April 2012        

Films

A life of lies and fabrications


J. Edgar, directed by Clint Eastwood.

Could it ever be possible to tell the story of a man like the former director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, from a politically neutral viewpoint? This year the actor-turned-director Clint Eastwood attempted to do just that.

     The film examines the life and legacy of Hoover from a pop-psychology viewpoint, hinging on Freudian archetypes. Hoover is portrayed as a man victimised by the Victorian pretences of Anglo-American culture. While it was the obvious intention to tell the story of “J. Edgar” in a sympathetic light, can Hoover’s undeniably criminal mind be so easily dismissed as the product of a repressed homosexual with Oedipal undertones?
     As shown in the film, the real Hoover oversaw the red scares, the blackmailing of elected officials, the formation of COINTELPRO (“Counter-Intelligence Program”), McCarthyism, and other abuses. He attempted to publicly humiliate the civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Junior, and blackmail him to such an extent that King would commit suicide, while laying the foundations for the murder of other black leaders.
     Of course the film touches upon all of this very lightly amidst what is essentially a love story about the FBI director and his starry-eyed boy-friend and colleague Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer).
     The clichés abound as Hoover and Tolson fuss with one another over fashion accessories and office decorum. All of this, while obviously being emphasised to underline Hoover’s repressed homosexuality, does more to insult the gay community by playing on prejudicial archetypes than rehabilitating the image of Hoover as a sort of victim.
     In keeping with the trite Freudian narrative underlying Hollywood culture since the 1960s, it appears that the filmmakers are insinuating that when homosexuals repress the “pleasure principle” the result is manifested as cruel, almost fascist, political tendencies.
     Just as the theories of Sigmund Freud have since been debunked as fabrications based on false evidence, the life of J. Edgar Hoover, as illustrated in the film, was a life of lies and fabrications. Hoover was undoubtedly both a colourful and a sinister character, but ultimately the film is a disappointment. Stylistically, the cinematography is drab, to say the least.
     The viewpoint of the filmmakers as storytellers is highly skewed, to the point of being patronising, if not offensive, firstly by insulting the gay community with the brazen use of prejudicial stereotypes and secondly by implying that the general audience is too ignorant to recognise the not-so-subtle use of cheap pop-psychology manipulation.
     Aesthetically, the fillm is inconsistent. The make-up jobs ranged from excellent to laughable, and the soundtrack was, to use an industry term, pure “schmaltz,” making otherwise powerful scenes corny and melodramatic.
     Fortunately, this fillmgoer waited to see J. Edgar at the one-dollar cinemas. Anyone who paid full-price admission is sure to have been disappointed.
[JDT]

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