It’s not so much the grandiose claims (is Twentynine Palms really all that much “about” America?), the mystifying misreadings of films (who in their right mind would reduce the gorgeous, humane Paris, Texas by lumping it with films that supposedly shit on Americana?), or the factual errors (Kubrick is an American, dude—or is that supposed to be some clever, elitist joke?) in this silly little trinket in The Guardian by John Patterson that antagonized me; it’s that it reflects an increasingly trendy point of view that cuts off all discourse with the art at hand. Thanks to Lars von Trier—whose Dogville, I would even argue, for all its vitriol, is much more interested in the workings of universal group think and the quick slide into social exploitation than it is in good ol’ America-bashing—we see a growing number of writers and moviegoers instantly distrustful of anything that they couldn’t term as say, “indigenous” art. Should we then reject Henry James for his reverse artistic hubris?
It’s a meager trump card for Patterson to pull out Wilder, Chaplin, Hitchcock, and Lang—who would argue in the face of such venerable masters?—but the reference point is dead wrong, seeing as how Patterson believes he is dealing with explicitly political filmmakers. Therefore, what we have here is could be seen as a rejection of political cinema.
It’s on the occasion of Twentynine Palms‘ UK release, apparently, that this article has been written. And I can’t think of a less appropriate event on which to build this most tenuous of arguments. Bruno Dumont’s L.A.-to-desert setting certainly toys with cultural markers (the marine, the hummer) but the film couldn’t be less site-specific. So elemental in fact is its id-bursting horror tale that location is abstracted into a whirlwind of cruel rootlessness by its bloody close. Just because it applies to current policy, the notion of political hypocrisy and its violence-begetting-violence is no more intrinsically American onscreen than Michael Collins.
Is “balance” all we’re really looking for in films about America made by European auteurs? Surely Team America: World Police is as schizoid in its political nihilistic audacity as Dogville or Dear Wendy, yet have Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s American Midwest birthplaces granted them a fair and “balanced” view of politics that validates their oft-cutting puppet show over von Trier’s obviously well-read self-consciously literary smackdown? It’s the American image, exported in every TV show and movie throughout much of the world, not our “way of life,” that’s being questioned in much of these films. I’ll take a Danish parable like Dogville over “indigenous” art like Todd Solondz’s hopelessly apolitical American “think piece” Palindromes any day of the week.
Here we have the cinephile’s elite-endorsed excuse for shameless “love it or leave it” flag-waving. Thanks for your British solidarity, John Patterson—we really appreciate it. But you don’t have to be European or American to really get Paris, Texas.