Maybe it’s that we’ve never been big on the war movies, or maybe it’s just general malaise due to our having had to wrestle with the computer all day, but we’re at a big of a loss with what to say about the New York Times Magazine‘s Hollywood Goes to War! issue.
Or maybe that’s just because the issue itself is steeped in a sense of malaise. From Matt Bai‘s glum assessment of the fading power of Hollywood to Lynn Hirschberg‘s interview with the solidly practical Terry Press ("Today audiences want to be transported. But it’s tricky: audiences want
happy endings, but they won’t buy a fake happy ending. Audiences have
become cynical."), there’s a general sense of disillusionment â€” such are our times, we suppose. Honestly, what the hell is a modern war movie supposed to look like? "Jarhead"? As OIB Peter Sarsgaard puts it in Hirschberg‘s interview with him, "The fantasy of who a marine thinks he is is what I am interested in," which seems to be the recent, prevailing obsession we’re coming to grips with. It’s certainly never been a revelation that, in war and in all other things, self-image can be a striking contrast with reality, but, as Manohla Dargis points out in her essay, it’s the inherent paradox between our filmic portrayal of war and the often simplistic messaging behind it that we’ve yet to settle.
American movies give us the dangers of war, but only the cheaper ones ("Rambo," ad nauseam) readily admit to its pleasures. The problem for movies about Vietnam, like Oliver Stone‘s "Platoon" and Brian De Palma‘s "Casualties of War," is that movie violence is so irresistibly cinematic. These films try to draw a line between the soldier who kills because it’s his job and the soldier who kills because the war has brought out something wrong in his head, heart and soul, like the satisfaction of the kill. We are urged to love the warriors but not their war – and yet the truth is, we love the violence too. Steeped in pain, such films preach the horrors of combat even as the filmmaking solicits us to thrill to its spectacle; even the most heartfelt objection to war, it seems, is no match for a vicarious blast of napalm and a fountain of blood.
At the Guardian, John Patterson takes issue with "Jarhead" and its mash-up nature when it comes to the war films that predated it. A similar issue:
Judging by "Jarhead," the American war movie isn’t growing up much, but it is adapting to the times. Once upon a time, back in the Good War and after, it was John Wayne, lock-and-load, no doubts, no blood, and lashings of the Andrews Sisters. Then came Vietnam, fought on the myths those earlier movies promulgated, and everything went all "frag the lieutenant!", ears for souvenirs, the smell of napalm in the morning, and nothing but blood and doubt, all pumped up by Creedence and Stax. Everything was green and brown, an iconography of jungle and rice paddy, monsoon and mosquitoes. Of course, before Americans saw all this in the movies, they had to watch it on the news every night for a decade.
In fact, I think even in 1957 and certainly now, there is an audacious
stylistic contrast between the wretched careerism of the officers and
the implacable panache of the way it is shot. This is a great work of
satire in which Kubrick’s camera is as chillingly controlled as the
prose style of Jonathan Swift.
+ The Movie Issue (NY Times Magazine)
+ Phoney war movie (Guardian)
+ Who doesn’t like a man in a uniform? Kubrick, for a start (Independent)