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POST-9/11 HOLLYWOOD: THE FILMS THEY DARE NOT MAKE
by Mimi Brickmeyer, staff writer.
[January 22, 2003]
Terrorists are cool and cuddly, jihad is noble and liberating, and Bush's
New World Order war hysteria is, well, hysterical!
Those are some of the shocking but unavoidable post-9/11 messages of many Hollywood films shot pre-9/11
-- films that would likely not get produced today. (At least, not
* The Oil Must Flow
Okay, here's the trailer
for the feel-good movie of the summer:
They were proud desert warriors,
poor but God-fearing -- occupied and exploited by heathen armies and foreign
cartels for the fuel beneath their sand. Too weak to attack their
enemies' high-tech military head on, they resisted through surprise raids
and bombings. The imperialist oppressors called them savages -- even
terrorists -- but they knew themselves to be freedom-fighters. And
that one day God would send a messiah to unite their tribes and lead them
No, not Osama bin Laden. Not any current Arab leader. And not even Lawrence of Arabia.
I'm talking about Muad'Dib,
the messiah in Frank Herbert's epic sci-fi
novel, Dune (1965). It is Maud'Dib who leads the Fremen tribes
in jihad against a spice-hungry Empire. Spice is the fuel of the
Empire. Without spice, interstellar travel -- and trade -- is impossible. Without spice, the galactic economy will collapse.
"The spice must flow!" is
the cry repeated throughout this tale. Along with, "The one who controls
the spice, controls the universe!" And in all the galaxy, there is
only one spice source -- the desert wasteland planet named Dune.
Maud'Dib defeats the Empire
by taking the spice source hostage, and threatening to blow it up, which
would plunge all civilization into a new dark age. Talk about terrorism! (Anyone recall Hussein's threat to blow up the Kuwaiti oil fields?)
Oh yes, Dune has all the parallels. The hero even uses the J-word -- jihad. Of course, critics have long recognized that Dune was inspired by Islam, and that Herbert modeled Maud'Dib on Mohammed. But I've yet to hear someone note the parallels post-9/11.
Then in 2000 as a Sci-Fi
directed by John Harrison and starring Alec Newman as Maud'Dib.
Most fans of the novel prefer
the mini-series to the Lynch
film, maybe because the mini-series is twice as long as the film, and
so includes more of the novel's details. But Lynch's
Dune has a grander soundtrack, which better captures the novel's epic
sweep. Lynch's film feels bigger than the mini-series, despite being
only half as long.
What's remarkable is how
similar both adaptations are, both remaining faithful to the novel.
Can a faithful adaptation
have been produced post-9/11? Sure, Dune is a classic sci-fi novel, its cult status with 1960s counterculture achieved
partially because spice was also a psychedelic, something you can't say
But even if some future Hollywood
Maud'Dib stays mum about jihad, Dune still carries a dangerously subversive message. The tale actually
implies that an indigenous people have a right to their land, and to the
natural resources beneath it -- even if a technologically more advanced
civilization decides that they want it. Yikes!
* Hot Bods in Fourth Reich
Bedtime story, from Papa
Bush to his young 'uns:
Once upon a time, a long
time from now, there was a United Earth. A New World Order of peace,
prosperity and freedom. Everyone was clean and pretty and healthy. Good genes, all around. Black people too. And the streets were clean,
and the environment, and the trains ran on time. Then one day, bad
monsters attacked Earth, because the monsters were evil and ugly, and looked
like giant bugs (because they were giant bugs), and they hated anybody
lucky enough to have so much peace, prosperity and freedom, and who were
But luckily for the happy
people of Earth, their world government had the bestest military in the
universe, with lots of gnarly weapons and way cool uniforms. So everyone
enlisted like crazy to fight the ultimate war between good and evil. The politicos and top brass called it the Bug War -- but for the young
recruits, it was the kick-ass adventure of a lifetime!
The bugs never had a chance. The end.
No, not a bedtime story,
but Paul Verhoeven's Starship
Troopers, a dead-on satire of post-9/11 war hysteria -- astonishing
because it was released in 1997!
The film's satire was originally
aimed at its source material: Robert Heinlein's 1959 novel,
Starship Troopers (condemned by some critics upon publication as "fascistic"). But like humor-impaired Trekies, many Heinlein fans remained clueless and
unamused. They complained that the film had replaced Heinlein's socio-political
military philosophy with mindless bug battles. Few realized the joke
on them. Verhoeven didn't so much ignore Heinlein's philosophizing
as lampoon it.
Heinlein's novel paints a
future Earth in which everyone enjoys equal rights and liberties -- except
to vote and hold office, which are reserved only to those who complete
military service. Enlistment is voluntary and non-discriminatory;
any sex, any age. Blue-haired grannies can sign up. But no
special treatment. Many softies die in the sadistically brutal boot
camps. (However, you can quit anytime, without reprisal). Another
rule: everyone fights. Cooks, supply clerks, nurses, medics, privates,
generals. No pure paper pushers or desk warmers in Heinlein's military.
Troopers parodies Heinlein's romanticized military culture by trivializing
and sanitizing war. Soldiers are sexy and clean even after battle,
ready to party hardy. Ready to die. Dina Meyer's deathbed speech
satirizes an old war film cliché: while reaffirming her love for
her main squeeze, she nobly adds that she has "no regrets" about her sacrifice.
For "red shirt" soldiers,
death is less sentimental. Quick -- and quickly forgotten.
After shooting a captured
soldier (to prevent a painful bug death) Michael Ironside curtly informs
his platoon: "I expect you to do the same for me."
Which they do.
Troopers was no big hit in 1997, but it has its fans, many of whom
-- judging by review postings on Amazon.com -- confuse the film for a serious
sci-fi epic with a "war is hell" message. (Not surprisingly, post-9/11
postings are more likely to "get it".)
Those who doubt the film's
satirical intent should consider one hero's uniform, which can best be
described as neo-Third Reich. Clearly, Verhoeven's film was not informed
by Heinlein's libertarian fans, but by those critics who interpreted the
novel as fascistic.
Also noteworthy, the film's
stars are all strikingly attractive with well-chiseled Aryan features.
However, their SS physiques
are not part of the plot, but merely a hint at the film's underlying satire. Plotwise, Federal Service (as it's called) is open to all, and the Aryan
protagonists warmly welcome their sidekicks of color. And in one
brief scene, a dumpy black female is appointed as the new Sky Marshall,
promising to "take the war to the bugs."
However, because many moviegoers
confuse fascism with racism, and because most of them were unfamiliar with
the novel, the film's satire was lost on many. For most moviegoers, the
film was just vapid soldiers shooting giant bugs. Further obscuring
satire, the soldiers were just too damn sexy, the bugs too mean and ugly. We humans are inclined to sympathize with attractive people, which is why
satirists often paint their targets in hideous garb (communists as pigs
in George Orwell's Animal
Farm, and as grotesque vampires in Thomas M. Sipos's Vampire
Troopers takes the opposite tact, painting globalist fascism as imagined
by globalist fascists. Everyone is healthy and happy and sexy. The satire is in the exaggeration of fascist ideals (as in Norman Spinrad's The
Iron Dream). With unwavering fortitude and unshakable confidence
in Earth's inevitable total victory, Denise Richards flashes her Pepsident
smile throughout the film. In hairy battles, her mouth may turn sexily
pouty, but her brilliant teeth soon return, vast and blinding, equally
home on a TV commercial and an SS recruiting poster.
Want to laugh out loud? The funniest scenes are the recruiting ads and "news" propaganda bulletins. One "news" item features warmly grinning soldiers distributing bullets
to the delighted squeal of eager schoolkids. (How clueless do you
have to be to post reviews at Amazon praising the film's "war is hell"
But the clueless are out
there. Unfamiliar with the book, smitten with the sexy stars and
repelled by the bugs, many didn't "get" the jokes. In practical terms,
until 9/11 Starship
Troopers was a satire without a target. The war hysteria following
9/11 provided that, the players and events stepping tailor-made into the
film's sites with amazing prescience, granting the film a powerful resonance
that was lacking when it was first released.
As with Dune,
all the parallels are present. The enemy -- the Bugs -- are pure
evil. The military, the news reports, the war, the government, are
all beyond question. If they make a mistake, they can be trusted
to correct it. United Earth we stand.
The Bug War begins with a
Bug attack on a city. In the film's eeriest scene, a
burning building's framework resembles the Twin Towers. Also
remarkable are the many random jokes that find a target post-9/11. In adapting a 1950s book to a 1990s sensibility, Verhoeven tossed in some
contemporary satirical barbs unconnected to the book, or even to much of
anything in 1997 -- but which eerily resonate with our post-9/11 war culture.
There is the film's black
female Sky Marshall, a kooky but satirically pointless joke in 1997. Yet it's a role tailor made for Condoleezza Rice.
There are the TV war correspondents,
absent in the book, but today stationed in Iraq. They pester the
soldiers in battle, don't appreciate the threat, and are killed by the
bugs. There are the TV pundits who would understand the bugs, woolly
and ineffectual as seen through the film's fascist prism (the New World
likes to see itself as tolerant).
Troopers is a penetrating satire of post-9/11 war hysteria as might
be imagined by an idealistic New World Order fascist. It's hard to
it was made pre-9/11; impossible to think it could be made post-9/11.
Starring Casper Van Dien,
Denise Richards, Dina Meyer, Jake Busey, and Michael Ironside.
* High Testosterone 9/11
Try pitching this to a studio
today: The movie ends with the hero blowing up a skyscraper. No, better than that. A whole skyline full of skyscrapers! (Yes,
in an American city.) See, the hero's this terrorist, but he finds
true love at the end. The film's got romance. And in the final
scene, the terrorist hero and his lady love, they stand in romantic silhouette
before a panoramic view of an entire city skyline majestically aglow from
explosions, then come crumbling down. Boffo!
Okay, he's more anti-hero
hero, but he's the character we're rooting for, the one who stands up to
No, you won't get that film
made today, at least not with that ending. But in 1999, that was
the ending of David Fincher's Fight
Club (starring Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter, Meat
Loaf; based on the
novel by Chuck Palahniuk).
Club satirizes corporate dehumanization and its emasculation of men. An office worker, browbeaten by his equally domesticated yuppie bosses,
his manhood by destroying his material things and founding a "fight club"
-- a place where society's male losers (the clerks, the wage slaves, the
unemployed) gather to beat up one another. The point is not to win,
but to fight, to give and feel pain, and thus reconnect with one's authentic,
In the process, you lose
fear of pain, you stop caring what polite society thinks. Your bruised
and ugly face becomes your badge of manhood, an in-your-face challenge
to your prissy yuppie bosses at work.
If you do not fear, they
control you. If you do not want societal status or material goods,
they cannot buy you.
Although remaining underground,
fight clubs spread to other cities, and members seek to confront society
more directly, through guerilla theater, vandalism, and terrorism.
Even pre-9/11, critics were
divided over Fight
Club. Some praised it as a progressive/anarchistic assault on
materialism, consumerism, and corporate dehumanization. Others condemned
it as a fascistic/nihilistic assault on those same targets.
Club critics noted that fascists too oppose "bourgeois family values" and that
the film glorified a brutal "cult of masculinity." Club members live
communally in frat house/pig sty conditions (liberated from feminized civilization). Although their ranks are multi-racial, they sport shaved heads and combat
boots. Not so much clean Marines as unruly storm troops. They
are not merely anti-corporate, but anti-everything. They vandalize
corporate art, spread anti-environmentalist agitprop, and challenge both
police and Mafia. Feeling oppressed from all corners, they seek complete
liberation from all values and all powers.
Club is a thought-provoking film, satirizing both yuppie America and
the nature of rebellion. As in Starship
Troopers, the fascism in Fight
Club is non-racist. But unlike Verhoeven, Fight
Club acknowledges both the nihilistic and patriarchal strains in fascism.
Club is brilliantly original satire, its targets are not. The
insight that fascism is inherently more sexist than racist was recognized
in Katherine Burdekin's novel, Swastika Night. Corporate emasculation and dehumanization has been satirized
from a conservative perspective in Sipos's novel, Manhattan
Sharks. And David Salle's film, Search
and Destroy, satirized corporate man's desire to reconnect with his
primal masculinity (as did Manhattan
and Destroy, Griffin Dunne and Christopher Walken portray two businessmen
who, after becoming enamored with a Nietzschean TV guru (Dennis Hopper),
abandon their material "things" and office, and go out hoping to find adventure
and do bold "deeds." (Hopper's character, author of "Daniel Strong,"
also seems inspired by Roberty Bly, author of Iron
Nor will Hollywood be producing
any more such uncompromising scenes, at least not anytime soon.
* Terrorists Are Cuddly
Our final pitch: A small
time crook threatens to blow up a New York landmark unless his demands
for money are met. They're not, and he does. We see Lady Liberty's
head disintegrate in an explosion. In our final shot: our terrorist
sits overlooking New York harbor, nonchalantly munching his lunch while
observing the headless Statue of Liberty. Oh yeah, it's a comedy. For our terrorist, picture someone cute & cuddly. Say, Danny
No, you don't have to picture
it. You can go see it, at least if you can get access to the NYU
film school archives.
The shot of Lady Liberty's
head exploding was a remarkable special effect, reports a former NYU film
student, especially by the standards of thirty years ago -- and especially
for a student film. Steve Feld helped Brest with the special effects,
which Feld discusses on
his website.) Naturally, Hot
Dogs for Gauguin helped launch the careers of Brest and
According to the former student,
NYU was screening Hot Dogs for
Gauguin in classes as of the 1980s, and may still be doing so. A call to NYU was not returned, but NYU was still screening the film to
late as October 5, 1999.
The student also reports
that, after screening Hot Dogs
for Gauguin in class, the professor stated that, dramatically speaking,
exploding Lady Liberty's head was a wise choice. "You can't set up
a big expectation, and then not give the audience a payoff."
Even so, the class was surprised
-- and delighted! -- with the ending. Everyone seemed to have expected
DeVito's friend, played by William Duff-Griffin, to succeed in his attempt
to stop DeVito's terrorism, in the nick of time.
Although there are exceptions,
film schools normally retain ownership of their students' projects.
Having screened NYU student films produced just a few years ago, and observed
the copyright notices in their credits, the Hollywood Investigator has
confirmed that this is the case at NYU. If prints of Hot
Dogs for Gauguin still exist anywhere, it will likely be in the NYU
film school archives.
Although DeVito portrayed
a small time crook turning to terrorism for profit, his is a likable character.
Just a little guy trying to make the big score.
Film schools are idealized
as places where tomorrow's artists can follow their vision, unrestricted
by commercial concerns. Still, don't expect to see many student films
likable crooks blowing up New York landmarks, at least not anytime soon.
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