appeared on a right-wing website linked to Russia’s most popular networking site. A caption refers to the executed as foreigners, while a masked man beheads one victim, before shooting the other in the head and screaming ‘Glory to Russia!’ The video reflects the extreme end of a wave of violent nationalism in the country, which Amnesty International last year described as ‘out of control’.
The content echoes the grisly video of the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl last year when covering the War on Terror. Snuff movies were known about 20 years ago but few people had actually seen one. The Internet’s all-seeing eye now brings them to every household.
Back in Britain, Panorama recently highlighted the trend for posting videos of schoolyard brawls on sites such as YouTube. Adverts placed alongside these fights from big name companies like Pepsi, eBay, Starbucks and Sony provoked further outrage.
Currently, video hosts rely on others to complain before removing violent material. Pornography rarely lasts long, but despite the comparative lack of consensual fun, violence tends to be seen more ambivalently.
Websites like the ironically named www.nothingtoxic.com blend scenes of extreme violence with ‘humour’ in a tone suggesting the two are natural partners. As I sit in an office with the sounds of adult colleagues gleefully butchering each other on the latest video game, I wonder whether we have passed the tipping point.