Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Zero Dark Thirty

In case you hadn't heard, the controversial movie of the season is Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty.

Lot's of opinions are being tossed around. Great coverage of many of the different views can be found here.

Here is my take on the controversy about the use of torture in the movie.

Zero Dark Thirty does not propose that torture directly resulted in the capture of bin Laden. However, torture is alluded to having happened in such a way to terror suspects that it remains enough of a threat that the suspects decide it is best to give info so they won't be tortured again. Therefore, the message is that torture can work. That's a bad message in my view. Especially if it did not work in real life.

Here's the thing. We pretty much know torture was used at black sites by the CIA. What we are told by the CIA, though, is that torture was not used in getting info leading to the capture of bin Laden. But the movie plays it many ways trying to cover all [narrative and historical] bases with regards to what may have happened. This, to my mind, is a mistake.

However, despite these issues, I find some of the criticisms launched at Bigelow to be beneath contempt. Some have tossed around the name Leni Reifenstahl - as if Bigelow is somehow a government filmmakers churning out fascistic propaganda. Come on, people.

Zero Dark Thirty is in no way 'pro torture'. The early scenes that show torture are not pleasant at all. We are not made to feel they are a good thing or that they work. The movie is also not a rah rah pro-military movie either. The raid on the compound is very well done but it is presented much more realistic than it is Rambo-style. And when mission is accomplished it does not consist of high-fives and celebrations. So chalk one up for objective, documentary style filmmaking.

But I will say that while Bigelow is very smart about movies [and movie making] she is maybe not so smart about the affect the message of her movie may have on people who watch it. The message the movie conveys is most likely historically incorrect. The movie takes itself seriously and therefore I do think the filmmakers owe it to the audience to try and get it right. Or to, at least, tell us at the beginning that the movie - while based on real events - also fictionalizes some of them for dramatic effect. Perhaps as the movie rolls out across the country in 2013 they will add that to the movie's opening.

A couple other links not in the link above are:
David Thomson's review. He hated it.
Glenn Kenny takes on Glenn Greenwald's assertions.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Some Links

Ten American Indie films in need of restoration.

Profile on Michael Haneke.

Glenn Greenwald writes about 'Zero Dark Thirty' and Bigelow and Riefenstahl - without having seen the film.

Noir of the week is a cool site I just stumbled upon.

J Hoberman on 'Lincoln' - the ultimate mensch.

TCM's Movie Morlocks on John Ford's rarely seen and unavailable comedy 'The Whole Town's Talking'.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Salt for Svanetia

Every now and then I see a film that renews my faith in the aesthetic power of cinema. Salt of Svanetia is such a film. No English translation in the embedded film from YouTube below but you don't need them to get the message. It is directed by Mikhail Kalatozov who is best known for the classics The Cranes are Flying and I Am Cuba. [A subtitled version is available here]