Whenever questions are raised about the accuracy or the truth of something portrayed in a film, the movie-makers and/or their public-relations representatives have a ready-made response.
“It’s just a movie,” they say.
The exchange invariably concludes with the film’s people advising critics, “Lighten up. Nobody expects movies to be historically accurate or true.”
That answer has a lot of resonance with the public. Movies are a big part of our imaginative life, but by and large they exist in a fantasy world, not the one in which we live and work.
Yet there are times when some of us do get pretty worked up about the impact a film might have. Witness the reaction last year of the Jewish community to the release of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.”
It’s true that those who predicted the film would foment violence misunderstood their non-Jewish neighbors, if not Gibson. But that sort of hysteria aside, the Anti-Defamation League and its national leader, Abraham Foxman, were right to raise questions about “The Passion,” and to speak out about the danger of the deicide myth that Gibson’s film seemed to be raising anew.
But when another flick with the potential for damage to the interests of the Jewish community opened last week, the ADL frontman was taking quite a different line.
When asked whether he was concerned about the release of Steven Spielberg’s “Munich,” Foxman wanted no part of the dustup. This is, mind you, a film that goes out of its way to portray Palestinian terrorists in a flattering light, and whose conclusion centered around the rejection of Israel on the part of a disillusioned member of that country’s intelligence services.
Foxman only praised it.
While some of those paid by Spielberg to defend the movie – such as former U.S. peace envoy Dennis Ross – have stumbled in doing so (The New Republic reports that at one Washington, D.C. forum held to promote the film, Ross contradicted both the product and himself in one session), Foxman had no trouble in rising to Spielberg’s defense.
“The film presents the issues in a sensitive light,” said the ADL head in a USA Today article. He was quoted in The Jerusalem Post as asserting, “We do not think this is an attack on Israel. We do not think this is a film of moral equivalency.”
Nor was Foxman deterred by the fact that the source for the movie is bogus, and has been roundly refuted by virtually everyone in Israel in a position to know about the events.
“This is not a documentary, and nobody’s pretending it is,” Foxman responded in a line straight out of the film’s public-relations playbook.
Instead, he chose to use the questions as an opportunity to renew his attacks on the pro-Israel Christian Right while asserting, “If I had my choice, I would choose Spielberg, not [Mel] Gibson to do such a movie.”
A dispassionate viewer might think it odd that a man who was prepared to go to the barricades about the potential impact of a film only a year ago would be so willing to give “Munich” a pass. After all, it’s not as if most Americans had never come across a passion play before Mel Gibson and the always-troubling portrayal of Jews in even the most sensitive versions.
This is a time when the right of the State of Israel to defend itself against terrorism has never been under greater attack in the media and from the liberal Christian denominations that wanted no part of Mel Gibson. At such a moment, doesn’t Foxman think a movie that invokes the image of the World Trade Center’s twin towers – in a not-so-subtle reinforcement of the idea that Israel is the reason America was attacked – is at least as incendiary a notion as the idea that the Jews killed Jesus?