Friday, October 03, 2008

Cinematic Polemic

(DISCLAIMER: I'm going to be discussing two films in this post, neither of which I've seen. If you feel that I've judged either of these flicks incorrectly, I urge you to read this as yet another unasked-for criticism of our culture. Danke schein.)

A couple of highly-charged bits of filmmaking are being thrown into wide release today: Religulous, a Bill Maher/Larry Charles screed on religion, and An American Carol, a shallow assault on progressive "anti-Americanism" that takes aim at traditional right-wing boogeymen (Michael Moore, Islamic fundamentalists, liberal college professors) and evokes ready comparisons to Uwe Boll's Postal.

Both these films seem to make their points earnestly while trying for a few jokes, and both do a hearty job of indicating the problems at work in America - and not in the way they expect.

Religulous, starring Bill Maher and directed by Seinfeld pioneer Larry Charles, is probably the funnier of the two, and fairly transparent. Anybody who knows anything about it already knows nearly everything about it - it's a documentary about religion (more specifically Christianity), and Bill Maher and Larry David are involved. I would expect the "cynical smirk to fair questions ratio" to hover around 5:1 for this one.

And it seems for all the world to be a typical attack documentary; Maher trots the globe, picking the sorriest, most pathetic religious believers and pointing out that they are, in fact, silly goons. It's the film equivalent of Jay Leno asking people on street corners how many sides you'd find on a triangle ("Four! No, wait - is it an odd number?"). When you consider that a good 88% of human beings identify themselves as believers in God, it's no significant surprise that an earnest agnostic-faced atheist managed to find a few stupid jackasses among them to ridicule. I even know a few myself! It's been awhile since the fact that some people believe in God for wrong or even ignorant reasons made headlines, so kudos to Lions Gate for bringing it back to our attention. It's Borat for the Scientific American set! I'm sure the film is profoundly unfair, but if you already love/hate Bill Maher the way most of us do you'll know what to expect.


And if there's ever been a film designed by its very premise to repel me, it's David Zucker's An American Carol, wherein a left-wing nutjob (Michael Moore, played by a guy who looks a bit like Michael Moore) is visited by a bunch of right-wing nutjobs (y'know - Kelsey Grammar, Leslie Nielsen and Jon Voight, playing a bunch of ex-presidents who have posthumously converted to neoconservatism), who teach him that America is, y'know, really great and he should just shut his mouth. I never liked Zucker's films (Airplane and assorted spoofs that are essentially live-action versions of Mad Magazine fare), but this might be the first one that's actually dangerous.

I don't have a problem necessarily with reminding us of great, if clichéd, moments in America's past (the Revolutionary War, a general commitment to freedom and rule of law), but of the film's self-righteous militaristic patriotism, a philosophy adopted only recently by the neocon right wing who has done more to destabilize our freedom and civil rights - all while pointing toward brown people as the real enemies - than any flag-burner could ever desire or manage. Doesn't this film miss the point that criticism of a country's flaws, when appropriate, is one of the surest indicators that you love said country and want to improve it, and nationalistic, reactionist regressivism is one of the surest indicators of a slide toward self-righteous depravity and self-assured exceptionalism (one of the few things that could really destroy this country)? For those of you who managed to parse that gramatically-questionable sentence, it was a rhetorical question.


Does anybody else worry that the real conservative movement is over, and all we have left is the kind of Reaganesque neoconservative garbage and progressive hogwash that produces films like these? Why can't we get a real conservative picture to theaters, one that champions freedom and small government without legitimizing stingy treatment toward the poor, attacks the spiraling American Military Industrial Complex while understanding the need for a basic national defense, or champions the rights to free expression and privacy from government surveillance and interference without politicizing such an important, basic assault on our liberties? I'd like to see a picture that understands the Constitution and the Bill of Rights pragmatically, as necessary tools for freedom that we follow to the letter simply because they're the only anchors protecting us from misguided or even scheming politicians, without holding up the Constitution as an end in itself.

In other words, why can't we get a picture with some principles worth defending (defined, you'll notice, as those principles which happen to be mine)?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for commenting - I reserve the right only to delete ads, nonsensical spam or comments indistinguishable from such.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.