- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 22, 2005

ST. JOHN, U.S. Virgin Islands. — The camera always lies. That is one of my most dearly held beliefs, and an early screening of Steven Spielberg’s “Munich,” which I saw last week, provides me with more evidence. The camera always lies — and Steven Spielberg lies quite a lot too, at least when he uses a camera in his Art.

Not long ago he did a movie, “Shark Tale,” in which all the bad guys spoke with Italian accents and were supposed to summon up visions of the Mafia. This movie was for children.

Mr. Spielberg covers himself on this sort of thing by speaking out against stereotyping even as he stereotypes. Now he has committed another simplistic botch. In “Munich,” he portrays a hit team of Israeli agents ordered to kill the Palestinian terrorists responsible for the deaths of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics as morally equivalent to the terrorists. That, of course, is untrue. The act of the Israeli agents is morally justified as an attempt not only to eliminate murderers but also to demonstrate to the terrorists’ leaders that kidnapping private citizens will not further their political goals. In the anarchy of terrorist war what the Israelis did is, alas, for the good and morally defensible.

But Mr. Spielberg’s camera lies in other ways. The movie begins with a chaos of scenes exploding across the screen and lasting far too long. This is an assault on the senses, not an engagement of intellect. In fact, the whole movie is an assault on the senses and hardly ever an engagement of intellect. And the assault — which is to say, the movie — lasts far too long. After enduring “Munich” the normal viewer will need a drink or some other “coping mechanism,” as they say.

I attended the movie with a veteran of law enforcement officer who sneered at howlers committed by Mr. Spielberg’s camera. Almost everything was exaggerated. Bullet holes on the lovely body of a beautiful naked actress were far larger than they would be, given the caliber guns used to shoot her. The body of a knifed Mossad agent was perfectly and dramatically filmed as sitting upright on a bench, to the snickers of my friend who noted the knife wound would have caused the dead person’s muscles to relax and the corpse to fall over. Action was everywhere, explanation almost nonexistent.

What the agents did to hunt down and kill the terrorists went completely unexplained, as did their training to become so proficient in their grisly arts. “Munich” of course is a modern movie. That means there is very little explanation. Dialogue is minimal. That might be for the best. The dialogue that existed was banal and at times, as with all else in the movie, devious.

In one ludicrous scene the Jewish hit team and a Palestinian terror squad spend the night together. Call it their sleepover. A conversation follows between a Jew and a Palestinian. It is perhaps the intellectual denouement of the movie. It is also a Spielberg attempt to demonstrate moral equivalence between the two, which does not come off very well. Those who know this conflict’s history understand the Israelis are defenders. The terrorists are aggressors and particularly brutal at that.

Yet this simple-minded scene, the sleepover, is the great piece of wisdom Mr. Spielberg hopes to impart. “Munich” is, Mr. Spielberg told Time magazine, “a prayer for peace.”

Actually it is just another example of the camera’s lies. Aided and abetted by sound effects, it jolts the senses with huge hands or other appendages thrust across the screen, towering men and women filmed from the ground up, from other weird angles, all to convey dramatic but very unreal impressions.

Colors are brighter or darker than real. Sounds shriek, howl and explode at the viewer. My friend from law enforcement has covered crime scenes and crimes themselves. She assures me the real thing is much less entertaining.

The Guardian newspaper in Britain reports Mr. Spielberg insists: “The biggest threat to the Middle East was neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis but intransigence on both sides.” Given the Sharon government’s generosity in its negotiations with the Palestinians, I guess we can understand the errors in “Munich.”

Mr. Spielberg is a Hollywood ignoramus. But he has another problem in his treatment of such serious issues as peace in the Middle East. His favorite artistic instrument is the camera, and the camera always lies. Maybe he should give up the camera for a lump of marble and a chisel.

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor in chief of the American Spectator, a contributing editor to the New York Sun, and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. His latest book is “Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House. —

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