Remember when movies aimed to entertain? You could take the whole family, from grandma to the kids, and escape the quotidian for the silver screen, watching bigger-than-life heroes engage in daring and admirable deeds. Or you could share a few G-rated laughs without worrying about offensive double-entendres or scatological references.
No more. Now, if Hollywood isn't drenching its audience in blood or titillating it with naked bodies, it is propagandizing us with left-wing paranoia or pushing a radical social agenda. Michael Moore's new film "Fahrenheit 9-11," which won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival last week, is a good example. The film claims to be a documentary, but it doesn't document anything but Michael Moore's dementia.
Moore spins a tale of perfidy involving Osama bin Laden, Saudi princes, President George Herbert Walker Bush and President George W. Bush, among other villains and evildoers. He blames the Bushes for creating Osama and, by extension, for killing 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, not to mention thousands of Afghans and Iraqis, and hundreds of U.S. soldiers in two wars. Moore isn't interested in entertaining us, much less depicting the truth. He wants to defeat President Bush at the polls in November, plain and simple. His propaganda fest won plaudits at Cannes, but I doubt it will draw droves into the local multiplex if and when it finds an American distributor.
"The Day After Tomorrow," which opens on May 28, is director Roland Emmerich's $200-million gift to Al Gore Democrats. The film depicts ice storms freezing Paris, tidal waves destroying Manhattan and tornadoes ripping apart Los Angeles, all on the same day. And why has Mother Nature turned so malevolent? Because we benighted Americans failed to heed the warnings of enviro-visionaries like the former vice president, who once wrote that the internal combustion engine posed a threat "more deadly than that of any military enemy we are ever again likely to confront."
Emmerich says climate change is the only problem "big enough to force all countries of the world to stop fighting and work together to save the planet." Yeah, right. Maybe al Qaeda and Hamas can be persuaded to use only carbon-neutral components in their suicide bombs. The biggest disaster Emmerich's film portends, however, is likely to be at the box office. Who wants to pay anywhere from $7.50 to $12 to be propagandized for two hours, even with special effects and Dolby surround sound?
And it's not just political agendas Hollywood pushes. Even ostensibly innocuous films like the blockbuster cartoon "Shrek 2" sneak in a message here and there. When I took my granddaughter to see the film over the weekend, I was amazed to see a foppish Prince Charming go off into the sunset with a transvestite "ugly sister" when Princess Fiona chose the ogre Shrek over him at the conclusion of the film. Larry King's unmistakable gravelly baritone made the character's cross-dressing obvious to the adults in the audience. Sure the gag went over the heads of most of the kids in the theater, but it wasn't particularly funny and seemed aimed only at adding a "gay" theme to a children's film.
No wonder an increasing number of Americans never go to the movies these days. The Gallup Organization reports that nearly one third of Americans haven't stepped foot in a movie theater in the previous 12 months, and even those who did go to the movies saw fewer films in 2003 than the previous year.
Samuel Goldwyn, one of the giants of the movie industry, is reported to have said, "If you want to send a message, call Western Union." But too many producers, directors and actors these days fail to heed his advice. Hollywood will start filling theaters once again when it stops churning out agitprop and starts producing entertainment.