Tuesday 24 February 2015

Pillorying Heads of State - Seth Rogen & Charlie Chaplin

Way back in 1940 Charlie Chaplin unleashed on the world, or that part of it that still freely circulated Hollywood films, a portrait of Adolf Hitler that revealed the German Chancellor to be a megalomaniac madman full of hatred towards Jews and others. In Chaplin's fashion it was achingly funny and terribly tender, one of his greatest works and no doubt played its part in Hitler's eventual downfall.

I've given it a little thought and I cant think of a single film, at least one I've seen, since then which so mercilessly pilloried a foreign head of government. Until now, which is where Seth Rogen's The Interview hoves into consideration with its extremely vulgar pillorying of the North Korean bratpack President Kim Jong-un. I would love to be corrected or have any additional information sent in on this.

The change in how you go about pillorying a head of state is interesting in itself possibly because over seven decades not much has changed at all! For the record and based solely on my memory of a viewing a few months ago of Chaplin's film and a screening yesterday of The Interview  in solitary splendour at Hoyts Studio 12 in the EQ, both would seem to characterise their dictators in the following ways.

Bombastic and loud public speaking of incomprehensible prose;
A highly if not over-developed interest in instant casual sex;
A demand for complete subservience from underlings;
A delight in using military weapons as toys;
Secret Anxieties spoil their days. Adolf wants to be taken seriously and has to put up with buffoons like Mussolini. Kim, as the modern take demands, fears being caught out as gay.

No doubt there are more but you get the drift.

North Korean movies have of course been representing the United States as wickedness and evil personified for half a century or more. They made movies to this effect using US soldiers who hopped across the line during the Korean War and stayed there. Nowadays they use their sons whenever US evil is required. Such tropes are recorded in droll detail in two recent documentaries that went round the festival circuit The Juche Idea (Jim Finn, USA, 2008, screened at MIFF, rejected by SFF) and Aim High in Creation (Anna Broinowski, Australia, 2014, screened at MIFF). So maybe its fair enough after all that low-level pillorying for Hollywood to come in with a big bang, star-driven, studio financed, often quite funny film about the baby-faced bad haircut running North Korea today.

Of course the North Koreans didn't want to know about the joke and unleashed some counter-terrorism of their own, knocking The Interview out of the spotlight and relegating it in the US at least to the vagaries of indy cinema release.

But, in its own way, the way indeed that Seth Rogen makes movies (which rather reminds of the way Frank Tashlin made movies) it has its moments even if, notwithstanding its place in history alongside The Great Dictator, its not likely to have the same lasting interest. But who knows, maybe when the Kim royal family dynasty finally succumbs to assassination and the line ends with the inevitable whimper, some people might think this film, like The Great Dictator back in 1940, played a part.

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