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since 1997 | by maryann johanson

‘Redacted’ and ‘The Golden Compass’ reap the fruits of bad publicity

I’m outraged! Outraged, I tell ya! I’m so steaming mad at how, um, Joel and Ethan Coen have, er, tried to fool us into thinking that actress Kelly Macdonald is actually from West Texas — she’s Scottish!!! — in No Country for Old Men that I demand all proud Americans immediately boycott this movie! Yes! Spread the word to each and every person you know — right now! — that this is a vile excuse for “entertainment” and just another example of Liberal Hollywood trying to force its disgusting anti-Americanism down the throats of decent people!
Ooo! And we must immediately set up picket lines outside any and all theaters where Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is playing. This despicable movie tries to fool God-fearing folk into thinking it’s religious — just look at that title!! — and then, once you’ve paid your money, you see what it really is: a repulsive demonstration of Hollywood’s contempt for The Family. Director Sidney Lumet would, um, have us believe that, er, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke are brothers! Yeah, that’s it. This, ahem, piece of trash spits on the concept of family, and it is the duty of all moral Americans to stand up to this attack on our values!

And don’t even get me started on Lars and the Real Girl.

I’m kidding, of course. You get it. These are intelligent, compelling, complicated movies that have no chance — no matter how high to the, ahem, heavens we critics praise them — of seeing the kind of box office numbers an Enchanted or a Beowulf can get just by virtue of their high concepts. Unless we arrange to “boycott” them, vociferously and obnoxiously. Because there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

Not everyone seems to understand that, of course. Bill O’Reilly, the Fox News blowhard, is up in arms over Brian De Palma’s new film, Redacted, which tells a fictionalized version of the true story of American soldiers in Iraq who raped an Iraqi teenager and then murdered her and her entire family in an attempt to cover up their crime. There’s no question that the events happened, and there’s no question that De Palma has in any way glorified this horror or suggested that the behavior of these soldiers is typical of the conduct of the American army in Iraq. Still, O’Reilly has been ranting about the film for months, like this:

There is no excuse for “Redacted.” The incident is based on a true story, but those who committed the crimes are in prison for life. You don’t celebrate this kind of aberration with a movie — you don’t brand the U.S. military with this stigma.

Unless, of course, the truth is shameful, and deserves to be stigmatized. Because the film does suggest that the overall wrongheadedness of the occupation of Iraq, of throwing military personnel into a policing situation in an alien culture for which they are untrained and unprepared for, is contributing to the kind of frustration and powerlessness that fuels crimes like this one. And thanks to Bill-O, who could be the poster boy for bad publicity, more people will hear about — and see — Redacted that ever would have before. Google “boycott redacted” and you’ll find how the rightwing blogosphere has heeded O’Reilly’s call to arms (one that we can hope will remain figurative). All the sputtering commentary about how De Palma and billionaire Mark Cuban, who financed the film (it debuted on his HDNet before coming to theaters) are somehow “unpatriotic,” “slanderous” of the troops, even “treasonous” for merely telling a truth is hilarious for how counterproductive it it. Cuban himself has said of the boycott: “Bill O’Reilly is my new best friend.”

And then there’s The Golden Compass, based on the fantasy novel by Philip Pullman, which is giving The Catholic League vapors over its supposedly atheistic agenda — Pullman is a vocal atheist, and his trilogy condemns the abuse of religious authority, so it must be out to kill God. The League is urging a boycott — persumably only by Catholics or Christians, though one never knows with these folks — of the film “over fears children seeing the movie will give up on God.” (Because, you know, kids just naturally believe in the God of the New Testament without any prompting or brainwashing on the part of already indoctrinated grownups.) Associated Content contributor Melissa Carole explains that “parents” are concerned about the film and how Hollywood will seduce our unsuspecting childers into a life of godlessness thusly: “The worst parts of the first installment will be played down to keep from making Christian parents angery [sic].” And you can trust her, because she has a deep understanding of the work in the first place: “The trilogy is said to get darker and darker as the story progresses…” (emphasis mine) Just because she hasn’t read the books — never mind hasn’t seen a movie that hasn’t even opened — doesn’t mean you should read the books either.

In any event, Compass director Chris Weitz isn’t bothered. The Catholic League also boycotted The Da Vinci Code, and that ended up one of last year’s biggest moneymakers. This boycott “will make more people see the film,” he has said. Maybe the Catholic Church’s own recent encounters with bad publicity — which, to be fair, don’t seem to have had an upside — have misled it about the usually positive value of bad publicity.

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  • I agree with a lot of your points here, but one terrible prospect of this publicity for The Golden Compass is the very real chance that intelligent folks might read the books. Phillip Pullman seems like a nice guy, but GOOD GOD is that first book boring. I have several friends who encouraged me to read the trilogy because “it’s anti-religous, man”–but just because I might agree with an author’s idea doesn’t mean that said author knows the first thing about story structure or characterization. And Phillip Pullman is just an awful, awful writer.

  • Rosalind

    I totally disagree with the above comment – the “His Dark Materials” triogy is a fantastic read. I can understand why the religious right is concerned about a possible resurgence in the popularity of the book series. The third novel really puts organized religion under the microscope. MaryAnn, you really should give them a try.

  • Mike Brady

    I have to agree with Rosalind on this one, with the caveat that the first book starts off pretty slowly (despite the attempted suspenseful in medias res opening). It’s worth the investment, though, especially since it’s pretty quick reading.

    I too can understand why the Catholic church is no fan of this series. The trilogy is bitingly harsh on the church, and (without spoiling anything) the climax to the series is about as big a slap in the face as one could muster. Seriously, though: when has banning books or media ever worked?

  • Drave

    I’m the the third bowl of porridge in this discussion, I guess. I think the first book is an astounding piece of entertainment, but the other two crumble under the ponderous weight of Pullman’s transparent and ham-fisted agenda. And I say that as someone who is on his side. The second book has a promising start, but meanders off into the fog and never finds its way out. The third book is a complete and total mess.

  • Johnny

    I’m going to boycott this “Golden Compass” atheist extravaganza. They think they can send in these Jesus hating polar bears and take a bite of out the Christian collision? They better think twice.There is no need to make a movie that is set out to obliterate a faith.I see movies for fun not to get the horns or to be preached.The whole thing really boils my gravy. Secondly, theres no point in me boycotting this movie, because.. well i wasn’t going to see it anyways lol

  • JSW

    All I want to know is who’d win in a fight between Aslan and Iorek Byrnison.

  • Actually, I suspect that the boycotting of “Golden Compass” might actually hurt it. Normally, yes, controversy sells tickets, but this is a kid’s movie; the kids themselves aren’t paying, and if the parents decide to keep their kids away, there’s not much they can do. Also, controversy doesn’t seem to be helping a lot of movies these days…people actually do seem kind of burned out, politically.

    I still think it’ll do OK as this year’s Big Christmas Fantasy Movie. And when people do see it, they’ll never take the kinds of people insisting on a boycott seriously again, because (assuming the movies are true to the books) the level of criticism of Christianity is really, really tame.

    I also find it funny that people are protesting that the movies will “turn kids away from God”, as if kids came out of the womb as good Christians.

  • Grace

    The funny thing is, I don’t think the Catholics have much to worry about re The Golden Compass. Nicole Kidman, who is apparently a devout Catholic, refused to be in the movie unless the anti-religious stuff was toned down. So the movie will piss off religious people, but still won’t be popular among atheists or fans of the books, while everyone else will see it as just another children’s fantasy movie ripping off Harry Potter. I don’t think it will do well.

    The Golden Compass makes sense as a straightforward adventure story with few religious overtones, but the second and third books will not make sense as movies at all if they remove the criticism of religion, which the plot revolves around. Are they planning to film the sequels? Seems like they’re setting themselves up for failure.

    I’m a huge fan of the series, particularly the first two, although keep in mind that I’m biased because they BLEW MY MIND when I was an impressionable thirteen-year-old. I’m an atheist now; I don’t think I became an atheist directly because of Philip Pullman, but the books made me think about these issues harder than I otherwise would have at that age – and that’s a good thing. I’m not planning to see the films because I’d rather not know how badly they fucked up a story I love.

  • MaryAnn

    MaryAnn, you really should give them a try.

    What makes you think I haven’t? I’ve read the whole series, and I love it — I don’t find it boring at all.

    And it’s ridiculous to call these books “anti-religious” — they’re anti the abuse of institutional authority. Of course, some people — all of the religious and dogmatic bent — utterly fail to understand the difference between faith/spirituality and the institutions that pretend to promote and police it.

  • I had heard something to the effect of the movie making a decision not to focus on religion as the villain and trying to make it applicable to any old oppressive system in order to not alienate part of the audience, actually.

    Thing is, I really don’t have any intention of seeing the film because I’m not really impressed by those who are making it and don’t need to see another misguided filmic massacre of a literary work. If I hear otherwise, sure, maybe, but it’s not the plan.

    One thing that will be missing from the film is Pullman’s lovely use of language. If you’ve read other books of his, it’s easy to be amazed at how he neither simplifies language nor themes for younger audiences. He blows so many of his higher profile contemporaries away in regard to the craft of being an writer – I’m talking to you JK and Limony. A wonderful writer and His Dark Trilogy is merely the highest profile section of a much larger creative story.

  • Brett

    I just finished the trilogy. I thought it was really great, but the very end was not what I wanted to see. It works as an ending, though.

    Also: Iorek would destroy Aslan.

  • i’ve read the books and i remember that i thought the church in question was the Anglican church, which is the “state” religion of england — not the RCC. in any event, i felt the message, if there was one, was more a “question authority and its agenda” than an actual indictment of any one church.

  • Sherry

    GOLDEN COMPASS is as worthy, or more so, to be seen compared to any of the recent blockbuster fantasies. I love LotR and HP, but Pullman’s story strikes me as the most original and thought-provoking. I have great hopes that the movie makers are doing it and the rest of the trilogy justice, and I hope it will be given it’s due at the box office, but I’m not holding my breath. It seems that we are still in the midst of a huge backlash movement from the “establishment” which was so bombarded (but only enough to make it act like an angry cornered monster) in the sixties and seventies. Sooner or later, I’m hoping more and more people will see the emptiness and deception of dogmatic rhetoric so prevalent in the media stream and some pulpits. In the meantime, dollars being our most sure way to vote, I’ll spend my shrinking currency on movies like Compass and Lars.

  • MaryAnn

    i’ve read the books and i remember that i thought the church in question was the Anglican church, which is the “state” religion of england — not the RCC. in any event, i felt the message, if there was one, was more a “question authority and its agenda” than an actual indictment of any one church.

    All true. But rational thought is not a feature commonly seen among religious nutjobs.

  • Melanie

    Why do some atheists insist on painting all Christians with the same brush? I am a Christian – I believe the bible is the word of God and it is all true. For those who must “see to believe”…there is more than enough historical / archeological evidence to support scripture – even in secular circles. I wasn’t raised in church, so nobody can accuse me of being brainwashed as a child. Here’s a concept for you – a LOT of Christians actually study the bible and do research instead of believing whatever they’re told! Those are probably the ones who aren’t freaked out and feel the need to defend their faith against FICTIONAL movies like “DaVinci Code” or “Golden Compass”. I don’t see this movie or any other FICTIONAL movie as a threat. I actually think Golden Compass looks like it may be entertaining. I like Stephen King movies too, but that doesn’t mean I believe in vampires or zombies or huge spiders that appear to children as killer clowns who lure children to their deaths. I don’t know who Iorek is, but I know that Aslan represents Christ and NOBODY can defeat Him. I’ve read the Book, I know how it ends / who wins. So does Satan…and he’s running scared!

  • MaryAnn

    I don’t see this movie or any other FICTIONAL movie as a threat.

    Perhaps you could explain this concept to some of your fellow believers.

    there is more than enough historical / archeological evidence to support scripture – even in secular circles

    No, there isn’t, actually.

    a LOT of Christians actually study the bible and do research instead of believing whatever they’re told!

    If that were the case, then you could not claim to accept the Bible as “all true.”

    So does Satan…and he’s running scared!

    *shakes head in disbelief*

  • littlem

    “…Jesus hating polar bears and take a bite of out the Christian collision”

    “Christian collision“?

    Hee.

    Aslan. No contest.

  • MaryAnn

    My favorite scene in the movie is when Iorek says, “You know that fuck Jesus Christ? Well, I fuckin’ hate ‘im. I think we polar bears should form a Jesus-hating club especially so we can hate him collectively.” And all the other bears say, “Fuck yeah!” and cheer him on.

    And then I got my horns as I was walking out of the theater. That was the best.

  • Tu madre

    Aslan would kick the shit out of that prohomosexual bear.

  • MaryAnn

    “Prohomosexual bear”?

  • bitchen frizzy

    Methinks she jests: banter, as it were.

  • MaryAnn

    I hope so.

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