Donnerstag, Juli 24, 2008

This Is Getting Tedious...

The film reviewer of the FT, Nigel Andrews, hasn't always been the best reviewer, allowing his politics to sharply taint his reviews.

Well, he's done it again.

This is by far the silliest review I have ever read, and I've read quite a few.

Here it is, in all of its ... glory.

"Landlord of England art thou now, not king," said John of Gaunt to Richard II, in the words of William Shakespeare. What does The Dark Knight say to those ruling the US? It surely says, as foreign interests and investments creep across the land from Hollywood to New York: "Tenants of America are ye now, not owners."

A greater ignorance of American history, both political and economic, cannot be shown from these three sentences.

First: the US has been, historically, a land which doesn't merely provide a safe haven for foreign investors, but also greater opportunities than they are allowed at home: the US rail system was built with European money, which those investors largely then lost because they had been sold a bill of goods that did not deliver (each railroad was a whopping success as long as no others were built, but this success meant that others would be built, reducing profits and creating competition).

Second: when foreign investors buy land and companies in the US, they can't simply take it with them. Sure, an investor could, theoretically, pack up plant and equipment and move to East Anglia or, more profitably, Outer Mongolia, but they can't force the workforce there, and that is what makes the US interesting for foreign investors: high labor productivity.

Third: no one "rules" the US: at best, and scarcely at that, the US is governed. But a Brit simply wouldn't be able to comprehend that, now, would he?

Sadly, the ideological bias and the sheer ignorance of the reviewer does not cease there...

This must be why the new Batman epic is the biggest opener in US filmgoing history. The blast of truth, giddied up with fun and fantasy, has a morbid irresistibility. The Dark Knight is about America losing America. Its narrative starting point is a Hong Kong mastermind's scheme to hijack Gotham City's business empire, with help from a teeming Slavic and European Mafia.

Um, perhaps the reason that the Batman film has done so well is that it is, quite simply, a smashingly good film?Much like the season's earlier Iron Man?

The puerile fantasy of Andrews gets seriously in the way of reporting: a "blast of truth"? The Dark Knight has nothing to do with "America losing America": this is where Andrews truly fails to understand the country that he is lambasting. The US specializes in one thing particularly: re-inventing itself. How can you "lose" yourself when you are really in the process of changing the way the country works? The US has gone through periods of economic change and re-orientation that would have gutted and deranged a lesser nation: the collapse of the South after the Civil War; the collapse of old, heavy industry in the 1970s; the financial difficulties of the 2000s. The key to understanding the US is the unrelenting willingness to change and adapt: of course, a Brit would have trouble understanding that.

And the villains of the film? Rather simple: they are real and already out there. Here film, the pioneer of fake reality, borrows heavily from reality, the reality of Chinese Triads, the oldest organized crime gangs, and of the brutality of Eastern European organized crime. Here Hollywood needed no help: these are villains. But rather than complaining about stereotypes out of some sort of embarassment that the oh-so-civilized Europeans cannot deal with - and the continues expansion of organized crime, of forced prostitution and drugs - Andrews instead indulges in his fantasy world, a world that itself has bright colors and marquees, but one that only exists outside of reality.

We already know the real, pre-movie facts about the US. China owns the mortgage on its economy. Militant Islam holds to ransom its security. And Britain has a controlling share in its popular culture, or at least its big-money movie fare (Rowling, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Pullman, Fleming). Now, even in the US-originated Batman franchise, the UK rules. The Dark Knight writer-director is a Limey, Christopher Nolan. Three main actors are British: Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine. Even the Joker is a Commonwealth interloper, one Heath Ledger, a deceased Australian managing to outact the living Americans.

Sigh. Ask any banker: they are dependent on mortgagees, and not the other way around. Of course, that takes some actual knowledge of finances to understand. Security ransomed to militant Islam? Quite the other way around, Nigel: not a penny, thank you very much, that's been a constant of US foreign policy since 1780 or so. Britain a controlling share of popular culture?

Excuse me, I had to stop at that one because it simply so funny.

And it seems to me that Andrews really, really doesn't understand what is going on here, and actually really doesn't understand the film industry much at all.

What the makers of Batman did was to get the best talent for the movie. Those folks were chosen for their talent, nothing less, nothing more. They've been paid, as hired help, by the people who are making, apparently, a huge amount of money from the hired help, thank you very much.

Of course, Andrews, once again in one of his rather pathetic anti-US modes, fails to understand what makes the US work so well: the ability to take the best of everywhere else ... and make it better.

And I find it rather appealing appalling that someone with such an obvious leftist slant, such an obviously oh-so-chic anti-American slant, is really criticizing the film based on something like ... nationalism? That the Dark Knight film isn't all that good because Americans didn't make it? Now that's ironic, don't you think?

A nation in panic? Quite possibly. Like lambs going to a preview of their slaughter, America paid $155m for an opening weekend's peep. The film – let us be honest – is less interesting than the resonances of its doomsaying. It bangs about for two and a half hours in shades of black, smashing cars, torching buildings, hurtling from high roofs, cackling, chasing, and getting in your face with sudden, perspective-changing, histrionic close-ups.

It goes on from there, but I shan't bore you with the rest. Simply not worth it.

Nigel, this is one of the more ... interesting slants on the film: if it weren't simply so blitherlingly wrong...

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