LFM’s Govindini Murty at The Atlantic: How Female Directors Could, at Last, Infiltrate Hollywood: Go Indie First
[Editor's Note: the full version of the article below appears today on the front page of The Atlantic.]
Half the films at Sundance this year were directed by women, compared with 4.4 percent of studio movies—but those proportions seem set to change.
By Govindini Murty. At the Oscars ceremony this weekend, not only will Kathryn Bigelow’s name not be read out on the list of the nominees for a Best Director Oscar, but for the 81st time in 85 years, no other woman’s will be, either. And while blame for Bigelow’s Oscar snub is being laid on Zero Dark Thirty‘ s perceived controversial politics, the lack of any other women nominees for a directing award exposes a more fundamental problem: the scarcity of women playing major roles both off screen and on screen in Hollywood.
Even though women buy 50 percent of movie tickets and form a majority of the U.S. population, only 4.4 percent of Hollywood’s top 100 studio movies are directed by women in any given year. The disproportionately small number of female directors in Hollywood seems to have a direct impact on the number of women seen on-screen. A 2010 USC Annenberg study led by Stacy L. Smith notes that movies with male directors featured only 29.3 percent female actors, whereas in movies with at least one female director, that number rose to 44.6 percent.
But while this year’s Oscars may reinforce Hollywood’s long-entrenched gender gap, women directors appear to be reaching a critical mass in the independent film world—a development that may soon lead to changes in the mainstream industry.
At the recent Sundance Film Festival, a record 50 percent of the films in the U.S. Dramatic Competition were directed by women. Overall, of the 119 films at Sundance this year, 34 percent had female directors. And for the second year in a row, a woman (Jill Soloway) won the Best Director Award in the U.S. Dramatic Competition, following last year’s winner Ava DuVernay.
A new USC Annenberg study co-authored by Stacy L. Smith, Katherine Pieper, and Marc Choueiti confirms that there are more opportunities for women directors in the indie world versus the studio world. Commissioned by the Sundance Institute and Women in Film Los Angeles, the study examined 820 feature films screened at Sundance from 2002 to 2012. The study found that 22.2 percent of the festival’s U.S. narrative-competition films and 41.1 percent of the U.S. documentary-competition films were directed by women.
What accounts for the gap between Sundance and Hollywood when it comes to women? Smith says that ingrained attitudes about female directors and stars play a big role: “In Hollywood, women in front of or behind the camera still seem to be perceived as a risky investment.”
>>>TO READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE PLEASE VISIT THE ATLANTIC.
Posted on February 21st, 2013 at 8:43am.
LFM’s Govindini Murty at The Atlantic: Catching the References in Hitchcock, From ‘The Birds’ to the Blondes
[Editor's Note: the full version of the article below and its accompanying slideshow appear today on the front page of The Atlantic.]
A guide to the famous Hitchcock trademarks that appear in Sacha Gervasi’s film about the director
By Govindini Murty. Sacha Gervasi’s new film Hitchcock takes a smart and entertaining look at the creation of Alfred Hitchcock’s scandalous Psycho, one of the seminal films of the 20th century. Based on Stephen Rebello’s book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, it sheds light on Alfred Hitchcock’s (Anthony Hopkins) pivotal collaboration with his wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren), his battles with studio executives and censors, and his ambiguous relationships with his leading ladies Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) and Vera Miles (Jessica Biel).
And while Psycho was considered a risky departure for Hitchcock, the film shared much with the director’s prior work, ranging from the influence of ’20s German Expressionist cinema to Hitchcock’s obsession with beautiful blondes, voyeurism, and split identities.
Here is a cultural guide to some of the themes, personalities, and cinematic references in Hitchcock.
Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel Psycho created a sensation for its depiction of the violence lurking in small-town America. The story of a demented killer who cross-dresses as his tyrannical mother in order to murder young women, the novel was based in part on the true story of convicted killer Ed Gein. When Alfred Hitchcock decided to film Psycho, he was told it would be impossible because of its controversial subject matter and was turned down by Paramount. It was only when Hitchcock announced he would fund the film’s $800,000 budget himself that Paramount agreed to distribute it.
Although Hitchcock declared that he only filmed what was in the novel, screenwriter Joseph Stefano made significant changes to the story, turning Norman Bates from a pudgy, unattractive middle-aged figure into a shy, handsome young man. Stefano also changed the story’s structure, beginning the movie with the more sympathetic Marion Crane character, rather than with Norman Bates.
>>>TO READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE AND SEE THE ACCOMPANYING SLIDESHOW, PLEASE VISIT THE ATLANTIC.
Posted on November 28th, 2012 at 9:36am.
[Editor's Note: the full version of the article below appears today at The Atlantic.]
By Govindini Murty. Jake Schreier’s debut feature Robot & Frank is a smart and funny look at serious issues: the ethics of caring for the elderly with robots, the dichotomy between nature and technology, and even the dangers of eliminating physical books in favor of digital media. Opening nationwide on August 24th, the indie sci-fi drama written by Christopher Ford is set in the near future and depicts a wily, aging con man (Frank Langella) who is given a domestic robot by his son (James Marsden) as a caregiver, only to use the robot to plan heists. The film also stars Susan Sarandon, Liv Tyler, and Peter Sarsgaard as the voice of the robot.
At Sundance earlier this year, Robot & Frank charmed audiences and was honored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for “raising profound questions about the role of technology in our collective future.” I spoke with director Jake Schreier at the LA Film Festival this summer about some of those questions. The interview has been edited for length.
What appealed to you about the subject matter of a relationship between a human and a robot?
On the surface level, it was the image of this old man in a rural environment with this very clean, white piece of technology. There’s a certain visual interest that this starts from that is pretty fascinating. Chris Ford, who wrote it, [got] the idea from this real technology that is being developed to deal with the Baby Boom generation that’s aging in Japan, and they’re looking to robots to take care of their elderly. That was the genesis of it, and Ford took it from there and really fleshed it out into the script.
And you mentioned that this was based on a short that you had produced back in film school with Ford.
[Laughs.] I used that term “produce” loosely because we shot it in my uncle’s cabin. Ford made the movie and I helped him out. We were friends in film school. We put [the short] away, and Ford and I had kept working together along with some other friends. Then about four years ago we were looking for something to develop into a feature and I just thought if there was any way he could write it into something longer it would be a great thing to work with.
Frank Langella did a fantastic job and he’s obviously the heart of the film. How did he work with the robot?
Frank doesn’t need anything. He’s such a pro. Not only does he have an amazing amount of talent, but he has the ability to shape that talent and modulate it. It was amazing to watch on set. And Rachael Ma—the girl who’s in the robot suit—went through hell to do that thing, and was there for all of it, but there were times when she didn’t need to be so he’d just be acting with the torso of the robot or an apple box in the foreground. It really didn’t matter. He was locked in, one way or the other. He said to me that he just had a thing that he’d pictured in his mind and he didn’t really want to say what it was but it was all that he needed to trigger the performance. So, I was very lucky to have that.
>>>TO READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE ATLANTIC.
Posted on August 24th, 2012 at 10:38am.
[Editor's Note: the article below and its accompanying slideshow appear today in their entirety on the front page of The Atlantic.]
A guide to the literary, artistic, and political tropes alluded to in Ridley Scott’s sci-fi blockbuster
By Govindini Murty. Ridley Scott’s long-anticipated Prometheus took in $50 million at the weekend box office, and with its heady mixture of sci-fi spectacle and metaphysical speculation is already generating passionate debate.
Set in the year 2093, the film depicts the crewmembers of the spaceship Prometheus as they journey to a distant moon to search for the origins of humanity. The team is led by scientist Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), a Christian believer who has discovered a series of ancient pictograms convincing her that the moon is home to mysterious “Engineers” who created the human species. Shaw is accompanied on her vision quest by a robot with ambiguous intentions played by Michael Fassbender, an icy corporate executive played by Charlize Theron, and a crew of scientists and technicians. Once they arrive on the moon, they find a mysterious dome-shaped structure that contains horrifying forces with the potential to destroy humanity.
The striking images Ridley Scott devises for Prometheus reference everything from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 to Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man and Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires. Scott also expands on the original Alien universe by creating a distinctly English mythology informed by Milton’s Paradise Lost and the symbolic drawings of William Blake.
The following guide unveils the cultural mysteries of Prometheus. (Warning: these slides contain plot spoilers.)
1) The Greek legend of Prometheus
As the spaceship Prometheus approaches the moon LV-223, Peter Weyland, the wealthy businessman funding the venture, addresses the crew in a video. He explains the myth of Prometheus, and says to them mysteriously, “the time has now come for his return.”
In ancient Greek myth Prometheus was a Titan who helped Zeus defeat his father Kronos. Yet after he was cheated by Zeus of his reward, Prometheus defied the gods by stealing fire from Olympus and giving it to humanity. For this crime, Zeus condemned Prometheus to be chained to a rock for all eternity, with an eagle daily tearing out his liver. Aeschylus’ play Prometheus Bound depicts Prometheus as a mad rebel against divine authority. Prometheus barks to the god Hermes: “In a single word, I am the enemy / of all the Gods that gave me ill for good” (975-976), to which Hermes replies: “Your words declare you mad, and mad indeed” (977). This is later inverted in the Romantic poet Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound, which portrays Prometheus as a sympathetic figure and champion of humanity.
There are multiple Prometheus figures in the movie, from the mysterious race of Engineers who appear to have been struck down after using a lethal biotechnology, to Elizabeth Shaw who defies the limits of science to acquire potentially dangerous information about human origins, to Peter Weyland who wishes to gain forbidden knowledge of immortality to make himself equivalent to the gods. Finally, a scene in which Shaw and her fellow scientists attempt to animate the head of one of the Engineers with electricity appears drawn from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein—subtitled, “The Modern Prometheus.”
>>>TO READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE AND SEE THE ACCOMPANYING SLIDESHOW, PLEASE VISIT THE ATLANTIC.
Posted on June 11th, 2012 at 3:19pm.
LFM’s Jason Apuzzo & Govindini Murty in The Atlantic: ‘Black Lagoon’: The First, Great Pretty-Girl-Attacked-By-Aquatic-Beast Film?
[Editor's Note: the article below appears today on the front page of The Atlantic.]
Chatting with Julie Adams, the star who helped set the formula followed by the new Piranha 3DD.
By Jason Apuzzo & Govindini Murty. From piranhas and sharks to brain-eating crabs and giant leeches, Hollywood has provided some frightening and improbable reasons over the years for why pretty girls in bikinis should stay out of the water. Long before this week’s Piranha 3DD or even classics like Jaws, however, it was the lustful Gill Man from 1954’s Creature From the Black Lagoon who first made young women think twice about going swimming.
A beauty-and-the-beast tale of an aquatic humanoid who falls for a female scientist during a research expedition to the Amazon, Creature helped inspire the 3D science fiction craze of the 1950s. It also made its young star, Julie Adams, sci-fi’s first pin-up girl—and launched her distinguished career in film, TV, and on stage.
Still vibrant and active at age 85, Adams remains a popular draw at sci-fi and classic film conventions, where she’s currently promoting her lively new autobiography, The Lucky Southern Star: Reflections From the Black Lagoon, which she cowrote with her son, Emmy Award winning editor Mitch Danton.
Over her lengthy and colorful career, Ms. Adams has seduced Elvis Presley and Dennis Hopper on screen, played John Wayne’s wife, tussled in a burning basement with Barbara Stanwyck, and played the love interest to James Stewart, Rock Hudson, and Charlton Heston. She’s been directed by Anthony Mann and Raoul Walsh—and more recently has appeared in projects like Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center and TV shows like CSI and Lost.
Yet Adams still remains best known for her role as Kay Lawrence, the sultry brunette in a plunging one-piece pined over by the Gill Man in Creature.
What was your initial reaction upon getting offered Creature?
[Laughs.] Well, I wasn’t thrilled, you know, and I thought I could turn it down, but then I would go on suspension [from Universal Pictures] and wouldn’t get paid … and so I thought, well, the studio wants me to do it, what the hey, it might be fun. And it was!
What was director Jack Arnold like, and how did you two get along?
I got along great with Jack Arnold, and he was a wonderful director. He was very low key, he seemed almost casual—but it was very easy to work with him. Any suggestion he made always made sense.
Did you interact much with William Alland, the producer?
Not that much, because he was not on the set that much—but I liked him. He was always very nice to all of us.
Alland played the reporter in Citizen Kane, and he apparently attended a dinner party hosted by Orson Welles while they were shooting Kane. Welles’s lover Dolores Del Rio was also there, and she brought along Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa. Figueroa had heard a legend as a child about an Amazon water creature, half-man and half-lizard. And the story went that there was an Amazon village that would bring a virgin to the creature once a year in order for the creature not to terrorize the village.
Right. So Alland went home later and wrote Figueroa’s story down. And then about 12 years later the whole 3D craze started, and at that point he pulled out the story and started to make a movie of it.
That’s a very interesting story—it fits in, in a wonderful, cuckoo way.
>>>FOR THE REMAINDER OF THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT The Atlantic.
Special Note to LFM Readers:
Julie Adams’ autobiography The Lucky Southern Star: Reflections From the Black Lagoon is available exclusively at her website . Featuring 300 photos of the gorgeous Adams and her famous co-stars, the book provides a charming look at Adams’ experiences working with movie greats like James Stewart, Tyrone Power, Ida Lupino, and many others. While supplies last, the book also comes with a bonus CD of the iconic score for Creature From the Black Lagoon, re-recorded by Monstrous Movie Music and featuring music by Henry Mancini, among others.
Posted on May 29th, 2012 at 10:13am.
LFM’s Jason Apuzzo & Govindini Murty at The Atlantic: “At the Summer Box Office, a Battle Between Two Ways of Filming”
[Editor's Note: the piece below was featured today on the front page of The Atlantic.]
Digital moviemaking is on the rise, but some high-profile directors still shoot popcorn flicks the old way.
By Jason Apuzzo & Govindini Murty. This summer, Hollywood’s blockbusters are engaging in a high-stakes format war between cutting-edge digital technology and old-fashioned, photochemical film. Digitally photographed thrillers like The Avengers, Prometheus, and The Amazing Spider-Man will be battling it out with equally epic movies shot on film such as The Dark Knight Rises, Men in Black 3, and Battleship. Indeed, no summer in recent memory boasts so much variety in terms of how films are photographed and exhibited.
Yet with studios looking to trim costs on increasingly expensive “tentpole” movies, traditional celluloid film—easily the more expensive of the two formats—may be on its way out as the cinema’s medium of choice. Still, advocates of film continue to make compelling arguments about why theirs is the more enduring medium, even as both sides pull out their biggest guns this summer in an effort to prove definitively the commercial value of their respective formats.
Right now, advocates of film have numbers on their side. Of this summer’s major blockbusters, more were shot on film than digitally. Aside from The Dark Knight Rises, Men in Black 3, and Battleship, other summer tentpole movies filmed photochemically include Snow White and the Huntsman, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, and The Bourne Legacy.
But digital technology has the momentum and the prestigious advocates who will likely help it win out eventually.
For the rest of the article please visit The Atlantic.
Posted on May 14th, 2012 at 1:32pm.
[Editor's Note: The article below and its accompanying slideshow appears in its entirety today at The Atlantic.]
A guide to the cultural touchstones alluded to in the new sci-fi smash
By Govindini Murty. The Hunger Games enjoyed the biggest-ever box office opening for a non-sequel film this past weekend, and it’s likely to keep captivating audiences in coming weeks with its edgy action and potent critique of today’s celebrity-worshiping culture.
The film depicts a totalitarian future in which the all-powerful government of Panem (in what was once the United States) demands an annual “tribute” of two youths from each of its 12 districts to fight to the death in a televised event known as the Hunger Games. Sixteen-year old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) of the dirt-poor District 12 volunteers to take her younger sister Primrose’s place in the Games. But when she reaches the Capitol of Panem, she realizes that in order to succeed, her physical abilities are not enough. She must also create a convincing (if false) public narrative that she and fellow tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) are “star-crossed lovers” in order to win the allegiance of the audience and outwit the “gamemakers.” This crafting of her own media narrative eventually turns Katniss into a popular heroine with the power to change the future of Panem itself.
Author Suzanne Collins has said that her inspirations for The Hunger Games came from a variety of sources, including the ancient Greek myth of Theseus, Roman gladiatorial games, contemporary TV, her father’s experiences in the Vietnam War, and news footage of the Iraq War. However, the movie adaptation of The Hunger Games contains a number of other cultural and historical references as well. Here’s a mini-guide to the cinematic, literary, and historical allusions in The Hunger Games.
The Goddess Diana
An early scene in The Hunger Games depicts Katniss sneaking into the forest to hunt for food. She retrieves her bow and arrows from a tree, and spotting a deer, attempts to shoot it—before her friend Gale interrupts her. The imagery of Katniss with her bow and arrow—central to The Hunger Games—evokes the imagery of Diana, the Roman Goddess of the Hunt, who was frequently associated with deer hunting. In one famous story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, when the hunter Actaeon accidentally sees Diana bathing nude in a forest pool, she turns him into a stag and sets his own hounds to chase him down and tear him apart. One can see allusions to these hounds in The Hunger Games when the gamemakers send monstrous dogs into the forest to hunt down Katniss and Peeta. In addition, Diana was a chaste goddess, and Katniss’s reluctance to engage in a romance with Peeta reflects this warrior-woman ethos of independence from men. Early in the film, Katniss even tells Gale that she will never have children. Peeta himself, in his somewhat subservient position to Katniss, resembles male acolytes of the Goddess Diana, from Hyppolytus to the Priest-Kings of Nemi—who themselves participated in a famous ritual of fighting to the death, as described in Frazer’s The Golden Bough.
[For the rest of the article and the accompanying slideshow, please visit The Atlantic.]
Posted on March 26th, 2012 at 1:58pm.
[Editor's Note: The article below appears in its entirety today at The Atlantic.]
Putin’s Kiss, Khodorkovsky, and Target question tyranny, capitalism, and their country’s future.
By Govindini Murty & Jason Apuzzo. As Russians head toward their presidential elections on March 4th, a trio of new films sheds light on a contemporary Russia veering between hope and cynicism, democracy and authoritarianism. The documentary Putin’s Kiss depicts a young Russian woman who becomes disillusioned with her role as a leader in Vladimir Putin’s nationalistic youth group Nashi in the wake of a brutal beating of a journalist. The chilling documentary Khodorkovsky examines the fate of the jailed Russian billionaire turned democracy activist Mikhail Khodorkovsky. And the science-fiction epic Target depicts the moral collapse of a wealthy elite in an authoritarian, near-future Russia.
On the brink of what may be another six years under Putin’s rule, these three films reveal a deep anxiety about Russia’s future—and a faint glimmer of hope for more genuine democratic freedom.
Masha Drokova is the young heroine of Danish director Lise Birk Pedersen’s documentary Putin’s Kiss (2012), a selection of the 2012 Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals and currently playing in limited release. Born in 1989, Masha is part of the first generation to grow up in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. At the age of 16, Masha joins Putin’s nationalistic youth group Nashi; by age 19, she is already a spokesperson and leading commissar of the youth group, and Putin himself awards her a medal of honor. By age 21, the bright, ambitious Masha has everything thanks to Nashi: a prestigious spot in a top Moscow university, a new car, an apartment, her own TV talk show, and access to the highest echelons of Russia’s power elite.
As briefly mentioned in the film, Nashi itself was founded in 2005 by Putin supporters to counter the rise of pro-democracy youth groups in the wake of the Ukrainian Orange revolution. Although purportedly “democratic and anti-fascist,” Nashi bears a striking resemblance to the Soviet youth group Komsomol. Like Komsomol, the well-funded Nashi provides a route for many young people into official advancement.
In Putin’s Kiss, Nashi founder Vasily Yakemenko is shown exercising a Svengali-like control over his young charges, exhorting them to discipline and promising them a new life if they will dedicate themselves to Putin and the Russian motherland. As Yakemenko says to the Nashi faithful: “I want everybody to understand: There is no authority for the movement except for the policy of Putin and Medvedev … Being part of the movement means going out into the streets. It means to tell a villain he’s a villain.” As depicted in the film, a major part of Nashi’s efforts are directed toward vilifying Putin’s opponents as “enemies of Russia.” By way of example, the film shows some particularly crude attacks directed at opposition figures Boris Nemtsov, Ilya Yashin, and Garry Kasparov.
Masha is initially drawn to Nashi out of patriotism and ambition. She sees Nashi as a way for young people to get involved in helping advance Russia, and she considers Putin a force for strength and stability. Masha is such a fan of Putin that she becomes known as “the girl who kissed Putin” for impetuously pecking him on the cheek when he presented her with a medal.
Yet Masha’s curiosity about the larger world leads her to make friends with a group of opposition journalists. Masha’s chief friend in the group is the gregarious Oleg Kashin, a liberal journalist who writes for the Kommersant newspaper.
Things take a dark turn one night in 2010 when assailants brutally beat Oleg Kashin …
[For the remainder of this article, please visit The Atlantic.]
Posted on February 29th, 2012 at 11:29am.
[Editor's Note: The article below and its accompanying slideshow appears in its entirety today at The Atlantic.]
Decoding the many references to film history in Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-nominated movie
By Govindini Murty. Martin Scorsese’s delightful children’s film Hugo is currently nominated for eleven Oscars, the most of any film of 2011. And in a year of movies like The Artist and Midnight in Paris that pay homage to early 20th century film and cultural history, Hugo might be the most complex cinematic homage of them all.
Based on the children’s book The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Hugo tells the story of an orphaned boy who lives in the walls of a train station in 1931 Paris. Young Hugo (Asa Butterfield) maintains the station’s clocks and tries to repair a mysterious automaton left to him by his late father, a clock maker. While doing so, Hugo encounters an old man who sells toys in the station, Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley), and his precocious step-daughter Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz). Hugo and Isabelle team up to find the secret of the automaton, discovering along the way that Papa Georges is none other than Georges Méliès, the legendary turn of the century filmmaker known for such fantasy films as A Trip to the Moon (1902).
Scorsese uses the stunning 3D cinematography of Hugo much like a palimpsest, layering multiple levels of historical, cinematic, and intellectual history in each scene. Hugo references everyone from Jules Verne, Django Reinhardt, and the robot C-3PO to classic silent movies like Douglas Fairbanks’s The Thief of Bagdad, Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last. Scorsese has even said that he considers the 3D in Hugo as a cinematic form of Cubism.
This cultural guide will help to decode the wealth of allusions in Hugo, making for a crash course in film, art, and literary history:
Hugo’s central mystery revolves around the automaton left to Hugo by his late father. The eerie metallic figure recalls such classic automata as the Machine-Man in Fritz Lang’s 1927 sci-fi epic Metropolis and C-3PO in Star Wars. According to Hugo author Brian Selznick, the inspiration for Hugo’s automaton came from an 1805 writing automaton created by Swiss clockmaker Henri Maillerdet, currently in the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, as well from the 18th century Jaquet-Droz writing automata in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. Animated figures go back to the Renaissance, when mechanical humans and animals would appear out of clock faces to mark the time. Automata were also popular in Hellenistic Alexandria, where automated figures were used in mechanical puppet theaters and in temples to provide oracles.
In Hugo, the automaton possesses a dual quality—both ominous and marvelous. This reflects the ambiguous feelings that people have toward humanoid automata—seeing them either as frightening doppelgangers (as in Metropolis) or as magical helpers (as in Star Wars). The scene where Hugo dreams that he turns into the automaton reinforces this ambiguity and dramatizes a common fear of dehumanization in the machine age.
[For the rest of the article and the accompanying slideshow, please visit The Atlantic.]
Posted on February 22nd, 2012 at 8:16am.
[Editor's Note: LFM's Govindini Murty has a piece today in The Atlantic, entitled: "Hey, Conservatives: It's Safe to Go to the Movies Again."]
By Govindini Murty. As our regular Libertas readers know, Jason and I have worked for over seven years to promote a greater diversity of voices in Hollywood. We’ve promoted hundreds of pro-freedom, pro-American, and conservative-friendly films, both through the Liberty Film Festival and the original Libertas blog, as well as the new Libertas Film Magazine. As I’ve said numerous times, we don’t do this because we want Hollywood dominated by conservative political propaganda any more than we want Hollywood dominated by liberal political propaganda. We do this because we care deeply about film and the arts and we feel that having a diversity of voices in our culture is crucial to maintaining the democratic values that make America great.
However, Jason and I have been very concerned over the years by the conservative establishment’s refusal to seriously engage in film and the arts. By “engagement” I don’t mean reviewing a film here or there or supporting the odd conservative political documentary. I mean genuinely and passionately engaging in film and the arts: funding and supporting filmmakers, artists, and creative people, devoting a significant portion of their media platforms to supporting the arts (even when they don’t directly tie into the conservative political agenda), taking real pleasure in creating beautiful, profound, and arresting artworks that imaginatively inspire people. Conservatives have enormous resources at their disposal to have a greater voice in the culture if they want to. That they fail to seriously engage in the culture year after year is deeply troubling. It undermines both the growth of the conservative movement, as well as the vibrancy of our culture, which needs both sides engaged in order to create art and entertainment that represents all Americans.
So, I’ve written a piece in The Atlantic today (see below) that examines the issue of why conservatives are so reluctant to support conservative-friendly films. As our readers know, when Jason and I relaunched Libertas, we were determined to positively promote films and creative artists. We were tired of just complaining about Hollywood. Conservatives have complained about Hollywood for years, and it never seems to accomplish anything. We decided that rather than give the site over to partisan politics and to obsessing over every left-wing Hollywood affront, we wanted to dedicate our time to promoting films and artworks that broadly affirm freedom and individualism. We were inspired by the genuine change we had seen in the film industry in the last two to three years, in which a greater number of pro-freedom films are suddenly being made. There’s plenty of room for hope and excitement, and yet I don’t see this hope and excitement translating into the rest of the conservative world. Conservatives in the media certainly know about these films because they do cover them (often with snarky and dismissive reviews) – they just refuse to take them as a positive sign of change that should be embraced.
I hope my Atlantic piece (see below) will inspire some honest debate amongst conservatives. I didn’t write a partisan piece – I wrote a piece that objectively deals with the issues as they appear. I truly appreciate all of our conservative, libertarian, independent, and liberal readers here at Libertas who have shown their commitment to supporting the idea of freedom in film. You’re the good ones – you get it. I hope the message spreads to the rest of the public as well, because the culture is too important to be treated as a partisan whipping post. It deserves to be treated honestly, objectively – and always with respect for the artists who create the works that give our culture meaning.
From The Atlantic:
The recent news that MGM’s remake of Red Dawn may finally reach theaters should be reason for conservatives to celebrate. The Los Angeles Times reports that MGM is in talks to sell Red Dawn to Film District (the company behind Ryan Gosling’s Drive), who will likely release the film in 2012. The original Red Dawn is one of the iconic films of the cultural right. Written and directed by John Milius, the 1984 film depicted a group of plucky teens who fight off a Soviet invasion of the U.S. This new Red Dawn, of which I’ve seen an early cut, features a similarly patriotic storyline—and stars one of Hollywood’s hottest young leading men, Chris Hemsworth (Thor). And even factoring in some controversial re-edits that change the villains from the communist Chinese to the North Koreans, the new Red Dawn seems like exactly the kind of pro-American action fare that should please cultural conservatives.
But will conservatives actually support Red Dawn when it comes out?
After years of feeling burned by Hollywood, today’s conservatives seem reluctant to go to the movies, even to see films promoting their own values. A number of right-of-center-friendly movies have been made in recent years—ranging from big-budget studio fare like the Transformers movies or art-house films like The Devil’s Double, to overtly political documentaries like The Undefeated—yet conservatives have responded with little enthusiasm to such films. Indeed, at times conservatives seem more interested in debating left-leaning works like Avatar or Fahrenheit 9/11 than in supporting movies friendly to their own cause.
Witness the conservative public’s tepid response to two recent films on “conservative” subjects: the movie adaptation of Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, and the Sarah Palin documentary The Undefeated. Both films received extensive media coverage earlier this year. Fox News and the Fox Business Network ran numerous segments on each film (with John Stossel devoting an entire show on Fox Business to Atlas Shrugged), and both films were widely discussed on talk radio and in the print media. Yet when the films were released, they fared poorly at the box office. Atlas Shrugged made only $4.6 million on a reported budget of $20 million, and The Undefeated made only $116,000 on a reported budget of $1 million. Granted, both films received mixed reviews, at best. Nonetheless, as conservative film critic Christian Toto pointed out in a recent Daily Caller article titled “Why don’t conservatives support conservative films?,” the popularity of Rand’s original Atlas Shrugged novel and of Sarah Palin as subject matter should presumably have led to greater enthusiasm among conservatives for these projects. Yet they didn’t.
Stranger still, even when offered more popular or critically acclaimed films, many conservatives still seem reluctant to support them.
For example, a well-reviewed film recently appeared in theaters that offers an implied justification for the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime. The Devil’s Double tells the true story of Uday Hussein, Saddam Hussein’s gangster-like son, and his reluctant body double, Latif Yahia. Both roles in the film are played by rising star Dominic Cooper (Captain America), whose electric performance has made him one of Hollywood’s most sought-after leading men. The Devil’s Double depicts the Hussein regime pillaging and demoralizing Iraq’s people—and even includes flattering footage of George H.W. Bush and Dick Cheney. And despite its seemingly right-of-center politics, the film was screened to rave reviews at Sundance, with Roger Ebert even calling it a “terrific show” and praising Dominic Cooper’s “astonishing dual performance.”
>>>Read the rest of the article at The Atlantic here.
Posted on October 12th, 2011 at 5:32pm.
[Editor's update: Many thanks to Kevin Roderick for mentioning Govindini's Atlantic piece in his article "Left coast writers splash in the Atlantic" on LA Observed. Kevin runs one of the great LA sites and I urge you all to check it out.]
[Many thanks as well to Michelle Malkin's Hot Air for linking to Govindini's Atlantic article. Hot Air is always on top of the most interesting news and analysis, so be sure to check them out.]
[And of course, a big thank you as well to our friend Lars Larson. Lars is one of the best-informed and most articulate talk radio hosts out there (and rapidly rising, with his radio show carried in over 200 markets). Lars posted Govindini's article on his site and he has always been supportive of Libertas Film Magazine and the cause of freedom in film.]