Friday, March 23, 2007

Succeeding at the Box Office

300 has now endured everything the American movie critics chose to throw at it and could then throw its box office numbers back in their critical faces. Nevertheless, I found it worth reading Sukhdev Sandhu's British perspective at this morning. I suppose what interested me most was a quote from director Zach Snyder, which I had not previously seen, to the effect that filmmakers "need to get in touch with their inner 15-year-old boy." Since I remember a review of The Phantom Menace in The New York Review beginning with the assertions that Titanic was a film for twelve-year-old girls and Star Wars was for thirteen-year-old-boys, Snyder's remark may indicate a step, however small, along the path to maturity.

I wouldn't count on it, though. While Sandhu did describe the plot as "the kind of clash of civilisations that Samuel Huntington and neo-cons have been talking up these past few years," the other particularly interesting thing about the review is that it says absolutely nothing about how the Persians are portrayed. This is the back-story behind the whole project to produce and release 300 that has attracted the attention of many American critics, particularly those writing for the alternative press. From their point of view, this was a major propaganda effort to encourage further intolerance in public opinion about Middle East cultures, especially the one that currently occupies what used to be Persian soil. Any critic with a sense of history would probably have reflected back on Jud Süß, the notorious Nazi film produced in 1940 to cultivate anti-Semitic attitudes (not to be confused with the version starring Conrad Veidt and more faithful to the Feuchtwanger novel, which, since it was made in 1934, was a rather bold voice against German anti-Semitism). If, as I argued yesterday, intolerance "rules the roost," then what better way to promote it than through fifteen-year-old-boys, who are just about at the age when they can start thinking about a career in the military? Why invest resources (which are already overstretched) in some latter-day version of the Hitler youth when you can count on the movies to provide exactly the attitude you need for your next generation of armed forces?

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