(the 300 post I’d rather not be writing, thank you very much)
geumatophobia n: morbid dislike of taste.
ideophobia n: morbid dislike of ideas.
There’s been a lot of both on display in the great 300 stoush that’s been fought out in the blogosphere, and the MSM, over the past week or two. On one side the film has been panned because:
- It’s historically inaccurate.
- It’s distasteful.
- It’s fascist.
In response, those who like the film say:
- Get real, it’s only a movie.
- Youse lot are all intellectual snobs.
- Godwin’s Law, Godwin’s Law, Godwin’s Law!
As I said here, I haven’t seen the film yet. But I’ve seen enough of the trailers and review clips (on At the Movies with Margaret and David) to know I don’t want to pay cinema prices to see it. To me, Gerard Butler as Leonidas sounds like one of those Glaswegian laddies in a Billy Connolly joke and I can’t help mentally filling in gaps in the dialogue. For example:
Xerxes: This is madness!
Leonidas: This is Sparta, [Jimmy]!
Persian Commander: Spartans! Surrender your weapons! (or something like that)
Leonidas: Persians! Come and take them [y’ Jessies]!
Leonidas: Spartans! Tonight we dine in Haayll!
[Spartans: Aaalright Thayn!
First Wee Spartan: What d’ye reckon they drink in hayll?
Second Wee Spartan: Buggered if I know – hope they got hayvy.
First Wee Spartan: Oh aye – hayll won’t be so bad if they got hayvy.]
I’ve already had one night at the cinema that was marred by the fact that, as far as I could see, I was the only person in the audience who could see the funny parts in the film. The film was Lyrics and Music. I laughed once or twice, but when it became obvious that a lot of the jokes were a little too dry for the rest of the audience, I decided to keep it to myself. But then it was a small audience, mainly couples out on dates in Village Gold Class (I got in with a nearly expired gift voucher passed on by a friend) so most of the blokes probably had other things on their minds. Most of the women too, I think. What they had on their minds was knowing damn well what the blokes had on their minds and how to deal with it if the issue actually arose. That previous sentence was a complete waste of time, by the way.
What’s the joke in 300? As usual, when Hollywood tries to do big, portentous stuff on the cheap, it’s bathos. I doubt that the audiences at the test screenings found that trace of Glasgow in Leonidas’ voice funny – but I do. So, I suspect, will a lot of people outside the US. Every time Butler opens his mouth and to hurl out another line of dialogue – from what I’ve seen his delivery is just projectile vomiting with words – there’s a moment of sheer bathos coming. That’s why I’ve decided to wait for the DVD – I don’t want to spend two hours in a cinema fighting the impulse to laugh at the lashings of unintentional comedy which riddle the film.
So what if the producers have captured the visual style of a comic book? That only matters to the comics buffs – to me it’s just a way to dress up a cheap, studio bound sword and sandals epic with borrowed visual style. Arty-fartified “Epic Theatre”. Two hours of kitsch, and anyone who decries me – or anyone else – for recognising that is showing signs of geumatophobia.
Is 300 fascist? Too bloody right it is. Comically cheesy, perhaps, but in a distinctly fascist way. Paul Byrnes be over-reaching a little when he says that the Fuhrer would have approved of the film – while he’d like the depiction of manly courage, Adolf would no doubt have preferred to see heroes who were more explicitly German.
In making the declaration in the previous paragraph, I’m obviously taking on a considerable burden of argument. That’s thanks to the ideophobia in the “Godwin’s Law, Godwin’s Law, Godwin’s Law!” response, and the odious dismissal of …[SMH guy] and David Stratton and anyone else who raises this issue as pants wetting “luvvies”.
David Stratton, I expect, has seen all of the following landmark films in the history of film as propaganda: Olympia and Triumph of the Will by Leni Reifenstahl (they’re not typical of Nazi propaganda films – the really good stuff was produced (and sometimes written) by Joe Goebbels himself) – and Battleship Potemkin, Alexander Nevsky and Ivan the Terrible (parts 1 and 2). He is, after all, a bit of a movie buff. Byrnes too might be familiar with them.
These were all films produced with a purpose, and that purpose was to reinforce the viewer’s support for the current regime. But it wasn’t just the Nazis and Communists who were producing propaganda during the Second World War – Hollywood was producing its share – you can catch a lot of it, if you keep an eye on the late night movie listings on the ABC. A couple worth watching out for are This Land is Mine and Mademoiselle Fifi.
The first trick in making an effective propaganda film is this: you don’t tell the audience that the enemy is evil and rotten through and through while your side represents all that is good, decent and honourable – you show them, through the way the two sides behave towards each other.
The second trick (and once you’ve got this, you’ve got most of the propagandist’s art) is very simple – you don’t rely on one film to do the job. You follow Jude Suss with another anti-semitic film, then another and so on, until people more or less take it for granted that on the whole, the country would be better off without the Jews. You don’t make just one film about gallant Luftwaffe pilots singing along in perfect harmony as they go off to “strafe Englandt”, you follow it up. You do films about brave U-boat captains and all the rest. Toss in a few cheery morale raisers featuring happy Germans in Buenos Aires, dancing the tango and so on. On the other side, you don’t stop at one movie about the gallant French standing up to their Nazi occupiers – you follow it up – a different historical period maybe but the French and Germans stay basically the same.
You’ll get away with it too – anyone who notices what you’re doing will be told exactly what people saying to those of us who have a few reservations about 300. So what, it’s only a movie, lighten up. Just as we should lighten up about 24, Big Brother and The Biggest Loser. They’re just television shows, everyone knows that, no-one with any sense is going to have their outlook changed from watching them.
Dream on, suckers.