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July 02, 2004

Update on Hollywood's Sudden Interest in West vs. Islam War Pictures

Kteemac fact-checks my ass (and Tim Noah's ass) and finds that it's not quite true that Hollywood had "no" interest in making Crusader or Alexander pics before 9-11:

From the Dish section of Daily Variety, page 15, July 17, 2001, pulled off of Nexis:

SO GREAT: Alexander the Great, the general who led armies to world dominance by age 24, now has a trifecta of films in the works. "Usual Suspects" scribe Christopher McQuarrie will direct a pic he wrote for the Canton Co., while Dino De Laurentiis has recently hired Ted Tally to adapt a trio of historical novels by Valerio Manfredi. A third's in the works with producer Gene Kirkwood, who just wrapped a redo of the Orson Welles pic "The Magnificent Ambersons" ....

Kteemac asserts (no cite, but sounds plausible):The Dino de Laurentis project is the one that Baz Luhrmann eventually signed on to direct.

Without a doubt, this demolishes Noah's claim (and my claim, too, since I repeated it) that Hollywood had "no" interest in Alexander films pre- 9/11.

But so what? Okay, so it's not true that Hollywood had "no" interest in Alexander films before. They did have some. I should point out, though, that many projects are "in development" at any time in Hollywood; there are 10-20 films being "developed" for every film that's actually made. There are producers and screenwriters who make a comfortable living working on "films" that are never actually filmed.

But let's suppose that at least one of these films would have been made, had 9-11 not occurred. 9-11 did in fact occur. Does that not change the circumstances?

Hollywood is deliberately avoiding making no-brainer pictures that would make tons of money. Films about Afghanistan or, indeed, even Iraq, would make big profits at the box office. But they're not making these no-brainer pictures.


Because they don't want to encourage Americans to go to war again; they don't want to suggest that perhaps the War in Afghanistan was a just one, for which our soldiers (and CIA officers) should be praised as heroes. They understand the political import of such a film, and they recoil from it. Wrongly, I think; I'm not sure when, precisely, it became nearly a crime to wish one's country to prevail in a war forced upon it by a viciously murderous religious cult.

But shy from such films they do, because they don't like the politics of them.

Fine. That's their decision. I disagree with it, but this isn't the Soviet Union. Or their favorite island paradise, Cuba. The majority of Americans can't force Hollywood to make the pictures we'd like to see.

But if they shy away from such no-brainer films because they might encourage American belligerence, how on earth can they green-light films that will encourage our enemies' belligerence?

Alexander the Great is an obviously-interesting and important figure. There could be a great, sweepingly cinematic movie made about him.

But Alexander the Great went without a big-screen treatment for... how long, exactly? Couldn't Alex have waited another 5 or 6 years for his star-turn?

Given the fact that we're right now in the midst of a global war on terror -- and when we say "terror," understand we mean "Muslim insurgents who are still nursing 1000 year old grievances about battles and 'humiliations' only they can remember" -- do we really need to make a film about a Western military genius who conquers modern-day Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Pakistan?

And -- for goodness sakes -- do we need such a film helmed by notoriously even-handed and pro-American director Oliver Stone?

He did such a nuanced job on Salvador, JFK, and Natural Born Killers. I'm sure he won't use the film to make some ham-handed cryptomarxist statement.

Kteemac continues:

Another article, this time post-9/11 -- but I find it hard to believe that Ridley Scott just up and decided to do this picture based on any sort of pro-terrorist, anti-American sentiment. Given that he helmed Gladiator and was first approached to direct the de Laurentis picture, I think it's more likely he did it out of an interest in directing epics. Maybe you feel differently.

From Daily Variety's Dish section, March 4, 2002 (not even 6 months after 9/11), p. 1:

After examing ancient Rome for the Oscar-winning epic "Gladiator," director Ridley Scott has targeted the religious Crusades of the 11th century for a period epic he hopes to direct in 2003.

Twentieth Century Fox, which last fall signed an overall deal with Ridley and Tony Scott's Scott Free banner that calls for each brother to direct a film there, has hired screenwriter William Monahan to create a film about the Crusades, when Christians were directed by the Church to forcefully spread their faith across Europe and into Jerusalem. The Crusades, which began in the 11th century, will provide a highly visual canvas for a drama featuring armor-clad warriors who bore red crosses on their breastplates and battled with spears, swords and shields.

This is the film I find especially noxious. The plot, if Noah's reportage is accurate, features venal, villanous Western crusader infidels slaughtering poor defenseless peaceable Muslims.

Ridley Scott conceived of the film post-9-11, so Noah isn't wrong, technically, on this one.

But more importantly-- how on earth did a Crusader picture morph into one in which the West is portrayed as the world's villains? Is Scott unaware that Muslims still call Westerners "Crusaders"? Has he not heard they're still talking about battles at Jerusalem and Bethlehem?

Even if I concede that there's nothing wrong, as a general matter, with making a film that flat-out casts the Christian West (read: America) as the oppressive and violent villains and the Muslims as peaceful population forced to war by malevolent Crusaders, can anyone doubt that now is probably not the best time for such a movie?

Hollywood always claims that it's films have "no effect" on society or the world -- when we're talking about bad effects. When they show deviant behavior, psychopathic violence tarted up as heroic rebellion, casual drug use, teenage sex, etc., they claim their films have no influence, whatsoever, on human behavior.

They're lying, and it can be demonstrated they know they're lying. As Michael Medved has pointed out, every Academy Awards show is a tribute to how "films change our lives and the way we view the world"; everyone making prestige dramas about American racism is quick to point out that they're doing a truly altruistic service, by showing people the evil of racism, and thereby winning hearts and changing minds.

Surely it cannot be that movies have the strange property of being capable of influencing thought and behavior, but only in progressive, pro-social ways.

It can also be demonstrated that they know films can easily shape American, or world, opinion. They could make a haigiography about George Bush and it would make money. They could make a pro-Bush documentary, the exact opposite of Fahrenheit 9-11, and for just as small an investment, and that movie too would make money. How much money? I'm not sure; it would depend, as usual, on how good it was. But of course there is an appetite for pro-Bush films just as there is an appetite for anti-Bush films.

But Hollywood chooses not to make pro-Bush films (yes, they did that small-budget DC 9-11 that ran on one of the smallest pay-channels; that's not exactly mass-exposure a la F911). They could make money with pro-Bush films, and yet, curiously enough, they don't.

Why not? Because they know damn well that their product -- filmed entertainment -- is quite capable of influencing opinion, and they don't want to influence it in a pro-Bush manner.

Did Ridley Scott intentionally create a film that would incite anti-American passions among Muslim extremists who, let's face it, hardly need any additional fuel tossed on their raging psychological fires?

Or did he just negligently do so, not particularly caring about the likely consequences?

The latter possibility is less blameworthy than the first, but I can't say that either is laudable.

Kteemac seems to be right that these films weren't initially conceived post-9-11. But ideas are cheap in Hollywood; so are scripts. Notions, concepts, projects, packages: hundreds of these are floating around in LA at any time.

The real birth of a film is its greenlighting by the studios. And, undeniably, all of these films were green-lit post 9-11.


Why now?

One commenter suggested that Hollywood is currently just enthusiastic about big-budget period epics.

Well, guys, it's not as if there are a shortage of cinematic subjects in that arena. For example, I understand that 300 Spartans kicked serious Persian ass at Thermopylae, and no one's done a movie on that so far as I know since 1962.

And there's even room for a gay romance or two! We are talking Greece, after all. Take that, Aleksandr!

Oh, wait:

The Persians would be the bad guys in that one. And of course there's a rule that a serious movie can't have such easily-stereotyped bad guys.

Unless, of course, the easily-stereotyped bad guys are Westerners. If you make the bad guys swarthy foreign types, Americans are likely to fly into a blood-frenzy and begin killing every foreigner or dark-skinned person in sight.

It's a good thing that no one else in the world is prone to flying into such senseless violence and brutality on the basis of manipulative emotional propaganda.

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posted by Ace at 03:28 AM

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