ANN – Sony, ‘The Interview’ and the unspoken truth that all movies are political

Sony, ‘The Interview’ and the unspoken truth that all movies are politicalThereand#39s really no bright side to discern from this weekand#39s bizarre, unprecedented spectacle involving Sony Pictures and andquotThe Interview,andquot a Seth Rogen-James Franco satire about the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.After weeks of suffering through the most destructive corporate hack in history, and on the heels of theaters refusing to show the comedy due to terrorist threats made by the hackers (now believed to be sponsored by the North Korean government), Sony finally pulled andquotThe Interviewandquot entirely on Wednesday, refusing even to make it available on demand.

It was a particularly distressing choice given that the decision arrived the same day President Barack Obama announced a new, liberalized policy with Cuba andmdash a softening of relations presumably designed to bring American democratic values to the communist country. This is what freedom of expression looks like, extruded through the priorities of late corporate capitalism and aggressively asymmetrical global politics.

The truth that the SonyandquotInterviewandquot debacle has laid bare is that all films are political, from the most banal escapist romp to the self-valorizing action aentures we aggressively send to the overseas markets andmdash especially in Asia andmdash that now account for around 70 percent of the movie industryand#39s profits.That point was inaertently proved with perhaps the most provocative kernel of information that emerged during the disorienting past few days.

In the middle of the swirl, the Daily Beast revealed communications between Sony Entertainment chief executive Michael Lynton and the US State Department, which told him that andquotThe Interviewandquot had the potential of actually moving the needle in North Korea Lynton had already run the project by a specialist at the Rand Corporation (where he sits on the board of trustees).In a June email, Rand defense analyst Bruce Bennett wrote to Lynton: andquotI have been clear that the assassination of Kim Jong Un is the most likely path to a collapse of the North Korean government.

Thus while toning down the ending may reduce the North Korean response, I believe that a story that talks about the removal of the Kim family regime and the creation of a new government by the North Korean people (well, at least the elites) will start some real thinking in South Korea and, I believe, in the North once the D leaks into the North (which it almost certainly will).andquotLynton subsequently wrote back: andquotBruce andmdash Spoke to someone very senior in State (confidentially).

He agreed with everything you have been saying. Everything.

I will fill you in when we speak.andquotThe exchange conjured an equally fascinating interlude two years ago, when Lynton moderated a panel at Rand called andquotHow Hollywood Affects Global Policy.

andquot In what now looks like a quaint artifact from a prelapsarian age, Lynton lobbed softballs at actor Michael Sheen, andquotHomelandandquot and andquot24andquot creator Howard Gordon and Showtime Entertainment president David Nevins about terrorism and torture, never once mentioning the Sony movie andquotZero Dark Thirty,andquot which would be caught in the crossfire about both just a few weeks hence. Presumably the andquotInterviewandquot script was making the rounds at Sonyand#39s Columbia Pictures, which would greenlight the project early the following yearIn the video of the Rand event, Sheen, who played Tony Blair in the andquotQueenandquot trilogy, speaks of playing real-life characters while they are still alive and in power Observing that such fictionalized works can andquotmess withandquot mythology, history and a countryand#39s collective psyche, he admits that taking on such projects threatens to andquotwake the dragon.

andquotHow prescient Sheen turned out to be. And how sunnily optimistic Lynton sounds when, after someone brings up legal and moral obligations to living subjects, he responds that andquotwhere you get sued typically draws the line.

andquotThe quip gets laughs, but now the lines have been irrevocably redrawn. And so have the feints, dodges and disingenuous evasions that have allowed filmmakers, virtually from the birth of the medium, to claim that theyand#39re andquotonlyandquot making movies, and not potent vectors of values and assumptions.

From the basest biases to the highest ideals, these vectors also happen to be Americaand#39s chief export to the rest of the world.But even films that donand#39t culminate in the assassination of a sitting world leader possess their own politics: As purveyors of the culture we all swim in, they possess commensurate elemental power, from informing what we expect from life to modeling how we treat one another Thatand#39s a notion that offended some readers of a column I wrote earlier this year that mentioned Rogen.

But it exists on the same continuum that ends with Kim Jong Unand#39s regime possibly being toppled thanks to a movie he made and andmdash because of that very ability to influence andmdash now regrettably canand#39t be seen.Meanwhile, the fallout from waking the dragon has begun, with Fox dropping Steve Carelland#39s adaptation of the graphic novel andquotPyongyang,andquot on Wednesday.

andquotI find it ironic that fear is eliminating the possibility to tell stories that depict our ability to overcome fear,andquot said the filmand#39s director, Gore Verbinski. andquotSad day for creative expression,andquot Carell tweeted.

One of the most enduring wish-fulfillment fantasies that Hollywood sells is that you can have it both ways. You can have your work taken seriously at think tanks and panels, yet insist that itand#39s andquotonlyandquot entertainment.

You can couch ideology in the rhetoric of andquotcomplexity,andquot and evade responsibility to the truth by invoking moral andquotray areas.andquot As depressing as the andquotInterviewandquot spectacle has been as political theater, at least it has reinvested otherwise trivial, disposable cultural products with the meaning theyand#39ve had all along.

In other words, movies matter, whether they shouldnand#39t or donand#39t want to. There might have been a time when the studiosand#39 calculus of whether to make a movie had only to do with budgets, box office and ancillary revenue streams.

Now, they might ask themselves what movies are worth fighting for to the bitter end.(c) 2014, The Washington Post.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman