Yes, Hollywood Supports The Troops

In the New York Times – ‘Hollywood Quickly Bringing the Iraq War Home‘.

I wish I could be speechless – or at least senseless.

On Sept. 14, Warner Independent Pictures expects to release “In the Valley of Elah,” a drama inspired by the Davis murder, written and directed by Paul Haggis, whose “Crash” won the Academy Award for best picture in 2006. The film stars Tommy Lee Jones as a retired veteran who defies Army bureaucrats and local officials in a search for his son’s killers. In one of the movie’s defining images, the American flag is flown upside down in the heartland, the signal of extreme distress.

Other coming films also use the damaged Iraq veteran to raise questions about a continuing war. In “Grace Is Gone,” directed by James C. Strouse and due in October from the Weinstein Company, John Cusack and two daughters struggle with the loss of a wife and mother who is killed on duty. Kimberly Peirce’s “Stop-Loss,” set for release in March by Paramount, meanwhile, casts Ryan Phillippe as a veteran who defies an order that would send him back to Iraq.

In the past, Hollywood usually gave the veteran more breathing space. William Wyler’s “Best Years of Our Lives,” about the travails of those returning from World War II, was released more than a year after the war’s end. Similarly Hal Ashby’s “Coming Home” and Oliver Stone’s “Born on the Fourth of July,” both stories of Vietnam veterans, came well after the fall of Saigon.

“Media in general responds much more quickly than ever before,” said Scott Rudin, a producer of “Stop-Loss.” “Why shouldn’t movies do the same?” He said his film was deliberately scheduled to be released in the middle of the presidential campaign season. (emphasis throughout added)

That impetus for immediacy is driving other filmmakers and studios as well. In October, for example, New Line Cinema will release “Rendition,” in which Reese Witherspoon plays a woman whose Egyptian-born husband is snared by a runaway counterterrorism apparatus. Paul Greengrass, the director of “The Bourne Ultimatum,” in which the bad guys belong to a similar rogue unit, is adapting Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book about the Green Zone in Baghdad, “Imperial Life in the Emerald City,” for Universal Pictures.

Brian De Palma’s “Redacted,” focusing on an Army squad that persecutes an Iraqi family, is to be released in December by Magnolia Pictures. And Sony Pictures is developing a film based on the story of Richard A. Clarke, the former national security official and Bush administration critic.

Among the new films, “Valley of Elah” is sure to be one of the most closely examined, thanks to Mr. Haggis’s credentials – he shared an Oscar for writing “Million Dollar Baby” and was nominated for another as co-writer of “Letters From Iwo Jima” – and because of his opposition to United States policy in Iraq.

This is not one of our brighter moments in America,” Mr. Haggis said in a telephone interview from London, where he is still working on the film’s music. “We should not have gotten involved.”

Still, Mr. Haggis insisted that “Valley of Elah” – the title refers to the site where David fought Goliath – was not intended to enforce his point of view. Rather, he said, it is meant to raise questions about “what it does to these kids” to be deployed in a situation where enemies are often indistinguishable from neutral civilians, and the rules of engagement may force decisions that are difficult to live with.

Despite some obvious fictionalization – the Fort Benning case did not involve the authority-challenging local detective and single mother played by Charlize Theron – the film hews closely enough to fact that Mr. Haggis is considering a dedication to Specialist Davis.

But whether the case truly speaks for returning veterans will not be easily settled, even with help from Warner Independent. The studio plans to supplement some of its promotional screenings with panel discussions of post-traumatic stress disorder, a factor raised in the movie.

“The issues are similar to what a lot of us are coping with,” said an approving Garett Reppenhagen, an Iraq veteran who saw “Valley of Elah” last week at one of the first such screenings in Washington. Mr. Reppenhagen, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, helped recruit viewers for the screening.

By contrast, Dennis Griffee, a wounded veteran who is national commander of the Iraq War Veterans Organization, said he turned down a request to become involved with the film after learning that Susan Sarandon, a vocal opponent of the war, had a prominent role.

“At the very least it is offensive,” Mr. Griffee said of what he sees as a widespread refusal to acknowledge the troops’ pride at achievements in Iraq. He added that virtually every member of his platoon wound up in college, not jail, on return.

Ilona Meagher, who wrote “Moving a Nation to Care: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and America’s Returning Troops” (Ig Publishing) and has joined Warner’s promotional effort, acknowledged that the Davis case was among the most extreme of some 170 stress-related episodes she had documented since 2005. “We all know that human beings respond/are moved by stories that are more extreme in nature,” Ms. Meagher wrote in a follow-up e-mail message.

I saw Crash, and it was a film that could only have been made by someone who never set foot outside of Brentwood without a bodyguard. And from a culture that produced “Saw”, “Hostel”, and “Captive”, these films may be a step forward.

But the truely vile impact of our wealthiest – and spiritually poorest – citizen’s cultural output is best explained by Col. Dave Grossman.

I’ll post an explanation from his book ‘On Combat’ tomorrow.

23 thoughts on “Yes, Hollywood Supports The Troops”

  1. Since we’re in a war without end, I guess that under the old standards we’d have to wait forever for the movie.

    I’m sure Lionel Chetwynd will be making a movie about the streets strewn with rose petals, the harmonious relationship between Sunni and Shia, and the birth of a flourishing secular democracy in Iraq. Too bad it will have to be a science-fiction cartoon.

    Honestly, the cynicism that appears to infuse these movies takes hold in mainstream America only because of the crude mendacity of the Administration. How many times has Bush told us we’re making progress? How many times has Honest Joe Lieberman told us that “for the first time” we’re making progress? How many times has Kit Bond told us we were wrong before, but now we’re on the correct track? After a steady parade of lies, of course people believe the worst about their government. If anyone made the movie you seem to have in mind, it would get ridiculed as another piece of deceitful propaganda. The people who still follow Bush would believe him if he announced the moon was made of cheese. Everybody else wants to hear whatever is the opposite.

  2. Okay, Andrew, I get it. You complain about crude mendacity, then link to Glenn Greenwald. I didn’t know you had a sense of humor.

    I think Greenwald might reinvent himself as an actor one of these days. He has the self-promotional instincts, and judging by the cartoon portrait he commissioned for himself, he has the soulful good looks. He could play the super courageous lawyer (with a few trivial foibles, to make him lovably human) who files the lawsuit that brings the whole military-industrial complex to its knees.

  3. So what — The MSM hasn’t been able to translate its mendaciously dishonest reporting into 1968 redux — think Hollywood can do it? No.

    Hollywood vastly overrates its inability to influence the “narrative” or “conversation.” The American people — at least, the 2/3 that aren’t unhinged lefties — are as far as hollywood is concerned a barren soil where their seeds will find no purchase.

    This will probably translate to about 0.5%-1% for Giuliani in the general election.

  4. A.L., would it be better if Hollywood made films supporting the war in Iraq? or should they stay out of it all together? should it be off-limits? Look, Hollywood produces mass market entertainment designed to get tens of millions of people to buy tickets. At least, in this case, you can’t even try to accuse Hollywood of being out of step with the setiments of their public. Lots of people have a point of view regarding this war. Some people create blogs to express their point of view..some people make movies. If movies have have more persuasive impact–because more emotionally manipulative–whose fault is that? the makers or the viewers? I can’t share your outrage…of course, if they remade Green Berets, I probably would.

  5. Glen, if you want ignore that the link is to Greenwald. Just read the quotes therein. No one ever taught this Administration to count chickens only after hatching.

  6. The term “useful idiots” applies to most of Hollywood, so why should any of this suprise you?

    Can anyone name a war film made in the last decade that wasn’t about WW2 that sheds a positive light on our Military?

    I can’t.

  7. mark, there’s a long discussion to have on the role of propaganda in creating and maintaining social attitudes and conditions; and when the propaganda is pretty consistently one-sided (as it was in WW II and again today), there will certainly be impacts.

    But other than a abstract political/social concern, I don’t – at all – mind antiwar films that dignify the soldiers. I don’t think that ‘Three Kings’ was remotely a pro-war film, for example.

    I do mind films – and I think we’ll see buckets of them – the depict the soldiers as evil, damaged, or morally defective. They aren’t.

    And I think that it will be very interesting in five or six years when there are a half million pissed-off veterans entering their prime adulthood. I think the impact on US politics is going to be truly interesting – if not necessarily what I’d personally hope for (a politics of inclusion and forgiveness).

    A.L.

  8. “I can’t share your outrage…of course, if they remade Green Berets, I probably would.”

    What if they made a movie on the second battle of Fallujah or on ‘Larry, Curly, and Moe’ and told it in the same style as ‘Black Hawk Down’ or ‘United 93’?

    What if blogger Neil Prakash’s account of the war was made into a movie?

    Even if we don’t get into the question of whose story and experiences in Iraq is the more legitimate one, can you agree that there is more than one legitimate experience and true account of the war in Iraq depending on how you experienced it? If so, why does Hollywood target narratives of a particular sort over the other ones? Certainly you can’t think that its because Hollywood is trying to make mass market movies that tens of millions of people will want to go see. It seems to me based on box office history, that if I wanted to sell tickets I’d tell a rip roaring action filled war movie. Whether you think that they should make that movie, that would seem to have the broadest appeal among consumers.

    You claim that Hollywood, at least in this case, ‘is not out of step with the sentiments of the public’. Really? What do you think the odds are that these movies will be box office flops, and Hollywood will end up bemoaning that the reason is that the taste of Americans tends to the trivial and banal or some other insult on the public.

  9. One other thing, marc. I believe you were in on an earlier conservation were we talked about the success of Fox News at appealing to a board target audience by moving its tone a little to the right (while IMO still doing nothing but regurgitating AP wires). Even if it were true that 10’s of millions of viewers where just chomping at the bits to go see a partisan, anti-war movie that portrayed soldiers as being generally morally defective, wouldn’t the smart business move be to also make a partisan, pro-war movie, that portrayed soldiers as being squeeky clean All-American heroes? That way you get the 10’s of millions of people who stay home because they don’t want to see what they percieve as anti-American tripe to come out the theater too. Now, I’m not sure I want to see either movie made, but if this was about business, I’d expect to see both and I’m pretty sure which I’d expect to see first – and its not the angsty and depressing one.

  10. Hollywood HATES HATES HATES the military. No greater cultural and political threat could be presented to it’s elites, who come largely from the Ivy League (almost all execs stem from there) and their elitist views.

    Why for example are the ranks and leadership of the Peace Movement made up of wealthy, middle aged White women who are also hard-left radicals? Medea Benjamin of Code Pink and ANSWER for example made her millions off the flying toasters of Berkeley Systems screensaver in the 80’s.

    Simple: the military, and the sacrifice of the young white men present a huge threat to their political power.

    Fundamentally, Hollywood, the elites, the liberals, and Dems want to SURRENDER rather than fight. They judge the lives of the “little Eichmans” to be not worth fighting for, particularly if fighting to defend them means that POWER MUST BE SHARED.

    These films are the reaction of the elite’s horror at political threats: SHARING POWER. With young white men who put their lives and bodies on the line.

    Note: NOT ONE OF THESE FILMS celebrates the heroism, sacrifice, honor, duty, and amazing, ungodly courage of the young white men who face death and danger. Instead they are portrayed as: STUPID, kill-crazy, dehumanized, victims, sadists, and the enemy of the “good, sainted, cultural elite.”

    These attitudes are shared by Dems who form the same, elitist, threatened, isolated demographic profoundly threatened by ordinary men’s bravery.

  11. Elitists run this country.

    They are found on Wall Street and in corporate boardrooms across America (although often the companies themselves are based in the Carribbean).

  12. That is true Robert, but once upon a time the Elites were not so terrified of sharing even a little power with the average person.

    The sheer terror at having to share even a bit of power makes Hollywood rush to portray the troops as either deranged killers, victims, or children, perhaps some combination of all of the above.

    Pathetic. Hollywood is more afraid of the average person than Al Qaeda.

  13. celebrim,

    “Hollywood will end up bemoaning that the reason is that the taste of Americans tends to the trivial and banal or some other insult on the public.” Good grief, man…Hollywood DEPENDS on the taste of Americans tending toward the trivial and the banal!!!! Have you ever been to the movies? 95% of Hollywood movies ARE trivial and banal…Deliberately so. 10% of movies aspire towards something resembling art and generally fall far short.

  14. mark: Hense the irony. And I notice you choose not to answer any of my questions.

    Anyway, my point is that, yes, Hollywood normally makes light, trivial, formulaic fare. But whenever they make something bad, or which is simply unappealing because it is a badly made didactic rants that offend the sensibilities of between 50% and 70% of the consumer base depending on what narrative they are trying to push. When such movies flop, the director and a good many critics that will defend them, always trot out how the audience simply isn’t sophisticated enough for the movie.

    Rrrrrriight. The problem isn’t that the audience isn’t sophisticated. It’s that Hollywood is very bad at making sophisticated movies. I could propose a couple of reasons why this is so, starting with the fact that the writer’s name is generally not the largest name in the credit.

    As for going to the movies, I – like many people I know – very seldom go to the movies. You won’t find me defending what Hollywood makes. Hollywood makes very little that is to my taste. In fact, to be fully honest, I haven’t even seen the two movies that I mentioned in an earlier post. I’ve merely heard from some people that they were neither stupid nor did they seem to have the typical hollywood bias.

    If you make good movies, people will go see them. If you make bad movies, or if you judge the seriousness of a movie by how closely it resembles your own politics, don’t be surprised if people don’t want to see it.

  15. I too wish you could be speechless. Senseless, you’ve got nailed.

    If you think there’s a big audience for the kind of films you want to see, then you should write one, or promote one that already exists, or finance one. I thought all you guys loved the free market….

  16. “I thought all you guys loved the free market….”

    Like Democracy, it sucks except when compared to any alternative.

    I rant and rave against the establishment media all the time, but like I’ve said on many occassions, I wouldn’t trade the American media for any other in the world. The American media is the freest, most independent, most varied media in the developed world. They suck, and there persistant incompotance and liberal bias drive me to distraction. But, would I propose anything other than a free market? No, of course not. Do you think I in any way want to actually regulate journalistic content? Heaven forbid!

    We are currently going through a recession in quality brought on by ill-invested social capital and bad management. It’s sucks. But recessions are part of any economic system, and what we have is better than the alternatives.

  17. celebrim,

    “mark: Hense the irony. And I notice you choose not to answer any of my questions.”

    I’m not sure irony–it’s presence or absence–is the issue here. I didn’t answer your questions because I thought they were–to be polite about it–rhetorical.

    The difficulty in discussing Hollywood with you is similar with that in discussing Modern Art. Sometimes you use the term Hollywood to mean “the US film-making-industry”, sometime you use it to mean “those movies that have a different political point of view than does celebrim.”

    “Anyway, my point is that, yes, Hollywood normally makes light, trivial, formulaic fare.” Actually, I believe that was my point.

    But whenever they make something bad, or which is simply unappealing because it is a badly made didactic rants that offend the sensibilities of between 50% and 70% of the consumer base depending on what narrative they are trying to push.” I disagree. Usually movies flop because they are just badly made movies…comedies that aren’t funny…horror movies that aren’t scarry, etc. There are extremely few movies made of the type you are speaking about. “When such movies flop, the director and a good many critics that will defend them, always trot out how the audience simply isn’t sophisticated enough for the movie.” So now we are down to Hollywood meaning “the director of films you don’t like a good many critics.” Okay….if that’s Hollywood, yes, Hollywood does make films you don’t like.

    “Rrrrrriight. The problem isn’t that the audience isn’t sophisticated.” Never said it was, celebrim. In fact, I never said there’s a problem.” “It’s that Hollywood is very bad at making sophisticated movies.” Yes, I already said that.

    If you make good movies, people will go see them. If you make bad movies, or if you judge the seriousness of a movie by how closely it resembles your own politics, don’t be surprised if people don’t want to see it.” Here’s my rebuttal to this theory of yours: This is from boxoffice.com. This past weekend’s report on what came out of Hollywood and what was successful.

    1. Simpsons. 71.8 million dollars. 4,000 theaters.
    2. Chuck & Larry, 18m, 3.5K theaters
    3. Harry Potter, 17m, 4k
    4. Hairspray, 15m, 3K
    5. No reservations, 12m, 2.5k
    6. Transformers, 11.5m, 3.5k
    7. Ratatouille, 7m, 3k
    8. Die Hard 3 5m, 2k
    9. I know who killed me, 3.4m, 1.3k
    10. Who’s your caddy, 3m,1k

    That, celebrim IS HOLLYWOOD. That was my point. That’s what Hollywood makes. That’s what Hollywood does. Sure, there’s some fringes that try to make meaningful relevant pictures, and among that fringe, some even have a political tint to them.

  18. Black Hawk Down, 2001
    We were Soldiers, 2002
    The Patriot, 2000
    Behind Enemy Lines, 2001
    Behind Enemy Lines II, 2006
    Gods and Generals, 2003
    Jarhead 2005

    Who needs war movies anymore when we have the History Channel although that channel doesn’t just put on programs about ‘young white soldiers who face death and danger.’

  19. #20 (Robert):

    bq. Are you insane, or are you just counting Mother Jones Magazine as the media?

    Are you dull, or are you just lazy?

    Drive-bys are discouraged here. If you care to trot out something more substantive to make your presumed point that the media are either centrist, right-wing, or something else, we are all ears (well, eyes).

    Please.

    Nort

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