Monday, November 29, 2004

Gay bashing at the box office 

Britain's trendy left comments on the fate of Hollywood's latest "sword and sandals" epic:
"Alexander has proved to be the Thanksgiving weekend's biggest flop, and while it is a portrait of a legendary leader who ruled far-away lands more than 300 years before the birth of Christ, it has brutally exposed the cultural and moral divide which slices America in two."
No, it's not a divide between the three Oliver Stone's fans and the rest of the movie-going public who demand two hours of solid and enjoyable entertainment for their few bucks. As the "Independent" opines, "Alexander the (not so) Great fails to conquer America's homophobes."

While the article makes a rather uncontroversial point that some among the religious right might object to the film on the basis of the portrayal od Alexander as bisexual, the best the correspondents can do to back up this is a vague observation:
"According to one online critic, Alexander is a flop because he is 'as gay as a maypole'. Christians considering seeing the film have even been urged to 'speak to your pastors immediately because Satan is attempting to enter your mind'."
Wow, no less than an online critic points to Alexander's sexual orientation, and some unidentified Christians (one? two? ten of them?) have been urged by some equally unidentified parties to avoid the film. This is obviously the largest and the best organized Christian right political campaign since the evangelicals got behind George W Bush to put him back into the White House.

Not satisfied with having failed to prove a wide-spread conservative Christian backlash and boycott against the film, the "Independent" journos now cast their censorious net even wider. You see, it's not just a few ultra-consrvative Christian wackos, it's the whole damned society:
"The film is a blowsy biography of the Macedonian conqueror, long on emotional speeches and short on battles. But the poor script and suspect casting is only partly to blame... [The protests against the movie] echo the swing in the US towards conservatism and reflect what Americans view as the corrosive effect Hollywood and popular culture have had on the nation's values and moral standards." [my emphasis]
It's all them dumb, homophobic hicks in the red states, you see, who can't appreciate art. Alas, the Brit journalists present no evidence whatsoever that people are staying out of the theatres because they can't stand a thought of an ancient hero who swings both ways. Judging by the film's takings - $21.6 million so far - it looks like not many people in the blue states are coming to see it either. Could that, perchance, be not because the American movie-going audience has a problem facing implied screen bisexuality, but because - as the "Independent"'s Brit tabloid cousins might say - the film is "shite"?

Of course, rather than admit that Stone has produced a dismal flop that's all sandals and no swords, it's easier to blame the audience, particularly if you can again make a not-so-thinly veiled political point based on the whole "how can 59 million be so stupid?" meme, so popular across the sophisticated Europe.

But let's go back to the "reality-based" reality: take a similar recent example - another historical epic that bombed: "King Arthur"cost some $120 million to make and another $40 million to market. Yet it earned only just under $52 million at the domestic box office, $15 million of which over its opening weekend, arguably because both critics and the word of mouth declared this Round Table adventure to be a stinker. No homosexuality came into play - it's just that the public found the non-traditional, "historically accurate" take on the famous legend to be lame and boring. Just as, in fact, they're finding now with "Alexander."

And in case you think there might have instead been some latent anglophobia at work in turning Camelot into a Cameflop, remember "Alamo." Can't get more chauvinistic and jingoistic than the story of brave Texans' final stand at a monastery, can you? Surely, this was a perfect red state fodder - white men with guns killing a lot of brown people; great redneck flag-waving, foreigner-stomping, don't thread on me or I'll stick the barrel of my gun up you backside type of a movie. And yet, just like in history, "Alamo" fell. $107 million in production budget and $30 million in promotion had managed to translate into only $9 million on its opening weekend and $22 million over its short cinematic run.

The "Independent" might enjoy portraying America as a crazy Jesusland, a redneck paradise inhabited by cultural savages, religious freaks and other assorted bigots and cross-burners who bed their sisters. Based on the evidence provided - or lack thereof - however, others might just see the United States as the home of people who don't like watching crap movies. But that would not be a sophisticated and culturally aware enough a critique. Oh well.


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