Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Politics Of... A Brief Introduction

From cinema's first days the medium has been used to promote political/social agendas either directly or indirectly.  The Birth of a Nation, Battleship Potemkin, The Beast of Berlin, The Eternal Jew, Triumph of the Will,  Song of Russia, Salt of the Earth, The Green Berets, W., Taken, Saving Christmas.   From the various films of the Soviet empire down to ISIS recruitment videos, film is not immune from propaganda.  In fact, in those countries where film is controlled by the government, their whole industry is built around using cinema to glorify the state and promote whatever agenda it has in mind. 

Even now, the art of motion picture is still able to influence, subtly or overtly, people's views.  I'd be hard-pressed to call any Michael Moore film a true documentary given his whole reason for being is to use film to persuade you to his point of view.  If you've heard talk about "overturning Citizens United" in the Supreme Court, let it be known that the case is built (as far as I understand) around a non-fiction film entitled Hillary: The Movie (I don't use the term 'documentary' here either, and one guess as to what the Citizens United group thinks of the 45th President of the United States).  President Hillary Clinton, in turn, blamed a trailer for a short film, Innocence of Muslims, for the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya and the deaths of four men inside the compound (a charge which has been called into question, though the video did incite other riots throughout the Islamic world).

As a side note, the Islamic world was enflamed decades earlier when photos of Egyptian actor Omar Sharif kissing Jewish-American actress Barbra Streisand for the film Funny Girl were released.  Touchy, touchy, our Arab/Islamic friends. 

The use of film to promote a particular agenda in short is nothing new.  However, a question arose for me while watching Eye In the Sky.  Something about this film just struck me as a bit off, as if instead of getting either a straightforward story or even allegory I was getting lectured to about the evils of drone strikes.  In short, I wasn't being asked to make up my own mind...I was being led to particular conclusions whether I agreed to them or not. 

The premise, if I understood it correctly, was that we should not use drones if a cute little girl is likely to get killed.  Even with all the arguing about how those in the house about to be attacked were putting on suicide vests and could kill over 80 people theoretically, the main focus was on whether or not to send the drone even if it meant an innocent girl selling bread next to it might get killed.

What made it curious for me was that while watching, the old Vulcan saying, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few...or the one" came to me.  I'm no Trekkie, but if we applied Vulcan logic to the scenario in Eye In the Sky, there would have been no question about launching the drone.

Biopic or Propaganda?

Try as I might I could not shake the idea that Eye In the Sky was not a 'real' film, but more a tool for a particular political viewpoint, almost to being propaganda.  It made me think of other films that I suspect of being close to if not actual propaganda films.  Three came to mind: The Ten Commandments, Spartacus, and High Noon.  I wondered to myself whether these films, and perhaps others, had more to them than the surface story, whether the filmmakers did slip sociopolitical viewpoints into them as a way to 'convert' me. 

This is not a dying issue.  American Sniper was met with fierce criticism from the likes of Seth Rogen and John Fugelsang, who saw it as an almost obscene work of jingoistic pro-Iraq Invasion horror.  I personally saw it as a story of the torment of war on one man.  However, did I miss something the first tine I saw American Sniper or another film that met with the same attacks, Zero Dark Thirty

As such, I decided to embark on a new, occasional series which I'm calling The Politics Of...

In these essays, I hope to watch a film in question and see whether I can spot anything that can be seen as promoting a particular agenda and offer my own views on the subject.  This, I hope, will be an interesting and entertaining foray into the subject of propaganda in films ostensibly free of such things.

I cannot say for certain that any malevolent intentions were meant because I would need the writer/director/producer to verify it, and most are dead and I am not about to hold séances.  I offer only observation and speculation.

I might find that one can interpret a film as having more than meets the eye...or maybe that a movie is just a movie. 

I look forward to the series, with an aim for one essay a month, and hope that we all can be open-minded on the subject.

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