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Thread: 2002: Year of the political film

  1. #1
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    2002: Year of the political film

    Anyone notice how many major films this year are political pieces?
    Rabbit-Proof Fence, The Pianist, Frida, Heaven, Bowling For Columbine, Ararat, etc..
    A lot of important issues have been brought to the silver screen in serious style.

    Is it because of a new attitude toward history? (post 9/11) or is it just vain, self-important filmmakers pushing their beliefs down our throats? I think it's neither. Everybody has their passions, and to go to the length of making a major film with clear-cut enemies is both brave and admirable. All of the above films have succeeded in GRAND style. I'm a better person for having seen them.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  2. #2
    SjorsHoukes Guest
    I don´t agree with you on that point. Why is it amirable to make a film with clear-cut enemies?

    You will probably answer me that it shows great conviction and strength, but I´m willing to say that can just as well mean being naive or plain stubborn. No enemy, and I say this with the war on Iran in the back of my head, not the front, is against a clear-cut enemy. Every enemy has its good and bad sides, something which, translated into movie making, could be called shading. If only it were as simple as picking out an enemy and taking on a fight.... In the process of making a film, the director or other filmmakers will always be dealing with their subject for a long time, so regulation of their ideas is inevitable. With films such as Bowling For Columbine it will be something else - that´s a war against a symbolic enemy or a sociatal structure.

    I don´t make this statement on behalf of the films mentioned above, but I do see the Hollywood norm of depicking a clear ´baddy´ and making the protagonists of a film go and fight him. The enemy is always ´all bad´. That´s not right, I think. My motto would be: know your enemy. Seems a little corny, but think sbout what it means: to be in politics or making political movies is not about doing something about a bad situation that everybody can see, but about negotiating, convincing, striving for a better situation.

    I think it´s not weird to see many political movies. It could be something that has to do with 9-11, but I don´t really think so, especially because it takes a lot more than a year to make a movie. On the other hand, it could also have to do with some films having been stopped from getting into theaters after that date, because of the relation with the attacks (no examples I can think of). A year later, they could be relaesed after all.

    (I just hope I interpreted your words in the right way...:)
    Last edited by SjorsHoukes; 02-22-2003 at 06:53 PM.

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    Originally posted by SjorsHoukes
    It could also have to do with some films having been stopped from getting into theaters after that date, because of the relation with the attacks (no examples I can think of). A year later, they could be relaesed after all.
    This is exactly what happened, in USA, to a film I like very much called THE QUIET AMERICAN from the Australian director of Rabbit-proof Fence and lensed by genius cinematographer Christopher Doyle(In the Mood,etc). I wonder when was it released in Europe.

    Regarding Johann's comment, all I can say with conviction, is that more films with a political theme were released in the past year in N. America than at any other time in memory. Two of these were devastating docs: Columbine and THE TRIALS OF HENRY KISSINGER, a tendentious yet convincing indictment of American foreign policy. I feel sad and scared just thinking about it and can't seem to stop doing that.

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    Well, I must say first that I love political films.

    They shake me up angrily or passionately and that's a GOOD thing. Bowling For Columbine is precisely why I like political movies. Moore sought the truth. You see him seek the truth. And in turn you see hipocrisy & a lot of shit shoved under the carpet. I love stuff like that. I love films that let me make up my own mind.

    JFK is a film that makes the powers that be lose sleep, and that makes me VERY happy. If governments are "for the people & by the people", then why the hell do they do such atrocious things on our behalf? I didn't vote for wars, oppression and social discord. But that's what we got. (for the most part)
    I know I'm from Canada, but believe it or not, our country is heavily influenced by the US's governing policies. If Bush wants our troops in Iraq, Our Prime Minister will undoubtedly commit- despite public disapproval.
    Last edited by Johann; 02-24-2003 at 06:41 PM.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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    I'm curious about The Quiet American's release history too. It appears to be under release in London now as it is in the SF Bay Area, and we know Michael Caine had to bring pressure to bear on Miramax to release it for two weeks in NY and LA in late 2002 so it could be considered for Oscars. This squelching by Miramax is an example of the fairly widespread self censorship that has occurred, which also kept The Believer from being widely seen and led to its release on Showtime, which in turn disqualified Ryan Gosling from the Oscar consideration he'd otherwise have gotten.

    Noyce's Quiet American is a political litmus test because some don't find it political at all. They see a wan, conventional mood piece. Others like myself see it as extraordinarily thought provoking and ironically, much more timely than if it had been released in late 2001 as it originally was to have been. If many movies were held back for a year after September 11 that was not a brilliant propaganda move, since they are even more provocative now.

    The Quiet American is a fine piece of work by Noyce, who has revealed a surprisingly strong political outlook suddenly after all his Hollywood Harrison Ford save the republic kind of stuff. It also shows a movie can be both argumentative and beautiful.

    It may be that lots of political films have been released in the US recently as Oscar and Johan have said; I hope that's true. But there also is a spate of rah rah war movies and out and out jingoistic propaganda. The Quiet American cuts very strongly in the opposite direction. In a sense it's more thought provoking than Bowling for Columbine, because it requires more cerebration. The excellent Michael Moore tells us what he wants to think, but a drama like The Quiet American requires us to do our own analysis. I hope that those who have seen it will come forward and we can talk about it further.

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    I learned that The Quiet American has just recently been released throughout Europe and the Americas. More importantly, Miramax trimmed 17 minutes from Noyce's original cut. (Stay posted for dvd release dates). This is, by the way, the second adaptation of the Graham Greene novel.

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    Second adaptation

    Interesting. Yes, I knew it was the second adaptation, the previous one in 1958. Here is my review of the new one, which comments on that:

    [warning to readers: this contains "SPOILERS"]

    PHILLIP NOYCE: THE QUIET AMERICAN

    This elegant remake of the Graham Greene novel has stunning relevance.

    Phillip Noyce's new version of Graham Greene's "The Quiet American" goes well beyond the 1955 book as a forceful and timely political statement. Though the themes are the same in the new movie, the book dealt more in ambiguities, casting great suspicion on the Americans' early involvement in Vietnam and its motives, while in Noyce's movie the suspicion turns to certainty. It's clear quite early on that the Americans are up to no good.

    This filming of Graham Greene's novel is a powerful reversal of the 1958 Hollywood adaptation by Joseph Mankiewicz. Mankiewicz's effort, made when US involvement in Vietnam was still in its early stages, was actually stage-managed by the CIA's Edward Lansdale (the force behind the events of the novel if not the original of Alden Pyle, Greene's young "quiet" American CIA man -- Brendan Fraser in the new movie). The 1958 movie made Greene's stand-in, Thomas Fowler, wind up as a basket case and turned the CIA man, Alden Pyle, into a hero. This time Graham Greene's original perceptions are restored -- and then some.

    Pyle is no innocent bumbler here, as he seems in the book. He may appear well meaning at first, but that soon turns out to be cover. The Pyle Brendan Fraser gives us is ruthless, dangerous, and well aware of what he is doing. When Pyle steals Fowler's Vietnamese mistress Phoung, and Fowler realizes what Fraser's purpose in the country is -- to move in a puppet regime and make it look like the communists are guilty of atrocities -- the jaded English newsman becomes so engaged that, as we eventually see in a series of flash-forwards of news pages, he will later become a crusading correspondent covering the dirty side of the US war in Vietnam.

    Noyce's "Quiet American" is a stunning effort in more ways than one.

    The movie begins with the two artists who, in collaboration with Noyce, have made it not only timely and political but also beautiful. The opening scene is a deep dark blue view of Saigon harbor at night with soft lights floating on it photographed by the wonderful cinematographer, Christopher Doyle. As we gaze upon this lovely image, we hear a voiceover from the book read by Michael Caine. The reading is fresh and arresting. A mature master of the art of cinematic underplaying, Caine never lets us sense anything weary or tired in the way he plays the weary, tired London Times correspondent, Thomas Fowler. In Doyle and Caine we have two movie men at the top of their game. Caine we know from dozens of fine performances. Noyce's fellow Australian Doyle we know especially from his stunning cinematography for Hong Kong "auteur" Wong Kar Wai. He also filmed "Rabbit Proof Fence."

    Phillip Noyce emerges from a creditable, but not so distinguished background. He directed a series of sometimes belligerent big-star Hollywood thrillers during the last decade, chiefly "Dead Calm" (1989), "The Saint" (1991) "Patriot Games" (1992), "Clear and Present Danger"(1994) and "The Bone Collector" (1999). He has revealed a much more personal and committed side with this film and the equally outspoken "Rabbit Proof Fence," the latter as much a denunciation of Australian colonialism and racism as "The Quiet American" is of the US brands of those commodities. You could hardly have predicted this turn from the earlier work. It's as if Noyce has decided to pay his dues; but maybe he had these bees in his bonnet all along. The screenplay is by the playwright Christopher Hampton, who wrote the screenplays, notably, for "Dangerous Liaisons" (1988) and "Total Eclipse" (1995).

    If you choose to remain human, someone says halfway through the movie, sooner or later you have to take sides, and that's what Fowler is forced to do and what the movie itself does. The new version doesn't erase Pyle's heroism. Again, he saves Fowler's life when they are caught in a watchtower in the north. But there is a self-righteous, threatening air about Fraser's version of Pyle, whereas the 1958 movie had him played by the charismatic war hero Audie Murphy -- and in that version, he IS the hero and the communists are the villains. In this one, the communists barely figure and Pyle gradually becomes so much the villain that we feel no pang when he is gone.

    The original story emerged from a shocking series of events Graham Greene observed while vacationing in Vietnam, which constitute the pivotal sequence of the present movie. As an informative article by H. Bruce Franklin in The Nation has recently explained, Greene was suspicious of the way a car bombing in a Saigon square was reported (by a CIA-collaborating New York Times reporter) as a "gruesome" act of "terrorism" by the Vietminh. The American press traced the violence to Ho Chi Minh, but the anti-communist warlord Trinh Minh Thé had actually claimed credit for it. How did "Life" magazine happen to have a photographer on the scene? Greene wondered who had supplied Thé with the explosives.

    His novel provided the answer: it was Alden Pyle -- i.e., the CIA. The movie makes clear that the brutal Thé is set up and funded by the US, as the US actually set up Ngo Dinh Diem, with young Pyle directing things behind the pose of being a medical attaché curing trachoma. The plastic he claims has been shipped in for eyeglass frames is for Thé's explosives. Pyle runs in directing a photo shoot of the hideous bombing in fluent Vietnamese because he planned the whole thing. The CIA is creating grounds for US entry into the war the French were losing, and pretending it's out to stop communism, when the real aim is control of the region. For "communism," read "WMD's," look at the planted evidence, and you've got a parallel picture of our current situation. Greene's 1955 novel was prophetic, and so is this new movie.

    The irony of the effort to suppress the movie in the US (as H. Bruce Franklin has pointed out) is that the way the release of Noyce's "The Quiet American" was delayed for political reasons from late 2001, when it was originally to come out, until Michael Caine forcibly used his influence to get it a two-week run in New York and L.A. the end of last year, and now a general US release, means that American audiences are seeing parallels between the start of one war and the push toward another that they wouldn't have grasped a year ago. Those of us who have been looking a little deeper lately into the history of American efforts abroad may find "The Quiet American" extremely relevant.

    But this is not a piece of agitprop. There's a quietude and elegance about it, enhanced by Caine's wonderfully composed, serene characterization and Christopher Doyle's stunning visuals. The big spaces of Fowler's flat stay with you, and the faces of Phoung (Do Thi Hai Yen) and her sister (Pham Thi Mai Hoa); the dance club; and above all, the square that's bombed and the helpless, maimed victims there. One supposes that the Vietnamese know how to stage that sort of thing. They've seen enough of it.

    February 28, 2003

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    Chris Knipp:
    MI CASA ES SU CASA AMIGO

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    MUCHAS GRACIAS.

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