Contribution by Emmie Valleise,
3rd-year student in ESSCA’s Bachelor in International Business Development:
“I’m passionate about cinema and that’s why I wanted to write something about this theme. Movies are a part of our daily life, and they have a link with geopolitics.”
“Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world”, a famous quote by the great Jean Luc Godard. He was one of the most important film directors during La Nouvelle Vague, a movement in French cinema in the 1950s and 60s, which was the visual representation of the 30 so-called “glorious” post war years, but also of student riots, the Algerian War, and Women’s liberation. Cinema is a mirror of its time. And all around the world, cinema was used then as a media to provide a testimony of an epoch.
And then, Hollywood appeared on French screens. We were reminded that the credit that was offered to France after WWII was only possible if France was ready to open its cinema to the 2,700 American movies which produced during the war years. That was a great success. America had not known the War on its own soil, and offered movies that described the reality of the United States, rather than of France who had known Occupation, Resistance, killings and privations. This is why it was a success, it offered a rest, an escape from daily life.
Hollywood’s movies are not only for adults. In fact, a large part is targeting teenagers and children. We all know the famous “Star Wars”, with the intergalactic conquests, or even “Jaws”. But also the “Pirates of the Caribbean”, “Ratatouille”, “Spider Man”, all of which contributed to the education of our generation. It allows us to measure the power of the strategy of wide release, which reaches every country in the whole world, perhaps with the exception of India, which tries to resist and develop its own movie industry.
But Hollywood has also its dark side. In fact, as pointed out by Pierre Conesa in his book “Hollywar”, one of its roles is to teach American history to American citizens.
In many Hollywood movies, we have the same myths, embodied by different types of characters portraying the “stranger”, the “foreigner”, the “Other”, which generally refers to a person from another country. Invariably we will discover that the “Other” will be either the cruel enemy or a perfidious warrior etc.
But there are some subjects Hollywood doesn’t speak about, because they are too sensitive. Like the mass shootings. And that’s why the movie “Elephant” (which deals with the mass shouting in Columbine and was realized by Gus Van Sant in 2003), is relatively unknown in the US in spite of having won the Palme d’Or and other international awards. Terrorism, however, is present in a lot of movies, which almost always embodies the brave American soldier, going to the war, and coming back proudly. Jean-Michel Valantin has even coined the concept of “national security cinema” in reference to such movies. To me, this is a kind of propaganda with the aim of showing the power of the USA and their military strength (while in reality it took almost 10 years to find Ben Laden, and still no one knows who decided to murder John F. Kennedy).
Hollywood is a major actor in our everyday life. It is a way to show us the American point of view about any subject, and to do so with convincing visual aspects. Behind a large number of movies – of course, some of them are simply made to earn money – there is an idea, an opinion that the director or the producers want us to see. It can be a powerful tool to create and consolidate specific perceptions thanks to the seduction and the wonderment it produces.
For example, we do not know anything about the military and humanitarian operation in Somalia in 1992-1993 except for those who have seen “Black Hawk Down”. Sadly, this version is just the Hollywood version, and some other countries tried to make more realistic films about the topic, but with a lesser budget, and unfortunately, they didn’t have the same impact on the rest of the world. We always have to remember that we only have one version of the fact with Hollywood movies. Another current example is “American Sniper” by the great Clint Eastwood. This movie reached 7 million entries in France, and the reviews were positive, but this movie was humanly abject, singing the praise of a war criminal, a sociopath.
This being said, cinema is first of all an art form. Even when the goal is doubtful, we can appreciate how a movie was realized. We can still admire the images of an ethically questionable movie with propaganda purposes such as “Triumph des Willens” by Leni Riefenstahl without being an adept of the ideology behind.
Personally, I think it’s difficult to criticize Hollywood. Because, as many things, Hollywood is not monolithic, it does not have one single way of making propaganda. There are always some exceptions. Still, Hollywood is part of American soft power, a wonderful soft power tool reaching out to the entire world. It is not exaggerated to say that American movies have contributed to the Americanization of the world.