Hollywood reporting for duty?

Today, Andrew Breitbart and David Ehrenstein discuss what role filmmakers should and do play in the domestic debate. Yesterday, they pondered the fall season of antiwar flicks. Later in the week they’ll attempt to define Hollywood values, locate Hollywood conservatives and assess whether Tinseltown even matters anymore.

Good night and good laugh
By Andrew Breitbart


Trust me, David, my expectations for the cinematic braintrust you eagerly defend are quite low. I have no false hope that the Gulfstream-flying, eco-warrior billionaires that propagate Westside L.A.'s convoluted, one-way dialogue will begin to show their gratefulness to this country. (The Democratic Party, yes. Their country, no.)

Sure, Hollywood’s founding fathers commandeered the studio system and turned it into a World War II propaganda mill helping to motivate the citizenry to make the hard sacrifices of a just war. [Editors: Fill in the blank three pertinent film examples with a nice sprinkling of IMDB links and references to obscure dead actors that make me look half as learned as David.] And, of course, the Jimmy Stewarts, Charles Durnings and Don Adamses, to name but a few, risked their lives on the front lines to defend our way of life.

But in the 21st century, the notion of a pop cultural “war effort” is embarrassingly dated, and should nauseate the post-modern sensibilities of any self-respecting cineaste.

In fact, I’m perfectly happy with a war-time conveyor belt of mindless fare such as “Superbad” and “Knocked Up” -- or even the latest installment of “Die Hard.” Who needs Rosie the Riveter when you’ve got Rosie O’Donnell ganging up with Barry Manilow to destroy the “dangerous and offensive” global threat of Elizabeth Hasselbeck?

Just don’t try to sell me that Brian De Palma and George Clooney are making brave gestures when they churn out antiwar films and make self-congratulatory award show pronunciations. Just admit it: Your idols simply toe the company line, and get their jollies mocking bourgeois America’s notions of “patriotism.”

Yet the conservatives who defend and, to a great degree, prosecute this war have only themselves to blame for not putting enough emphasis on popular entertainment, and refusing to get bloody in the trenches of Melrose and Vine. There wouldn’t be reverse McCarthyism (to coin a phrase) if there weren’t so few conservatives plying their trade out here in the first place.

Whether it be at the film schools that graduate screenwriters and auteur directors or the theater departments and acting classes that used to develop our great actors; or the brothels, vomitoriums and gyms that produce the big stars of today, conservatives are conspicuously outnumbered or not represented at all.

But maybe we were put together for a reason. Perhaps our exploration of our political differences in Tinseltown’s paper of record can be an exercise in creating a bridge to our shared values: Getting to live. Given that you are a gay expert of gays in cinema and an upstanding liberal Democrat, and I’m straight with four kids and have voted consistently Republican over the last 10 years, I propose that we start a bipartisan, bisexual artistic commission to fix the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.

We both love our country and waste endless hours watching Hollywood bilge. 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!

Andrew Breitbart is coauthor of “Hollywood, Interrupted: Insanity Chic in Babylon -- The Case Against Celebrity;” a longtime editor at the Drudge Report, (he speaks neither on behalf of Drudge or his report), and co-creator of the Huffington Post. He also publishes the news aggregation site, and the best-of news video and audio site

Always at cinematic war with Eastasia
By David Ehrenstein


The “bipartisan, bisexual commission” you propose has far too much of a whiff of Joe Lieberman about it for my taste. Moreover, “liberal Democrat” would describe me as a teenager. To quote the cinematically celebrated songwriter Robert Zimmerman, “Oh but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”

A fortiori I’m not so sure about the “love my country” bit as I’m markedly disenchanted with the entire concept of all nation-states. Move an inch beyond language and culture and their meaning and purpose almost invariably mirrors that of the Crips and the Bloods. Love the reference to “Tim Robbins and his common-law wife.” As we said in the ‘70s, “Dammit, Janet!”

Now back to business.

I haven’t the slightest doubt that Andrew feels Hollywood should be working 24/7 on stemming the Islamic tide threatening to overwhelm all that’s white and Christian, the better to impose “sharia law” on every Western corner of the globe. To this end he should be happy about the exceedingly popular “24” in that it shares the Bush administration’s hostility to the Geneva Conventions, habeus corpus and other “benchmarks” of what used to be called civilization before 9/11 “changed everything” -- as every Republican politician reminds us at least twice a day. The problem, of course, is that “24" is not enough for Mr. Breitbart, decidedly displeased with a Hollywood overrun with those far more concerned with who they’re having lunch with at the Ivy than what new outrage will spring from the thin, smiling lips of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

But has Hollywood ever really been any good at the propaganda game? 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 terribly 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.

In a career distinguished by such diverse imaginative fare as “Cat People,” “I Walked with a Zombie,” “Out of the Past” and “Stars in My Crown,” these pro- and anti-communist efforts by Tourneur are mere footnotes. But Andrew, you and like-minded souls might well be interested in considering the remake potential of “The Fearmakers.” For while the communist menace is but a dim memory, modern equivalents of Mel and Veda Ann could easily be evoked in a (melo)dramatic expose of those sinister souls running

David Ehrenstein is a Hollywood journalist, blogger, and author of “Open Secret: Gay Hollywood--1928-2000.”

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