Flags, Spike, Clint, and Spike again.

Two years ago, Clint Eastwood released a couple of World War II flicks that told the story of a single battle from opposite points of view, one American and one Japanese.

Most critics seemed to like Letters from Iwo Jima, the Japanese film, better than Flags of Our Fathers, the American film, but I found Flags much more interesting than Letters, mainly because I’m really interested in the nature of photography and the relationship between mythic images and the mundane realities behind them. One of my favorite quotes, from Chris Marker’s La Jeteé (1962), states: “Nothing tells memories from ordinary moments; only afterwards do they claim remembrance, on account of their scars.” Photographs — those pieces of film or bits of data on a flash card — are the scars that separate slivers in time from the ordinary moments that came before and after them and are now forgotten while the photographs live on. And it is always interesting to see how some slivers in time come to take on a greater iconic meaning that goes way beyond the original ordinariness of the moment.

Incidentally, I just discovered via Wikipedia that there is actual colour 16mm footage of the flag raising, which you can watch at that site. How fascinating to see this black-and-white still photo come to life like that. The 16mm footage was apparently shot from almost the exact same angle as the photo, and, following the Marker quote above, you could almost say that the frame which resembles the photo most closely would be the “scar” that we have all remembered, while all the frames that come before and after it are the “ordinary moments” that we have forgotten. Or, rather, we would have forgotten them, if it were not for the 16mm footage. But now the 16mm footage has, itself, become the “scar” that remembers a narrow sliver of time — not as narrow as the photo, but still narrow in its own way — while all the things that happened before and after the camera rolled have passed into oblivion.

Anyway. Eastwood’s World War II movies are back in the news again, now that Spike Lee has snapped at them and Eastwood has snapped back. The Guardian reports:

Clint Eastwood folds his gangly frame behind a clifftop table at the Hotel Du Cap, a few miles up the coast from Cannes, sighs deeply, and squints out over the Mediterranean. “Has he ever studied the history?” he asks, in that familiar near-whisper.

The “he” is Spike Lee, and the reason Eastwood is asking is because of something Lee had said about Eastwood’s Iwo Jima movie Flags of Our Fathers, while promoting his own war movie, Miracle at St Anna, about a black US unit in the second world war. Lee had noted the lack of African-Americans in Eastwood’s movie and told reporters: “That was his version. The negro version did not exist.”

Eastwood has no time for Lee’s gripes. “He was complaining when I did Bird [the 1988 biopic of Charlie Parker]. Why would a white guy be doing that? I was the only guy who made it, that’s why. He could have gone ahead and made it. Instead he was making something else.” As for Flags of Our Fathers, he says, yes, there was a small detachment of black troops on Iwo Jima as a part of a munitions company, “but they didn’t raise the flag. The story is Flags of Our Fathers, the famous flag-raising picture, and they didn’t do that. If I go ahead and put an African-American actor in there, people’d go, ‘This guy’s lost his mind.’ I mean, it’s not accurate.”

Lee shouldn’t be demanding African-Americans in Eastwood’s next picture, either. Changeling is set in Los Angeles during the Depression, before the city’s make-up was changed by the large black influx. “What are you going to do, you gonna tell a fuckin’ story about that?” he growls. “Make it look like a commercial for an equal opportunity player? I’m not in that game. I’m playing it the way I read it historically, and that’s the way it is. When I do a picture and it’s 90% black, like Bird, I use 90% black people.”

Eastwood pauses, deliberately – once it would have provided him with the beat in which to spit out his cheroot before flinging back his poncho – and offers a last word of advice to the most influential black director in American movies. “A guy like him should shut his face.”

That last sentence in particular has been making its way around the interwebs — and so it, too, has become an iconic, memorable, sliver-of-time scar that stands apart from all the ordinary words Eastwood said in that interview that have not been remembered.

And of all the online comments, perhaps the pithiest and most interesting one comes from Jeffrey Wells, who notes:

I don’t see why there’s a debate at all because (and I got this straight from my old man, an ex-Marine who fought at Iwo Jima) there were no black solders doing any early-wave fighting during that horrific encounter, so Lee is wrong.

Lee, of course, can’t let it sit at that, and so he told ABC News what he thought of Eastwood’s response to his remarks:

“First of all, the man is not my father and we’re not on a plantation either,” he told ABCNEWS.com. “He’s a great director. He makes his films, I make my films. The thing about it though, I didn’t personally attack him. And a comment like ‘a guy like that should shut his face’ — come on Clint, come on. He sounds like an angry old man right there.” . . .

Lee’s last words took a different tone.

“Even though he’s trying to have a Dirty Harry flashback, I’m going to take the Obama high road and end it right here,” he told ABCNEWS.com. “Peace and love.”

That is such a stupid, offensive response on so many levels, it’s probably best not to dignify it with a point-by-point response like, say, the one provided by the folks at Libertas.

The thing is, I’d like to know more about the experience of African-American soldiers during World War II. But given his track record, I just don’t know if we can trust Spike Lee to tell that story the way it needs to be told. This feud has certainly raised my interest in the subject of Lee’s film, but not in the film itself, per se.

The King of Kong vs. The Terminator

Has any documentary ever been spoofed like this, or ever become such a pop-culture reference point like this, before?

Click here if the video file above doesn’t play properly. (Hat tip to Anne Thompson.)

Andrew Stanton confirms John Carter of Mars

The Pixar Blog reports that Andrew Stanton, director of Finding Nemo (2003) and the upcoming WALL-E, confirmed today at a junket for the latter film that he is currently developing an adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars, as has been rumoured for several months now.

You Don’t Mess with the Zohan — the review’s up!

My review of You Don’t Mess with the Zohan is now up at CT Movies.

There are several points I toyed with making in this review but never got around to, either for word-count reasons or because my writing just got into a certain groove and I didn’t feel I could shoehorn them in. These include:

The sheer abundance of hummus.

The fact that Zohan has posters of KISS frontman Gene Simmons, who was born in Israel, and eyepatched Israeli general Moshe Dayan on his bedroom wall — which neatly sums up the film’s proudly political yet frivolously hedonistic spirit.

The parallels with Steven Spielberg’s Munich (2005), which likewise revolves around an Israeli who kicks ass but gives it all up for a life of obscurity in New York.

The fact that this, like Munich, is a film about a Jew who kicks ass, and thus might be the sort of film that would please the Seth Rogen character in Knocked Up (2007) — which, incidentally, was written and directed by Judd Apatow, who also co-wrote Zohan.

The way this film’s reversal of all stereotypes except for the evil rich white man and the evil poor white redneck parallels a similar double standard in Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.

The multiple celebrity cameos.

The way this film is yet one more example of how the cast members of the original Star Trek (1966-1969) have devolved into parodies of themselves, such that they could probably never play those characters again without getting sucked into a fair bit of ironic nudge-nudge wink-wink self-referential humour. (I could go into more detail about that, but I don’t want to spoil the joke.)

The fact that Emmanuelle Chriqui, the actress who plays the Palestinian love interest to Adam Sandler’s Israeli super-agent, is apparently not Arabic herself but is, rather, the daughter of “Jewish French Moroccan immigrants of Sephardic Moroccan descent”.

And probably some other stuff that I don’t remember at the moment.

For more insights, if that’s the word, into the film and the way it fits into its cultural moment, see the New York Times . . .

Mr. Badreya said that the comedy in “Zohan” was not quite evenly divided between ridiculing Arabs and ridiculing Jews. “The jokes are not 50-50,” he said. “It’s 70-30. Which is great. We haven’t had 30 for a long time. We’ve been getting zero. So it’s good.”

. . . and Variety:

Since the 1970s, most “Saturday Night Live” alumni with film careers have made spoofs of sex, sports, schools and spies, but left the topical laffs to TV’s sketch comedies. In contrast, Sandler tackled gay marriage in his “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” and, as an actor for hire, made films about immigration (“Spanglish”) and Sept. 11 (“Reign Over Me“). OK, not exactly the definitive word on these issues, but he’s making films about something.

Indeed he is, and this is why I find it impossible to dismiss Sandler out of hand as easily as I would often like to do.

And now for a rare political comment.

I tend not to get too political here, but this comment from Ezra Klein, via Ross Douthat, seems worthy of mention here:

Towards the end of the 1967 movie “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” Dr. John Wane Prentice, played by Sydney Poitier, sits down with his fiance’s white father, played by Spencer Tracy. “Have you given any thought to the problems your children will have?” Tracy asks. “Yes, and they’ll have some…[But] Joey feels that all of our children will be President of the United States,” replies Poitier. “How do you feel about that?” asks Tracy, looking skeptically at the black man in front of him. “I’d settle for Secretary of State,” Poitier laughs.

Written in the late-1960s, the exchange was, indeed, laughable. The Civil Rights Act had been passed three years prior. Two years before, the Watts riots had broken out, killing 35. Martin Luther King Jr. would be assassinated a year later. But here we are, almost exactly 40 years after theatergoers heard that exchange. The last two Secretaries of State were African-American and, as of tonight, the next president may well be a black man. John Prentice’s children would probably still be in their late-30s. They could still grow up to be cabinet officials or even presidents, but they would not necessarily be trailblazers. . . .

This is, indeed, a transition worth noting — and even celebrating, as far as it goes. I happen to think that both Obama and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner are vastly over-rated, and have earned their reputations largely because white liberals feel a need to make a point, considerations of political and artistic merit be damned. But the parallel Klein draws between the 40-year-old dialogue and the political reality of the last seven years is definitely interesting.

That said, I cannot help but wonder if all the editors who came up with “Obama makes history” headlines last night would have done the same for Clinton if a couple hundred delegates had gone her way instead of the other way. The first female presidential nominee would be just as historical as the first black presidential nominee, would it not? And I wonder what films people might have invoked if Clinton had come out on top.

It is also interesting to consider that both Poitier and Obama are the children of British subjects — Poitier’s parents came from the Bahamas, Obama’s father came from Kenya — and thus, unless I’m missing something, neither of them is descended from, say, the slaves that were liberated by the American Civil War. (For that matter, Colin Powell, the second-to-last Secretary of State, was the son of Jamaican immigrants, so his parents were British subjects too.) So depending on what Dr. John Wade Prentice’s own background was, it might still be possible for his children to blaze a trail or two.

And for what it’s worth, this certainly isn’t the first time someone has made some sort of connection between Sidney Poitier and Barack Obama. See here, here and here, for starters.

Newsbites: The biblical themes edition!

Just catching up on a few items I’ve had sitting around for a while, plus one new item that surfaced today.

1. Carolyn Arends has written an article for CT Movies on Magdalena: Released from Shame, the latest film to mix brand-new, demographically-targeted footage with footage from the Campus Crusade for Christ movie Jesus (1979). The interesting thing about this film — unlike, say, The Story of Jesus for Children (2000) — is that the new footage features at least one character who was also part of the original film, but presumably played by a different actor. So is the character played by two different women in the new film? Did they re-shoot any of the older scenes? Did they digitally insert the new actress into the older scenes? I am curious, especially in light of the article’s description of how the filmmakers tried to insert new footage of Jesus into the film.

2. Speaking of movies that fictionalize and recontextualize stories from the Bible, Books & Culture has an article looking at how Evan Almighty (2007) functions within the “ancient tradition of Ark midrash” because it is “an appropriation of the flood story that reflects the needs and contexts of its readers.” In related news, Carolyn Arends has another item up at Christianity Today in which she springs off a scene in Evan Almighty to muse on the relationship between God’s wrath and God’s love.

3. Variety has a review of El cant dels ocells, AKA Birdsong, a Spanish film that played at Cannes a couple weeks ago:

Patience was no doubt required of the Three Wise Men as they made their way toward Bethlehem, and the same will be required of auds who seek out “Birdsong,” Albert Serra’s minimalist reinterpretation of the Magi’s journey. Hushed, contemplative but often quite droll experiment offers beautifully sculpted images on a black-and-white canvas across its sometimes hypnotic, sometimes tedious runtime. . . .

Three robed men (all played by thesps with the first name Lluis) tread very, very slowly across a craggy landscape, bickering comically over how they should proceed in their search for the Christ Child. Grounded in desert dunes and rocky ruins, pic reps a profound attempt to locate the spiritual within the material. . . .

This reminds me, I have wanted to see Ermanno Olmi’s Cammina, cammina (1982), which also concerns the journey of the Magi, for some time, but none of the local video stores seem to have it.

4. Variety reports that NBC likes what it has seen of the pilot episode for Kings, Michael Green’s modernized take on the rivalry between Saul and David, and has picked it up as a series, starring Ian McShane and Christopher Egan.