Friday, January 9, 2009

War Films Just Aren't the Same

I've been thinking about the Jews a lot lately, if folks hadn't noticed.

Not that much more than usual, really. It's just that unlike during the 2006 Mideast war, I don't recall the protests and recriminations against Israel being as, well, exterminationist. Protesters now yell "go back to the oven" at pro-Israel activists, and "Death to the Juice" banners are de rigeur on the leftists barricades. Perhaps we've reached some turning point in international postmodernism. European governments feel the heat from the pro-Palestinian street. The continent's diplomacy is ineffective in the face of a pro-Muslim electoral backlash. Politically correct norms push for "tolerance" while newer Islamist communities reject assimilitation in favor of jihad. Perhaps the end of the Bush administration has empowered the forces of global darkness. Barack Obama inspires hope that the White House won't take sides with Jerusalem.

I'm not sure, but I'm pondering all of this.

I've also been in the mood for movies lately, and I was hoping to see "Defiance" today, but's it's showing in limited release and I would've needed to drive to Los Angeles to see it. I decided to see "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas" instead (watch
the trailer here below).

This morning's Los Angeles Times featured an interesting piece on the current wave of postmodern WWII filmography. Gone is the moral surety of "Greatest Generation" films like Saving Private Ryan" (my favorite flick), not to mention the real WWII-era films, starting back even before the war began. In the new genre of "morally ambiguous" war movies, American goodness takes a backseat to the "complextity" of the wartime experience. I find this as just another facet of the increasing postmodern sensibility that avoids grand triumphalism.

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I was already thinking about what the movies meant for me as a kid on Saturday afternoons when I got to this passage:

Hollywood started making World War II movies before America even entered the war. Director John Ford enlisted his "Stagecoach" star John Wayne for the cargo-ship drama "The Long Voyage Home," and then Ford himself enlisted in the U.S. Navy, making wartime documentaries. Bob Hope got "Caught in the Draft" and "Wizard of Oz" producer Meryn LeRoy remade "Waterloo Bridge." And once America entered the war, Hollywood ramped up production, making dozens of dramas, action movies and flag-waving patriotic pieces that encompassed the events occurring in both the Pacific and European battlegrounds. Even Bugs Bunny enlisted for the cause.

"If you were growing up then, you couldn't avoid those movies," Clint Eastwood said in an interview in 2006 while promoting his own companion World War II films, "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Letters From Iwo Jima." Early in his career, Eastwood starred in two Good War movies of his own, "Kelly's Heroes" and "Where Eagles Dare," the latter an action flick that director Robert Zemeckis remembers as "the one where Clint Eastwood kills more guys than anybody else in movie history."

"That's the way it was with war movies then," Eastwood says. "In some respects, they were an extension of the games boys would play in their backyards when they were kids."
That's how I used to play (green plastic soldiers in the dirt, Germans always the "enemy"). I love Clint Eastwood, too; but I didn't like either "Flags of our Fathers" or "Letters from Iwo Jima," especially the latter, where the film was way too quick to humanize the Japanese and to paint the Americans as war criminals.

Anyway, perhaps there's a cyclical nature to war-filmaking. As for the Holocaust movies, the Times piece says they've reached something of a dead end, although "Defiance" looks to be in the heroic mold of the old-time cinematic favorites.

Oh, and "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas"? Maybe I shouldn't have read
Manohla Dargis' review in advance, where she suggests we see "the Holocaust trivialized, glossed over, kitsched up, commercially exploited and hijacked for a tragedy about a Nazi family."


Van Zan said...

Where Eagles Dare.
Great adventure film based on a novel by one of my favorite authors. But it has an advanced design helicopter in it.
Eastwood shoots a woman in the back as she's running away. Pure class.

Kelly's Heroes
Great comedy. Has hippies in it.

Japanese were and are human. I thought you knew. "Oh how dare we have real Japanese actors pretending to be human".

And I guess you don't like Das Boot or Stalingrad..

"Come and see" directed by Elim Klimov. Definitely worth a look.

AmPowerBlog said...

Van Zan: Clint's flicks on WWII aren't so hot, and they're really bad on the equivalence.

Van Zan said...


Letters from Iwo Jima is intended to be from the Japanese viewpoint and is based on letters written by a Japanese soldier, collected as Gyokusai soshikikan no etegami.

If it is not to your taste to see any historical event through the mindset of anything other than a wholly American view - AND one that is aligned to your political philosophy - then perhaps you should have avoided it.

I just want something that tells it how it was.
If I could contrast two war movies: Tora Tora Tora versus Pearl Harbor.
One is brilliantly authentic and shows both sides quite objectively... and the other is a lowbrow romance that is riddled with more holes in authenticity than there were rivets in the Arizona.

Is it not that "eqivalence", as you term it, is actually "uncomfortable objectivity and recognition that the other side were not all inhuman robots whose death is as empty of meaning as a stunt on the A-team".

AmPowerBlog said...

Van Zan: Tora Tora Tora is one of my favorite war films, and you don't need to lecture me about the movies. I don't like war films from the Japanese perspective, or at least Eastwood's. Injustice accompanies war, but moral relativism is the rage when the U.S. is the subject. I love Das Boot and Downfall, and many other outstanding films. In fact, you're attacking me for taking issue with shoddy equivalence in film, rather that the equivalence itself.

Van Zan said...


Not attacking you nor lecturing you (about this). Certainly not about movies, about which I claim no authority.

Just a little debate there.

You don't like films from the Japanese perspective?
Well... I think that's what I was observing.

Half of Tora Tora Tora was from that perspective, though...
Glad you agree that was a great film.

AmPowerBlog said...

Okay, Van Zan...

The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

I think Van Zan actually makes a fair point.

Not everything has to be a judgment through the prism of "moral equivalence".

"Where Eagles Dare," the latter an action flick that director Robert Zemeckis remembers as "the one where Clint Eastwood kills more guys than anybody else in movie history.

89 between Eastwood, Burton, and Ure.

Norm said...

"Full Metal Jacket" riveting from the first moment to the last, directed by the guy from the Bronx, is my favorite

Anonymous said...

Donald: I believe, truly, that there is room for war films that are both triumphant and morally ambiguous. You're sounding a bit grandpa-ish here. By the way, what's wrong with showing something from another perspective? Isn't that one of the goals of art?

I am planning on taking my son to see Defiance, possibly this weekend. I will let you know how it is.

But Apocalypse Now was pretty morally ambiguous at times. That was about 26 years ago or so. This is not a new development.

Saving Private Ryan may be the best war movie ever made. Period. No movie has had an effect on my like that one, because it was so real and exposed war as truly a hellish experience, more so than any movie before it. I guess it's too bad it was made by one of Hollywood's most famous liberals?

AmPowerBlog said...

Wordsmith: My stomach turned a bit when watching "Letters." I have a problem with that particular flick.

AmPowerBlog said...

I love "Full Metal Jacket," Norm.

AmPowerBlog said...

"Saving Private Ryan may be the best war movie ever made. Period. No movie has had an effect on my like that one, because it was so real and exposed war as truly a hellish experience, more so than any movie before it."

We can agree on something, Tim.

Anonymous said...

I only saw Full Metal Jacket for the first time in the last year. May be one of Kubrick's best films. Amazing.

And all shot in London (the war scenes) and the UK!

JD said...

"Letters From Iwo Jima" was an inspiring film.

Another recommended war movie is "Sophie Scholl: The Final Days".

"Das Boot" is intense.

cracker said...

WW2 was a war legally declared by Congress

There was National Mobilization towards wonder most films about WW2 are Victory oriented

It was a war of and by the people in defense from a clear and tangible enemy that drew first blood at Pearl Harbor (Pacific) and in alliance with Britain where also the Nazi's attacked first.

None of these "Presidential" wars of "Conflict" or "Policing" and "Vigilanti like pre-emptive strikes"

none of the wars since WW2 have been as legit to all Americans.

Makes sense that movies would reflect these points.

Anonymous said...

Cracker, re: WW2 was a war legally declared by Congress...

... are you referring to THIS?

Senate Roll Call Vote on Iraq

Seems to me the Senate most certainly DID vote for the war in Iraq. An approval to use force in Iraq IS a declaration of war. The Dems have been arguing the semantics of this for years, but an agreement to "use force" against another nation isn't anything else BUT a declaration of war.

cracker said...

Mama pajamas

An agreement to war by The senate is completely different than a declaration of war by congress.

the difference:

when the senate has a roll call vote with a majority who say "I"
It is an allowance then by the Legislative branch for the executive branch to indulge in military other words "all politics, no people"

When congress declares war, it is a national mobilization.... "which they did not, Congress is the voice of the people, this attempt at Iraq was riddled with holes.....Congress,,,,ahem the people would never had allowed it.

The war in Iraq is illegal, thats why the admin circumvented Congress and went straight to the
senate for permission. Its no longer a legal issue.....its a poitical agreement amongst interested parties

The Senate and Congress are entirley different....Hon

This is reality

The senate was bum-rushed, they were weak, frightened and in the midst of an election cycle. The zeitgeist was pristine.

I thought being a Republican meant you had an over-all education of how our system worked? as far as this neo-con perception....its still all cowboys and indians... as far as a rational citizen can see?

Abandon the GOP and develop a third party......The neo-con party....lets be proud and get our views out there.....I hate whining in the wings....dont you?