Monday, June 11, 2007

This Is Spinal Cord

In the Sunday Times, NCF Director Peter Whittle interviewed Eli Roth, director of the Hostel horror movies:

Roth can certainly talk the talk. He insists that his films work on many levels - that they should be purely entertaining date movies, with lots of blood and splatter, but that there is far more there if you want to see it. “Le Monde picked Hostel as one of their top movies of the year. They saw it as a commentary on American capitalism gone too far,” he says. “Americans buying things is no longer enough for them. They’re not getting that thrill, they want something more.”

Oh, dear, here we go. “Art Forum magazine said this was a political comment on American imperialism, and on Americans going into other cultures and thinking they can buy and sell them. People saw different things in the movie.”

And Roth? What did he see in it? He made it, after all. “I like having my disgust with the Bush administration, and my feelings of upset about Iraq, and my fears for that - I like putting that all into the movie, and it’s there if you want to see it,” he says. He wants to start a discussion about the fear that he sees enveloping Americans, as well as simply entertain people. “You can get people talking about these taboo subjects.”

As self-justification goes, this is almost beyond parody - a kind of This Is Spinal Cord. Yet, as Roth continues to dump on his fellow countrymen, I start to wonder whether this is all for the European media’s benefit. The clich├ęs pour forth. Americans are ignorant. Only 12% have passports. They don’t travel, they don’t know about other cultures, and so on.

If this is Roth’s sincere view, then why are the Europeans also shown as a pretty appalling bunch? Hostel depicted gangs of feral, murderous kids roaming the Slovakian streets. Other natives were portrayed as positively antediluvian. In the films, the Europeans are stereotypes, he says, and the Americans are also stereotypes of certain US travellers. “The film taps into fear of other cultures. It’s like a horror Borat.”

Of course, Sasha Baron Cohen was ultimately aiming his fire at Americans. There would have been no question of Borat reporting from Saudi Arabia. I ask Roth whether, for all his alleged concerns about Bush and imperialism, he wouldn’t be better taking on the all-too-real kidnappers and decapitators out there, and making a film about them? He seems fleetingly nonplussed. “I’m not saying I wouldn’t,” he says, “but this particular story is about this particular fear of mine.”
Read the full article.

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