Skip to comments.Disagree with me – that’s what I want
Posted on 01/22/2006 4:10:52 PM PST by Pikamax
Disagree with me thats what I want Goaded by critics of his new film Munich, Steven Spielberg tells Christopher Goodwin he is not guilty of sympathising with terrorists
The eternal wunderkind of American cinema is tired.
I made two films, War of the Worlds and Munich, in the same calendar year, says Steven Spielberg wearily, and Im not 30 years old any more, so Im looking to rest for a little while.
Spielberg, 59, is also tired of sitting back and taking the furious barrage of attacks from critics of Munich, the most controversial film he has made in his long career.
Munich tells the astonishing and largely true, according to Spielberg story of the Israeli assassination squad who hunted down the Palestinians responsible for the deaths of 11 Israelis during the 1972 Munich Olympics.
The film, which opens in Britain next weekend, is also Spielbergs sometimes anguished attempt to point out what he sees as the futility of the cycle of violence between Palestinians and Israelis. Before it opened in America at the end of December he said he had made it as a prayer for peace in the Middle East.
The reaction to the film has become increasingly vehement and personal. Spielbergs critics have accused him of the sin of equivalence and moral relativism. They charge that he equates Palestinian terrorism with the Israeli response to that terror.
Spielberg clearly felt that as Hollywoods most prominent and powerful Jew he would be immune from some of the more venomous attacks on him. He has always been a strong supporter of the state of Israel and Jewish causes. He used the profits from Schindlers List, his Oscar-winning Holocaust drama, to fund the Shoah Foundation, which is compiling an unprecedented and vast audio-visual library of the personal stories of Holocaust survivors.
Deciding not to take the attacks silently any more, Spielberg spoke to The Sunday Times last week, accusing the critics of political censorship disguised as criticism.
He was particularly upset by David Brooks, the conservative New York Times columnist, who wrote that Spielberg allows himself to ignore the core poison that permeates the Middle East, Islamic radicalism. In Spielbergs Middle East, there is no Hamas or Islamic Jihad. There are no passionate anti-semites, no Holocaust deniers like the current president of Iran, no zealots who want to exterminate Israelis.
Spielberg retorted that his film forces the audience to look directly into the face of unmitigated evil again and again, to remind the audience of why Israel had to respond to Munich in the first place.
He vividly recalls watching the television news coverage of the kidnappings and massacre in Munich as a 25-year-old: It was the first time that the word terrorism and the term terrorist were brought into public consciousness.
On the night of September 4, 1972, during the second week of the Olympics, members of the so-called Black September group invaded the lightly guarded Olympic village. Two members of the Israeli team were killed; nine others were taken hostage.
Over the next 21 hours, 900m people around the world watched the tragic events unfold on television. An inept rescue attempt by the German military on the tarmac of Fürstenfeldbruck airport on the outskirts of Munich ended with the deaths of all the hostages, five of the kidnappers and a German police officer. The three surviving kidnappers were freed after Palestinians hijacked a Lufthansa jet.
Spielberg became increasingly intrigued by the mechanics and morality of operation Wrath of God, the response secretly formulated by the Israeli government to hunt down and assassinate those responsible. Thirteen Arabs, not all of them connected to the massacre, are believed to have died. The Israeli government finally called a halt after a hit squad killed an innocent Moroccan waiter in Denmark as a result of mistaken identity.
The story of the assassinations was first told in 1982 in the book Vengeance by George Jonas. Aspects of this account have been much disputed, yet it is the main source for the new film.
Spielberg bought the rights to the book about five years ago, but he says his biggest problem was to find a credible source that would allow me to acquit the story with enough truth to illuminate the questions that Tony Kushner and I were trying to pose.
Kushner, credited as co-writer of the script, is the Pulitzer prize-winning playwright of Angels in America, the fantastical epic about the havoc caused by Aids.
I developed the script based on a number of sources, says Spielberg, but it wasnt until I met the living source, who the character Avner in my film portrays, did I really decide that this was a story that was worth telling.
Avner, the name given in Jonass book and in Spielbergs blockbuster to the leader of the Israeli assassins, embodies many of the bitter controversies of the film.
Some critics, including the makers of a documentary, Munich: the Real Assassins, to be shown on Channel 4 on Thursday, claim that Yuval Aviv, the man most commonly thought to be the model for Avner, was a fantasist who had worked as an El Al baggage handler, not as a trained killer.
Spielberg rejects this, saying he and Kushner met the man his Avner is based on and believed his story, although he wont divulge his name. Because this mission was so clandestine, until secret files are opened by Israel there is going to be a lot of room for speculation, interpretation and point of view, Spielberg says. I happen to trust my source.
Spielberg portrays Avner as a man who becomes increasingly morally conflicted about his mission, especially after he begins to suspect that some of the people he has killed may have had no involvement in Munich. Eventually Avner quits to establish a new life with his wife and child in New York. He clearly symbolises the deep moral doubts many progressive Jews, including obviously Spielberg and Kushner, have about the violent nature of the Israeli state response to Palestinian demands and terror.
Critics have attacked this portrayal of Avner for a number of reasons. Jonas himself, the originator of Avner in his book, insists that my Avner may have questioned the utility of his mission toward the end targeted assassinations barely slowed down terrorism, let alone stopped it but he never questioned the morality of what his country had asked him to do. He had no pangs of guilt.
I disagree with that, says Spielberg. The character we were portraying didnt doubt his mission and if he had the chance to serve Israel again in the same way he would leap to it. But that doesnt negate the fact that he had moral questions about his mission and about his own actions and how it was affecting his heart and soul.
The man we met, on whom Avner is based, expressed that to Tony Kushner and myself quite eloquently and passionately. Its not uncharacteristic for soldiers in any conflict to be conflicted about what they are doing, although they would do it over again if they had the opportunity.
Jonas has another charge: Spielbergs Munich follows the letter of my book closely enough. The spirit is almost the opposite. Vengeance holds there is a difference between terrorism and counterterrorism; Munich suggests there isnt. The book has no trouble telling an act of war from a war crime; the film finds it difficult. Spielbergs movie worries about the moral trap of resisting terror; my book worries about the moral trap of not resisting it.
This is the argument of those who accuse Spielberg of the sin of equivalency. The director denies that he is simplistically postulating that violence begets violence.
What our film suggests (is) that when you make policy to create a response to violence, the intelligence that you use to select your targets has to be very carefully picked over, because there are all sorts of unintended results that come with this kind of a response, results that nobody can foresee, he says.
I personally believe that Golda Meir (who was the Israeli prime minister) needed to respond in the way that she did because Israel would have been perceived as weak had it done nothing to attempt to dismantle the Black September network in western Europe. The film doesnt criticise Israel, it doesnt even criticise Israeli policy, but it says that there are unintended consequences in everything that has to do with violence.
These guys are saying that what we are doing with Munich is not making any distinction in our empathy between terrorist victims and the killing of people who are terrorists. I think that is nonsense. These people have a knee-jerk response whenever characters who are terrorists or who are suspected terrorists are given a chance to have dialogue. The minute we allow them to speak we suddenly are committing the sin of equivalence, and to me that is just foolish politics.
In one of Munichs pivotal but fictional moments, Avner and his group accidentally spend a night in the same safe house as a group of Palestinian assassins and engage in a soul-searching debate with them about the fundamental issues separating the two peoples. This scene, in which Spielberg and Kushner give the Palestinians a voice, has infuriated conservatives.
Palestinians murder, Israelis murder, wrote commentator Leon Wieseltier in The New Republic. Palestinians show evidence of a conscience, Israelis show evidence of a conscience. Palestinians suppress their scruples, Israelis suppress their scruples. Palestinians make little speeches about home and blood and soil, Israelis make little speeches about home and blood and soil. Palestinians kill innocents, Israelis kill innocents. All these analogies begin to look ominously like the sin of equivalence, and so it is worth pointing out that the death of innocents was an Israeli mistake but a Palestinian objective.
Spielberg countered: It is fascinating to watch people who really only want their assumptions confirmed by what they are taking into the theatre. They go into the film and they shave off everything and anything that challenges their assumptions. They sculpt this movie to be what they want it to be. They are really looking for a simple-minded thesis.
I think the film is effective because it does what history books really cant do, which is to ask questions that may not have an immediate answer, and I think this frustrates people.
I have always been taught that in democratic society discussion is the greatest good you can perform, the most valuable thing you can do. Its part of my Jewish tradition and its Talmudic. I encourage people to agree or disagree with what I am doing. But not by saying it was bad to have ever made this film. Thats political censorship disguised as criticism and thats not what I am accustomed to in the marketplace of democracy.
He said that he and his family love Israel, we support Israel, we have unqualified support for Israel, which has struggled, surrounded by enemies, ever since its statehood was declared . . . I feel very proud to stand right alongside all of my friends in Israel; and yet I can ask questions about these very, very sensitive issues between Israelis and Palestinians and the whole quest for a homeland.
If Steven Spielberg cant ask these questions, who can?
Steven Spielberg ,
Thank you for all the movies you have made. They now are being used as great coffee and beer holders. Sharmuta!
Spielberg clearly felt that as Hollywoods most prominent and powerful Jew he would be immune from some of the more venomous attacks on him.
No way. He made some big mistakes with this movie -- he deservers fair criticism.
No, it isn't!
He's just so misunderstood....
Political censorship? WTF is he talking about? No one in the government pressured him to stop making the movie, nor did they suppress screenings. Suddenly he's screaming censorship just because no one wants to see his movie.
"Just cause I'm friends with Clinton, believe in universal health care, government socialization of everything and am opposed to the war on terror - that doesn't mean I'm a lib."
... so I can cry "censorship!".
These whack jobs are unreal.
" I encourage people to agree or disagree with what I am doing. But not by saying it was bad to have ever made this film. Thats political censorship disguised as criticism and thats not what I am accustomed to in the marketplace of democracy.
I find it interesting how often Hollywood throws around the "censorship" word when their work is seriously criticized. What is the difference between "disagree" and "it was bad to have ever made this movie"? I'm at a loss.
Avner symbolises the deep moral doubts many progressive Jews, including obviously Spielberg and Kushner, have about the violent nature of the Israeli state response to Palestinian demands and terror.
TV Headsup for the forum; documentary on Munich tonight (Sunday) on
Discovery Channel at 10PM Eastern:
So David Brooks is now a political censor, because he didn't like the movie? Gimme a break.
And this just goes to show what nonsense it is for Spielberg to spew the liberal canard that he wants people to "ask questions." No, what he wants is for everybody to agree with him.
Both of which preach a passive approach to evil.
To each his own... I liked both movies.
Disagree with me ? that?s what Steven Spielberg wants.
He must want me to stay away from his movies too!