Thursday, October 09, 2008

Red Dawn (1984)


No one sent the Siren a PR notice, but we're having a Red Dawn moment. David Plotz of Slate has written a DVD review of John Milius's 1984 evergreen actioner that has Jonah Goldberg of the Corner and Dirty Harry really, really, really irritated. (The Siren recently had a very courteous exchange with Dirty Harry and she hopes he will understand that she's just trying to put Red Dawn in its cinematic place, not get him back to hating her all over again.)

The Siren once named this movie as a Howling Dog for the Ages, and by any aesthetic standard that's what it is, but no movie that retains such a hold on people after the span of almost a quarter-century should be completely dismissed. The Siren would love to defend Mr. Plotz's article out of her general tendency to resist mouse-wielding mobs of commenters, but he has, in fact, missed the point of Red Dawn. He does seem to realize it's no more about resisting Communism than it is about John Galliano's 2009 resort collection. Riddle me this. Why, before mid-movie, are we informed that Americans are fighting alongside China, and pointedly told that China's population is now reduced almost by half? This was 1984, Deng was in power, Wei Jingsheng was in prison and the laogai, to quote Scrooge, were still in their useful course (as indeed they still are). We're allied with those guys, to fight Communism? I don't think so.

But Plotz's Iraq comparison, which is what has people firing up the keyboards, doesn't withstand scrutiny, either. The Wolverines don't have to confront any part of a guerilla campaign's moral questions, even to ignore them as the Iraqi insurgents do. For one thing, the fact that partisan attacks on a ruthless enemy invite civilian reprisals is dispensed with after a couple of incidents. The Soviet commander is happy to turn Denver into a charnel house but eventually, we are asked to believe, sees retaliation against noncombatants as counterproductive. The Russians conveniently ship most everyone off to camps, so our heros need never deal with the reality of attacking soldiers in the middle of a still-fully-populated town. If Gillo Pontecorvo ever saw Red Dawn it probably sent him to bed with a sick headache.

So this film isn't a bold piece of anti-Communist agitprop, nor is it some sort of weirdly prescient view of an occupying force. Red Dawn--and this is the key to its appeal--is a me-too World War II wish-fulfillment fantasy, with Russia doing double duty for the megalomania of the Nazis and the treachery of the Japanese. You missed out on the Greatest Generation? Not any more, kids! Here's our old friend, the soldiers-lost-behind-enemy-lines movie, given a teenage twist (brilliantly smart marketing, the Siren admits) and gussied up with a bunch of Resistance-movie tropes for good measure.

Skeptical? Pull up a chair. (What follows is a mess of spoilers, if you still plan to see Red Dawn and believe that plot twists are bound to be part of its virtues.)

First there's the sneak attack, a la Pearl Harbor, and incidentally the movie's one really inspired visual sequence, as paratroopers descend on a high school campus. The sight of the soldiers dropping to the lawn is authentically chilling. But then we get into full WWII-nostalgia swing. There's the brave schoolteacher and the civilian executions, as well as the treacherous mayor (This Land Is Mine, with a dash of The Moon Is Down). Ordinary people retreat to the hills to resist (Dragon Seed). Kindly shopkeeper helps out with supplies (One of Our Aircraft Is Missing). Everybody sings in the face of the enemy (Casablanca). The Russians shoot people in the back (Gung-Ho). The Wolverines go through small towns laid waste by the enemy (Objective, Burma! and about a thousand others). They pile up huge enemy body counts using nothing but guns, hubris and spit (The Dirty Dozen). The Americans admit that they're just a bunch of scared kids, and discuss that several times more. ("I'm no hero, I'm just a guy," says William Bendix in Guadalcanal Diary.) The Americans fight to the last man (Wake Island and Bataan). Powers Boothe dies saying to the Americans, "Come on buddies! come and get 'em!" (Robert Taylor dies in Bataan yelling to the Japanese, "Come and get it, suckers!") And then there's Jennifer Grey's death, as she rigs herself as a grenade booby-trap, a remarkably direct crib of Veronica Lake's demise in So Proudly We Hail.

There's also a real-life reference in the phrase on the radio, "John has a long mustache," a code used by the French Resistance that also popped up in The Longest Day. Its placement here is, I suppose, intended to be lacerating irony since we're told the spineless Europeans are sitting this one out. But it doesn't matter, since this is a world where the references are not to real-life countries or issues, but to other movies, down to the Russian officer's name (Strelnikov, as in Doctor Zhivago).

None of this necessarily makes Red Dawn a bad movie. No, that's the job of the stilted dialogue, the banal direction and the atrocious acting, as the young performers emote all over the place like they're doing sense memory at Interlochen summer camp. Indicating? My god, it's like watching a bunch of cars with their turn signals stuck. But what really makes Red Dawn a bad movie is the way all those old plot points are just applied willy-nilly to a different villain, with messy details like nuclear weapons waved away ("Whole damn thing's pretty conventional now," drawls Boothe). Pulse the old bread crumbs, shake and bake with a new chicken, like 1940s Hollywood sticking the Nazis into a Sherlock Holmes movie or a Western.

Now excuse me, I have a Kay Francis post to finish.

50 comments:

The Rush Blog said...

I think that Kay Francis movie will come in handy. By the way . . . which Kay Francis movie?

Campaspe said...

I am actually trying to write up brief grafs on the ten or so Kays that I saw during the TCM Star of the Month tribute. So far I have written up one so it's going a mite slowly.

Vanwall said...

Keep up the Kay work, I look forward to it.

I agree with you about Red Dawn, however, as it is possibly the biggest crib in movie history. The script writers should've been ashamed of themselves. What is left out of many of the analysis is the whole entire script could be directly tied to Soviet patriotic films made during WWII, without even mentioning all the Hollywood swipes, which makes the obtuse ultra-right love for this film so creepy. Part of the skeevy aspect for me is the abject surrender of intellect, whatever small part there may be, to the notion that such reactionary thinking is what is the only good for the good ole' USA.

Campaspe said...

I can't remember if it was Peter Nelhaus who made a quite interesting argument that the movie is meant to be viewed at least in part satirically. That makes all the borrowing a lot more intriguing, I have to say.

Vanwall said...

I'd like to believe it was satiric, but I run up against the "Gunnery Sergeant Hartman" rule - a pseudo-jar-head mentality that requires a slavish belief in the truth of any thing no matter how stupid or overblown that comes out of any by-gosh Murican's pie hole in a war film - it's disturbing how many people I've met who have no idea when they're missing the point even when the aim is no higher than the soles of their shoes.

Tony Dayoub said...

Intellectually, I agree on just about every point you made in this post. It's a bad movie. But honestly, I have a soft-spot for this movie, like I do for every John Milius movie I've seen.

It's like Milius, a big blustery cigar-smoking bear of a man who, not so deep down, is kind of geeky. Love him and the movie.

Ben said...

Excellent post, Campaspe!

Two other points about Red Dawn...

1) The Russian language in the film is hilariously bad. Even the street signs in Russian are totally ungrammatical. I was taking an intensive Russian language course the summer that the film came out, and it was a favorite among the students because, after just eight weeks or so of Russian, we could have done a better job than whomever they hired as a consultant.

2) As part of their reeducation effort, the occupying Russians show Alexander Nevsky...a film about heroically resisting a foreign invasion!

Alex said...

Following up on Vanwall's comment, there is currently a very popular action cum soap opera Russian TV series set in the Nazi occupied areas of the WWII-era Soviet Union that IS Red Dawn, with some appropriate modifications.

Campaspe said...

V., I do think certain things must be an intentional joke. For all that I'm mocking the hell out of his movie, I share Tony's affection for Milius. Damn, he's funny, and fun, and at least he's SEEN all these old movies (I'd bet the rent on it). I really think that "Alexander Nevsky" is a joke as well, though whether on the clueless Russians or the American Red Dawn audience that overwhelmingly hasn't seen it is an open question.

Alex, have you seen the series? Bet it's very interesting. I wish I spoke any Russian, so I am jealous of Ben. I know only a handful of words.

Also Tony, I must have some sort of Ignatius J. Reilly thing going on with this movie because I have seen it three times--once in the theater, once on HBO or something like that and once on Spike TV. I said before that it's like a reverse Rules of the Game, where each new viewing reveals new (but enjoyable) ridiculousness. For many it's a part of their youth. When I posted on Red Dawn very briefly once before, Exiled in NJ noted touchingly that his daughter, who died young, adored this movie without giving a hoot about any of its politics. It had gorgeous young actors doing manly things, and that was all it took.

David C said...

Milius is, apparently, a horrible bully to work with. He got Anne Coates to edit his Nick Nolte jungle yarn, because she cut Lawrence of Arabia, you know, but she quit because she couldn't bear his attitude.

He's also a bit of an anarchist of the right, which puts him in a slightly different frame from the Reagan ites the film seems aimed at. So I can kind of accept the satiric idea.

The bumper sticker reading "You can have my gin when you take it out of my cold dead hand" or whatever, panning to a gun being removed from, yes, a cold dead hand, seems if anything like an anti-NRA gag. But this is odd, because Milius is a gun-nut.

My suspicion is that the film isn't quite in control of itself enough, isn't competent enough, to have a consistent attitude to anything, although I'd say it's about 98% Republican wank-fantasy.

Campaspe said...

David--That typo is inadvertently brilliant. (or IS it a typo?) "You can have my gin ..." Now THAT is a slogan a girl can get behind. **waves hip flask**

StinkyLulu said...

Hilarious.

Thanks for doing the referentiality footnotes for us "I-can't-stand-WWII-movies" types.

Red Dawn was mostly filmed in my father's northern NM hometown (the same place that provides the background for a good deal of No Country for Old Men), and he just loved it, so I've seen this movie more times than I might have opted for independently.

But now, dear Siren, I finally have the beginnings of a clue of WTF is actually going on in it.

Thanks.

Campaspe said...

Lulu, some of those movies are really very good. I recommend This Land Is Mine, The Moon Is Down, and One of Our Aircraft Is Missing--all can be watched as suspense thrillers and aren't hard-core war movies. Bataan and Guadalcanal Diary are both good, particularly the latter, but not for an "I can't stand WW II movies" type. :)

spongefrob said...

Well done, Siren! A most excellent and insightful critique.

Despite having seen it only once on VHS, some twenty odd years ago, the movie remains vivid for many reasons: its poor quality contrasting with it's enduring popularity; it's arch volleys in the general direction of irony; and it's many references to (dare I say reverence for?) the heroics and manichean world view of WWII films.

It's hard to believe, in view of what "Red Dawn" is, that Milius wrote the original screenplay for "Apocalypse Now". I wonder, now, what changes Coppola (and another fella, I believe) made and if Milius tried to make "Red Dawn" in answer to that... It is, only a few years removed from "Apocalypse Now"

Peter Nellhaus said...

Will ya look at what's playing at the movie theater in Red Dawn after the Russians take over?

Campaspe said...

Peter, it IS Nevsky playing, right? And that has to be a joke. I mean, I KNOW Milius has seen the movie.

Spongefrob, Milius can really write when he wants/needs to. In addition to Apocalypse Now he reputedly wrote the best lines in Jaws, Robert Shaw's unforgettable monologue about the Indianapolis. I am not sure what happened with Red Dawn. When I am feeling charitable I figure it's a pastiche/tribute to the films Milius probably grew up watching on TV and in revival. When I'm not, I figure he had a bad hair day or something.

spongefrob said...

Spongefrob, Milius can really write when he wants/needs to. In addition to Apocalypse Now he reputedly wrote the best lines in Jaws, Robert Shaw's unforgettable monologue about the Indianapolis.

No doubt, Campaspe, no doubt... looking over his writing credits I'm suprised by the amount of films I admire which he has penned. I meant no slight of his writing chops: Rather, the tone and flavor of 'Red Dawn'... all jingo and bravura and blunt surety in service to war... is at distinct odds with the utter mayhem and the elisions and lapses in 'Apocalypse Now'.

Frankly, it seems to me that 'Red Dawn' was made by somebody who take Lt. Col Kilgore at face value...

Campaspe said...

Oh I wasn't arguing. You're right, the two views of war are absolute poles apart. One is Heart of Darkness, the other is Boy's Own Adventure story. Kilgore at face value--too right.

goatdog said...

I watched this once in a Mexican restaurant, dubbed into Spanish. I think it really added to the film that (1) I couldn't understand what they were saying, and (2) both sides were speaking the same language, adding a level of brother against brother despair to it that significantly improved it.

But I'll always have affection for it because we watched it at the birthday party of the coolest kid in my class in 4th grade, and it was the first time I had been invited to one of the cool kid parties. I think we 9-year-olds were the ideal audience for John Milius.

Alex said...

"Alex, have you seen the series? Bet it's very interesting. I wish I spoke any Russian, so I am jealous of Ben. I know only a handful of words."

Yes I have seen it, though I'm forgetting the name of the series, it's very popular and is on Russian TV every day. I'm not saying they necessarily explicitly copied from Red Dawn (as VanWall noted, the WWII film has been a dominant genre in Russia for decades). But many of the basic set-ups and plot-points are the same or analogues (a small rural town is invaded by the Nazis, the young people of the town resist, the leads are played by startlingly handsome young actors, lots of resistance adventures and hijinks, etc). It's not interesting perse except in a sort of trainwreck way.

Campaspe said...

Goatdog, it's a great movie for boys. Here I could go into my Rant 101 about male fantasies being habitually taken more seriously than female ones, but I will spare us. Or save it for Kay, maybe. :)

Alex, you had me at "startlingly handsome young actors," to be honest.

Beveridge D. Spenser said...

Can't wait to see your Kay Francis piece. I loved her in Honey West! Oh, wait... Never mind.

DavidEhrenstein said...

For Wingnuts Red Dawn is a documentary. Elsewhere on the net yo can find McCain supporters entering a rally and decrying pro-Obama protestors as "COMMIE FAGS!!!!!"

Speaking as a Commie Fag of long-standing this brought a smile to my lips and a chuckle to my throat.

Milius is out of the movie business. These days he's designing Video Games.

DavidEhrenstein said...

And believe it or not, this wasn't the career low-point for C. Thomas Howell. That came with Young Toscannini, Franco Zefferelli's stinker with C. as Toscannini and Elizabeth Taylor as Some Beautiful Woman or Other.

Died on Europe and never release stateside.

C. Thomas Howell -- what a perfect name for a gay S&M por star.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Some inspiration for our hostess.

Campaspe said...

Bev, noooo, not that Francis!

David, I know, the name is hilarious, almost as "you gotta be kidding me" as Peter O'Toole.

mndean said...

I always kinda wondered about Milius and his over-the-top hypermasculinity (even Brian DePalma needled him about it). When I saw Big Wednesday at the theater, it was the first time I felt I was seeing some serious homoeroticism on the screen of the same sort I saw at bodybuilding contests. Of course, I was still a teenage kid, but I didn't think I was that far off. I probably should see it again to check my long-ago reaction, but I've got about 300 other films to get through before I can even entertain the idea.

Charles Noland said...

I have to admit I sort of enjoy this one on a sort of camp level, although I don't think I've ever sat through it all from start to finish. I used to watch it in parts during its frequent appearances on TNT or TBS or wherever it was showing up. It's one of those good bad movies. Maybe because of that overwrought acting, maybe because you are never too far from an explosion or an action scene, but it seems like something is usually going on and you don't really need to see what preceded it to just drop in on any given scene. Swayze has seemed to make a number of these movies, movies I don't think are good (Road House, Steel Dawn), but somehow hold my attention and entertain me at some level.

Nice points, you've clearly given this movie more thought than I ever did. To the extent I did think about it I saw it as a movie about patriotism and what would you do if you had a choice of either fighting to preserve your country or simply yielding to maintain your comfortable existence.

FDChief said...

This flick is a perennial favorite in the barracks, where I saw it in the post theatre down in Howard AFB, Panama, the year after it came out. It is a perfect soldier-boy flick: loud, immense, simpleminded, corny, awash with heroic sentiment and glurgy Tin Pan Alley patriotism. It lets you forget the nuance of cadging with the Russians over trade and hagglng with the North Koreans over nukes and just enjoy killn' a Commie for Mommy. The other GIs and I hooted and hollared and enjoyed the hell out of it.

But to treat it as more than M&Ms for your brain? Pshaw.

Frankly, this is what I lump in with the other "war porn", like "Blackhawk Down" and some of the worst of the WW2/Korea/Vietnam movies, stuff like "The Fighting SeaBees" and "Heartbreak Ridge". Flicks, mostly made by and for people who have or had never seen or heard an armed enemy, that treat war and killing (and dying) as a sort of lushly sexy fun where when it's really good you get to stick it ALL the way in.

"RD" is pretty close to the top of the list for war porn. The only films of that era that I can think of to compare it to are the later Rambo movies, which says something when you think about it.

BUT - the political appeal of this thing stands aside from the artistic or cinematic merit. This film is the celluloid embodiment of the Reagan Moment, when true conserative patriots stood alone, with treacherous liberals at their backs and swarming hordes of brown Reds pouring up from the Tropic of Cancer. It's the ultimate Goldwaterite "toldya'so" to the latte-drinkers who wanted to imprison the Iran-Contra criminals and the dirty fuckin' hippies who scolded Charlie Wilson that sending guns and money to Islamic nuts to fight the Commies in Central Asia was a Bad Idea.

On that basis it will be evergreen to a certain 28% of the viewing public, regardless of the qualities of performance, writing, editing or street signs...

Vanwall said...

Jeez, fdchief, is that you from the old Intel Dump?

Frank Conniff said...

There are many sublime moments in "Red Dawn," but my favorite is Harry Dean Stanton yelling to his kids from the prison camp, "Avenge me! Avenge me!"

As a dedicated Upper East Side Limousine Liberal from way back, I of course lean Left, but it seems to me that talent is a more important factor than political affiliation when it comes to filmmaking. John Ford was a hard-ass right-winger, yet he made "They Were Expendable," a flag-waving war film that is nonetheless infused with a lyrical and poetic sense of the sorrow and loss of war. Ford was capable of this because he was an artist. Milius...um...not so much.

If I become a political prisoner at the hands of John Milius ideologues as a result of this post, I hope the Self-Styled Siren Commentariat will remember to "Avenge me! Avenge me!"

Noel Vera said...

Never fully saw this, sad to say.

On WW2 movies in general--

But when you talk about WW2 movies, that's a huge genre, with plenty of subgenres--European theater, Asian theater, home front, pro war, anti war (even WW2 had its share), Holocaust, guerilla resistance...some of them are pretty good, even great.

Exiled in NJ said...

Thank you for remembering my daughter and her taste. She had an affinity for Turk 182 also, and in the last year of her life, must have rented The Lost Boys twenty times, so she could see Kiefer, the two Corys and the other young pieces of male flesh.

Now my late wife, who loved to be reduced to tears by happy endings, adored Milius' The Wind and the Lion, but my daughter had no such affection. Probably the lack of young hunks.

I can't lump Ridley Scott's Blackhawk Down into the pile of crappy war films; to me there is something of the 'What the hell were we doing there?' aspect about it. If you want to see a pre-Sept 11th view of breast beating, catch Behind Enemy Lines as Owen Wilson makes his own Desperate Journey.

DavidEhrenstein said...

What's hilarious about The Wind and the Lion is the fact that in the actual historical incident the American who was kidnapped was a man!

IOW, Milius could have made Brokeback Avant La Lettre, but he just didn't have the balls for it.

DavidEhrenstein said...

"Avenge me! Avenge me!"

Campaspe said...

MNDean, I think Milius really is what he seems to be, but whenever you smear that much testosterone on the screen you risk having people say, "wait a minute."

Brokeback avant la lettre ... too, too funny.

Exiled, I will happily stick up for The Wind and the Lion which I think is a far more successful pastiche of Errol Flynn and other adventure movies. In the 1980s my big crush was not on Kiefer or the Corys but Andrew McCarthy and (still a bit to this day) James Spader.

Noel, except for Dragon Seed which defies analysis and Gung-Ho which is meh and rather gruesomely racist, I like all the WW II movies I was comparing RD to. Of course it's a huge category but Milius was going after a very deliberate subset, the patriotic rev-em-up flick. Had I sat down for longer I probably have connected a whole bunch of other movies too, Red Dawn is that much of a throwback in my view.

DavidEhrenstein said...

James Spader's beauty reached its apogee in Crash (the good one, not the "Oscar-bait") Since then he's gone all puffy.

I met him circa sex, lies and he was truly stunning. Alas Ol' Daddy Time kicked the shit out of him.

FDChief said...

vanwall: Yep, just little old me, underdog...

exiled: my problems with "BHD" are"
1 the same problem I have with the worst of the WW2 "Kill Japs, kill Jap, kill more Japs" flicks. The Americans die lyrically, with sad and tearful music swelling in the background and a weping buddy or two close by. The Somali wogs die in faceless hordes, ripped to bits to the sound of martial drumming and the roar of rotor blades, no more human than the "bugs" in one of the idiotic Starship Troopers movies.

2. The images of war in BHD are often lovely, even hypnotic: the dance of the helicopters above the dun-colored Mogadishu slums, the swirl of dust in the street, flares in the night sky, the silhouettes of soldiers in the haze.

I will be the first to admit that war can be beautiful in a way that few peaceful things can be beautiful - tracers floating across a night sky are like nothing any flower can imitate. Robert Lee famously said that it was well that war was so terrible or else we'd love it too much. The worst of the war porn - like BHD - lets us revel in the images and allows us to forget the terror.

Vanwall said...

fdchief, I gladly defer to your judgment on this topic - you were quite eloquent on the Intel Dump regarding that kind of thinking, I'm glad you post here as well.

mndean said...

I don't have any doubt today that Milius is what he appeared to be, but he left himself wide open for the sort of interpretation i got. Go too far in that direction, and start idealizing masculinity with that lack of subtlety and bingo, you start looking like a cloddish American version of Yukio Mishima.

As far as The Wind and the Lion, I can't say I'm a fan because I never saw it. The trailer I saw for the film way back when was so unintentionally funny to me that I never even considered going to the theater to see it. When it showed up on TV, it made me titter from my memory in the theater, but it never intrigued me enough to watch.

That Film Girl said...

Hey, I really love your blog! As a fellow classic-film lover, feel free to check mine out as well! I'd love some feedback (it's new).

FDChief said...

As an aside, I agree that "The Wind and the Lion" works rather better, although the substitution of an American MILF for a tubby Greek grocer is laughable enough to make me chuckle every time I try to imagine Sean sweeping across the desert alongside, say, Burt Young with a cheesy mustache...

It does have a teensy bit of political sophistication, what with the contrast between the imperial machinations of the various European governments versus the Riffs. Wonderful little sequence where the bluejackets and marines simply shoot their way into the local ruler's palace, butchering the ruler's guards in the process, all in the name of defending our freedoms. Sadly, Milius was still unable to accept the idea that Yankee-doodle Yanks could happily slaughter the natives in the name of defending American citizens and muscular Christianity. He has to manufacture a completely ridiculous bit of German (German!?) villany to somehow put his manly warrior hero and his stalwart U.S. Marines on the same side. Piffle. No, worse: imperialist piffle. It's one thing to be willing to bash wogs and like it - another thing entirely to twist the story so that bashing to wogs is entirely admirable and beneficial. If "Red Dawn" is Milius at his chest-pounding, he-manly warriorest, "TW&TL" is Milius the White Man's Burden.

But Connery and Candice Bergen are good as the cautious lovers, and Brian Keith is terrific as T.R. Worth a look as long as you take the time to sort the fun fictional parts of the story from the revisionist "Americans are fun and should rule your country!" parts...

Noel Vera said...

Not a big fan of Black Hawk Down; didn't think there was much beauty there (the footage was too chopped up to be sure). For a somewhat more honest depiction of Americans at war, prefer Hamburger Hill from the much underrated John Irvin. No nonsense, little fuss battle sequences. Yes the Americans are the focus, and the Vietnamese are the Other--but you feel Irvin treats the Vietcong more as the near-insurmountable opponent, rather than mere fodder (there's a scene early on in a whorehouse that outlines the complexity of their situation), and the whole thing when you step back turns into a kind of Sisyphean struggle, literally up a muddy hill. Now that's military lyricism.

FDChief said...

Probably the most genuine film versions of war ar the most oblique ones. I loved the absurdity of "Three Kings", where the GIs are totally clueless and so's everyone else. "Paths of Glory" is a great film about men and war. There's a movie about Afghanistan filmed in Israel (?) called "The Beast" that gets it pretty much right. "Hamburger Hill" gets the right feel, too. "The Big Red One" is probably the best for giving you the idea of what it felt like to be in the skin of one of the guys fighting across Europe in 1944. And for sheer goofiness, I'd add "Kelly's Heroes" for Donald Sutherland. Woof woof! That's my other dog imitation...

Campaspe said...

FDChief, I like all the ones you mention (ex. The Beast, haven't seen that one). Paths of Glory is a personal favorite of mine, an absolute flat-out masterpiece, so stinging the Army banned it from their theatres. Noel, I also like Hamburger Hill though I remember being more bothered by the depiction of the Vietnamese.

Noel Vera said...

The Big Red One is the 800 pound gorilla in the pack, even if the entire German tank division at one point was depicted by a single tank driving by a cave mouth several times. But its reputation is assured; Hill still doesn't have the regard I feel it deserves.

Hill (disclosue, it was shot in the Philippines, on land my family used to own) does show the Vietcong as the silent faceless characterless (other than its relentless nature) Other, that's true, unlike in say Zulu, where the Other was cunning, imaginative, even possessed of a sense of humor).

Actually I don't mind the faceless Other; it's the point of view of a person plunked suddenly down in a strange land who knows nothing of that land, and panics accordingly. It says less about the person being viewed than it does the person who possesses that view

That said, if racist sentiments are expressed by the soldiers (and they are, both in the whorehouse and during quiet moments), I think Irvin makes it clear that the sentiments are part of the characters' makeup, flaws they carry with them, rather than political or sociological views the filmmmaker (who looking over his filmography is hardly one to ever ever preach, much less preach anything racist) endorses. Least that's how I look at it.

Vanwall said...

"The Beast" shows a nice touch for the absoluteness of command and control that some see as the only way to fight, and it's dissolution under real world conditions, a not uncommon situation. Altho George Dzundza's character towards the end reminded me of the unintentional parody of Telly Savalas's tank commander in "Battle of the Bulge" - too much, too soon. I always felt "84C Mopic" was a pretty interesting take on men in the field. I find some of the ancillary war films are more important to understand what goes on than the actual shoot-em-ups - "The Hill", "Ice Cold in Alex", "Kanal", and my personal fave, "The Cranes are Flying".

Vanwall said...

I forgot to mention "Go Tell the Spartans" - a pretty good take on the early 'Nam conflict from a guy who was there.

MovieMan0283 said...

Well, it's news to me that anyone takes this movie seriously! (Though one never knows what to expect from Jonah Goldberg...one moment engaging in reasonable discussions with Peter Beinart, the next moment defending Pinochet.) I've always liked Red Dawn, and precisely because of its absurd 10-year-old ridiculousness. It's precisely the sort of movie I'd make with friends when I was that age. To fall back on a favorite riposte as of late, if the fellas in Pineapple Express made another movie (presuming that movie is their own fantasy projection) it would be Red Dawn.

As for John Ford, it's my understanding he was an FDR Democrat till the late 60s, when he tilted right (he used to have arguments with Wayne, a die-hard Republican but also a chickenhawk who never served in the military).

And I have to agree with the defenders of Black Hawk Down and other movies which depict the "other" - I don't think it's every film's duty to get all PC on us and represent both perspectives. I think The Deer Hunter is a great movie and that's unquestionably a huge distortion of the Vietnam War (whereas I think BHD followed the actual events pretty closely). And I'm not going to shed crocodile tears over the folks who dragged their victims through the streets of Mogadishu.

Noel Vera said...

From what I understand, Black Hawk differed significantly on several issues. Didn't show what a huge screwup it all was (the US charged right in without understanding the delicate situation and different factions), and the US soldiers took hostages.