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Stardumb: John Cusack

John Cusack goes hard on Bush and soft on Hitler, before praising the cinema of Osama bin Laden. Also: Scorsese's play of the week, Spike Lee and cast . . .

11:00 PM, Feb 13, 2003 • By DAVID SKINNER
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MARTIN SCORSESE wins the Stardumb play-of-the-week award for this beaut: "It seems to me that any sensible person must see that violence does not change the world and, if it does, then only temporarily. . . There must be people who remember World War II and the Holocaust who can help us get out of this rut."

Note to the famed director of such bloody classics as "Goodfellas" (in which a Mafia organization maintains discipline through violence), "Taxi Driver" (in which a young girl is saved from a life of prostitution by violence), and "Raging Bull" (in which violence, sadly, gets the better of Jake La Motta): Violence changes everything.

Ask the September 11 widows. Ask the Holocaust survivors. Ask the French. Then again, don't ask the French, who rolled over for Hitler, apologized for Stalin, and have practically a zero batting average when it comes to opposing the world's most dangerous tyrants. In the last century millions of lives were annihilated by political violence while the French nosed around bookstores lost in some nihilist daydream over whether Life Itself still had Meaning.

Also this week, the cast of 25th Hour have been pissing on George W. Bush as they travel through France and Germany courting publicity for their film. Director Spike Lee hopes "more people will rise up" against the Bush administration. Lee says the French and German governments should be commended for opening a huge rift in NATO and helping Saddam nullify another inspections process. The film's lead actor, smart guy Edward Norton, said it was nice being in Europe just now: "I almost forgot what it was like to be proud of my government." Sexy showditz Rosario Dawson commented that in the United States these days "any dissenting opinion is considered unpatriotic."

Ah, yes. The American habit of playing dissenter abroad meets the inability of a stardummy to admit one's acting experience hardly matters to the question of how to deal with Saddam. Of course most of this is mere shadowboxing, opining about what it means to have an opinion. With rare exceptions like Susan Sarandon, who had the courage and stupidity to ask what Iraq ever did to us, most American celebrities posing for the anti-American press in Europe haven't the stomach to actually go where they are heading. That is, they won't say Saddam poses no threat to anyone. They won't say the inspections process works. They won't say the United Nations is the only just arbiter of warfare. They won't say the Iraqi people are safe and free under the current Baathist regime. Of course, being stuck in a logical corner doesn't stop them from taking a swing at the big issues of the day. The temptation to assert their omni-relevance is simply irresistible.

TODAY'S FEATURED STARDUMMY, John Cusack, has also been caught yearning for proof of his own significance. The sadness of it is that a talented and deeply likable actor has now made a baffling spectacle of himself.

Half the problem is that Cusack currently plays the title role in a Weimar fantasy flick called "Max" which is outstanding for its unwitting wrong-headedness. The film's unfortunate mix of anachronism, historical romanticizing, and out-and-out crappiness makes it the accidental soulmate of "Springtime for Hitler," the intentionally bad play-within-a-play in "The Producers." The other half of Cusack's problem is that, while doing publicity for his bizarre movie, he has been mouthing off about George Bush, calling the president a kitschy warmonger devoid of moral purpose. Thus has the endearing star of such movies as "Say Anything" and "The Grifters" placed himself in the curious position of trying to humanize Adolf Hitler even while trying to Hitlerize Bush.

Stardumb Hypothesis Number 2: A blind spot for infamy is a necessary precondition of stardumb. Intellectual pretensions, however, are merely helpful, though increasingly so when offered to compensate for the non-intellectual source of one's fame.