Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Valkyrie's critics are worse than Nazis

I made a rare trip to the movie theaters today, inspired by an interesting selection of films and the necessary free time to see them. Although my first choice was Eastwood's Gran Torino, I was running late and ended up on my fallback, Valkyrie. Many people have panned the film strictly because of Tom Cruise. Even the Germans and their government were suspicious of this production simply because Cruise was attached to it. He's not the most expressive actor, but he's not wooden. Better yet, he has a long history of starring in watachable movies, something his peers have failed to duplicate.

In any event, I do not have a problem with Cruise. I'm not a scientologist and I think he's nuttier than a bowl of trail mix, but I could honestly care less about celebrities' personal lives. What he does on screen interests me more, and I found none of the criticims of Cruise to be very valid. His performance wasn't distracting, and I thought he did a fine job. He didn't demonstrate a wide range of emotions, sure, but I don't think it would have fit the character if he did. I mean, there was no reason for him to start jumping up and down on a sofa.

I could forgive those criticisms, but there are some that go even beyond the "I don't like Tom Cruise so this movie sucks" variety. Let's start with Roger Friedman of Fox News. I don't know him, and I am not familiar with his work, so I will try to give him the benefit of the doubt that he is not just another Fox News tool. I will let his words speak for him:
I'm concerned that Valkyrie could represent a new trend in filmmaking: Nazi apologia. Not once in Valkyrie do any of the 'heroes' mention what's happening around them. Hitler has systemically killed millions.
The article goes on to state that, "Friedman criticised the set designers for minimising or hiding the swastikas that have become symbols of the evils of Nazism." Let me state, for the record, that either Friedman is a moron or a liar. It all depends on whether he actually sat and watched the movie, like I did. Valkyrie did not sit and pound the theme every ten minutes, as it would have dragged the story down and been annoying. In other words, a poor artistic move. The opening scene of the film had Cruise's von Stauffenberg summarizing in his journal all of the problems he had with Hitler's Reich, and it came up other times as the Resistance met and schemed.

As for the swastika...it's the first image in the movie. The image appears numerous times. I did notice that on the many instances when swastikas were present, the camera cut away before the full swastika. I chalked this up to director Bryan Singer's artistry. I also noticed von Stauffenberg didn't have swastikas on his collar, just an iron eagle on his chest. Two other scenes stand out - one at a club, when I took a second to wonder how many swastikas of every size were in the room, and the other outside the Gestapo headquarters, where a beautiful arrangement of about 50 Nazi flags were flying outside the building. This, along with portraits of Hitler in every room, make me wonder if Friedman saw the film. If he didn't, he's a liar. If he did, he's a moron. As a Fox News employee, there is always the possibility he is both.

He's not the only dingbat of a right wing media machine. Phillip Kennicott of the Washington Post, and I quote the same article,
...blasted the film's puzzling failure to portray von Stauffenberg's life before his unsuccessful assassination attempt - when he was untroubled by Nazism and served as Hitler's loyal soldier.

Kennicott also criticised the movie for failing to point out that the plot was hatched not out of moral objections to Nazism but only when Germany was facing imminent collapse.

Stauffenberg "was not a committed anti-Nazi until very late in the game", wrote Kennicott. "Many anti-Hitler conspirators weren't so much against Nazism, with its vile racial and militarist policies, as they were against Hitler's disastrous leadership of the war".
Regarding paragraph one, with Valkyrie clocking in at 120 minutes, I fail to see how tacking on unnecessary scenes helps in any way. Why don't we have it drag on for four hours and we could start with von Stauffenberg at the age of seven?

Regarding paragraph two, it's in the fucking movie. That's like criticizing the film for not pointing out that Colonel Mertz von Quirnheim (Christian Berkel) is bald. It's bloody obvious. I mean...how obtuse can you be? How is it possible to be a film critic and not understand basic plot developments? There is one specific scene where the Resistance is arguing, and one of the conspirators remarks that they are running out of time, since there's no point in offering a truce to the allies once they're already in Berlin. The idea that characters in the movie were not inspired to rally against Hitler because of Germany's imminent defeat is preposterous. The only way it could have been more obvious was if the movie rolled up the script and bashed Kennicott over the head with it.

As for paragraph three, von Stauffenberg is not Clark Kent. He probably took some time to develop as a human being. It takes a brave person to stand up against evil, and it's kind of missing the point to criticize someone for not doing it soon enough, especially when it cost him his life. With regard to the part about some members of the Resistance being against Hitler's leadership more than his methods, well, so? The film didn't harp on it, but it was there for anyone in the audience.

The problem with Friedman and Kennicott is that they are evaluating this production not on artistic merit and entertainment value, but on political qualities. As Roy Edroso has pointed out for years, movies are not propaganda. They don't have to promote an agenda, nor should they. In fact, Valkyrie could have been a pro-Hitler movie, and it should still only be criticized based on its aforementioned artistic merit and entertainment value. Friedman and Kennicott's complaints are not only factually wrong, but catering to their desires would have made a shitty movie.

Ignore those twats and take my advice - go see Valkyrie. Is it a perfect, inspiring movie? Not particularly, but I did not have any major complaints. I enjoyed myself, I was drawn into the plot, I appreciated the acting, I loved the soundtrack, and I found that it was worth my money. In an age where The Spirit and Yes Man are vying for your dollars, spend your time and money on something that actually earned both.

P.S. - Happy end of the year. Nice to see you made it.

7 comments:

Gorilla Bananas said...

Yes I agree. I thought Tom Cruise was brilliant in Jerry Maguire and I can't imagine anyone playing that character as well as he did.

Sweet Cheeks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ChrisV82 said...

I hope you both had a chance to see it. It's the anti-Nazi triumph of the new year.

Sweet Cheeks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ran from Scotland said...

Hello,

Here in the UK, the film is not yet out, so I am probably not best placed to comment, but I think you are being a touch harsh on Kennicott, as I think his point is a valid one.

Having read interviews with Tom Cruise, where he potrays von Stauffenberg in a saintly light, and having seen a trailer for Valkyrie yesterday, I was left with the feeling that von Stauffenberg and his pals ARE portrayed as anti-Nazi heroes, as opposed to what they really were - aristocratic German Army officers with a horribly twisted view of the world, only marginally different to that held by Hitler himself, and who would not have dreamt of challenging Hitler if the Fuhrer was still delivering the level of success in 1944 as he had in 1940.

As Kennicott says, the plotters wanted to obtain a negotiated peace with the western allies, and save themselves from the advancing Red Army. They didn't care about the suffering their own actions had caused (indeed von Stauffenberg had been a keen advocate of exterminating Poles in 1939 when he took part in the invasion of Poland. In that regard, the early career of Cruise's character IS important).

Of course both you and I are entitled to our respective views, but I think you're wrong when you say "movies are not propaganda. They don't have to promote an agenda, nor should they." I think film should do more than simply entertain, and perhaps more importantly, if you don't feel like they should promote an agenda of truth, then surely you are defending the very propaganda you criticse? Joseph Goebbels was one of the first to spot the power of film to influence the masses - QED, filmmakers in a democracy surely have a duty not to lend weight to untruths?

ChrisV82 said...

Thanks for your criticisms. I think you should see the film and your impression may be somewhat different. Cruise has been a little saccharine in his interviews, but I don't think the movie conveys that same level of mush. Cruise's character has been played up higher on the moral chart than perhaps he was, but from what I saw in the film, the other characters were very clearly interested in preserving the integrity and honor of Germany and not in stopping the genocide going on around them. After all, these were military officers and they were still trying to serve the interests of the state, not any humanitarian goal.

As for your point on propaganda, obviously it is a powerful tool. I don't think it has any place in the entertainment industry. When I go to see a movie, I want to be entertained, moved, whatever. I don't want to be educated. If a movie is blatantly misrepresenting facts, so be it. It's my responsibility as a responsible citizen to uncover the truth on my own. Read a book or two, if you will.

An artist creates because of inspiration. A propagandist creates to further a goal. An artist will tweak a story to better the art; a propagandist will tweak a story to serve an agenda. In my opinion, you're going to get a better product from the artist.

ran from Scotland said...

Hi Chris,

Thanks for your reply to my comment. I think we fundamentally disagree when you say: "When I go to see a movie, I want to be entertained, moved, whatever. I don't want to be educated. If a movie is blatantly misrepresenting facts, so be it. It's my responsibility as a responsible citizen to uncover the truth on my own." Sadly most people don't have as inquiring a mind as you, and won't attempt to find out the truth, plus, how will they know if the film is telling the truth in the first place? I strongly believe filmmakers DO have a responsibility to tell the truth, otherwise they ARE the same as people like Goebbels - simply peddling untruths for the entertainment of the masses.

The simple fact in this film's case is that to represent the truth - i.e that von Stauffenberg was actually a racist, interested not in saving victims of the government he had happily served for many years, but to try and extricate Germany from the mess he had contributed towards, would have spoiled a good Hollywood yarn. Let's be honest, American filmmakers have a track record in misrepresenting history to make the story better. My view is quite simple; if you can't tell the story truthfully and allow the audience to make up its own mind, then write a work of fiction and film that. That way, people won't be duped. And let's not forget that when historical fact starts being misrepresented, then political extremists (holocaust deniers, for instance) will use that to further their own dark ends.

Here's a good piece from The London Times:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/ben_macintyre/article5519118.ece