Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Some thoughts on movies

Do you ever wonder what movies are telling us? Recently there have been a series of movies about the Middle East. Now, I haven't seen most of them, because I've been watching my blood pressure lately, and I have a feeling that watching a movie about current events coming out of Hollywood isn't going to help.

I'm almost curious to see some of them. I mean, it's hard not to read movies, or more accurately, the topics of films such as Kingdom of Heaven or 300 in light, of, oh, national policy. I mean from what I hear, Kingdom of Heaven had to have a token sympathetic Arab antagonist. I'm fairly sure, even without seeing the movie, that he probably ended nobly and tragically.

The handling of movies like these, reveals a lot about how we as a nation view and interpret history. A friend of mine once said that she disagreed with our Illustrious Alma Mater's decision to valorize the Romans and the Greeks as the "Foundations of Western Civilization" since she believed that the middle ages had an even greater influence on the society that we are today. Arguments can undoubtedly be made for both sides. But what interests me more here, is the reason why people prefer the Romans and the Greeks to other time periods such as the Middle Ages. What sort of image do we see? And why do we want to emulate it?

I mean, as my friend pointed out at the time, 300 is kind of silly, since it casts the Spartans as the "Americans" and the Persians as the "decadent Oriental empire of your choice" when commonly Spartans were autocratic and totalitarian. However, the directors of the film to force a different sort of characterization on them in the film, and of course this raises the question of why they chose to frame this historical conflict in the way that they do. Why do there always have to be "Americans" or American-substitutes in every movie? Also, why do all people from ancient Europe irrespective of region speak in a British accent?

Ok, this post really ended up pretty far away from what I originally started with. Sue me, I'm tired. I'll attempt to pick up this train of thought later, and hopefully come up with something more than just "philosophical" questions. If you've got some theories, I'd like to hear them.


Factorial said...

I (not so) secretly liked 300, with it's oiled, gleaming dudes in pretty pretty helmets and pretty pretty capes and lots of pretty pretty visuals. It was, however, painfully offensive. Also, if given a choice between brutal and crazy Spartans and SEXY PERSIAN SEX PARTY WHEEEEEE you can probably guess what I would choose.

But where they really lost me was when they actually said FREEDOM ISN'T FREE.

I died a little inside.

It also bothered me because in many ways Persian culture is less alien / different from us than Spartan culture. Spartans were fuckin' weird, a fact pretty nicely glossed over in the film.

Lizard said...

i wish the Alma Mater had a more comprehensive view of history, even in so far of token aknowledgement of interdependence with central asia and india in particular, if we are going to talk about Western Civilization As We Know It. though we don't exactly talk about early northern european influence either. boozing and human sacrifice, woohoo! not to mention in hum 210 we could use some freaking islamic sources. stab.

as to the other part, I hate movies, and I almost never watch them, so I really have nothing useful to say. between the blood pressure issue and just finding movies kind of boring.u

Magniloquence said...

I read through 300, being oh so very much not about the violence. Troy fulfilled basically the same thing for me, though... the historically inaccurate rendering of Stuff I'm Familiar With, topped off with a giant heaping helping of The Pretty. Oh, The Pretty... *grins and sighs*

Where was I?

Oh, yes. The Alma Mater. I'm with Lizard (Hi Lizard! Haven't seen you in ages.) on the whole 'gee, wouldn't it be nice to acknowledge that none of this happened in a bubble?' thing. Then again, given our Illustrious Alma Mater's fondness for bubbles, perhaps that would be asking too much.

And as far as movie-movies go, I've been thinking much the same thing recently. It's weird how suddenly all this stuff pops up, and what it seems to be saying. I can't give too fine a reading on it, mostly because, well, again with the not really doing the graphic onscreen violence thing... but still. I mean, at a really superficial level, the Middle East is the new Africa. You know how a couple years ago (okay, a lot of years ago... late 90s, maybe?) every dangerous action movie or military movie was set in "Africa" (jungle subtype, often Congo-esque, with a little of the savannah subtype thrown in for variety)? Well, now all of those same movies are happening in the "Middle East" (which is about as precise a designation as "Africa," honestly). Hell, even then 'random military outpost Somewhere Far Away' in Transformers was in... Qatar? I think it was Qatar.

And, of course, on a different dimension, you have the rise of location-specific first-person shooters (and other games)... like the latest Resident Evil game that got (rightly) villified for being 'virtuous white people saving the world from savage dark-skinned zombies.' (I think that was in "Africa" too, though... someone should really point out at some point that it's a continent, not a country...) Not to mention Counterstrike (which always looked suspiciously like what we see of the middle east and certain bits of europe with lots of fighting in them), and America's Army (which is specifically designed to resemble places we're actually fighting in, and to assess the players' fighting style, ability to command, and other things that would make them good candidates for recruitment.).

Anonymous said...

From Robert Fisk, on watching Kingdom of Heaven in Beirut:

"But at the end of the film, after Balian has surrendered Jerusalem, Saladin enters the city and finds a crucifix lying on the floor of a church, knocked off the altar during the three-day siege. And he carefully picks up the cross and places it reverently back on the altar. And at this point the audience rose to their feet and clapped and shouted their appreciation. They loved that gesture of honour. They wanted Islam to be merciful as well as strong. And they roared their approval above the soundtrack of the film."

I decided to see Kingdom of Heaven because of Ridley Scott and in spite of Orlando Bloom and was pleasantly surprised.

Twin Lauren said...

I'm just really, really glad that I watched 300 at a beer theater.