Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Clint Eastwood is not all bad...

....he did, after all, improvise the "empty chair" bit at the 2012 Republican convention, which  moderates at the venue found an embarrassment, including Mrs Romney and Romney aides.    Democrats lapped it up as showing a weirdly out of touch party that had to attack "imaginary Obama" instead of the real one, as Jon Stewart put it.   I have no doubt that it hurt the party far more than it helped.   Thanks, Clint.

But as a director (and, even more chronically, as an actor) he has no talent.   I know that even liberal movie critics don't agree - but I simply do not understand the ways in which his direction is supposed to be impressive.  My prediction is he won't be used as an example in movie schools of the future, in the way many of his contemporaries will.

So the unexpected opening success of American Sniper has me wondering what is going on.  His recent films have not been clear box office hits, and there are quite a few reviews of it by liberal critics which indicate it has a somewhat morally ambiguous take on the effect of violence on the lead character.  (The fact that Spielberg was once intending to direct it also surely indicates this.)

Yet films which show such ambiguity are not normally $90 million openers.   

And there have been articles noting that far Right wing nutters are coming out of it tweeting that it has given them a strong urge to kill Arabs (no doubt with their own gun collection.)   Certainly, some reviewers think it is too celebratory of violence, but as I say, opinion seems divided.

I therefore suspect that what is going on is best summed up in this article from The Guardian, whether or not her take on Kyle's character is accurate (I haven't read enough to have an opinion):

Adds Scott Foundas at Variety: “Chris Kyle saw the world in clearly demarcated terms of good and evil, and American Sniper suggests that such dichromatism may have been key to both his success and survival; on the battlefield, doubt is akin to death.”
Eastwood, on the other hand, Foundas says, “sees only shades of gray”, and American Sniper is a morally ambiguous, emotionally complex film. But there are a lot of Chris Kyles in the world, and the chasm between Eastwood’s intent and his audience’s reception touches on the old Chappelle’s Show conundrum: a lot of white people laughed at Dave Chappelle’s rapier racial satire for the wrong reasons, in ways that may have actually exacerbated stereotypes about black people in the minds of intellectual underachievers. Is that Chappelle’s fault? Should he care?
Likewise, much of the US right wing appears to have seized upon American Sniperwith similarly shallow comprehension – treating it with the same unconsidered, rah-rah reverence that they would the national anthem or the flag itself. Only a few weeks into its release, the film has been flattened into a symbol to serve the interests of an ideology that, arguably, runs counter to the ethos of the film itself. How much, if at all, should Eastwood concern himself with fans who misunderstand and misuse his work? If he, intentionally or not, makes a hero out of Kyle – who, bare minimum, was a racist who took pleasure in dehumanising and killing brown people – is he responsible for validating racism, murder, and dehumanisation? Is he a propagandist if people use his work as propaganda?
That question came to the fore last week on Twitter when several liberal journalists drew attention to Kyle’s less Oscar-worthy statements. “Chris Kyle boasted of looting the apartments of Iraqi families in Fallujah,” wrote author and former Daily Beast writer Max Blumenthal. “Kill every male you see,” Rania Khalek quoted, calling Kyle an “American psycho”.
Retaliation from the rightwing twittersphere was swift and violent, as Khalek documented in an exhaustive (and exhausting) post at Alternet
In any event, I won't be seeing it, at least until it's free on TV.   It's important that the purity of my disdain for Eastwood is not sullied by the risk that he has made a film I might like (even though I think there is a very small chance of that.)

Update:  another article that argues that the movie shows moral complexities (even if it greatly simplifies the particular war in question) is here. 

Update 2:  gee, this review of the book the movie is based on (via one of the links above) makes it sound like poison to a liberal.  It certainly would seem the movie accurately reflects Kyle's simplistic world view; perhaps it increases the sympathy for his post war troubles beyond what the book achieves.  But if so, is that a good thing, or a bad thing? 

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