The Corner

Hail The Conquering Hero

I was surprised by the level of passion in responses to my trashing of the

movie Hero. Passion

on both sides: A lot of people hated the movie as much as I did — “I left

the movie fuming,” said one reader. A different lot, including many

I’m-a-conservative-BUT readers thought that Hero was a terrific movie.

Well: “One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.”

Permit me to have a little fun with some of the sillier comments. At the

end, to make up for my snottiness, I’ll concede a gotcha.

Comment: Having written previously that I like ballet, how can I not like

those sword-fight scenes, which after all are just a kind of ballet?

Response: I have seen a lot of ballet, but I don’t recall any of it using

skyhooks or slow motion; and to the best of my recollection, beautiful music

was an essential part of the ballet experience in all cases. I have a

definite impression, in fact, that the movements of the ballet dancers had

something to do with the music…

Comment: Why must a movie or theatrical production have humor? Would you

want humor in a play about The Holocaust?

Response: I don’t see why not. I will cling to Shakespeare as my guide

here. Far as I can recall, not one of his plays is without humor — not

Macbeth, not even Lear. Now, if you want to tell me that it is possible for

a profound and brilliant play to have no humor in it at all, I will

certainly agree — I can’t recall too many jokes in, e.g., The Trojan Women.

Unfortunately, Zhang Yimou is not Euripides. (And, I must say, having seen

the Trojan Women performed once, I have no strong desire to see it again. I

was on suicide watch for a week.)

Comment: You obviously understand nothing about cinematic art.

Response: I am a well-educated, well-informed and fairly intelligent

person. There are movies I like, and movies I don’t like. Are you telling

me that in order to have an informed opinion about a movie I must first put

myself through college classes in “cinematic art”? If you are, then I offer

the following prediction: If movie-makers are going to start making movies

that can only be appreciated by people who have studied “cinematic art” at

college level, then movie-making will pretty soon be in the same state as

modern poetry.

Comment: How dare you pour scorn on eastern religion, about which you

obviously know nothing?

Response: I never mentioned “eastern religion” (whatever that is). I

passed some remarks about philosophical Taoism, spelling it out like that.

Unfortunately the English word “Taoism” covers two quite different Chinese

words: “Tao-jia,” which is the name of a philosophical system, and

“Tao-jiao,” which is the name of a religion. A writer on this topic should,

therefore, always make clear whether he is talking about the philosophy or

the religion. I think I did that. I have actually said kind things about

the Taoist *religion* elsewhere.

Comment: You object to “myriads of people all moving and speaking in

unison.” Ever heard of the Greek chorus?

Response: Sure; but that was a convention of the time, with a clear purpose

understood by everyone. It is not a convention in the modern cinema, and

when those hundreds of black-robed figures (who they? we are not told) show

up and surround the Emperor (what happened to the hundred paces rule?) and

harangue him in unison the effect falls entirely flat.

Comment: You plainly know nothing whatsoever about Chinese culture.

Response: Uh-huh.

All right, now I’ll concede a gotcha. I grumbled about “the

modernist-experimental layering of the narrative” and said: “I prefer my

narrative plain and simple: beginning, middle, end.” A reader pointed out

that this eliminates quite a large part of the western literary tradition,

starting with The Odyssey. Yes, of course it does, and I overshot my mark,

expressing myself badly. I don’t object to the skillful use of flashbacks and breaks in chronology. I’m fine with them. The layering of “alternate

narratives” in Hero goes way beyond that, though, into the realm of artsy

self-consciousness, to which I am strongly allergic. (See my remarks on

T.S. Eliot in this space recently.)

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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