JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

 

 

Notes

1. Abu Assad’s attachment to a realistic setting, coupled with the cast and crew’s experiences while filming, create and reinforce a sense of imprisonment and claustrophobia in this location. Multiple shots of the border patrol, the fence on the border itself, men with guns, and the sound of bombs exploding lend to the film’s sense of entrapment and panoptical surveillance. Abu Assad’s desire for realism came with its own set of trials and tribulations: one member of the crew was kidnapped during filming and the whole crew and cast were made to sign waivers prior to entering Nablus that would relieve Israel from any responsibility if anyone were killed during the shoot (Garcia). [return to page 1 of essay]

2. Hany Abu Assad contends:

“We are in a moment in the world when the majority of people have one of two views on suicide bombers: either the bombers are criminals or super-heroes. My film is about destroying those prevailing perceptions, those images, to build a new perception. The film does not force viewers to change positions. It just allows them to experience things they will never experience in their own lives. So it has enemies on both sides. We are disturbing their established perceptions” (Georgakas & Saltz 17).

3. I primarily chose to use the term Palestinian Resistance instead of Jihad — meaning holy war — in this paper. This choice reflects the acknowledgement of the Palestinian Resistance and suicide bombing as non-religiously motivated acts of war. As the jihad and suicide bombing are often conflated in Western mass media, I have tried to be specific in my discussion of the Palestinian Resistance as separate from jihad, but it seems important to consider the Palestinian Resistance in the larger mediascaape that often figures that resistance movement as part of the jihad.

4. I am drawing here from Bertell Ollman’s discussion of dialectical thinking in Dialectical Investigations. He writes that dialectical thinking,

“through establishing its connections tries to reconstruct the larger whole, dialectical research begins with the whole, the system, or as much of it as one understands, and then proceeds to an examination of the part to see where it fits and how it functions, leading eventually to a fuller understanding of the whole from which one has begun … a system whose functioning parts have been treated as independent of one another at the start can never be reestablished in its integrity” (12-13).

Instead of treating only the violence, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or even just the two men, Abu Assad indicates a larger system which encapsulates the heterogeneous nature of the resistance, how its aspects mesh, and also its relation to Israel.

5. Devji is primarily referring to Al Quaeda and he uses jihad in his book; when referring to his work I will also use the term jihad. Also, the use of the term jihad calls attention to how the Palestinian Resistance, which is represented in the film, figures into the larger mediascape of suicide terrorism.

6. I am  using John Hill’s discussion of political thrillers here. In “Finding a Form: Politics and Aesthetics in Fatherland, Hidden Agenda and Riff-Raff,” Hill writes:

“Opponents of the political thriller have argued that, by virtue of a reliance on upon individual characters and stars with whom we identify, suspense which engages us emotionally rather than intellectually, the political thriller ‘makes up our minds for us.” It may challenge, as Hidden Agenda does, the prevailing ideologies of society, but it does so by employing the same emotional patterns of involvement as films which offer the contrary view, and hence fails to encourage audiences to engage critically with political ideas” (115).

Even though Abu Assad relies on the individual characters of the Said and Khaled within a script that sympathizes with them, he refuses the general “in the nick of time” or “too late” narrative trajectory of melodrama or more specifically of political thrillers. Nonetheless, this impulse — as a way to market to U.S. audiences — is picked up in the trailers for Paradise Now, a point I discuss in detail.

7. Vanity Fair reported on the U.S. involvement (under the Bush administration) in Israel and Palestine. David Rose writes that “the United States has been involved in the affairs of the Palestinian territories since the Six-Day War in 1967” and current U.S. involvement has been referred to as “Iran-Contra 2.0” with the Bush administration striking backroom deals with Fatah and making covert weapons deals with the party (194).

8. Fanon calls for this violence and discusses it as an equalizing force between colonizer and colonized — a point I will return to shortly.

9. The images of Nablus stand in stark contrast to the images of Jerusalem: the capital has large office buildings, wide streets, nice cars, and a beach replete with palm trees.

10. Though Benjamin’s essay is most commonly translated as “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” I am using a new translation, which translates the title differently. 

11. For example, The Kingdom opens with a violent and graphic assault on an U.S. housing compound in Saudi Arabia replete with shoot-outs and suicide bombers. The rest of the film then sets about tracking down and killing — in the nick of time — the “terrorists” responsible for the attack. The film taps into our fears and emotions and offers viewers — unlike Munich — a pre-digested moral, which celebrates a triumphant U.S. revenge in a world of Manichean dualities: Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) and his breaking-the rules type of team take out the villain and return home triumphant heroes.

12. Zizek writes that corrupted by Hollywood,

“the landscape and the shots of the collapsing towers could not be but reminiscent of the most breathtaking scenes in big catastrophe productions” (15).

13. Linda Williams suggests in Melodrama Revised that melodrama combines action and pathos, “that action-centered melodrama is never without pathos, and pathos-centered melodrama is never without at least some action” (58). The trailer for Paradise Now suggests this combination of action and pathos, despite the morally ambiguous nature of the film itself.

14. At the end of Munich Avner meets his wife and child in New York but is constantly haunted by his past actions: he blocks doors with chairs, he cannot sleep, and he even bursts into the Israeli embassy in a fit of rage and fear. Unsure of the actions he took in eliminating Black September, Avner leaves Mossad. As he develops a conscience, so too does the audience. As John Hill suggests in reference to the political thriller, the message of the film is “pre-digested” (115) as we sympathize with our hero, villain, and victim.

15. A.O. Scott suggests that the violence in Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ seemed shocking at the time, but it “now seems fairly typical of mainstream popular cinema saturated with images of bodily torment” (22). As such, the distinct absence of any onscreen violence is almost shocking in Paradise Now in a mediascape where religious iconography and martyrdom are so clearly intertwined with notions of melodrama and violence.

16. USA Today reporting on the petition to remove Paradise Now’s Oscar nomination states that

“Yossi Zur, an Israeli who lost his 17-year-old son in a suicide bombing three years ago, has mounted a campaign to revoke the Oscar nomination. Zur claims to have collected 33,000 signatures on a petition.”

17. In effect, Devji suggests, the jihad is then much more a product of global mass media, which disseminates the images of the Muslim terrorist, then it is a product of any traditional Muslim practices (87). As such, we might consider suicide bombing since the 1990s as inextricably intertwined with the forces of the global economy and mass media, rather than tied to any particular religious affiliation.

18. It is relevant here to note the Danish cartoon scandal that began in late 2005 but really gained international notoriety in January 2006. Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten printed a series of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, which aroused rage across the international Muslim community—it even spawned death threats for the cartoonists whose work was printed and incited riots. One of the more problematic caricatures featured the face of Muhammad with a bomb in his turban. Jyllands Posten’s editor-in-chief Carsten Juste replied:

"We live in a democracy. Satire is accepted in this country, and you can make caricatures. Religion shouldn't set any barriers on that sort of expression" (BBC).

Though the newspaper eventually issued an apology, it insisted that it had only been exercising its right to freedom of speech, while Muslims both in Denmark and across the world felt that the cartoons were aimed at expressing anti-Muslim hatred. At a meeting, key Muslim leaders expressed deep concern over the cartoons decrying the “use of freedom of expression as a pretext for defaming religions” (BBC). This kind of tension defines the media landscape of Western/Middle Eastern and Muslim relations. In this case, the media became responsible for inciting violence and outrage at images, many of which connoted to the Muslim community a tie between Islam and violence.

19. In Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson suggests that print-capitalism “laid the bases for a national consciousness” (44) and set the stage for the modern nation. For Anderson these communities were linked and fixed within a certain space — a concept that the stretch of global communication has complicated substantially. Furthermore, (and importantly) for Anderson the modern nation is inherently a European form.

20. I am drawing here from Roland Barthes’ claim that myth “transforms history into nature” (129). Thus, to reveal that myth is a construction rather than a truth, it must be made to appear strange. To that end, this scene showing repeated takes with the video camera de-naturalizes the “authentic image” of the Muslim terrorist and reveals it as myth rather than reality. [return to page 2]

21. In an interview Abu Assad comments on the final meal:

“From their own point of view… crucifixion is also about redemption, and taking the guilt of others. Said wants to take the guilt of his father, who was a collaborator, so it's very dramatic. Also, Da Vinci's painting is lit from above, from God. Mine is lit from a gas lamp” (Christianity Today).

Furthermore, similar to Da Vinci’s work the two men are still the ones who are lit while the rest of the table sits in shadow.

22. Chuck Kleinhans suggests that in the torture scenes in Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers (partial drowning of the FLN rebels by the French forces) that the rebels are lit, shot, and positioned so as to resemble a the chiaroscuro of a Caravaggio painting “Descent from the Cross.” The replication of Renaissance painting in Paradise Now and the equation of resistant forces with Christ also seems a nod to Pontecorvo and to a larger history or tradition of resistance and martyrdom.

23. It also seems interesting to consider representation and worship of Christ — to whom the men are compared to through the reproduction of the Last Supper. Christ’s images have long been disseminated across the world, and paintings of Christ hang in many of the most famous museums of the West. This line of thinking also brings up religious issues around representation. That is, Christianity does not prohibit the representation of Christ or God, whereas Islam typically prohibits the representation of divine figures. That said, this issue, too, arose with the problems surrounding the Danish cartoon controversy mentioned earlier.

24. The explosive devices the men wear have a design imported from the Tamil Tigers and as such connote a relation to Marxism but also solidarity between oppressed non-religious groups across the world.

25. Also, the way the organization works on a larger level resembles a similar production process. There is a leader, a handler, a driver, anonymous members who perform the washing and dressing, etc. Together all these different parts work to produce Said and Khaled as suicide bombers.

26. The way I read the prayer sequence which comes near the end of the montage sequence is informed by both the initial repetition of takes to make the video and camera failure and also by the technologically stylistic montage sequence. To this end, it seems the prayer sequence calls attention to the repetition of gestures that have significant religious and cultural meaning. However, when rehearsed and filmed, these gestures begin to lose their firm grounding in tradition.

27. It seems significant here to note that earlier in the film Said, while getting a picture of himself developed, questions the cost of the martyr and collaborator videos shown in the store. The clerk replies that the tapes are both for rent or for sale, and tries to offer Said and Suha a good deal on the tapes. The clerk specifies that the collaborator tapes are particularly valuable. This point is particularly relevant to Said, whose father was killed as a collaborator. His own decision to become a suicide bomber seems in part linked to his father’s betrayal. Abu Assad uses this incident to highlight the commodification process and capitalistic marketplace that surrounds the production and reproduction of these martyr and collaborator tapes and posters, but also to trace out personal or unique experiences that both support and propel this market and work against the commodification of men and martyrs.

28. Unlike the trailers the posters for the film convey a different sense. The images on the posters and DVD-covers for the film both reify and complicate the reduction of the two characters to their use-value as nameless martyrs. All the images are “post-transformation” images and all of them show virtually no identifying characteristics. Instead, the posters and DVD-covers feature the image of a faceless martyr with a bomb strapped to his chest or merely show the backs of the two friends in suits after the transformative martyr-making process. Here again the marketing is set up in opposition to the film’s own narrative and visual style. The poster and DVD cover belie that this is a film about humanization. They erase the individuality of the main characters by marketing them as a commodity, an identity-less bomb. At the same time, the clean-cut image of Said and Khaled complicates the notion of the “universal Muslim.” Said’s face turns to the left revealing his profile and I suggest that trace still can be read as a manifestation of the tension between the universal and the individual represented in the film

29. Hamid Dabashi’s gloss of Heidegger seems particularly apt and concise.Heidegger provides a further helpful example in “The Question Concerning Technology” that also demonstrates this principle:

“The coal that has been hauled out in some mining district has not been supplied in order that it may simply be present somewhere or other. It has been stockpiled; that is, it is on call, ready to deliver the sun’s warmth that is stored in it. The sun’s warmth is challenged forth for heat, which in turn is ordered to deliver steam whose pressure turns the wheels that keep a factory running” (15). 

What Heidegger calls attention to here is the causal relationship between coal, sun, power, and production. The coal that is stockpiled does not exist there for its own purposes or uses but is put to use in a way that aims to extract from it the most energy and production value possible. Furthermore, technology conceals this relation. This image of stacked coal also calls up images of a standing army, waiting to be called into action, and always kept ready for use in battle—as in the case of the terror cells in Paradise Now. Similarly, Marx also wrote extensively on the reserve army of labor in capitalism: the unskilled, last hired, and first fired, who are useful for times of economic expansion and depression. Furthermore, it is important here to note Marx’s extensive work on the commodity and his notion of use value. For Marx, in capitalism the commodity’s use value obscures, and is separate from, its social or personal value. When mapped onto Paradise Now this notion further helps us understand the necessary distancing or erasure of the men’s social, personal, or individual value as sons, friends, lovers, etc. in order for them to become human bombs. Only once this distancing or erasure occurs, can the men become commodities to be fetishized (and used) as martyrs.

30. It seems interesting to note here, too, that when all does not go according to plan, what happens is viewed as a malfunction, Said is thought to have gone rogue. The two men were expected to work in perfect harmony, relying on cell phones and their own efficiency. Furthermore, their work as machines for the resistance is complicated by Said’s first visit to Israel. At that point, Said waits at a bus stop to board a bus with Israelis. We see multiple close-up shots and then a shot of a child on the bus. Said lets the bus pass him by. When he finally does get on a bus, it is a bus full of army officers or recruits rather than civilians. This initial mishap, including Said’s crossing the border, return to Nablus, and brief disappearance in which he visits his father’s grave, seems important as it points towards the personal reasons for Said’s decision to become a suicide bomber and suggests the importance of such individual narratives as Said’s.

31. Also, by “larger machine” we can consider this resistance as part of that larger unthinking machine mentioned earlier that is locked in the colonial/anti-colonial struggle.

32. To re-visit Devji briefly seems useful here: he argues that

“the jihad is experienced visually, as a landscape initially made available by the way of international media and then redacted in conversation, posters, literature, art-work and the like” (93).

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