Sunday, January 7, 2007

The line that ruined "Blood Diamond" for me

It certainly didn't improve my experience of Blood Diamond that the man seated next to me stunk and sniffled throughout the movie, or that nearby a woman kept lighting up her mobile phone to check for SMS. Yes, a better film would surely have helped keep my mind off the theatre environs. But in the end, it wasn't certain objectionable theatre patrons, but one line in the script that ruined the movie for me. I was so deplored by the line that I Googled for it and discovered that the line had been quoted by dozens of reviewers: mostly approvingly (it's the one line that half-heartily attempts to make an interesting point amidst the cliche-ridden drivel of a film).

Connelly, who plays an attractive reporter -- a self-described veteran journalist tested in Bosnia and Afghanistan -- comes across as a naive bleeding-heart quack. The line that so irked me is quoted by this reviewer:

She’s always making holier-than-thou pronouncements. Of the indifference of Americans to African violence she says, “They might catch some of this on CNN—right between sports and weather.” (my emphasis)

That's the line. When I first heard it, I imagined how wonderfully it must been worded before studio executives got to it, demanding it be modified to suit the interests of their corporate over-lords. For with the smallest of tweaks, the line is transformed from a timid holier-than-thou banality to a powerful socially relevant zinger. To give you an example of what I'm talking about, I will replace the phrase "sports and weather" with an actual pairing of headlines taken from CNN's website today:
“They might catch some of this on CNN—right between Wagging Tales: what children read to dogs and 'Miracle' $6 bra stops bullet.”
There's a surplus of headlines at CNN with which to make the point. Drawing from other top headlines at CNN today, Connelly might have said:
“They might catch some of this on CNN—right between New Years baby gets her prize and Croc hunter Steve Irwin's final show finished.
Fully half of the top stories presently posted on CNN's homepage either concern the activities of a celebrity or are of the dogs-and-babies variety. "Sports and weather" are mainly not what crowd out stories about the plight of Africa on CNN or any other US news network. Many viewers recognize this; foreign correspondents who risk life and limb to cover such stories feel it in the gut; any employable scriptwriter likely knows it too. "Sports and weather" are beside the point. To test a hunch, when the theatre emptied I stayed behind to watch the credits. Just as I had presumed on hearing that line the credits showed that "Blood Diamond" was produced by Warner Brothers which also owns CNN. It is easy to guess how a good line went bad.

Incidentally, when I Googled for reviews of Blood Diamond I found that one review had identified the problem spot-on. Vadim Rizov, writing in The Reeler, concluded:
Connelly's reporter tries to bring it closer to home: "You might catch a minute of this on CNN," she says, approaching a desperately overpopulated refugee camp, "between sports and weather." Interesting, then, that the movie is produced by the same empire that owns CNN: divide and conquer in action, by selling piety to one audience and superficial news coverage to another. Consumers should probably worry more about media accountability than whether their latest tennis bracelet is conflict-free.
It's been years since Hollywood made a movie set in the developing world the caliber of The Killing Fields or The Year of Living Dangerously. If American writers and directors are no longer free to tell stories about our world that are relevant, then the dangers posed by the US media conglomerates are graver than we have known. In this age of "big media," corporate censorship is every bit as pernicious as the government variety.

As I wrote before on, I believe a great threat confronting America -- and the world -- is the US news media (see Bush is a symptom, not the disease). Let's hope that the Democratic Party leadership of the new US Congress is clear-headed enough to confront this problem. Most other urgent matters -- including Iraq -- pale in comparison.

One final suggestion (for fixing that irksome line of dialogue):

What really crowds out African civil wars and other "hard news" stories on CNN? To a far greater extent than either "sports" or "weather" coverage, it is the preoccupation of CNN with celebrity happenings that most imperils its coverage of major foreign developments. Therefore, I would have had Connelly say:
“They might catch some of this on CNN—right between the interview with Leonardo Dicaprio and a report on Jennifer Connelly's battle to stop smoking.
Sometimes the more ironic phrase is the more truthful.

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