By Alan Scherstuhl
By Charles Taylor
By Melissa Anderson
By Inkoo Kang
By Amy Nicholson
By Sam Weisberg
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Chuck Wilson
Really? According to the October 3 Washington Post, video stores were enjoying "huge rentals of heroic combat movies" with Rambo and Die Hard With a Vengeance "flying off Blockbuster shelves." But the next day's New York Times begged to differ. Despite the "huge surge" following the attacks, there was no significant difference in what customers were renting. The alleged interest in Independence Day was no more than "anecdotal" and, according to one Blockbuster executive, "never amounted to more than a hiccup among the larger number of new releases flying out of the stores." Nor were audiences avoiding movies. Even before the Harry Potter juggernaut arrived last month, fall movie grosses were up.
In late October, Variety ominously cited a National Research Group survey that found 60 percent of people over 35 had no interest in going to the movies, "especially men who watch a lot of television news coverage." Did they ever? Still, the studios moved up military films like Behind Enemy Lines (which tested even better post-September 11) and the Somalia combat film Black Hawk Down. (In keeping with the World War II revival, the latter is being spun not as the worst military disaster of Bill Clinton's presidency but as an affirmative tale of American soldiers banded against a "Hitler-like" Somali warlord responsible for thousands of deaths.) Warner Bros., supposedly out beating the bushes for a new Rambo, could only regret having so hastily yanked the uncanny Collateral Damagesurely the season's perfect movie.
Hollywood expected to be punished. Instead, it was drafted. Only days after the terror attacks, the Pentagon-funded Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California convened several meetings with filmmakersincluding screenwriter Steven E. De Souza (Die Hard, Die Hard 2), director Joseph Zito (Delta Force One, Missing in Action), and wackier creative types like David Fincher, Spike Jonze, and Mary Lambert. The proceedings were chaired by Brigadier General Kenneth Bergquist; the idea was for the talent to "brainstorm" possible terrorist scenarios and then offer solutions. (Why not? We live in a country where Steven Spielberg is called upon by Congress to offer insight into hate crimes and Tom Clancy was interviewed by CNN as an expert on terrorism.)
For the first time since Ronald Reagan left office, it has become all but impossible to criticize the movie industry. After George Bush's late September suggestion that Americans fight terrorism by taking their families to Disney World, Disney chief Michael Eisner reportedly sent out an e-mail praising the president as "our newest cheerleader." (Disney is returning the favor by rushing into production a new version of the treasured Texas tale of the last stand at the Alamo in time for next summerto protect the president's outreach to Latino voters, they can perhaps convert Santa Anna's Mexican army into Martians).
Even Representative Henry Hyde has requested Hollywood input into a congressional hearing on how the U.S. might successfully address the "hearts and minds" of the Arab world. Unable to ignore the similarity between their religious fundamentalism and oursthank you, Jerry Falwellthe administration now wants to promote the American values of "tolerance" and entertainment. Among their other crimes, the iconoclastic Savonarolas of the Taliban had proscribed the sale of television sets and banned all movieseven subjecting them to public burning. Hence the phenomenal photograph printed November 20 by The New York Times, page one above the fold, captioned "Kabul Cinema Opens to Joy and Chaos." In an image that would do the professional hysteria-stokers of the Cannes Film Festival proud, a mob of smiling Afghan men were shown storming and even scaling the walls of the 600-seat Bakhtar Cinema to participate in Kabul's first public movie screening in five years. Not since Independence Day . . .
Never mind that women were banned and that the Afghans were fighting to see the 1995 Uruja movie celebrating those same mujahideen heroes whose war against the Communist infidels had brought Bin Laden to Afghanistan in the first place. Shrek will surely followand maybe even Pearl Harbor. Kabul had rejoined our civilization.
Research assistance: Cecilia Sayad
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