Film criticism

Those crazy Hollywood liberals are at it again, argues Victor Davis Hanson, historian and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution (one of National Public Radio’s many underrepresented conservative institutions). For in Hollywood, Hanson argues, “the politically correct impulse now overrides all else.” Such a conclusion is as hyperbolic as it is unsupported by evidence–in this case, three recent and fairly successful films involving discussion of terrorism of the fictional or historical kind (*Flightplan*, *Syriana*, and *Munich*). Hanson obviously neglects the existence of a whole subgenre of television shows and movies featuring cartoonish Islamic super-villains as well as ideologically pure American super heroes.

The spectacular boneheadedness of his argument doesn’t consist only in his willful neglect of countervailing evidence, but in his implicit claim that, one, the three films may be read as a consistent policy statement of a single group (“Hollywood producers”), and more dumbly, terrorism exists in only one form (so *Munich* and *Syriana* and *Flightplan* are about the same thing). Only in light of these two assumptions would it make any sense for Hanson to counter what he takes to be the argument of, for instance, *Syrianna* with an argument of his own:

>”Syriana” also perverts historical reality. Everything connected with the oil industry is portrayed as corrupt and exploitive, with no hint that petroleum fuels civilization. Hollywood producers might not see many oil rigs off the Malibu coast, but someone finds and delivers them gas each morning for their luxury cars.

Hanson should be reminded that *Syriana* is a fictional film, the product of one director and a handful of producers (not “Hollywood producers” in general). He should also be told that some Hollywood producer’s Malibu home and luxury car does not invalidate the argument of another Hollywood producer (even if he has a luxury car and a Malibu home). That’s what you call *ad hominem*.

The fine fellows at the Hoover institution should do as we do: look in the op-ed pages of our nations major national publications for silly arguments and leave the movies to Roger Ebert.

6 thoughts on “Film criticism”

  1. Mr. Hanson obviously hasn’t even seen Syriana. If he had he would have seen that one of the central points of the movie
    IS that petroleum fuels civilization, and that is the reason why (in the movie) the leadership of the fictional
    country could not be allowed self determination with respect to their natural resources.


  2. What was the central point of Syriana?

    And what does one hear or see in the movie itself to explain the title?

    What does Syriana refer to?

    I happen to have been given the script to Syriana around December of 2004 – a year before the picture’s planned release.

    I’m curious to know what people thought the “big picture” story was all about in the movie.

    Why is there all this stuff about Iran throughout? What does that come to, in the end?

    For whom was the fellow working who tortured the George Clooney character? Are you sure?

    For whom were the “fanatics” working who trained the young boys to go blow things up? Again, are you sure?

    Why didn’t George’s employers want to know about or find the missing missile? For whom was the blue-eyed Arab working? Who was he and where did you see him again in the film?

    Would it surprise you to know there were some changes to the script and that the finished film leaves a few things out that were in the script?

    Included in the script were things that would answer all of these questions so that one should walk out of the theater feeling one had a complete understanding of the story, of who the characters were and why they did as they did. The intent was to make a movie like “Crash” where a lot of seemingly unconnected characters and situations flash by in a dizzyingly fast array of scenes only to be tied up neatly together as a mosaic at the end.

    Did anyone walk out of the theater feeling that way? Why not?

  3. the obvious problem with this whole criticism of Syriana and its ilk is the affrontery with which the neoconservatives
    deal with any film, op-ed, Simpson’s episode that fails to adequately portray the enemies of the free world
    as anything more than “evildoers” or that knuckle-dragging, illiterate, Grendel-esque, villiany
    of lore and legend. Despite the protestations of our leaders, the western wolrd needs desperately to arrive at the realization that a requisite amount of subjugation and conquest will instill a spirit of reckless hatred in anyone (see:”Munich”).

  4. I asked the questions about Syriana because I was quite surprised and unhappy that Hollywood pulled its punches, blunted the movie’s big idea, and obscured the point that the author of the movie, Steven Gaghan. His script starts with two quotations, with which I agree wholeheartedly:

    “All you have to do is tell them that they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the county to danger. It works the same in every country” — Hermann Goering

    “If a triangle could speak it would say that God is eminently triangular.” — Spinoza

    Why the script changes?

    Maybe the usual reason: studio execs throw their weight around, change things, make a muddle, screw things up, make bad moview — it is what they do.

    Or maybe there was some political influence. Maybe the storyline Gaghan put forward got to some folks with real political interests at stake who did not want the public to see this kind of story. So they got some studio suits to fix it.

    So, what kind of story would have made this movie make sense and also threaten the agenda of the present bunch of neocons in power?

  5. why must we trust, or worse, expect, hollywood to play the role of responsible journalist?
    Their loyalties lie in the amount of the checks they receive. The problem in America is that the role of journalist has devolved into the role of corporate hack/administration hack, so now movie producers feel compelled to shed light on the subjects journalist cannot or will not, from either fear or greed. We, as the public eagerly gobble up the psuedo news/infotainment with the names changed and the corruptions protected. The story of Syriana should be told with the real names, private, personal, and corporate. It then makes perfect sense and perhaps opens the eyezs of people to the unholy marriage between the present leadership and the oil industry.

  6. there was political influence in changing Syriana into something other than the story that Steven Gaghan tried to tell at the outset. It wasn’t just the movie business.

    Note that the word Syriana is not explained at all in the movie.

    A plot line in the original story for the movie Syriana was cut out, leaving gaping holes in the story.

    What has the drama of the two princes to do with the word Syriana? What is the movie really about? How does Iran factor into all of this?

    An Arab royal related to the two gulf state brothers, now eliminated from the movie, answers questions put to him by Bob, the George Clooney character:

    Bob: Why do you want Nasir dead? Why did Musawi turn on me? Why did he try to kill me?

    Raja Salaam: … I don’t want Nasir dead, They want Nair dead. Because he won’t give them the energy and his weak-chinned little brother will, but this isn’t about Nasir, This is about Syriana, which is why those dirt Mullahs in Iran are so nervous in the first place.

    Bob: Syriana?

    Raja Salaam: A new country, Bob, drawn from Iran, Iraq, and Syria, the borders of ancient Persia — a federation – with separate states for each religion and tribe. A non-OPEC partner, run by Persians, delivering the energy of the Middle East to Europe and the United States. (beat) New countries are created all the time. And people adapt. Five years fom now this will seem as normal as Saudi Arabia or Jordan, so it the cost is one buristic little Prince, well, so what?


    So the two little Arab boys blow up the American tanker and the facility it where it is docked …. which leads to the final speech at the end of the script, also cut out of the movie (I will shorten this, for it goes on a bit):

    Int. CIA Hallway — Iran Bureau Hallway — Evening

    through glass, all the Middel East guys are pack into Fred Franks’ office to watch the President’s address.

    On TV: the clapping people stop clapping. There is a HUSH as the PRESIDENT is about to speak.

    As we PAN down the empty hallway, we HEAR the President.

    The President (V.O. on TV)

    Today, we begin turning the page that will user in a new era of freedom and prosperity for the Iranian people whose free will was hijacked by the forces of evil twenty five years ago …. With their reent attacks on Americans and American assets, this outlaw regime declared itself unfit to stand beside the civilized nations of the world …Tonight I am going to ask this esteemed congress to authorize me to declare war not on the people of Iran but on the freedom -hating dictatorship that stole their liberty so long ago.

    Through the window: it’s that time of late summer evening when the woods look much darker than the sky.

    As the applause CASCADES —

    SLOWLY PUSH INTO the trees.

    Roll Credits over trees —

    The End.

    Now,then, do you see what I mean?

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