Friday 24 July 2020

All Pentagon On The Hollywood Front

Or, Why Hollywood isn't remaking "All Quiet On The Western Front".

One of the most persistent criticisms of Hollywood these days - as well as one of the most accurate - is that it seems to have run completely out of ideas. It only makes movies that are remakes, or superzero franchises, or both. Of course, there's more to it than that; Hollywood only makes things that are guaranteed to make a profit by appealing to the lowest common denominator. Since the lowest common denominator is also essentially mindless, functionally illiterate, and barely able to summon the intellectual ability to look at a movie poster, cinema pandering to their tastes has to be as vacuous as possible. Superzero titles fit the requirements perfectly.
    Superzero cinema also has excellent things going for it otherwise. Look at the typical superzero. He or she is almost guaranteed to be white, Amerikastani, and always, invariably, a supporter of the authority in power and the status quo. Even the illegal immigrant Clark Kent, alias Superman, chose to grace the Imperialist States of Amerikastan with his presence and fought for Truth, Justice and the American Way. Many of them are also filthy rich; Batman or Ironman might, you know, have given some of their money to improve the conditions of the poor rather than acting as vigilantes above the law that's for the hoi polloi.
    Always, what do these superzeroes, even those not white or Amerikastani, do? They fight for capitalist Amerikastani interests. Suppose there's a hidden African country with an advanced civilisation,while the nations around them are exploited by Amerikastan, ruled over by Amerikastani-allied dictators, with high levels of poverty and illiteracy, malnourishment and civil war? Suppose in this hypothetical country someone rises up to demand that the super advanced civilisation do something to unite and liberate the exploited people of the rest of the continent? You'd think he was the obvious hero, right?
    Wrong. As per Hollywood, he is the villain. The hero would be the one who's going to stop him from doing any such thing.
    Then there is the little fact that all Hollywood movies these days that use any kind of weaponry need to get clearance from the Pentagon to make sure that Amerikastan's military is adequately propagandised. In return the filmmakers get access to anything they want, from combat ships to aeroplanes to rocket launchers, not to speak of war criminals ("soldiers" and "marines") to train the actors or even act as extras themselves. Hollywood is basically an Amerikastani Empire military propaganda vehicle.
    This is why I've said many times that the greatest Hollywood film ever, "Dr Strangelove", would never have been made today. Even then it was investigated for "espionage" because the B52 cockpit interior design it used was allegedly very close to the real thing. Of course, the real problem of the film was its anti militarist message, which wasn't Stanley Kubrick's first either. He'd already trod that track before with "Paths Of Glory", but that film was about French criminality in WWI, and therefore Amerikastan had no problem with it. The French regime did, banning the movie, but not the Amerikastanis.
    Today, of course, Kubrick would never have been permitted to make "Dr Strangelove". The producers wouldn't have financed it. The studios would have closed their doors. Kubrick would have been denounced as a "Russian agent", as would most of the actors, especially Peter Sellers, who was British to boot. But I'm almost sure that Kubrick couldn't have made "Paths Of Glory" either.
   Why? Because "Paths Of Glory" is as savagely anti militarism as "Dr Strangelove" is, only it doesn't attempt to be funny. It's based on a real life incident during WWI when a French unit, ordered by incompetent generals to assault an impregnable German position, was beaten back and troops refused to continue a senseless and suicidal attack. Three soldiers were taken at random from the units, given a kangaroo court trial with a foregone conclusion, and shot by firing squad to "encourage" the others to keep fighting. Kubrick's protagonist, the unit commander who acts as the soldiers' defender at the trial, is actually thought of as stupid by his superiors because he doesn't use this opportunity to push for promotion. A doomed mission, incompetent generals interested only in promotion, exhausted and demoralised troops who no longer want to fight....have we seen this recently? Somewhere in a possibly fictional country called "Iraq" and somewhere in another possibly fictional country called "Afghanistan"?
    And that is the reason why, though Hollywood is perfectly willing to scrape the bottom of the bottom of the bottom of the barrel when it comes to ideas for rebooted superzero franchises, it won't make another "Paths Of Glory". It won't make another "The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming", the wonderful mid-60s comedy about a Soviet submarine that runs aground off an Amerikastani island, where the Soviet sub crew turns out not to be Evil Communist Ogres or Red Defectors Desperate For Capitalist Freedom, but emphatically People Like Anybody Else.
    A system that exists on Perpetual War against human beings on the other side of the planet cannot afford to have potential recruits see those human beings as People Like Anybody Else.
    And this is why Hollywood seems to have no interest in remaking one of its own greatest all time films, "All Quiet On The Western Front." The original novel by Erich Maria Remarque, which is surprisingly slim when you first see it, came out in January 1929. Within weeks it had become an international superhit, translated into English and French, and Hollywood had bought the movie rights and begun filming. German ex soldiers, who had settled in some numbers in Amerikastan after WWI, acted as consultants and extras. While by today's standards the movie would be rather overacted (the main cast were all silent movie veterans who were used to the exaggerated gestures and acting necessary to that medium), it was also an immediate hit on release. In Germany, too, it was a great hit, or would have been, but for the Nazis.
    The Nazis, then an up and coming fascist military worshipping party, called the film an insult to the German military. They attacked movie theatres, beat viewers, and soon pressured the German censor board into banning the film. In Poland, ironically, the film was banned as "pro-German". The right wing American Legion, comprised of Amerikastani former war criminals ("veterans"), also condemned the film. They were united in opposition because of the simple fact that the movie was not just anti war, but that it showed the soldiers, even enemy soldiers, as being not at all different from you and me.
   In one of the film's, and the book's, most famous moments, the protagonist (he's no hero, thank you very much) Paul Bäumer, is trapped in a shell hole on no man's land. A French soldier jumps into the same shell hole for shelter, and in a panicky frenzy Bäumer stabs him, wounding him mortally. The Frenchman takes hours to die, with the horrified Bäumer trying to comfort him and dress his wound. After his death, Bäumer is still trapped with his corpse in the shell hole for the next day and night, and he searches the body, finding letters and photographs. The Frenchman isn't a nameless enemy any longer. He's Gérard Duval, a printer in peacetime. Bäumer thinks confusedly that he should become a printer after the war in expiation of what he thinks of as his crime; he makes whispered promises to Duval's body that he will take care of the Frenchman's family after the war, only to realise that as the killer of their husband and father he can't expect anything but hatred from them.

"The Death Of Gérard Duval". Acrylic on paper.

    It is an immensely important scene, one of the high points of the book and the movie; the other is when Bäumer goes home on leave and finds that the civilians at home not only understand nothing of the war but are still pressuring their children to join up and go to the front.
   These are not themes that will be popular with the Pentagon today.
    Even the description of combat in the book is brutal. The original 1930 film (and a not too bad 1979 made for television remake) both totally sanitise the violence, but the book doesn't. During an attack, Bäumer trips over "an open belly, on which a fresh new officer's cap was lying". His friend uses a sharpened spade to cleave a giant French soldier down to the shoulder. Bäumer's friend Haie Westhus has his back blown open so his lungs can be seen as he breathes; he's still not only alive but conscious, biting his hands in agony. So it goes.
   If Hollywood were even remotely true to  its alleged liberal reputation, which of course it is not, it would have remade All Quiet for the 21st century, maybe in 3D. Rats, mud, corpses, the doubtful affections of French prostitutes, roasting stolen duck in a former kennel, crouching in a dugout under a barrage while new recruits go insane from fear, all of it.
    Not one bit of it would have brainwashed one single person to get into uniform, so of course it will not happen.
    The original German title of "All Quiet On The Western Front" is "Im Westen Nichts Neues", which is much better translated as "Nothing New In The West."
    Im Hollywood Nichts Neues either.