Saturday, October 4, 2008

What's a "conservative" movie?

I have no intention of going to see An American Carol because the ad for it looks stupid and I don't trust any reviewer's assurance that something is "funny." People thought -- or were told -- Charlie Chaplin was funny.

But I also think that conservative writers and commentators, and conservative screenwriters and producers in Hollywood for that matter (all two of them, it seems) are wrong in even trying to support or to make a "conservative" movie. I agree that Hollywood is chock a block with left-wing people making left-wing movies, but the public by and large give these movies the treatment they deserve by ignoring them. It isn't just the last five anti-Iraq war, Susan Sarandon-type vehicles that have failed utterly at the box office. I seem to recall reading that a few years ago, when Clint Eastwood's girl boxing film Million Dollar Baby won its Oscars, the Wayans' brothers White Chicks actually grossed more than that and all the years' other lofty, artsy Oscar nominees combined. Most moviegoers want to be entertained, not dragged through a tale of misery and deep, aching meaning for their own moral good.

But there's another reason why I have no intention of going to see An American Carol, and it speaks to the reason why manufactured "conservative" films are useless. I understand that it's a satire on Michael Moore. Why should I go see a film making fun of Michael Moore? He's not that important in my life that I need to see him mocked. In fact, what the movie amounts to is a compliment to his power. I agree that he makes tendentious, dishonest, and foolish films, but his last one didn't perform so well at the box office and he's releasing his most recent effort for free on YouTube or somewhere. Why not let it go at that?

Its theme makes An American Carol pathetic and outdated from the start. And I'm not impressed by the roster of "big name" stars in it. Perhaps I'm out of touch, but who is Kevin Farley? And talented though James Woods, Kelsey Grammer, and Leslie Nielsen are, only politeness would call them anything other than B-list performers. Jon Voight and Dennis Hopper are from another century. The stars who wouldn't touch this with a ten-foot-pole -- stars like George Clooney, who I gather is also a butt of the film's jokes -- will smile at its compliment to their stature.

Maybe the very reason why someone like James Woods doesn't seem to work much is because he's a blackballed conservative, and that's why it is all the more important that "we" support his sticking his neck out for the kinds of films he's willing to act in and the politics he espouses. But something in this equation doesn't add up. The way to make a conservative film is not to collect somewhat faded stars and then have them fall all over themselves reacting to and confirming the Hollywood left's belief that it is the most serious and important thing in everyone's daily life. Rush Limbaugh plugged the film and noted that "it's not long." No, I daresay it isn't. The implication, unfortunately, is that there is not much for a conservative film to say. Susan Sarandon would smile, too.

Then what makes a "liberal" film? A negative message, certainly, a reflexively anti-authority or anti-American message, or a theme involving liberal or, more correctly, progressive creeds that are not to be questioned: the weeping splendor of gay rights, the tragedy of melting Arctic ice. But no one can therefore flip the coin and make a conservative film about -- what? Patriotic, religious characters who hunt or stay married or start up a small business? Hollywood, in making "liberal" movies, simply makes good movies about characters who are struggling with some kind of problem or confronting some kind of injustice or evil. Of course it's tendentious that the evil usually stems from America or big business or the military, but still each individual plot line is technically plausible on its own. I'm sure In the Valley of Elah was made because its producers and stars are left-wingers who loathe George Bush and wanted to instruct us all, but the story -- grieving parents of a soldier, I think -- is humanly creditable. Antigone (not that I compare the two in all ways) is also a humanly creditable story of people struggling with each other and with authority, fate, decisions, law, and grief.

An even putatively right-wing film has got to be so different that it must set aside any story, and grapple hard with agenda first. This is especially out of character for conservatives, who tend not to want to govern the universe through progressive groupthink anyway. Laissez-faire, Don't Tread On Me, and so on. How do "we" get our agenda across? In contemplating this challenge, we approach propaganda already and the game, the game the left has mastered and which we are playing on their field, is lost already. The Hollywood left makes effortless propaganda partly because it can always point to its films as art first. No story of conflict is ever inherently left- or right-wing. And of course, its films are A-list art because the progressive idea fueling them all seems to attract to the soundstage the wealthiest and stupidest and most sheltered and most glamorous A-list artists of all. It's called self-reinforcement, I suppose.

So what could a conservative film be, and how do "we" make or support them? I say, relax. Movies are meant to be entertaining, and when they don't entertain we reject them handily. White Chicks was a conservative film. So was Titanic. So were those in my new favorite series, Die Hard -- although it's too bad some dopey left-wing screenwriter had the kid in Die Hard 4 pontificate, unanswered, about "FEMA taking five days to get water to the Superdome" after Hurricane Katrina. (Yes, kid, very good! And why? FEMA had no economic incentive to get water to the Superdome. They're a liberal government agency whose balance sheets and pay scales don't depend on satisfying customers, not like the terrible greedy capitalists. Now hand me that gun. Next!)

And An American Carol, a conservative film? Let's hope not. Will it do well at the box office? My guess is no, because conservative moviegoers don't rack up weekend "must-see, must-love" lists which they then wear as a badge of advanced moral understanding, like an Obama "Hope" button. Also -- no, because it's probably as dumb as it looks.

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