Posted by Adele on July 14, 2000 at 06:52:28:
This is a review from the British newspaper - the Daily Telegraph. FYI the newspaper is a conservative broadsheet and the film critics are notoriously harsh (particularly on Hollywood blockbusters) - you have been warned.
History Turned Into Porn (by Andrew O'Hagan)
I was once trying to buy a newspaper in New York when I was accosted by an old lady wearing binoculars. "Are you Scottish?" she asked. "I am," I said, "but I can't help it." "Oh my," she went on, "did you see Braveheart? You must be so proud." Of course, I smiled politely, and cursed Mel Gibson under my breath. This is what happens now: people get their version of history from cynical cranks in Hollywood, and all you can do is count your small change and wish you'd never been born.
I can tell from the letters you're sending that this business of movie-makers playing fast and loose with the facts is upsetting. Many are still angry at the submarine drama U-571, a gripping film based on the bogus idea that the Americans found the Enigma machine.
Every film-making nation is at times jinoistic. British war films favour a very British sort of pluck, and it's worth remembering that the British once made a movie, starring Ralph Richardson, called Breaking the Sound Barrier, which made out that an Englishman was the first to do what the title says, when in fact it was an American.
Only the Frensh show consistency in making films that contain a measure of national self-disgust. The Americans tend to come out rather well from their own productions, and so do the British from theirs; increasingly, though, in a sharp affront to any notion of a special relationship, they tend to come out badly from each other's.
The Patriot is the kind of film that could only make sense to a confederacy of dunces, and it has taken great pains to be so stupid. Mel Gibson, that force of nature - or that excess of dullness outside of Nature, as Samuel Johnson once said of Thomas SHeridan - is once again out to show what a bit of greasepaint and a swinging tomahawk can do to enrich one's sense of national identity.
Instead of Gibson galloping up and down the Highland line with a face of blue woad, shouting "Hold, hold" in broad Adelaide, here we have Gibson galloping up and down the line at Charleston with a face smeared in the blood of recoats, shouting "Hold it, hold it" in broad Adelaide. And he gets the girl, and he only did it to protect his family, and the English are bastards anyway, and here's another speech about the Rights of Man, or whatever they're called.
Hey presto! Here's to another few generations of children made thick and vulgar by the pugnacious simplicity of a movie starring Gibson. Director Roland Emmerich couldn't have made himself plainer on these pages yesterday: "It's a good thing to do because otherwise these movies become histroy lessons and nobody will watch them at all. Especially in America."
History lesson. In 1775 the American colonies did not want to pay George III's Stamp tax - it was repealed. They didn't want to pay taxes under the Quartering Act - it was repealed. The colonies didn't want anything to do with what they saw as the English monarch's corruption, and they unloaded his tea into Boston harbour. It looked like war. The Earl of Sandwich, Forst Lord of the Admiralty, asserted that the Americans were raw and undisciplined, and that "the very sound of the cannon would carry them off". The British radical John Wilkes said the opposite, and he was prophetic: he saw a day when the Americans would think of their revolution in much the same way that the English thought of their own Glorious Revolution of 1688.
The champions of American liberty were the first to appeal to violence; scalpings and hatchetings, tarrings and featherings, were commonplace. (The best ever short story by and American - Nathaniel Hawthorne's My Kinsman, Major Molineaux - details the violence.) The American patriots had right on their side - the British had to go - but they were vile in their methods and myopic in their vision. The Declaration of Independence, preceding the worst of the fighting did not condemn or abolish the slave trade - it would take a Civil War to do that, and a Civil Rights movement to make that plausible.
Film. The Patriot follows the war from the point of view of Benjamin Martin, a man who wants to make chairs and bring up his children, but who is drawn into the war when the British, fronted by a serial killer called Colonel Tavington (Jason Isaacs), shoot his son and his black friends.
Indeed, the recoats in The Patriot are worse that the Nazis in any recent war picture: they hang old people from trees and burn people in their churches; they contravene every rule of war in their effort to hold the colonies for the monarchy. Martin is the kind of hero that Mel Gibson loves to play: whiter that white, rising above history with his love of liberty and his fellow man.
But there's a good enough American word for all this stuff: bull***t. The one black guy in the film is a cliche beyond endurance. He decides to fight on the American side to be free, and , at the end of the film, we see him and his brothers working bucolically (for free, and for freedom) on Benjamin's new house, as if the revolution had made a pardise, as if the eloquence of the Constitution had been brought instantly to life.
For children who know nothing of history this makes an absolute mockery of the struggles that were to follow. Don't even get me started on the Indians, on the native Americans - they don't even get a look-in. This is an example of the history movie as whitewash. It is fuelled by merciless platitudes about liberty, by sentimentality, and by crude disinformation about the superior nature of white America. It's sickly, stars-and-stripes pornography, for people who like their appalling lies sewn up with sequins.
The film is very bloody and, at nearly three hours, very long. In all of this, we might forget that the American War of Independence was an honest war and a complex one, one that unleashed devils just as it vanquished them, one that inscribed intolerance just as it inscribed brotherhood. Must we allow the self cleansing political psychobabble of the present day to snuff out the ambiguities of history? Must everything be a national anthem these days?
Would just like to say that these are NOT my views - I haven't even seen the film yet - opens this weekend I think. This is also not the view of all British critics - although I think that the majority are leaning that way.
Just thought you might be interested in a non-US opinion!
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