FF56 - Salvador

Intro by John Roderick

You have to wonder if every once in a while James Woods catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror and says: ”Wait a minute! Am I the baddie?” His career of playing sleazy hateful weasels could be the product of him being such a good actor that he breathes life into all these reprehensible characters, despite being one of the nicest guys in show business. If you read old interviews with, him he seems like at one point he was a fairly self reflective guy. Maybe playing sleazy hateful weasels will over time affect your equilibrium, although that is the old ”violent video games play a role in the dramatic increase of mass shootings over the last ten years” argument, which the gaming community has assured us is impossible and also discriminatory to even think out loud, so there must be some other explanation for why James Woods climbed up on top of his Twitter refrigerator a while back and started throwing poop clods at all the orderlies come to help him down. Was it perhaps a prodigious and unquenchable cocaine habit that ate away at his soul until all that remained was a snot monster like from the Mucinex commercials except way more unlikable? Well, that speculation is just satirical commentary on my part and certainly does not meet the legal standard for libel, but nonetheless it is probably 100% true. Whatever the cause, it is fairly certain that James Woods won't be playing the lead in any Oliver Stone pictures in the foreseeable future.

Now, Ben Harrison, my co-host is a young person and one of his roles on the show is to offer the Millennial perspective, which is very informative and much appreciated and often takes the form of Ben chastising Clint Eastwood films from the 1960s in a voice dripping with incredulity for the crime of Eastwood being a squinty old crank 50 years later. My job on the show is to guide Ben (and Adam, when he is listening) to an understanding that you can judge those old performances on their own merits separate from your feelings about the personal lives of the artist. You don't hate Eastwood movies because of what Eastwood became, you hate them because you are a cantankerous snob yourself who spent his whole childhood enduring dumbasses on BMX bikes with giant Goody combs in their back pockets misquoting Dirty Harry and the Man With No Name while you were trying to read aloud from an article in Time magazine that tied amoral cop movies and Westerns to an increase in gun violence. So, here we have peak James Woods, either doing a brilliant job playing the world's most unlikable character, or just breezing through another role where he's been cast as himself.

The press is rarely the central focus of war films but here we're introduced to what is now a dying breed: The freelance war correspondent. Woods plays Richard Boyle a degenerate photographer who entices his friend Doctor Rock, played by Jim Belushi, to join him Fear and Loathing-like in El Salvador to cover the descent into civil war there. This is a familiar story in Central- and South America, then as now. Leftist revolutionaries and unionists inspired by Simón Bolívar and supported by activist priests rise up against authoritarian right wing military governments clandestinely financed and propped up by the United States. The Soviets and the Cubans financed the rebel groups, who fight as cells and operate from the jungle, and the U.S. special forces come and train the government troops in 40 novel methods of torture and the population then is subjected to decades of intractable war and rule by autocrats.

This is the legacy stuff! It was really the 1980s that poured gasoline on the blaze in two ways: By adding the additional stabilizing influence of the billion dollar international drug trade, and the 1980 election of one Ronald Wilson Reagan. Now, Richard Boyle and Doctor Rock move uneasily between the American diplomats in khakis and blazers who are all pretty thrilled that The Gipper is winning and the world of Boyle's local girlfriend Maria, struggling to survive as the country comes apart at the seams. Eventually Boyle abandons his delusions that he is an important journalist and just wants to escape the country with his girlfriend. He succeeds, only to watch her arrested by the U.S. border patrol in a routine check.

This film came out earlier in the same year as Platoon 1986, the film that made director Oliver Stone an international celebrity, and like much of Stone's early work it doesn't shy away from harsh images and clear-eyed appraisals. As a piece of art this film is a lot rougher around the edges than Platoon, but the subject matter is incredibly current. Between the time we recorded this episode and it's airing, a political crisis flared in Venezuela where the opposition leader Juan Guaidó with the support of the US and most of the repressive regimes of South America declared the most recent election invalid and attempted to oust the President Nicolas Maduro, who was hunkered down. Maduro, unsurprisingly‚ has the unflagging support of China Russia and Cuba. So do 12 Our Fathers, 10 Hail Marys and an act of contrition! Today on Friendly Fire: Salvador.

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