Rightwing Film Geek

Porn!!!!

AN AMERICAN CAROL (David Zucker, USA, 2008) — 5

AN AMERICAN CAROL is basically conservative pornography — it is enjoyable, effective in making us (laugh) hard, but primarily does so by appealing to our lowest natures. And in the end has left us with not much more than the slightly guilt-tinged feelings associated with having gratified ourselves but done so in the cheapest, easiest, most-narcissistic way possible.

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t mind my sneak at Playboy and the semi-voluntary bodily reactions happened. But I also know there’s more to satire, to moviemaking, to sex, to conservative movie-thought, to love and to comedy than the AMERICAN CAROL centerfold. In fact, shortly afterward, I watched a DVD of the incendiary-titled but more-serious MICHAEL MOORE HATES AMERICA, recently picked up at a Borders bargain bin, and thought it was easily a better film because in part it’s about that very point — the ease of the admittedly-gratifying cheap shot.

Directed by “9/11 Conservative” David Zucker of Naked Gun and Airplane fame, AN AMERICAN CAROL, though vastly inferior to those films, is still often very funny from the simple pleasure of seeing the piss taken out of ideas and people that jolly well ought to have the piss taken out of them. Sometimes Zucker makes funny things that just aren’t funny, and is able to do so precisely because they aren’t funny. (Cue reactions: “Huh?”)

What I mean by that is that there’s nothing inherently funny, e.g., about a liberal ex-president calling Israel an apartheid state. The conventions of our political discourse contextualize this thought so much that we don’t really see how sick-funny it is. But just dropping Jimmy Carter out of nowhere and having him start saying it defamiliarizes it to the point that ridicule is the only possible reaction.¹ Same with abolishing July 4, kicking military recruiters off campuses, blaming 9-11 on the US, making documentaries about how awesome Cuba is while ignoring the most obvious fact about it (everyone who can leave, does; and the regime knows it), etc. These ideas and a score of others actually are not satire, at least in some lefty quarters, which is why Zucker’s blunt contempt works. He ridicules the ridiculous.

The movie’s basic dramatic premise is that the fat, evil-liberal documentary film-maker Michael Moore Malone is visited by three ghosts — Patton, JFK and George Washington — who show him the error of his ways. The funniest single character in AN AMERICAN CAROL is “Rosie O’Connell” and her film-within-the-film about the threat from radical Christians (I would say “Skandie plug,” but I’ll be the only person to vote for it. Hier stehe ich!). But that’s funny because the joke isn’t just “Rosie is a shrill moron and an anti-Christian bigot” (though she is, as is anyone else who draws a contemporary Islam-Christianity parallel or uses the word “Christianist”²). It’s also about the inconveniences that … let’s say it … “Muslim terrorists” … have imposed on everybody. And about the shock of realizing how differently things would be in the world if Christians actually DID act like Muslims.

Perhaps the most-surprising laugh, and it indicates a certain level of “inside” knowledge, comes near the end, and it involves a bathroom, two sailors and two Marines. It might look like the most trivial of dirty jokes, but it becomes hilarious-because-true if you know anything about the particular details of inter-service rivalry. The best overall thread in AN AMERICAN CAROL though is the one involving Muslim suicide bombers looking to find an American film-maker to champion them and alight upon Malone, though it’s more classic Zucker pratfalls with no inherent ideological content. They just happen here to have a target for which the right has greater contempt and less desire to “understand.” In fact, another of the highlight scenes is another film-within-a-film, the Taliban’s previous recruiting film — a brutal parody of the chipper workplace orientation video we see on Day 1 of a new job. Which, combined with the Rosie film, leaves me thinking that maybe the antecedent Zucker should have been looking to in his own work was not AIRPLANE! but KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE, a shambling meta-cinematic mass (mess?) of sketches that were supposed to add up to a day’s programming. And Zucker also should have purchased the rights to this — a perfect parody of CNN’s war coverage that shames a scene in CAROL where Malone is taken back in time to a 40s anti-war demonstration.

But much of AN AMERICAN CAROL is also clunky and obviously “messagey.” I think the biggest mistake was trying to make everything fit the Dickens story template, which mostly doesn’t work. Patton shows Malone in one racially-incendiary scene that owes more to IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE — what would have happened had everyone believed that “war is not the answer.” As Patton, Kelsey Grammer at least realizes he’s in a comedy, unlike the other ghosts. But the script still gives him way too many “authors message” lines that always sound “wrong,” even when you agree with them. They make the scenes feel like animated illustrations to an essay in National Review. The low point is the scene of Jon Voight as George Washington, whom Malone sees in a church where Washington worshiped but is now caked with dust, the dust of corpses as it’s across the street from the World Trade Center site. I have nothing against using 9-11 to whip up healthy jingoism (a nation that won’t do that is not a nation). But the scene’s Churchillian ambitions are so ham-fistedly executed that it what it mostly wound up appealing to was my sense of irony, a defense mechanism I acknowledge against my wanting to cringe. Voight is shockingly unconvincing in this Madam Tussaud’s costume; his stentorian dialog is delivered like it was Cicero; the camera angles make sure to have him look heroic; and the “cue Patriotism” music is ladled over the scene like cheap gravy. The scene is obviously meant to be taken straight and “be moving and bring tears to your eyes.” But it becomes just a kitsch parody of patriotism … just an embarrassment.

There are other problems in this vein — reducing nationalism and conservative to a kind of unintentional kitsch parody. To the hypothetical viewer who is so NOT a country-music fan (he might have the hypothetical initials “v” “j” and “m”) the last 20 minutes of AN AMERICAN CAROL were almost purgatorial. Michael Moore’s stopped clock moment has got to be that country music is crap. But even if you like it, its identification as the music of real patriots has got to be silly, and no song with the lyrics “This is the greatest country in the whole wide world” can be taken for anything but camp, which I don’t think is the point here. Also, fat jokes, BO jokes, kids-cussing jokes and slapping jokes get old real quick, in any ideological context. Even apart from that, some of the political jokes betray a failure of imagination. I realize the satisfaction of comparing someone you don’t like to a Nazi, but I call a Godwin on the scene where “MoveOn.org” presents Malone with a documentary award named after Leni Riefenstahl (it’s just brain-dead not only because MoveOn’s faults don’t generally include naming awards for Nazis but also because the real-life Moore is not fit to lick Leni Riefenstahl’s jackboot heels and owes nothing to her aesthetically). I’m all for ridiculing the ACLU and lawyers, but I fail to see what the point is of shotgun-blasting them away like zombies in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. It even requires Grammer to act like an onscreen narrator: “These aren’t people, these are the ACLU.” It’s just cheap self-gratification.
—————————–
¹ Sorry … but trying to analyze humor always makes one sound like a pretentious ass.
² No … not taking either statement back. I’m a devout believer in Manning’s Corollary to Godwin’s Law.

October 17, 2008 - Posted by | Conservative films, David Zucker

9 Comments »

  1. I recently figured out the reason why your site gets so few comments…it’s because you leave so little to be said.
    There’s rarely anything significant to add to your writings. I know this because I think I may have read everyone of your posts thus far. But the main reason to comment on a the web is to have your voice heard and since I assume that almost all of this site’s traffic agrees with your faith/politics to some degree then none of your readers have anything to argue with you about. Well except on artistic value, but I find that you are pretty solid as far as that is concerned. You certainly don’t give the work of Hawks as much credit as I think it should get and you certainly find (Ingmar) Bergman A LOT more interesting than I do. Same goes for the Marx brothers. I don’t understand your top ten for 1939 at all (other than #1) nor do I get the greater love for Welles sophomore work than his freshman one. But these are all small things. Like Godard said (and we do feel the same way about him) “We have more things in common than not”, or something like that. Maybe he didn’t say that, I don’t know, but that doesn’t make it any less true about us.
    And you see I wrote all that without going into religion or politics on the self-described Catholic Rightwing Film Geek’s site. But then again I mostly agree with you about that stuff, so what else is there to add.

    Comment by James | October 17, 2008 | Reply

  2. I wish you’d chosen a different url/post name thing for this one. I fear an audit of my work-surfing in my future.

    Comment by Russ | October 17, 2008 | Reply

  3. “Michael Moore’s stopped clock moment has got to be that country music is crap.”

    Gee wiz. First you take a piss all over Mike Seaver. And now you dare to speak ill of America’s greatest art form (screw Ken Burns)?!

    I am officially boycotting RFG for as long as it takes me to walk across campus to get to the library.

    Comment by Mark Adams | October 17, 2008 | Reply

  4. Michael Moore’s stopped clock moment has got to be that country music is crap.

    One of the best things about living in L.A. is that nobody here listens to that crap. Country music is that awful noise we hear over convenience-store P.A. systems in other parts of the country, not home.

    Comment by Adam Villani | October 17, 2008 | Reply

  5. As a long-time “Top Secret!” fanatic, I would like noting more than to see a funny new Zucker film. However, this movie just seems to take place in that queasy part of the political brain where “worst case scenario” meets “wish fulfillment,” where one’s political enemies cease to be reasonable people with vast ideological differences and start appearing as covert operatives for the Dark Side. I am now seeing this worst-case-scenario/wish-fulfillment thing everywhere, starting with both the fringe conservatives who want Obama to be a Muslim Manchurian Candidate and the liberals who want every conservative to be a racist nutter who believes in the above. Reading descriptions of An American Carol depresses me. It’s just the right-wing V for Vendetta or that Simpsons ep. where the family gets thrown into prison because Bart moons the flag. Of course, by calling it “porn” you essentially admit as much to your readers. Can’t wait for Silent Light to hit L.A.

    Comment by Joel | October 19, 2008 | Reply

  6. Patton did apologize to Malone as they walked off for making him listen to country music.

    I was more willing to just go with it and enjoy the movie than watch it at all critically and liked it just fine. Would’ve been better placed on cable and DVD. Not quite a worthy go to the movie experience.

    Comment by Ronsonic | October 25, 2008 | Reply

  7. For a second everything went quiet in the cab, then the driver said, “Look mate, don’t ever do that again. You scared the daylights out of me!”

    Comment by Fertaccolealf | July 10, 2009 | Reply

  8. Another star, another Genious of our days! Definatley on of the HISTROICAL figuers! Such a pitty!

    Comment by speapyengeque | August 2, 2009 | Reply

  9. I hope turning-point purposefulness not affect you very good idea you possess going on here! Indeed enjoyed your portal thanks

    Comment by GATTUTISBUB | September 8, 2009 | Reply


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