June 2, 2007


Now each day is fair and balmy
Everywhere you look: the army.

--Ustad Daman (Punjabi poet, 1958, from an anecdote by Tariq Ali, here.)

I thought the tanned teens of this film's trailer looked suspiciously anonymous, now we know why: it's that slick anonymity of the army recruitment ad:

Ian Bryce, one of the producers of TRANSFORMERS : “Once you get Pentagon approval, you’ve created a win-win situation. We want to cooperate with the Pentagon to show them off in the most positive light, and the Pentagon likewise wants to give us the resources to be able to do that."

The film was shot on a military base with Servicemembers acting as "extras". No doubt it's a showcase of military product and power (director Michael Bay had similar pacts with the Pentagon for 'Pearl Harbor' and 'Armageddon'). One Army Lt. Col advising on the film said "The Army has never fought giant robots, but if we did, this is probably how we’d do it.”

For those who are inclined to verify such films for professional or academic purposes, there remain enough reasons to refrain in this case. It wouldn't occur to me to see this film but anyway we ought to boycott TRANSFORMERS. Not in objection to filmmakers cooperating with the military per se, look at the films of John Ford and Sam Fuller, but certainly in objection to the super-production and the super-product.

CIVIL WAR, John Ford's contribution to the omnibus super-production HOW THE WEST WAS WON, is not a super-product but a film. For all its super-form proportions (3-filmstrip Cinerama) what matters in the film is some pink water in a creek that the spectator doesn't even see. The creek has been tinted by the blood of the North and South. (Recalling this reminds me of its opposite -- of how disgusting an act it was for Spielberg to use "movie magic" at precisely the wrong moment in SCHINDLER'S LIST: tinting the little girl's frock "red".) What also matters in CIVIL WAR are the sudden graves we see, as massive in Ford's Cinerama as they are in Ford's 1.33:1.

The Iraq War is a super-production: limitless ad-space for its super-form-weaponry on TV (showcases on networks owned by both Turner [CNN] and Murdoch [Fox]) and in print (at the New York Times and those that follow suit). Had the Iraq war been a small production, a Wenders film, then "filming" would've been stopped a long time ago. "We can't get these shots, they don't want us to film here, they don't want to be in the film. It's over." But no, the super-producers "film" incessantly. Yet it seems that nary a grave -- sudden or stately, Iraqi or U.S./Allied Forces -- has been shown.

If there was a super-film that reflected the U.S. population's aversion to the Iraq war in a small way, I think it was HULK, by Ang Lee (et al.). It failed at the box office because it showed carpet bombing by the U.S. military from the point of view of the victim on the ground (in a desert setting, no less). It was simply too much for guilty citizens in the summer of 2003. Or perhaps they just stayed home (CNN, FOX), which is another story.

Below, another film made under the tutelage of the US military, AGUINALDO'S NAVY, from the year 1900 (American Mutoscope, Biograph). The use of cinema in this place (the Philippines) at this time (so early in film history) would have necessarily made this film a kind of super-production; for cinema to be under the tutelage of anyone at this time meant "advising" the very purpose of cinema itself. The sparseness of content in the film in relation to the title, the very lack of military forces is the film's mocking propaganda in the service of Theodore Roosevelt's brutal occupation of the Philippines just after the Spanish/American war. Here, the title AGUINALDO'S NAVY is rendered: "Aguinaldo's?" "Navy"? -- in other words it is an ironic, ridiculing film, and a base, imperialist point of view. Here we are seeing two infacies: that of the cinema and that of U.S. imperialism. Then again, take a look, what do we really see?:

(Apologies: the below video is no longer available, but AGUINALDO'S NAVY can be seen here)

This clip apparently ends Filipino filmmaker Raya Martin's latest film AUTOHYSTORIA (read Robert Koehler on the film here ), a film I haven't seen because it is unavailable in the U.S.

For fascinating information on what the US and Filipino independence leader Aguinaldo were doing to that country, read
It follows that the native landlords and capitalists are incapable of leading a struggle to overthrow foreign imperialist domination. The history of the Philippines demonstrates this especially clearly. In spite of the myths it has propagated to prettify its history, the real traditions of the Filipino
"national bourgeoisie" are utterly wretched and servile. The "ilustrados" considered themselves Spaniards. Even the saint of bourgeois nationalism Jose Rizal chose "exile over revolution" and died a passive hostage, a sterile martyr immortalised in his poems and novels. The revolution of 1896 exposed the true attitude of the ilustrados. It took the initiative of the insurrection of the Katipunan, party of the nascent Manila proletariat led by the worker Andres Bonifacio, to galvanise them into any activity. Then they moved with haste and implacable malice to hijack the movement. They sneered at Bonifacio and his worker comrades as godless, ignorant ruffians. When Bonifacio denounced them and attempted to establish an independent revolutionary council, he and his brother were abducted, tried and executed, by the ilustrados' military leader Aguinaldo.

Thus the first act of the "national bourgeoisie" was the murder of the workers who had led the revolution. Having crushed the original cadres of the revolution, Aguinaldo's second act was to accept a bribe of P400,000 from the Spanish and sail away into exile in Hong Kong. Popular resistance continued despite Aguinaldo's appeals to the masses to lay down their arms. If it had not been for the accident of the Spanish/American war, and the cynical exploitation of Aguinaldo by American imperialism, that would have been the end of Aguinaldo's historical claims. The mass struggle continued in his absence and the Spanish were expelled. Only then, having established communications with the Americans in Hong Kong, did Aguinaldo return to proclaim independence "under the protection of the mighty and humane North American nation." The Americans brutally and systematically occupied the islands following their victory over
the Spanish, and cynically made war against the infant republic. Aguinaldo again and again whimpered for a peace with the Americans, but they were determined to crush the revolution. After a brief and unequal war Aguinaldo again capitulated and called on the masses to end their struggle. Once again however, ferocious resistance continued up to 1916, by which time up to 600,000 Filipinos had laid down their lives in the struggle for national liberation.

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