2004-08-13 / Columnists

The Progressive

Politics And Cinema
By John Paul Culotta



This spring and summer moviegoers have had the choice of films with fantastic special effects, sequels to action films and animated cartoons, comic book heroes, and comedies that reflect the sexual and racial gap between the generations in our nation.

In the past, American cinema has been a reflection of our shared values and beliefs. During the Second World War our films were used to boost morale and educate the public as to the reasons the war was being waged. Franklin Roosevelt once remarked that our nation was great because a child entertainer- Shirley Temple could amuse any citizen with two bits. We were made aware of the dangers and evils of communism during the cold war. James Bond and John Wayne would keep the western democracies safe.

Today when we are dividing between blue and red states, our cinema also appears to be divided. Movies often have messages to deliver. Media attention for the Mel Gibson film The Passion of the Christ and Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 911 is a witness to the divide. Devotees of the Gibson film, according to media reports, will be more likely to vote for Bush/Cheney. Moore’s acolytes will be more likely to vote Kerry/Edwards according to the same media reports. The cultural war has taken over another battle field-the Cineplex.

Political Documentaries have become the vogue. Fahrenheit 911, which won the Cannes Film Festival’s Palm D’Or award, is a moneymaker. Control Room, a film about the Arab world’s news media is also drawing crowds. Fast Food Nation has been both criticized and praised for its denunciation of the fast food business. Fox News is also a subject of a film. These films have a message and are really propaganda vehicles for the liberal establishment. Although the use of the cinema has been used for political reasons for this past century, documentaries similar to ones mentioned are not the best vehicle to challenge people who are already committed.

If you are interested in a film that will entertain but also entice you to ponder social and economic forces that influence our lives, I recommend Facing Windows. This award winning Italian film examines racism, anti-Semitism, homosexual rights, the problems of the elderly, feminism, and economic hardship through the ordinary life of a blue-collar family in Rome. There is a love story. Raul Bova, the Italian Brad Pitt, will keep the female viewer happy. It is not often that social and political themes can be viewed in an interesting, non-judgmental, entertaining manner.

The actors have developed characters that are sympathetic but are not perfect. They are similar to us. We meet similar problems. Powers beyond our control influence and sometimes overwhelm us. It is not often that a film can address issues that perplex us and remain stimulating. The question is why can’t our cinema make a film of this caliber.

It must be noted that the American movie industry is the major film industry in the world. Our films are seen in every part of the globe. The captains of the industry are concerned with the sensitivities of the public. It must be noted that The Passion of the Christ and Fahrenheit 911 have difficulty finding a distributor because of their controversy.

The American public is mature and should be entitled to a choice of films that reflect reality and not just fantasy. Our nation may be divided but interesting entertaining stories that challenge our minds will always be welcomed.

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