In 2001, I wrote in Prospect that cinema was the ultimate right-wing art form. Five years on, at least part of the movie world seems to have become less escapistby Mark Cousins / June 25, 2006 / Leave a comment
Five years ago, I argued in Prospect that despite Democrat-inclined movie stars and liberal directors like Spielberg and Scorsese, movies have always been essentially right-wing. This applied even to “new Hollywood” movies like Taxi Driver.
No writs arrived. No rebuttals. Maybe that’s because my piece was largely about cinema’s past, about the way mainstream cinema has been about escape. As the standard-bearer of permissive capitalism, Hollywood has always whispered in our ears that we must lie back and enjoy the ride. And so we do. We buy a ticket for Gladiator or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to play truant in imagined lands, places that leave our own lives unchallenged and unchanged.
But things have changed since my piece in April 2001. The real world has given us Enron, Sharon, 9/11, the war in Iraq, Sars, the Madrid bombing, the tsunami, 7/7, Ahmadinejad, and Hurricane Katrina. A lot of reality in five years.
In contrast, the popular movie world has fled into the deep space of CGI (computer-generated imagery)-inspired fantasy films. Its headline trends were the emergence of international children’s trilogies (The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter), the revival of animation (Finding Nemo, the Shrek films, The Incredibles, Ice Age) and horror (Saw, Dawn of the Dead). It has ransacked comic books (Superman, Hulk, Sin City) and recycled television shows (Charlie’s Angels, Scooby-Doo, Bewitched, Starsky and Hutch).
Just as in the second world war, when Betty Grable musicals and Bob Hope comedies served up escapist respite to embattled nations, so in our own tough times movies turned their backs on politics and did what they do best: distract, dazzle, elude. In the last five years, movies and reality seem to have moved apart. Films have rejected the opportunity to engage with political realities. Yet look a little deeper and it becomes clear that this isn’t true. A complex convergence has occurred, with the result that in some ways films are less right-wing than they were.
To understand why, it’s first worth noting the significance of this five-year time frame. It is exactly how long it took for the first major 9/11 fiction film, Paul Greengrass’s United 93, to be considered, commissioned, made and released. If the movie world has a cycle—a block of time in which it digests a world event and presents it as memory and myth—five years now seems to…