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I love when I’m reading a film book and it makes me want to write a hundred different editorials because of all the ideas and reactions I get from it. Right now I’m reading Movie Wars by Jonathan Rosenbaum, and you’re likely to get a bunch of editorials inspired by what Rosenbaum talks about in that book. While the book’s not actually about war movies (the subtitle is How Hollywood and the Media Conspire to Limit What Films We Can See), he does touch on the subject of war movies briefly. Here’s some of what he says:
An ironic syndrom: every time a director decides to make a war film more graphic in its violence than its predecessors, the argument seems to be, “This’ll make someone think twice about wanting to go to war,” but the apparent result is to make young make spectators even more eager to prove their mettle by diving into such bloodbaths.
Interestingly, when Saving Private Ryan came out – a movie that the New Yorker called ‘the war movie to end all war movies’ – I was playing a lot of paintball. Leaving the theater in Poughkeepsie that afternoon after seeing the film for the first time, I really really wanted to hit the paintball field. I think Rosenbaum has a real point.
Another bit from the book:
I’ll never forget the experience I had escorting the late Samuel Fuller, the much-decorated World War II hero and maverick filmmaker, to a multiplex screening of Full Metal Jacket, along with fellow critic Bill Krohn, in Santa Barbara thirteen years ago. Though Fuller courteously stayed with us to the end, he declared afterward that as far as he was concerned, it was another goddamn recruiting film – that teenage boys who went to see Kubrick’s picture with their girlfriends would come out thinking that wartime combat was neat.
Every anti-war film gives us the right message, textually – war is hell, the enlisted man pays for the sins of the politician, there are no good wars – but the very nature of movies demands that the requisite combat scenes be exciting, that they get our hearts pumping and the adrenaline flowing. And that’s… fun. We can make our excuses for it, but watching the Normandy sequence in Saving Private Ryan is… fun.
My stand: there is no such thing as an anti-war war film. By their nature, war films present combat as exciting and the people who fall in it as honorable, if not noble. In fact, I might say the only anti-war war movie I can think of is barely a war movie. Stripes makes the argument that peace is better than ‘war’ by having the first two thirds of the movie be so very much better than the last third, when our heroes are actually serving and seeing ‘action.’
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