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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 06/15/01 -- Vol. 19, No. 50
Table of Contents
Chair/Librarian: Mark Leeper, 732-817-5619, firstname.lastname@example.org Factotum: Evelyn Leeper, 732-332-6218, email@example.com Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell, firstname.lastname@example.org HO Chair Emeritus: John Jetzt, email@example.com HO Librarian Emeritus: Nick Sauer, firstname.lastname@example.org Back issues at http://www.geocities.com/evelynleeper. All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.
I have been reading some film reviews and comment on the film PEARL HARBOR. Probably one of the most thought-provoking was by Ian Buruma from the Manchester Guardian entitled "Oh! What a lovely war":
Buruma is a noted author with several books to his credit. He wrote THE WAGES OF GUILT: MEMORIES OF WAR IN GERMANY AND JAPAN in which his thesis is that Germany exhibits great guilt for its atrocities of the 1930s and 1940s and that Japan exhibits virtually none at all.
Buruma takes the film PEARL HARBOR to task for minimizing the horrors of war. His complaint about PEARL HARBOR is that the film is milking the event for the thrills when in fact it was a terrible and painful event. Watching PEARL HARBOR Buruma is reminded of a 1942 Japanese propaganda film THE WAR AT SEA FROM HAWAII TO MALAYA. It had, according to the Buruma, almost the identical camaraderie among the soldiers and what was then state-of-the-art special effects. Like PEARL HARBOR it did not dwell on the villainy of the enemy but on the glory of war. He concludes his comment saying, "So who needs reality? Just sit back and enjoy the show. Until the next war. And then we die ingloriously." Buruma really wants to avoid that next war at all costs. He feels with no little justification taht war is a very fearsome thing.
At one time, specifically during the World War II, American films were all very pro-war. It served a national purpose to stir people up against the country's enemies and to give a sort of carefree view of war. Most countries with film industries do this. The Soviet Union had its ALEXANDER NEVSKY. When we were in India we saw EK HI RAASTA, which had the good soldier having a great time blasting away at the enemy gloriously. During the Second World War, the film industry considered it only its patriotic duty to push the government line and build enthusiasm for the war with gung ho films.
In the 1950s with the war over the government no longer just wanted but now demanded more, not less, from the film industry. Films had to be pro-government or the filmmakers were in big trouble. The industry took it for a while letting many promising careers be ruined, but eventually revolted. This led to something of a parting of the ways between government and the film industry. By the time the Vietnam War became unpopular with the public, the film industry followed its conscience, or more accurately its paying audience, and was mostly anti-war. Not that it made films specifically about the war. It avoided mentioning the war itself as much as possible, but more often than not its sentiment was anti-government. For the most part the film industry has been anti-war and frequently anti-military in the interim.
PEARL HARBOR is something of a throwback in this regard. Buruma complains about the fact that this is not an anti-war film. There are at least two flaws in his argument. At the same time that he finds the film too pro-war he claims it is also too easy on the Japanese. They had committed multitudes of atrocities in Asia. He complains that Affleck calls the Japanese "honorable people with a certain point of view" instead of listing their crimes. Buruma seems to be claiming that the Americans enthusiasm for fighting in the film is more justified than it was portrayed while at the same time complaining about that enthusiasm. It is true that there were some American terrified and there were some enthusiastic. He does not like the see the latter portrayed. They should all have looks of somber responsibility, I suppose.
Buruma also complains that this film should come out at this time. "The notion that it is glorious to die for the nation looks especially odd at a time when US governments have an absolute terror of American casualties. President Clinton was so afraid of 'bodybags' appearing on the evening news that he preferred bombing cities from a great height to sending in troops where they were needed. There is no evidence that Bush is any different." I gather Buruma would like to see Americans more willing to go into real battle, but they should hate every minute.
PEARL HARBOR is not a great film, but it is useful to start debate on war. Is war always bad? I think Buruma would say so. I would disagree. War is usually bad but to make the statement, "War is bad" a moral absolute is totally wrong-headed. Many people accept that there are no moral absolutes. From my point of view even the Ten Commandments have to be guidelines, and not moral absolutes. And society quite correctly does not treat them that way. Killing for ones own profit is bad. Killing for a higher moral good is not. A SWAT team may slay a potential killer in a hostage situation to prevent a worse evil from happening. For any moral wrong one can think of an extreme situation in which it should be chosen as the lessor of two evils. Admittedly if this is a public policy there is some danger that people may not correctly judge which really is the lessor of the two evils. And selfish motives may play a part. But then society has laws to correct them. Ones conscience has to be the ultimate moral compass.
Of course even if everybody followed their moral compass, there would still be wars. The film GETTYSBURG, based on the book THE KILLER ANGELS by Michael Shaara, ironically makes both sides appear noble. Each soldier is fighting to overcome a perceived greater evil. They cannot both be right. This unfortunately is not a formula to avoid bloodshed since both sides cannot be totally objective, but it is the only realistic policy. I cannot look at the history of the 20th Century and not feel that there were and still are some causes that were worth fighting and even dying for. Some of those causes are still around and there are new ones every year.
Human life is the most valuable commodity, but that value is not infinite. There are limits to life's value. We have to ask ourselves when faced with a great cause, as Patrick Henry did, "Is life so dear?" It may not be a popular opinion any more but there are some causes worth dying for.
Seven astronauts died in the Challenger disaster. It seriously derailed the space program. A hundred and forty years earlier the loss of seven people would have been commonplace when the goal was just to cross the prairie and find a somewhat better place for those seven people to live. The Challenger astronauts had a much nobler goal and one that is worthwhile even if the price includes some lives. There were roughly 16,000 people who died in alcohol- related traffic accidents in the year 2000. That's well over 2000 traffic deaths for every astronaut who died in the Challenger and the astronauts died for a far more worthwhile cause. There are also worthwhile causes to war over.
I don't think anyone likes war, but I do not as Buruma does that it is bad to tell audiences that some people enthusiastically fought back when the country was attacked. Not everything about PEARL HARBOR is true to history, but that part is. [-mrl]
Top Ten Films of the Century (comments by Lax Madapaty):
Lakshmikanth "Lax" Madapaty is a good friend of mine and perhaps a greater film enthusiast. My top ten list inspired him to write one of his own.
10. THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1967):
Among film genres, the Western is entirely American, much like Jazz and Rap in music. For a genre that is so much American and for all the pioneering efforts of Americans in film making, there have only been a handful of great Westerns ever made. HIGH NOON, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and THE WILD BUNCH come to mind with THE SEARCHERS deserving an honorable mention. It took an Italian by the name of Sergio Leone to make what I consider to be the greatest Western ever. By the time he made this film, he already had the chance to perfect him film-crafting skills with the two other films in what is now called the "Dollar Trilogy". Right from the stylish main titles with the legendary Morricone main theme and the intros and outros for each of the three lead characters via freeze frame, this film tells us that it is unlike any other Western made. The story is about the three lead characters who are after a cache of $200,000 in Confederate gold bullion set in the backdrop of the American Civil War. We find out by the end that the "good" guy isn't that good and the "ugly" guy (Eli Wallach in an outstanding performance) is a lot of fun. Even the "bad" guy is smarter than your average Western baddie. Leone drenches the film in atmosphere. The lonely, dry and sun-baked landscape is the perfect setting for our characters to dwell in and be a part of. By alternately cutting between extreme close-ups and long range wide angle shots - especially at the beginning and end of the film - Leone creates a wonderfully unsettling effect on us. It not only gives us a chance to get inside the characters' heads and experience their feelings but also understand the backdrop in which they all dwell. The final shootout at the cemetery is worth a mention for Leone's brilliant use of editing. Again, alternating between rapid-fire extreme close-ups and well-positioned long-range shots of the cemetery, Leone creates tension in a way that would have made Eisenstein happy. Every image is married perfectly to Morricone's brilliant score. In fact, some of the scenes seem to have been cut to his score, given the close relationship the director and composer enjoyed. Cues like Ecstasy of Gold are routinely used even today from rock songs to product commercials.
09. THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (1961):
Exactly 40 years ago to this month, a rousing action adventure film opened in cinemas around the world to widespread critical and commercial acclaim. That film is the one written and produced by blacklisted writer Carl Foreman (the man behind HIGH NOON and BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI) based on an Alistair MacLean novel. When Gregory Peck, the main lead in the film was given the choice to pick a director (as is the wont in those days), Peck made a surprise choice - J. Lee Thompson. His decision was based on the man's previous work in a little known character drama TIGER BAY and another little known action adventure film, FLAME OVER INDIA. Peck's reasoning was that the script needed someone who is comfortable with staging the action sequences and yet be able to develop characters and bring out the human element that is so critical to the writing. With a strong visual sense and a good knack for pacing, J. Lee transformed Foreman's script into what I consider to be the greatest action adventure film of all time. Budgeted at $ 6 million by Columbia, the film made $ 12 million in the US alone, was nominated for 7 Oscars and won one for Best Special Effects. In the film, six men are dispatched by the Allied command forces on a desperate mission to destroy two German guns on the cliffs of the Greek island of Navarone. These are the guns that control the approach to the island of Kheros where 1200 British soldiers (2000 in the script) are stranded. The guns must be destroyed in six days, before six Allied Destroyer ships pass through those waters to rescue the stranded soldiers. What makes the film tower above others in its genre is the attention to character development all around, not just to the three main leads Peck, Niven and Quinn. There are two standout scenes between Niven and Peck that examine the moral dilemmas of killing. This is something one will never find in the "burger and fries" action films being made since the mid-70's. Dimitri Tiomkin embellishes the film with a rousing score.
08. THE GODFATHER (1972): AFI 3
The 70's were the most exciting period of creative filmmaking. Several young, promising and talented film directors like Coppola, Leone, Spielberg, Bogdanovich, Nic Roeg, Ken Russell, Lucas, Kubrick, Boorman and Scorcese made some of their best works during this period. Maybe this explains why fewer Americans went to the cinemas each week in the 70's than at any time in the preceding three decades! Even European Cinema was taking off in exciting new directions with young talent like Bernardo Bertolucci, Eric Rohmer, Francois Truffaut, Louis Malle, Rainer Fassbinder and Luis Bunuel contributing significantly. It is during this exciting period that a 32-year old Coppola made what is widely considered to be one of the greatest films of all time. Coppola accomplished nothing short of a cinematic miracle with this film. Up until that point in time, whatever reputation Coppola had was as a screenwriter, with his films as a director having been box office failures. Paramount offered the project to Richard Brooks, Peter Yates and then Costa- Gavras, all of who refused to do it. The film is based on Mario Puzo's bestseller - not a great piece of literature by any measure. At that time, Brando's career was on a downward spiral. Even before shooting began, the Italian-American Civil Rights League raised money to stop making of the film. There were bomb threats and the producer's car was fired at. What Coppola essentially did was to edify a piece of pulp fiction with his film crafting genius and in the process, influence a whole genre and generation of filmmakers. The film has everything that constitutes greatness - terrific acting by some of the most talented actors of our times (Brando, Duvall, Pacino), superb production design, the almost-perfect characters who just miss greatness, the themes of honor and family values among gangsters, rock solid direction and a memorable score by Nino Rota. Most Italian restaurants around the world must have played this film's main theme at one time or the other!
Special Mention: A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS (1966): Mark Leeper's article already mentions the film's plot. What makes this a great film is the writing. It is very difficult to write convincingly about a penetratingly intelligent man who also happens to be morally upright with strong values. Robert's Bolt's brilliant script accomplishes exactly this by the use of some of the best dialogue ever written for the screen. Some of it is included here as a tribute to the film. [Spoilers: skip ahead if you haven't seen the movie and don't want to know the dialogue ahead of time.]
Thomas More: You threaten like a dockside bully.
Thomas Cromwell: How should I threaten?
More: Like a minister of state. With justice.
Cromwell: Oh, justice is what you're threatened with.
More: Then I am not threatened.
Thomas More: I think that when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos.
Margaret More: Father, that man's bad.
Sir Thomas More: There's no law against that.
William Roper: There is. God's law.
Sir Thomas More: Then God can arrest him.
Wife: While you talk he's gone!
Sir Thomas More: And go he should, if he were the Devil himself, until he broke the law!
William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws from coast to coast. Man's laws, not God's. And if you cut them down--and you're just the man to do it--do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
Also worth mentioning is Paul Scofield's portrayal of Sir Thomas More, breathing so much life into Bolt's script. Scofield belongs to a select group of actors such as Charles Laughton, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Al Pacino and Anthony Hopkins who can express themselves well by superb phrasing of speech and modulation in their voices. This can be at times very demanding physically but all these actors are up to it and have proved it to us time and again. Scofield, Bolt and director Zinnemann won well-deserved Oscars for this film, which also won the Best Picture trophy for that year. This one gets my vote for one of the two great screenplays of all time. Make this film today and it will be largely ignored.
07. THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER (1968):
This heart-breaking film depicts the events in the last few weeks of a wonderful human being's life in this world. What makes the film so powerful is the depiction of how unspeakable cruelty can be inflicted on people just by words alone and how failure or lack of communication can be a crippling barrier to understanding people and building relationships. Racism, physical disability and generation gaps are all themes that are so powerfully examined in this little known gem of a film. Once I was asked what constitutes manipulative filmmaking. In a plot, when a film has scenes that deliberately panders to the audience's emotional core without really serving any function to further the plot (and in some cases, not even making any sense in the overall context of the film), when sentiment and compassion are treated as a commodity that can be nicely packaged and sold, that is when I lose respect for that film and filmmaker. (This is the one big problem I have with a certain popular director with a string of commercial successes that most people seem to enjoy and like a lot.) And then there are films such as this one, where there is a certain honesty in the director's approach to the material that just cannot be faked. Up until the point in time when I saw this film, I must have seen a few thousand films in twenty years. This is the first ever film (and one of only 3) that brought tears. More than anything else, this film teaches the importance of treating everyone as human beings, with respect and dignity. All we need to do to make this world a better place is to be John Singer once in a while. Alan Arkin as John Singer and Percy Rodriguez turn in great performances. The only thing I would change with this film is strip away the Grusin score and commission John Barry to do one of his lilting elegiac scores.
06. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962):
Yet another film that features in many critics' lists of top films of all time. David Lean is a master of cinematic story telling. With the advent of today's CGI and other modern filmmaking techniques, his toils may seem somewhat old-fashioned but make no mistake. THIS is the real deal. No matter how good CGI is, there is no comparison to the real stuff. Most of Lean's films are extremely cinematic in nature. However, what sets this film apart is the fascinating and intimate portrayal of T. E. Lawrence's enigmatic (such as his repressed homosexuality) and complex (such as his sadomasochistic tendencies) character. To add to the joy are several support roles that are equally fascinating, such as Prince Faisal (Alec Guiness), Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif) and General Allenby (Jack Hawkins). Early on in the film, Lean generates interest and intrigue in the viewer in the funeral scene where several people who know and know of Lawrence make comments about him. As the film unfolds, all these remarks start making sense to the viewer. Lean could very well have book-ended the film with this scene. Omar Sharif's entrance as a mirage in the desert is the greatest intro to a screen character. A young and relatively unknown French film composer Maurice Jarre was selected by Lean to provide the film score. Jarre did a fine job in writing several big themes for an orchestra and augmenting them with ethnic instruments.
[to be continued next week] [-lm]
Quote of the Week:
Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity. -- Horace Mann