• Censorship and Sensibility Movies you may see (or may not be allowed to see)

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    have I laid, inductions dangerous,
    drunken prophecies, libels and dreams…"

    Shakespeare, Richard III

    so long ago — perhaps 2 or 3 years — the cable TV operator where
    I live broadcast a movie on one of its home cinema channels in which
    American political and military men were debating around a table
    and waving sticks at maps in a dramatic discussion of how and when
    to drop a nuclear bomb on Baghdad. I only caught a part of this
    frightening but unmemorable movie and so, regrettably, I do not
    know its name, although its plot sounds similar to that of Deterrence
    (1999). With its copious references to the earlier u2018Desert Storm'
    operation in Iraq, and clearly positing a continuity of policy with
    it, this film unambiguously conveyed a message that sooner or later
    somebody somewhere would set about completing the unfinished business
    (or perhaps I should say the u2018unfinished Bushiness') left over from

    Impossible – II
    , released in 2000, contains fascinating
    twists and turns on the theme of stolen identity, which tie right
    in to the never very certain, and now rapidly disappearing identities
    of the September 11 hijackers
    : in the movie, several characters
    are not who they appear to be (either to us or to each other) because
    they are wearing carefully designed masks which make them look identical
    to their enemies. Result: you confide in someone you believe to
    be your friend, only to discover he is your assassin. In a neat
    parallel near the end of the movie, employing the time-honoured
    device of the bad guy u2018hoist with his own petard,' the chief villain
    thinks he is shooting dead his enemy when in fact he is shooting
    his own man.

    two recent and superficially unremarkable films illustrate an uncanny
    and often disturbing feature of artistic life — that accurate premonition
    and foretelling of events are much more common than is generally
    supposed. More often than not, people are reluctant to admit such
    premonitions, and prefer to dismiss them as coincidence.

    September 2002 issue of the
    Fortean Times
    , which describes itself on its masthead
    as "a journal of strange phenomena," was devoted to the
    events of September 11, 2001. The actor Bruce Harwood is quoted
    on the Internet as having subsequently written to that publication
    as follows:

    just finished your article on 9/11 conspiracy theories, I thought
    I’d share with you my own peculiar relationship between the conspiracies
    and the events. I was one of the lead actors on a short-lived
    television series that aired on the Fox network in the US. It
    was called The Lone Gunmen and intended as a spin-off from the
    popular Fox series The X-Files. The so-called Lone Gunmen are
    three conspiracy geeks who publish an underground newspaper named
    The Lone Gunmen (hence our show title).

    our series aired in the spring of 2001, we had shot the pilot
    episode in March 2000. The plot was fairly simple: the Lone Gunmen
    uncover and defeat a government conspiracy to fly a commercial
    jet plane into one of the towers of the World Trade Center via
    ground-based computer control of the jet’s auto-pilot. The intention
    was to blame a foreign, ‘terrorist’ nation for the bombing, and
    thus encourage the US to enter into a war against it – all
    to guarantee weapons sales for the US military-industrial complex.
    In the TV episode, of course, our characters save the day in the
    nick of time, regaining control of the plane just as it soars
    over the towers."

    from Bruce Harwood,
    letter to the Fortean Times, October 2002

    wisdom holds that the pilot episode of The Lone Gunmen TV
    series, of which 12 more episodes were aired in the US in the spring
    of 2001, is probably still "the spookiest precursor of September
    11." Some might say it is significant that Fox did not renew
    the series for a second season, and that it has in fact been deliberately
    "buried." This, together with its uncanny premonitions,
    means that it has spawned its own Lone
    website, together with widespread derivatives. Like the
    X-Files from which it was spun off, the series has generated its
    own mythologies, its own cults and of course, that old favorite,
    "conspiracy theories."

    there are many other contemporary novels, films, and TV shows which,
    while often not memorable, and at time of publication even ridiculed
    for being far-fetched, have turned out to be premonitory in some
    degree. Examples of this are the ending of Tom Clancy's Debt
    of Honor
    , in which a plane is flown into the Capitol in Washington,
    his Rainbow
    , which deals with anti-terrorism, and films such as The
    , in which a terrorist campaign in New York culminates
    in an explosion which brings the Army onto the streets. And, although
    I have not seen this myself, I have read that the recent (post 9/11/01)
    DVD edition of the mediocre picture Escape
    From New York
    somehow cuts out the key scene where Air Force
    One crashes into an office tower in New York.

    is no need to partake of conspiratorial notions – that these
    films and novels are somehow designed to sow the seeds of plausibility
    in the minds of the general public, or that authors and screenwriters
    have been carefully planted by the globalist conspirators who rule
    our lives and instructed to come up with plots, ideas and dummy
    runs of "unthinkable" events – to realize that the
    reason for these premonitions lies somewhere in what might be called
    the collective consciousness. Artefacts quintessentially distil
    and reflect the prevalent notions, culture and anxieties of the
    times in which they are made, and not of the past or future times
    which they may be about, even if on the surface the apparent subject-matter
    of the film is either historical or futuristic. This much is demonstrated,
    for the decade of the 1990s, by the supreme example of Chris Carter's
    X-Files series.

    least until someone makes a reality of the fantasy of time travel,
    I like to think of the standard time-frame of a Hollywood movie,
    or of a TV show episode, as representing the true vehicle for time
    travel in our age, because into a real period of audio-visual experience
    lasting say, 90 to 130 minutes, or the 50 minutes of a typical TV
    episode, the makers of the film have control over powerful options
    to compress into that real time-frame centuries, a lifetime, a period
    of years, or just a few days or even minutes. At the same time the
    search for a good plot, preferably the stuff of "drunken prophesies,
    libels and dreams" is, for Hollywood, akin to the search for
    the Holy Grail. Small wonder that the plotters in Washington, and
    their spin-doctors, in power for a limited time only, should want
    to come together with the purveyors of imaginary plots in Hollywood
    and the weavers of cinematic dreams who turn those plots into celluloid

    is especially true of the biblical and Roman-empire type blockbusters.
    These are typically made and shown at times when the warfare state's
    propaganda machine requires the celebration of stirring victories
    in wars of conquest or ideology, or individual heroics of revenge,
    and are rationalized and cheered on by subliminal appeals to fundamentalism
    and easy audience identification with clearly demarcated goodies
    and baddies. For this very reason, and because of their great special
    effects, they also endure, despite some ham acting and well-documented
    but unobtrusive technical hitches (four-wheel drive vehicles visible
    on the horizon in El
    , and the like).

    once again we have a time when the drums of war are sounding. Thus
    the movie
    industry grapevine
    has it that, over the next few months, the
    cinematic public is promised a new wave of epic antiquity movies,
    following on from the ostensible success in 2000 of Gladiator,
    a film which, for me personally, not even the wonderful Hans Zimmer
    the spectacular effects, and the regulation denouement in which
    the bad boys and girls get what’s coming to them (give or take a
    little), could save from being rather brutish and lacking in soul.

    from the minor difficulties that Hollywood has had of late in deciding
    which nation or group to cast as the bad guys — two recent New
    York Times articles (link1,
    describe the offence taken by the Koreans at the way they have been
    caricatured in the latest Bond
    – these developments no doubt represent the slowly
    ripening fruit of Hollywood's moves to fall into line with the "war
    effort" following September 11 — moves which, when viewed in
    historical terms, need little encouragement.

    report dated October 19, 2001 stated, "In an unusual two-hour
    meeting held in Beverly Hills Thursday, White House officials and
    top television executives met to discuss how Hollywood could help
    support the war on terrorism. Roughly 25 people from the entertainment
    industry were in attendance, including Oscar-winning actress Sally
    Field, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences chairman Bryce
    Zabel and CBS president Leslie Moonves." In a CNN piece entitled
    Sam wants Hollywood
    ," on November 9 2001, the Minister
    of Propaganda himself was reported to be about to visit Hollywood
    to meet with industry figures and strengthen their resolve, and
    would later receive a return visit from the movie moguls, as reported
    in August 2002 by the journalist Robert
    , one of the two
    whom the well-known actor John Malkovich publicly
    he would like to shoot dead, who writes, "After
    the crimes against humanity in New York and Washington last September,
    I suppose it was inevitable that the Pentagon and the CIA would
    call on Hollywood for ideas — yes, the movie boys actually did go
    to Washington to do a little synergy with the local princes of darkness."

    late 2001 the most widely publicized cancelled or postponed movie
    was Arnold Schwarzenegger's Collateral
    , which has since been released, and seems to be yet another
    instantly forgettable bone-breaker. Although we cannot know the
    exact number of movies shelved or postponed in the aftermath of
    September 11 (CNN quotes a number of "at least 45"), this
    fact alone begs the question, if a movie was not fit to be viewed
    after September 11 because it might offend sensibilities, then should
    it not have been permanently shelved in any event on the much better
    grounds that it was, and is, a lousy movie?

    course, that is not what it's all about, as the recent fuss over
    the Philip Noyce film of Graham Greene's The
    Quiet American
    demonstrates. This is, by all accounts, not a
    bad movie at all. Nor is another recent movie, which has been well-received
    but is contentious, and thus so far unreleased: Buffalo
    – the 2001 movie starring Joaquin Phoenix and
    Ed Harris, not to be confused with an earlier film of the same name.
    A Mr. Harvey Weinstein, of the Miramax film studios, in his wisdom
    recently pronounced that most Americans would not be allowed to
    see The Quiet American because the studio had deemed it "unpatriotic."
    John Wiener, writing in the December 16, 2002 issue of The
    , stated:

    Quiet American”, which recently opened for a two-week run in a couple
    of theaters in New York and Los Angeles, illustrates just how far
    Hollywood self-censorship has gone in the year since 9/11.

    Weinstein, Miramax co-chairman, told the New York Times the studio
    concluded that “you can’t release this film now; it’s unpatriotic.
    America has to be cohesive and band together. We were worried that
    nobody had the stomach for a movie about bad Americans anymore.”

    aside for a moment a rightful libertarian gut reaction against censorship
    in any form, and against the presumption of anyone, let alone a
    mere film studio chairman, that he is entitled to prescribe what
    u2018America' should be at this time, I feel a little qualification
    is perhaps in order. The argument, if there is one, is primarily
    about money. The Hollywood studios' main criterion for the "success"
    of a movie is its relative position in the league table of box-office
    takings, preferably on the first weekend it comes out. That the
    film was released at all, at a time deemed politically unfavourable,
    was due to the arguments apparently brought to bear by Michael Caine,
    whose performance in the film has been highly praised by critics
    and could win him an Oscar. Those arguments were based on the potentially
    favourable knock-on effect that an Oscar award would have in improving
    the film's eventual takings.

    of course, like any form of prohibition, also makes the forbidden
    item more interesting and desirable. A little bit of trouble or
    controversy never did any movie release any harm, and arguably could
    be just what is needed to spice things up a bit in this time of
    fear, apathy, and recession, not to mention cold winter weather
    which keeps people at home. Or to prepare the ground for a later
    release at a more propitious time of what appears to be an intelligent
    film in the midst of the usual chart-topping idiotic pap.

    I find it galling when "mere" studio directors, and actors
    and actresses, celebrated at best, and rightly so, for their fine
    skills and performing talent, more routinely for their sex-appeal,
    and at worst for their misdemeanours — but certainly not for their
    political or philosophical opinions – are found pontificating
    as to what the public should or should not see. In a recent article
    on CounterPunch, Saul
    gives full vent to this irritation, but concludes optimistically:
    "Hopefully, Miramax will soon re-release the film and make
    a contribution toward the cause of understanding through cinematic
    beauty – and thus virtue."

    to my mind, is undoubtedly the right approach. The sycophantic media,
    true to their subservient attitude to the state and the regime
    du jour, place a meaningless politically correct spin on the
    studios' decisions whether to give certain films a wider release
    or not, but such decisions in fact have little to do with the quality
    of the movie and its ultimate artistic and critical destiny. How
    many movies, released with a fanfare of publicity, have subsequently
    faded into the oblivion of hasty u2018secondary exploitation:' released
    ahead of time on video and sentenced to premature artistic death?
    And how many other movies, not big box-office successes when first
    released, or perhaps even subsequently rejected by their makers,
    or banned on grounds of political incorrectness (think of Disney's
    "Song of the South" just as an example), have surprised
    all involved by making it to the sanctum of cult status or enduring
    critical and public acclaim?

    so, given the quantity of troops and ordnance now sitting on the
    edges of Iraq, there is no certainty that "The Quiet American"
    will be shown in the US any time soon. In bringing out politically
    correct arguments for putting this particular movie on hold, Harvey
    Weinstein was reverting to the true and time-honoured Hollywood
    form, which has generally been to fall rapidly into line in with
    the desiderata of the imperial state, by both assisting in the fabrication
    of its propaganda, and washing it clean when inconvenient historical
    facts make their presence felt.

    how John Pilger, writing in the New Statesman in April 2002,
    describes the history of this u2018cleansing' process:

    fell neatly into categories of worthy or unworthy: for America
    or against America. In Hollywood, history was reduced to screen
    “epics” such as Exodus, in which worthy (Jewish) refugees settled
    in the Holy Land and unworthy Palestinians, made refugees in their
    own land, were invisible. These dispossessed people are now portrayed
    in American action movies, along with other Muslims, as terrorists.
    Following the Vietnam war, in which around five million Vietnamese
    were killed during the American invasion, and their land was destroyed
    and poisoned by American weapons of mass destruction, Hollywood
    came to the rescue with a string of Rambo-and-angst films that
    invited the audience to pity the invader. These films provided
    a cultural purgative that helped clear the way for America to
    mount other Vietnams – in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua,
    Panama, Somalia and elsewhere. The current “war on terrorism”
    is underpinned by the same Hollywood caricatures. Films like Black
    Hawk Down, which promotes a mendacious version of America’s killing
    spree in Somalia, act as cultural “softeners” before the bombing
    starts again for real.

    Fisk makes much the same point in the article I have referred to
    above, which is entitled "Be very afraid – Bush Productions
    is preparing to go into action: we are being prepared for an epic
    supported by Hollywood and a plot of lies."

    as Butler Shaffer has written,

    all of
    this leads me to ask whether the entertainment industry is an
    extension of the war system, or whether war is simply an extension
    of our need for entertainment? What should be clear to us is that
    entertainment is one of the principal means by which our thinking
    can be taken over and directed by others once we have chosen to
    make our minds passive, which we do when we are asked — whether
    by actors or politicians — to suspend our judgment about the reality
    of events we are witnessing. When we are content to be amused
    (i.e. to have our attention diverted from reality to fantasy),
    and to have our emotions exploited by those skilled in triggering
    unconscious forces, we set ourselves up to be manipulated by those
    producing the show.

    ~ Butler
    and War As Entertainment
    May 29, 2002

    sum, even as we are being entertained, the fact of being entertained,
    and indeed of enjoying the film, is no excuse for divesting ourselves
    of our critical and discriminatory faculties.

    eager to apply censorship and prohibition repeatedly fail to learn
    the lessons to be learned in this domain, and to appreciate and
    understand the inherent paradoxes of communication. The simplest
    of those paradoxes is that censorship and prohibition always have
    the opposite effect to that which is intended: it makes the fruit
    that much more attractive by making it forbidden (and by so increasing
    demand it may also, where saleable commodities are involved, push
    the price upwards).

    subtle paradoxes of communication were cleverly encapsulated by
    the late Marshall McLuhan in the early 1970s in his book Understanding
    , and the now famous statement that "the medium is
    the message." In terms of what the viewer is left with, of
    what is actually communicated, the quality of the way the medium
    is handled and crafted — in this case film – will in the final
    analysis always win out over any bluntly presented "message."
    Leni Riefenstahl's classic film, The
    Triumph of the Will
    , which is a record of the 1934 National
    Socialist party rally at Nuremberg, still banned in Germany to this
    day and vilified by all sorts of worthy people because of its content,
    is recognized as a masterpiece of cinematography. It does indeed
    convey the terrifying nature of state-backed propaganda and its
    powerful effect on mass consciousness, but unless you wish to believe
    that human beings are incapable of any critical thought whatsoever,
    it is naïve in the extreme to think that the viewer of this
    film will react to it by engaging in spontaneous violence or other
    extreme forms of behaviour, rather than reflecting soberly on the
    nature of that violence as a result of his or her experience
    of the film as film — as something not real, but an artefact.

    again Robert Fisk hits the nail on the head when he writes: "the
    important thing, as my dad used to tell me, is to remember that
    the cinema [does] not really imitate reality." Substance is
    not everything, indeed it is possibly not even the half of it. A
    message is often more effective for being presented in a more subtle
    way. If it is shouted to the rooftops over and over again or if,
    like the planes hitting the towers on September 11, it is a visual
    message, shown over and over again, it eventually loses its effect
    from repetition, and people simply turn off.

    themselves so often portrayed by the movies as the true repositories
    of premonitory wisdom and instinctive knowledge, as lately in the
    film Signs by M.
    Night Shyamalan, learn these lessons from an early age, and develop
    powers of critical discrimination which enable them to distinguish
    what "is" from what "is not." Cartoons are among
    the most violent shows on earth, yet the kids know the violence
    is not real. The clear and present danger today is rather that grown
    men, who should know better, have taken possession of the plot,
    or are trying to write it themselves.

    leave the last word to Robert Fisk: "When Vice-President Cheney
    and Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld turned up together for the premiere
    of Black Hawk Down,
    I began to get worried. After all, if the Bush administration is
    so keen on war, it better work out the difference between Hollywood
    and the real thing. Yet what we’ve been getting is a movie version
    of reality, a work of fiction to justify the prospect of “war without

    11, 2003

    Wall (send him mail) is a freelance
    translator, specializing in the social sciences, who lives in Estoril,


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