The Unz Review Staff
(”An Inconvenient Truth” is briefly mentioned in this.)
Two of the most important problems that the so-called Green New Deal will attempt to solve at the cost of incalculable trillions are global warming and its consequences, including drought, famine, floods and massive starvation. You may recall that Obama in his 2015 State of the Union speech declared that the greatest threat facing us...
(Review Source)
Taki Mag Staff
(”An Officer and a Spy” is briefly mentioned in this.)
As the political races of 2020 emerge, we’re going to see some remarkably weird and hilarious ads. The first to receive that nod belongs to Valerie Plame. The former spy has filmed something that looks less like a candidacy announcement and more like a reboot of Jennifer Garner’s spy show Alias. You might recall that […]
(Review Source)
Annihilation
Intolerant
‘Annihilation’ starring Natalie Portman had me excited, as it is the same writer and director that did ‘Ex Machina,’ an amazing film. Unfortunately ‘Annihilation’ did not meet these expectations. Disregarding the poor scientific explanations (like a character turning into a … Continue reading
(Review Source)
Anonymous
The American Conservative Staff
(”Anonymous” is briefly mentioned in this.)
Hey, I can understand why some people are really interested in the theory that William Shakespeare was not really the author of plays attributed to him, that he was the literary beard for someone else. I don’t care, but I can see why literature professors and theatergoers would find this topic worthwhile. I hope they enjoy the film “Anonymous,” which opens this weekend, though it sounds to me like Dan Brown for English majors. But I gotta say: Really? I can’t imagine that this film, with Vanessa Redgrave and other top-flight English actors, was cheap to make. Does the studio really expect to make a penny on this thing? How big could the audience possibly be? I’m always up for a good British costume drama, but … this? What am I not getting? Help me here. ]]>
(Review Source)
Apollo 11
American Renaissance

Dare we celebrate the achievements of white men?

The post Apollo 11 and the America That Was appeared first on American Renaissance.

(Review Source)
The Unz Review Staff
I just got off Skype with Kevin Barrett. Interviewed, I sat in the dusty office of our dustier plastic recycling plant. Truck horns and roosters crowing provided background noises. Though we covered many topics, I want to expand on just one, that of America as a religion. Unless you’re a reactionary, assbackward a*****e, you believe...
(Review Source)
Apollo 13
American Renaissance
(”Apollo 13” is briefly mentioned in this.)

Dare we celebrate the achievements of white men?

The post Apollo 11 and the America That Was appeared first on American Renaissance.

(Review Source)
American Renaissance
(”Apollo 13” is briefly mentioned in this.)

A journey to Wakanda is more important than one to the moon.

The post The 2019 Oscars Honor Multicultural Fantasy over Racial Reality appeared first on American Renaissance.

(Review Source)
The American Conservative Staff
(”Apollo 13” is briefly mentioned in this.)
Usually, when I do these (too infrequent) double feature features, I connect one current film with a film from the back catalog: “The King’s Speech” with “Richard III,” or “Tree of Life” with “A Serious Man.” But every now and again, Hollywood serves up two movies that are obviously intended by fate to be seen together. This year is one such, and the pairing is “Gravity,” directed by Alfonso Cuarón (director of “Children of Men” and “Y Tu Mamá También“) and “All Is Lost,” directed by J. C. Chandor (director of “Margin Call,” my favorite film about the financial crisis and, hence, a primary object of my envy since I wish I could have written a film that good). I almost don’t feel like I need to explain why. But I will anyway. “Gravity” tells the story of Sandra Bullock, rookie astronaut, struggling home to earth all on her own after space junk cripples the shuttle that brought her to orbit in the first place. Everything that can go wrong does, and at one point she gives up and prepares for death. But her final brainstorm actually works, and, amazingly, she makes it (we presume – the movie ends when she finally reaches dry land but is still far from civilization). “All Is Lost,” on the other hand, tells the story of Robert Redford, wealthy yachtsman, struggling to get back to land all on his own after sea junk (a stray shipping container) cripples the 39-foot sailboat that brought him to the middle of the Indian Ocean in the first place. Everything that can go wrong does, and at one point he gives up and prepares for death. But his final brainstorm actually works, and, amazingly, he makes it (we presume – the movie ends when he is swimming to the surface picked up). Both movies appear to be paradigmatic “man (or woman) versus wild” contests. But both are ultimately more interested in charting an internal spiritual journey than in showing an audience how human beings can win a round in the endless war against pitiless nature. It’s in the differences between those journeys, and between the two movie star protagonists, that the contrast between the films primarily lies. Where one film runs before the wind of our era, the other tacks against it. *     *     * Gravity When I saw “Gravity,” I went into the theater thinking about “Apollo 13,” the Ron Howard film about the successful effort to bring the astronauts home from a failed moon shot. That film focused on the grit and practical ingenuity of the men who made America’s adventure in space possible. It was about a set of virtues, and more specifically about watching those virtues in action. And, because it told the story of a failed mission, it was also (like “Argo,”) very much a movie about America in the 1970s, about certain classic American virtues being pressed into service to salvage as much as possible from a mission that is doomed to fail. But “Gravity” isn’t really that kind of movie – because it isn’t really interested in practical ingenuity. There’s a contradiction at the heart of “Gravity” with respect to realism. Enormous effort has been put into getting the physics right, and that effort pays off magnificently. The film is stunningly beautiful – more than that, it is sublime (to use the Burkean distinction). The opening shot, which must be something like fifteen minutes long, will leave your jaw slack, and when you’ve stopped staring you’ll realize that, amazingly, you’ve been able to keep oriented when there is no up nor down. That’s a heck of a cinematographic achievement. Even when things start to go wrong, and the frame fills with objects moving in trajectories we never see them follow on earth, we still somehow always know where we are. And then there are the little directorial choices here have a huge impact in terms of creating a feeling of realism – for example, it’s amazing how much is communicated simply by massive collisions between space ships produce no sound. Cuarón’s primary commitment in this film is to give us some sense of what movement looks like up there in orbit, and hence to what walking in space might feel like. He succeeds entirely. But what actually happens in the film requires enormous suspension of disbelief. [Spoilers follow.] Sandra Bullock’s character, Ryan Stone, doesn’t just survive being thrown from the structure where she’s working when the space debris hits. She makes her way to a space station 100 kilometers away. She crawls inside that station, only to be nearly trapped by a fire that breaks out inside. She escapes the fire into the reentry craft, and figures out how to launch the craft away from the station, only to discover that the chute, which has deployed prematurely, has gotten tangled around the struts of the station. She gets back out and frees the craft from the tangled parachute – in the middle of a hailstorm of space debris that annihilates the space station. She escapes the millions of fragments of flying debris, gets back into the spaceship, only to discover it’s out of fuel. She figures out how to jerry-rig it to fly anyway, and makes her way to yet another space station (a Chinese one). She’s got no thrusters to maneuver with, so she bails out of the ship and pilots herself successfully to that station using a fire extinguisher. She gets into the other station’s reentry vehicle, figures out how to fly it even though all instructions are in Chinese, and finally survives a reentry even though her capsule is tumbling rump over teakettle. That’s rather more than six impossible things to believe before breakfast. Which is fine – this is a movie. But the fact that Stone is able to pull off this series of wildly improbably feats tells us what kind of movie we’re in. For all it’s commitment to realism in the depiction of this strange and hostile environment, we’re not in a movie about what it takes to survive in that environment, in terms of practical knowledge or native virtues. And the proper point of comparison isn’t “Apollo 13” but “Life of Pi.” Early on in the film, we learn that Stone is emotionally dead as a consequence of the death of her young daughter. (She’s not named “Stone” for nothing.) There’s no mention of a husband or any other family; so far as we know, she is entirely alone, nobody looking up at her, waiting for her to come home. (The weakest sequences in “Apollo 13,” by the way, were the shots of the “home front” – none of the astronauts’ wives had any character, and they had nothing much to do but look worried.) But she has a mentor figure: Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), commander of her mission. He draws her out, rescues her from her space tumble, and then heroically (and completely stoically) sacrifices himself so that she might live. Kowalski’s there to remind her of a reason to live, but also to communicate the message that if you know that reason – if your soul is properly oriented – you will always either find a way to live, or face death with his extraordinary equanimity. In the most ultimate sense, your fate is entirely in your hands, and is determined by how in tune you are with the universe. He even appears later as a ghost to give her the crucial insight that enables her to finish her journey – which she finishes flying her ship essentially by intuition, without instruments (since they are all in Chinese anyway). He might as well be named Obi Wan Kenobi. Stone’s personal journey, meanwhile, is clearly signposted as such over and over again. All of the spaceships she pilots have a religious figure above what I can only think of as the dashboard (an icon on the Russian craft, a smiling Buddha on the Chinese – this cheerful ecumenical approach to religiosity is another similarity to “Life of Pi”). When Bullock first makes it into the ISS, she pulls off her space suit and gulps in the air (she had run out just before getting in), then floats, for a moment, before the airlock, in a semi-fetal position, the tube from her suit floating just behind her in the position of an umbilicus. And when she gets back to earth, she blows the hatch immediately upon landing (wouldn’t you know – there’s another fire) and has to escape the capsule into the ocean, shed her space suit skin, and swim to shore. A verdantly Edenic shore – but uninhabited. That emptiness is not an accident. For all that Stone’s journey is supposedly about re-awakening to human connection – getting over the loss of her daughter and finding someone to look up at her and hope that she comes home safely – solitude is fundamental to her journey. The stoic Kowalski, though he won’t stop talking for even a second, is ultimately self-sufficient enough to be content to die gazing at the beauty of the Ganges (note, not the Amazon or the Danube, but a religiously potent river) from space. And one doesn’t get the feeling that he has anybody looking up at him, hoping he’ll come home. At the end, Stone is alive again, and the world is alive as well; she’s no longer in the cold darkness of space. But she is defiantly solitary. Because she’s found what she needs inside her. *     *     * All Is Lost It’s not incidental that an essential self-sufficiency – cheerful, adaptable, ready for any challenge – is our civilization’s paramount economic virtue. And it’s what the Robert Redford character embodies at the start of “All Is Lost,” a radically different film from “Gravity” even though it has a very similar premise. Redford is the only person in the film, and he present himself as quite thoroughly self-sufficent – he must be, or he wouldn’t be sailing the middle of the Indian Ocean without a crew. And he doesn’t even paint a volleyball to talk to; there is virtually no dialogue, far less than in “Gravity,” a film that takes place in a world without air and, hence, without sound. (I assume that a major motivation for Chandor to make this film was just to see if it could be done – to make a nearly dialogue-free, one-man movie. Kudos to him even for trying, but the more impressive fact is that he succeeded.) He’s self-motivated as well – he is not in the middle of the ocean performing any social function, or on any assignment. He’s there because he’s there. In any event, he is alone, and plainly considers himself sufficient as such. And we know that he is supposed to be a representative character, a symbol of our age, right from his name. Which he doesn’t have. In the script, he’s known simply as “Our Man.” What kind of man he is we have to infer, because, unlike “Gravity,” “All Is Lost” declines to give us any backstory. We open on a calm sea in flat, bleak light, and hear Robert Redford in voice over reading a last letter to – well, we don’t know to whom; he names no wife, no children. It is addressed, it would seem, to the universe at large. And it’s an apology, but Our Man doesn’t say what he’s sorry for, what he did wrong or to whom. He says with some pride that he fought until the end, but he wonders whether that means anything. All he knows is that he’s sorry. The letter is almost a perfect inversion of the sentiment on which Ryan Stone concludes her journey. But, as we flash back to the accident that put Our Man adrift, details accumulate that enable us to infer what kind of man he is. His ship is a late-1970s-era yacht, nicely appointed but not particularly up to date. This is a wealthy man, but not a billionaire, and a man who harkens back to an earlier era, when he was in his prime. He wakes to seawater pouring in through a hole in the hull, and ruining his electronics – none of which are waterproof; our first indication that this is not a man actually prepared for any eventuality. It’s a bad break, but Our Man doesn’t panic. He investigates the hole – his sailboat was hulled by an errant shipping container of sneakers. He gets the sailboat off the container and sets to work, methodically, setting the ship right – patching the hull, pumping out the water, and rinsing the salt out of his ruined radio. Then, climbing the mast to repair a broken circuit, Our Man spots a storm coming. He battens down the hatches – and then he shaves, expertly enough that there’s not a nick on him. The shaving scene is crucial for telling us what kind of man this is. He is not shaving to make an impression on anybody else (as, if I may juxtapose the sublime and the ridiculous, Crocodile Dundee did); he’s not preening for the cameras like a character on a Discovery Channel show. (I suspect many will come to this movie expecting a version of that kind of ersatz survivalism – more to the point, I wonder whether Our Man came up with the idea for this voyage by watching too much Bear Grylls.) Because there is nobody else there, nobody to impress but himself. This is a man, the gesture says, of stable habits that have served him well, that he doesn’t intend to abandon in a moment of crisis, and also a man of some personal vanity. And this is the moment that tells us: this man is not going to make it. It’s been fascinating to read the comments by experienced sailors on this film, because they are generally contemptuous of Our Man, calling him a weekend sailor, in over his head, and making one rookie mistake after another. As a non-sailor, I couldn’t possibly see most of these, but it was clear to me watching the film that we were not supposed to infer Our Man’s great skill so much as we were to infer his calm self-confidence – true self-confidence, not mere arrogance. This is a man who has seen successfully through many crises before. It makes sense that he assumes he can handle this one. It also makes sense that he would make rookie mistakes, because he is in over his head. But he makes them calmly, confidently, making the best decisions he knows how all along the way. Another difference: “All Is Lost” is much less invested in showing us the extraordinary environment of the ocean than “Gravity” is in showing us space. That’s partly a function of the different vantage point you have in orbit versus on the ocean’s surface, but it’s also a difference in the stories being told. In “Gravity” we get lots of panoramic footage that places us in context, that displays all the splendor of Earth, the cold vastness of the heavens, and the fragile elegance of our creations that hover between. We have the filmmaker’s God’s-eye view of reality. In “All Is Lost,” by contrast, the camera stays on Redford nearly all of the time, and so we experience the storm from an entirely human vantage point. When Our Man gets tossed overboard, we go over with him, and frankly we can’t see much. When the yacht is overturned by a particularly ferocious wave, we’re below decks with Our Man; the picture tumbles as the floor becomes the ceiling and then the floor again, but we don’t see the vessel dismasted – an obvious shot for a movie about a storm and shipwreck – until Our Man comes up and sees the damage himself. Budgetary considerations were undoubtedly one reason for that choice, but Chandor makes a virtue of necessity. He doesn’t personify nature as an antagonist. Nature is just reality. Once his sailboat is wrecked, Our Man abandons ship into an inflatable life raft, and hopes for rescue. He charts his drift into the shipping lanes between East Asia and the Cape, and stands at the ready when he’s in the zone. But he’s rebuffed by two enormous container ships (the vessels responsible for his desperate situation in the first place) that pass extremely close to his little raft; nobody even notices his flares. It’s perhaps too direct a symbol – the indifference of commerce to anyone tossed overboard – and I wondered: isn’t anybody ever on deck on these ships? But perhaps that’s really the point: there’s almost no crew, and nobody is on deck. The economic system is more like pitiless nature than like anything human. His last hope lost, Our Man prepares for death by sending his empty final message in the proverbial glass vessel (a jar in this case rather than a bottle). And then, an unexpected hope flickers. In the middle of a dark night, he sees a light on the water. He has only one flare left, and, clearly worried it will be insufficient, he lights a fire, setting the lifeboat itself aflame, and jumps into the water. Before the fire is even out, he sinks below the surface, clearly exhausted, and watches the circle of fire and the echoing circle of the moon from below as he sinks. The image is striking, and clearly intended as a symbol – it was the first image in the film to hit me that way, and for that reason it jarred. And, lo and behold, the fire trick works. A small (human-scale) boat comes to rescue him, and, surprised by his sudden good fortune, Our Man swims to the surface, and to safety. It is, again, a reversal of the progression in “Gravity.” Where Ryan Stone learned self-sufficiency from a kind of stoic, that with enough confidence and grit you can overcome any obstacle (or face death calmly when there truly is no way), Our Man learns, finally, his utter insufficiency. He faces death not calmly, but exhausted, emptied, having burned his last earthly refuge and surrendered to the waves. And then, when he has finally given up, he’s saved. I admit, I wasn’t crazy about that ending. It felt like a note of grace that was unconnected to the rest of the film, which didn’t traffic in those kinds of quasi-theological notions. Our Man is deluded about his self-sufficiency, yes, but I didn’t think he was deluded about the pitilessness of the universe. To put it another way, I’m pretty sure Werner Herzog would have let him drown. But if we must carry around a “notion” about the universe, the idea that we have to surrender our earthly hopes to experience the gratitude of salvation sits better with me than the uplift of “Gravity.” ]]>
(Review Source)
The American Conservative Staff
(”Apollo 13” is briefly mentioned in this.)
I finally got around to seeing “Argo” earlier this week, and was astounded at how thoroughly it failed (in my view) to measure up to the considerable hype. I’d been fairly warned not to expect much from Affleck’s performance, but his flatness was only part of the problem. What, ultimately, is this movie about? In case you haven’t heard, “Argo” is a “thriller” about the successful exfiltration of six embassy staff from Iran during the hostage crisis. The six escape the American embassy just before the Iranian mob bursts in, and flee to the Canadian ambassador’s residence, where they wait for weeks for somebody to do something to get them out of there. The CIA cavalry (Ben Affleck) comes to the rescue just in time, as the Iranian authorities are busily putting the pieces together necessary to discover and then find the missing six, which would undoubtedly mean their heads on pikes. But the cavalry comes on a pretty strange horse: a plan to sneak the staffers out disguised as a Canadian film crew scouting possible locations for a “Star Wars” knockoff. “Best bad idea” though it is, it turns out to be good enough, and home we go. I put “thriller” in quotes because there aren’t many thrills to be had. Affleck (the director) goes instead for precisely modulated tension, which is more rewarding but tougher to achieve. Our heroes don’t generally have to do anything clever in response to obstacles thrown at them – instead, they get through basically by brazening it out and not giving up. This should have been fine for me. I prefer a realistic approach to the bloated action of a typical thriller. In fact, I don’t tend to watch many thrillers, preferring character-driven pieces. But there wasn’t much in the way of character development either. There’s no real internal conflict within Affleck’s CIA operative. There’s no real conflict between him and his bosses – except briefly, when they try to call the operation off, and he goes ahead anyway. There’s no real conflict between the Canadians and the Americans, or between the American staffers in hiding. There’s a bit of conflict between Affleck and one of the staffers – and, of course, the staffer who doesn’t trust Affleck winds up saving the day at the last minute by sweet-talking the Revolutionary Guard officer at the airport in Farsi – but that conflict is limited to “I don’t trust you;” it doesn’t go any further or have any ramifications. Affleck has some kind of conflict with his wife – when we meet him, he’s “taking time out” from his marriage, and at the end he returns to her – but we don’t know what the conflict is or how it’s resolved. The Hollywood scenes could have been an opportunity for conflict between Affleck and himself, or between Affleck and the Hollywood people, but nothing of the sort materializes, and any satire of Hollywood is extremely tame. We don’t even really get a sense of whether Affleck is titillated, amused, impatient in dealing with these people from outside his normal sphere. There isn’t even any real conflict between America and Iran. We see period clips of Americans furious at the hostage-taking, and we see Iranians furious at America’s historic support for the oppressive Pahlavi regime, but none of the actual characters behave as if there is any reason for America and Iran to be in conflict. It’s just very unfortunate that we’re in this mess, and the Americans we see just want to find an honorable way out. And that unobjectionable sentiment is what I ultimately concluded this movie is about. Affleck (as director) saw the opportunity to make a patriotic film essentially without enemies. The conflict with Iran isn’t the fault of anybody on screen, and nobody on screen defends the behavior of earlier American administrations that are implicitly blamed for creating the mess. It’s just an inherited problem, and we get to cheer these six escaping with their lives. It’s like “Apollo 13” with the Iranians playing the deadly vacuum of outer space. And with no moon. And that’s the problem. I think Affleck avoided ginning up conflict between the staffers in hiding (the usual reason you lock people in a room together in a movie), avoided creating a “Die Hard”-style conflict and reconciliation between Affleck and the wife, avoided letting Hollywood satire take over the movie, etc. because he didn’t want these Hollywood tropes to distract from the serious heart of the movie. And I applaud him for that. But where is that heart? What is the larger context within which this drama plays out, and which gives the drama meaning? This is a movie from 2012, so the larger context today is the American position in the Middle East. If you believe that this position is primarily the fruit of foolish or malign decisions by previous administrations, and that we basically need to judiciously extricate ourselves without getting ourselves killed, then this movie “works” as a metaphor. But the absence of a “moon” – of any sense of what the mission was that failed, and that we now need to extricate people from, which is part of how the movie avoids offending anyone – deprives that message of any emotional punch, and turns the movie into something more akin to a campaign ad. How effective an ad is it? Well, I’ve argued in the past that the Obama Administration is just trying to surf the tides in the Middle East, and is under no illusions that it is in control (or could be in control) of events. And I agree with them in this. But it’s probably not ideal to use an incident from the Carter Administration to make a similar point. In the end, I think Affleck made a mistake not directing this as an absurdist comedy with a serious edge, instead of playing it so straight. The comic potential in the premise is so obvious, I have to assume he saw that potential, but turned away from it. But what America really needs when we contemplate the mess we’re in isn’t inoffensive uplift, but a good laugh. ]]>
(Review Source)
The Unz Review Staff
(”Apollo 13” is briefly mentioned in this.)
John Glenn’s passing at the age of 95 is just another reminder that the era of infinite possibility is sadly passing away. Glenn, a Marine fighter pilot in WWII and Korea, was the first American to orbit the earth in 1962. And with Glenn’s death goes the possibility of refuting one of the stranger tales born in the Current Year and poised to become the definitive story of the Mercury and Apollo missions: the Christmas Day-scheduled movie Hidden Figures’“untold true story” that black women were the real force behind America’s space exploration. In the book on which the movie is based, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly, Glenn is quoted as having said this of Katherine Johnson, the black female brain allegedly behind NASA‘s greatest glories. ““Get the girl to check the numbers,” said the astronaut. If she says the numbers are good, he told them, I’m ready to go.” Glenn was supposedly asking for one more check before his flight into space—a review of the orbital trajectory generated by the IBM 7090 computer. With Glenn’s death, we will never know if this conversation ever took place. But it is part of an insistent revisionist history of NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration], which was in fact almost entirely staffed by whites until the Apollo program was shuttered in the early 1970s. Historians of the space program recognize the awful truth: NASA, along with the companies that performed contract work during Apollo, was a reflection of society’s workforce in the late 1960s—mostly white, mostly male. [Apollo Moon Missions: The Unsung Heroes, by Billy Watkins,2006, p. 79] But NASA’s website now reports that Katherine Johnson, a blue-eyed, light-skinned black female, calculated the trajectory for Alan Shepard, the first American in space…even after NASA began using electronic computers, John Glenn requested that she personally recheck the calculations made by the new electronic computers before his flight aboard Friendship 7—the mission on which he became the first American to orbit the Earth.” [Katherine Johnson: The Girl Who Loved to Count, NASA.gov, November 24, 2015] The primarily white Main Stream Media began frenetic virtue-signaling with the #OscarsSoWhite movement. This helped spawned a bidding war over the “true” story of how a lone black female helped fulfill John F. Kennedy’s promise of putting a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s: And Fox 2000 and Chernin are developing Hidden Figures, a movie about the African-American women who helped NASA launch its first space missions (Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer recently were cast). [Hollywood’s Casting Blitz: It’s All About Diversity in the Wake of #OscarsSoWhite, by Rebecca Ford, Hollywood Reporter, March 2, 2016] But the recent canonization of Katherine Johnson and her “untold” contributions to NASA’s incredible achievements (think about it: the Wright brothers were the first humans to fly in 1903, NASA landed men on the moon only 66 years later) stretches credulity. Why isn’t Johnson mentioned in John Glenn’s John Glenn: A Memoir or Alan Shepard’s Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America’s Race to the Moon? Why does Charles Murray not mention her in his seminal book on the Apollo program (co-authored with Katherine Murray), Apollo: Race to the Moon? Why is Johnson not mentioned in Tom Wolfe’s epic The Right Stuff,documenting the sensational story of NASA’s first astronaut group, the all-white Mercury 7. Why, especially oddly, is Johnson not mentioned in We Could Not Fail: The First African Americans in the Space Program. Why was Johnson not mentioned in either Jet or Ebony magazine, two black magazines that spent the 1960s and 1970s simultaneously lamenting the lack of blacks at NASA and celebrating any minor achievements of blacks in the space program. (Finally, she appeared May 23, 2005 issue of Jet: A physicist, space scientist, and mathematician, Katherine Johnson gained a minute in the national glare in 1970 when she was instrumental in formulating calculations that helped the crippled Apollo 13 return home safely. U.S. Rep. Eddie B. Johnson Pushes Resolution To Support Black Women In Science & Technology Curiously, the Jet article acknowledges “very little literature documents African American women and their place in science”). Why, given her alleged role in the Apollo 13 drama, does Johnson not appear in Jim Lovell’s autobiographical Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13(subsequently made into the Tom Hanks movie, Apollo 13). Why does Gene Kranz, the Flight Director of NASA famously played by Ed Harris in Apollo 13, fail to mention Katherine Johnson in his autobiography Failure is Not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond? Why, perhaps most significantly, does Johnson not appear in Harlem Princess: The Story of Harry Delaney’s Daughter, the autobiography of Ruth Bates Harris? Harris, who took the job of Deputy Assistant Administrator for Equal opportunity for NASA in 1972, famously said, “I saw no minorities or women as astronauts. Could I help make a difference?” Harris waged a war to get more blacks involved with NASA, which was a paltry 5.6 percent non-white in 1973 versus a government agency average of 20 percent minority. [Societal Impact of Spaceflight, 2007, PDF] Why does Johnson not appear in Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories, by the black actress Nichelle Nichols, who played the part of Lt. Uhura in the iconic TV series Star Trek? Nichols waged a personal crusade against the overwhelming white nature of NASA, giving a speech in 1977, “New Opportunities for the Humanization of Space,” lamenting how white the space agency was and how this was dehumanizing to nonwhites. Many leading white liberals in the 1960s wanted to find a way to put a black into space. Edward R. Murrow wrote a letter to James E. Webb, then the Administrator of NASA reading thus: September 21, 1961 Dear Jim, Why don’t we put the first non-white man in space? If your boys were to enroll and train a qualified Negro and then fly him in whatever vehicle is available, we could retell our whole space effort to the whole non-white world, which is most of it. As ever, Yours, Edward R. Murrow Just last year, after Katherine Johnson was awarded the Medal Of Freedom by President Obama, she named “West Virginian of the Year” and these strange words were written about her: Johnson’s achievements, despite their significance, went largely unnoticed. “No one knows that John Glenn wouldn’t fly unless Katherine Johnson checked the math,” Megan Smith, the White House chief technology officer, said in October. “It’s an amazing story, and it’s totally unknown.” Johnson was never mentioned in the New York Times or the Washington Post before this year. She is nowhere to be found in ‘This New Ocean,’ NASA’s comprehensive internal history of Project Mercury. Before 2015, the Charleston Gazette and Daily Mail wrote about her exactly once. The story appeared in the Gazette in 1977 to note that she had been honored by the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum in Philadelphia. It did not mention NASA. It was five sentences long. “We’re in a country that sometimes we have revisionist history, and if you go look at history books, lots of times there aren’t African-Americans in there,” said Leland Melvin, a former space shuttle astronaut. “It’s so easy to just have an omission and play up the people and things that you want to make prominent.” During the Mercury and Apollo missions, that meant playing up the stereotype of the first seven astronauts. “Back then, you were a test pilot with a crew cut,” Melvin said. “The original seven, Life Magazine with the wives and the Corvettes — there wasn’t room for anyone else in that dialogue.” [West Virginian of the Year: Katherine G. Johnson, Charleston Gazette Mail, by David Gutman, December 26, 2015. Link in original]. Let’s be honest: the only “revisionist” history going on right now is the push to have Americans in 2016 believe a black woman was key to NASA’s putting a man on the moon. Minority Occupied America may not put men on the moon. But it can hype Politically Correct myths, Paul Kersey[Email him] is the author of the blog SBPDL, and has published the books SBPDL Year One, Hollywood in Blackface and Escape From Detroit, Opiate of America: College Football in Black and White and Second City Confidential: The Black Experience in Chicagoland. His latest book is The Tragic City: Birmingham 1963-2 013. ]]>
(Review Source)
Aquaman
Nick J. Fuentes
(Review Source)
Nick J. Fuentes
(Review Source)
Argo
The American Conservative Staff
Uncategorized Culture The 2013 Academy Awards are now on the books, and the only question left is: which of these movies are actually worth paying money to see? TAC has answers: Argo Winner of Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay: Noah Millman feels Argo backfired as a campaign ad, and misfired as a film. Scott McConnell on the other hand, explains what Argo got right on Iran LincolnWinner of Best Actor and Production Design: Millman was “carried along by the universally excellent performances,” and dives into the tension, dramatic and historical, of the film. AmourWinner of Best Foreign Language Film: Eve Tushnet found Amour a “totally compelling, emotionally devastating movie,” and felt it was misunderstood as pro-euthanasia shilling because it was “a portrait, not an allegory.” Life of PiWinner of Best Director, Cinematography, Original Score, Visual Effects: Rod Dreher found Life of Pi to be “mostly wonderful, and certainly one of the most visually stunning films any of us had ever seen.” He discusses the “provocative religious message in the movie” in a spoiler-filled consideration (you have been warned) and finds “as a Christian I don’t share the film’s pantheistic worldview, but I found it philosophically engaging all the same.” (Update): Noah Millman adds to the list with a consideration of Life of Pi‘s multiple stories, and what stories mean to us in art and faith. Zero Dark ThirtyWinner of Best Sound Editing Noah Millman gives Zero Dark Thirty a deep, thorough consideration and concludes “Don’t go to this movie to learn whether torture was necessary or not to get bin Laden. Go to this movie to understand why we – not just the Bush Administration or the CIA, but much of America – embraced torture.” The Sessions Noah Millman finds The Sessions “a sweet little film … a heartwarming story, and one would have to be a churl not to cheer Mark on, particularly since he is so self-deprecatingly charming throughout,” but “I suppose I’ll have to be a churl,” giving a through-going consideration of all the film’s many merits along with its shortcomings. Beasts of the Southern Wild Eve Tushnet “can tell you it is worth it. The things you’ve probably heard already are true: This is a lush, heart-wrenching fable about a little girl and her daddy, in a rural Louisiana enclave barely clinging to the high side of environmental apocalypse,” then gives the movie a thorough consideration. The Master Millman “still can’t make up my mind what to think about Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film, which I saw last night. Not that I’m not sure it was a great film – I know what I think of it. I’m just not sure what I think about it,” ultimately concluding “Something has finally been mastered, but whether it is Dodd or Quell, or the language of self-mastery itself, I couldn’t say.” SkyfallWinner of Best Original Song, and Sound Editing: We didn’t review “Skyfall” per se, but Stephen Tippins, Jr. gave James Bond himself a through review in a recent issue, finding the double-oh agent to be more than a glamorous womanizer, rather “defending the West against itself.” Django UnchainedWinner of Best Supporting Actor and Original Screenplay: Rod Dreher didn’t review Django, exactly, but rather explains why neither he nor The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates plan to see it at all, despite Rod expecting he would enjoy it. Follow @joncoppage// <![CDATA[ !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs"); // ]]> ]]>
(Review Source)
The American Conservative Staff
(”Argo” is briefly mentioned in this.)
Driven by the wishful thinking that the political Zeitgeist is moving in their direction, pundits on the right sometimes project their own ideological leanings onto new movies or television shows, celebrating their supposedly libertarian or conservative orientation. They seem to believe, notwithstanding a director’s stated liberal views, deep inside he or she is actually a believer in the power of free markets or traditional cultural values. Hence, while I enjoyed seeing “Avatar” in 3D, I found it difficult to buy into the notion promoted by some libertarians that the film provided a powerful defense of property rights. What I saw was what the director intended the movie to be, I think: a fierce attack on corporate power and a salute to third world indigenous politics with a strong anti-Western bias. So I will refrain from labeling the new Chilean movie “No” a libertarian masterpiece or implying that its director, Pablo Larrain, is a secret fan of Friedrich Hayek. But then, the main protagonist in this film is an advertising executive who unlike his counterparts in “Mad Men” is portrayed as an agent of progress, one who not only wins a battle against a bunch of aging Marxists but who also leads a marketing campaign—celebrating individual freedom and the joys of consumer society—that helps topple a military dictator and give birth to a thriving liberal-democracy. So if Jean-Jacques Rousseau would have loved “Avatar,” my guess is that Milton Friedman would have probably enjoyed “No.” “No” is one of those docudramas that, not unlike “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Argo,” and “Lincoln,” was “inspired” by real events, which means it combines truth with fiction. In this case, the truth is the national plebiscite that took place in Chile in 1988, in which voters were asked to decide whether military dictator Augusto Pinochet should stay in power for another eight years (a “Yes” vote) or whether there should be an open presidential election a year later (the result of a “No” vote). It is also true that a marketing team employed by the anti-Pinochet coalition produced commercials to encourage the Chileans to vote “No” and that the ads ran during the 27 days of the campaign in which each side had 15 minutes to present their position nightly on state-run television. But “Rene Saavedra,” the character of the advertising executive in the film, played by Gael Garcia Bernal (who starred as a young Che Guevara in “The Motorcyle Diaries“) is a composite of members of the pro-“No” advertising group. Which means that his personal story is fiction, although the director’s decision to shoot the film on low-definition tape used by television news crews in Chile in the 1980s creates a sense that we are watching a documentary from that era. The apolitical Saavedra works for an ad agency making commercials for Chilean soap operas and Coca-Cola, raising a son on his own. When his left-leaning activist wife gets beaten up by police during anti-government demonstrations, Saavedra is approached by a member of the opposition who asks him to help run their campaign. He reluctantly agrees but finds himself confronting strong opposition from the hard-line leftists who dominate the opposition forces, including his wife, when he proposes that the “No” campaign should be run in the same way he sells, well, soap operas and Coca-Cola. What the Communist activists have in mind is old-style political propaganda, while Rene insists on launching a campaign that embraces the symbols and images of American pop culture and consumerism, or what Rene refers to again and again as “happiness,” the notion that freedom is synonymous with choosing your political representative as well as your consumer products, an idea contrary to the values of both the military dictatorship and the Marxist politicians. The irony is that after launching an advertising campaign that promotes nationalist and militaristic themes a la fascist Italy, the marketing team of the pro-“Yes” faction—headed up by Rene’s former boss at the advertising agency—decides to incorporate “happiness” too, injecting humor and jazzy music into their campaign. But it’s very difficult to sell an old and brutal general as a pop-culture symbol; if anything, that kind of strategy only helps to demonstrate that the values of political and economic freedom, youth and optimism, are not compatible with those of a military dictatorship. There is nothing cool about death squads. While the film doesn’t dwell too much on the political background of the Pinochet era, it did remind me of the debate taking place in Washington at the time, and in particular the thesis promoted by former UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick. who in her “Dictatorships and Double Standards” essay lashed liberals who idolized Communist figures in Latin America (like Cuba’s Fidel Castro) even as they urged the U.S. to isolate and punish authoritarian right-wing figures like Pinochet. She argued that a form of constructive engagement with the Pinochets of Latin America could prove more effective in driving them from power. And indeed, the free-market reforms Pinochet and his American-trained economic advisors (some of them taught by Friedman) had initiated helped create the foundations of an America-style consumer society where advertising agencies and the “happiness” values they promoted could flourish, a political-economic environment in which the pressure for liberalization was relentless and eventually forced Pinochet into retirement. That, unlike Pinochet, the Castro family has not allowed Cubans to vote “No” may be a reflection of the totalitarian nature of Communism. But one wonders whether U.S. diplomatic engagement with Cuba and its bombardment by American businesses would not help propel economic and political change there, too. Leon Hadar, a Washington-based journalist and foreign policy analyst, is the author of Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East. ]]>
(Review Source)
The American Conservative Staff
(”Argo” is briefly mentioned in this.)
Pop Culture This summer’s big-budget flops represent a day of reckoning that had to come before any possibility of the studios reinventing themselves. — Joe Morgenstern (@JoeMorgenstern) July 25, 2013 I certainly hope so, though Morgenstern’s WSJ colleague reports that despite some massive failures, 2013 overall box office is ahead of last year’s. But man, have the failures been huge. Think about all the wonderful little movies Disney could have made with the $170 million it lost on The Lone Ranger, a movie that any idiot could have told you would have been a flop. Who the hell cares about that character? How many potential My Big Fat Greek Weddings could have been made with that cash? Nia Vardalos’s charming little movie cost $5 million to make. Know how much it’s pulled in over the past 11 years? Almost $370 million. I watched the second episode of the first season of House Of Cards tonight, on my iPad as I worked out. It’s very dark, and I’m not all that into it, frankly, but I can’t think of the last movie I saw in the theater that gave me as much to relish. Had I seen Argo on the big screen, that certainly would have qualified. I enjoyed the hell out of that movie, but I’ve been burned so many times by the cost and bother of going to a theater to see what turned out to be a big piece of nothing that I wasn’t willing to take the chance. I caught it on an iTunes download. Can’t say I regret waiting to see it in that format, but I do hate that I’ve gotten out of the habit of seeing movies on the big screen. On the other hand, all of us in my family had a terrific time watching an HD version of An American In Paris together, via an iTunes download to our Apple TV. For us, it was an event, and it only cost four dollars. Still, I would like to be able to take my wife out for a date to a real movie and a real dinner, and make it worth paying the babysitter. I know we’ve been over this a couple of times recently on this blog, but I still can’t stop wondering why it’s so hard to make movies for the big screen that make people over the age of 22 say, “You’ve got to go see this!” ]]>
(Review Source)
The American Conservative Staff
foreign policy politics Matt Steinglass reflects on a scene from Argo: My favourite scene in “Argo” was the sequence towards the end of the film where Joe Stafford, the Farsi-speaking American-embassy officer (played by Scoot McNairy) pretending to be a film producer, explains the plot of the sci-fi movie he’s supposedly making to the Iranian revolutionary guards interrogating him and his fellow Americans at the Tehran airport as they try to get out of the country. The movie, he explains, is about a country of simple people who are being oppressed by evil space aliens. The hero rebels and, in the end, the people gather together to fight their oppressors, overthrow the aliens and return the country to the rule of decency and justice. “Star Wars”, in other words, but with a Middle Eastern backdrop. The clip is great because it depicts an American trying to tell a story that would be believable as a Hollywood film, and yet also acceptable to an Iranian revolutionary guard—one that would be politically persuasive to both an American and an Iranian audience. And part of what makes it stick in my head is that it’s not really clear whether it’s plausible, or whether it requires projecting an inaccurate American interpretive frame onto the Iranian guard. The language in which people talk about rebel uprisings against authoritarian oppressors is not the same everywhere as it is in America [bold mine-DL]. The last sentence is certainly true. Authoritarian regimes will usually view stories of successful rebellion as potentially threatening. Even so, it’s also important not to overlook that other regimes, especially those that claim to dedicated to the goals of a “revolution,” sometimes perceive themselves to be playing the part of an insurgent force. Even if these governments don’t have their origins in a war for independence from colonial rule, it is unlikely that they would identify themselves with the alien occupier in this story. As they see it, or at least as they claim to see it, they are the rebels. I suspect that one reason why many Americans are so skeptical of taking sides in Syria’s civil war is that many of their leaders have repeatedly tried to sell foreign interventions to them using something very much like a Star Wars/Stargate story of a noble, outgunned rebellion combating the embodiment of all evil. Because that story is inevitably too simplistic and unrealistic, it is quickly discredited by rebel behavior and ideology, and future appeals for intervention are even harder to take seriously because of so many previous bad experiences. These sci-fi stories can be appealing to some extent because they treat regime change as a neat and tidy end of the story, which avoids having to think about what happens after the rebels win. ]]>
(Review Source)
The American Conservative Staff
(”Argo” is briefly mentioned in this.)
Usually, when I do these (too infrequent) double feature features, I connect one current film with a film from the back catalog: “The King’s Speech” with “Richard III,” or “Tree of Life” with “A Serious Man.” But every now and again, Hollywood serves up two movies that are obviously intended by fate to be seen together. This year is one such, and the pairing is “Gravity,” directed by Alfonso Cuarón (director of “Children of Men” and “Y Tu Mamá También“) and “All Is Lost,” directed by J. C. Chandor (director of “Margin Call,” my favorite film about the financial crisis and, hence, a primary object of my envy since I wish I could have written a film that good). I almost don’t feel like I need to explain why. But I will anyway. “Gravity” tells the story of Sandra Bullock, rookie astronaut, struggling home to earth all on her own after space junk cripples the shuttle that brought her to orbit in the first place. Everything that can go wrong does, and at one point she gives up and prepares for death. But her final brainstorm actually works, and, amazingly, she makes it (we presume – the movie ends when she finally reaches dry land but is still far from civilization). “All Is Lost,” on the other hand, tells the story of Robert Redford, wealthy yachtsman, struggling to get back to land all on his own after sea junk (a stray shipping container) cripples the 39-foot sailboat that brought him to the middle of the Indian Ocean in the first place. Everything that can go wrong does, and at one point he gives up and prepares for death. But his final brainstorm actually works, and, amazingly, he makes it (we presume – the movie ends when he is swimming to the surface picked up). Both movies appear to be paradigmatic “man (or woman) versus wild” contests. But both are ultimately more interested in charting an internal spiritual journey than in showing an audience how human beings can win a round in the endless war against pitiless nature. It’s in the differences between those journeys, and between the two movie star protagonists, that the contrast between the films primarily lies. Where one film runs before the wind of our era, the other tacks against it. *     *     * Gravity When I saw “Gravity,” I went into the theater thinking about “Apollo 13,” the Ron Howard film about the successful effort to bring the astronauts home from a failed moon shot. That film focused on the grit and practical ingenuity of the men who made America’s adventure in space possible. It was about a set of virtues, and more specifically about watching those virtues in action. And, because it told the story of a failed mission, it was also (like “Argo,”) very much a movie about America in the 1970s, about certain classic American virtues being pressed into service to salvage as much as possible from a mission that is doomed to fail. But “Gravity” isn’t really that kind of movie – because it isn’t really interested in practical ingenuity. There’s a contradiction at the heart of “Gravity” with respect to realism. Enormous effort has been put into getting the physics right, and that effort pays off magnificently. The film is stunningly beautiful – more than that, it is sublime (to use the Burkean distinction). The opening shot, which must be something like fifteen minutes long, will leave your jaw slack, and when you’ve stopped staring you’ll realize that, amazingly, you’ve been able to keep oriented when there is no up nor down. That’s a heck of a cinematographic achievement. Even when things start to go wrong, and the frame fills with objects moving in trajectories we never see them follow on earth, we still somehow always know where we are. And then there are the little directorial choices here have a huge impact in terms of creating a feeling of realism – for example, it’s amazing how much is communicated simply by massive collisions between space ships produce no sound. Cuarón’s primary commitment in this film is to give us some sense of what movement looks like up there in orbit, and hence to what walking in space might feel like. He succeeds entirely. But what actually happens in the film requires enormous suspension of disbelief. [Spoilers follow.] Sandra Bullock’s character, Ryan Stone, doesn’t just survive being thrown from the structure where she’s working when the space debris hits. She makes her way to a space station 100 kilometers away. She crawls inside that station, only to be nearly trapped by a fire that breaks out inside. She escapes the fire into the reentry craft, and figures out how to launch the craft away from the station, only to discover that the chute, which has deployed prematurely, has gotten tangled around the struts of the station. She gets back out and frees the craft from the tangled parachute – in the middle of a hailstorm of space debris that annihilates the space station. She escapes the millions of fragments of flying debris, gets back into the spaceship, only to discover it’s out of fuel. She figures out how to jerry-rig it to fly anyway, and makes her way to yet another space station (a Chinese one). She’s got no thrusters to maneuver with, so she bails out of the ship and pilots herself successfully to that station using a fire extinguisher. She gets into the other station’s reentry vehicle, figures out how to fly it even though all instructions are in Chinese, and finally survives a reentry even though her capsule is tumbling rump over teakettle. That’s rather more than six impossible things to believe before breakfast. Which is fine – this is a movie. But the fact that Stone is able to pull off this series of wildly improbably feats tells us what kind of movie we’re in. For all it’s commitment to realism in the depiction of this strange and hostile environment, we’re not in a movie about what it takes to survive in that environment, in terms of practical knowledge or native virtues. And the proper point of comparison isn’t “Apollo 13” but “Life of Pi.” Early on in the film, we learn that Stone is emotionally dead as a consequence of the death of her young daughter. (She’s not named “Stone” for nothing.) There’s no mention of a husband or any other family; so far as we know, she is entirely alone, nobody looking up at her, waiting for her to come home. (The weakest sequences in “Apollo 13,” by the way, were the shots of the “home front” – none of the astronauts’ wives had any character, and they had nothing much to do but look worried.) But she has a mentor figure: Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), commander of her mission. He draws her out, rescues her from her space tumble, and then heroically (and completely stoically) sacrifices himself so that she might live. Kowalski’s there to remind her of a reason to live, but also to communicate the message that if you know that reason – if your soul is properly oriented – you will always either find a way to live, or face death with his extraordinary equanimity. In the most ultimate sense, your fate is entirely in your hands, and is determined by how in tune you are with the universe. He even appears later as a ghost to give her the crucial insight that enables her to finish her journey – which she finishes flying her ship essentially by intuition, without instruments (since they are all in Chinese anyway). He might as well be named Obi Wan Kenobi. Stone’s personal journey, meanwhile, is clearly signposted as such over and over again. All of the spaceships she pilots have a religious figure above what I can only think of as the dashboard (an icon on the Russian craft, a smiling Buddha on the Chinese – this cheerful ecumenical approach to religiosity is another similarity to “Life of Pi”). When Bullock first makes it into the ISS, she pulls off her space suit and gulps in the air (she had run out just before getting in), then floats, for a moment, before the airlock, in a semi-fetal position, the tube from her suit floating just behind her in the position of an umbilicus. And when she gets back to earth, she blows the hatch immediately upon landing (wouldn’t you know – there’s another fire) and has to escape the capsule into the ocean, shed her space suit skin, and swim to shore. A verdantly Edenic shore – but uninhabited. That emptiness is not an accident. For all that Stone’s journey is supposedly about re-awakening to human connection – getting over the loss of her daughter and finding someone to look up at her and hope that she comes home safely – solitude is fundamental to her journey. The stoic Kowalski, though he won’t stop talking for even a second, is ultimately self-sufficient enough to be content to die gazing at the beauty of the Ganges (note, not the Amazon or the Danube, but a religiously potent river) from space. And one doesn’t get the feeling that he has anybody looking up at him, hoping he’ll come home. At the end, Stone is alive again, and the world is alive as well; she’s no longer in the cold darkness of space. But she is defiantly solitary. Because she’s found what she needs inside her. *     *     * All Is Lost It’s not incidental that an essential self-sufficiency – cheerful, adaptable, ready for any challenge – is our civilization’s paramount economic virtue. And it’s what the Robert Redford character embodies at the start of “All Is Lost,” a radically different film from “Gravity” even though it has a very similar premise. Redford is the only person in the film, and he present himself as quite thoroughly self-sufficent – he must be, or he wouldn’t be sailing the middle of the Indian Ocean without a crew. And he doesn’t even paint a volleyball to talk to; there is virtually no dialogue, far less than in “Gravity,” a film that takes place in a world without air and, hence, without sound. (I assume that a major motivation for Chandor to make this film was just to see if it could be done – to make a nearly dialogue-free, one-man movie. Kudos to him even for trying, but the more impressive fact is that he succeeded.) He’s self-motivated as well – he is not in the middle of the ocean performing any social function, or on any assignment. He’s there because he’s there. In any event, he is alone, and plainly considers himself sufficient as such. And we know that he is supposed to be a representative character, a symbol of our age, right from his name. Which he doesn’t have. In the script, he’s known simply as “Our Man.” What kind of man he is we have to infer, because, unlike “Gravity,” “All Is Lost” declines to give us any backstory. We open on a calm sea in flat, bleak light, and hear Robert Redford in voice over reading a last letter to – well, we don’t know to whom; he names no wife, no children. It is addressed, it would seem, to the universe at large. And it’s an apology, but Our Man doesn’t say what he’s sorry for, what he did wrong or to whom. He says with some pride that he fought until the end, but he wonders whether that means anything. All he knows is that he’s sorry. The letter is almost a perfect inversion of the sentiment on which Ryan Stone concludes her journey. But, as we flash back to the accident that put Our Man adrift, details accumulate that enable us to infer what kind of man he is. His ship is a late-1970s-era yacht, nicely appointed but not particularly up to date. This is a wealthy man, but not a billionaire, and a man who harkens back to an earlier era, when he was in his prime. He wakes to seawater pouring in through a hole in the hull, and ruining his electronics – none of which are waterproof; our first indication that this is not a man actually prepared for any eventuality. It’s a bad break, but Our Man doesn’t panic. He investigates the hole – his sailboat was hulled by an errant shipping container of sneakers. He gets the sailboat off the container and sets to work, methodically, setting the ship right – patching the hull, pumping out the water, and rinsing the salt out of his ruined radio. Then, climbing the mast to repair a broken circuit, Our Man spots a storm coming. He battens down the hatches – and then he shaves, expertly enough that there’s not a nick on him. The shaving scene is crucial for telling us what kind of man this is. He is not shaving to make an impression on anybody else (as, if I may juxtapose the sublime and the ridiculous, Crocodile Dundee did); he’s not preening for the cameras like a character on a Discovery Channel show. (I suspect many will come to this movie expecting a version of that kind of ersatz survivalism – more to the point, I wonder whether Our Man came up with the idea for this voyage by watching too much Bear Grylls.) Because there is nobody else there, nobody to impress but himself. This is a man, the gesture says, of stable habits that have served him well, that he doesn’t intend to abandon in a moment of crisis, and also a man of some personal vanity. And this is the moment that tells us: this man is not going to make it. It’s been fascinating to read the comments by experienced sailors on this film, because they are generally contemptuous of Our Man, calling him a weekend sailor, in over his head, and making one rookie mistake after another. As a non-sailor, I couldn’t possibly see most of these, but it was clear to me watching the film that we were not supposed to infer Our Man’s great skill so much as we were to infer his calm self-confidence – true self-confidence, not mere arrogance. This is a man who has seen successfully through many crises before. It makes sense that he assumes he can handle this one. It also makes sense that he would make rookie mistakes, because he is in over his head. But he makes them calmly, confidently, making the best decisions he knows how all along the way. Another difference: “All Is Lost” is much less invested in showing us the extraordinary environment of the ocean than “Gravity” is in showing us space. That’s partly a function of the different vantage point you have in orbit versus on the ocean’s surface, but it’s also a difference in the stories being told. In “Gravity” we get lots of panoramic footage that places us in context, that displays all the splendor of Earth, the cold vastness of the heavens, and the fragile elegance of our creations that hover between. We have the filmmaker’s God’s-eye view of reality. In “All Is Lost,” by contrast, the camera stays on Redford nearly all of the time, and so we experience the storm from an entirely human vantage point. When Our Man gets tossed overboard, we go over with him, and frankly we can’t see much. When the yacht is overturned by a particularly ferocious wave, we’re below decks with Our Man; the picture tumbles as the floor becomes the ceiling and then the floor again, but we don’t see the vessel dismasted – an obvious shot for a movie about a storm and shipwreck – until Our Man comes up and sees the damage himself. Budgetary considerations were undoubtedly one reason for that choice, but Chandor makes a virtue of necessity. He doesn’t personify nature as an antagonist. Nature is just reality. Once his sailboat is wrecked, Our Man abandons ship into an inflatable life raft, and hopes for rescue. He charts his drift into the shipping lanes between East Asia and the Cape, and stands at the ready when he’s in the zone. But he’s rebuffed by two enormous container ships (the vessels responsible for his desperate situation in the first place) that pass extremely close to his little raft; nobody even notices his flares. It’s perhaps too direct a symbol – the indifference of commerce to anyone tossed overboard – and I wondered: isn’t anybody ever on deck on these ships? But perhaps that’s really the point: there’s almost no crew, and nobody is on deck. The economic system is more like pitiless nature than like anything human. His last hope lost, Our Man prepares for death by sending his empty final message in the proverbial glass vessel (a jar in this case rather than a bottle). And then, an unexpected hope flickers. In the middle of a dark night, he sees a light on the water. He has only one flare left, and, clearly worried it will be insufficient, he lights a fire, setting the lifeboat itself aflame, and jumps into the water. Before the fire is even out, he sinks below the surface, clearly exhausted, and watches the circle of fire and the echoing circle of the moon from below as he sinks. The image is striking, and clearly intended as a symbol – it was the first image in the film to hit me that way, and for that reason it jarred. And, lo and behold, the fire trick works. A small (human-scale) boat comes to rescue him, and, surprised by his sudden good fortune, Our Man swims to the surface, and to safety. It is, again, a reversal of the progression in “Gravity.” Where Ryan Stone learned self-sufficiency from a kind of stoic, that with enough confidence and grit you can overcome any obstacle (or face death calmly when there truly is no way), Our Man learns, finally, his utter insufficiency. He faces death not calmly, but exhausted, emptied, having burned his last earthly refuge and surrendered to the waves. And then, when he has finally given up, he’s saved. I admit, I wasn’t crazy about that ending. It felt like a note of grace that was unconnected to the rest of the film, which didn’t traffic in those kinds of quasi-theological notions. Our Man is deluded about his self-sufficiency, yes, but I didn’t think he was deluded about the pitilessness of the universe. To put it another way, I’m pretty sure Werner Herzog would have let him drown. But if we must carry around a “notion” about the universe, the idea that we have to surrender our earthly hopes to experience the gratitude of salvation sits better with me than the uplift of “Gravity.” ]]>
(Review Source)
The American Conservative Staff
Culture Foreign policy History Film About ten times as many people are going to form an impression about Iran from Ben Affleck’s “Argo” than they are from any foreign policy blog. The film grossed over $35 million in its first two weeks, so by rough count that’s more than 3.5 million viewers.  What impression might they get? I should say at the outset that the movie was great — a real tribute to Affleck’s talent; he directed and starred as the U.S. intelligence agent who got six stranded diplomats out of Teheran during the hostage crisis. The Iranian seizure of the U.S. embassy — depicted in a 10 or 15 minute sequence at the film’s opening — was riveting and terrifying. The movie opens with a brief but needed historical backdrop — making it clear that the U.S. had a hand in overthrowing the elected nationalist Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953, and installing in his place the boy-king Shah. The latter is presented as a pro-Western modernizer who tortured his opponents by the tens of thousands and flaunted a luxury that had nothing to do with the lives of ordinary Iranian. Tidbits from the ’70s I had long forgotten — the Shah’s penchant for having his meals flown in from Paris — are resurrected. It’s not enough to make one entirely sympathize with the Revolution, but surely to understand it a bit. Of course, as revolutions tend to do, this one settled into score-settling and rough justice: we see plenty of terrified Iranians trying to get visas out of the country, and several horrific extra-judicial executions. The American Revolution was pretty much an exception: the French, Russian, Chinese revolutions were all bloodthirsty, and the Iranian no departure from the general rule. Once the actual action begins, the viewer can’t help but view the revolutionaries as bad guys: they are threatening to kill American foreign service officers; they are paranoid about spies (however understandably); their seizure of the embassy was clearly illegal.  But there are interesting countervailing touches: the Revolutionary Guards who seized the embassy were (and are so portrayed) as an educated group, including no small number of cadres who spoke perfect U.S. English, learned in American universities. The holding of diplomats hostage for 400 days was both an affront to America and a crime,  and the “faked” executions to which some of the hostages were subjected is clearly a kind of psychological torture. But I always have thought it significant that the Iranians had enough self-control to not kill or physically harm the diplomat/hostages, and I’m very aware that most of the diplomats who went through the ordeal remain friends of Iran and are in no way proponents of bombing the place. In the film’s final scenes at the Teheran airport, one of the Farsi-speaking Americans uses his knowledge of Iranian popular myths to deflect the suspicions of one of the bearded AK-47 toting Revolutionary Guards: it was a poignant scene which humanized Iranians of a certain type. Of course had the ruse not worked, the Americans at the departure gate would have been executed as spies. So judging “Argo” for its politics, I’d give it a very high B; the Iranian Revolution is presented as bloody and dangerous, which it certainly was; Iran seems a place to be treated warily, as it surely should be. But there is no effort to dehumanize the Iranian “enemy”, an option which surely must have tempted at least some in Hollywood. In short, I thought Hollywood and Ben Affleck gave an excellent account of themselves, producing a tense and realistic spy drama about a history which remains alive and highly relevant today, steering true to the actual historical context, keeping clear of vulgar jingoism or racist tropes. Even knowing the outcome of the movie in advance, our hearts soar when the Swissair jet lifts out of Iranian airspace, and the champagne is broken out.  We can all be thankful we are not captives of revolutionary Iran. But we needn’t be eternal enemies with the place either. ]]>
(Review Source)
The American Conservative Staff
(”Argo” is briefly mentioned in this.)
Digest Today on theamericanconservative.com, Daniel Larison previewed and responded to tonight’s foreign policy debate, Scott Galupo urged readers to stop over-interpreting the first debate, and questioned Paul Ryan’s “Serious Man” credentials. Philip Giraldi criticized the GOP’s lack of understanding of intelligence collection and analysis. Scott McConnell reviewed Ben Affleck’s “Argo” – a movie about the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, and Samuel Goldman questioned the mass appeal of libertarianism. Finally, Rod Dreher fell in love with Paris all over again, lamented the decline of Christianity in France, and contemplated illustrating the conservative worldview with compelling personal narratives. ]]>
(Review Source)
The American Conservative Staff
(”Argo” is briefly mentioned in this.)
Digest Mitt Romney / Flickr This week on theamericanconservative.com, Noah Millman and Daniel Larison analyzed the third presidential debate, Philip Giraldi questioned Israel’s capacity to launch a successful attack on Iran’s nuclear sites and criticized the GOP’s lack of understanding of intelligence collection and analysis. Florence King punctured Joan Walsh’s new book, Freddy Gray explained the quirky appeal of London mayor Boris Johnson, and Leon Hadar reaffirmed the decline of Western hegemony. Samuel Goldman explored the sources of major donations for the presidential campaigns, questioned the mass appeal of libertarianism, and lamented the dominance of the cult of individualism over the contemporary American right. Alan Jacobs put forth a meaningful defense of the liberal arts and explored the psychology of traitors. Millman reflected on the challenge posed by rape and incest to pro-life absolutists, and Scott McConnell reviewed Ben Affleck’s “Argo” – a movie about the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. Scott Galupo explored David Brooks’ conception of “moderation”, analyzed the third-party debate, and discussed conservative charity. Michael Brendan Dougherty contemplated the repressive potential of the Internet and reflected on Richard Mourdock’s theodicy, Kelley Vlahos investigated the failed drug war in Honduras, and Jordan Bloom considered the likelihood of significant entitlement cuts in a second Obama administration. Rod Dreher tasted the fruits of cross-generational friendship,  fell in love with Paris all over again, lamented the decline of Christianity in France, and thought about illustrating the conservative worldview with compelling personal narratives. He also offered some final thoughts on The Odyssey. ]]>
(Review Source)
The American Conservative Staff
(”Argo” is briefly mentioned in this.)
Alan Jacobs wonders when fiction was “king” and suggests that it was quite a while ago, having long since been displaced by new media. Well, the king of those new media was cinema, and we’re now a good thirty years into worries about the death of that medium. Can movies still matter? Cue A. O. Scott: By the end of this year, The New York Times will have reviewed more than 800 movies, establishing 2012, at least by one measure, as a new benchmark in the annals of cinematic abundance. The number (determined by this newspaper’s policy of reviewing everything that opens for at least a week on a commercial screen in Brooklyn, Manhattan or Los Angeles) has ballooned over the past decade. The sheer quantity of movies in theaters has now reached a level not seen since the heroic age of Classical Hollywood. But instead of breaking into a chorus of “Happy Days Are Here Again,” much of the film world has been shuffling to the sad beat of a funeral march. He starts off blaming this mournful chorus simply on age – “The afterglow of your unique, youthful experiences — the kisses and cigarettes and cups of espresso that followed the movie, as much as the film itself — cast a harsh, flat light on the present, when you sit at home watching a DVD with a cup of herbal tea as your spouse dozes next to you on the couch. But don’t blame Hollywood for that!” But then he admits that there has been meaningful change in movies themselves: This is not to say that the sense of loss is not real, or that the changes that create it are inconsequential. Film as a medium — a photochemical process that magically marries the physical and the ethereal — is quickly being displaced by digital cinema, and the implications of this shift are still being explored. There are filmmakers, critics and archivists who have rallied in defense of the beauty and utility of celluloid, while others celebrate the flexibility and low cost of the pixel-based way of doing it. As in every other domain of digital culture, anxiety and enthusiasm go hand in hand, and cherished customs and artifacts are threatened. What if people stop going to the movies, and surrender to the hypnotic lure of portable screens and endless streams? Where will we find the beauty and spectacle, the glamour and emotion we remember so fondly? Look around! And yet the astonishing cinematic bounty that surrounds us contributes, in its own way, to the malaise. The movies are too much with us, late and soon. If there are so many films, then how can any one film count? If the audience is so fractured and distracted, how can the interesting arguments develop? But the thing is, they do — about “Lincoln” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” about “The Master” and “Argo,” about “Moonrise Kingdom” and “Amour” and “Holy Motors” and a dozen more in this year alone. That’s a pretty wild party, even if some of the guests insist on calling it a wake. Yes, it is a wild party – but it’s not the same wild party it was in 1939 or 1979. And that’s fine. Movies do not have the same place in the culture they did when they were the principal form of mass entertainment. Nor do they have the same place in the culture they did when a single film could appear to symbolize everything, good and bad, about an era. I thought “The Master” was a great film, and I, frankly, liked it better than “Apocalypse Now.” But it would be insane to suggest that it, or anything produced in 2012, “matters” in the way that “Apocalypse Now” did. But so what? “Mattering” isn’t all that matters. Significant revivals in art forms that have lost their cultural centrality can still affect the culture profoundly. When Alexander Pope wrote, you had to read him – if you were literate, you simply had to. Wallace Stevens, by contrast, wrote his verse in a time when poetry had lost its throne, long since displaced by other art forms – the novel, the opera – with greater cultural resonance. Plenty of people still read poetry, of course – but Stevens had nothing like the audience that Pope had. But did he matter? Of course he mattered! He mattered enormously! He had a massive influence not only on subsequent poetry but on the sensibilities of all kinds of writers. The pictures may have gotten small, but that doesn’t make them irrelevant, much less dead or dying. There is no contradiction between saying that this was a great year for film and that films don’t have the immediate cultural reach that they did decades ago. We don’t judge the health or beauty of a garden merely by the size of its blooms. ]]>
(Review Source)
The American Conservative Staff
I finally got around to seeing “Argo” earlier this week, and was astounded at how thoroughly it failed (in my view) to measure up to the considerable hype. I’d been fairly warned not to expect much from Affleck’s performance, but his flatness was only part of the problem. What, ultimately, is this movie about? In case you haven’t heard, “Argo” is a “thriller” about the successful exfiltration of six embassy staff from Iran during the hostage crisis. The six escape the American embassy just before the Iranian mob bursts in, and flee to the Canadian ambassador’s residence, where they wait for weeks for somebody to do something to get them out of there. The CIA cavalry (Ben Affleck) comes to the rescue just in time, as the Iranian authorities are busily putting the pieces together necessary to discover and then find the missing six, which would undoubtedly mean their heads on pikes. But the cavalry comes on a pretty strange horse: a plan to sneak the staffers out disguised as a Canadian film crew scouting possible locations for a “Star Wars” knockoff. “Best bad idea” though it is, it turns out to be good enough, and home we go. I put “thriller” in quotes because there aren’t many thrills to be had. Affleck (the director) goes instead for precisely modulated tension, which is more rewarding but tougher to achieve. Our heroes don’t generally have to do anything clever in response to obstacles thrown at them – instead, they get through basically by brazening it out and not giving up. This should have been fine for me. I prefer a realistic approach to the bloated action of a typical thriller. In fact, I don’t tend to watch many thrillers, preferring character-driven pieces. But there wasn’t much in the way of character development either. There’s no real internal conflict within Affleck’s CIA operative. There’s no real conflict between him and his bosses – except briefly, when they try to call the operation off, and he goes ahead anyway. There’s no real conflict between the Canadians and the Americans, or between the American staffers in hiding. There’s a bit of conflict between Affleck and one of the staffers – and, of course, the staffer who doesn’t trust Affleck winds up saving the day at the last minute by sweet-talking the Revolutionary Guard officer at the airport in Farsi – but that conflict is limited to “I don’t trust you;” it doesn’t go any further or have any ramifications. Affleck has some kind of conflict with his wife – when we meet him, he’s “taking time out” from his marriage, and at the end he returns to her – but we don’t know what the conflict is or how it’s resolved. The Hollywood scenes could have been an opportunity for conflict between Affleck and himself, or between Affleck and the Hollywood people, but nothing of the sort materializes, and any satire of Hollywood is extremely tame. We don’t even really get a sense of whether Affleck is titillated, amused, impatient in dealing with these people from outside his normal sphere. There isn’t even any real conflict between America and Iran. We see period clips of Americans furious at the hostage-taking, and we see Iranians furious at America’s historic support for the oppressive Pahlavi regime, but none of the actual characters behave as if there is any reason for America and Iran to be in conflict. It’s just very unfortunate that we’re in this mess, and the Americans we see just want to find an honorable way out. And that unobjectionable sentiment is what I ultimately concluded this movie is about. Affleck (as director) saw the opportunity to make a patriotic film essentially without enemies. The conflict with Iran isn’t the fault of anybody on screen, and nobody on screen defends the behavior of earlier American administrations that are implicitly blamed for creating the mess. It’s just an inherited problem, and we get to cheer these six escaping with their lives. It’s like “Apollo 13” with the Iranians playing the deadly vacuum of outer space. And with no moon. And that’s the problem. I think Affleck avoided ginning up conflict between the staffers in hiding (the usual reason you lock people in a room together in a movie), avoided creating a “Die Hard”-style conflict and reconciliation between Affleck and the wife, avoided letting Hollywood satire take over the movie, etc. because he didn’t want these Hollywood tropes to distract from the serious heart of the movie. And I applaud him for that. But where is that heart? What is the larger context within which this drama plays out, and which gives the drama meaning? This is a movie from 2012, so the larger context today is the American position in the Middle East. If you believe that this position is primarily the fruit of foolish or malign decisions by previous administrations, and that we basically need to judiciously extricate ourselves without getting ourselves killed, then this movie “works” as a metaphor. But the absence of a “moon” – of any sense of what the mission was that failed, and that we now need to extricate people from, which is part of how the movie avoids offending anyone – deprives that message of any emotional punch, and turns the movie into something more akin to a campaign ad. How effective an ad is it? Well, I’ve argued in the past that the Obama Administration is just trying to surf the tides in the Middle East, and is under no illusions that it is in control (or could be in control) of events. And I agree with them in this. But it’s probably not ideal to use an incident from the Carter Administration to make a similar point. In the end, I think Affleck made a mistake not directing this as an absurdist comedy with a serious edge, instead of playing it so straight. The comic potential in the premise is so obvious, I have to assume he saw that potential, but turned away from it. But what America really needs when we contemplate the mess we’re in isn’t inoffensive uplift, but a good laugh. ]]>
(Review Source)
The American Conservative Staff
(”Argo” is briefly mentioned in this.)
In the age of the all-volunteer military and an endless stream of war zone losses and ties, it can be hard to keep Homeland enthusiasm up for perpetual war. After all, you don’t get a 9/11 every year to refresh those images of the barbarians at the airport departure gates. In the meantime, Americans are clearly finding it difficult to remain emotionally roiled up about our confusing wars in Syria and Iraq, the sputtering one in Afghanistan, and various raids, drone attacks, and minor conflicts elsewhere. Fortunately, we have just the ticket, one that has been punched again and again for close to a century: Hollywood war movies (to which the Pentagon is always eager to lend a helping hand). “American Sniper”, which started out with the celebratory tagline “the most lethal sniper in U.S. history” and now has the tagline “the most successful war movie of all time,” is just the latest in a long line of films that have kept Americans on their war game. Think of them as war porn, meant to leave us perpetually hyped up. Now, grab some popcorn and settle back to enjoy the show. There’s Only One War Movie Wandering around YouTube recently, I stumbled across some good old government-issue propaganda. It was a video clearly meant to stir American emotions and prepare us for a long struggle against a determined, brutal, and barbaric enemy whose way of life is a challenge to the most basic American values. Here’s some of what I learned: our enemy is engaged in a crusade against the West; wants to establish a world government and make all of us bow down before it; fights fanatically, beheads prisoners, and is willing to sacrifice the lives of its followers in inhuman suicide attacks. Though its weapons are modern, its thinking and beliefs are 2,000 years out of date and inscrutable to us. Of course, you knew there was a trick coming, right? This little U.S. government-produced film wasn’t about the militants of the Islamic State. Made by the U.S. Navy in 1943, its subject was “Our Enemy the Japanese.” Substitute “radical Islam” for “emperor worship,” though, and it still makes a certain propagandistic sense. While the basics may be largely the same (us versus them, good versus evil), modern times do demand something slicker than the video equivalent of an old newsreel. The age of the Internet, with its short attention spans and heightened expectations of cheap thrills, calls for a higher class of war porn, but as with that 1943 film, it remains remarkable how familiar what’s being produced remains. Like propaganda films and sexual pornography, Hollywood movies about America at war have changed remarkably little over the years. Here’s the basic formula, from John Wayne in the World War II-era “Sands of Iwo Jima“ to today’s “American Sniper“: American soldiers are good, the enemy bad. Nearly every war movie is going to have a scene in which Americans label the enemy as “savages,” “barbarians,” or “bloodthirsty fanatics,” typically following a “sneak attack” or a suicide bombing. Our country’s goal is to liberate; the enemy’s, to conquer. Such a framework prepares us to accept things that wouldn’t otherwise pass muster. Racism naturally gets a bye; as they once were “Japs” (not Japanese), they are now “hajjis” and “ragheads” (not Muslims or Iraqis). It’s beyond question that the ends justify just about any means we might use, from the nuclear obliteration of two cities of almost no military significance to the grimmest sort of torture. In this way, the war film long ago became a moral free-fire zone for its American characters. American soldiers believe in God and Country, in “something bigger than themselves,” in something “worth dying for,” but without ever becoming blindly attached to it. The enemy, on the other hand, is blindly devoted to a religion, political faith, or dictator, and it goes without saying (though it’s said) that his God—whether an emperor, communism, or Allah—is evil. As one critic put it back in 2007 with just a tad of hyperbole, “In every movie Hollywood makes, every time an Arab utters the word Allah … something blows up.” War films spend no significant time on why those savages might be so intent on going after us. The purpose of American killing, however, is nearly always clearly defined. It’s to “save American lives,” those over there and those who won’t die because we don’t have to fight them over here. Saving such lives explains American war: in Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker“, for example, the main character defuses roadside bombs to make Iraq safer for other American soldiers. In the recent World War II-themed “Fury“, Brad Pitt similarly mows down ranks of Germans to save his comrades. Even torture is justified, as in “Zero Dark Thirty“, in the cause of saving our lives from their nightmarish schemes. In “American Sniper”, shooter Chris Kyle focuses on the many American lives he’s saved by shooting Iraqis; his PTSD is, in fact, caused by his having “failed” to have saved even more. Hey, when an American kills in war, he’s the one who suffers the most, not that mutilated kid or his grieving mother—I got nightmares, man! I still see their faces! Our soldiers are human beings with emotionally engaging backstories, sweet gals waiting at home, and promising lives ahead of them that might be cut tragically short by an enemy from the gates of hell. The bad guys lack such backstories. They are anonymous fanatics with neither a past worth mentioning nor a future worth imagining. This is usually pretty blunt stuff. Kyle’s nemesis in “American Sniper”, for instance, wears all black. Thanks to that, you know he’s an insta-villain without the need for further information. And speaking of lack of a backstory, he improbably appears in the film both in the Sunni city of Fallujah and in Sadr City, a Shia neighborhood in Baghdad, apparently so super-bad that his desire to kill Americans overcomes even Iraq’s mad sectarianism. It is fashionable for our soldiers, having a kind of depth the enemy lacks, to express some regrets, a dollop of introspection, before (or after) they kill. In “American Sniper”, while back in the U.S. on leave, the protagonist expresses doubts about what he calls his “work.” (No such thoughts are in the book on which the film is based.) Of course, he then goes back to Iraq for three more tours and over two more hours of screen time to amass his 160 “confirmed kills.” Another staple of such films is the training montage. Can a young recruit make it? Often he is the Fat Kid who trims down to his killing weight, or the Skinny Kid who muscles up, or the Quiet Kid who emerges bloodthirsty. (This has been a trope of sexual porn films, too: the geeky looking guy, mocked by beautiful women, who turns out to be a superstar in bed.) The link, up front or implied, between sexuality, manhood, and war is a staple of the form. As part of the curious PTSD recovery plan he develops, for example, Kyle volunteers to teach a paraplegic vet in a wheelchair to snipe. After his first decent shot rings home, the man shouts, “I feel like I got my balls back!” Our soldiers, anguished souls that they are, have no responsibility for what they do once they’ve been thrown into our wars. No baby-killers need apply in support of America’s post-Vietnam, guilt-free mantra, “Hate the war, love the warrior.” In the film “First Blood“, for example, John Rambo is a Vietnam veteran who returns home a broken man. He finds his war buddy dead from Agent Orange-induced cancer and is persecuted by the very Americans whose freedom he believed he had fought for. Because he was screwed over in The ‘Nam, the film gives him a free pass for his homicidal acts, including a two-hour murderous rampage through a Washington State town. The audience is meant to see Rambo as a noble, sympathetic character. He returns for more personal redemption in later films to rescue American prisoners of war left behind in Southeast Asia. For war films, ambiguity is a dirty word. Americans always win, even when they lose in an era in which, out in the world, the losses are piling up. And a win is a win, even when its essence is one-sided bullying as in “Heartbreak Ridge“, the only movie to come out of the ludicrous invasion of Grenada. And a loss is still a win in “Black Hawk Down“, set amid the disaster of Somalia, which ends with scenes of tired warriors who did the right thing. “Argo“—consider it honorary war porn—reduces the debacle of years of U.S. meddling in Iran to a high-fiving hostage rescue. All it takes these days to turn a loss into a win is to zoom in tight enough to ignore defeat. In “American Sniper”, the disastrous occupation of Iraq is shoved offstage so that more Iraqis can die in Kyle’s sniper scope. In “Lone Survivor“, a small American “victory” is somehow dredged out of hopeless Afghanistan because an Afghan man takes a break from being droned to save the life of a SEAL. In sum: gritty, brave, selfless men, stoic women waiting at home, noble wounded warriors, just causes, and the necessity of saving American lives. Against such a lineup, the savage enemy is a crew of sitting ducks who deserve to die. Everything else is just music, narration, and special effects. War pornos, like their oversexed cousins, are all the same movie. A Fantasy That Can Change Reality But it’s just a movie, right? Your favorite shoot-em-up makes no claims to being a documentary. We all know one American can’t gun down 50 bad guys and walk away unscathed, in the same way he can’t bed 50 partners without getting an STD. It’s just entertainment. So what? So what do you, or the typical 18-year-old considering military service, actually know about war on entering that movie theater? Don’t underestimate the degree to which such films can help create broad perceptions of what war’s all about and what kind of people fight it. Those lurid on-screen images, updated and reused so repetitively for so many decades, do help create a self-reinforcing, common understanding of what happens “over there,” particularly since what we are shown mirrors what most of us want to believe anyway. No form of porn is about reality, of course, but that doesn’t mean it can’t create realities all its own. War films have the ability to bring home emotionally a glorious fantasy of America at war, no matter how grim or gritty any of these films may look. War porn can make a young man willing to die before he’s 20. Take my word for it: as a diplomat in Iraq I met young people in uniform suffering from the effects of all this. Such films also make it easier for politicians to sweet-talk the public into supporting conflict after conflict, even as sons and daughters continue to return home damaged or dead and despite the country’s near-complete record of geopolitical failures since September 2001. Funny thing: “American Sniper” was nominated for an Academy Award for best picture as Washington went back to war in Iraq in what you’d have thought would be an unpopular struggle. Learning From the Exceptions You can see a lot of war porn and stop with just your toes in the water, thinking you’ve gone swimming. But eventually you should go into the deep water of the “exceptions,” because only there can you confront the real monsters. There are indeed exceptions to war porn, but don’t fool yourself, size matters. How many people have seen “American Sniper”, “The Hurt Locker”, or “Zero Dark Thirty”? By comparison, how many saw the antiwar Iraq War film “Battle for Haditha“, a lightly fictionalized, deeply unsettling drama about an American massacre of innocent men, women, and children in retaliation for a roadside bomb blast? Timing matters, too, when it comes to the few mainstream exceptions. John Wayne’s “The Green Berets“, a pro-Vietnam War film, came out in 1968 as that conflict was nearing its bloody peak and resistance at home was growing. (“The Green Berets” gets a porn bonus star, as the grizzled Wayne persuades a lefty journalist to alter his negative views on the war.) “Platoon“, with its message of waste and absurdity, had to wait until 1986, more than a decade after the war ended. In propaganda terms, think of this as controlling the narrative. One version of events dominates all others and creates a reality others can only scramble to refute. The exceptions do, however, reveal much about what we don’t normally see of the true nature of American war. They are uncomfortable for any of us to watch, as well as for military recruiters, parents sending a child off to war, and politicians trolling for public support for the next crusade. War is not a two-hour-and-12-minute hard-on. War is what happens when the rules break down and, as fear displaces reason, nothing too terrible is a surprise. The real secret of war for those who experience it isn’t the visceral knowledge that people can be filthy and horrible, but that you, too, can be filthy and horrible. You don’t see much of that on the big screen. The Long Con Of course, there are elements of “nothing new” here. The Romans undoubtedly had their version of war porn that involved mocking the Gauls as subhumans. Yet in 21st-century America, where wars are undeclared and Washington is dependent on volunteers for its new foreign legion, the need to keep the public engaged and filled with fear over our enemies is perhaps more acute than ever. So here’s a question: if the core propaganda messages the U.S. government promoted during World War II are nearly identical to those pushed out today about the Islamic State, and if Hollywood’s war films, themselves a particularly high-class form of propaganda, have promoted the same false images of Americans in conflict from 1941 to the present day, what does that tell us? Is it that our varied enemies across nearly three-quarters of a century of conflict are always unbelievably alike, or is it that when America needs a villain, it always goes to the same script? Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during the Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. A Tom Dispatch regular, he writes about current events at his blog, We Meant Well. His latest book is Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent. Copyright 2015 Peter Van Buren ]]>
(Review Source)