Sep 26, 2007

Hollywood and the war

Andrew Breitbart and David Ehrenstein are doing a point/counterpoint thing at the LA Times. In Part 1, they tackle upcoming war flicks. In Part 2, they tackle Hollywood's role as opinion maker.

Breitbart proposes (facetiously?) a very unconservative state-funded campaign to promote political diversity.
Let's promote the "diversity education" notion that has made American higher education the gold standard around the world. But instead of race, gender and sexuality as the dominant precepts, our creative coaltion will focus on differing ideas -- left, center AND right. Think of that "fairness doctrine" some of your allies have been bandying about.


It won't be about "identity" politics; it will be about American politics. It will be a publicly funded national artistic reunification project -- like something FDR would've implemented -- where Tim Robbins and his common-law wife will actually get to hear the other side. Maybe she'll even take off her shirt like she does in all her movies. But this time it will be for America!
Sounds like a recipe for very bad films.

Ehrenstein says Hollywood was never any good at propaganda, anyway, and then brings up two films by the same director, the first of which was pro-Soviet and the second of which was anti-Soviet.
Let's jump into the Wayback Machine and return to the early 1940s, when the Soviet Union was America's ally (yes, you read that right), and Hollywood was devoted to creating fanciful melodramas of its brave efforts to counter the Nazi menace. One of them was "Days of Glory" (1944), directed by Jacques Tourneur, and starring prima ballerina Tamara Toumanova and (in his motion picture debut) Gregory Peck. The script by Melchior Lengyel (a Hungarian emigre who co-scripted "To Be or Not to Be" and "Ninotchka" for Ernst Lubitsch) and Casey Robinson (a veteran screenwriter whose most famous titles are "Now, Voyager" and "Kings Row") is a fairly standard action-and-romance presenting Russian villagers as really nice people who don't deserve to be attacked by Hitler's armies. Nothing teribly special about it, other than Peck's obvious star potential.

As you might expect, a film like this looked a lot different by the war's end, when the U.S.-Soviet alliance was not only over but being treated as if it never happened, to judge from testimony given by numerous stars and studio chiefs before the House Un-American Activities Committee. This decidedly Orwellian turn of events (sorry, but no other word applies) was made complete by the 1950s with the "Cold War" in full swing. By 1958, "Days of Glory" director Jacques Tourneur could be found at the helm of "The Fearmakers" -- a bizarre little number in which Dana Andrews undoes a plot by evil commies Mel Torme and Veda Ann Borg to create biased opinion polls, the better to influence the media and elections. Interestingly enough, the script was based on an anti-Nazi World War II era novel by Darwin L. Teilhet. With a tap of the typewriter Nazis became commies thanks to scripters Chris Appley (this remains his sole credit to date) and TV veteran Elliot West -- whose works include "Airwolf" and "Lou Grant," starring noted lefty Edward Asner. Yes, Hollywood makes strange bedfellows.

This has nothing to do with anything, except perhaps to illustrate that Hollywood was sensitive to (or perhaps agreed with) the majority of Americans who welcomed Soviet help during World War II but didn't much like the Soviets in 1958, a mere two years after Soviet tanks rolled into Hungary. As Lord Palmerston observed: “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.”

There is a tendency among conservatives to unfavorably compare World War II-era movies to the movies of today. But the world has changed since 1945. Aside from the fact that World War II received almost unanimous support from the American people--which is hardly the case now--most everyone in the country was affected in some way by the war. Most people knew someone serving overseas. And the people left at home were rationing gas, recycling tinfoil, painting seams on their legs to give the illusion of stockings and working in defense plants. Now millions of us don't know any servicemen or women. And we certainly aren't rationing anything.

Still, it's alarming that not one of this fall's so-called war films can be considered pro-war--or even any that are war-neutral. Most of these movies don't even, as the left is wont to say, support the troops since the troops depicted are likely depicted as murderous rapists.

I'm not saying that filmmakers shouldn't make a movie about a murderous raping soldier, but how about a movie about a guy serving in Iraq who's not a murderous rapist? He doesn't have to be a saint, either. Just a normal guy. Or gal. Or how about a movie about a battle in Iraq or Afghanistan, real or fictional, that doesn't even discuss the war's rightness or wrongness?

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