What Liberal Hollywood? postsThursday October 27, 2011
Who is the Most Filmed Character Ever?
I was writing a review of “Margin Call” the other day, a good film with a great cast, and considered for a moment Paul Bettany's name in the cast list. IMDb.com informs us that he's best known for “A Beautiful Mind,” “Master and Commander,” and “The Da Vinci Code.” I loved him in each of these and expected big things from him. But “A Beautiful Mind” was 10 years ago, “Da Vinci” five, and he kept appearing in movies I had no interest in seeing (“Priest,” “Legion,” “Inkheart”). Then IMDb reminded me he had recently played Charles Darwin in “Creation.” “Was this the one that was never distributed in the U.S.?” I wondered. “The one Christian fundamentalists had a problem with?”
So I clicked on the character link.
While the answer to my initial question was yes, probably, I soon forgot all about it when I realized the following:
Charles Darwin wasn't portrayed on film until 1972.
Immediately, the usual “What Liberal Hollywood?” hackles were raised in me. The man who changed our 20th and 21st century worldview was ignored for the first eight decades of film? Not even a walk-on in someone else's story? Not even a “Bewitched” episode? And he's only been portrayed a total of 21 times? And this from an industry that's condemned daily as “liberal”?
That rant led to this thought:OK, how many times has Jesus Christ been portrayed on film?
Answer? 350 times, starting in 1897 with “The Horwitz Passion Play,” which starred Jordan Willochko as the Son of God. But that answer immediately led to this question:
Hey, is Jesus the most portrayed character in movie history?
Eventually I asked Patricia for her thoughts. In five seconds, she gave me this, but in the negative: “I don't think it's Santa Claus...” she began.
No, it is Santa Claus. 814 times.
Wouldn't it be nice, though, if IMDb had a sort function beyond what it currently offers—particularly if one could further sort by “movies,” “TV,” “Made-for-TV movies”? Instead, the site gives us user-created lists. We may never find out who the most filmed character in movie history is, but we do get to read blahXblahXblah's list of the 204 “Hottest Actresses”!
What do you think? Are Santa and Jesus it? Or has another character been portrayed more often?
Robin Hood is a piker compared to Jesus Christ and Santa Claus.
ADDENDUM: After all that, it turns out there is another....
Never Compromise: Hollywood and the Right-Wing
Jeff Wells talks up the latest poster for “The Iron Lady,” Meryl Streep's biopic of Margaret Thatcher, and its tagline, “Never compromise,” and riffs on all the anti-Obamaites in Congress who would agree with that slogan, who would rather “pull down the temple than be responsible legislators,” and concludes, even as he admits he's going to like the hell out of Streep, “no heart-swelling emotional currents for Meryl's Maggie Thatcher...not from this corner, at least.”
What all of that reminds me of, again—again, again, again—is how the right-wing in this country borrows the tropes of Hollywood heroes (“never compromise”) even as it disparages Hollywood.
Sure, this time it's slightly different, since the uncompromising hero, or heroine, is in fact a politician, and a right-wing politician, rather than John Wayne, or Bruce Willis, or Arnold. But she's still being viewed through that Hollywood and PR prism. And it raises the question:
Why does the tagline, “Never compromise,” appeal to us?
Immediate answer: Because most of us, poor wretches in the audience or in the voting booth, compromise all the time. We spend our lives compromising: with parents, with partners, with bosses; with expectations, with kids, with corporations; with life. Life for us is one compromise after another. Only life doesn't compromise back. (And Death is even worse.) We feel like we're the saps in all this.
That's why we go to the movies in the first place: to see that uncompromising hero or heroine. It's a wish-fulfillment fantasy, as surely as watching a man fly is a wish-fulfillment fantasy, and that's fine as long as we don't take the fantasy with us as we leave the theater.
But more and more of us are doing just that. We're taking that fantasy, now generated by the GOP—the less entertaining, right-wing version of Hollywood—into the voting booth and voting for the man who claims he never compromises. Which is as silly as going into the voting booth and voting for the candidate who claims he can fly.
What Liberal Hollywood? Anna Faris and the Laws of Date Night
A few weeks ago, in the April 11 edition of The New Yorker, there was a good article by Tad Friend on the comedic actress, and Washington state native, Anna Faris, which didn't seem to get much attention in the blogosphere—other than a curt dismissal on Hollywood Elsewhere—because it was only available in the digital and print editions. It wasn't online. It wasn't free.
But the best part of the article wasn't the stuff on Faris so much as the stuff on women, comedy and movies in general. The writer lists off the almighty Laws of Date Night that keep women and comedy separate and unequal:
- Men rule. (I.e., they pick the movie.)
- Men are simple. Don't confuse them. (Unnamed producer: “Men just don't understand the nuances of female dynamics.”)
- If a woman is the star, it better be a romantic comedy. (Tad Friend: “Unless she is Angelina Jolie.”)
- Women don't have to be funny. (Preston Sturges: “A pretty girl is better than an ugly one.”)
- Also, women aren't funny. (David Zucker: “Maybe women have a built-in dignity...”)
- Really, they're not. (Kennan Ivory Wayans: “If Will Ferrell was a girl, and she's got a belly and a hairy back, she's not running down the street naked.”)
I gained newfound (firstfound?) respect for Seth Rogen, Feris' co-star in “Observe and Report,” who observed (and reported), “If 'Pineapple Express' had been about two girls, they wouldn't have made it. And if I were a woman I wouldn't have a career.”
Friend contrasts female comedians in movies with female comedians on TV, where they're doing just fine, thank you, but the discussion reminded me, yet again, how unliberal Hollywood is in practice. Liberalism means feminism, or includes feminism, and yet what's feminist about 99 percent of the product coming out of Hollywood? Nothing. The opposite. Hollywood isn't even conservative on the matter. It's Confucian.
Hollywood Values: Patriotism
“[Adolph] Zukor, like so many of the Hollywood Jews, had used [World War I] as an opportunity to prove his patriotism; visiting Frank Wilson, director of publicity of the Liberty Loan program, which raised money from bond sales, he announced that the industry was happy 'to show its patriotism [and] to prove beyond all question its worth to the Government as well as to the people of the United States,' as if these had been at issue. The Jews mobilized the entire industy; Lasky and De Mille, now headquartered in California, even formed a Paramount brigade that marched up and down the studio grounds with prop rifles in preparedness.”
—Neal Gabler, “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood,” pp. 39-40
Why Harry Can't Read Rights
So the main argument in yesterday's post was that the product of Hollywood, far from being liberal, is actually conservative, and, despite cries from the right about Hollyweird, on the left coast, being run by—as Sean Penn humorously put it in his Oscar acceptance speech last year—“commie, homo-lovin' sons of guns,” the movies have actually helped conservativism. The movies, which are often simple and absolutist (good vs. evil), help conservatives, who are also simple and absolutist, more than they help liberals, who are sometimes simple but rarely absolutist.
A good example is how the right frames the left's response to terrorism. If you're against torture, and in favor of putting terrorists, or alleged terrorists, on trial instead of holding them indefinitely or forever, you're impugned as wanting to “read the terrorists their rights.” Three days ago, in fact, the Obama administration announced the capture, in a joint raid by the ISI, Pakistan's Secret Service, and the CIA, of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's no. 2 man and main military strategist. That's huge. The fact that the Pakistani Secret Service is involved is huger. And the right's response? From Powerline:
That's great, and we sincerely congratulate the administration on this accomplishment. We can't help noting, though: why didn't they pay for a lawyer and read Baradar his rights?
Google “Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar” and “read him his rights” and, as of this morning, you'll get 161 responses. Google “read the terrorists their rights” and you'll get over 33,000 responses.
And where does this sneering attitude about reading people their rights come from? The movies. Liberal Hollywood. The most famous example is in “Dirty Harry.” Scorpio, the giggling homicidal killer based upon San Francisco's Zodiac killer, says it first:
Scorpio: You tried to kill me.
Dirty Harry: If I tried that your head would be splattered all over this field. Now, where's the girl?
Scorpio: [cries] I- I have rights.
But when Harry brings him in, the evidence is inadmissible:
District Attorney: You're lucky I'm not indicting you for assault with intent to commit murder.
Dirty Harry: What?
District Attorney: Where the hell does it say that you've got a right to kick down doors, torture suspects, deny medical attention and legal counsel? Where have you been? Does Escobedo ring a bell? Miranda? I mean, you must have heard of the Fourth Amendment. What I'm saying is that man had rights.
Dirty Harry: Well, I'm all broken up over that man's rights!
It's not just “Dirty Harry,” either. No modern action movie about cops dealing with killers would take anything less than a hardline attitude toward Miranda rights. The phrase has become a code for being soft on crime.
The right-wing's “reading the terrorists their rights” sneer is effective, in other words, because it's already embedded in U.S. society... through the movies...which the right-wing attacks as Un-American. It would be laughable if it weren't so hypocritical.