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A movie moment for Mark Zuckerberg

When it came time for me to do my movie news dump late Friday night, I somehow managed to forget the news item from the middle of the week that Facebook founder and reluctant movie character Mark Zuckerberg had been named Time Magazine‘s Person of the Year. It’s an oversight I can’t bring myself to ignore completely.

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Looking at past selectees, 26 year-old billionaire Zuckerberg is hardly the only one to have a movie made about his exploits. In terms of sheer footage, he’s got nothing on such occasional film lead figures and frequent supporting players as Nelson Mandela, John Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, Mohandas Gandhi and, most frequent of all, Adolf Hitler.

What is unique about Zuckerberg is that “The Social Network” came out the same year as his selection and, in a peculiar way, probably helped him to get it. Reading the Time article about Zuckerberg by geek journalist and fantasy novelist Lev Grossman, I can only marvel at some very shrewd PR work by someone. The article goes out of its way to present a highly sympathetic alternative from the “angry-robot” of the movie to a figure more akin to the stiff but kindly Tin Woodman. If writer Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher portrayed Zuckerberg as a bit like the treacherous Ash from “Alien,” Grossman turns him into the quirky but lovable Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” The words “Eduardo Saverin” and the legal troubles portrayed in the film are never mentioned in the online version of the article that I read.

I strongly suspect Zuckerberg’s knowledge of movie history doesn’t extend much further back than “Alien.” However, even with all the image rebuffing a billionaire’s money and power affords him, I’m sure he’d prefer the old days of movie biopics where, if powerful celebrities were portrayed at all, they were portrayed positively. Not only were possibly imaginary warts not added, as they might have been by Sorkin and Fincher, very real ones were actively removed.

I’ve never seen it, but check out the trailer below for Billy Wilder’s 1957 biopic about perhaps the most ironically similar Time Person of the Year (back when it was “Man of the Year”) to Zuckerberg, aviation pioneer Charles A. Lindbergh. As the L.A. Times reminds us, Lindbergh was also the first person chosen and the only one younger than the Facebook fonder. What Zuckerberg feels he is doing to bring people together virtually, Lindbergh was instrumental in doing physically by demonstrating that a nonstop flight from New York to Paris was possible. At this point in history at least, in some ways Lindbergh’s achievement still dwarfs Zuckerberg’s. That may change fairly soon, but there’s no doubt what Lindbergh did commanded a huge personal risk and, eventually, a personal price with the most infamous kidnapping and murder case in American history.

Ironically, while it might said that the Jewish American Sorkin went hammer and tong against the Jewish Zuckerberg, Billy Wilder by all accounts went easy on the famous flyer when, under the circumstances, it would be entirely understandable for Wilder to despise Lindbergh. Working thirty years after the famous flight of “Lucky Lindy,” Wilder was able to completely ignore Lindbergh’s highly controversial early opposition to World War II and qualified support for Hitler as a bulwark against the Soviet Union, his antisemitism, white supremacist beliefs (though hardly unusual at the time), and links to the more openly Jew-hating Henry Ford. Wilder you see, was not just a liberal Jew who advocated for U.S. involvement in the war, but an actual escapee from Hitler’s Europe whose immediate family perished at Auschwitz.

If there was any revenge by Wilder at all, star James Stewart was nearly 50 when the movie was released, double the age Lindbergh was when he came to fame. Jessie Eisenberg might be, unusually for the movies, smaller and less physically fit looking than the real-life Zuckerberg, but at least he’s still only 27.

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Hitler is right!

Yes, this avid and genetically predisposed consumer of matzoh balls and knishes knows a strong argument when he hears it. And, while I usually like to consider the source, as the saying goes, even a racist genocidal maniac is right two times a century, or something like that.

Anyhow, in case you haven’t heard about it yet, Constantin Films, the company that released the excellent historical drama, “Downfall,”  has been going after those often extremely funny videos drawn from that film in which the great German actor Bruno Ganz as Hitler reacts — as only a fascist with serious, serious anger issues really can — to all kinds of pop cultural events.  PopEater summarizes the situation quite nicely.

Of course, we’ve already seen the inevitable meta-rants in which Hitler complains about all those videos of him saying stuff he surely would never say and caring about things he would never care about. Yesterday, the usually very cool Karina Longworth was apparently so tired of this ‘net meme that she all but sided with that particular “Downfall” Hitler and the cutting-nose-to-spite-face tactics of Constantin.

Anyhow, today she returned to form and saw the sweet reason of an argument posed by, of course, Adolph Hitler, who really describes the situation far better than I can.  Let’s see how long it stays up. (I’m hoping they’ll keep the audio up at least.)

I’m sorry, but at least 50% of these make me laugh quite a bit. Guess I’m a sucker for a Hitler joke.

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In which “Basterd” week gets going (updated)

It wouldn’t be the week of a new Quentin Tarantino movie without a little controversy. Now esteemed critic, film historian, and occasional hair-up-his-keister provocateur (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) Jonathan Rosenbaum helpfully supplies it in discussing a Newsweek piece, comparing good ol’ QT to both Holocaust deniers and Sarah Palin in one short blog post. (H/t David Hudson.)

Unlike Rosenbaum, I haven’t seen the movie yet so I’ll withhold comment. However, my bias is obviously pretty pro-Tarantino and pro- not seeing it as some kind of dangerous revisionism. What’s one boldly ahistoric movie against thousands made before it? It’s not like Tarantino’s deleting them from Netflix. I also fail to see how Rosenbaum can even begin to speak for the reaction to the film of real-life Holocaust victims. It’s putting an awful lot of power on the movie to imagine it’s causing any real distress to them without some evidence.

I’m a pretty proud secular Jew myself, so I take the Holocaust seriously. At the same time, I take the sort of ownership some Jewish thinkers take over the history of what happened at the time, and how filmmakers deal with it, with a huge lack of seriousness. Some years back, Roberto Benigni’s Holocaust tearjerker, “Life is Beautiful,” started a different sort of controversy and I felt many took excessive offense. I was moved by the movie, almost despite myself, but I could certainly understand why a lot of people disliked it. However, the level of vituperation still puzzles me. I once listened to two well known Jewish critics verbally bludgeon a well-known Los Angeles rabbi for daring to speak well of the film on a local public radio station. What gave them to right to decide how the rabbi was allowed to react?

Many years before that, Mel Brooks took some heat for daring to make fun of Hitler in the original film of “The Producers.” Even the deadly serious, extremely well received, riveting and thought provoking historical drama “Downfall” worried some because it presenting the monstrous dictator as a human being. That was, I thought, deeply wrong. It’s crucial that we remember, always, that Hitler was as human as any of us lest we start to act as if we are beyond evil, a popular belief among the actually evil.

Of course, adding comedy to anything touching on the Holocaust is really asking for trouble from some quarters. I haven’t been able to dig up a review of “Downfall” by Rosenbaum online, but I wonder what Rosenbaum thinks of the “Downfall” subtitle Internet meme? Would he agree with the take offered below?

What does Hitler think of the Downfall meme? – watch more funny videos


UPDATE:
Roger Ebert’s e-mail interview with Tarantino deals with “Basterd” history and actual film history.

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