Sunday, June 19, 2005

Hollywood films Reflect Political Tensions

(:)(:) for the new Star Wars film; (:)(:)(:)(: for Cinderella Man.

I have always been fascinated by the extent to which no matter what era a movie is set in, its dialogue, vision and look reflect the times in which it is made as much or more as the subject it purports to examine. These movies, one so-so, one very good, inject the political and economic realities of our time into outer space and the Great Depression, respectively.

Of the two, Cinderella Man is by far the better film. This is the true life comeback story of boxer James Braddock (Russell Crowe) and his trainer (Paul Giamatti) and his wife (Renee Zellweger). Set in New York in the height of the Depression, one can't help but see the backdrop and dialogue of increasing poverty and increasing wealth as commentary on our own times. Whether it's the perspective of the director, Ron Howard, or the screenwriter, Cliff Hollingworth, or merely my own, it's there. The terrifying visions of Hooverville, and the way in which they refer to it often and with reference to the President lay the blame for the economy and people's misery squarely at his feet.

Still, the images of fat cats vs. regular guys, as compelling as they are as commentary on current times, are subtly introduced--one sees no agenda here other than bringing a compelling story to the screen.

It is a compelling story, by the way, very moving and sentimental (Ron Howard) but entirely believable. I really loved it and the only reason I hold off the full 4th snout is because the film breaks no new ground.

Russell Crowe is one of the greatest screen actors of my lifetime--this is not his most challenging role, but he does it very well. He makes us care deeply about James Braddock and share the excitement and the hope of everyone else who does.

I'm glad Crowe does so because it took me months to recover from a vision of Russell Crowe that I glimpsed one night while channel surfing: in a pony tail singing lead in a band of his own assemblage, there was Crowe screaming out lyrics to a song one can only assume he had written, the title of which could easily make the cover of the next Spinal Tap album, to wit, "Swallow my gift." (I still shudder when I think of it).

On the Star Wars: revenge of the sith or whatever it's called, this is not a good film, even by Star Wars standards: the fights go on and on and get more and more ludicrous until we're having to see a battle to the death served over a hellscape of molten lava (and that comes with a side of molten flesh).

But what was most interesting about this film, and apparently has been fodder for bloggers, left and right, for weeks, is the unabashed, completely not subtle linkage of the Dark Side siths with the Bush administration. For more on the fun moments in dialogue and parallels see this USA Today article.

What I find astonishing is that it seems to be the right wingers who are most avidly pointing out the parallels between the Bush and the Darth Vader administrations--some are even calling for a boycott. You would really think that it would not be in anyone's interest to point out that a popular film with great anti-heroes is really about their leader. Since they point it out anyway, it makes one think that they are trying to scare off future efforts and perhaps are afraid that the message will shape or penetrate young impressionable minds.

Or, perhaps this is a precursor to a return to the Hollywood black list, could George Lucas be the first such casualty?

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