Review: ‘Lord’s Song in a Strange Land’

A potent compilation of damning feature and talking-head excerpts, Nicholas Dembowski's "Lord's Song in a Strange Land" is the "That's Entertainment!" of anti-Arab sentiments and imagery in Western popular media. Drawing on clips as far back as the silent era, astutely edited video pastiche eschews any narration or other commentary of its own, letting the biases of Hollywood, news outlets, etc. incriminate themselves. Package is probably too experimental in feel for commercial programming, but will be a strong spur for discussion in fest, educational and fringe broadcast settings.</B>

A potent compilation of damning feature and talking-head excerpts, Nicholas Dembowski’s “Lord’s Song in a Strange Land” is the “That’s Entertainment!” of anti-Arab sentiments and imagery in Western popular media. Drawing on clips as far back as the silent era, astutely edited video pastiche eschews any narration or other commentary of its own, letting the biases of Hollywood, news outlets, etc. incriminate themselves. Package is probably too experimental in feel for commercial programming, but will be a strong spur for discussion in fest, educational and fringe broadcast settings.

Using occasional intertitles like “Cult of Death” and “You Will Not See” to sort footage thematically, docu finds myriad examples over nearly a century’s course in which the Arab world has been painted as bloodthirsty, primitive, lascivious, fanatical, “death glorifying” and terrorist. These range from old Popeye and Bugs Bunny cartoons to “Exodus” and Chuck Norris flicks. Dembowski cleverly parallels this portraiture to that of Native Americans in classic westerns, as another form of revisionist history painting diverse peoples with one brush as barbarians who deserve frontier justice.

This view is encouraged by politicians and pundits from President Bush, Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice to Bill O’Reilly (“There is no understanding these people”) and even Gene Simmons of rock band Kiss. Their blanket statements are contrasted with scenes of starving Afghanis, and Israeli troops attacking Palestinians.

While “Lord’s Song” hardly excuses individual terrorist acts, its accumulated evidence powerfully suggest Western media has long demonized a catch-all “Arab world” via selective coverage and dehumanizing imagery that boosts “good vs. evil” rhetoric.

Clips from fictive features are not identified, though many are easily recognizable, e.g. “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” It’s a testament to the helmer’s skill that this onslaught of excerpts remains ironically humorous and colorful even as its indictment grows increasingly grim.

Lord's Song in a Strange Land

Production

A Bimber Prods. presentation. Produced, directed edited by Nicholas Dembowski.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W, DV), Dembowski. Reviewed at Cinemayaat Arab Film Festival, San Francisco, Sept. 27, 2003. Running time: 75 MIN.
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