In 1940 Charlie Chaplin released his film The Great Dictator, a satire about Hitler (a man with whom he shared a particular style of moustache). Chaplin’s tramp in the film is a Jewish barber who has lost his memory in the First World War and after years in hospital is released into a militarised Germany under a dictatorship he does not recognise. He looks identical to the country’s dictator, Adenoid Hynkel (also played by Chaplin), and the plot tumbles into a burlesque of mistaken identities. Hynkel is sent to a concentration camp and the barber, now removed from the ghetto and resident at the autocrat’s palace, makes a rabid and hysterical speech in favour of peace whilst lambasting the evils of racism. Chaplin watched Hitler speaking in Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will many times in order to mimic the rhetoric.
Dictators are famously oversensitive about satire. The Nazis hated Chaplin anyway, Goebbels called him ‘repulsive’ and described the tramp as a ‘little jewish tumbling figure’. The Nazi government launched a full scale diplomatic campaign to stop the film at the last minute. It is said that Hitler watched the film twice, according to Albert Speer. The film was banned in Germany and throughout occupied Europe. Before the film’s premiere in the States Chaplin received letters from people threatening to let off bombs and shoot bullets at the screens of any American cinemas that showed it. Chaplin and his studio stood firm and the film was a huge popular hit.
Two American film makers, Seth Rogan and James Franco, have recently finished a light hearted lampooning comedy called The Interview. They play bumbling journalists travelling to North Korea who are invited by the CIA to take the opportunity to assassinate Kim Jong-un, a task they accomplish to the sounds of a Katy Perry track. It was due for release in the States on Christmas Day. North Korean state-run media, showing a slight lack of perspective, called the film ‘an act of war’. The North Korean ambassador to the UN, Ja Song-nam, called the film “the most undisguised sponsoring of terrorism as well as an act of war”. It has also run into trouble with some peace protestors. The director of the Centre for North Korea-US Peace, Kim Myong-chol, not revealing impeccable logic, told the Daily Telegraph that President Obama should now be careful in case he was killed by the US military. A group calling itself Guardians of Peace published an online message a few days ago warning American cinemagoers to stay away from screenings of the film or there would be fatal reprisals. The five biggest cinema chains in the US then dropped it and Sony Pictures, failing to produce the mettle that Chaplin managed, today cancelled the release of the film and stated they will not allow it to be seen on television or on DVD either. The Department for Homeland Security has said there is “no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie goers.” If dictators are to be laughed off, surely ludicrous threats can be as well?
Kim Jong-un is known to smoke Havana cigars, perhaps as a form of anti-US protest. In response Havana cigars are to be legal once again in America as President Obama has announced he is to lift the trade embargo with Cuba. In the circumstances it seems an appropriately absurd act of retaliation on his part.
Today is Joseph Stalin’s birthday.
Kim Jong-un should invite Rogan and Franco to North Korea for an interview. THAT would be funny.
18th December 2014