Today, Ehrenstein and Breitbart discuss the fall season of antiwar flicks. Later in the week, they'll attempt to define Hollywood values, locate Hollywood conservatives and ponder Hollywood's impact on the 2008 presidential race. FOR THE RECORD: In an earlier version of this article, David Ehrenstein referred to "rapes and murder committed by a U.S. patrol in Haditha in 2005." The incident occured in 2006 in Al-Mahmoudiyah.
Quicker on the draw than in Vietnam
By David Ehrenstein
What the fall season tells us is that Hollywood is a lot faster on the uptake with this war than it was with Vietnam. Back then the first blip of the cinematic radar came in 1967 with Roger Corman's "The Trip," when a stoned Peter Fonda broke into a neighbor's home where the TV was playing actual news footage. Just a reference, but it really counted for something. The following year John Wayne's 21-gun salute, "The Green Berets," premiered and was a big hit. After that audio-visual silence reigned until 1978, long after Vienam had ended. The pro-war "The Deer Hunter" won an Oscar for best picture, while the antiwar "Coming Home" won "Hanoi Jane" (as the right loves to call her) her second statuette. The country was indeed "split" about Vietnam, and so was Hollywood (about 60% against and 40% for). But if the latest polling figures are to be believed (and I for one have every reason to give them credence), the Iraq war is about as popular as AIDS.
Looking at the slate of current and upcoming releases, Hollywood is staying true to cautious form, with "criticism" of the war couched in familiar genre terms. "In the Valley of Elah" is a melodrama about a war vet gone missing after returning stateside, and how it affects his family. "Grace is Gone" concerns a road trip taken by a man (John Cusack) whose wife has been killed in Iraq. In light of the right's brass-knuckles treatment of antiwar mom Cindy Sheehan, I expect no end of jokes will be made at the expense of this film by the ever-sensitive Ann Coulter and her ultra-scrupulous confederates.
"The Kingdom," meanwhile, is an action thriller in which FBI agents Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner search for a killer in Saudi Arabia. Nothing terribly "political" there, just action for its own sake. In fact, the only recent film with something of import to say about the Middle East was "Three Kings," the George Clooney/Marky Mark-starred 1999 release about Gulf War I, written and directed by the conspicuously talented, and very tightly-wound, David O. Russell. If any actual information is provided about the U.S. and its relationship with Saudi Arabia in "The Kingdom," I shall faint dead away.
Robert Redford's "Lions for Lambs" concerns a university professor (the Sundance Kid) whose "idealistic" words inadvertently encourage two students to head for Afghanistan. When a senator with presidential aspirations (Tom Cruise) and a TV journalist (Meryl Streep) get wind of this story all heck breaks loose. Obviously what's at stake here is less politics than the "Mission Impossible" couch-jumper's relentless pursuit of an Oscar. That leaves Brian DePalma's "Redacted," which is clearly gunning for trouble and will doubtless get a tsunami's worth of it.
Featuring a no-star cast, this "fictional story inspired by true events" -- i.e., the rape and murders committed by U.S. soldiers in Al-Mahmoudiyah in 2006 * -- is shot in a highly unusual style. It consists of a number of films-within-films: a video shot by one of the soldiers; a documentary made by a French television crew; and online videos put up on the Web by insurgents, friends and family of the soldiers involved, et al. DePalma has of course dealt with sexual violence and warfare before in everything from "Carrie" to "Casualties of War." But it's quite different here, as he's dealing with actual events rather than a Hitchcock-style thriller fantasy. There's a graphic rape and even an on-camera beheading -- much like the ones Al Qaeda and its friends have made available on the Net.
Clearly, "Redacted" is headed for limited release and the zillions who turned out for "Superbad" won't be going anywhere near it. But the slavering pajama-clad hordes of cyberspace will doubtless dine on it, since it offers far-from-flattering images of "our brave young men and women." In short, I'm fully expecting blame to be laid at the feet of the right's new Axis of Evil -- MoveOn.org, the New York Times and (Dr. Evil himself) George Soros. Think I'm kidding? Just watch.
So we begin in agreement. Hollywood acting as a collective voice stakes out an anti-victory position on the current war in Iraq, continuing its deplorable 40-year streak of working against the United States' strategic objectives at a time of war. Congratulations to every heroic studio exec and heroin-addled reality star for being ahead of -- and helping to move -- the polls. While you and your celluloid comrades bravely brandish "dissent is patriotic" bumper stickers on your Prius (after Pilates), the system that you uphold has endemically rooted out voices that dissent from your dissent. Kinda like Saddam's Iraq -- but with more cocaine and $1,000 per-diems.
Free speech is a two way street, but in "patriotic" L.A. -- where pro-victory voices are reflexively ridiculed, cold-shouldered and made pariahs of on the party circuit -- the other side of the argument is rarely, if ever, made. And when one movie does dare to be critical of the Clinton administration, and perhaps more important, paints non-Christian religious radicals and not America as the "root cause" of terrorism -- the Democrat Hollywood Industrial Complex thwarts its commercial path to success. ABC, give me my "Path to 9/11" DVD, dammit!
To me and millions of other American filmgoers, those are nightmarish exceptions to the rule -- and certainly not a compelling argument to hire a baby-sitter and rush to the local mall to spend $50 -- especially when many have loved ones serving honestly and bravely. But to The Industry, America-as-the-global-antagonist is fast-track development time and a surefire route to standing ovations on the European film-fest circuit. Our soldiers fight inhumane ideologues funded and armed by terror-supporting totalitarian states while simultaneously trying to create order where it has never before existed in order to help stabilize the most dangerous region of the world ... and Hollywood reflexively turns its back on them.
For those who see the world through art, my side -- which strongly sees radical Islam as a growing anti-democratic, anti-liberal global threat -- is not represented because our dissent is deemed "hate speech." (War was so much easier when the Nazis were white.) Hollywood acquiesces when CAIR and other pro-Islamist interest groups demand that Muslim extremists not appear in film portrayed as terrorists. If only the Pentagon had the same sway! Sure, my side has talk radio, best-selling books, top-rated cable news shows, blogs, Op-Ed columns and even the presidency to make our points. But we do not have even a minority position to tell the most important stories of our time because of the politically correct architecture of the creative process in Hollywood.