A Look Back on a Year’s Worth of Serious Filmmaking

By Gene Mahoney

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From “Katrina, lies and videotape” by Star Parker in Townhall.com, 8/28/06 (a review of When the Levees Broke, directed by Spike Lee):

Spike Lee took his cameras and crew to New Orleans to film a documentary about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. The four-hour production, which aired on HBO, is, unfortunately, about as destructive as was the disaster it depicts.

At a time when we need light and understanding, Lee has delivered darkness, anger and hatred. Those who will be hurt the most by the distorted and untruthful picture that Lee has concocted are the poor blacks he purports to want to help.

Spike Lee

It's clear that Lee did not go to Louisiana in search of truth. He went to Louisiana to carefully construct a documentary that would support the conclusion he had already reached. That conclusion: poor blacks suffered and died as result of the indifference of a detached and racist Bush administration in general and President Bush in particular.

The film commits egregious journalistic sins of commission and omission, carefully selecting and editing footage to indict Bush, including only commentators who support the conclusions that Lee had already reached, and selectively omitting reams of information relevant to the complex truth of what actually happened.

Since Lee already knew the truth, he didn't have much need to examine material such as "A Failure of Initiative," Congress' investigation into Katrina, which shows failure and breakdown at all levels of government _ local, state and federal. It also was of little interest to Lee that primary responsibility for disaster preparation and management is at the level of local and state government, not federal.

But New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin comes off in the production as just one cool dude. He shows up at regular intervals over the four-hour production, talking New Orleans jive and being one straightforward sincere guy who was trying to do his job.

No mention is made of the hurricane simulations and emergency evacuation plans that he totally ignored. No reference is made to the famous picture of the parking lot filled with flooded school buses that Nagin chose not to use to evacuate residents in poor areas.

Central to the Katrina story is the failure of the levees. Indeed, Lee's film is called "When the Levees Broke."

But who is responsible for ignoring the warnings over the years that the levees protecting New Orleans were inadequate? Bush? Of course not.

It was Louisiana's congressional delegation that was responsible to ensure that their constituents' interests were being represented and that funds were being appropriated to fix sub-standard levees. But not a single Louisiana senator or congressman is ever mentioned or appears in "When the Levees Broke."

William Jefferson, New Orleans' congressman for the last 16 years, has been under FBI investigation over the last year under bribery charges. However, Jefferson is a Democrat and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. To shine a light on his possible, and likely, neglect of representing his constituents' interests would have distracted from the single message that Bush was the evil genius behind this tragedy.

From “V for Vapid” by Don Feder in FrontPageMag.com, 3/20/06 (a review of V for Vendetta, directed by James McTeigue):

“V for Vendetta,” which opened on Friday, combines all of the celluloid left’s paranoid fantasies – Christian conservatives in charge of a brutal regime, the war-on-terrorism as an excuse for the suppression of civil liberties, homosexuals harassed and killed by conservative Christians, a pedophile priest (who works miter-in-had with the regime) and an attack blamed on terrorists that’s really a right-wing conspiracy.

All that’s missing is a Halliburton connection. For that, we’ll have to wait for "V – The Return."

“V” opens in Britain circa 2020. America has succumbed to plague, civil war, and chaos. (Bush’s fault, no doubt.) The UK is ruled by a fascist regime with strong Christian overtones – the party’s slogan is "Strength through Unity; Unity through Faith." Its symbol is a stylized cross, and its enforcers are a quasi-religious police.

As the film opens, Britain’s most popular commentator is explaining how America’s fall was ordained by its embrace of "degeneracy," as flecks of saliva fly from his mouth.

The Brit Reich is headed by Chancellor Sutler – played by a cadaverous John Hurt (who looks like a cross between Hitler and Kate Moss). Hurt is incapable of delivering his lines unless he’s: A) Screaming B) Sneering or C) on the verge of a cerebral hemorrhage.

In the England of "V," free speech has been crushed. Conformity is ruthlessly enforced. Dissidents and non-conformists are hunted down and eliminated. Torture is a routine. Medical experiments are performed on undesirables. And "1984" indoctrination is ubiquitous.

Enter the mysterious "V" – a knife-throwing martial-arts master in a Guy Fawkes mask.

The movie projects the 17th century Englishman as a prototypical freedom fighter. In reality, Fawkes was a Catholic conspirator who tried to murder James I and most of Britain’s nobility by attempting to blow up Parliament in the famous Gunpowder Plot of 1605. His objective wasn’t constitutional democracy but a return to Catholic rule. But, then, Hollywood never did have much of a sense of history.

That’s only the beginning of "V’’s confusion. One of the characters is a closet homosexual talk-show host (portrayed by British actor Stephen Fry), who shelters Natalie Portman on the run from the authorities.

In his Crypt of the Banned, Fry shows Portman a Koran. "Are you a Muslim?" Portman innocently asks. No, Fry replies, but I appreciate the beautiful illustrations and poetry therein. Does he also appreciate the perspective of the religion-of-peace on the love-that-dare-not speak-its-name? Were there German Jews in the ‘30, who really dug those snappy SS uniforms?

From “Spike Lee's Bigotry @ a Theater Near You” by Debbie Schlussel in DebbieDoesPolitics.com, 3/24/06 (reviews of Inside Man and Confederate States of America, both directed by Spike Lee):

Ronald Reagan feting David Duke in the Oval Office. Abraham Lincoln running around in Black face. Jews being governed by a government department for Semitic affairs.

Spike Lee's obsessions with race and ethnicity never go away. Nor does his smug arrogance at the expense of those who are not members of his own race and ethnicity.

Today, Lee has two movies debuting in theaters, "Inside Man" and "Confederate States of America."

The first is an exciting action thriller . . . if you don't mind that Whites and Jews are weak, idiotic, evil, and/or calculating, while the Black police detectives are the exact opposite of all these and save the day. Probably to quell criticism of his past films' rampant anti-Semitism, there is even a Holocaust theme in "Inside Man."

After all, you can't be anti-Semitic or bigoted, if you glom on to the Holocaust, right?

But the hypocritical Lee doesn't really abhor the Holocaust too much. When his "4 Little Girls" documentary--about White racists bombing a Black church in 1963--lost out to "The Long Way Home" for an Academy Award, Lee whined that it was a "Holocaust movie" (and also about the establishment of Israel) and accused the Academy of failing to give Blacks due recognition. We learned his true feelings about Jews when, in 1998, Lee complained to AP that Michael Jackson had to change blatantly anti-Semitic lyrics to a song and apologize to Jews. He "was crucified!" Lee snorted.

(In a weird coincidence, "Inside Man" co-stars the smarmy Jodie Foster, who will star as Nazi filmmaker and propagandist Leni Riefenstahl--and has defended her as "libeled.")

Then, there is "Confederate States of America," which is labeled "Spike Lee Presents," rather than his usual "A Spike Lee Joint," accompanying "Inside Man." This means Lee is an Executive Producer of the film, originally made in 2004 (perhaps to affect the 2004 elections by turning out more of the Black vote), but not released in theaters until now.

Nonetheless, Lee is very connected with this racist film, which plays like a PBS documentary, only even more boring. While our tax-funded Palestinian Broadcasting System probably would show something this absurd, Spike Lee tactics and machinations are written all over it. The movie is an outrage.

The movie takes place in present day, with a twist. The Confederacy, not the Union, won the Civil War . . . oops, I mean, "The War of Northern Aggression," as it is now called in the Confederate States of America.

The country is the same, except Blacks--and Hispanics--are slaves. Jews are not full citizens either. The movie goes out of its way, on more than one occasion, to remind us that Judah P. Benjamin, a Jew, was a high-ranking Confederate official, and that it was because of him--his ability to gain European support for the Confederacy--that the Confederates won the war and now run America.

But here's a reality check: Benjamin, the Confederacy's Secretary of State (and Secretary of War and Attorney General), failed to get foreign support. And yes, he was a Jew (lest you forget it, that point is mentioned conspicuously--twice--in this film), as were many who fought the Confederacy as Union soldiers. Some of them are buried at the Battlefield at Antietam and other Civil War battlefields, where they gave their lives for the Union. That's not mentioned in "Spike Lee Presents the Confederate States of America." Neither is the fact that there were many Jews who were against slavery or at the forefront of the civil rights movement, with some giving their lives.

From “Faux Documentary; The tired saga of Left agitprop” by Victor Davis Hanson in National Review Online, 2/13/06 (a review of Why We Fight, directed by Eugene Jarecki):

Should we laugh or cry when a now-discredited Dan Rather gives an on-air sermon about truth and ethics? The populist subtext of the film is that the unthinking hoi polloi are used as cannon fodder by profit-drunk corporate insiders and corrupt politicians, symbolized by the multimillionaire Dick Cheney of Halliburton infamy. But the film’s own footage and interviews provide an even worse example of aristocratic superciliousness: Erudite and arrogant men in fashionable turtlenecks and Nehru collars give pompous lectures about how we ignorant yokels are fooled by salesmen and flag wavers — as glib images flash by of the American mob enjoying video games, carnival gun shooting, and red, white, and blue parades.

As in Hollywood’s similarly lame Syriana, the conspiracy-theory stuff here is badly dated. No one seems to have told Jarecki that the Chinese have piled up billions in American cash while jetting the globe to sell their weapons to any dictator they can find, while a debt-ridden United States pays almost $70 a barrel for oil to Middle East autocracies whose production cost per barrel is around $5.

History is warped — or, when inconvenient, omitted entirely. There is not a word about three successful elections in Iraq, or American efforts to depose dictators and establish democracies in Grenada, Panama, and the Balkans, much less the American effort to promote reform in Egypt, Lebanon, and Palestine. The removal of the Taliban and the new democracy in Afghanistan are never mentioned. American soldiers are shown taping and handcuffing Iraqi civilians, never building schools or power plants (the Iraq War, Karen Kwiatkowski assures us, “had nothing to do with the liberation of the Iraqi people”). We, of course, “armed” Saddam (whose crimes are never mentioned); yet we are never told that less than 5 percent of his arsenal was American-made, or that the billions given to Stalin to fight Hitler is the story of realpolitik par excellence.

The Bomb was not dropped on Hiroshima, as Gore Vidal assures us, “to show off” or “to show Stalin” something about our ability to wage “preemptive World War,” but because just a few weeks earlier we had incurred 50,000 American deaths and injuries on Okinawa, a number that could have been dwarfed by an assault on the Japanese mainland. And Chalmers Johnson needs a history lesson about Rome: Its greatest bloodletting was a product of civil war during the late republic, not during the early empire (in which the Augustan army shrank in size and imperial writers railed about the newfound pernicious effects of a “luxurious peace”).

Nor was the Iraqi war an unauthorized executive decision: Unlike Bill Clinton’s 1999 bombing of Milosevic, the Iraq War was approved by the Senate, which offered 23 reasons to remove Saddam Hussein, almost all of them ignored in the film. The Cold War is always evoked, but never in the context of trying to contain a political system that led to 100 million killed under Stalin and Mao. Instead, it is Cliffs-noted as mostly a colossal waste of American resources, all squandered in pursuit of profits.

Documentary makers like Jarecki fail to realize that the ascendance of Fox News and conservative talk-radio is directly correlated to the arrogance of the big networks, whose anchors seem to believe that their slant will be taken as gospel. The elitism and bias of public television and radio is of the same kind that prompted the prairie revolt that the bloggers have mounted against the smugness of the mainstream newspaper guild. Why We Fight shows precisely why the documentary industry now risks falling into the same pit of irrelevance. Such propaganda will either prompt a counter-response, replete with similar biased techniques, mustered by the Right, or it could bring about a new counter-genre altogether — as most Americans start to skip these tired left-wing melodramas. Splicing together gory pictures, liberal elites talking down to clueless Americans, and missiles rolling off an assembly line isn’t even silly any more. It’s just boring.

From “Hollywood takes liberties with true stories but 'Glory Road' is a flagrant foul” by William Arnold in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2/10/06 (a review of Glory Road, directed by James Gartner):

It's a growing irony of today's Hollywood that, the more its filmmakers have come to rely on fact-based stories for their source material, the more inventive they've tended to become with the facts. These days, when we see that fateful kicker, "Based on a true story," experience tells us it's wise to be more than a little suspicious.

Indeed, a kind of ritual has arisen in which a film will appear, gain media attention and critical credibility on the strength of its "true" story, and then spend weeks being cut down by people charging that the real story -- be it "Alexander," "Erin Brockovich" or "A Beautiful Mind" -- just didn't happen that way at all.

A recent case in point -- and one that strikes close to home -- is the box-office hit, "Glory Road," which chronicles the saga of the mostly black Texas Western University 1966 NCAA-champion basketball team, which a title card tells us is "based on the true story of the team that changed everything."

The story is basically the impossible dream of coach Don Haskins (Josh Lucas), who went against the grain of his white, Southern college to recruit a full squad of black players from around the country and then took them to the top -- a feat the film contends is a major milestone in the civil rights movement.

In the middle of the film, there's a devastating sequence of events that begins when one of the traveling Texas Western Miners is brutally assaulted in the restroom of a Southern restaurant by "crackers," beaten bloody and then shoved head-first into a toilet in which we have just seen a man urinating.

Frightened by the incident, their confidence shaken, the Miners shortly thereafter find, in an even more shocking scene, their motel rooms trashed, their personal belongings violated and the slogans "Niggers Die" and "Coons Go Home" scrawled all over the walls in what looks like either red paint or blood.

From here, the battered team takes a long, solemn bus ride to Seattle for its next game. When they arrive, the mood is so grim that Haskins' assistant wants to give up. But Haskins can't, because it's become a moral crusade for him. "Just THINK of how these boys have been degraded and humiliated just because they're black."

Cut to the Seattle University game, where the fans are booing just like all the rest of the rednecks we have seen. And as a consequence of this abuse -- the restaurant, the motel, the Seattle U fans -- the Miners lose the game: the only loss of their magical season. It's the low point from which they will rise to a thrilling climax.

Now, there are several things wrong with this scenario. First, neither the restaurant nor the motel scenes actually happened to the Texas Miners. This was divulged to me by the film's producer, Jerry Bruckheimer, when I interviewed him a month before the film was released. Those incidents were made up, he said, "for dramatic purposes."

Second, the racist reaction of the Seattle U fans is a fantasy. When I questioned the scene in my review of the film, a number of readers wrote to confirm my suspicion. "I was at the game," one writes. "I was 12 years old at the time. ... It was a great game but there was no racial booing toward Texas that I remember."

Another writes: "I am black. I was 16 when I listened to that game on the radio, and I don't remember hearing any racially motivated booing, or any comment on such a response. I'm certain it never happened. Seattle-style racism, even 40 years ago, was much too genial and covert to have accommodated such a public display of rudeness."

Still another writes, "I was in that crowd and was actually called by the folks making the movie. They wanted to know about the SU fight song (wasn't one), pep band and the like. When I could not provide much in the way of info or salacious details, they rang off. ... If we booed loudly, it was -- as always -- (at) the refs."

Moreover, the '66 Seattle University Chieftains were hardly the lily-white foe the movie depicts. As former player Mike Acres testifies in a recent issue of the Seattle University newspaper ("Racism? What Racism"), they were "a predominately black team. Four of our six top players were black."

So just about the only thing that seems to be true about this dramatic sequence of events -- the scenes that give "Glory Road" its visceral power and bond the audience with its protagonists and gives them credibility as civil rights heroes -- is the fact that the Miners played Seattle U and lost by two points.”

From “Hollywood's bad guy problem” by Max Boot in Jewish World Review, 12/29/05 (a review of Syriana, directed by Stephen Gaghan):

When you think about it, World War II was far from black and white. Sure, the German and Japanese militarists were evil, but Britain and the United States did terrible things too. They killed hundreds of thousands of German and Japanese civilians, and they allied themselves with the Soviet Union, which was every bit as awful as the Axis. The outcome was ambiguous because, although Germany and Japan were defeated, the Iron Curtain descended from Eastern Europe to North Korea.

Yet for 60 years, Hollywood has had no problem making movies that depict World War II as a struggle of good versus evil. Rightly so. Because for all the Allies' faults, they were the good guys.

For some reason, Hollywood can't take an equally clear-eyed view of the war on terrorism. The current conflict, pitting the forces of freedom against those of Islamo-fascism, is every bit as clear cut as World War II. Yet fashionable filmmakers insist on painting both sides in shades of gray, as if Israeli secret agents or American soldiers were comparable to Al Qaeda killers. Two of the most serious holiday flicks — "Syriana" and "Munich" — are case studies in mindless moral relativism and pathetic pseudo-sophistication.

George Clooney as Bob Barnes in Syriana

“Syriana” purports to shed light on the relationship between oil, terrorism, the United States and the Middle East. Unfortunately, the plot makes almost no sense. Even the title is puzzling. Writer/director Stephen Gaghan claims that he heard "Syriana" used in "think tanks in Washington" to refer to a "redrawing of the boundaries in the Middle East." I work in a think tank with a large D.C. office, and I've never heard that term. Neither have Middle East experts I consulted. In any case, the movie has nothing to do with redrawing boundaries. In short, the title is an attempt at a knowing insider allusion that only illuminates Gaghan's cluelessness.

To the extent that "Syriana" has any message, it seems to be that greedy oil companies, corrupt politicians and malevolent CIA big shots are the bad guys in the Middle East. Two of the most positive characters are a Hezbollah kingpin, who offers CIA operative Bob Barnes (George Clooney) safe passage, and a Pakistani laborer who is driven to become a suicide bomber after being laid off by an American oil company.

The Bob character is said to be based on former CIA officer Robert Baer, but "Syriana" has nothing in common with his memoir, "See No Evil," which depicted his struggles in the 1980s against Hezbollah and in the 1990s against Saddam Hussein.

In real life, Baer got into trouble for plotting to kill Hussein, a terrible dictator. In reel life, Bob gets in trouble for trying to kill a nice Persian Gulf prince who apparently offends Washington by wanting to sell oil to a Chinese, not an American, firm. That's quite a difference. News flash to Gaghan: Canada has agreed to sell oil to China, and the CIA isn't bumping off Canadian leaders.”

From “'G.I. Jesus' and Illegal Immigration” by Jason Apuzzo and Govindini Murty in discoverthenetworks.org, 6/29/06(a review of G.I. Jesus, directed by Carl Colpaert):

As one of its recent top stories, Variety reported on a new film called "G.I. Jesus" that just won top prize at the popular CineVegas festival in Las Vegas. Here is a description of the film:

“G.I. JESUS is the story of a Mexican citizen, Jesus, who joins the Military to become a legal citizen of the United States. After returning from a tour of combat in Iraq, Jesus is shocked to find how much his Mexican wife and daughter have changed in his absence.

"He watches his American dream turn into a nightmare, as he struggles to hold his family together in a country obsessed with materialism and conspicuous consumption. Jesus soon learns that the true battle begins after the fighting stops. Provocative and intelligent, often humorous, G.I. JESUS portrays one family's struggle to find a better life by crossing the border - back into Mexico!’"

Great! Although we weren't aware that the purpose of military service was to circumvent immigration laws. Oh, well, Jesus, sorry for the rough treatment you had over here in this "country obsessed with materialism and conspicuous consumption" . . . and don't let the door hit you on the way out!

From “Dead Stalinists Society” by Lloyd Billingsley in FrontPageMag.com, 11/2/06 (a review of Catch a Fire, directed by Phillip Noyce):

The SACP [South African Communist Party], like the CPUSA [Communist Party USA], was a wholly owned subsidiary of the Soviet Union. According to recently revealed files from Soviet intelligence, the USSR sustained the SACP through the KGB. As those files have it, [SACP leader] Joe Slovo commanded Umkhonto we Sizwe, a special operations force which, in June 1980, launched four simultaneous attacks on oil storage tanks and a refinery at Secunda.  Slovo didn't carry out the attacks. He sent black Africans to do the heavy lifting and take the risks.

According to the KGB files, the leader of the squad that carried out the attack was not Patrick Chamusso, the hero of this film, but Motso Mokgabudi, also known as Obadi. He had been trained in the USSR and ran an ANC [African National Congress] sabotage camp in Angola. But was bombing a refinery the best way to fight the apartheid regime? After all, many blacks worked there, and those jobs – high-paying by African standards – enabled them to own houses and cars, just like Patrick Chamusso. What were the feelings of some blacks about a Communist movement symbolized by dead white totalitarians? Did any South African blacks have misgivings about actual Marxist-Leninist regimes in Ethiopia, Angola, and Mozambique?

Catch a Fire conveys a kind of “massa Slovo knows best” attitude from Africans, who come across as uncritical followers of a non-African white leader. There is no mention, much less dissent, in the film, though screenwriter Shawn Slovo [one of Joe Slovo’s daughters] gives Africans a few clanky lines about liberating their land. She has also explained that they chose Chamusso who “wasn't one of the icons” but a family man and worker, an ideal image for the ANC. The film takes care to have a character say “we don't want anybody killed” in the refinery attack. Joe Slovo is shown as exulting, however, when told that a bomb will take out the refinery's water system, making it impossible to put out the fires, which indeed raged for a week.

At the time, there were more than 20 million blacks in South Africa. Viewers will get the impression that everyone totally supported the ANC and its militant campaigns. One catches fleeing glimpses of blacks in the police and military but viewers don't learn much about South Africa, which classified people as blacks, whites, coloreds and Indians. In the ANC training camps, recruits chant they want to murder “the Boers."”

This is a movie with villains from central casting. Nic Vos, the police official played by Tim Robbins, at times seems ready to hiss: “Ve vant zuh names. You have zem, yes?” Other times he struggles to show he is human, instructing his daughters on the pistol range, playing the guitar, or conceding to Chamusso that apartheid can't last.   

It couldn't and didn't, but viewers don't see how it ended and aren't told that the Africans who run South Africa now have no use for Marxism-Leninism and have even privatized state-owned operations in the style of Margaret Thatcher. Toward the end, Catch a Fire cuts to the actual Patrick Chamusso, then to Nelson Mandela, who decided, apparently with Joe Slovo's support, to negotiate with president F.W. de Klerk. De Klerk called for a non-racist South Africa, lifted the ban on the ANC, and released Mandela from prison.   He is not in this movie.

Neither is the practice, indulged by some ANC members, of “necklacing,” the torching of black dissenters with gasoline-soaked tires. Winnie Mandela, Nelson's ex-wife, was a fan of necklacing but she's neither shown nor mentioned.

Catch a Fire is a brand of cinematic apartheid that ignores important events, bans key players, and whitewashes others. It gets authentic only at then end, when it says: For Joe Slovo.###

All contents © 2006 by Gene Mahoney