Massacres and Wiseacres

7 Nov 2013: Salvador (DVD, 1985, Oliver Stone)

Anti-intellectual bickering and bantering loutish American men are the viewer’s designed point of identification for this film, until the tragic circumstances these men encounter or the random conversations they have with military officials transform them instantly into morally upstanding and courageous heroes, making the whole endeavor sadly feel more false than illuminating. Knowing Hollywood, this naturally comes as a complete surprise. Cartoon characters who are pure thug or pure nobility, steamrolling the supposed objects of concern with the petty romantic problems of white people, utterly implausible behavior, a uniform mode of absurd “wise-guy” idiotic discourse, a simplistic and decontextualized view of history and its actors – all of this is so foreign to American cinema that seeing it here is as shocking as an electrical cord made out of wood. One might think it would be refreshing anyway to see a big-budgeted film discuss issues of foreign policy and American involvement in distant atrocities, but instead it only feels more disheartening in its sloppy manhandling of people and events, in its disconnected array of half-baked suggestions about deeper reasons for things being the way they are in El Salvador, in its unconvincing desperation to glorify patriotism and checks to power even with the US-backed death squads running the show, in its insistence on desacralizing journalistic small-talk even in moments of horror like a mountainful of unburied corpses in the countryside. Hollywood cameras here, to throw in some apropos Marxian commentary, are historical instruments of capital, objectifying living struggles of real people into the appropriated dead and mangled cinema of its monolithic, disinformative and dehumanizing storytelling mode.

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