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Beast of the Month - October 2003
Lionel Chetwynd, DC 9/11 Writer-Producer
"I yam an anti-Christ..."
John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) of The Sex Pistols, "Anarchy in the UK"
George W. Bush on September 11, 2001, according to DC 9/11
September was a month for some passings of noted entertainers and artist. Johnny Cash, John Ritter and Warren Zevon all went to their grave. Yet there was one artist whose passing didn't bring up quite the same bittersweet memories: German film director Leni Riefenstahl.
The reason for the ambivalence to Ms. Riefenstahl wasn't due to her lack of talent, which was enormous. Indeed, to this day, her cinematic works, most notably her documentary Triumph of the Will, are regarded among the finest in film history. It is due to the fact that her ultimate triumph with Will was undeniably tied to the rise of Hitler, the 1934 film a celebration of the Nazi conquest of Germany. While she had always insisted she personally didn't embrace the repugnant Nazi agenda that led to world war and holocaust, the glowing style of her masterpiece betrays her claims of innocence.
Still, give Riefenstahl her due: whatever the noxious politics that may or may not be fairly linked to her, there was a craft to her work that has influenced countless directors since (indeed, the closing scene to Star Wars was a direct homage to Triumph by George Lucas.) It is doubtful sixty-nine years from now, Lionel Chetwynd, The Konformist Beast of the Month, will have people debating the merits of his work.
Lionel Chetwynd is the writer and producer of DC 9/11: Time of Crisis, which premiered on Showtime the weekend (coincidentally, of course) before the second anniversary of the 9-11 tragedy. The TV movie was met deservedly with widespread scorn in reviews, as rarely has there been a film of such bungling ineptness made. But bad filmmaking doesn't necessarily equate to Beastliness (though Gigli and Charlie's Angels 2 both made good recent arguments for the prize.) Instead, Chetwynd is recognized (like Darryl Worley was in June for "Have You Forgotten" or Ann Coulter in August 2002 for her annoying screed Slander) for making a work that is a remarkably terrible mixture of bad art and bad politics.
DC 9/11 is about the terrorist attacks from the viewpoint of George W. Bush. Author and radio commentator Jim Hightower describes the description of Bush as "a combination of Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger" and adds: "Instead of the doe-eyed, uncertain, worried figure that he was that day, Bush-on-film is transformed into an infallible, John Wayne-ish, Patton-type leader, barking orders to the Secret Service and demanding that the pilots return him immediately to the White House."
Besides the "tinhorn terrorist" from above, here's some other notable quotes from the flick:
* "Get me home!"
* "I've got to get back to Washington because I'm not going to let those people keep me from getting home."
* "The American people want to know where their damn president is."
* "People can't have an AWOL president!" (Amusing due to his evasion of National Guard duty while evading Vietnam.)
And then there's one exchange: a secret service agent states, "But Mr. President--" and Bush replies, "Try 'Commander in Chief.' Whose present command is: Take the president home!"
It's hard not to notice a pattern here: an attempt to portray Bush as immediately demanding to return to the White House rather than hide like a cowardly wimp, which is what actually happened. How does the movie jibe the fantasy version presented in the show with reality, that he was flown to Nebraska rather than Washington? Simple: it evades it completely, starting with these obviously bogus pieces of dialogue.
That's merely part of the bad picture: the film chronicles events from 911 to September 20, when Shrub gave a speech to a joint session of Congress. The overall sappy portrait tries to make Bush out to be a hard-working, deep-thinking, take charge and decisive saint: as the fictional Karl Rove puts it, "This is a man who feels very deeply." It doesn't help that the acting is wooden and unconvincing: Timothy Bottom, who once was better known for The Last Picture Show, now is reduced to lamely imitating Bush (he also starred in the comedy series That's My Bush! from the South Park guys.)
As Linda McQuaig of the Toronto Sun put it, the film "is sure to help the White House further its two-pronged reelection strategy: Keep Americans terrified of terrorism and make Bush look like the guy best able to defend them." This is aided by the tasteless inclusion of actual footage from the burning World Trade Center. Meanwhile, during the speech before the joint session, which is the film's climax, the fake footage of Bottoms speaking before Congress suddenly cuts to video of the real Dubya giving the speech. (The film also includes a clip of Hillary clapping with approval.)
Before this film, Chetwynd was known primarily as a writer of dubiously mediocre achievement, having done Hanoi Hilton, The Siege at Ruby Ridge and Kissinger and Nixon (three films with a subtly right-wing agenda.) Chetwynd is politically tied to Bush, having been appointed to the Committee on the Arts and the Humanities by Shrub in 2001. He admits to being a "great admirer" of Georgie, and ran the script past conservative pundits Fred Barnes, Charles Krauthammer and Morton Kondracke. This leads to a disturbing question: why is Showtime releasing a movie to the public that is little more than an overt right-wing fantasy and two-hour Dubya commercial?
(The punchline: most of the film was shot in Toronto and thus was subsidized by the Canadian government, meaning this supposedly patriotic propaganda piece was done without American labor while bilking American neighbors to the north.)
Chetwynd has claimed, unconvincingly, "This isn't propaganda. It's a straightforward docudrama. I would hope what's presented is a fully colored and nuanced picture of a human being in a difficult situation." Yes, that's right, poor George Bush, the one man who benefited most from the 9-11 tragedy.
In the process of painting this nuanced picture, Chetwynd had lengthy interviews with Shrub and other insiders, including Donald Rumsfeld, Andrew Card and Karl Rove. Oddly, Bush has little time to do the same for the joint Congressional inquiry or the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks, both of which were blocked at every opportunity of their formation.
The good news: tarred with bad reviews, the movie special has been a remarkable flop, and appears to be another example of failed propaganda marketing by the Shrubistas like his prancing on the USS Lincoln. In any case, Chetwynd has proven, for the worse, he is no Leni Riefenstahl.
In any case, we salute Lionel Chetwynd as Beast of the Month. Congratulations, and keep up the great work, Lionel!!!
"'D.C. 9/11' Spins Tale of President on Tragic Day."
Paul Farhi, Washington Post June 19, 2003
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Los Angeles, California 90024-0825
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