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Jewish World Review Dec. 2, 2004 / 19 Kislev, 5765

James Lileks

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Let's not read too much into the fate of ‘Alexander’ | It's terribly unfair to draw conclusions from one story in a foreign newspaper, but it's so much fun. The London Independent is warning Britons that Americans are really as value-crazed as they fear. Why, it's gotten to the point where they're refusing to pay money to see interminable movies about bisexual military leaders!

The failure of "Alexander," the newspaper wrote, has "brutally exposed the cultural and moral divide which slices America in two."

Uh-huh. "It is being suggested that a film about a global warrior with dyed blond hair and waxed legs was never going to conquer an America fresh out of a presidential election in which gay rights became a major issue."

Is there another America they might be talking about? Major issue? Brutally exposed? The last thing an American movie brutally exposed was Kathy Bates in the hot-tub scene of "About Schmidt."

Just because people don't want to see a movie about an omnisexual world-beater from the smocks-and-sandals era doesn't mean they're homophobic, any more than the dud status of "The Polar Express" means conservative America is deeply conflicted about rail travel.

And it's not as though the movie has no hetero appeal; it has great dollops of Angelina Jolie, America's favorite demonstrably unhinged sex bomb. A great many red-state-blooded American males would sit through a six-hour documentary about the Gay Men's Chorus if they knew Angelina showed up naked in the final reel.

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No, it's possible that red-staters (and blue-staters) stayed away because the reviews promised three hours of incomprehensible overindulgence that made "Heaven's Gate" look like a Pixar short. It's an Oliver Stone movie, after all. Once he was all swagger and bluster, a sweaty, toothy, meaty beast who dominated his art. But he seems deflated these days, an old Zorba whose Viagra prescription has lapsed. When a movie like "Alexander" is described as a "deeply personal project," well, people take that as a warning.

Keep in mind that Brad Pitt's "Troy" didn't exactly lead to Sparta Fever sweeping the nation, either. If the toymakers loaded up on wooden horses that disgorged a hundred tiny action figures, they have a grim Christmas ahead of them.

Perhaps people have a limited appetite for movies in which men spear one another for reasons that appear somewhat remote. In the end, executives will conclude that "Gladiator" didn't succeed because it satisfied a hunger for things heroic and martial -- no, it was a fluke, a happy accident. Next genre!

In retrospect, movies like "Troy," "The Four Feathers," "Alexander" and, to a lesser extent, "The Lord of the Rings" will seem like an attempt to deal with the current war without actually mentioning it. The source material for "LOTR" predated Osama bin Laden, obviously, as did the planning for the movie itself, so you can't say its epic clashes of civilizations are a direct reflection of our own times. But it's as close to a "Why We Fight" for the home team as we're likely to see, since Hollywood seems loath to dramatize the current conflict.

The battle for Fallujah would make an exceptional movie in the "Black Hawk Down" vein, except of course we win, which gives the producers pause. Wouldn't that be, like, endorsing the war? Can't have that.

You wonder if the exquisitely fine-tuned sense of PC in Hollywood would permit them to show Fallujans as Middle Eastern. Could we make them all neo-Nazis, somehow? How about if we set it in Texas, turn the jihadists into extremist Christians? Hey, we'll call it "Waco"! Coming this Christmas. If the red-staters don't show up, well, they didn't like Janet Reno, either. No, when Hollywood thinks "Desperate Housewives," it doesn't think of a series about military wives stateside. It thinks about rich, oversexed slatterns rubbing up against the pool boy.

Late-breaking news: George Clooney is making a biopic about Joe McCarthy. Attaboy! Because Tailgunner Joe could come back to life and blow up a shopping mall any day now. Expect a cameo from J. Edgar Hoover in a Chanel gown. Don't want to see it?


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JWR contributor James Lileks is a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


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10/20/04: Kerry's Senate Record is a 78 played at 33 RPM
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09/29/04: Dems' mixed messages alienate the Center
09/23/04: Kerry's almost just about final position on Iraq
09/21/04: Will anyone trust them again?
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09/02/04: Save America from those who would save it
08/26/04: The character (or lack) behind the Kerry candidacy
08/19/04: Time for Old Media to make like McGreevey
08/12/04: Another Swing Vote: the Sufferers of Sudden Bush Hatred Fatigue Syndrome
08/05/04: Is Kerry's Problem nuance? Or is it obfuscation?
07/30/04: Intimate liability
07/26/04: Sandy Berger's classified wardrobe
07/15/04: Pretty faces, ugly words
07/08/04: Genocide can't happen if we banish the word
07/01/04: Dropping political discourse level
06/24/04: Kerry's Science Buddies and the Silly Sanctity of Life
06/17/04: Behold the Summer of Bill Clinton!
06/10/04: Whatever happened to respect for the presidency?
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04/29/04: John Kerry, prisoner of symbolic politics
04/22/04: Shall we grovel? Kerry Plan to Restore America's Place in the World
04/08/04: Sept. 11 Might Have Been Different If ...
04/02/04: Slinging slime or citing facts?
03/26/04: One War, One Enemy
03/22/04: Bloodied Spain Rejoins Old Europe
03/12/04: Why All Those Foreign Leaders Want Kerry to Whup Bush
03/08/04: Introducing the Kerry Doctrine
02/27/04: Introducing the AWOLs: Angry White Outraged Libs
02/20/04: Sifting the headlines of election year 1992
02/18/04: Guess Which Candidate Our Enemies Want to Lose in 2004?
01/29/04: Every Laptop a Truth Squad
01/27/04: When the battle over artistic freedom goes over the edge
12/31/03: For the Left and Right, Some New Year's Resolutions
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12/15/03: Dems Are Mainstreaming the Extreme
12/08/03: Does Dean Really Want to Be President? One Wonders, When He Opens His Mouth
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09/19/03: All Hail the Ninth Circuit Court of Surreal
08/26/03: This time, the record industry doesn't stand a chance!
08/18/03: Assessing the Schwarzenegger Factor in Republicanism
08/08/03: No wonder Howard ‘Two Covers’ Dean gets all the buzz
08/04/03: Expect bad news for the foreseeable future
07/28/03: Despot's Deserts
07/21/03: No winners in this game of gotcha
07/14/03: Doing the right thing in Liberia may not be the right thing to do
06/27/03: On feet in Democratic mouths
06/16/03: The real story behind Hillary's book
06/09/03:America's new mission was and remains: Extirpating the flaming nutballs and the societies that nurture them
06/03/03: The Constitution as gag order
05/23/03: Sometimes the theme of world events is chaos itself
05/16/03: Newspapers are only human, after all
05/13/03: What McCarthy messed up
05/06/03: Still think the International Criminal Court was a good idea?
04/03/03: The world is ending, the world is ending! Doesn't anybody care!? Why won't anybody listen!?
03/14/03: Kerry and the Dems are banking on American electorate's tendancy to forget history
02/28/03: Roadmap to peace?
02/13/03: We live in an age where the poet has been cast out from the halls of power --- sob, sob
02/10/03: Found: League for International Justice and Peace talking points
01/30/03: The US can go to war whenever it likes for its own reasons, and all the UN can do is pass more worthless paper
01/23/03: People who'd volunteer for the Iraqi army if they saw Saddam wearing a "Free Mumia" button
01/16/03: One of those head vs. heart things
12/27/02: Whistleblowers?
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10/30/01: Osama and the Genie
10/08/01: "We can stop the Bush Death Juggernaut"
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08/27/01: If the economy is in a funk, why aren't we dancing?
08/14/01: Dubyah's embarrassing presidential vacation
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04/23/01: We bleat as we're sheared
04/10/01: Boys will be boys. And that's the problem
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03/26/01: You've been warned
03/16/01: The GOP's inexplicable desire to fold
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At the Sore/Loserman Transition HQ
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11/07/00: Get ready to return to the Dark Ages

© 2004, James Lileks