May 15, 2004

Lots of bloggers talk about the Geneva Conventions, but no one ever links to them (and that's Conventions, plural; they encompass about a half-dozen different treaties and protocols enacted over the last 150 years, starting in 1864). Here's a good primer from two years ago on the history of international law, the development of the concept of "war crimes" and how they apply to the post-9/11 world, in Slate. Originally proposed by the International Red Cross and the Red Crescent in the mid-19th Century, and enacted by the U.S. Senate in the aftermath of the Civil War, its essence is empathatic: we treat enemy combatants in a manner we would demand that our own be treated, no matter how just our cause or how wicked our adversary. Unfortunately, the Geneva Conventions have always seemed to be adhered to only in the aftermath of war, and forgotten when the next conflict starts up. That may be an inevitable outcome of battle, but it is one that we should always keep in mind before the next war starts.

May 14, 2004

UPDATE: At least we know where the name came from.
UPDATE [2]: Turns out I scooped the rest of the media by some ten hours on this story. I rule.
Works for me....

May 13, 2004

The Very Ugly American: Apparently the ability to craft the hackneyed conventions of chop-socky and spaghetti-western dross into cinematic gold has not gone to the lanternine head of Quentin Tarantino, or at least not in such a way so that he would feel the need to show that he actually thinks before opening his mouth. Apparently threatened by the articulate actress seated next to him on the dais, he used the occasion of a press conference at the opening of the Cannes Film Festival to slight the British film industry. To wit,
Tarantino, set on edge at a press conference by (Tilda) Swinton's cut-glass accent - she graduated from Cambridge in political sciences before making Wittgenstein with the late Derek Jarman - hit back acidly.

Why if Hollywood was such a "bad boy" monster, he wondered, did British actors "get the hell out of there" and head for Beverly Hills once they hit fame?


Then, getting into his stride, he argued that despite all the money, direction, acting and scriptwriting that went into a film, the reality was that audiences "showed up" for one reason: to see "the stars". They paid for tickets to watch actors they knew and were comfortable with.

He said that this was why America, India and Hong Kong - and not Britain - managed to sustain a flourishing domestic film industry.

Swinton, noted for art films such as The Deep End, said that she was not especially anxious to disagree with the jury president, but the "Hollywood product" was not the only one on the cinematic map.

"I speak as someone who comes from a country, which like so many others, is experiencing the loud voice of the multiplexes, which outnumber art cinemas, ten to one. It is jolly difficult for audiences looking for another kind of cinema, and very difficult for filmmakers and critics to have the confidence to look for another kind of cinema, and have the confidence to make another cinema.
First, lets give Tarantino his props for correctly observing that three of the largest film industries in the world are in China, India, and the US, although it shouldn't surprise anyone that the three most populous countries in the world, each with different primary languages, and with long cinematic traditions, have profitable film industries. That Great Britain does not have a film industry to rival the U.S. or, for that matter, two nations with over a billion people, is not much of a shock.

Second, there is another rather obvious reason the U.K. lags behind the U.S. in filmmaking: both countries speak the same language. No matter how much of a movie geek you are, going to see a foreign language film can be disconcerting, and the barrier imposed does not provide the optimum filmgoing experience. It's one thing for America to export films to China and India, where English is spoken, if at all, as an elite language. It's another to export them to a country where the mother tongue is the same; it's much easier to draw the casual filmgoer into the multiplex if he knows he's not going to have to look at sub-titles for two hours.

The competition, therefore, isn't between Hollywood and "Bollywood" or Hong Kong; each territory is pretty much exclusive and is run as a de facto monopoly by the local studios. It's between the U.S. and any other English-speaking country, and when it comes to corporations, our economies of scale kick theirs in the ass every day of the week. At least Great Britain still generates some home-grown product (ie., "Bend It Like Beckham", "Calendar Girls", and "28 Days Later", all of which were released in the U.S. within the last year), and keeps some of their stars at home; in entertainment terms, Australia has pretty much become the San Pedro de Macoris of the American film industry, and New Zealand, South Africa and Canada, while producing plenty of talent, pretty much exist only as location shoots for American movies, as far as the "Industry" is concerned. As the corporations running the studios become larger and more multi-national, the power of this oligopoly will only increase.

So inevitably, then, British "stars" are going to go where the money is, and if they want to make the money that comes from appearing in movies, it means appearing in films made and distributed by American companies; that was as true eighty years ago as it is today. If they don't, they can always work on TV or the stage, both of which are vibrant and healthy in Great Britain, or appear in the odd British flic, and not need "get the hell out of there", to use Tarantino's unfortunate line. That choice has nothing to do with greed, any more then the recent decisions by Kevin Spacey and Gwyneth Paltrow to relocate to London in order to pursue stage careers is motivated by greed.

Swinton's point, then, is dead-on correct. The near-monopoly that Hollywood studios possess in the English-language film market is going to have consequences down the line, in the same way that American fast-food chains have, or WalMart has. Crowding out smaller businesses means limiting the options people have, and thus restricts our imagination of alternatives; the same is true in the cinema. Tarantino would be wise to show greater consideration of that point, since there is no reason that the same stranglehold can't be applied to choke off creativity in other parts of the world as well.

May 12, 2004

I have redesigned the blog, but it may be a few days until I can figure out how to return some of the links to the side. In the meantime, if you visit any of the random archive pages, the old blogroll is still listed.

May 11, 2004

The Spurs really don't have much game in the second half, do they?

May 10, 2004

Truth be told, one of the reasons why Abu Ghraib has already become such a dark page in American history is that public sentiment had already begun to turn against the war, in particular the question as to whether the U.S. was justified in starting this adventure. If Americans no longer overwhelmingly believed in The Cause, it stands to reason that actions which are the inevitable by-product of a war (including the abuse and dehumanization of the enemy) would be less tolerated. Still, the belief by some that the captives at Abu Ghraib represented the most malignant of the former allies of Saddam has been used to rationalize the behavior of their guards; surely, no one would weep if G.I.'s had treated captured members of the S.S. the same way after WW2, or if Bin Laden and friends were similarly humiliated.

That's why this story is all the more important. Between 70 and 80% of all Iraqis captured during the war were arrested by mistake, according to the Red Cross' report, and were treated in a manner that violated the Geneva Convention. The pictures we are now seeing have shown Americans an ugly side to our nature, a side that believes that because we are more powerful than our adversaries our actions must, inevitably, be morally correct. Abu Ghraib was only the tip of that iceberg; considering the way in which we treated Native Americans and the descendents of slaves, it is the flip side to an American exceptionalism which characterizes so much of the foulest aspects of our political culture.

May 09, 2004

Pulitzer Watch: The Los Angeles Times is reporting that actor Corbin Bernson [L.A. Law, (1986-93); Celebrity Mole (2004)] and his wife, Amanda Pays [some movie with Rob Lowe twenty years ago] have remodeled their home, and intend to put it on the market for $1.5 million. Natch...Brian and Laurie Czamecki of Troop Real Estate have the listing. The same article hints that LA Dodger middle reliever Tom Martin and his wife may soon lease a townhome in Manhatten Beach, thanks to the efforts of Phyllis Cohen-Edwards of Shorewood Realtors.