Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Hollywood’s True Grit

This past Sunday, all the best and brightest Hollywood has to offer sat and applauded each other, patting themselves on the back for being the brave souls they see themselves to be. I saw the list of “Best Motion Picture” nominees, and I realized couldn’t watch it. I have had about enough of the left coast’s smug pseudo-intellectual spin on what is brave and noble in America, and wasn’t going to waste any more time studying three and a half hours of glitz and glitter in the hope of finding one ounce of substance. Most of those people haven’t had an original, patriotic, or courageous thought since before 1971 -- the year Audie Murphy died.

Now, granted, Murphy never made a work of artistic genius on film, but he was ALL American, right to the tippy-top of his five-foot-five inch frame. Born in Texas, son of poor sharecroppers, he went on to be the most decorated serviceman during World War II -- what the experts call “The Great War” -- and wrote the book and movie on it all, too. Today’s filmmakers could do worse than to study “To Hell and Back”. There was no shortage of courage from his generation, either -- even from Hollywood -- back then, since some of the biggest stars left their show-biz careers to stand with the Band of Brothers. Charleton Heston, Clark Gable, James Stewart, Ernest Borgnine, George C. Scott, Eddie Albert, Lee Marvin, Tyrone Power, Charles Bronson, David Niven, Robert Ryan, Alec Guinness, Brian Keith, and dozens more with strong film careers put their lives on the line to stand for freedom.

And some managed to show their spines, afterward, as well. Before it was fashionable to march for civil rights, Charleton Heston was there on the line. Before it was trendy to say that Stalinist Russia was killing people, that Communism was a failed -- and inherently evil -- system, Ronald Reagan was saying it from the campaign trail, having given up his moderately successful acting job to follow his convictions. Others, like Fred Grandy, Jesse Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Fred Thompson have left show biz (in Thompson’s case, temporarily) to pursue careers in public service, in the belief that, if you want a government job done right, you should do it yourself, and not simply whine about problems from some remote city. I may not necessarily agree with their politics, but they’ve gained my respect by having the courage to step away from the scripted limelight in favor of the down-and-dirty world of making law.

The message from the bulk of today’s Hollywood’s “courageous” bunch of filmmakers seems to be that “mainstream America” hates gays, blacks and foreigners and wants them dead, that America is only interested in other countries if we can line our pockets from their losses, and that soldiers are dupes, sent to die by oil companies or crooked politicos. And George Clooney is proud of that perspective -- it’s not “mainstream”, so it must be a position of leadership. Feh. Pat yourself on the back, Mister Clooney, but maybe you should try it a little lower, and with somebody else’s booted foot. With a little force. But that’s not going to happen, because almost everybody else in Lost Angeles is led to believe that it’s brave to follow a classless idiot like Clooney, who, in turn, has followed other hate-America-first people in chasing their angry, switching, feline tails.

So it takes true grit for a man like Bruce Willis to honor of the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment (“Deuce Four”) on their return from hard duty in Iraq, and to work toward making a film showing their courage, in light of how little respect the rest of today’s Hollywood has for honest, hardworking, intelligent, generous, loyal, patriotic, and brave men and women in uniform. It took true moral courage in Hollywood to make last year’s “The Great Raid” (starring Benjamin Bratt and Joseph Feinnes, among others), depicting American troops and Philippine natives cooperating to free prisoners of war during the Pacific campaign in WWII -- and not showing them as squabbling hicks and thugs or other sorts of the lowest common denominator. Director John Dahl showed a group of real American and international heroes, and still stuck to facts. Now that, in Hollywood, takes guts.

But I don’t expect I’ll see these heroes showing up to receive Oscars any time soon. That sort of courage is in short supply around the Motion Picture Academy membership, these days.

Also worth reading: Ben Stein: Missed Tributes

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