April 06, 2006,
A filmmaker on immigration.
Ron Maxwell, director of the movie God and Generals, has, like many of us, immigration on his mind. He is currently working on a film called Armada about the issue of the day in Washington...and on the streets of many a major city.
NRO Editor Kathryn Lopez talked to Maxwell about the movie, the movies, and the contentious immigration issue.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: How does one make a satirical movie about immigration?
Ron Maxwell: Not easily. Satire is one of the most difficult genres to work in. For satire to be effective, I believe you must genuinely care about the thing, the institution, or the people you are satirizing. Gilbert & Sullivan managed to poke fun at the British courts, the admiralty, the pop culture of their day and a host of other sacrosanct institutions with whimsy, wit, and a melodious score. Michael Moore for instance, is decidedly not a satirist. His cinematic screeds drip with scarcely concealed contempt and anger. You get the clear impression he hates his subjects and loves only his own righteous indignation. Contemporary movies rarely pull it off. Outstanding examples would be Network, Wag the Dog, Bullworth, Dr. Strangelove. What these films have in common are grotesque yet recognizable exaggerations of the real world. Sometimes, humor can be the road best traveled to truth.
Lopez: Why would one make a movie about immigration?
Maxwell: The subject of immigration is perhaps most suited to satire, because those most visible in the debate have just about caricatured themselves to the point of absurdity. How many times in one day do we hear "We are a nation of immigrants," or "Give us your tired and poor," or "They do the work that Americans are unwilling to do?" One of my favorites was from Senator Durban, when in the summation of his speech on the senate floor recently he justified illegal immigration by his own sterling example, since none other than he himself was the grandson of an immigrant and had risen to the almighty stature of a US Senator. In other words, his presence alone, preening in the well of the Senate, was enough of an argument.
Perhaps one job most Americans would be willing to do would be to build that 2,000 mile wall along the Mexican border. If the senators, in their limitless wisdom don't believe that U.S. Citizens are available in large enough numbers, perhaps we should get the illegal aliens to do the work, building it from the Mexico side. Then two goals would be accomplished at the same time.
Lopez: Doesn't everyone in Hollywood employee illegal immigrants?
Maxwell: No matter how many millions you have it's always preferable to cut down on your expenses for the gardeners, pool man, chauffer, nanny, chef, butler, masseuse, and maid no doubt about it.
Lopez: Aren't there jobs Americans won't do for Alec Baldwin?
Maxwell: Aw, come on. Americans love Alec Baldwin. After all, after publicly swearing that he would move to France if Bush got elected he showed his true patriotism by not straying one step from his poolside patio.
Lopez: How closely are you watching the Senate deliberations?
Maxwell: What deliberations? Imagine, Senator Specter devoted one whole day to the committee's public session on the issue of the broken borders and the problem of 12 to 20 million illegal immigrants. A whole day! At one point he threatened to hold the committee into the evening by offering them a delivery of pizzas. That did it. Within 15 minutes they took their historic vote and headed for a respectable meal. At one point Senator Feinstein brought up the vexing problem of unlimited visas for foreign students. After all, as she pointed out, there are just so many slots for students at California state universities and foreigners are already keeping out many qualified American students. Specter wouldn't let her get a word in edgewise. "Take it to the floor," he counseled. Was anyone surprised a couple of days later when that great pillar of puffed up self-importance and self-sanctimony, none other than Senator Leahy stood up on the Senate floor to announce that there should and would be no further debate because the issue had been decided in the Judiciary Committee. End of story. If these paragons of virtue aren't the subject of satire, what and who is?
Lopez: Who is your favorite pol in this mess?
Maxwell: I have got to say Edward Kennedy. One has to admire this rascal. He has almost single-handedly got the entire country into this immigration mess. With unlimited personal wealth and not a personal financial care from cradle to grave, he has done his utmost to depress the wages of working-class Americans by doing everything conceivable at every point in his interminable career to flood the country with cheap, illegal labor. What is more remarkable is that he has achieved this by posing as a champion of the little guy! If he says, "This bill is not an amnesty" one more time I think he'll split his lip.
Lopez: Who would play him in a movie?
Maxwell: Why, Alec Baldwin of course!
Lopez: You're a Bushman right? Wassup with him on this?
Maxwell: "Alas, poor Bush I knew him well. A fellow of most infinite jest and fancy." Bush is caught between the rock of the Chamber of Commerce and the hard place of his own utopian open-borders fantasies. If he doesn't snap out of it fairly quickly he will wake up in November surrounded by a hostile Senate and House, out for his hide. The American people are pretty loud and clear on this. But Bush is pretending he can't hear them. Or wanting to hear something different from what they are actually saying. Maybe the poll questions are all wrong? It's a kind of massive self-denial. It's also a manifestation of living in the cocoon of the Washington, D.C. environment where the far-away voice of the average American is drowned out by the din of the special interests. Basically Bush's only hope is to throw out all of his advisers warning him about losing the Hispanic vote. (Why this assumption that American Citizens of Hispanic origin care less about border security and illegal immigration than anyone else?) Then he must lay prostrate before the American people and beg their forgiveness for being AWOL from border security for five years. As the chief executive he must start enforcing existing law regarding illegal aliens and their employers, order the National Guard to the southern border, and secure it once and for all. If he can't do that he doesn't deserve to be president or dogcatcher.
Lopez: Who would play W. in a movie?
Maxwell: Alec Baldwin. Wouldn't it be great to watch him do Kennedy and Bush in the same film?
Lopez: Is your next movie on the U.S. Civil War?
Maxwell: Yes, but I sincerely hope it's about the one we fought in the 1860s.
Lopez: Are we watching a civil war in Iraq?
Maxwell: Not quite. Anyone who thinks this is civil war in Iraq should revisit the slaughterhouses of South and East Asia in the 70s, Central Africa in the 90s, or Spain in the 30s. It might yet go that way, but thanks to our boots on the ground and some common sense that tragedy may yet be averted.
Maxwell: Can you do us a favor and make sure the first movie about Iraq post-Saddam won't be made by or starring George Clooney?
Maxwell: George Clooney is the modern day counterpart of George Stevens, John Huston, and Frank Capra. In the 40s those Hollywood icons made movies under the rubric, "Why We Fight." Clooney and his Hollywood bankrollers make Why They Fight.