Suffering through the top story in the arts section of yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, I thought of Andrew Breitbart, whom I knew a bit—enough to have had several conversations about how insidiously destructive the mainstream media are to American ideals.
Breitbart’s passion and mission in life were to counter that influence. So I’m certain he would have read Films That Last—“Many are timely upon release, but what makes a few timeless? It’s in how they address their times” in our hometown newspaper with the same head shaking that I did.
In fact, it was as a sort of homage to Breitbart that, at my own website, I made fun of Reed Johnson, the article’s author. Andrew would have agreed that viciously ridiculing the man’s laughable writing is a potent weapon against his lame thinking, given that Johnson himself will never be persuaded that his ideas are anything less than received wisdom.
But here at Legal Insurrection, let’s focus on Johnson’s opinions that are stated as self-evident truths, because they serve as a particularly useful exemplar of Breitbart’s contention that the oikophobes have hijacked our culture. The man who wrote the following selected inanities is an at-large culture reporter whose worldview informs everything he writes about dance, architecture, opera, movies, etc.
But will a film like Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty,” about a specific, recent event — the killing of Osama bin Laden — resonate in the same way that her previous, fictional movie about the Iraq war, “The Hurt Locker,” did with its fearless main character channeling our deepest fears about the price of that misbegotten war?
Oddly, my deepest fears about the war were that (a) the rules of engagement prevented victory, and (b) any gains made would be lost to politics. Both of those fears have been realized.
Two of the great films about the Vietnam War, “Apocalypse Now” (1979) and “The Deer Hunter” (1978), provided devastating commentaries about American involvement there without ever directly confronting the morality of the war itself.
Didn’t directly confront the war’s morality? Both movies were built around metaphors (the trip upriver to find Kurtz in Apocalypse Now and Russian Roulette in The Deer Hunter) intended to symbolize exactly that.
Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless” (1960) became a curtain-raiser on ’60s youth rebellion several years before anyone heard of Beatlemania.
Uh, Reed, ever heard of Elvis, James Dean, The Wild One, Blackboard Jungle, Rebel Without a Cause…all of which predated Breathless?
George C. Scott’s Oscar-winning performance in “Patton” (1970) was so perfectly balanced that conservatives (including Richard Nixon) saluted the biopic as a patriotic homage to the blood-and-guts World War II general, while liberals saw it as a brilliant satire of a warmongering lunatic.
A “warmongering lunatic”? Why, for wanting to actually, you know, get to Berlin and kill Hitler as quickly as possible?
I was a sentient semi-adult in 1970, when Patton was released, and though I attended a university where it was always hip to deride war mongers, I don’t recall anyone considering the movie a satire. (Also, Nixon a conservative?)
Then there are those films with no clear topical intentions that somehow take on serendipitous significance through a combination of great storytelling and shrewd marketing. Ads for “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” which opened the year after the twin towers fell in Lower Manhattan, used phrases and imagery (“All will be lost unless all unite against evil”) that reminded moviegoers of the real drama unfolding outside the cineplex.
Reed Johnson has already called George Patton a war monger and the Iraq War “misbegotten.” Now he says that the “real drama” was against evil terrorists who…shouldn’t be fought?
Of the current batch of films, “Argo,” about a largely forgotten episode of the 1979 U.S. hostage crisis in Iran, may be the most au courant in that it depicts a political facedown between a Western superpower and a defiant Islamic theocracy that continues today.
No, it wasn’t “largely forgotten.” It was largely unknown until a few years ago.
What [Argo] surprisingly fails to do is humanize the Iranians, who are almost uniformly presented as howling fanatics — the same stereotype that has prevailed in U.S. pop culture for the last three decades.
Yes, let’s humanize the “good Nazis” who kidnapped and held for 444 days 52 Americans in the name of Islam; who to this day refer to the U.S. as the Great Satan and vow to wipe Israel off the map. Maybe they should humanize themselves.
“Lincoln” speaks more clearly to our own time, although it’s set in the uncertain winter of 1865, as America’s 16th president labors to bring the Civil War to a close and muster congressional support to pass the 13th Amendment. The story of the Rail Splitter’s heroic leadership in breaking the ferocious partisan gridlock surrounding slavery should make Spielberg’s movie relevant as long as there are obstructionists and knaves in Congress.
So Patton is a war monger but Lincoln isn’t. Fine. But would anyone be surprised if Reed Johnson believes Lincoln is the only Republican president whose agenda shouldn’t be obstructed by Democrats in Congress?
Another likely awards contender, “Les Miserables” is an example of a film based on older material — the novel by Victor Hugo that became the megasuccessful stage musical — that can be linked to current issues in our own time. The brave souls manning the Paris barricades during the 19th century uprisings could be seen as stand-ins for the Occupy movement of 2011 in American cities, and their song, “Do You Hear the People Sing,” could be the anthem of the 99%-ers battling Wall Street and social inequality.
When you’ve jumped the shark as many times as Johnson has in this piece, all that’s left is to compare the young idealists getting slaughtered in the streets of Paris with all those iPhone-toting campers sleeping in corporate-sponsored tents in government-permitted encampments in the police-protected parks of America. Given that the “brave souls manning the Paris barricades” were fighting government tyranny, wouldn’t Tea Party demonstrators have been a more apt comparison?