Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Movies And Remembering

I'm one of those pissants who can't decide if I've deep-sixed a cautious admiration for Clint Eastwood out of envy, or if I'm legitimately peeved with the man (ditto Steven Spielberg). This morning I was all set to commit to the latter position, but then I read Cowtown Pattie's review of Flags Of Our Fathers. She closes with this:

When I saw
Saving Private Ryan, I had to take a quick exit mid-movie to the ladies room. In the dark hallway outside, I came upon two older Vets standing off to the side. The old soldiers were sobbing quietly and consoling one another. I was embarrassed to be, albeit innocently, intruding into their private grief. It is these experiences I will remember more so than the actual films.

Well ... now me, too. There is something about watching these films get made, then putting on my cap and jacket and paying money to see them, that niggles at me. Isn't it just a bit tawdry of me to watch this stuff from the safety of my theatre seat, and expect to feel anything (thrills! chills! spills!) other than profound shame? And how should we judge the artistic intentions and moral obligations of Eastwood and Spielberg? Or are "moral obligations" a nettlesome subject that is only applied to the money-paying movie goer?

Back when Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line were in theatres, my mother asked my great-uncle, a veteran who served the complete European tour from Juno Beach to Berlin, if he was at all inclined to see these movies. "Nope. Not at all." How about returning to Europe, and re-visiting some of the places he'd seen as a young man?

He was quiet for a bit, then he said that back when the surviving members of his regiment were on the boat leaving Europe, they all watched as the shoreline receded into the gray water. One of them wondered aloud if he mightn't someday return to the place. Someone else piped up and said, "Why? To look for your conscience?"

And that was all my great-uncle was going to say about that.

Elsewhere: Eastwood's FOOF gets a "meh" from Reelfanatic.


Cowtown Pattie said...

Thanks, WP. You know, I love watching historical movies, but war movies are altogether a different experience. Somehow, because I wasn't a soldier, I feel like a voyueristic popcorn gobbler. I didn't have to face what they did; I've never had to kill or be killed.

It bothers me that the audience gets so sucked into the patriotic spill of most war movies, they allow themselves to view war as necessary and something to be glorified. Yes, the American boys were fine and stuff heroes are made of; but what a price they paid, some with the ultimate - their young lives.

There is a greater lesson to be learned from movies like FOOF, and it isn't about being heroes. Go for the history, go for the actors'performances, but don't go to root for the "good guys".

Your uncle was a wise man.

Trent Reimer said...

I have find myself appreciating some of those very films which present the horror of war. They remind me that such an enterprise is not just a big "football game". The effect is indeed like CP describes.

Whisky Prajer said...

CP - I expect I'll make the effort to see this, 'cos you've certainly got me curious. Actually, I'm even more curious about Eastwood's reported follow-up to this: Iwo Jima from a Japanese soldier's perspective. I may have "issues" with Eastwood's way of presenting things, but the man certainly has cajonas.

TR - ah, I'm probably just lapsing into my assumed role of moral scold. But these movies (esp. SPR) do make me feel uneasy. I'm thinking of a community interview I heard on CBC one morning. The morning man was chatting with an 11-year-old, who said he wanted to become a film-maker. "What are some of your favourite films?" asked morning man. "Oh, Saving Private Ryan," was the immediate reply. "That beginning is just so action packed." Granted, an 11-year-old's ability to articulate his own emotional responses to something as visceral as that is going to be limited. Still, "action packed" is a little unsettling. "Today's noise is tomorrow's hootenanny" as one of my formerly favourite rock bands was fond of saying.