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.
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.