Rene — Pilger — Hollywood's New Censors

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I just thought this was interesting not for the call it made to Hollywood (or for more Michael Moore type films), but the imagination it might provoke on the many different scales of artistic practice.
Hollywood’s New Censors
19/02/2009 Hollywood’s New Censors
By John Pilger – Information Clearinghouse
February 17
During the Cold War, Hollywood’s anti-Soviet message was loud and clear. Today, the film industry is more likely to censor by omission
When I returned from the war in Vietnam, I wrote a film script as an
antidote to the myth that the war had been an ill-fated noble cause.
The producer David Puttnam took the draft to Hollywood and offered it
to the major studios, whose responses were favourable ` well, almost.
Each issued a report card in which the final category, `politics’,
included comments such as: `This is real, but are the American people
ready for it? Maybe they’ll never be.’
By the late 1970s, Hollywood judged Americans ready for a different
kind of Vietnam movie. The first was The Deer Hunter which, according
to Time, `articulates the new patriotism’. The film celebrated
immigrant America, with Robert de Niro as a working class hero
(`liberal by instinct’) and the Vietnamese as sub-human Oriental
barbarians and idiots, or `gooks’. The dramatic peak was reached during
recurring orgiastic scenes in which GIs were forced to play Russian
roulette by their Vietnamese captors. This was made up by the director
Michael Cimino, who also made up a story that he had served in Vietnam.
`I have this insane feeling that I was there,’ he said. `Somehow ¦ the
line between reality and fiction has become blurred.’
The Deer Hunter was regarded virtually as documentary by ecstatic
critics. `The film that could purge a nation’s guilt!’ said the Daily
Mail. President Jimmy Carter was reportedly moved by its `genuine
American message’. Catharsis was at hand. The Vietnam movies became a
revisionist popular history of the great crime in Indo-China. That more
than four million people had died terribly and unnecessarily and their
homeland poisoned to a wasteland was not the concern of these films.
Rather, Vietnam was an `American tragedy’, in which the invader was to
be pitied in a blend of false bravado-and-angst: sometimes crude (the
Rambo films) and sometimes subtle (Oliver Stone’s Platoon). What
mattered was the strength of the purgative.
None of this, of course, was new; it was how Hollywood created the myth
of the Wild West, which was harmless enough unless you happened to be a
native-American; and how the Second World War has been relentlessly
glorified, which may be harmless enough unless you happen to be one of
countless innocent human beings, from Serbia to Iraq, whose deaths or
dispossession are justified by moralising references to 1939-45.
Hollywood’s gooks, its Untermenschen, are essential to this crusade —
the dispatched Somalis in Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down and the
sinister Arabs in movies like Rendition, in which the torturing CIA is
absolved by Jake Gyllenhal’s good egg. As Robbie Graham and Mark Alford
pointed out in their New Statesman enquiry into corporate control of
the cinema (2 February), in 167 minutes of Steven Spielberg’s Munich,
the Palestinian cause is restricted to just two and a half minutes.
`Far from being an `even-handed cry for peace’, as one critic claimed,’
they wrote, `Munich is more easily interpreted as a corporate-backed
endorsement of Israeli policy.’
With honourable exceptions, film critics rarely question this and
identify the true power behind the screen. Obsessed with celebrity
actors and vacuous narratives, they are the cinema’s lobby
correspondents, its dutiful press corps. Emitting safe snipes and
sneers, they promote a deeply political system that dominates most of
what we pay to see, knowing not what we are denied. Brian de Palma’s
2007 film Redacted shows an Iraq the media does not report. He depicts
the homicides and gang-rapes that are never prosecuted and are the
essence of any colonial conquest. In the New York Village Voice, the
critic Anthony Kaufman, in abusing the `divisive’ De Palma for his
`perverse tales of voyeurism and violence’, did his best to taint the
film as a kind of heresy and to bury it.
In this way, the war on terror’ ` the conquest and subversion of
resource rich regions of the world, whose ramifications and oppressions
touch all our lives ` is almost excluded from the popular cinema.
Michael Moore’s outstanding Fahrenheit 911 was a freak; the notoriety
of its distribution ban by the Walt Disney Company helped to force its
way into cinemas. My own 2007 film The War on Democracy, which inverted
the `war on terror’ in Latin America, was distributed in Britain,
Australia and other countries but not in the United States. `You will
need to make structural and political changes,’ said a major New York
distributor. `Maybe get a star like Sean Penn to host it ` he likes
liberal causes — and tame those anti-Bush sequences.’
During the cold war, Hollywood’s state propaganda was unabashed. The
classic 1957 dance movie, Silk Stockings, was an anti-Soviet diatribe
interrupted by the fabulous footwork of Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire.
These days, there are two types of censorship. The first is censorship
by introspective dross. Betraying its long tradition of producing gems,
escapist Hollywood is consumed by the corporate formula: just make `em
long and asinine and hope the hype will pay off. Ricky Gervais is his
clever comic self in Ghost Town, while around him stale, formulaic
characters sentimentalise the humour to death.
These are extraordinary times. Vicious colonial wars and political,
economic and environmental corruption cry out for a place on the big
screen. Yet, try to name one recent film that has dealt with these,
honestly and powerfully, let alone satirically.. Censorship by omission
is virulent. We need another Wall Street, another Last Hurrah, another
Dr. Strangelove. The partisans who tunnel out of their prison in Gaza,
bringing in food, clothes, medicines and weapons with which to defend
themselves, are no less heroic than the celluloid-honoured POWs and
partisans of the 1940s. They and the rest of us deserve the respect of
the greatest popular medium.