Voight ignites a blog storm in Hollywood

Jon Voight intended to turn heads with the “very strong points” in his Washington Times op-ed last week. But he probably didn’t expect so many of them to reside in Hollywood.

In a sign of the growing interest in politics this election year, bloggers who normally focus on the entertainment industry are expanding their presence in one of the Internet’s other spheres of influence.

Voight’s piece slammed Democratic candidate Barack Obama, praised GOP contender John McCain and even repudiated his own Vietnam War protests as the naive flailings of a deluded youth. It was a stunning bit of self-revelatory memoir from the now-conservative “Coming Home” star.

The political blogsosphere, of course, went ballistic. Then Jeffrey Wells, who runs the movie and pop culture site Hollywood-Elsewhere.com, took Voight to task for his right turn and wrote that, if he were a studio executive, he might think twice before hiring Voight for any future film work. “[Voight is] obviously entitled to say and write whatever he wants,” wrote Wells. “But it's only natural that industry-based Obama supporters will henceforth regard him askance. Honestly? If I were a producer and I had to make a casting decision about hiring Voight or some older actor who hadn't pissed me off with an idiotic Washington Times op-ed piece, I might very well say to myself, ‘Voight? Let him eat cake.'"

Voight seemed particularly taken aback by Wells’ blog postings, which many have interpreted as a call for blacklisting the actor. “It’s out of line to insinuate that we should blacklist people for speaking their minds,” Voight told Politico. “It’s a strange thing when people in this country can’t express their opinions without being attacked.” He added that Hollywood liberals frequently discuss topical issues, and “it’s an important time for people on the conservative side to speak out.”

But Voight also told Politico that his op-ed “speaks for itself” and he didn’t have much interest in getting on a soapbox or becoming a poster boy for right-wing Hollywood. “Listen,” he said, “I don’t want to make a big deal out of this. I made some very strong points, and you do expect that people are going to respond to it in a variety of ways. And that’s how it should be.”

Though Wells mostly covers films and highly esoteric cineaste topics such as proper screen size ratios, he veered into political postings early last year, and, after becoming taken with Obama, he has been devoting more space than ever before to dissecting MSNBC pundit chatter and New York Times op-ed pieces.

“You have to feel it on some level, and I was feeling as strong about [politics] as I was about some movies,” said Wells. “As I started feeling more comfortable with the subject, it became easier to punch out, I started having fun, and it got some real rises out of people.” He said he has gotten complaints from longtime readers who feel his blog is moving away from entertainment issues, but he doesn’t care.

“I have to explain to people that it isn’t just one realm anymore: Everything is bleeding into everything else,” he insisted. “There’s a political undercurrent to everything now. Even ‘Mamma Mia’ got made because Meryl Streep saw the play a month after 9/11 and loved the way it lifted the audience’s spirits — she wrote a letter to producers, and that got the ball rolling for the movie version.”

As far as his comments about Voight, Wells said his response about a “theoretical” blacklisting was not “offensive, per se” — despite the near “cyber-riot” by political bloggers such as Instapundit, Powerline and the National Review Online, as well as from fellow film writers and commenters who responded to his vilification of Voight with outrage.

The controversy continued this week, as Drudge Report contributor and news site owner Andrew Breitbart inked his own Washington Times opinion piece about the brouhaha. Breitbart is also getting into the “poliwood” game with plans to launch a new group blog called BigHollywood, as part of his Breitbart.com news service, to appeal to the opposite end of the spectrum from Wells’ musings.

“The site will offer a daily repository for those interested and involved in the perspective of a growing community of Hollywood conservatives, Republicans and libertarians,” Breitbart told me via instant message over the weekend, calling his upcoming project “a safe haven for those out of the lefty mainstream.”

The Web entrepreneur explains his site will include “essays, whimsical posts, links and embeddable videos,” as well as a who’s who of regular writers such as The Weekly Standard’s Joel Engel, Commentary’s next editor John Podhoretz, and novelist-screenwriter Andrew Klavan, the latter causing a bit of a hubbub last month with his Wall Street Journal op-ed that compared elements of the Batman movie “The Dark Knight” to the national security stance of George W. Bush.

To run his new effort, Breitbart tapped aspiring filmmaker and blogger John Nolte, who recently launched his own politically oriented movie fan site called DirtyHarrysPlace.com.

Nolte, who oversaw the Libertas website for L.A.’s conservative Liberty Film Festival before it ran into financial difficulties, fervently believes that liberal filmmakers — “Redacted” director Brian DePalma, “Lions for Lambs’” Robert Redford, among others — are trying to “undermine a war that we’re in the middle of” and would “surrender the country to Al Qaeda.”

Said Nolte: “Movies like ‘Rendition’ and ‘A Mighty Heart’ were bad because they were based on a lie — that America is somehow morally equivalent to the terrorists.”

Nolte, Klavan and many of their fellow conservatives delight in presenting the allegorical aspect of certain movies — in their view, not only is the Caped Crusader a strong surrogate for Bush, but sci-fi fantasies such as “300” and “I Am Legend” also push forward the GOP’s agenda, albeit in veiled terms that the filmmakers themselves don’t necessarily highlight.

“Even ‘Juno’ has a strong Christian theme,” insisted Nolte, with the hip comedy’s teenage pregnancy plot promoting adoption over abortion. There’s a growing audience for this perspective, too — Nolte claimed more than 400,000 page views a month for Dirty Harry’s Place. “Within the small Hollywood community, a lot of people are aware of this,” he said.

For now, Nolte is keeping tabs on Oliver Stone’s “W” biopic, the David Zucker conservative comedy “An American Carol” and the Coen Brothers’ CIA comedy “Burn After Reading,” among others. He fully expects this fall and winter to see a plethora of politically oriented polemics.

“We’re coming into the serious/silly awards season in which the Hollywood narcissists end up spending a billion dollars to make movies for their friends,” he said. “Last year, that resulted in all those awful anti-war films. Who knows what they’re going to come up with this year?”

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