BY ANDREW MOODY
Not only are Hollywood films and TV in general full of messages, most often conscious, it is the pictures that appear to be totally innocent of politics – sci fi, westerns, thrillers – that are by far the most effective delivery vehicles for political ideas precisely because they don’t seem to purvey them.
Peter Biskind, to use Hollywood parlance, used to be ‘hot’. He wrote the best, most articulate and accurate history of 70s cinema, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, and wrote a savage critique of independent movies, Down and Dirty Pictures honing the laser on Harvey Weinstein years before the titan fell. His mammoth biography of Warren Beatty Star, was a work of genius.
The full title of his most recent book is The Sky is Falling : How Vampires, Zombies, Androids, and Superheroes Made America Great for Extremism
And it’s muddled, occasionally boring, and in parts reads like a sociology doctorate from somebody who never went to class. Its thesis is that modern superhero movies, TV shows like the vampire themed True Blood and other seemingly randomly chosen shows he cherry picks, prove conclusively that it was Batman and the Avengers et al that paved the way for Trump and allowed extremist demagogues to gain power.
It’s not a patch on his 1983 book Seeing Is Believing: or How Hollywood Taught America to Stop Worrying and love the Fifties, if only for reasons of context. Patton Oswalt in the New York Times wrote that it was “too soon” to write a book like The Sky is Falling without at least a decade of hindsight. When early on he calls Dunkirk a pro Brexit film because the “enemy” are never identified, is the height of post modern crap. Since the book was released in 2018 and Dunkirk was from 2017, there’s no reason to pigeon hole a deeply moving war film just because Biskind places everything into genres, missing the text whilst obsessing about the subtext.
An old school critic, obsessed with genre like the late, prominent critic Andrew Sarris whose debates with Pauline Kael in the 1970s could make the news, Biskind is perilously close to losing the respect he’s had since the 80s. Randomly he assigns The Imitation Game about the enigma code breaker and inventor of the computer Alan Turing the classification of a “dotcom left movie”.
On the other hand we have the archetypal “luddite left movie” in James Cameron’s Avatar which he analyses to such ludicrous length without mentioning that the film is a rip off of the early nineties Kevin Costner film Dances With Wolves. Avatar may have hit paydirt at the box office, it’s a vapid, corny and poorly written attack on the gulf war on behalf of the minorities of the world. South Park dismissed it as Dances With Smurfs – the best and most succinct review yet.
The Irish Times called Biskin’s book muddled and a bit barmy, writing:
The sense emerges of an author furiously trying to paper over a thesis that withered in his brain shortly after the submission was accepted.
Calling Game of Thrones season 7 a reflection of the political chaos of modern America, he quotes George R.R Martin on the TV show Lost:
Even as early as the second season…I started saying, how the hell are they going to pull all of this together? And then when I reached the end… they hadn’t pulled it together, in fact, they left a big turd on my doorstep.”
Anybody who’s suffered through the climactic season of Game of Thrones would find Martin had left a million big turds on a million doorsteps. And this book, attempting to analyse a lightning fast, post digital culture is yet another turd on a doorstep. It reminded me of Bret Easton Ellis’s recent, appalling memoir White.
The Sky is Falling is boring, rushed, and is trying to capture the essence of the zeitgeist without Biskind doing his homework. A smurf is a smurf, and a turd is a turd. Not recommended for fans of his previous books, or anybody else for that matter. Over in Hollywood, one can hear the haunting sound of silence. Peter Biskind’s phone has stopped ringing.
Follow Andrew Moody on Twitter @Voguishfiction