Thursday, November 18, 2010

Somebody once wrote: war is hell

(a response to Speedy McFlash)

War films in general have appealed to me for quite a while. I find myself enjoying several historical based films but this subgenre in particular is one I keep finding myself returning to.

WWII films I've found to be quite fascinating. Thin Red Line & Saving Private Ryan are definately among my favorites-- for different reasons of course. Going even further than that though is the 'men on a mission' or POW subgenre (Great Escape, Dirty Dozen, etc.) With this, you see the director smuggle in adventure genre elements into the war genre which makes for exciting fodder.
But if I had to pick one war in particular, the Vietnam War would be the one that always interested me. Just in terms of geography, military tactics and era. The whole 60's culture in general is something that peaked my interest. The Vietnam War is known as being the first true war to be televised across the nation. The efforts to address how the Vietnam War is represented in American cinema are important to understanding how the conflict affected the culture. The power of the medium has a tendency to transform people’s views on subjects like the Vietnam War. This calls back the media and how much leverage it had on public perception and opinion of the war from 1963 to the end of the conflict in the early 70’s. Seeing photos and seeing news reports of the horrors that went on during the war were enough incentive to give people a reason to protest against the war. It also is important to understand how much films were perpetuated by the media at the time. Taking all of this into consideration, it helps give the films about Vietnam a potency of legitamacy.

There's four films that are usually brought up in a discussion of films about that event: The Deer Hunter, Full Metal Jacket, Platoon & Apocalypse Now. While I love all 4, each delivers on a different level in regards to the event depicted. Deer Hunter dealing with the marine coming home, Jacket as a means of training soldiers and turning them into killing machines & Apocalypse as basically an excursion into the madness of the war. But with Platoon, it's different. Here you have a director with first hand experience. That in itself gives Platoon a level of realism and legitimacy that it was ultimately going for in the first place. One need not look any further than the scene in the village. It gives a sense of innocence being wiped away. Moreso than any other 'Nam film. Because, that was a major focal point of it. The film is drawn from Oliver Stone’s experiences in Vietnam & written by Stone to counter the vision of the Vietnam War that was portrayed in The Green Berets. While two tribes (Elias' platoon & Barnes' platoon) are clearly identified, the lead protagonist, Chris Taylor, ends up without a stable sense of identity. This type of instability would carry over into Stone’s later film Born On the Fourth of July. Despite the legitimacy heaped upon Platoon, the film still has its flaws. Its realism is compromised by following many conventions of the war film genre. There are also recognizable character types scattered throughout. We see the inexperienced youth, the father figure and the enemy who is given no character. But I'm willing to let that slide, since it has such strong points in other areas anyway.

As far as Iraq war films go, the geographical setting & general 'feel' hasn't really done much for me. The one exception to that being Hurt Locker. Something I credit to the director and the plot involving bomb disposal technicians. Here, Bigelow creates her best film with a heightened state of tension.

It's definately a genre that has its memorable hits but with a good number of misses as well. But hey, Charlie ain't always safe in the foxhole ya know?

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