Monday, December 22, 2014

Kim Jong-un and the Auteur School

Reading about the North Korean hacking scandal, and the role the persona of  country’s leader plays in the controversial film about his own assassination, one is reminded of the internecine battles that flared up amongst auteur critics like Truffaut and Godard, whose careers began as writers for Andre Bazin’s Cahiers du Cinema back in the 50’s. Significantly, of course, this was a around the time that Madame Mao (Jiang Qing) who would be an instrumental force in China’s cultural revolution, was refining her own interest in film. One thing that leaders in both China’s and North Korea’s totalitarian regimes and the auteurs shared was an infatuation with Hollywood and the stamp that one sensibility can have on an oeuvre or country. Kim Jong-un’s father, Kim Jong-il was reputedly a great lover of Hollywood cinema (“Kim Jong-il: The cinephile despot," BBC News, 12/19/11)and what father and son would eventually share was an unwanted casting in films about their own demise (in Team America: World Police, 2004, Kim Jong-il is vanquished)—which when you think about it is a really auteur idea. Kim Jong-il’s tastes apparently ran to Liz Taylor and Sean Connery while Kim Jong-un's love of film has taken the form of an inurement in Disney characters with whom he has cavorted on North Korean television. Many commentators have been taken aback by Kim Jong-un’s heavy-handed tactics in creating a cyber attack on Sony in revenge against The Interview. But his behavior becomes more understandable when it’s considered in the light of his family’s generational interest in film and the generally competitive atmosphere that has always existed amongst film critics. While neither Godard nor Truffaut ever threatened viewers of films they disapproved of, as Kim Jong-un, did when his proxies warned of a 9/11 type response against chains which exhibited the movie, there were always heated battles about film. And one wonders if Kim Jong-un’s current tactics are not ultimately aimed at achieving cultural hegemony for his people, in a world dominated by eurocentric critics like Manohola Dargis and A.O. Scott of The New York Times. Whatever the result of the strategy, it’s plain that Kim Jong-un is positioning himself to be a major kingmaker (like the late Andrew Sarris of The Village Voice) in those precincts where auteur criticism still holds sway.

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