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Passive hobby

Tyrants and their tinsel fix


STAR STRUCK: Kim Jong loved Rambo, James Bond, all Elizabeth Taylor films and was also a fan of toon character Daffy Duck. He called cinema a powerful weapon

With the news of Kim Jong-il death also circulated the news of his rather notorious interest in cinema. From his obsession with Elizabeth Taylor, to his love of James Bond, Rambo, Godzilla, Friday the 13th and even the animated cartoon character Daffy Sheldon Duck, Dear Leader's tastes were eclectic to say the least. He was fascinated by the power of cinema, calling it "a powerful ideological weapon for the revolution and construction. "

Jong-il's conviction in cinema has been echoed by dictators who've preceded him. The Cinecitt? (Cinema City) studios in Rome, were founded in 1937 by Benito Mussolini for propaganda. In case anyone missed the point, the studio was shaped by the slogan, 'Il cinema ? l'arma pi? forte' (Cinema is the most powerful weapon).

The power of the moving image, as a tool for transmitting messages, subliminal and otherwise, has been understood and exploited by totalitarian and repressive regimes. They have either been in the business of 'manufacturing consent' through the moving image or in the very least controlling it with a vice like grip so that nothing untowardly can get past. It would, of course, be grossly incorrect to simply accuse dictators of mobilising and misusing cinema for their own gains. Take our world's largest democracy for instance;nothing if not the banning and censoring of films gets top billing in political pastimes.

If cinema is the most powerful weapon then surely the director who leads this stylised attack can't be too far behind in the hierarchy. For Jong-il, cinema was no passive hobby. He wanted to be in the thick of it and how! In 1978, he ordered the abduction of a South Korean director, Shin Sang-ok, and his estranged wife, an actress. In captivity Shin directed seven films with Jong-il acting as executive producer;the best known of these films is Pulgasari, 1985, a giantmonster film similar to the Ishir Honda's Godzilla, 1954. With these films, Jong-il wanted to kick-start a film industry in North Korea and create a more culturally sophisticated face for the Workers' Party of Korea.

Of course, no such story can be complete without a glance at Hitler. The F?hrer set the benchmark in production values as it were. Long before Dear Leader, he played executive producer, albeit covertly, for Leni Riefensthal's Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will, 1934). In Fascinating Fascism, Susan Sontag's landmark essay from Under the Sign of Saturn, 1980, her third collection of criticism, the hugely influential cultural theorist writes that, Riefensthal admits that she was in on the planning of the 1934 Nazi Party Congress rally in Nuremberg and that Triumph of the Will 'was conceived from the start as the set of a film spectacle'. One of the best known examples of propaganda film it is a spectacle of fascism and according to Sontag in it 'history becomes theatre'.

In the Triumph of the Will, Hitler rallied 7, 00, 000 Nazi supporters. With increased international scrutiny and surveillance, garnering such support has become difficult and a logistical nightmare for unhinged dictators of today. Although the spectacle still plays a key role in power transactions, vis-?vis cinema at least, it would seem that the enabler of the spectacle has changed. The society of spectacles lives on and is perpetuated by capitalism. If Hitler staged his spectacle then Kim Jong-il got affected by the spectacle that has for long been synonymous with Hollywood. Following his escape Sang-ok reported that Jong-il based his understanding of capitalism on high octane Hollywood films.

Keeping pace with the times as also the number of conspiracy theories his regime spawned Saddam Hussein is said to have liked his conspiratainment. He is said to have had a fondness for films like The Day of the Jackal, 1971 and Enemy of the State, 1998
One can't help wondering if personality disorders such as sadism, paranoia, narcissism found in dictators such as Hussein and Jong-il were exacerbated by repeated viewings of films that would've been a distraction for a regular viewer but to the twisted pathologies of these despots they became reaffirmations for the need of violence and cruelty.

The narrative of the film, however, is rarely without revenge. In a most ironic postmodern twist, film it appears won't stop taking Hitler's case. The innumerable parodies of Der Untergang (Downfall, 2004), a critically acclaimed German film by Oliver Hirschbiegel about Hitler's last days, is a case in point. The digital age makes these sleights of hand and small revenges possible. There's more to this story yet;this is hardly the end.

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