By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
I knew [the studio] was doing grassroots marketing to everybody — Hispanics, cops, firemen, teachers, church groups. I didn’t know that they had hired a specific firm; I found out that day. I’m pleased they like it, because it goes beyond politics.
Could you foresee a left-wing backlash against the film?
If people on the right are responding with their hearts, I’m all for it. But if they’re making it into a political statement, it’s wrong. Those on the left might say, “Oh, this is a simplified context, and these are simplistic working-class values. You’re not showing a wider political context.” Or secondly, that we’re sentimentalizing the event — which would be unfair, because I think there’s a lot of grit there. But this is a populist film. We’ve said that from the beginning. In our hearts, it was a Frank Capra type of movie. And he didn’t necessarily get great notices.
In an odd way, I was reminded of Preston Sturges’ ?Hail the Conquering Hero— a wartime comedy that pokes fun at the notion of patriotism and, by extension, patriotic movies but which, by the end, almost subversively, fills you with this patriotic fervor. I’m wondering if you see this as your “Nixon in China” moment: Only the director ofNixonandJFKcould get away with a film where the most heroic character is an ex-Marine who consults with his pastor before putting himself in ?harm’s way.
That character, Dave Karnes, is an unlikely hero. He goes to church — that’s a documented thing; he checks with his pastor in a born-again church before he goes down to Manhattan. He evaded the authorities. Get it done; that’s a Marine thing. I think you can argue that the Marine is an ambivalent character, because at the end of the movie, this sense of vengeance is what fuels the wrong war in Iraq.
But for him it’s the right war.
For him it’s the right war. That’s correct. I think if you really look at JFK or at Nixon, which are the two political films I did uncensored in my career — which is amazing unto itself — JFK is neither right nor left, and was attacked equally by the left, who did not like the Kennedy figure of 1963. It was done in the centrist tradition of American dissent: It questioned government and the authority of government. So I was taken aback that the right made such a big issue out of it. I suppose, because they were in office [when the film came out]. But they had never done that historically. They would have been on the side of the investigation; [Barry] Goldwater may well have been. JFK was not a bunch of fantasies strung together. It involved an enormous amount of research — as much as World Trade Center, if not more.
You could make the same argument aboutNixon?. You took the dominant political figure in our lifetime and gave him the Shakespearean treatment his life cried ?out for.
It was a psychological point of view. The right wing thought it was going to be a hatchet job; instead, it made him a human being. Unfortunately, in my career, I have spoken out between films, and that’s what’s gotten confused with the films themselves. I think the focus has been lost. Somewhere along the line, I guess, I said, “Look: I’m a filmmaker, but I’m also John Q. Citizen, and things piss me off. I have a right to say, if people ask me and they’re interested, what I fucking think.” And that’s the line I’ve always gotten in trouble with. It’s always between the films, if you look at the statements I’ve made. There’s nothing in the films themselves, as far as I know, that’s really offensive politically.
How much of the criticism against you do you think is organized for partisan political gain?
I’ve always wondered that — especially in the ’90s, after the JFK situation. You have to wonder: Will it come out one day in a government file? You hear about those programs from the ’50s and the ’60s. I was so grateful that Michael Moore came along. He helped me.
He seems to enjoy it. Maybe it’s the counterpart to how the left treats Charlton Heston.
Charlton Heston once said in an interview, “People like Oliver Stone would never hire me in the new Hollywood.” And I went out of my way on Any Given Sunday to hire him. I loved him. I said, “Forget politics, I love your character.” Political reputation pigeonholes you, and in a society that’s very busy, it’s an easy way to get rid of having to think too much about people and what they’re saying. I’m a dramatist; I’m a humanist. I protest.
There’s one line inWorld Trade Center— I think we hear it on a TV monitor in an office at the Port Authority — where the announcer says, “. . . the shock of the explosion that was coincidental with the two towers coming down,” and then you move on to something else. Was the suggestion that an unexplained explosion might have accompanied the towers’ demise the one seed of doubt you intentionally planted in an otherwise apolitical movie?
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