Roger Ebert has derided The Hangover, Part II for using perhaps the famous Vietnam War photograph ever — a capturing of a South Vietnamese military guy shooting a Vietcong guy in the head — for laughs. He called its appearance during the still-photo section at the end “a desecration.” But Ebert didn’t complain about Woody Allen‘s using the same photo for satiric purposes in Stardust Memories .
Allen’s character, a distracted film director, has a huge blowup of this photo in his living room in the film. It’s obviously a much smarter and more satiric use of the photo but it’s definitely meant to provoke and amuse.
If it’s okay for Allen to go there, you can’t fault Phillips for replicating the same photo, etc. Once a news artifact has been used in a comic-satric context, the toothpaste is out of the tube. Phillips imitated the shot to get an “oh, yeah” reaction from the audience, and Allen used the shot to say to the audience, “Look at how self-absorbed and angsty my character is.” Allen’s humor is on a much higher plane but he and Phillips basically did the same thing.
Couldn’t someone have claimed 40 years ago that Stanley Kubrick‘s using news footage of Nazi soldiers goose-stepping to the rhythm of Beethoven’s 9th in A Clockwork Orange was also a desecration?
So Ebert isn’t complaining about the photo per se being used for comic purposes — he’s complaining about the vulgarity and the coarseness of Phillips’ intent. Which most of us agree with. Phillips is shovelling mulch in this film. But I will defend to the death his right to use that photo for a laugh or whatever. Because he was only following Allen’s lead.