Ulrich Muhe Dies, Disney Bans Smoking
by Scott Holleran
Ulrich Muhe in The Lives of Others
July 27, 2007

Burbank, California—My first reaction upon hearing the news that 54-year-old actor Ulrich Muhe, who played the precise communist tool in The Lives of Others, had died of stomach cancer was shock, followed by a flush of sadness. Having recently watched the movie on DVD, scheduled for an Aug. 21 release, it is easy to see that the late actor is outstanding in the role. His appearances on the disc's features, already chilling given his personal survival of communist control, will undoubtedly receive increased scrutiny in the wake of his death.

Muhe deserves full attention—thank goodness, he was widely praised following the picture's release—and his subtle performance is better on repeat viewings. In one DVD extra, the East German-raised Muhe, whose own wife turned out to be an agent for the red state, comments on rejecting script after script about the Soviet-run regime. He did so on the grounds that none captured the reality of life under communist rule. According to Muhe, The Lives of Others, created by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, did.

That searing truth—led by his unforgettable acting—is on prominent display in The Lives of Others, a riveting movie that everyone in America, particularly those who do not know about life under communism, should see. The bonus bit in which he appears is subtitled, but look at Ulrich Muhe's eyes when he speaks of the East German state—they suggest some kind of remarkable endurance of years of unspoken suffering. Now that he's gone, it's almost as though this amazing movie, with its theme about man's struggle to break free from the state, is made entirely for him.

Studio Notes

The power of the U.S. government over its citizens continues to spread. This week, the Walt Disney Company, after resisting congressional pressure against airing its TV movie, The Path to 9/11, buckled to the idea of government intervention in movies over the issue of depicting cigarette smoking. Disney President Robert Iger told the New York Times that the studio would ban smoking in so-called family pictures and avoid depicting smoking in movies and on television.

Disney's action, reported in a July 25 letter to Congress and fueled by an implied government threat, interferes with the creative process.

A scene from 101 Dalmations
The move will encourage new, harsher studio dictates against every conceivable vice (as defined by government types) until there's no trace of drinking, smoking and sex in pictures, leaving us with a slate of mealy-mouthed message movies like Evan Almighty, The Ant Bully and Bridge to Terabithia.

Instituting such narrow writer's guidelines is a debatable strategy for attracting the best minds to create a stable of high-quality, profitable movies with lasting appeal, such as 101 Dalmatians and Pinocchio, both of which featured smoking. As one of Hollywood's top writers, a huge Disney fan, objected in an e-mail to me about the ban: "how I hate the nanny state!"

Screen Notes

Corporate crackdowns driven by state-sponsored lifestyle controls are not the only offense in Hollywood this week. Though it is totally beneath contempt and not worth reviewing, the vile Adam Sandler vehicle I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, one cruel anti-homosexual joke after another until a politically correct ending takes hold, merits mention in a certain context.

While gays—and equally maligned heterosexuals, especially straight men—are urged to avoid this assault on good taste, designed to induce shame, it's also enlightening to know that the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (G.L.A.A.D.), the group that gives annual awards for favorable gay content—a notion as stupid as banning smoking from movies—gave Chuck and Larry its seal of approval.


• Review - The Lives of Others
• 3/9/07 - Scott Holleran: Ulrich Muhe in 'The Lives of Others'
• 9/8/06 - Commentary: The Government Vs. Disney

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