Thursday, December 31, 2009

James Cameron's Avatar & District 9, Dances With Wolves, Soldier Blue, A Man Called Horse & Broken Arrow (1950)

James Cameron's Avatar and some its predecessors.

Kevin Costner's Dances With Wolves has a similar themes to Avatar but so do a number of films in this sub-genre of the clash of cultures or world views-such as Soldier Blue, District 9, A Man Called Horse Little Big Man, Broken Arrow(1950)
Kevin Costner is a soldier who becomes part of a tribe of native Americans and rejects the racism of his fellow whites.

The film "Soldier Blue" made in 1970 has similar themes to the more recent films AVATAR & District 9 - story of a soldier in the US Seventh Cavalry who ends up favoring the Native Americans to the mindless brutality of the White settlers and soldiers who are determined to wipe the Native American Nations off of the map.
In the comedy/ satirical 1970s film "Little Big Man" Dustin Hoffman is brought up by Native Americans and is more at home with them than with the white settlers.

"District Nine"(2009) is another film which has similar themes as James Cameron's "Avatar" about humans versus Aliens- AKA "the Prawn"
The main character who is some sort of bumbling unimaginative bureaucrat who is assigned the job of relocating the Prawn from District 9. Then by accident he becomes part Prawn and so he becomes friends with a Prawn and his son and becomes aware of how little humans understand these alien creatures. They too value life and are protective of their children.

Broken Arrow 1950 with Jimmy Stewart
Stewart's character in the film comes to understand and appreciate the Native Americans view of life and to reject the unjust treatment of them by the white settlers & prospectors who keep encroaching on their land and who break one treaty or agreement after another -

Richard Harris in the film "A Man Called Horse" (1970)
in which a white man captured by Native Americans eventually becomes one of them and understands and respects their culture realizing the white people are not treating the natives fairly or justly but rather lie to them and then steal their land.

Above photo from "A Man Called Horse" in which he endures a ritual by which he can become an Indian brave and be accepted as an equal by the tribe.

Anyway the point is that Avatar 's story is not completely original in its plot line or themes. But that as far as that goes is not a serious criticism of the film or screenplay but rather places the film in a sub-genre of people from two different cultures or worlds misunderstand one another or both or one of them refuse to see things as the other does. The corporation on Pandera wants to mine for a valuable mineral but it lies beneath a sacred tree and the peoples home. The company ignores the needs of the Navi and offer them schools etc. which the Navi don't want or don't need. The Navi refuse to relocate because of the sacredness of the place they inhabit . So which is more important the mining of a valuable mineral or respecting the Navis religious beliefs.

"SOLDIER BLUE" -1970-11 of 12
fgulli720 YOUTUBE user comment:

Released in 1970 at the height of the Vietnam War Soldier Blue drew parallels with the 1968 Mi Lai Massacre and was controversial for its unprecedented violence and its negative portrayal of the U.S. Army where Native American affairs were concerned. Along with Sam Peckinpahs The Wild Bunch it was deemed by reviewers as the most violent film of its time.
Following initial Box Office success it was quickly forgotten in America and its director Ralph Nelson denounced as being Anti-American in large due to the savagery perpetrated by the U.S. soldiers on screen.

In Europe the picture was a huge success, obtaining several re-releases in movie houses through out the 1970s and remains to this day a classic of the Western genre.
The movie was offered through out the years in several edited for content versions. This version, the Lionsgate American DVD release is the uncensored full version. (Offered here in 10 minute segments of 12 parts.).

Soldier Blue 12 of 12

In search of Gold and more land the American people with their guns and prejudices and racists views of the world destroyed millions of Native Indians in a Genocidal rage. Now the conservatives such as Glenn Beck deny there ever was an Indian War in the same way the English claim they didn't commit genocide on the Celts-the Irish, the Scots the Welsh. The English forced people off of their lands to leave them to starve . In India millions of the Indigenous population died because of the Brits who fought for complete and absolute control over India. The European nations in their quest for resources and to deal with over-crowding in Europe set out not to assimilate into these foreign lands or nations but rather to oust the populations from their lands. Now it is the Americans who believe they have the right to conquer nations in the Middle East or elsewhere from Iraq, Iran, Gaza the West Bank to Afghanistan to Pakistan.

Conservative view from :
By Armond White at Blue In the Face at New York James Cameron delivers dumb escapism with his expensive special effects in 'Avatar' Dec. 15, 2009

"Cameron’s superficial B-movie tropes pretend philosophical significance. His story’s rampant imperialism and manifest destiny (Giovanni Ribisi plays the heartless industrialist) recalls Vietnam-era revisionist westerns like Soldier Blue, but it’s essentially a sentimental cartoon with a pacifist, naturalist message. Avatar condemns mankind’s plundering and ruin of a metaphorical planet’s ecology and the aboriginals’ way of life. Cameron fashionably denounces the same economic and military system that make his technological extravaganza possible. It’s like condemning NASA—yet joyriding on the Mars Exploration Rover."

...Avatar, however, invents an alternate world to make the airy-fairy pronouncement: “There’s a network of energy that flows through all living things.”

This idea of the Tree of Life can even be found in the Book of Genesis. The World Tree is part of a number of Religions or Mythologies including the Vikings or Norsemen or the Druids - In particular many religions speak about what native Americans called the Web of Being. The writer of the above screed seems unaware of such connections which are found in various places around the Globe. Or it might be that he is just dismissive of such belief systems seeing them as the views of ignorant unsophisticated superstitious backwards peoples. Maybe it is because of Being brought up to believe that only monotheistic mythological systems can be referred to as Religions the writer is unable to take serious for a moment a different set of beliefs. Or maybe he's an atheist who thinks all spiritual or religious beliefs are nonsense and hold humanity back from real progress. It of course depends on what one calls progress ie having enough nukes to wipe out the whole planet- blowing up Mountains in West Virgina to get at the coals, destroying the aboreal forests in Canada to get more dirty oil.

Yes what's wrong with that. Surely audiences should be sophisticated enough to draw parallels to historical and contemporary events. These events include slavery and rapacious imperialism & colonization taking over the land of indigenous people and then systematically destroying their culture, their way of life, their language and their religious beliefs which are part of Cultural Genocide and inevitably physical Genocide. So history is rife with injustice and the oppression of the weak by the strong or at least those with better military technology. But it also helped if those wanting a war were able to dehumanize and demonize the so-called enemy. The Romans were able to wipe out various so called Barbarians by promoting the view that these people were uncivilized and only wanted to kill and destroy everything in their path. Of course there have been individuals throughout history who fit this characterization. But most were either content with what they had or for various legitimate reasons they needed to move into other lands to survive due to famine, pestilence or foreign invaders. When it came to the Romans they were more often than not the foreign invaders. In the same way in more recent centuries it was the British, the French, the Spanish and Portuguese and Dutch who were the invaders as they attempted to colonize and take control of the known world.

and the reviewer Armond White continues:

...Here’s the hypocrisy: As Sully helps the beleaguered, virtuous aliens fight back and conquer the human invaders, Avatar puts forth a simple-minded anti-industrial critique. Despite Avatar’s 12-year gestation, Cameron’s obviously commenting on the Iraq War—though not like his hawkish Aliens. Appealing to Iraq War disenchantment, he evokes 9/11 when the military topples the Na’vi’s sacred, towering Tree of Souls. The imagery implies that the World Trade Center was also an altar (of U.S. capitalism), yet this berserk analogy exposes Cameron’s contradictory thinking. It triggers the offensive battle scenes where American soldiers get vengefully decimated—scored to the rousing clichés of Carmina Burana.

The fantasy of Sully giving up the impediment of his (American) humanity is a guilt-ridden 9/11 death wish. References to “fight terror with terror” and “shock-and-awe campaign” don’t belong in this 3-D Rapa Nui with its blather about the Na’vi’s “direct line to their ancestors.” Once again, villainous Americans exhibit no direct communication with ancestors. That’s Cameron’s fanboy zeal turned into fatuous politics. He misrepresents the facts of militarism, capitalism, imperialism—and their comforts.

(He erroneously in my view refers to Cameron's "hawkish Aliens" as if James Cameron were defending the self-serving corporations or the myopic views of the top brass in the military who are possibly as they are today more interested in increasing the profits for the corporations they are working for or will be once they retire. But he missed the point of the first "Alien" film and Cameron's sequel "Aliens" in which again both films were critical of the military and the Big Corporation which seemed to control the military and seemed to have carte blanche to do whatever they wished and had no real concern for the humans on the alien planet or those sent to rescue them.

The crew and soldiers in "Aliens" were also lied to by a shill for the corporation. . They were told they were on a rescue mission when in fact their real mission was to bring back some samples of the Alien life forms as possible bio-weapons for the military or for using these life-forms to improve technology . Yes "Aliens" is someways a different sort of film because the audience is already well informed about the Alien Species so Cameron more action and a higher body count. But the story or underlying themes are the same in both films.

Another issue here is that the reviewer of Avatar is unable to empathize or sympathize with the Navi for even the length of the film. Is this a lack of imagination or one who is bereft of ordinary human emotions. This is quite possible since many of the Neoconservatives dislike and disapprove of empathy or altruism. What the main character does in Avatar is not the best thing for his military career and can be characterized as an act of treason against his own kind.

The reviewer claims that these themes about unfettered capitalism,colonialism, militarism are similar to what he considers revisionist histories of Vietnam and American history. But he is dead wrong since what historians over the last say thirty years have been trying to write a more truthful, factual , unsentimentalized or romanticized or idealized view of American history that is including the good and the bad. Slavery and the Indian wars like the KKK and Jim Crow, lynchings, massacres and racism and xenophobia and anti-immigrant hysteria and anti-Semitism etc. are also part of America's history .

James Cameron is not necessarily against all technology he is not a "Luddite" but is critical of the misuse of this technology to destroy something which is sacred to another people or to use it just to massacre and commit Genocide more efficiently.
Think of the outrage many people including my self when the Taliban used dynamite or C4 to blow up the Standing Buddhas in Afghanistan because it offended their religious views. This is one of a number of reasons that the Taliban are not trusted because they go to extremes showing contempt for any one who is not a "Real Muslim" according to their views.

Or think of how counter productive it was and is for US troops or their allies to blow up Mosques or Minarets etc . just for the heck of it in Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan. This shows how uncivilized these American soldiers are besides killing innocent civilians just to get their body counts up to please their superiors or torturing innocent people to please their superiors or just for the fun of it in order to get revenge for 9/11. If someone were to invade a Christian nation and showed no respect for Christian Churches or other Holy Places wouldn't those Christians have a right to be upset.
So when the humans destroy the Sacred Tree this is of course an insult to the Navi and a disregard for their beliefs.

and so it goes,

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