Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Future of Film

As I discussed in the first three parts (here, here, and here) of this short series on the future of film, the landscape of movie and television entertainment is shifting beneath us. What does this mean for people who love movies (and who doesn’t?)?

Hollywood has taken a big hit in recent years from a floundering economy just like everyone else. Major-studio specialty divisions like Disney’s Miramax, which produced the kinds of movies we think of as “independent” but aren’t, have undergone near-extinction. Meanwhile the studios’ feature film business model seems to increasingly veer in two directions: highly profitable low-budget flicks such as the Paranormal Activity horror series, and massively-budgeted spectacles with franchise, merchandising, and even theme-park potential, “tentpole” pictures such as Harry Potter or Transformers.

By focusing on the tentpole pictures to the exclusion of the tent itself, Hollywood studios have gradually abandoned the middle ground of high-quality films with low-to-midrange budgets. This presents exciting opportunities for creative, truly independent production companies, outside the often stultifying studio system, to fill that void – if they can find the money, which is increasingly coming, when it comes at all, from overseas (and that introduces a whole other dynamic which I don’t have space to address here). Yes, the studios still have a vested interest in making Oscar-worthy fare to bolster their artistic prestige, but I predict the real wave of the future for quality movie entertainment will come from these true independents, as the studios cease being the gatekeepers to visionary new filmmakers.

Demonizing America’s Mainstream Right

A West Point think tank has issued a report titled “Challengers from the Sidelines: Understanding America’s Violent Far-Right.” Perhaps it should have been titled “Demonizing America’s Mainstream Right,” because the paper, while focusing on domestic terrorists, links them ideologically to law-abiding, Constitution-revering, mainstream conservative American citizens, making it easy for left-wing media to demonize the latter and for the government to target them.

The report, which warns America about “violent far right” groups such as the “anti-federalist” movement, was issued last week by the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. It was written by Arie Perliger, who directs the Center’s terrorism studies and teaches social sciences at West Point. The CTC normally produces reports on al Qaeda and other violent Islamic groups throughout Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Previous reports similar to this latest one, for example, featured such topics as “Crime and Insurgency in the Tribal Areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan,” “Radical Islamic Ideology in Southeast Asia,” and “Al-Qa’ida’s Foreign Fighters in Iraq.”

But this latest study looks within our own borders and connects limited government activists to three movements it identifies as a racist/white supremacy movement, an anti-federalist movement, and a fundamentalist movement.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Is Hollywood’s Bias Conservative?

Elias Isquith in The Atlantic no doubt raised a few eyebrows with his recent article with the counterintuitive title, “Hollywood's Real Bias Is Conservative (but Not in the Way Liberals Often Say).” He looked at the impressive slate of political (and in some cases, highly politicized) films from 2012 including The Dark Knight Rises, Les Miserables, Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln, Django Unchained, and Argo, and uncovered an often overlooked conservatism there – but an economic one, not an ideological one.

Isquith argues that Hollywood’s business model, rather than its politics, determines what risks it is willing to take and what cultural assumptions it is willing to question. For example, he points to the hunt-for-bin-Laden movie Zero Dark Thirty as an example of how, contrary to its left-leaning reputation, “Hollywood falls in line when the nation is awash in patriotic fervor and the fear of an existential threat.”

Not always. Sure, World War II-era films tended to be unabashedly patriotic, but as far back as the Cold War era Hollywood often took a subversive tack, as with the political satire Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. In our contemporary conflict with Islamic fundamentalists, Hollywood presents a morally relativistic stance. The filmmakers of 2oo2’s The Sum of All Fears, for example, famously swapped out the novel’s original Muslim terrorists for the politically safer, Hollywood go-to bad guys, neo-Nazis – and that was in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, when patriotic fervor was at its highest. Even today, ten years later, the filmmakers and stars of award-winning Showtime terrorism drama Homeland are proud of its moral equivalence.

CBS News Director: Obama Must Go for the Throat

A month ago I wrote, in a piece on FrontPage Mag called “The Art of Class War,” that progressives aren’t interested in coexistence or bipartisanship with the right; they want total domination and our eventual extinction. Last Friday an article subtly titled “Go for the Throat!” appeared on the leftist website Slate in which their chief political correspondent John Dickerson openly confirmed my point, calling for President Obama to destroy the Republican party in his second term.

Writing just prior to Obama’s inaugural ceremony, Dickerson strategized,

The challenge for President Obama’s speech is the challenge of his second term: how to be great when the [D.C.] environment stinks… Washington’s partisan rancor, the size of the problems facing government, and the limited amount of time before Obama is a lame duck all point to a single conclusion: The president who came into office speaking in lofty terms about bipartisanship and cooperation can only cement his legacy if he destroys the GOP. If he wants to transform American politics, he must go for the throat. [Emphasis added]

Thank you, Mr. Dickerson, for putting your party’s totalitarian ruthlessness on the table in plain sight. Thank you for removing any lingering doubt that yours is the fascist party of hatred and intolerance, not to mention lack of diversity where it counts – the diversity of ideas.

Afghan Tragedy

After meetings with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Friday, President Obama said this weekend that the U.S. is speeding up the schedules for pulling American forces out of Afghanistan and for ending most unilateral combat operations. Tragically, that’s too late for Joseph Griffin.

Just before Christmas an Afghan policewoman slipped through “security checks” with a hidden pistol and shot the 49-year-old American adviser from Mansfield, Georgia at the Kabul police headquarters in the first green-on-blue slaying by a woman. Joseph Griffin was a U.S. military veteran who had served in various U.S.-based law enforcement positions over the years as well as in support of global training and mentoring programs. He was under contract to the NATO military command to advise the Afghan police force in Kabul.

After the murder, the Deputy Police Chief at first said, laughably, that it had yet to be determined whether the killing was intentional or accidental. Subsequent investigation revealed that Sgt. Nargas, a native Iranian with “no known links to militants,” moved to Afghanistan ten years ago after her Iranian husband obtained fake documents enabling her to live and work there. She joined the police five years ago and had a clean record. But after attending a “training course” in Egypt, Afghan authorities were alerted to what they called her “unstable” behavior. During her interrogation, she revealed that she had plans to kill either the Kabul governor or the city police chief, but when she realized that the security would be too difficult to penetrate, she turned her weapon on “a foreigner.”

And so Joseph Griffin became yet another sacrificial lamb in our pathetic, Sisyphean strategy to win Afghan hearts-and-minds; to train their half-hearted, incompetent local security forces to try to stand up to the Taliban without us; and to create a functioning nation-state out of a tribal patchwork in the most God-forsaken rockpile on the planet.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Oliver Stone: America is a “Fascist Force”

The C-SPAN Book TV program After Words recently featured a conversation with controversial film director Oliver Stone and American University professor Peter Kuznick. The two are co-authors of a massive new book, The Untold History of the United States, which Stone has parlayed into a multi-part Showtime documentary (and which FrontPage Mag has addressed here, here, here, here and here). As you might expect, the hour featured Kuznick and Stone denouncing American imperialism and placing the blame for Cold War mistrust on the U.S., while only paying lip service to the notion that some responsibility lay with the Soviets.

The program was hosted by Michael Kazin, professor of history at Georgetown University and the co-editor of Dissent, a quarterly socialist magazine of politics and culture. As a Harvard student, Kazin was a leader in the Students for a Democratic Society and briefly a member of the Weatherman faction. Although he describes himself in this show as “an anti-Communist leftist, someone who thinks that Stalin was a horrible mass murderer, one of the worst in history,” and although he gently challenges his guests on a couple of occasions, for the most part Kazin is supportive of their Cold War perspective: “I agree with both of you that the United States was hardly blameless, and did a lot to exacerbate that rivalry and hostility.” What a less predictable and more stimulating program it might have been if, say, Ron Radosh or David Horowitz had been tapped to moderate the discussion.

Stone and Kuznick discuss at length the 1948 Progressive Party presidential candidate Henry Wallace, the unsung hero of their book. When Time publisher Henry Luce called for the 20th century to be “the American century,” Wallace responded by saying, in Kuznick’s words, “it shouldn’t be the American century. It should be the century of the Common Man. So what we need is a worldwide revolution.” Kuznick relates approvingly how Wallace “called for ending colonialism, ending imperialism, ending monopolies and cartels, and the economic exploitation.”

The Rise and Fall of TV’s New Golden Age

In the first article in this short series about the future of film, I summarized New Yorker critic David Denby’s concerns about the topic in his new book, Do the Movies Have a Future? In the next installment, I discussed the millennial Renaissance that gave us, as listed in TV critic Alan Sepinwall’s book The Revolution was Televised, the twelve American shows “that changed TV forever.” While one critic fears the end of the big screen experience, another is celebrating a new Golden Age of the small screen – but for how long? And then what?

The last (and only other) period commonly designated as a Golden Age of Television was in the medium’s early days, from the 1950s into the very early ‘60s, when TV entertainment was dominated by gripping, story-driven dramatic series like Alfred Hitchcock Presents and the brilliant chain-smoker Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, and live dramas like Playhouse 90. That era too, like our own, saw an explosion of television creativity and popularity, and a concomitant decline in movie attendance.

Fifty years later, Sepinwall’s dozen – among them The Sopranos, The Wire, The Shield, Lost, 24, Mad Men and Breaking Bad – constituted a new “big bang” of television creativity. These audacious addictions seduced audiences away from a film culture which had become increasingly dependent on shallow, frenetic, CGI-glutted blockbusters.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Suppressing 'Zero Dark Thirty'

For anyone still skeptical of just how influential Hollywood’s movie messages are in the cultural and political realms, one need look no further for proof than the political football called Zero Dark Thirty.

After appearing in limited release late last year, the film Zero Dark Thirty goes wide in theaters this month. Created by screenwriter Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow, the filmmakers behind the 2010 Oscar-winner The Hurt Locker about a bomb-defusing adrenaline junkie in the Iraq war, ZD30 dramatizes an even more controversial subject – the real-life takedown of elusive terrorist icon Osama bin Laden.

Once word got out earlier last year that the Obama administration had granted the filmmakers access to classified information about the military operation, and that the film would be released just prior to the presidential election, conservatives cried foul and worried that the movie would exaggerate Obama’s role and serve essentially as an extended campaign ad for him. This concern was understandable considering that Hollywood was already doing everything in its power, onscreen and off, to reelect their Messiah. The left in turn dismissed these complaints as Republican paranoia.

But it didn’t quite turn out that way. First, the filmmakers avoided any seeming political impropriety by releasing the film after the election. Then, once the movie hit theaters and began garnering reviews, the left was aghast to discover that it opened with a graphic and extended scene depicting the waterboarding of a terrorist suspect, a scene that seemed to affirm what many conservatives had been insisting all along – that the hotly debated enhanced interrogation under President George W. Bush produced results that contributed to the intelligence which ultimately led us to bin Laden.