Sunday, September 10, 2006

Hollywood 1934? Or Just Made for TV Drama?

One more quick post on The Path to 9/11 and then (I hope!) I'm done.

Fact one, ABC's foreign promotional materials are apparently describing The Path to 9/11 as "The Official True Story." So it's getting harder to buy Disney's and ABC's claims that "it's just drama." (Especially since the trailers beginning with "The Official True Story" plastered across the screen also contain one of the more clearly invented and defamatory scenes arguing that Sandy Berger had a chance to take out bin Laden and didn't give the order.)

Fact two, fact one is why reponsible lefties are so up in arms. It's true that if you poke around the comment boards on lefty sites (e.g., ThinkProgress), you find a lot of lefties who are indignant at the mere possibility that there would be a movie with a right-wing point of view. They have, as a friend of mine put it, apparently so completely bought into the right-wing claims that liberals control the media that they're horrified to be reminded that, um, we don't, never have, and never will.

It is, the current administration notwithstanding, a free country. I have no problem with TV and drama with various right-wing slants coming out of Hollywood. I have no problem with their appearing on network TV. 24, for example, continues to be a lot of fun, even though it often feels like a sustained recruitment campaign for Torture University ("TU. Where students find the truth... with electrodes.") I do have a problem, though, when networks go out of their way to package obviously slanted, substantially invented, and likely defamatory material as "the official true story." Especially when they do it two months before a crucial election.

A lot of conservatives are saying, "We had to put up with Fahrenheit 9/11, so just shut up and take it." There's some emotional justice to that--those lefties who are offended that other people get to air their opinions should remember that your being offended isn't necessarily anybody else's problem. Of course, conservatives should also remember that a lot of conservative groups did fight to have F9/11 pulled of of theaters and that their pressure worked in a lot of places. Turnabout's fair game, no?

But mostly conservatives should remember that Michael Moore and his distributors never pretended that F9/11 was based on anything but Moore's own research and analysis. Moreover, since his movie actually was a documentary rather than a dramatization, it was pretty clear just by looking (even on mute) which footage was of events that had actually happened and which ones were speculative reconstruction or interpretation. With a complete dramatization like The Path to 9/11, everything is on the same film stock, with the same lighting, etc., and it's impossible to tell as you watch what scenes are faithful to 9/11 Commission report and which ones contradict or distort it. You have to actually read the entire report to tell. Which, again, would be fine if ABC were admitting that the filmmakers had done more than condense certain episodes or invent representative character--if they weren't billing it as "Based on the 9/11 Commission Report."

In 1934, Upton Sinclair was mounting a very strong campaign for the governorship of California. He was running on the End Poverty in California (EPIC) ticket (this is the Great Depression, remember) and looked like he could actually win. The Hollywood studios (almost certainly on the instuctions of legendary producer Irving Thalberg) put out a newsreel that ran before a lot of their features. It contained interviews with various voters. Lots of sober, uber-American middle-class folk were not planning to vote for Sinclair. Sinclair voters appeared to be mostly wild-bearded folk saying stuff along the lines of "I vill vote for that Upton Sinclair becus he is goink to make this whole diffrint kind uv country and is a vriend to the people likes I." All this footage of half-socialized Bolsheviki immigrants planning to vote for Sinclair--released months before the election--hurt Sinclair badly.

Turned out later, of course, that all the interviewees were actors. The whole thing was a put-up job, apparently motivated in large part by studio owners' fears that union-positive Sinclair would support the actors, writers, directors in unionizing the Hollywood open shop.

The final cut of The Path to 9/11 hasn't aired yet. It may turn out to be a vaguely unreliable dramatization. (Especially if the recent controversy has forced some edits.) It may turn out to be fun to watch. It may turn out to be Hollywood 1934 all over again. We'll see soon enough.


At 7:45 PM , Blogger Jon E. said...

So it's come and gone, The Path to 9/11.

My final verdict is that, as entertainment, it was middlin'--some good acting, a lot of vaguely clunky jumping about the many plotlines.

As information, it was sorta dubious. But, under pressure for the past ten days or so, ABC stopped saying (in US promotional materials, at least) that it was "based on the 9/11 Commission report." It abandoned its partnership with Scholastic to use the show as informational resource. So it coulda been a lot worse. (For a detailed list of the last-minute changes to the movie and to ABC's domestic promotional strategy, go to

So, part of me thinks, well it was kinda lame and somewhat disingenuous, but I've seen worse. That part of me is a little embarrassed about having raised red flags all over this blog. On the other hand, if it hadn't been for tens of thousands of people expressing skepticism in recent days, it almost surely would've been much worse.


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