CONAN – an answer to Carlos the Jackal
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As I sit here listening to London Calling, I thought I’d answer Carlos’s question of a ways back. It’s not exactly a Conan question, and I apologize for not being able to offer any more red meat except that the last I heard, Brett was leaning away from Conan. This can obviously change at any time, since I don’t think anything is official either way. I’m a little constrained from talking about Conan for reasons I hope I never have to write about.
Anyway, here’s what Carlos asked:
“Is there – in Hollywood – something like a censor-board or a censor-committee, that actually decides about which ideological stream should one film take? Or are writers expected to fit in the dominant stream spontaniously? And are rejected if they don’t come up with the satrisfactory results?
My question is based on an observation of how Hollywood produces films like Dark Knight, which is a strong Bush administration apology (Batman spies on everyone, declares war on terror..), or for example, films like the Bourne trilogy, which is very pro-democrat, anti-Bush, or the new James Bond film, where James Bond stands on the side of Evo Morales’ government against the CIA and the environmentalist multinational corporation. And I ask you this, because the Underworld prequel, as far as I can see, also walks along the same leftist line – Lycans are the undertrodden, not to say “the proletariat”, while the vampires are this upper class, etc. So, I was wondering if storyline like that comes according to some Hollywood planing, like what are the topics we should cover this year, etc.? And than they see that the political climat is like that, and the studios decide and than tell to the writers “OK, now, go and write about the undertrodden!” “
I think, Carlos, you have fallen into a trap that engulfs many people in regard to Hollywood. (And I say this with respect – I love my fellow Conan junkies). There really isn’t anything monolithic about Hollywood. It’s just not that well-organized. (I’m put in mind of Holocaust deniers, who think that in some fashion a hoax was put in play that relied on successfully hiding eight million people, hiring film crews of various nationalities to dress sets and then bribing thousands of soldiers from around the world to lie about what they saw. And then… make sure no one talked. Who could pull this off?)
Obviously I’m overstating, but it’s late, and I’m in the mood. There are certainly themes that occur in Hollywood, but they are arrived at from various quarters. Any decent writer is creating something in which he believes, something that fascinates him. He is often taking cues from the moment, and if he’s not an art fuck, is trying to write something he thinks America will care about. I’m sure when Nolan approached the new Batman with the idea of using the Joker, the first thing he said was ‘how do I make the Joker different?’ He conceived of him as a terrorist. So how do you fight that? America has been asking that question for nearly eight years now – how far are we willing to go? How much of our soul will we part with to save our skins? I would actually say that Nolan carved out his own territory in such a way as to poke both camps in the eye. He created a character, Batman, who recognizes the need to do detestable things BUT IS THEN WILLING TO TAKE ON THE BURDEN OF THEIR ILLEGALITY. Lefties should shudder at the choice to step over the line; righties should shudder at the real-life inability of certain politicans to bear that responsibility themselves.
Wow. Digressed. Point is, Nolan wasn’t following anyone’s script but his own.
Insofar as Underworld is concerned, it is apolitical. Simply put, it is Romeo and Juliet meets Spartacus, in the world of vampires and werewolves. In no meeting did anyone raise any point regarding the underclass, the wealthy, etc. The hero was a slave in love with his master’s daughter. What followed, followed. Therein lies another thing that is important – scripts have their own logic, their own paths. They tend to know what they need to be; writers tear out their hair trying to figure out what that is. I can honestly say, of the hundreds and hundreds of notes I have gotten, not a single one had a political or ideological overtone. An alarming number of them were bad notes, but they were honestly bad.
What writers try desperately to do is take familiar material and make it fresh. We do it by mining our hearts and minds, by trying to take the pulse of the public. We are always trying to create characters that connect with the audience. We often fail. Such is art.
As for studios, their search is for profits. That’s as it should be – movies cost a lot of money. I can’t claim to know the minds of studio bosses, but my experience tells me that their decisions are based far more on what has succeeded than any political bent. Because, and this is important – the vast quantity of films are simple entertainment. No politics, no stance. (For a writer, they are just works for hire that you hope to learn to love, like a partner in an arranged marriage.) As for the more artistic films, it seems to me they run the gamut of topics found interesting by their creators. Doesn’t seem to me like much of an agenda that links Batman, Benjamin Button, Gran Torino, Doubt.
Here’s what I will grant in terms of an overarching ‘feel’ to many of the so-called important movies: at the least, a whiff of liberal thought. Now I don’t for one moment, not one instant, believe that in Hollywood there is an actual ‘agenda’ to forward liberal policies. As I said, there are no cabals, no star chambers where people get together to decide what America needs to hear. What you do get though, is a grouping of similar-minded people who are drawn to this profession. Why are so many of us here? I don’t know. We’re artsy types. Artsy types tend to be liberal. Probably just a matter of the brain’s architecture. (That’s certainly what my highly conservative best friend would tell me.)
But here is where Hollywood gets a silly rap: that it is a miasma of liberal tripe out of touch with ‘mainstream America”. I would estimate that upwards of 90% of Hollywood films are actually conservative. By that, I mean conservative where it actually matters: strong families are present, and when they’re not, they are missed; America is a decent place filled with decent people; parents are fallible, but most often turn out to be right; good wins out; evil is vanquished. For every Milk, there are ten Night at the Museums. Only when you get into the small percentage of statement films does the obviously liberal rear up. And that’s because art is doing what it is supposed to do: question. Should we have gone to war; can we maintain an American philosophy while fighting that war; should gay people have equal rights; etc. And if you think about it, conservatism, by definition, is all about respect for the status quo, the established. And where is the drama in that?
In the end, it is not generally a deep desire to sound off on some political topic that births these films, it’s passion. Someone saw a good story and thought others would like to see it too. That simple.