Controversial Cinema: The Films That Outraged America

Controversial Cinema: The Films That Outraged America

Controversial Cinema: The Films That Outraged America

Controversial Cinema: The Films That Outraged America

Synopsis

"In the course of this wide-ranging work, Kendall Phillips offers insights into the kinds of films that spark controversies, and the ways that Americans typically react to them. Organized around broad controversial themes and with particular attention to mainstream films since the dissolution of the Motion Picture Production Code in the mid-1960s, Controversial Cinema explores why films spark broad cultural controversies, how these controversies play out, and the long-term results."

Excerpt

When I was beginning work on this project, I ran across a promotional button with a picture of President George W. Bush’s face encircled by the words: “Controversy … What Controversy?” Across the bottom was the name of the film the button was designed to promote, Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. Released in June 2004, Moore’s film unleashed a firestorm of controversy because of its explicit indictment of President Bush, his administration, and their handling of the post-9/11 “war on terror.” In Moore’s version of events, not only was Bush’s presidency illegitimate—Moore insinuates that Vice President Al Gore rightfully won the 2000 election—but its central policy of fighting the war on terror was based largely on fabricated evidence that ultimately served the goal of creating profits for the military-industrial complex. Weaving together poignant personal stories, news footage, humorous staged events—like Moore encouraging members of Congress to have their children enlist—and Moore’s own incisive commentary, Fahrenheit 9/11 was a cinematic assault on the Bush administration, designed with the explicit purpose of influencing the upcoming November election.

In a technical sense, Moore’s documentary is a polemic, an argument designed to divide and exacerbate differences in the service of creating an even more intense opposition. But in all fairness, Moore’s film is not the first film to cause controversy because of its overt political intentions. The 1976 Alan Pakula film All the President’s Men, for example, which recounted the Woodward and Bernstein investigation into Watergate, was perceived by many as directly influencing the election in which Governor Jimmy Carter defeated President Gerald Ford. Nor was the reaction to Moore’s 2004 cinematic polemic without precedent. As early as 1922, Dr. Ellis Paxon Oberholtzer, a former censor for Pennsylvania, warned, “If the press is a large factor in politics the screen may be a yet greater one. The pen is mightier than . . .

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