Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Film Review--Proud American

Proud American
written and directed by Fred Ashman

Ah, you’ve got to love the heady marriage of cinema and corporate sponsorship. At least it’s blatant this way and not so underhanded that it merely creeps into our consciousness without our awareness. In this film, four major corporations lay out the cash to sponsor a film that clearly fails at it’s primary agenda which is to instill a staunch Americanism in all it’s viewers. In fact, truth be told, this is truly one of the funniest films I have ever seen and I have to admit all the laughs are unintentional.

I marvel at how this film was put together and more importantly, why? Do these people honestly believe the populace will be swayed by something that never elevates itself above a hallmark card? The music is so blatantly “inspirational” (I was inspired to read the Communist Manifesto but that’s just me) that it’s impossible to read through it. There are nearly a dozen songs by someone named Larry Beard and they really need a wider audience. Every last one of them is about patriotism, how great America is, the land of the Free, freedom, etc. al ad nauseated. These are supposed to stir the heartstrings and force connections between the heartwarming stories being played out on the screen and the American dream. It’s as blatant as anything I’ve yet seen in a film. The same stirring refrain every time a character is making an important speech or just saying something the film makers really want to plea to our emotions.

Simple labels such as good or bad, necessary or irrelevant, simple or profound do not really apply to this film. It exists in its own little world and is impervious to criticism. Still, it’s nearly impossible to imagine the intentions of those who worked on this project. Most likely they desired nothing more than to raise the red, white, and blue in front of the local K-Mart and hope that as many people salute it as possible. They wanted people to take out their Mastercard, make some impetuous purchase, and think of 9/11 or the poor immigrants swimming their way to freedom.

There are five stories here that ostensibly celebrate the human spirit and being all that you can be. The music tells us how to feel about these people so that we don’t ever get the wrong impression. It’s a useful ploy as mentioned and the film takes full advantage of it. The stories include an immigrant Vietnamese girl who when we first meet her is attempting to enter into an American high school. She is made fun of by mean girls who just don’t get it. She meets some “nice” girls who help her with her English and before you know it she is an executive at a software company she and her husband started. Yay America! Then we meet a young African-American boy (his skin color is of vital importance in this egalitarian sludge-sickle) who is tempted to join the gang of thugs his brother runs with. He is nearly run down by thugs who are so deliberately thrusting and overly intensified that it creates nothing but hilarity in its wake. He cuts his arm escaping and is taken to a kindly doctor who patches him up and explains that he too can be a doctor. Well, from that point on he studies every day hard and fast and he too reaches the heights of his ambition. Then, a Brazilian immigrant starts as a dishwasher, gets promoted so he eventually becomes a manager, joins the Navy Seals, is crippled in an attack, and becomes a champion disabled athlete. Another story involves a group of skinheads who smash in the front window of a Jewish Family while they sleep. “Oh, our minora.” It’s awful and terrible but all the neighbors come rushing in and quickly attend to the situation. Soon, the entire neighborhood has put up minoras to advertise their solidarity. Again, yay America!

This is remarkable because it is a drama with absolutely no drama. It’s clear that every minority presented is going to reach their goal and achieve all of their dreams. In many respects it’s not a film at all. Indeed, it is merely a series of reenactments of actual success stories and has a documentary feel at times. What is most baffling are all the random, disconnected images that creep up now and again. The film also reenacts important moments in corporate history from Coca Cola to Waltons and even includes a preacher spouting off about Martin Luther King in front of his congregation. Again, there is no intentions of telling a cohesive story here. It’s just a series of events that are all supposed to say roughly the same thing: America is a land of opportunity and anyone can succeed. You only have to want it enough. It starts with a voice over of immigrants conversing about how native born Americans don’t appreciate their own country as much as they, the immigrants, do.

It’s not pleasant being preached to in this manner, being told so clearly how to feel so that if you don’t feel this way you are somehow not American enough. If you don’t get sucked in to this consumerist fantasy you might as well be living in Russia or some other god forsaken place where they don’t have our “freedoms” goddamit!

This is exceedingly manipulative in such a way that the only response that seems valid is laughter. The “acting” is on the level of the typical after school special and the message being proffered is about as complex. It’s a maddeningly simple exercise in brute force jingoism that imparts a particular view without nuance or accountability. It merely says that in America, anyone can come here for any reason and take solace in the fact that they have reached the promise land of opportunity. This as a time when the unemployment rate has risen dramatically and houses are being foreclosed at a level not seen since the Great Depression.

Despite its myriad flaws, the kernel that drives this atrocity is the basic, general message that hard work and dedication may lead to great accomplishment. The methods employed are tactless and obvious but it seems to have it’s patriotic heart in the right place, as it were. Tragically for the producers of this film and those corporate interests that funded it, this film will reach no one as it has most likely already left the 750 theaters it was released in. It will go down as the most poorly attended major release of all time and in many ways it deserves that fate. Corporations have no place in cinema although they sponsor through subliminal advertising most of the films that come out of Hollywood. Perhaps this film will set a precedent and we will be inundated with many more such cinematic travesties. It’s simple, really. Announce your methodology up front and promote your products brazenly in what is in the end merely another product to serve the vested interests of the corporate mind scheme.

Overall, I really enjoyed this film because it taught me all of the ways in which a film can fail. I laughed for much of it in a way I haven’t experienced in a considerable amount of time. I don’t feel more hopeful about Iraq nor to I trust my government any more than I already had. I wasn’t moved by all of the flags wavering in the cool morning breeze and I didn’t exalt at all of the torturous music on the soundtrack. It failed to reach me probably because I’m too cynical to fall for it’s generic message that all will be well if we only cling to the illusions of that great dream. What a crock.

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