In my various discussions of Avatar, I’ve tried to stay away from the obvious political aspects of the film — it’s a mass of hoary liberal cliches about big business and those who are inclined to join the military — and focus instead on the filmmaking aspects. There’s enough to critique in the script (which is predictable and lacking in almost every way, with wooden dialogue and stereotypes abound) and praise visually that commenting on the politics seems a bit unnecessary.
It also makes one sound like the humorless critics on the academic left who see everything through the prism of politics. Consider, for example, the latest issue of Cineaste magazine, which features an article by Seton Hall professor Christopher Sharrett (not online) entitled “The Problem of Saw: ‘Torture Porn’ and the Conservatism of the Contemporary Horror Film.” Toward the end of his piece, Sharrett writes that “Fans of the horror film must be prepared to make distinctions, and say clearly why Dawn of the Dead is a significant work of the genre while Saw is relative rubbish except as a symptom of the state of the culture.” As a fan of horror films in general, I have to say that I largely agree with him.
Where I disagree with Sharrett is in judging what makes a horror film “worthy” of praise: It has to uphold the notions of sanctimonious liberals everywhere. Indeed, he writes that the classics in the genre are good because they are ”keenly critical of middle-class life and all its supporting institutions, particularly the patriarchal nuclear family.” The only recent horror films that Sharrett deems worthy of praise are recent entries by George Romero, a few episodes of Showtime’s “Masters of Horror” series (highlighting Homecoming in particular) and the remake of The Hills Have Eyes, specifically because “these films seem a response to the atrocity that was the Bush era.”
Note: There’s no discussion of the technical or artistic merits of these films, no grappling with their visual splendor or the acting prowess of their actors. Instead they are “good” because they have the right message. They are predictably liberal and, therefore, should be celebrated.
Then there’s this, on Eli Roth’s torture porn opus Hostel:
Roth’s juvenile view of otherness is most visible in his portrait of postcommunist Eastern Europe, a typical “oriental” land depicted as both exotic and profoundly threatening. The decayed factory that is the home base of the murderers, like the rest of the industrial wasteland portrayed in these films, has no connection to the economic policies of the West that destroyed not just the Soviet state but also the last vestiges of socialism…
Ah yes, the real problem with Hostel: It didn’t blame America for the USSR’s crippling economic problems that were brought about by decades of mismanagement and strangling regulations enabled by corrupt bureaucrats.
Anyway, Sharrett’spiece is a mess of gender studies nonsense and other assorted leftist claptrap masquerading as film criticism. A far shorter version of his piece could have been written thusly: “Horror movies without a point of view that bash you over the head with an overtly liberal message are bad, even if they aren’t specifically ‘conservative’ in nature.”
Which brings me back to Avatar. There’s plenty to dislike about that movie from a storytelling perspective that it comes across as sour grapes when we conservatives/libertarians complain about the politics of the film. The political message of the film isn’t its greatest sin; its greatest sin is its predictability and sloppy plot. Similarly, the work of George Romero’s greatest strength isn’t its predictable leftist caterwauling — indeed, it’s far to say that the post-9/11 Land of the Dead and Diary of the Dead are the weakest entries in the Dead series. Instead, the greatest strengths of Romero’s films are the unflinching way they look at human nature under stressful conditions and the humor that he injects into the proceedings, as well as a keen sense of visual effects and a preternatural ability to shock the audience.
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