It’s a tired subject ’round these parts, but N.Y. Times columnist Frank Rich, having recently seen Errol Morris‘s Standard Operating Procedure (Sony Classics, 4.25 NY, 5.2 LA), is apparently confronting it for the first time: “Iraq is to moviegoers what garlic is to vampires.”
Standard Operating Procedure, he believes, “will reach the director’s avid core audience, but it is likely to be avoided by most everyone else no matter what praise or controversy it whips up.
“It would take another column to list all the movies and TV shows about Iraq that have gone belly up at the box office or in Nielsen ratings in the nearly four years since the war’s only breakout commercial success, Fahrenheit 9/11. They die regardless of their quality or stand on the war, whether they star Tommy Lee Jones (In the Valley of Elah) or Meryl Streep (Lions for Lambs) or are produced by Steven Bochco (the FX series Over There) or are marketed like Abercrombie & Fitch apparel to the MTV young (Stop-Loss).
“As the New York Times recently reported, box-office dread has driven one Hollywood distributor to repeatedly postpone the release of The Lucky Ones, a highly regarded and sympathetic feature about the war’s veterans, the first made with full Army assistance, even though the word Iraq is never spoken and the sole battle sequence runs 40 seconds.
“If Iraq had been mentioned in Knocked Up or Superbad, Judd Apatow‘s hilarious hit comedies about young American guys who (like most of their peers) never consider the volunteer Army as an option, they might have flopped too.
“This is not merely a showbiz phenomenon but a leading indicator of where our entire culture is right now. It’s not just torture we want to avoid. Most Americans don’t want to hear, see or feel anything about Iraq, whether they support the war or oppose it. They want to look away, period, and have been doing so for some time.”