Rightwingers and Art don’t mix.

Monday, November 12th, 2007 @ 9:27 pm | Clueless Conservatives, Culture

Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog echoes my feelings on art and politics.

Yeah, Lions for Lambs and Rendition and In the Valley of Elah are flopping — but so are Things We Lost in the Fire and Reservation Road and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Hollywood is good at making blockbusters and cartoons, and it thought it was good at making dour films with big stars that win Oscars and (despite the huge salaries of the big stars) make a reasonable amount of money. It isn’t, or at least right now it isn’t.

Hell, I’m a liberal and I don’t even see most of these movies. If the reviews are poor (as they are for most of this year’s crop), I stay away. I don’t care if the political point of view jibes with mine. I get news from newspapers and radio and TV and the Internet. I don’t get it from fictional films. A lousy movie is a lousy movie, even if it has my politics.

I was only tempted to watch In the Valley of Elah, among the three, but I decided to wait for video. Apparently Rendition is a bit of a bore and Lions for Lambs is further proof that Redford has been burned out for some time. The guy had a nice run, let him spiral into irrelevance peacefully.

Art is not meant to be something that tells you what you already believe. Art is supposed to communicate meaning through technique. The more profound the meaning, the more astounding the technique, the higher it ascends within our souls. Art, however, may choose to depict the world through a person’s eyes, and every person is flawed. Art may tell you about terrible people, but it may serve to merely open a window into that horror, not necessarily endorse it. As Roger Ebert notes, (paraphrased) “it’s not so much what a movie is about, but how it is about it.” Or better yet, Oscar Wilde:

“There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are either well written, or badly written. That is all.”

That’s why I read and love the novels of James Ellroy. The man is a stone cold psychotic racist rightwinger in many respects, except he has the genius to put it in the place it belongs, in ball-bustingly exciting hard-boiled crime fiction that drags you directly into the fevered minds of his obsessive anti-heroes who float above the law. Yes, they spurt the word “nigger” every five words, but Ellroy is really just being brutally honest. His books are so well written that the power of his talent just makes you laugh with dizziness. What does Art do if not evoke?

Of course, I don’t see any right-wingers making star-spangled blockbusters, either. What’s the problem? Why isn’t there a Fox News of Hollywood? (Why isn’t it, er, Fox?)

Hollywood is a town of immense capital calculation. If a movie can make money, they’ll give it a shot. Oh, they don’t like your shitty rightwing propaganda tract? Get in line with the rest of the failed writers. Just because Hollywood passed on Mel Gibson’s plan to shoot a Jesus movie in a foreign language with no stars doesn’t mean they had an agenda. The stories of missed opportunities in Hollywood are longer than the stories of success. Did you know Mel Gibson turned down the title role in The Terminator?

The shelves at Blockbuster are lined with low-budget flicks that get distributed, some of which are rightwing religious crack like the Left Behind movies. Rush Limbaugh could take one year’s salary and fund dozens of such films. If there’s a great rightwing script that nobody’ll film, and you can explain to me how it’s more special than the thousands of other scripts written in today’s market that go nowhere, I’d love to hear about it. What’s the budget? Megachurch pastors live on multi-million dollar estates and you monkeys can’t budget a film, which you think is going to be insanely profitable because “Normal Americans” will flock to it?

Steven Spielberg was hailed for his one-two punch of Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, which did much to define the public consciousness and reignite passions towards WWII. Years later he did Munich, which made the mistake of depicting Israel in a way that deviated from Likud propaganda. Spielberg was tossed into the fire, described as a liberal self-hating Jew who just made a movie to bash Israel.

How can an artist who merely pursues the truth of storytelling ever fit into a rightwing mold? Life is so much bigger than what they see. The rightwinger wishes to push certain things out of sight, certain uncomfortable truths that will make him/her think. The artist wishes to depict ever new facets of Truth. Compatibility between the two is strained and rarely profitable.

-jb

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