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February 24, 1980 - Image 12

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The Michigan Daily, 1980-02-24
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The Michigan Daily-Sunday, F

Page 2-Sunday, February 24, 1980-The Michigan Daily

Free space

I like movies
Triumph of the Won't:
Resisting pat politics on fi

II
44
16 4

By Owen
Gleiberman
A few years ago, I paid a visit to
one of the University's resident
film profs, in search of a class to plug
up the 3-credit space in my schedule.
The prof, a thoughtful gent with a
billygoat beard, suggested I take
"Vietnam and the Holocaust," and not
being in a particularly epochal mood I
asked him whether the course would
deal with movies as much as politics.
He assured me it would.
"Take a film like Hearts and Minds,"
he said. "When you show General
Westmoreland saying that the In-
dochinese don't value human life the
way we do, and then cut to a shot of a
young North Vietnamese boy in agony
at his father's grave, that's film." Well,
film it is. The question I've been asking
myself a good bit lately is, is it
politics-or, more specifically, is it
good politics, rather than a glib shot-
in-the-arm for liberal pieties?
From Birth of a Nation on, the
movies have served up sweeping
political statements dressed in a thick
coat of melodrama. Since Hollywood
has always worried that overt
politicizing would scare away its
pleasure-seeking audiences, directors
made sure that any messages were def-
tly concealed in love stories and action
dramas or that.they came with an im-
plicit United States Government seal of
approval. Mr. Smith could go to
Washington, but only if his escapades
assured a Depression-torn public that
the System still worked, no matter how
many rotten apples were clogging its
main channels.
The home-spun patriotism of populist
comedies like Mr. Smith is awfully hard
to take seriously: Too many social
tragedies have been traced to the
government's not-so-benign neglect (or
to its vicious interference) to leave
much room for emotional flag-waving.
But cynicism is a far cry from wisdom
or maturity. The layer of blank
disillusionment that hung over movies
like a foul cloud in the late sixties and
early seventies wasn't any less min-
dless or sentimental than the fake op-
timism of those older films. Movies like
Joe, Little Big Man, Easy Rider, The
Last Picture Show, and Dirty Harry
were dark without real despair,
because their ideological disenchan-
tment was merely the flip side of
Hollywood sentimentality, was in fact,
the ' new Hollywood sentimen-
tality-idealism gone sour. The
messages were different, but the essen-
tial tactic-grabbing the viewer by his
or her guts so there wasn't even time to
think-was identical. The idea that a
counterculture thesis film like Easy
Owen Gleiberman, a former Sunday
Magazine editor, says he is torn
between the best mercenary work he
can find ("are they still in An-
gola?") andalnice sundress in palest
lavender-pink.

Rider was somehow cutting through a
batch of lies to tap some great dark
secret about American society was true
in only the most superficial sense: It
simply discovered new lies, gave
America a black hat instead of a white
one, and directed those lies at a fresh
crop of youth who weren't quite wide-
eyed enough to swallow the old ones.
id they swallow the new ones?
Well, for awhile, at least until all
that end-of-the-empire fatalism began
to look naive instead of ominously
prophetic. And so now, movies have
er
s
(Ronald Reagan, left,
started to incorporate some am-
bivalence about who the villains are. In
The Seduction of Joe Tynan, for exam-
ple, the hero is not a righteously un-
compromising freedom-fighter and his
enemies aren't corrupt stooges: In-
stead, he's a flawed pragmatist with his
heart in the right place-a good, guy,
but not a great one. Alan Alda's screen-
play tries not to stack the deck either
way about Tynan's political or personal
life, but it's so basically inept that the
movie is garbled and without any con-
vincing focus. (How is the senator
really "seduced" if he was far from an
innocent to begin with?) Next to it, the
riveting suspense of an All the
President's Men or even The Candidate
begins to look like splendid art,
"politics" come to life on films
But what we respond to in almost all
these political filmrs (including such
imports as Z, Investigation of a Citizen
Above Suspicion, Burn, or even the
stunning epic documentary The Battle
of Chile) is not politics but melodrama.
There's nothing intrinsically wrong
with this. A movie is always more en-
joyable if one'agrees with its message,
only because it's nice to see responsible
points-of-view beingdispersed through"
an entertaining medium. But it's one

thing to call the films of Costa-Gravas
(Z) or. Pontecorvo (The Battle of
Algiers) utilitarian political thrillers,
and quite another to infer that their
political sensibility is in any way in-
dependent of their melodramatic ap-
peal.
This distinction looms in importance
when the political riessages hit
closer to home than those of the
European models. Who really cares if
the ties Bertolucci makes in The Con-
formist between individual decadence
and fascism are facile and simple-min-

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in 1938's Brother Rat)
ded, as long as they provide exotic and
suspenseful story opportunities? But it
was hard not to flinch when I caught Dr.
Strangelove at Angell Hall a few weeks
ago, amidst a packed house that was so
ecstatic over the Mad Magazine nut-
tiness that the nuclear apocalypse sim-
ply looked like the movie's biggest one-
liner. The reactions seemed especially
disturbing in light of the (then)
previous week's news about the in-
vasion in Afghanistan, the talk
(however farfetched) of war, and the
implicit chance (however obscure) that
nuclear weapons might figure into the
picture.
Strangelove's analysis of the nuclear
weapon problem is magically simple:
It hangs the blame for everything on a
few crazed war-mongers in high
military command-i.e., on a collection
of inhuman Westmoreland types. After
awhile, I just couldn't buy it. I mean,
it's one thing to chortle about General
Jack D. Ripper and his precious bodily
fluids or about Stanley Kubrick/Terry
Southern's dubious theory that all the
military gamesmanship is simply
sublimated sexuality. This is satire.
But when Gen. Buck Turgidson scowled
that in view of the imperfding nuclear
holocaust; he'd' rather attack and end

11

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