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When Ideology Destroys Cinema: Why Ben Shapiro Misses Out on My Favorite Film of the Decade

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Posted on January 17 2010 5:19 pm
David Swindle is the Managing Editor of NewsReal Blog and the Associate Editor of FrontPage Magazine. Follow him on Twitter here

John Nolte has done it again. He’s gotten conservative film lovers abuzz over a new article at his indispensable Big Hollywood blog.

The commotion is about Ben Shapiro’s post today which claims to name the 10 most overrated Hollywood directors.

The article is a hyperbolic provocation, not to be taken seriously. Shapiro makes dumb statements like,

The auteur theory of cinema is idiotic, since writing is truly the key – no director could make a masterpiece out of “The Ugly Truth.” [DS: Actually I bet if Stanley Kubrick directed it it would be a masterpiece. Shapiro probably doesn't understand that, though, because he's ignorant of how directors -- especially Kubrick -- usually make significant changes to screenplays] It is one of the great travesties of artistic justice that no one remembers the writers of great movies – nobody knows Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, for example, but everyone remembers Frank Capra.

So Shapiro’s article really should not be taken as anything meaningful. He’s just trying to get people inflamed so they’ll read his article and generate traffic for Big Hollywood.

Well, I’ll take the bait. One of Shapiro’s provocations simply cannot stand. When someone libels my favorite film of all time then I’m out for blood.

Since I first saw “Requiem for a Dream” in high school it has been my favorite film. The story of four Coney Island residents who destroy themselves by succumbing to drug addiction, “Requiem” is the single most powerful, depressing film I’ve ever experienced. It’s a sensory overload and a stunning artistic and technical achievement. Ellen Burstyn was nominated for an Oscar for her performance as the lonely widow Sara Goldfarb. Marlon Wayans was also acclaimed for his first dramatic role.

Aronofsky went on to make two more films which also earned my fanatical loyalty: 2006′s mystical sci-fi drama “The Fountain” and 2008′s emotionally-gripping “The Wrestler.” (Click the links for my reviews.) “The Wrestler” also received two Academy Award nominations for Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei.

Aronofsky is the most promising director of his generation — even better than P.T. Anderson and Quentin Tarantino. His best work is only yet to come.

But Shapiro won’t have it, sticking in my favorite director at number 7 (instead of say, someone like Spike Lee who doesn’t even make the list):

Aronofsky is a talentless dud who has bamboozled his way into Hollywood upper echelon.  Every film he’s ever made is a disaster. Pi is a jumble of nonsense that starts nowhere and goes nowhere.  It may be the worst film ever made. [DS: Has Shapiro seen the racist atrocity "Transformers 2"?] Watching it made me want to rip out my own retinas, then replace them through surgery, then rip them out again.  Of late, Aronofsky has been spicing up his chaotic, disordered crap with explicit lesbian sex scenes, a stylistic trait he apparently cribbed from David Lynch (don’t worry, we’ll get to Lynch shortly).  Requiem for a Dream is noteworthy only in that Aronofsky somehow convinced [DS: I'm deleting Shapiro's spoiler of the film's ending. It's cruel and immoral to ruin a film like this to those who have not seen it. ] (the scene, by the way, is meant to be depraved, but therein lies Aronofsky’s problem: he’s got to have sympathetic characters before we feel bad for them).  The fanboy press is already agog over rumors that his newest ode to depravity, Black Swan, will feature a sex scene between Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis.  Clearly, his target audience is pathetic losers in college dorms looking for an excuse to watch girl-on-girl action in the name of art. [DS: It's hard to get any kind of sexual thrill from "Requiem for a Dream" considering what the sex scene is juxtaposed with.] Not one of his films has been a major commercial success. Yet somehow, someone keeps giving him money. [DS: Shapiro is a liar. "The Wrestler" cost $6 million and made $26 million at the box office. "Pi" was a true indie film, made on a shoe-string budget, and made $3 million. "Requiem" has also likely made a small profit once one throws in DVD sales and the foreign market. Only "The Fountain" has been a commercial failure -- which is understandable given what a complex film it is. But when a film makes more than four times its budget it can be qualified as a "major commercial success."] It’s enough to make one question the existence of a beneficent God.

I hate to get ad hominem here when I’ve railed so much against it in the past, but I think this is warranted: why is it that the author of Porn Generation: How Social Liberalism is Corrupting Our Future is obsessed with sex scenes in art movies? Why is that the only thing he can seem to see in Aronofsky’s four films?

How many great films like “Requiem for a Dream” have fanatical social conservatives missed out on because they cannot handle an entirely non-gratuitous sex scene?

Further, is Shapiro so reactionary at the sight of a sex scene that he’s unable to see its context? “Requiem for a Dream” is a socially conservative film if there ever was one. It takes a group of unfortunate souls and shows what happens when they give in to their selfish desires. It’s a fable against those who would try and take short cuts in pursuit of their dream.

Shapiro should be trumpeting “Requiem” as a powerful cautionary tale with an anti-drug message so effective that it makes the viewer never want to take so much as an aspirin. He shouldn’t be attacking Aronofsky as a pervert.

But no, he’s more interested in just generating some traffic for Mr. Nolte and Big Hollywood with an inflammatory article. And I suppose on that point I can’t really blame him. (We know a thing or two about being provocative at NewsReal to get some traffic.) So At least Shapiro’s a success as a provocateur. Too bad it’s cost him all of his cinematic credibility.

Update: My dear friend and colleague Jamie Glazov has also disagreed with Shapiro’s positions before. See this FrontPage interview/debate from 2005 in which they discuss Porn Generation.

UPDATE!! Shapiro responds at NewsReal.

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