Photograph by Lisa Law
The "Road Hog" bus, El Rito, New Mexico, Fourth of July parade, 1968. Buses, decorated in
psychedelic colors, provided a home on the road as groups staged protests and created happenings.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I FILM ANALYSIS
ANALYZING FILM 2
CHAPTER TWO 3
MAIN FEATURES OF NARRATIVE 6
NARRATIVE OUTLINE 7
MISE-EN-SCENE OUTLINE 11
CHARACTER OUTLINE 13
THE PHOTOGRAPHIC IMAGE OUTLINE 17
DOCUMENTARIES AND EXPERIMENTAL FILM OUTLINE 22
POINT OF VIEW OUTLINE 28
WAR FILM OUTLINE 32
II FILM ARTICLES
NOTES FROM THE WAR ROOM 44
WORDS AND MUSIC 54
INTERVIEW WITH KEN ADAMS 56
STANLEY KUBRICK'S DR. STRANGELOVE 60
FRED KAPLAN ARTICLE 64
A COMMENTARY ON DR.STRANGELOVE 67
BONNIE AND CLYDE
PERFECTING THE NEW GANGSTER 77
THE IMPORTANCE OF A SINGULAR 93
NEWSREEL To be distriubted
NEWSREEL: A REPORT To be distriubted
CRISIS:BEHIND A PRESIDENTIAL COMMITMENT
ADVENTURES IN REPORTING To be distriubted
MEDIUM COOL 117
"LOOK OUT, HASKELL, IT'S REAL" 120
FULL METAL JACKET
FULL METAL JACKET 124
"IS THAT YOU, JOHN WAYNE? IS IT ME?" 129
STANLEY KUBRICK'S VIETNAM 133
INSIDE THE 'JACKET': ALL KUBRICK 136
1960S COUNTER CULTURE AND THE LEGACY OF AMERICAN MYTH
AMERICAN CINEMA OF THE SIXTIES 138
GIMME SHELTER: THE DOCUMENTARY FILM AS ART To be distriubted
III WRITINGS OF THE SIXTIES
PORT HURON STATEMENT To be distriubted
THE WHOLE THING WAS A LIE To be distriubted
FREE SPEECH MOVEMENT To be distriubted
SUMMER OF LOVE To be distriubted
INTERVIEW WITH BOBBY SEALE To be distriubted
POINT OF VIEW
1. NARRATIVE CONTINUITY
2. EXPLANATION OF CHARACTER AND MOTIVATION
3. DIRECTORIAL COMMENTARY
4. CAMERA WORK/SPECIAL EFFECTS
1. THE CAMERA
2. LIGHT, SHADOW, AND COLOR
ACTION AND THE HUMAN BODY
3. SPECIAL SOUND EFFECTS
CHAPTER TWO OF A SHORT GUIDE TO WRITING ABOUT FILM
This chapter helps to get a "handle on an experience that has so many different layers: the story, the acting, the editing.
SEEING A FILM WITH ALL YOUR ATTENTION IS THE ONLY WAY TO BEGIN WRITING ABOUT A FILM- EVEN ONE YOU DON'T LIKE!
I. THREE IMPORTANT AREAS OF FILM TO CONSIDER
A. AS AN ART FORM
As an art form, the movies involve literature, the pictorial and plastic arts, music
dance, theater and even architecture.
1. Which art forms most interest you and which do you know the most about?
2. Could you use your knowledge of literature or painting as a guide to a particular film?
3. What might be behind the large number of recent adaptations of famous novels?
4. Might your interest in popular or classical music suggest that you look for a topic in
movies like Amadeus or Moulin Rouge?
B. EFFECTS OF TECHNOLOGY ON CINEMA
The film industry depends and responds quickly to changes in technology. If you are
interested technology, prepare to note features of the movie and its story that might
depend on technology.
1.Does the director make special use of black-and-white film stocks? Why?
2.Does sound technology seem to play a large part in the move?
3.Is the movement (or lack of movement) of the camera related to the kind of camera used
(like the hand-held cameras of the French New Wave, which conveyed a sense of
C. COMMERCIAL EFFECTS
Film technology, production, and distribution are commercial and economic enterprises. It is crucial to keep this in mind when approaching any movie. Expectations will be
different for a low budget independent film like Tarnation than a blockbuster like
Spider Man. The ability to adjust one's expectations does allow a viewer to more
accurately assess the achievements or failures of a movie.
1.Does reduced cost allow the film to do and say things that a big-budget movie might not
be able to?
2.Conversely, how do some Hollywood movies take advantage of a big budget or make
creative of a small budget?
3.Where is much of the money directed? The stars? The special effects? The promotion?
4.Does the film seem especially earthy or commercial, or does it try to reach a compromise
between the two? Why?
5.Who is the intended audience of the film: teenagers? The middle class? Intellectuals?
HAVING PREPARATORY QUESTIONS IN MIND AS YOU SIT DOWN TO WATCH A MOVIE WILL SHARPEN AND DIRECT YOUR ANALYTICAL ABILITIES (ex. pg. 20)
To write an intelligent, perceptive analysis of the stories and characters in the movies, you must be prepared to see them as constructed according to certain forms and styles that arise from many different historical influences. This is what analysis of the movies is fundamentally about: examining how a subject has been formed to mean something specific through the power of art, technology and commerce.
II.TALKING BACK TO THE MOVIES
Questioning and Annotating is one of the surest ways to start any analysis of a movie. In contrast to literature, however, the special problem with film is that the images are constantly moving, so an analytic spectator must develop the habit of looking for key moments , patterns, or images within the film-even a second or third viewing.
A.Two guidelines may help initiate this dialogue with a movie:
1. Note which elements of the movie strike you as unfamiliar or perplexing.
2. Note which elements are repeated to emphasize a point or a perception.
B. Recognizing Patterns. Every movie uses patterns of repetition that are contrasted with
striking singular moments. Recognizing these patterns and deciphering why they are
important is a first step toward analyzing the meaning of a move.
1. What does the title mean in relation to the story?
2. Why does the movie start the way it does?
3. When was the film made?
4. Why are the opening credits presented in such a manner against this particular
5. Why does the film conclude on this image?
6. How is this movie similar to or different from Hollywood movies I have seen recently or
from those of an older generation?
7. Does this film resemble any foreign films I know?
8. Is there a pattern of striking camera movement, perhaps long shots or dissolves or abrupt
9. Which three or four sequences are the most important?
10. Example-Being John Malkovich pg 23
Potentially any and every aspect of the film is important.
Jot down information about props, costumes, camera positions, and so on, even during a first screening, and then choose the most telling evidence. These are the first steps in developing a strong and perceptive argument.
III. TAKING NOTES
A. Analysis of a film requires more than one viewing. Ideally, a first viewing can be a free
viewing in which you enjoy the film on its most immediate level. With the second
screening, you can begin to take more careful and detailed notes.
B. Preliminary notes can be simply a shorthand version of the questions and dialogue a movie
generates in your mind. The trick is to learn to make economical use of your time and to
recognize key sequences, shots or narrative facts.
C. Limit yourself to noting, with as much detail as possible, what you consider the three or four
most important scenes, shots, or sequences in a film.
D. Most films offer recognizable dramatic moments or major themes that signal an audience to
attend to what is happening.. Ex. opening sequence in Citizen Kane.
E. In noting this kind of information, be as specific and concrete as possible; record not only
the figures and objects in the frame (the content)., but also how the frame itself and its
photographic qualities (the form) are used to define that content through camera angles,
lighting, the use of depth and surface, and editing techniques.
F. Develop a shorthand system for technical information. pg. 27-28.
G. Anticipate a specific argument and essay in order to focus on different kinds of information,
from themes and characters to technical elements and editing structures.
IV. VISUAL MEMORY AND REFLECTION
A. Elaborate on notes shortly after seeing the movie.
B.A memory can be trained and developed; no one should seek to justify careless viewing and
annotation by claiming a "bad memory."
C. When reviewing notes, the shape and direction of the argument may begin to appear in an
idea of what you wish to say about the movie.
D. Methodical notes allow a viewer to map accurately what happens in a movie, to record
details about the subject and its meaning that would otherwise fade from memory.
Main Features of Narrative (The Film Experience by Timothy Corrigan and Patricia White)
A story is the subject matter or raw material of a narrative, the actions and events, usually perceived in terms of a beginning, middle, and an end and focused on one or two characters, those individuals who motivate the events of the story.
Stories tend to be summarized easily, as in "the tale of a man's frontier life on the Nebraska prairie" and "the story of two woman fighting for equal rights in Pakistan."
The plot orders the events and actions of the story according to particular temporal and spatial patterns, selecting some actions, individuals and events and omitting others.
The plot of one story may include the smallest details in the life of a character; another may highlight only major cataclysmic events. One plot may present a story as progressing forward step by step from the beginning to the end; another may present that same story by moving backward in time. One plot may describe a story as the product of the desires and drives of a character; whereas another might suggest that events take place outside the control of that character. Thus, one plot of President John F. Kennedy's life could describe all the specifics of his childhood through the details of his adulthood; another plot might focus only on his combat experience during World War II, the major events of his presidency, and his shocking assassination in 1963. The first might begin with his birth, and the second with his death. Finally, how the plot is formulated can also differ significantly: one version of this story might depict Kennedy's life as the product of his energetic vision and personal ideals, whereas another version presents his triumphs and tragedies as the consequence of historical circumstances.
Narration refers to the emotional, physical, or intellectual perspective through which the characters, events, and action of the plot appear. Sometimes, narration is associated just with the action of the camera and occasionally reinforced by verbal commentary on that action. In other instances, as in Memento, the narration becomes identified with the voiceover commentary of a single individual, usually (but not always) someone who is a character in the story; this perspective is call first-person narration, often recognized as the reflection of one person's subjective point of view. In still other films, such as the epic Gone with the Wind, the narration may assume a more objective and detached stance vis-à-vis the plot and characters, seeing events from outside the story; this is referred to as third-person narration.
NARRATIVE: A CHAIN OF EVENTS IN CAUSE-EFFECT RELATIONSHIP
OCCURRING IN TIME AND SPACE
-A FILM DOES NOT JUST START: IT BEGINS.
PLOT AND STORY
STORY: ALL THE EVENTS THAT WE SEE AND HEAR, PLUS ALL THOSE THAT WE
INFER OR ASSUME TO HAVE OCCURRED, ARRANGED IN THEIR
film's overall plot duration consists of highlighting certain stretches of story
-screen duration: High Noon
-montage for passage of explained time
-story event may appear twice or even more
The plot supplies cues about chronological sequence, the time span of the actions, and the number of times an event occurs, and it is up to the spectator to make inference and form expectations.
-important in films: locale tells part of the story
OPENINGS, CLOSINGS, AND PATTERNS OF DEVELOPMENT
Depend on the ways causes and effects create a change in a character's situation
-Change in knowledge: character learns something in the course of the action, with the most
crucial knowledge at the turning point of the plot
-Goal-oriented plots: character takes steps to achieve a desired object or state of
affairs: searches, investigations
-Time: the deadline
-Space plots: confined to a single locale
The purpose of a pattern is engage the spectator in making long-term expectations which can be delayed, cheated, or gratified.
A FILM ALSO DOES NOT SIMPLE STOP: IT ENDS
-By the time we reach the end, there may be very few possibilities for further development.
NARRATION: THE FLOW OF STORY INFORMATION
Narration: the plot's way of distributing story information in order to achieve specific effects: the
moment-by moment process that guides us in building the story out of the plot.
RANGE OF STORY INFORMATION: THE NARRATOR
Plots information creates a hierarchy of knowledge; does the viewer know more than, less than, or as much as the characters do.
-OMNISCIENT NARRATION/ UNRESTRICTED
-THIRD PERSON, FIRST PERSON/RESTRICTED
DEPTH OF STORY INFORMATION
Film's narration manipulates viewer's depth of knowledge
-external behavior of what characters say or do
-access to what characters see and hear
-in the character's mind (inner images that represent memory, fantasy,
dreams, or hallucinations
The more restrictive, the greater the subjective depth
CLASSICAL HOLLYWOOD CINEMA
-action primarily from individual characters as causal agents
-narrative invariably centers on personal psychological causes: decisions, choices, and traits of the character
-often an important trait that functions to get the narrative moving is a desire. The character wants something. The desire sets up a goal, and the course of the narratives development will most likely involve the process of achieving that goal
-there is a counter force : an opposition that creates conflict. The protagonist comes up against a
character whose traits and goals are opposed to his or hers. As a result, the protagonist must seek to change the situation so that he or she can achieve the goal.
-the chain of actions that results from predominantly psychological cues tends to motivate most or all other narrative events. Time is subordinated to the cause-effect chain in a host of ways. The plot will omit significant durations in order to show only events of causal importance. The plot will order story chronology so as to present the cause-effect chain most strikingly.
-specific devices weld plot time to the story's cause-effect chain:
the appointment-motivates the characters' encountering each other at a specific moment
the deadline- which makes plot duration dependent on cause-effect chain
-motivation will strive to be as clear and complete as possible
-tendency for narration to be objective and unrestricted
-strong degrees of closure
ALTERNATIVE FILM NARRATIVES (from The Film Experience by Timothy Corrigan and Patricia White)
...their narrative constructions often dramatize the disjunction between how individuals live their lives according to personal temporal patterns and how those patterns conflict with those of the social history that intersects with their lives.
-deviate from or challenge the linearity of the narrative
-undermine the centrality of a main character
-question the objective realism of classical narrative
...these movies tell stories while also revealing information or perspectives traditionally excluded from classical narratives in order to unsettle audience expectations, provoke new thinking, or differentiate themselves from more common narrative structures.
THE SHOT: MISE-EN-SCENE/STAGING AN ACTION
From Tim Corrigan A Short Guide to Writing About Film:
"...a French term roughly translated as 'what is put into the scene' (put before the camera), refers to all those properties of a cinematic image that exists independently of camera position, camera movement, and editing (although a viewer will see thee different dimensions united in one image). Mise-en-scene includes lighting, costume, sets, the quality of the acting, and other shapes and characters in the scene."
COSTUME AND MAKE-UP
ATTACHED SHADOWS/CAST SHADOWS
FOUR MAJOR FEATURES OF FILM LIGHTING
QUALITY, DIRECTION, SOURCE, COLOR
THREE POINT LIGHTING
HIGH-KEY AND LOW-KEY LIGHTING
FIGURE EXPRESSION AND MOVEMENT
ACTING AND ACTUALITY
ACTING: FUNCTIONS AND MOTIVATION
INDIVIDUALIZED OR STYLIZED
ACTING IN THE CONTEXT OF OTHER TECHNIQUES
USE OF SOUND
COMBINATION OF SHOTS
DISTANCE FROM THE CAMERA
MISE-EN-SCENE IN SPACE AND TIME
TWO-DIMENSIONAL VS THREE-DIMENSIONAL
COOL VS WARM COLORS
BLACK AND WHITE FILM
LIGHT SHADES/DARKER SHADES
BALANCE RIGHT AND LEFT HALF
CENTER ON HUMAN BODY
LARGE VS SMALL
SHALLOW VS DEEP-SPACE COMPOSITION
PATTERN OF ACCENTS
STRONGER OR WEAKER BEATS
CHARACTER: AN EXTENDED (VERBAL OR VISUAL) REPRESENTATION OF A HUMAN BEING, BOTH THE INNER AND THE OUTER SELF THROUGH ACTION, SPEECH, DESCRIPTION, AND/OR COMMENTARY.
MAJOR CHARACTER TRAITS:
A TRAIT IS A QUALITY OF MIND OR HABITUAL MODE OF BEHAVIOR
HOW IS CHARACTER DISCLOSED?
1. WHAT THE CHARACTERS DO
2. HOW THE CHARACTERS ARE DESCRIBED
- BOTH THEIR PERSONS AND THE ENVIRONMENT THEY CONTROL
3. WHAT THE CHARACTERS THEMSELVES SAY (AND THINK, IF THE AUTHOR
EXPRESSES THEIR THOUGHTS)
4. WHAT OTHER CHARACTERS SAY ABOUT THEM
5. WHAT THE AUTHOR, FILMMAKER SAYS OR SHOWS ABOUT THEM, SPEAKING AS
STORYTELLER OR OBSERVER
CHARACTERS IN MOST FICTION/FILM SHOULD BE TRUE TO LIFE. THEIR ACTIONS
STATEMENTS, AND THOUGHTS MUST ALL BE WHAT HUMAN BEINGS ARE LIKELY
TO DO, SAY, AND THINK UNDER THE CONDITIONS PRESENTED IN THE STORY:
THIS IS THE STANDARD OF VERISIMILITUDE, PROBABILITY, OR PLAUSIBILITY.
TYPES OF CHARACTERS: ROUND AND FLAT
E.M. Forester in Aspects of the Novel
The round character profits from experience and undergoes a change or alteration which may take the narrative form of
1. performance of a particular action,
2. realization of a new strength and therefore the affirmation of previous decisions,
3. acceptance of a new condition, or
4. the realization of previously unrecognized truths.
Skillful authors give us enough details to enable us to understand the dynamic processes by which round characters develop.
Flat characters do not grow and are not dynamic.
They end where they begin, are static, and usually highlight the development of the round characters.
They can be like stock characters as in the Comedia dell Arte.
-representative of their class or group
-characters in repeating situations with common traits
Ex. class clown, ingénue, inept father, wise father
A DRAMATIC STORY MUST CONTAIN CHARACTERS WHOSE EMOTIONS ARE BEING TESTED IN SOME UNUSUAL CIRCUMSTANCES AND WHOSE REACTIONS TO THESE CIRCUMSTANCES CAUSE THE ACTION OF THE STORY TO MOVE IN A RISING FASHION, GENERATING A BEGINNING, A MIDDLE, AND AN END TO THE STORY. CHARACTERS MUST EXCITE AND INTRIGUE THE VIEWER WHILE COMMANDING THEIR EMOTIONAL INVOLVEMENT.
THE PROBLEM IS HOW TO TRANSPOSE A CHARACTER FROM THE WRITTEN PAGE TO THE SCREEN WHILE REMAINING FAITHFUL TO THE ORIGINAL WRITER'S CREATION.
FOUR TOOLS FOR DEVELOPING CHARACTER 1. CREATE SYMPATHETIC OR EMPATHETIC CHARACTERS. OVERCOME NEGATIVE
-CHANGING THE DIALOGUE EX. BARFLY 2. FOCUS ON RELEVANT BACKSTORY. ELIMINATE AND NARROW DOWN THE
ABUNDANT BACKGROUND INFORMATION GIVEN BY THE ORIGINAL WRITER. -WHAT WILL REVEAL CHARACTER MOTIVATION
-WHAT ADVANCES AND MAINTAINS THE TENSION OF THE STORY
3. CREATE PRECISE AND BRIEF CHARACTER DESCRIPTIONS. BOIL DOWN TWO
PAGES OF CHARACTER DESCRIPTION INTO FIVE OR TEN SUCCINCT
4. SHOW CHARACTER MOTIVATION. TURN NARRATIVE EXPLANATION
INTO VISUAL ACTION. -TURN NARRATIVE EXPLANATION INTO VISUAL ACTION
From Corrigan A Short Guide to Writing About Film Ask yourself if these characters seem or are mean to seem realistic.
1. What makes them realistic?
2. Are they defined by their clothes, their conversation, or something else?
3. If they are not realistic, why not, and why are they meant to seem strange, or fantastic?
4. Do the characters seem to fit the setting of the story?
5. Does the movie focus mainly on one of two characters (as in The Big Sleep) or on many (as in
Nashville, in which there doesn't seem to be a central character)?
6. Do the characters change, and if so, in what ways?
7. What values do the characters seem to represent:
a. What do they say about such matters as independence, sexuality, and political belief?
THE PHOTOGRAPHIC IMAGE OUTLINE FILM STOCK
-more or less contrast
-slow stock: not very sensitive to light, high contrast
TINTING: DIPPING DEVELOPED FILM INTO DYE
TONING: DYE ADDED DURING DEVELOPING OF POSITIVE PRINT
EXPOSURE: REGULATING HOW MUCH LIGHT PASSES THROUGH LENS
-FILM NOIR: underexpose shadowy regions
FILTERS: SLICES OF GLASS OR GELATIN PUT IN FRONT OF LENS TO REDUCE
CERTAIN FREQUENCIES OF LIGHT
-FLASHING:film exposed to light before shooting or before processing, adjusts
SPEED OF MOTION:
RELATION BETWEEN RATE AT WHICH FILM WAS SHOT AND THE RATE
OF PROJECTION, CALCULATED IN FRAMES PER SECOND USUALLY 24
RANGE: 8-64 FRAMES PER SECOND
-fewer frames per second shot, the faster the screen action
-more frames per second shot, the slower the screen action
-when used for medium or close-up, distortion may occur such as bulging
at the edges of the frame
-distances between foreground and background seem greater, so figures
moving to or from the camera seem to cover ground more quickly
2. middle-focal length (normal) lens 35-50mm
-seeks to avoid perspective distortion
-horizontal and vertical lines are straight and perpendicular
-foreground and background should not stretched apart or squashed
3. long-focal length (telephoto) lens 75-250mm
-flattens the space along the camera axis
-cues for depth and volume are reduced
-planes seem squashed together
-figure moving toward the camera takes more time to cover what seems
to be a small distance
THE LENS: DEPTH OF FIELD AND FOCUS
1. depth of field: range of distance before the lens within which objects can be
photographed in sharp focus
-short focal-length (wide angle) has greater depth of field than long
2. deep space: way the filmmaker has stage the action on several different
planes, regardless of whether or not all of these planes are in focus
-selective focus: focus on only one plane and let other planes blur; draws
viewer's attention to the main character or object
-deep focus: using shorter-focal-length lens, faster film, and more intense
lighting resulting in several planes being in sharp focus
-racking focus or pulling focus: object close to lens is in focus and then
rack-focus so something in the distance
springs into crisp focus or vice versa.
FRAME ACTIVELY DEFINES THE IMAGE
-choosing a position for the camera makes a difference in the framing of the image and
how the filmed image is perceived
AFFECTS THE IMAGE
1. SIZE AND SHAPE OF THE FRAME
aspect ratio:ratio of frame width to frame height
academy ration: 1.33:1, approximately 3 to 2
widescreen ratio: most common, 1.85:1
2. ONSCREEN AND OFF SCREEN SPACE
character enter the image from somewhere and go off to another area
- off screen space
six zones: space beyond each of the four edges of the frame, space behind the
set, and the space behind the camera
Filmmaker can imply the presence of things in these zones.
Character can direct looks or gestures at something off screen.
3. ANGLE, LEVEL, HEIGHT, AND DISTANCE OF FRAMING
ANGLE: STRAIGHT-ON, HIGH, LOW
LEVEL: HORIZONTAL EDGES OF THE FRAME WILL BE
PARALLEL TO THE HORIZON OF THE SHOT
CANTED: HORIZON AT DIAGONAL ANGLES
DISTANCE: SCALE OF THE HUMAN BODY
EXTREME LONG SHOT: BARELY VISIBLE
LONG SHOT: FIGURES VISIBLE, BACKGROUND DOMINATES
PLAN AMERICAN: HUMAN FRAMED FROM KNEES UP
MEDIUM LONG SHOT: SHOTS AT THE SAME DISTANCE OF
MEDIUM SHOT: HUMAN FRAMED FROM THE WAIST UP
EXTREME CLOSE-UP: SINGLES OUT PORTION OF THE FACE
FUNCTIONS OF FRAMING:
WHAT FUNCTIONS DO THE TECHNIQUES PERFORM IN THE
PARTICULAR CONTEXT OF THE TOTAL FILM
-camera distance can establish or reestablish settings and character
-framing can isolate a narrative detail
-framing can cue the viewer to take a shot as "subjective"- point-of-view
-camera distance and angle can situate us in one area of the narrative
-canted framing may serve to mark shots as distinctly different from the
rest of the film
-repetitions of certain framings may associate themselves with character
-certain framings in a film may stand out because of their rarity
THE MOBILE FRAME: WITHIN THE CONFINES OF THE IMAGE,
THE FRAMING OF THE OBJECT CHANGES-WITHIN THE SHOT CHANGES OF
CAMERA HEIGHT, DISTANCE, ANGLE, OR LEVEL WITHIN THE SHOT.
PAN: CAMERA ROTATES ON A VERTICAL AXIS
TILT: CAMERA ROTATES ON HORIZONTAL AXIS
TRACKING SHOT: CAMERA AS A WHOLE CHANGES
POSITION, TRAVELING FORWARD,
BACKWARD, CIRCULARLY, DIAGONALLY,
OR FROM SIDE TO SIDE
CRANE SHOT: CAMERA MOVES ABOVE GROUND LEVEL
-increase information about the space of the image
-objects' positions become more vivid and sharp
-new objects are revealed
-can be powerful clue for POV shot
1. MOBILE FRAME AND SPACE
-forward tracking shot or zoom puts onscreen space off screen
-camera can move backward and bring something unexpected into the
-reframing: guides our attention and maintains a balanced composition
-camera can move with object or person subordinating to subject's
-camera can move away to reveal something of significance to the
2. MOBILE FRAME AND TIME
3. PATTERNS OF MOBILE FRAMING
DURATION OF THE IMAGE: THE LONG TAKE
-duration of the event on the screen maybe be manipulated by adjustments in the
camera's or printer's drive mechanism- slow motion or fast motion
-manipulation of screen duration can condense a story duration- can be done in a
THE LONG TAKE: UNUSUALLY LENGTHY SHOTS
-a take is one run of the camera that records a single shot
-sequence shot: entire scene is rendered in only one shot
-used selectively usually alternating with scenes that rely heavily on editing
-frequently allied to the mobile frame: panning, tracking ,craning, or zooming
-tend to be framed in medium or long shots
-tends to put more emphasis on performance, setting, lighting
VIEWING CUES Look for a pattern of compositional distances in a film. Do there seem to be a large number of long shots? Close-ups? Some other pattern? How does the pattern reinforce the purpose of the scene or the theme of the film?
How is color used in the film? For more realism? For more specific purposes? Try to identify
one color that strikes you as dominant. How would you explain the importance of that color?
Examine one or two shots in which camera movement -tracks, pans, zooms, or others-are important. Why is a moving frame of a single shot used here instead of a series of shots? How does the movement comment on what is happening?
What is the angle at which the camera frame represents the action? Does it create a high angle, viewing its subject from above, or a low angle, viewing the action from below? Why?
Does the height of the frame correspond to a normal relationship to the people and objects before the camera; that is, are they at eye level, more or less? Or does the camera seem to be place at an odd height, too high or too low? Why?
Does the camera frame ever seem unbalanced in relation to the space and action (called a canted frame)? Why?
Besides describing and containing the action, does the frame suggest other action or space outside its borders? Do important events or sounds occur outside the borders of the frame-in off-screen space? What is the significance of this off-screen space or its relation to what is seen within the frame?
DOCUMENTARIES AND EXPERIMENTAL FILM OUTLINE WHAT IS TRUTH AND HOW IS IT PORTRAYED?
Experimental core of both documentary and experimental movies is intellectual and imaginative insights, an enlarging of what we can know, feel, and see without the primary task of telling a story.
Documentary and experimental practices have aimed to
-accurately portray facts and realties
-communicate new knowledge and information
-alter ways of seeing and thinking
An example of the merging of both intellectual and imaginative insights is Dogtown and Z-Boys. The film communicates ideas and facts about the birth of a sport and the individuals who help develop it; on the other hand it creates a poetic collage of still photos, music and talking heads capturing the motional energy and visual ballet in skate boarding that many of us many not have previously appreciated.
present, presumably, real objects, persons, and events-from sensational news to everyday
concentrate on or "experiment with" unconventional forms and actions-from abstract image and
sound patterns to strange visionary worlds found in dreams or hallucinations.
The cornerstone of documentary and experimental films are two key and often debated concepts: non-fiction and non-narrative. Although non-narrative has commonly been applied to both documentary and experimental films, nonfiction has been primarily associated with documentary films
Nonfiction in films refers to the presumed factual descriptions of actual events, persons, or places, rather than their fictional or invented recreation .
Non-narrative indicates the organization of films in a variety of ways that eschews or de-emphasizes stories and narratives, while employing such other organizational forms as lists, repetitions, or contrasts as the organizational structure.
VALUES AND TRADITIONS OF DOCUMENTARY AND EXPERIMENTAL FILMS Documentary and Experimental films suggest important relationships between themselves and society. They suggest the world is more varied and complex than a story often allows us to see. Successful documentary and experimental. films offer different kinds of truth and creativity than narrative movies can communicate or provide. They often question the basic terms of narratives, such as the centrality of characters, the importance of a coherent chronology, or the necessity of a narrative point of view.
They work according to two primary differential values:
1. They reveal new or ignored realities typically not seen in narrative films
-they work to present realistic images through certain perspective or techniques that might
seem out of place in a narrative movie., might mean showing people, events, or levels of
reality we have not seen before because they have been excluded from our social experiences
object or place from angles beyond the range of human vision
2. They expand ways of seeing and hearing beyond what narrative films can offer.
-they press us to open our sense and our minds in unaccustomed ways.
Ex. Andy Warhol's Empire (1964) creates the illusion of a single shot of the Empire
State Building that lasts eight hours.
-they might use unusual filmic techniques or materials such as abstract graphic designs and
animation, as vehicles for seeing and thinking in fresh ways.
Two Traditions: Social Documentaries and Avant-Garde Films
-examine and present both familiar and unfamiliar peoples, cultures, and social activities
from around the world
-emphasizes one or both of the following goals
1. authenticity, in representing how people live and interact
2. discovery, in representing unknown environments and cultures.
-aims to explore human suffering and struggle or to celebrate the activities of common
men and women
-aim to reveal cultures and peoples in the most authentic terms, without imposing the
-transform film into an extension of anthropology, searching out the social rituals and cultural
habits that distinguish the people of particular, often primitive societies.
Cinema Verite - French for "cinema truth
-arose in late 50s to 60s in Canada and France before spreading to United States
-one of the most important and influential schools for investigating and presenting a true
picture of the world
-insists on filming real objects, people, and events in a confrontational way, in which the reality
of the subject continually acknowledges the reality of the camera recording it
-uses lightweight cameras creating images in jerky immediacy to suggest filmmaker's
participation and absorption in the events they were recording
-rules of continuity and character development are willfully ignored. Here reality is not just
what objectively appears; it is also the fictions and fantasies that the people who are being
filmed create for and about themselves and the acknowledged involvement of the filmmaker as
-French cinema verite unlike American counterpart draws particular attention to the subjective
perspective of the camera's rhetorical position, such as using a voiceover frequently that
makes ironic remarks about what is being shown.
Direct Cinema American version of Cinema Verite
-Developed between 1958-1963
-more observational and less confrontational
-used lighter and more mobile equipment than traditional documentaries, worked in smaller
crews, and rejected traditional conceptions of script and structure
-sought to study individuals, to reveal the moment by moment development of a situation, to
search for instances of drama or psychological revelation
-let the action unfold naturally and permitted people to speak for themselves
Example: Primary (1960) a report on the Wisconsin primary contest between John Kennedy
and Hubert Humphrey. Richard Leacock, Don Pennebaker, David and Albert Maysles
Dogma 95 Film Collective Founder Lars von Triers
-!995 radical call for new kinds of fiction film
-variation on practice of cinema verite
Manifesto: films should always be made on location using handheld cameras and available light
no special effects be added
genre films are unacceptable
directors must never be credited
FORMAL STRATEGIES IN DOCUMENTARY AND EXPERIMENTAL FILMS Documentaries concentrated on developing scientific and materialist approach to life and experimental films focus on an artistic and imaginative approach.
-strategies to present information or perspectives without the temporal logic of narrative and
with little explicit explanation or commentary.
-observe the facts of life from a distance and organize their observations as objectively as
possible or to suggest some definition of the subject through the exposition itself.
Three Forms of Expositional Practice
1. Cumulative Exposition
-accumulates a catalogue of images or sounds through the course of the film
2. Contrasting Exposition
-organizes its presentation as a series of contrasts or oppositions meant to indicate the different
points of view on its subject or oppositions meant to indicate the different points of view on its
-these contrasts may be evaluative, distinguishing positive and negative events
-contrastive exposition may suggest a more complicated relationship between objects or
3. Developmental Exposition
-presents places, objects, individuals, or experiences through a pattern or development with a specific non-narrative logic or structure
-for example, an individual or object may be presented according to a pattern that proceeds
from small to large, as part of a developmental pattern from passive to active events
Imaginative Practices 1. metaphoric forms
-link or associate different objects, images, events, or individuals in order to generate a new
perception, emotion, or idea.
-might be done by linking two different images, by indicating a connection between two objects or figures within a single frame, or by creating metaphors in the voiceover commentary as it responds to and anticipates images in the film
Ex. Eisenstein 1924 Strike juxtaposes images of workers being shot and a slaughtered bull
metaphorically describes the brutal dehumanization of those workers.
2. Symbolic forms
-isolate discrete objects or singular images that can generate or be assigned abstract meanings,
either meanings already give those objects or images by a culture or ones created by the film itself
3. Structural and Abstract forms
-foreground patterns, rhythms, movements, shapes or colors that are abstracted form real actions and objects or created independently from recognizable figures to depict a more pure formal art
CINEMATIC INVESTIGATIONS 1. Interrogative or analytical positions
-structure a movie either in terms of an implicit or explicit question-and- answer format or by
other techniques that identify a subject as under investigation
-most common interrogative techniques is the use of a voiceover or on camera voice that asks questions of individuals or objects that do or do not respond to the questioning
-may also make the implied question even more complicated by comparing and contrasting different images so layered and complex that they are difficult to explain or respond to
-may lead to more knowledge about an experience or may make the question of how we know
the different cultures of the world the essential question of the film
Example: Alain Renais's Night and Fog (1955) images of the Nazi concentration camps when
the survivors were liberated are alternated with contemporary images of the same empty camps,
the complex organizational refrain of the film becomes "Who is responsible?"
2. Expressive or persuasive positions
-articulate a perspective either as the expression of emotions, beliefs, or some other personal or
social position or an attempt to persuade an audience to feel a certain way
-may emphasize a personal voice or vision as the main subject of the film dramatizes that personal presence through such techniques as voiceovers, handheld camera movements, or documents such as old pictures, letters.
Example:Ross McElwee's Sherman's March(1986) the filmmaker sets out on a journey to document the conquest of the south by the famous Civil War general: along the way, however,
the film becomes more about the filmmakers own failed attempts to start of maintain a
romantic relations with the many women he meets.
-attempts to persuade or convince, may downplay the presence of the personal perspective and instead use images and sounds to influence viewers through argument or emotional appeal, as in propagandistic movies that urge certain politician or social vies.
-can use the power of documentary images themselves, set up revealing contrasts between certain images or between what is said and what is seen, or use voices and interviews in an attempt to convince viewers of a particular truth or cause.
Example: Frederick Wiseman's Titicut Follies (1967) works as an expose of a Massachusetts prison for the criminally insane ; much of the film's power resides solely in shocking images, meant to provoke and outrage an audience about the institutional abuses of the prisoner
QUESTIONS TO APPLY TO FILMS VIEWED IN CLASS
If it is primarily a non-fiction film, describe three facts or realities that are among its primary focus. Does the film aim to make you see these realities in new ways? What specific information or knowledge is the film trying to communicate?
If it is primarily a non-narrative film, describe one or tow of its non-narrative forms and patterns. What is the film trying to communicate thought the presentation of those patterns?
Look into the film's historical background: would it have been viewed differently at the time it was made? Why and how?
What historical precedents might explain the strategies used in this film? Scientific treatises? Essays? news reports? Abstract art? Does aligning the film with one or more historical precedents shed light on its aims? Explain.
Explain carefully the formal organization of the film. Does the way this film is put together follow a clear formal strategy. Is the strategy expositional, imaginative, or a combination of both? Explain.
If the film's strategy is primarily expositional, does it use one or more of the associated techniques-cumulative, contrastive, or developmental exposition: Which one seems more important than the others? What experience or facts does the film present?
If the film's strategy is primarily imaginative, which of the associated techniques is most important to the film: metaphoric, symbolic, structural, or abstract forms. Identify the most representative shot or sequence and its meaning.
Compare the subject matter and formal strategies of the film. Do the dominant techniques seem appropriate to the presentation of the subject? Can you imagine another way of filming this subject? Explain.
Can the perspective or "attitude" of this film be described as a rhetorical position? Would you describe the presiding voice or attitude that shapes the perspective of the film as analytic or artistic?
POINT OF VIEW OUTLINE
QUESTIONS TO APPLY TO FILMS VIEWED IN CLASS Remember- what is truth and how is it revealed?
-accurately portray facts and realties
-communicate new knowledge and information
-alter ways of seeing and thinking
If it is primarily a non-fiction film, describe three facts or realities that are among its primary focus.
Does the film aim to make you see these realities in new ways?
What specific information or knowledge is the film trying to communicate?
If it is primarily a non-narrative film, describe one or two of its non-narrative forms and patterns, that is, lists, repetitions, or contrasts.
What is the film trying to communicate through the presentation of those patterns?
CONDITIONS THAT AFFECT POINT OF VIEW
1. Position as an observer
2. Completeness and accuracy of observations
3. Degree of participation
4. Partiality or impartiality
5. Desire to draw conclusion about an action
6. Situation of the speaker and audience
KINDS OF POINT OF VIEW FIRST PERSON POINT OF VIEW
When you encounter a first person narrative, determine the position and ability of the narrator.
First person speakers might report things in a number of ways:
1. What they have done, said, heard, and thought (first hand experience)
2. What they have observed others do and say (first hand witness)
3. What others have told them (second hand testimony and heresy)
4. What they are able to reconstruct from the information they have (hypothetical or
Their abilities, position to observe, attitudes, prejudices or self-interest, and judgment of their readers or listeners are to be considered in everything they say.
SECOND PERSON POINT OF VIEW
THIRD PERSON POINT OF VIEW
1. Dramatic or Objective
- the basic mode of presenting action and dialogue is dramatic or objective point of view
- narrator reports events in a way that is analogous to a hovering or tracking motion-picture camera
- as complete and impartial as the speaker's position
as an observer allows.
-when the speaker not only presents the action and dialogue of the work, but also, like God, reports
what the characters are thinking.
3. Limited, or Limited Omniscient
-more common, author confines or limits attention to a major character.
-the central figure on whom things are focused
4. Mingling points of view
- shift point of view in order to sustain interest, create suspense, or put the burden of response
entirely on the readers.
GUIDELINES FOR POINTS OF VIEW 1. FIRST PERSON
- narrator is involved to a least some degree in the actions
- such narrators may have
1. complete understanding,
2. partial or incorrect understanding,
3. no understanding at all.
a. Major participant
1. telling his or her own story and thoughts as a major mover
2. telling a story about others an also about herself or himself as one of the major
3. telling a story mainly about others, and about himself only tangentially
b. Minor participant
telling a story about events experienced and witnessed
c. Nonparticipating but identifiable speaker learns about events in other ways-listening
to participants, examining documents, hearing news reports. The narrator might then tell the
story as a report, or as a combination report and reconstruction
2. SECOND PERSON
3. THIRD PERSON
- The speaker is outside the action and is mainly a reporter of actions and speeches.
- Some speakers may have unique and distinguishing traits even though no separate identity is
claimed for them.
- Other third person speakers who are not separately identifiable may represent the words and view
of the authors themselves
a. Dramatic or third-person objective
Narrator reports only what can be seen and heard, thoughts of characters are included only if
they are spoken or written
Narrator sees all, reports all, and knows and explains, when necessary, the inner workings of
the minds of any or all characters
c. Limited, or limited omniscient
The focus in on the actions, response, thoughts, and feelings of a single major character.
THIS INFORMATION COMES FORM FILMSITE.ORG CREATED BY TOM DIRKS
WAR and ANTI-WAR FILMS
War and Anti-War Films often acknowledge the horror and heartbreak of war, letting the actual combat fighting or conflict (against nations or humankind) provide the primary plot or background for the action of the film. Typical elements in the action-oriented war plots include POW camp experiences and escapes, submarine warfare, espionage, personal heroism, "war is hell" brutalities, air dogfights, tough trench/infantry experiences, or male-bonding buddy adventures during wartime. Themes explored in war films include combat, survivor and escape stories, tales of gallant sacrifice and struggle, studies of the futility and inhumanity of battle, the effects of war on society, and intelligent and profound explorations of the moral and human issues.
Some war films do balance the soul-searching, tragic consequences and inner turmoil of combatants or characters with action-packed, dramatic spectacles, enthusiastically illustrating the excitement and turmoil of warfare. And some 'war' films concentrate on the homefront rather than on the conflict at the military war-front. But many of them provide decisive criticism of senseless warfare.
War films have often been used as 'flag-waving' propaganda to inspire national pride and morale, and to display the nobility of one's own forces while harshly displaying and criticizing the villainy of the enemy, especially during war or in post-war periods. Jingoistic-type war films usually do not represent war realistically in their support of nationalistic interests, while avoiding the reality of the horrors of war. The good guys are portrayed as clashing against the bad guys (often with stereotyped labels such as 'krauts,' 'commies,' 'Huns,' or 'nips'). These revisionistic, politically-correct and historically inaccurate films, in such diverse examples as Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) and The Alamo(1960), would often redefine the facts. Unpopular wars (such as the Vietnam War), however, have generated both supportive and critical films about the conflict.
War films are often paired with other genres, such as romance, comedy (black), and suspense-thrillers. A number of war films are actually historical epics, authentic attempts to recreate the experience of war on screen, rather than pure war films. Some are actually westerns masquerading as war films.
This genre has existed since the earliest years of cinematic production in the silent era. Film-makers have been provided ample opportunities for material from American history, stretching from the French and Indian Wars to the Vietnam War. In particular, the many wars of the 20th century (primarily the First and Second World Wars, but also subsequent wars) have provided rich material for film makers. War films as a major film genre emerged after the outbreak of World War I.
Earliest War Films:
The first war film to be documented was a one-reel, 90-second propagandist effort - the Vitagraph Company's fictitious Tearing Down the Spanish Flag (1898), produced in the year of the Spanish-American War. It portrayed a faked, reconstructed version of the seizure of a Spanish government installation in Havana by U.S. Army troops, the removal of the foreign flag, and its replacement by the Stars and Stripes. One of the first to show the necessity for preparedness during the Great War's European conflict, thereby demonstrating the propagandistic power of the new medium, was Vitagraph's silent film drama The Battle Cry of Peace (1915) with Norma Talmadge.
Early filmmakers steered away from making war pictures because of their enormous cost for extras - uniformed and equipped in massive battle sequences. Hollywood producers did not recognize the box-office potential of propagandist war and anti-war films until the success of D. W. Griffith's influential Civil War epic adapted from Thomas Dixon's The Clansman, The Birth Of A Nation (1915), focusing on the effects of the war on two families - the Southern Camerons and the Northern Stonemans. The film included semi-documentary, panoramic battle scenes and other historical events during the Civil War era. The following year, Griffith's 4-strand epic Intolerance (1916) argued for pacifism.
[Although American Civil War war films are scarce, they include: Gone with the Wind (1939), the westerns Shenandoah (1965) and The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), Glory (1989), Gettysburg (1993) and its prequel Gods and Generals (2003).]
The outbreak of World War I provided Hollywood with one of its greatest sources of plots - and profits. D. W. Griffith's Hearts of the World (1918) was a sentimental, propagandistic film to encourage US entry into the European conflict of the first world war - it included actual battle footage filmed on location in 1917 on the outskirts of the war itself (with the cooperation of the British War Office and the French Government). Griffith's film expressed the effects of the war on a recruit, and displayed the viciousness of the Germans in the person of actor/director Erich von Stroheim, who played the part of a ruthless, cold-blooded, hateful officer - a "beastly Hun." The propagandistic films served mostly as recruitment tools, and as emotional tirades against the enemy, distastefully suggesting that heroic American involvement would bring about victory. The anti-war film that made Rudolf Valentino a star was Rex Ingram's very successful The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) - it used WWI as a backdrop for its story of illicit love.
Appearing around the same era, to express the freedoms of American democracy was Griffith's epic America (1924), a melodramatic account of the American Revolution with innumerable set-pieces (the ride of Paul Revere, Wintering at Valley Forge, etc.).
World War I (The Great War) Era Films:
After the Armistice ending World War I, war films ceased. They were revived in the mid-1920s during peace-time. MGM's and King Vidor's The Big Parade (1925) was a new kind of war film, and the first to realistically portray the horrors of battle and the struggle for survival by three soldier-comrades (a bartender, a riveter, and a millionaire's son) in the trenches. It also told of a love affair between an American doughboy (John Gilbert) and a French peasant girl (Renee Adoree). Director Raoul Walsh's pacifistic What Price Glory? (1926), Fox's answer to Vidor's film, told of Marines (Victor McLaglen and Edmund Lowe) fighting in WWI in France against the enemy in authentic-looking trench warfare and as rivals among themselves vying for the affection of a French village girl named Charmaine (Dolores Del Rio). [John Ford remade the film in 1952 with James Cagney and Dan Dailey.]
Soon after, director William Wellman's silent and early anti-war film Wings (1927) appeared, the greatest of the early aviation epics with spectacular dog-fight combat sequences, and the first film (and only silent film) to be awarded Best Picture. Starring both Clara Bow and Gary Cooper (in an early role), it told the twisting romantic story of two aviators (Charles "Buddy" Rogers and Richard Arlen) both in love with the same girl (Jobyna Ralston). Both the first and third Best Picture winners were war films!
War Films at the Start of the Talkies:
The start of the talkie era meant that war films would now be supplemented with the realistic sounds of war - aerial dogfights, explosions, gunfire, etc. Millionaire director/producer Howard Hughes' expensive Hell's Angels (1930) featured more impressive WWI aerial battle sequences - and the debut of platinum blonde sex symbol Jean Harlow (speaking the famous saucy line: "Would you be shocked if I put on something more comfortable?") in love with two English brothers who were British Royal Flying Corps pilots (Ben Lyon and James Hall).
One of the earliest anti-war films to effectively denounce the horrors of war was the stirring, impassionate All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). Possibly the greatest anti-war film ever made, it was based upon the novel by Erich Maria Remarque that viewed the Great War from the German point of view. All of the young German youths who have gone to the front to voluntarily serve the Fatherland become disillusioned and end up victims of the struggle. Both films portrayed soldiers as human beings who were ravaged by their experiences. A similar, accurate account of the war was German film-maker/director G. W. Pabst's first talkie Westfront 1918 (1930) (aka Comrades of 1918), an anti-war film about the futility of trench warfare for German and French soldiers on the Western Front in WWI. Howard Hawks' melodramatic anti-war film The Road to Glory (1936) portrayed the futility of WWI trench warfare of the French, starring Fredric March and Warner Baxter as officers of a weary regiment of French soldiers.
Because WWI was a decidedly difficult subject to look back upon, movie-goers preferred to see exciting action/adventure war films rather than condemnations of war, such as The Dawn Patrol (1930), starring Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Richard Barthelmess as pilots, which told the stirring, more glamorous story of the British Royal Flying Corps at a remote outpost in France during World War I. [The film was remade eight years later, director Edmund Goulding's The Dawn Patrol (1938), with Errol Flynn in the lead role as a flight commander and Basil Rathbone as the commander officer forced to send amateur pilots into the air against ace German fliers. Flynn also starred in director Michael Curtiz' historically-inaccurate The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), about the memorable military engagement during the mid-19th century Crimean War, that also included a romantic pairing with 19 year old Olivia de Havilland.] Director Frank Borzage's A Farewell to Arms (1932), adapted from Ernest Hemingway's novel, told a tale of WWI romance between a wounded American officer (Gary Cooper) in the Italian ambulance corps and an English Red Cross nurse (Helen Hayes).
Pre-WWII War Films:
For most of the decade of the 1930s, war films went into decline due to increasing US isolationism, and Hollywood made fewer and fewer of them. Then, in the late 1930s, French filmmaker Jean Renoir attempted to signal a warning about warfare's 'grand illusions' with the classic anti-war film La Grand Illusion (1937), set in a WWI German prison camp in 1916 where an aristocratic French officer faced a dilemma regarding his escape with other POWs. Likewise, Renoir's comedy/farce The Rules of the Game (1939) was an indictment of decadent, morally-bankrupt, self-indulgent French upper-class aristocrats.
When the war in Europe commenced in 1939, British film directors tried to alert Americans about the looming German and Italian Fascist threat. Alfred Hitchcock's political/war-time thriller Foreign Correspondent (1940), his second American film, concluded with a plea to the American public to enter the war ("It's as if the lights were all out everywhere, except in America. Keep those lights burning there! Cover them with steel! Ring them with guns! Build a canopy of battleships and bombing planes around them! Hello, America! Hang on to your lights. They're the only lights left in the world..")
Charlie Chaplin lampooned Adolf Hitler (in the role of Adenoid Hynkel) and The Third Reich in The Great Dictator (1940), the director/actor's first all-talking picture - it was Chaplin's last film with the Little Tramp character. Hitler banned German audiences from viewing the picture due to its offensive characterization and even some American audiences believed that Chaplin had become self-indulgent. In the late 30s and early 40s, Hollywood began to increase its own number of war-related films, such as director Anatole Litvak's bold Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939) with Edward G. Robinson and Paul Lukas, about a Nazi espionage/spy ring operating in the US. The beautiful romantic tragedy and tearjerker Waterloo Bridge (1940) told the tale of a ballerina (Vivien Leigh) whose love affair with a British officer (Robert Taylor) was shattered by the events of World War II. For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway, told the story of Robert Jordan (Gary Cooper), an American demolition expert who gave his abilities to the Anti-Fascist freedom fighters of Spain in the 1930s.
A realistic portrayal of the demands of career military life just before US involvement in WWII was examined in Fred Zinnemann's multi-awarded, Best Picture-winning From Here to Eternity (1953), based on James Jones' novel. It starred Burt Lancaster as a tough sergeant, Montgomery Clift as a bugler/private, Deborah Kerr as a commander's unfulfilled wife, and Donna Reed as a local prostitute.
During the war years before the American entrance into the conflict, many Hollywood films were action-adventure features, with caricatures of fearsome Germans and Japanese and clean-living, all-American soldiers. One of the most effective films to promote heroic US patriotism was Sergeant York (1941) starring Gary Cooper (who won a Best Actor Academy Award for his role as a real-life, backwoods, conscientious-objecting Tennessee farmer). The film was a biography of the most decorated and famous American hero of World War I during the Battle of Argonne - pacifist Sergeant Alvin C. York. And in the flag-waving The Fighting 69th (1940), James Cagney starred as one member of a famed Irish-American regiment in the Rainbow Division's 165th Infantry of New York, that fought during WWI.
Now on the brink of war in late 1941, director Henry King's romantic drama A Yank in the R.A.F. (1941) was designed by producer Darryl F. Zanuck to encourage support for American entry into WWII to aid Britain and France. The film starred Tyrone Power as a brash, playboyish American pilot who enlisted in the British RAF, fought in exciting air battles, and wooed London-based showgirl/dancer and ex-girlfriend Betty Grable. Director Michael Curtiz' Dive Bomber (1941) with exciting aerial footage was released by Warner Bros. only a few months before the Pearl Harbor attack - it cast Errol Flynn as a military aviator/doctor conducting experiments to prevent pilot-blackouts. For lighter fare, audiences watched Abbott and Costello's breakthrough comedy Buck Privates (1941) with the famous pair accidentally enlisting in the Army.
British War Films After the US Entrance into WW II:
The British cinema continued to produce many propagandist, flag-waving war films glorifying their "finest hour" of battle against Germany and Japan, including the inspiring In Which We Serve (1942). The story, about a valiant crew of Lord Mountbatten's British destroyer (HMS Torrin) during the Battle of Crete in WWII was told in a non-linear fashion with vignettes/flashbacks. The film was the directorial debut of David Lean with Noel Coward as producer, writer, co-director, and star. Director Carol Reed's semi-documentary Immortal Batallion (1944) (aka The Way Ahead) followed the training of army recruits by David Niven as they became a hardened combat team.
A British version of the homefront struggle illustrating UK resolve against Nazi aggression was told in a sentimental story of an English middle-class family during the early years of WW II (including the Dunkirk evacuation and the blitz) in William Wyler's multi-award-winning Mrs. Miniver (1942), the Best Picture of its year. The film ended with a memorable speech by the Vicar (Henry Wilcoxon) preaching in a bombed out church: "This is the people's war. It is our war. We are the fighters. Fight it, then. Fight it with all that is in us, and may God defend the right." President FDR had the speech printed and air-dropped over the war-torn European continent. Another UK war/thriller, Went the Day Well? (1942) expressed characteristic British reserve and strength among villagers who thwarted a take-over by Nazi paratroopers posing as British soldiers
Hollywood's War Films of WWII At the Time of the Conflict:
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese in late 1941, the mood of Hollywood changed dramatically. Once the war began, the US film industry bolstered American support by churning out many war-themed movies. Most of the films were propaganda depicting the U.S. entry into the war as a noble cause, but some displayed the human side as well. The all-time film classic of pre-World War II intrigue, patriotism and romance, Casablanca (1942) was released just weeks after the liberation of the city itself. The popular film emphasized the atmospheric intrigue and tension surrounding Humphrey Bogart's decision to assist the war effort and get involved by securing transit visas - and give up the one-time love of his life, the often tragic consequences for lovers caught up in wartime experiences. Director Vincente Minnelli's The Clock (1945) another war-time film with a romantic sub-plot, was about a NYC office worker Judy Garland (Minnelli's wife) who fell in love with Robert Walker, a soldier on two-day leave.
Other films that portrayed the WWII homefront included The Human Comedy (1943) with Mickey Rooney as a telegram delivery boy in a small town, and John Cromwell's and producer David O. Selznick's black and white Since You Went Away (1944), with Claudette Colbert as the mother of two daughters while her husband was away at war: Jennifer Jones (in a doomed romance with departing serviceman Robert Walker) and teenaged Shirley Temple. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) depicted the difficulties of demobilization and the problems of three veterans (Dana Andrews, Fredric March, and Harold Russell) adjusting and returning to American civilian life. Fred Zinnemann's gritty The Men (1950), Marlon Brando's first film, examined the problems of WWII veteran paraplegics.
One of the most rousing, propagandist musicals was Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), with Best Actor-winning James Cagney as vaudevillian George M. Cohan - the film included such patriotic hits as "You're a Grand Old Flag," "Over There," and the title song itself. Flag-waving Hollywood films in the mid-1940s that boosted morale also included other technicolor musicals, most notably Rita Hayworth in Cover Girl (1944), Betty Grable in Pin-Up Girl (1944) with the leggy star as a USO entertainer, and Gene Kelly as a dancing sailor (on leave), accompanied by Frank Sinatra, in MGM's extravagant Anchors Aweigh (1945) - the first of their three musicals. (This was the film in which Kelly danced with cartoon mouse Jerry (of Tom and Jerry fame).
WWII War Films of the Actual Fighting:
World War II is easily the most popular war choice for Hollywood film-makers, due in large part to its clear-cut political struggle against the Nazi regime. During the early to mid-war years, as the United States struggled and suffered setbacks, many films provided a genuine depiction of the fighting and the human effects of WWII. Most of Hollywood's films were concerned with combat in the Pacific Theatre of the war. Director John Farrow's flag-waving Wake Island (1942), one of the most realistic and factually-based films made about the war, told of gallant US Marines (including Brian Donlevy, William Bendix and Robert Preston) fighting against the Japanese with uneven odds to hold onto a tiny base on the remote S. Pacific island shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Lewis Seiler's exciting, flag-waving, documentary-style adventure film Guadalcanal Diary (1943), with stars Anthony Quinn, William Bendix and Preston Foster, bolstered homefront morale as it portrayed the courageous and bloody battle of the US Marines for the Solomon Islands during the opening stages of the war in the South Pacific.
Both Paramount's and Mark Sandrich's So Proudly We Hail! (1943), and Richard Thorpe's and MGM's Cry Havoc (1943) attempted to realistically depict the role of women during wartime; the first depicted deglamorized, Red Cross combat nurses in WWII Pacific with Claudette Colbert, Paulette Goddard and Veronica Lake, the second with Margaret Sullavan, Ann Sothern, and Joan Blondell as nurses and other courageous volunteers in the Bataan-Corregidor-Philippines conflicts.
Tay Garnett's documentary-style Bataan (1943), loosely based on John Ford's earlier film The Lost Patrol (1934), chronicled the rugged exploits of a small US Army platoon in the Philippines (led by Robert Taylor) in 1942 left for rear-guard action in the jungle to fight against the Japanese and blow up a strategic bridge. Ray Enright's ultra-patriotic film Gung Ho! (1943) showcased Robert Mitchum and Randolph Scott as members of Carlson's Marine Raider Battalion fighting a death-defying mission in the Pacific island jungles to retake Makin Island in the Pacific in August, 1942. William A. Wellman's poignant but unsentimental The Story of G.I. Joe (1945), released just after the German surrender, was one of the best of all WWII combat films - the story of Company C, 18th Infantry foot-soldiers chronicled by war correspondent Ernie Pyle (portrayed by Burgess Meredith). [Robert Mitchum earned his only Oscar nomination for this film.] Errol Flynn starred in Raoul Walsh's realistic combat film Objective, Burma! (1945), as Major Nelson - a gung-ho paratrooper captain leading a platoon in an attack against a Japanese radar station jungle outpost in Burma. Their return trip to their own lines, a harrowing, arduous 150-mile foot trek through the jungle, portrayed their sacrifice, pain, and heroism.
Warner Bros.' action picture Action in the North Atlantic (1943) featured Humphrey Bogart as a commander in the unheralded Merchant Marines, protecting a convoy (carrying valuable cargo to the Soviet allies) against U-boat attacks. Lewis Milestone's modest A Walk in the Sun (1946) followed an American infantry unit (with Dana Andrews as their sergeant) struggling to survive while fighting to take a farmhouse from the Germans in Italy. Zoltan Korda's dramatic action picture Sahara (1943) was centered in the N. African Libyan desert, with Humphrey Bogart as the head of a British-American unit fighting the Germans. Another war film geographically located in N. Africa was John Stahl's The Immortal Sergeant (1943), with Henry Fonda as an inexperienced Canadian Army Corporal forced to take command of the British 8th Army troops in the desert following the battle death of the squad's sergeant (Thomas Mitchell).
Lloyd Bacon's The Sullivans - re-released as The Fighting Sullivans (1944) told the patriotic true story of five Irish-American brothers who died together in WWII, when their ship was sunk in the South Pacific. [Years later, the film inspired director Steven Spielberg to rework the story into his film Saving Private Ryan (1998).]
The first significant post-WWII film in the US was MGM's Battleground (1949) - it followed a group of raw American recruits fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. [Later, Robert Aldrich's Attack! (1956), also set during the 1944 Battle of the Bulge, featured Jack Palance in a lead role as a desperate fighting man.] Home of the Brave (1949), notable for being Hollywood's earliest protestation against racial bigotry in the military, depicted a black soldier sent on a S. Pacific island mission who faced prejudicial treatment by white comrades.
In Jean Negulesco's non-fictional, agonizing Three Came Home (1950), Claudette Colbert starred as American authoress Agnes Newton Keith, penned-up with her young son in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Borneo (headed by Sessue Hayakawa). Decorated military hero and Medal of Honor winner, Audie Murphy starred in the autobiographical To Hell and Back (1955) about his war-time experiences in the 3rd Infantry Division in S. France and Italy. And Philip Dunne's In Love and War (1958) told the story of three Marine leathernecks (Jeffrey Hunter, Robert Wagner, and Bradford Dillman) from N. California who served in the South Pacific.
Submarine and Naval-Related Pictures:
Another propagandistic film, Delmer Daves' quintessential submarine feature film Destination Tokyo (1943), starred Cary Grant as the captain of a submarine crew on a dangerous mission to Tokyo Bay. Archie Mayo's hard-hitting Crash Dive (1943) starred Tyrone Power as an ace PT boat skipper whose assignment to a submarine (commanded by Dana Andrews) led to victories against the Nazis in the North Atlantic, with a romantic adventure subplot (with love interest Anne Baxter). Hitchcock depicted eight survivors from a torpedoed boat adrift in Lifeboat (1944). Director Dick Powell's The Enemy Below (1957) dealt with submarine warfare in the South Pacific between two dueling commanders (Robert Mitchum as the captain of an American destroyer, and Curt Jurgens as the captain of a German U-boat). Another seminal submarine film was Robert Wise's Run Silent, Run Deep (1958) with Burt Lancaster and Clark Gable as two clashing submarine officers. In the same year, Torpedo Run (1958) starred Glenn Ford as an obsessed and merciless WWII submarine commander. John Ford's comedy/drama Mister Roberts (1955) examined the crew of a Navy cargo freighter outside the battle zone in the S. Pacific during WW II.
Victor Fleming's morale-boosting A Guy Named Joe (1943) told a fanciful war tale of the death of a WWII pilot (Spencer Tracy) who was sent back to Earth (by a Godly Lionel Barrymore) to become a guardian angel to a group of new pilots being trained for missions. [It was later remade by director Steven Spielberg, as the romantic fantasy Always (1989) with Richard Dreyfuss as a fire-fighting pilot - unrelated to the military context.] Director Howard Hawks' Air Force (1943) from Warner Bros.' studios, and with James Wong Howe's cinematographic genius, was a strong propagandistic film about the crew of a B-17 Flying Fortress plane - with believable aerial battles. Mervyn LeRoy's Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944) with Oscar-winning Special Effects, starred Spencer Tracy as Lieut. Colonel James H. Doolittle, famous for leading the first bombing attack on Tokyo during WWII. Director Henry Hathaway's A Wing and a Prayer (1944) told of brave pilots on an aircraft carrier led by a tough flight officer (Don Ameche). In Sam Wood's Command Decision (1948), Clark Gable portrayed a British air force base commander who agonized over sending dangerous bombing squadrons over Germany. Director Henry King's Twelve O'Clock High (1949) featured Gregory Peck (in one of his finest career roles) as a ruthless flight commander straining to lead an England-based American bomber squadron (the 8th Air Force). The film with an all-male cast portrayed the mental and psychological pressures of warfare.
John Wayne's WWII Films:
John Wayne starred in the fictionalized The Flying Tigers (1942) as the leader of a squadron of American pilots stationed in early-WWII China that were for-hire to battle the Japanese. In The Fighting Seabees (1944), Wayne also starred as the leader of a crew of civilians in a construction company that eventually formed a tough fighting force in WWII. Back to Bataan (1945) found John Wayne leading US forces in a recreation of the Bataan Death March. Toward the close of the war, John Ford based his realistic, under-rated and bleak film They Were Expendable (1945) upon the true, inspiring story of the Navy's PT boat squadrons based in the Philippines during the early years of the war that faced the advance of Japanese forces, with John Wayne and Robert Montgomery in starring roles.
In director Allan Dwan's blatantly-patriotic wartime action drama Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) made after the war by Republic Studios, Wayne again starred as a tough and harsh but compassionate Marine sergeant (acquiring his first Academy Award nomination for the role) who trained rebellious recruit-troops in New Zealand in 1943 that were eventually responsible for the strategic re-taking of Iwo Jima (on top of Mount Suribachi) from the Japanese in February, 1945. And in Operation Pacific (1951), Wayne starred as an American submarine captain of the USS Growler - a story adapted from the life of sub-commander Howard W. Gilmore. In director Nicholas Ray's Flying Leathernecks (1951), Wayne played a disciplined, unpopular and macho-tough Marine squadron commander of the Flying Corps in the South Pacific, leading a group to hold Guadalcanal in WWII. Director Otto Preminger's star-studded epic In Harm's Way (1965), another WWII naval adventure, re-teamed Wayne (as a veteran cruiser commander) with co-star Patricia Neal. It appeared two decades after the war's end to present an overlong story of naval life during wartime and a depiction of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
More WWII-Related Films:
Emeric Pressburger's and Michael Powell's propaganda film ...One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1941, UK) told about a night-time RAF bomber crew shot down and aided by the Dutch in German-occupied territory. We Dive at Dawn (1943) told of the encounter between a British submarine and a German warship in the Baltic Sea, with John Mills starring as the submarine commander. Director Guy Hamilton's compelling British drama The Colditz Story (1955) revealed the determination of Allied POWs in an escape from Colditz - an escape-proof castle/prison within Germany's Third Reich. Raoul Walsh's Battle Cry (1955), adapted from Leon Uris' best-seller, examined a group of WWII Marine recruits (including Aldo Ray, James Whitmore, Tab Hunter and others) led by their major (Van Heflin) in conflict in the South Pacific.
Japan's (director Kon Ichikawa) anti-war film The Burmese Harp (1956) portrayed the horror of war and Japanese post-war sentiment in its story of a Japanese soldier (a lute player) separated from his battalion at the close of the Pacific War in Burma, who is overwhelmed by the sight of dead Japanese soldiers in Burma (at the end of the war). The devastating effects of the Hiroshima bombing (and its radioactive fallout and radiation sickness), based on the prize-winning novel by Masuji Ibuse, were chronicled in director Shohei Imamura's award-winning Black Rain (1989). Director Robert Pirosh's Go For Broke! (1951) was one of the few films to show the heroic courage of Japanese-Americans of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team as they battled against the Nazis.
German director Wolfgang Petersen's sympathetic and realistic Das Boot (1981), adapted from the autobiographical book by Lothar-Guenther Buchheim, followed the heroic efforts of a German U-boat captain and its crew during WWII to patrol the Atlantic and Mediterranean within the claustrophic, cramped confines of their undersea vessel (U-96). And the German anti-war battle drama Stalingrad (1993), from director Joseph Vilsmaier, was released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the crucial defeat of the Nazi forces in Stalingrad/Russia. The German/Polish film, Europa, Europa (1990)(aka Hitlerjunge Salomon), by director Agnieszka Holland, was based on the true story of a young, circumcised German Jew (Solomon Perel) who survived the Holocaust by posing as an ethnic Aryan German and joining the Hitler Youth, but continually feared being discovered by anti-Semitic Nazis.
Korean War Films:
In the 1950s, the Korean War in Northeast Asia served as inspiring content for only a few Hollywood films, including two anti-war films by Samuel Fuller about the madness of war: Fixed Bayonets (1951) and The Steel Helmet (1951). One of the best films about the Korean War was director Joseph H. Lewis' Retreat, Hell (1952), portraying the US Marine Corps' valiant withdrawal from the Changjin Reservoir, with Frank Lovejoy as the Marine Battalion Commander. In Mark Robson's The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), based on James Michener's novel, William Holden played the role of a war-weary Lieutenant - a family man recalled from the Naval Reserve to fly a possibly-fateful bombing mission over Communist-protected bridges in Korea. Lewis Milestone's anti-war masterpiece Pork Chop Hill (1959) starred Gregory Peck as an Army Lieutenant of a platoon (King Company) in a no-win situation - commanded to assault a tactically-unimportant, but well-guarded hill held by the N. Koreans and Chinese Communists in the final days of the war. [Milestone had two previous anti-war films for each of the World Wars, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and A Walk in the Sun (1946).] Peck also starred as the rebel general in Joseph Sargent's war drama MacArthur (1977), told in flashback, including his promise at Corregidor in 1942 ("I shall return"), and his firing by President Truman for defying orders during the Korean conflict. John Frankenheimer's chilling The Manchurian Candidate (1962) brilliantly examined the fearful, sinister consequences of Korean War brainwashing, with Laurence Harvey as Raymond Shaw - a military hero programmed to assassinate, and his power-hungry, manipulative mother Angela Lansbury.
Years later, iconoclastic Robert Altman's anti-Korean war, off-beat dark-comedy M*A*S*H (1970), with its ballad 'Suicide is Painless,' was an outrageous satirization about a group of surgeons and nurses stationed at a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) along the Korean 38th parallel. The army surgeons retained their sanity by joking, anti-authoritarian and anti-bureaucratic sentiment, and pranks. Although the film was set in Korea, its real focus of attention was the frustrating Vietnam conflict. Only Burghoff of the superb cast (Elliott Gould, Donald Sutherland, Oscar-nominated Sally Kellerman, Robert Duvall and Gary Burghoff) went on to reprise his role as Radar in the popular, long-running TV series.
Other 50s and 60s War Films:
Most war films in the 1950s ignored the Korean conflict, however, and instead looked back at both earlier world wars with films mixing entertainment, history, and drama. Top stars Humphrey Bogart (in an Oscar-winning performance as a cynical, alcoholic boat owner) and Katharine Hepburn (as a stubborn, indomitable spinster missionary) starred together in John Huston's exciting World War I adventure film The African Queen (1951), shot on location in Africa. Together, as representatives of the American and British positions, they confronted the Germans on the geographical margins of the major conflict.
Director Edward Dmytryk's The Caine Mutiny (1954), another film with Bogart and an adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Herman Wouk novel, told the story of shipboard conflict and a mutiny aboard a WWII naval vessel (USS Caine), and the subsequent court-martial trial of the paranoid ship's captain. Billy Wilder's Stalag 17 (1952) examined a group of G.I.s (including Best Actor-winning William Holden) who were thrown together in the notorious German WWII prison camp, Stalag 17. Guy Hamilton's The Battle of Britain (1969), with Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer and Robert Shaw as RAF pilots, accurately captured how valiant the British were 'under fire' during the many air battles and bombing raids of the German Luftwaffe in the summer and autumn of 1940. The true, gripping espionage tale The Man Who Never Was (1955) told of how British intelligence agents fooled the Nazis with fake invasion plans planted on an Allied corpse. Stanley Kramer's chilling On the Beach (1959) dramatized the results of global nuclear war for the last survivors in Australia.
Another very effective anti-war film of WW I was Stanley Kubrick's Paths Of Glory (1957), a tale of the fate confronting scapegoated, innocent French soldiers wrongfully brought before a court-martial trial before their execution. The insanity and absurdity of war was never better told in its story of corruption in the French High Command, with Kirk Douglas as the commander of the French regiment stationed along the Western Front. Its WWI warfare scenes, with technically-brilliant tracking shots in the trenches, are some of the most realistic ever filmed. [Australian director Bruce Beresford's courtroom drama Breaker Morant (1980), with English actor Edward Woodward, told a similar story of three British soldiers in the Boer War at the turn of the century, as members of the Bushveldt Carboniers, who were scapegoated and placed on trial for court-martial for shooting POW's.] The UK's historical epic Zulu (1964) recreated the 1879 Zulu warrior siege of Rorke's Drift, a South African outpost held by outnumbered British-Welsh soldiers in Natal, Africa.
There were two Civil War era war films in the 50s. The confusion and fear of the wartime experience for a young, recruited Civil War Union soldier was presented in John Huston's The Red Badge of Courage (1951), an adaptation of Stephen Crane's 1894 novel, with real-life war hero Audie Murphy in the anti-heroic lead role. Another Civil War film, John's Ford's The Horse Soldiers (1959) (Ford's only Civil War film), starred John Wayne as the tough leader of a contingent of Union soldiers, sent on a mission into Confederate territory in Louisiana to destroy a railroad line and cut off supplies.
Director David Lean's only pure war film was Columbia's The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), a powerful, award-winning, widescreen action/drama and perceptive character study. Its main focus was the 'madness' of war - exemplified by the clash of wills between two fanatical military leaders: Japanese Col. Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) and British Col. Nicholson (Alec Guinness), during the 1943 construction by British POWs of a bridge for the Burma-Siam railway. Robert Wise's The Sand Pebbles (1966), starred Steve McQueen as a naval machinist's mate on board a US naval gunboat (captained by Richard Crenna) on the Yangtze River on the eve of the 1926 Chinese revolution. Its story of tragic warfare and a failed mission (a veiled and subtle comment upon the Vietnam War) was expressed by McQueen's final words: "What the hell happened?"
Black Comedies/War Films:
War films that satirized the insanity of war, known as black comedies, included:
the Marx Brothers' classic Duck Soup (1933)
Billy Wilder's black comedy/drama Stalag 17 (1953) with Best Actor-winning William Holden, perfectly captured the situation of U.S. POW soldiers in a Nazi prison camp during WWII [The setting of the film was later adapted for the TV series Hogan's Heroes]
Stanley Kubrick's masterful anti-war film of the nuclear age, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), similar to Sidney Lumet's Fail-Safe (1964) about a computer malfunction that triggers a nuclear war, with Peter Sellers playing three roles
Mike Nichols' anti-war satire about the absurdities of war, Catch-22 (1970), told about a defiant WWII bomber pilot (Alan Arkin), one of many fliers stationed in the Mediterranean trying to escape the conflict
Robert Altman's M*A*S*H (1970), already mentioned
Ivan Reitman's irreverent military comedy Stripes (1981) focused on the misadventures of unemployed loser Bill Murray as a misfit volunteer in the Armed Forces
Robin Williams starred as an irreverent and antagonistic Air Forces Radio disk jockey who boosted GI morale in Barry Levinson's Good Morning, Vietnam (1987) with manic commentary and straight-forward news, but alienated other superior officers
Epic War Films:
During the 1960s and 70s, a number of war films returned to WWII as their well-documented backdrop. They were often fact-based, historical or biographical epics, such as the following:
producer Darryl F. Zanuck's authentic-looking, 3-hour black and white war epic The Longest Day (1962) (dubbed "Z-Day" when the producer bailed out the film with his own finances) about the Normandy landing on D-Day (June 6, 1944) (restaged in Corsica); this landmark film was told from four points of view, with four directors (American, English, French, and German) and in three languages; it required 43 major roles and 23,000 extras
the Cinerama spectacle of the German's last major stand in Ken Annakin's The Battle of the Bulge (1965) with Henry Fonda and Robert Shaw
Franklin J. Schaffner's complex biopic Patton (1970) with Oscar-winning George C. Scott (who refused the award) as the legendary, heroically-crazed, and controversial "Old Blood and Guts" military genius, and Karl Malden as the balanced Gen. Omar Bradley
the Japanese-American co-produced film Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) of the Pearl Harbor attack told from the perspective of both sides
Jack Smight's Midway (1976), about the surprise American victory over the Japanese fleet in 1942, with a cast including Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, Glenn Ford, and Robert Mitchum
Roland Joffe's Fat Man and Little Boy (1989) about The Manhattan Project which tested and manufactured the devastating atomic bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Most of the other war films at this time were all-star World War II buddy films, typically with large groups of stars bonded together in exciting, old-fashioned wartime situations. Films in this category included:
J. Lee Thompson's thrilling adventure film The Guns of Navarone (1961) with Gregory Peck heading a guerrilla mission to destroy a German cave fortress with giant, long-range guns
John Sturges' star-studded POW prison break film The Great Escape (1963), based on a true story of Allied servicemen during World War II, with Steve McQueen as the "Cooler King"
Mark Robson's Von Ryan's Express (1965), with Frank Sinatra as the head of a group of escaped POWs in Italy
The Blue Max (1966), with George Peppard in the starring role as Bruno Stachel, a WWI German bi-plane bomber flier
Robert Aldrich's The Dirty Dozen (1967), about a group of a dozen death-row military convicts (including Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Charles Bronson, Robert Ryan, George Kennedy and more) sent on a suicide mission (headed by a tough Lee Marvin) behind Nazi enemy lines to destroy a French chateau
Brian G. Hutton's Where Eagles Dare (1969), with Richard Burton as a secret agent leading a team on a mission to prevent D-Day
Hutton's Kelly's Heroes (1970) - an offbeat variation on The Dirty Dozen, in which Clint Eastwood (as 'Kelly') and a group of American soldiers decide to steal $16 million of plundered gold bullion behind Nazi enemy lines during WWII
Richard Attenborough's big-budget A Bridge Too Far (1977) with an all-star cast, adapted from Cornelius Ryan's epic book, told of a daring and failed 1944 WWII mission behind enemy lines in Holland to capture a series of bridges
Guy Hamilton's Force 10 From Navarone (1978), the 'sequel' to the earlier The Guns of Navarone, with another group of Allied commandos (including Robert Shaw and Harrison Ford) attempting to blow up a Nazi bridge in war-torn Yugoslavia
WAR and ANTI-WAR FILMS
Vietnam-War Related Films:
The Vietnam-War experience produced only one film during the actual era of conflict and it was one of the worst films ever made about Vietnam: the propagandistic, pro-war The Green Berets (1968), a jingoistic, heavy-handed, gung-ho action film starring John Wayne as the leader of elite, hand-picked Special Forces troops.
It took Hollywood a few years into the 1970s, after the end of the war in mid-1975, until it could no longer ignore the subject of the unpopular Vietnam War. The film industry soon released films of greater substance and violence on the subject of Vietnam, and realistically examined the disturbing effects of the war. [Interesting to note was that almost all of the films about Vietnam didn't include the word 'Vietnam' in the film's title.]
Sidney Furie's character study 'sleeper' film The Boys in Company C (1977) was one of the first realistic Vietnam war films, about five young and green Marine recruits sent over to fight in SE Asia. Ted Post's under-rated and mostly ignored, low-budget Go Tell the Spartans (1978) examined the 1964 pre-Vietnam War situation in S. Vietnam, with Burt Lancaster as a burned-out, hard-boiled Major in an 'advisory' role in the Military Assistance Advisory Group at Penang. The film commented on American innocence and naivete just before massive American involvement. The classic but controversial Vietnam film, Michael Cimino's compelling Best Picture-winning character study The Deer Hunter (1978), told about three young patriotic steelworkers (Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, and John Savage) from a Pennsylvania town who found only horror and death in Vietnam.
The thought-provoking film Coming Home (1978), set in 1968, dramatized the difficulties of post-Vietnam war adjustment experienced within a romantic triangle of characters. While her Marine captain husband (Bruce Dern) was away at war, a housewife (Jane Fonda) volunteered at a San Diego VA Hospital and became unfaithful and intimately involved with one of the paraplegic patients (Jon Voight). Francis Ford Coppola's harrowing epic vision of the madness of the war in Vietnam, Apocalypse Now (1979) was an exceptionally spectacular war movie loosely based on Joseph Conrad's 1911 novel Heart of Darkness. An American military assassin (Martin Sheen) was commissioned to journey upriver into Cambodia to 'terminate without prejudice' an insane, renegade colonel (Marlon Brando). [The film was later re-released in a new version, Apocalypse Now Redux (2001) with expanded and re-edited footage.] Coppola also directed the grim military drama Gardens of Stone (1987) about the decorated veterans of the Third Infantry (the elite Old Guard) who patrolled, guarded, and served at ceremonial funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. In the realistic drama The Hanoi Hilton (1987), the focus was on the sufferings, torture and brutal treatment American POWs experienced while in North Vietnam's Hoa Lo Prison, the most infamous prisoner of war camp in Hanoi.
Critically-acclaimed films in the 1980s also examined the Vietnam experience, portraying war as a living hell. The Killing Fields (1984) was an emotionally-moving drama based upon the events surrounding the fall of Cambodia and the American evacuation from the novel The Death and Life of Dith Pran by Sydney Schanberg. It was an account of the friendship between a NY Times reporter and his Cambodian interpreter. Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Gustav Hasford's The Short Timers was Full Metal Jacket (1987). In two parts, the film presented the exploits of a recruited young Marine Corps soldier (Matthew Modine) with his realistic, dehumanizing South Carolina boot-camp training experience on Parris Island (under drill instructor Lee Ermey), his work as a photojournalist for a military magazine, and his combat soldiering in the 1968 Tet offensive. In a lighter vein, Barry Levinson's Good Morning, Vietnam (1987) was centered on the irreverent, non-conformist, early morning disc-jockey Adrian Cronauer (Robin Williams), heard on Armed Services Radio during the Vietnam conflict.
Other 1980s and After - More War Films About Various Conflicts:
In the 1980s, the Sylvester Stallone, 'feel-good' action/war Rambo 'trilogy' with a misfit super-hero, self-righteously portrayed a revenge-seeking, brooding ex-Green Beret Vietnam veteran named John Rambo. He was forced to battle against a variety of enemies in the Pacific Northwest, including a small-town sheriff, a posse, and hundreds of National Guardsmen. These films provided a shallow commentary on the real US conflict in Vietnam:
First Blood (1982)
Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)
Rambo III (1988)
Actor Chuck Norris' Vietnam-based box-office smash Missing in Action (1984), a fantasy action film, followed the exploits of an ex-Vietnam POW attempting to rescue other MIA-POWs in the Vietnamese jungle. For the most part, these were pro-military action films disguised as war films with big stars and dazzling special effects during war sequences. There has been the tendency to modify the war-historical events in order to fit the story into the Hollywood mold of war films to tell a story of heroic courage, or to praise Americanism under fire, etc., and make a commercially-viable film. Two such examples included Sidney Furie's hostage-rescue action thriller Iron Eagle (1985), and Tony Scott's slick blockbuster about Navy fighter pilots Top Gun (1986), starring Tom Cruise. The three-handkerchief 'soap opera' An Officer and a Gentleman (1982) told a touching story of romance in a military setting. Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor (2001) highlighted a love triangle amidst the backdrop of a realistic, special effects-heavy attack on the Hawaiian Pearl Harbor base.
More realistically, director-writer Samuel Fuller's The Big Red One (1980) captured the terror of ill-advised combat in a semi-autobiographical account of a foot-soldier's squadron in the US Army's First Infantry Division (its insignia was dubbed 'The Big Red One') and its intrepid sergeant (played by Lee Marvin) during WWII. It followed their progress from North Africa through Sicily, Omaha Beach and Belgium to the ultimate horror of the concentration camp at Falkenau, Czechoslovakia. Director Peter Weir's heart-wrenching Australian film Gallipoli (1981) was set during WWI - a rich character study of two idealistic best friends in the Australian army (one of whom was a young Mel Gibson in a star-making role) who would vainly fight the German-allied Turks at Gallipoli in 1915.
The adventure film Uncommon Valor (1983) featured Gene Hackman as a retired Marine Colonel and frustrated father who took matters into his own hands to find his MIA son by bringing together the remaining members of his son's platoon for an attempted, daring POW rescue. Actor-producer-director Clint Eastwood's Heartbreak Ridge (1986) depicted an aging, grizzled Marine gunnery sergeant whose days in the military were numbered, but redeemed with one final chance to train a green platoon to invade Grenada in 1983. And John Milius' Red Dawn (1984) depicted the invasion of the United States by Russian and Cuban paratroopers, and the country's defense provided guerrilla warfare-style by Midwestern, teenaged high school students (Charlie Sheen, Jennifer Grey, Lea Thompson, and Patrick Swayze).
John Irvin's realistic and disturbing view of the Vietnam struggle in Hamburger Hill (1987), a return to the conventional kind of WWII combat film (transposed to 1969 Vietnam), traced the brutal experiences of a group of GI infantrymen of the 101st Airborne Division from their initial training to their pointless deaths during a fierce, 10-day battle for Ap Bia Mountain (Hamburger Hill). Patrick Sheane Duncan's documentary style film 84 Charlie Mopic (1989) provided a devastating, nightmarish tour of the horrors of Vietnam around 1969 in a filming mission by an army motion picture (MOPIC) cameraman on the front lines. Brian De Palma's thought-provoking Casualties of War (1989) told the true story (from a New Yorker article by Daniel Lang) of a decent Army private (Michael J. Fox) who refused to overlook his squadron's moral responsibility for the kidnap, sexual assault/gang rape, and murder of a native Vietnamese female. Randall Wallace's factual tribute film We Were Soldiers (2002), starring Mel Gibson, chronicled the US' first major bloody, heroic engagement (part of the Pleiku Campaign) between the First Battalion, Seventh Cavalry and the N. Vietnamese in late 1965. (Gibson also starred in Roland Emmerich's melodramatic The Patriot (2000), a tale of Revolutionary War revenge.)
Oliver Stone's Vietnam Trilogy:
Writer/director film-maker Oliver Stone, a veteran of the Vietnam War himself, presented a Vietnam 'trilogy':
the ultra-realistic, gutsy and insightful Best Picture-winning film Platoon (1986) - one of the finest, most-acclaimed combat films ever produced regarding the Vietnam War, about the testing of a young infantryman (a star-making role for Charlie Sheen) in the 25th Infantry (Bravo Company) by his two superiors - contrasting Sergeants (tough/compassionate Willem Dafoe and hard/callous Tom Berenger); the popular film won five Oscars, including Best Picture
Born on the Fourth of July (1989) (for which Stone won his second Best Director award) - a screen biography of Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise), a Vietnam War recruit and an embittered, disenchanted anti-war activist/paraplegic after rehabilitation
Heaven and Earth (1993), about the aftermath of the war reflected in the relationship between a Vietnamese woman and the American soldier (Tommy Lee Jones) she married
Three War Film Best Picture Nominees in 1998:
In 1998 alone, there were three highly popular WWII films, all nominated for Best Picture (but Shakespeare in Love (1998) took the top prize). Writer/director Terrence Malick demonstrated his film-making talent (after an absence of 25 years) with an ethereal re-make of the 1964 film of James Jones' novel about the WWII attack on the strategic island of Guadalcanal - The Thin Red Line (1998). [The film was actually a remake of director Andrew Marton's under-rated The Thin Red Line (1964) with Keir Dullea.] And Steven Spielberg won as Best Director for his monumental recreation of the gory D-Day assault that opened Saving Private Ryan (1998) - a realistic drama about eight WWII soldiers sent into enemy territory to rescue the sole surviving son of a family. The third film was Italian film-maker Roberto Benigni's bittersweet Holocaust fable Life is Beautiful (1998), the Best Foreign Language film of the year.
American Civil War Films:
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, two realistic Civil War films were released:
Edward Zwick's true-account Glory (1989), one of the best historical war stories about the first unit of black soldiers (including Best Supporting Actor-winner Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman) - the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry led by Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick)
writer-director Ronald F. Maxwell's outstanding epic Gettysburg (1993), based on Michael Shaara's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels, about the famous Civil War battle of July, 1863; Maxwell's four-hour historical-dramatic sequel (actually prequel) was Gods and Generals (2003), based on Jeff Shaara's novel of the same name, with Jeff Daniels reprising his role as Union Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, and the battles that led up to Gettysburg (at Manassas, Antietam, Frederickburg, and Chancellorsville); these two films were part of a promised trilogy
Later in the decade, director Ang Lee's war drama Ride With the Devil (1999) told about two Southern friends fighting guerrilla-style and side-by-side on the Kansas-Missouri border (with singer Jewel in her acting debut).
Spy/Espionage War-Related Films:
Most of the secret agent James Bond action films, beginning with Dr. No (1962), owe their origins to world-dominating tyrants, the Cold War and the Red Menace. Even after the Cold War ended and the agonizing post-Vietnam War period was over, Hollywood produced a number of high-tech, spectacular action-hero films with war-time suspense and superpower conflicts and thrills. These suspenseful spy and espionage films were filled with situations of military and political strife, CIA intrigue, terrorism, submarines, and nuclear warfare, etc. The following were representative examples of these political thrillers:
No Way Out (1987)
The Hunt for Red October (1990) - the first of films starring the character of Jack Ryan (adapted from Tom Clancy's novels), with Alec Baldwin
Patriot Games (1992), with Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan
Clear and Present Danger (1994), again with Harrison Ford
Crimson Tide (1995)
The Sum of All Fears (2002), with Ben Affleck reprising the role of Jack Ryan
Steven Spielberg's award-winning epic Schindler's List (1993) presented the devastating story of the Holocaust through the actions of womanizing German industrialist/war profiteer Oscar Schindler (Liam Neeson) who saved a thousand Jewish lives. Spielberg also explored the Holocaust in his documentary project The Last Days (1999) that brought together the stories of five survivors. And exiled Best Director Roman Polanski's The Pianist (2002), with a Best Actor Oscar for lead actor Adrien Brody, was the harrowing story of survival for Jewish musician Wladyslaw Szpilman during the Holocaust.
War - The Ultimate 'Reality TV':
1991's Gulf War military action as Operation Desert Storm was first examined in Courage Under Fire (1996), and then in director David O. Russell's absurdist Three Kings (1999) with George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg. Jean-Jacques Annaud's Enemy at the Gates (2001) went back in history to tell the factual account of the 1942-1943 battle of Stalingrad, a major turning point in WWII. But director John Moore's pro-military action adventure Behind Enemy Lines (2001) with Gene Hackman was set amidst the backdrop of the recent Balkan-Bosnian struggle. Ridley Scott's suspenseful Black Hawk Down (2001) recreated the bloody events surrounding the tragic October, 1993 American ground-force siege of the war-torn Somalian city of Mogadishu. John Woo's Windtalkers (2002) dramatized how a battle-weary, WWII Marine (Nicolas Cage) guarded and befriended a Navajo soldier with code-talking secrets.
The 'Second' Gulf War (Operation Iraqui Freedom) may soon be the source of future Hollywood interpretations, but it appears that American audiences do not want realistic war dramas -- war is the ultimate 'reality TV' -- during actual wartime. Collateral Damage (2002), an Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, about a Los Angeles firefighter seeking revenge for a terrorist bombing (a drug-related, non-Middle Eastern attack), was postponed and delayed in release following the September 11th tragedy, and still did poorly at the box-office.
Notes from The War Room
by Terry Southern
Reprinted from the journal "Grand Street", issue #49
1962. It was a death-gray afternoon in early December and the first snow of the New England winter had just begun. Outside my window, between the house and the banks of the frozen stream, great silver butterfly flakes floated and fluttered in the failing light. Beyond the stream, past where the evening mist had begun to rise, it was possible, with a scintilla of imagination, to make out the solemnly moving figures in the Bradbury story about the Book People; in short, a magical moment -- suddenly undone by the ringing of a telephone somewhere in the house, and then, closer at hand, my wife's voice in a curious sing-song:
"It's big Stan Kubrick on the line from Old Smoke."
I had once jokingly referred to Kubrick, whom I had never met but greatly admired, as "big Stan Kubrick" because I liked the ring and lilt of it. "Get big Stan Kubrick on the line in Old Smoke," I had said, "I'm ready with my incisive critique of Killer's Kiss." And my wife, not one to be bested, had taken it up.
"Big Stan Kubrick," she repeated, "on the line from Old Smoke."
"Don't fool around," I said. I knew I would soon be on the hump with Mr. Snow Shovel and I was in no mood for her brand of tomfoolery.
"I'm not fooling around," she said. "It's him all right, or at least his assistant."
I won't attempt to reconstruct the conversation; suffice to say he told me he was going to make a film about "our failure to understand the dangers of nuclear war." He said that he had thought of the story as a "straightforward melodrama" until this morning, when he "woke up and realized that nuclear war was too outrageous, too fantastic to be treated in any conventional manner." He said he could only see it now as "some kind of hideous joke." He told me that he had read a book of mine which contained, as he put it, "certain indications" that I might be able to help him with the script.
I later learned the curious genesis of all this: during the '50s I was friends with the English writer Jonathan Miller. I knew him for quite a while before I discovered that he was a doctor -- of the sort who could write you a prescription for something like Seconal -- at which point I beseeched him to become my personal physician and perhaps suggest something for my chronic insomnia. To encourage his acceptance, I gave him a copy of my recently published novel, The Magic Christian, which had been favorably reviewed in the Observer by the great English novelist Henry Green. Miller was impressed, at least enough to recommend it to his friend Peter Sellers. Peter liked it to the improbable degree that he went straight to the publisher and bought a hundred copies to give to his friends. One such friend, as luck would have it, was Stanley Kubrick.
At Shepperton Studios in London, Kubrick had set up his "Command Post" in a snug office that overlooked two wintering lilac bushes and, poetically enough, the nest of an English nightingale. Next to his big desk, and flush against it, stood an elegant wrought-iron stand that resembled a pedestal, and on top of the stand, at desk level, was one of the earliest, perhaps the very first, of the computerized "chess-opponents," which they had just begun to produce in West Germany and Switzerland. It was a sturdy, workman-like model, black with brushed-metal lettering across the front: GRAND MASTER LEVEL
"I have perfected my endgame," Kubrick said, "to such a degree that I can now elude the stratagems of this so-called opponent," he gave a curt nod toward the computer, "until the proverbial cows come home.... Would that I could apply my newly acquired skill," he went on, "vis-a-vis a certain Mo Rothman at Columbia Pix."
Mo Rothman, I was to learn, was the person Columbia Pictures had designated executive producer on the film, which meant that he was the bridge, the connection, the interpreter, between the otherwise incomprehensible artist and the various moneybags incarnate who were financing the film. As to whether or not the streetwise" Mo Rothman was a good choice for this particular project, I believe the jury is still out. Once, when Kubrick was out of the office, Rothman insisted on giving me the following message:
"Just tell Stanley," he said in a tone of clamor and angst, "that New York does not see anything funny about the end of the world!" And then added, not so much as an afterthought as a simple Pavlovian habit he'd acquired, "as we know it."
I realized he had no idea whom he was talking to, so I took a flyer. "Never mind New York," I said with a goofy inflection, "What about Gollywood?"
This got a rise out of him like a shot of crystal meth.
"Gollywood?" he said loudly. "Who the hell is this?"
The Corporate, that is to say, studio reasoning about this production affords an insight as to why so many such projects are doomed, creatively speaking, from the get-go. It was their considered judgment that the success of the film Lolita resulted solely from the gimmick of Peter Sellers playing several roles.
"What we are dealing with," said Kubrick at our first real talk about the situation, "is film by fiat, film by frenzy." What infuriated him most was that the "brains" of the production company could evaluate the entire film -- commercially, aesthetically, morally, whatever -- in terms of the tour de force performance of one actor. I was amazed that he handled it as well as he did. "I have come to realize," he explained, "that such crass and grotesque stipulations are the sine qua non of the motion-picture business." And it was in this spirit that he accepted the studio's condition that this film, as yet untitled, "would star Peter Sellers in at least four major roles."
It was thus understandable that Kubrick should practically freak when a telegram from Peter arrived one morning:
Dear Stanley: I am so very sorry to tell you that I am having serious difficulty with the various roles. Now hear this: there is no way, repeat, no way, I can play the Texas pilot, 'Major King Kong.' I have a complete block against that accent. Letter from Okin [his agent] follows. Please forgive.
For a few days Kubrick had been in the throes of a Herculean effort to give up cigarettes and had forbidden smoking anywhere in the building. Now he immediately summoned his personal secretary and assistant to bring him a pack pronto.
That evening he persuaded me, since I had been raised in Texas, to make a tape of Kong's dialogue, much of which he had already written (his announcement of the bomb targets and his solemn reading of the Survival Kit Contents, etc.). In the days that followed, as scenes in the plane were written I recorded them on tape so that they would be ready for Sellers, if and when he arrived. Kubrick had been on the phone pleading with him ever since receiving the telegram. When he finally did show up, he had with him the latest state-of-the-art portable tape recorder, specially designed for learning languages. Its ultrasensitive earphones were so over-sized they resembled some kind of eccentric hat or space headgear. From the office we would see Sellers pacing between the lilac bushes, script in hand, his face tiny and obscured beneath his earphones. Kubrick found it a disturbing image. "Is he kidding?" he said. "That's exactly the sort of thing that would bring some Brit heat down for weirdness." I laughed, but he wasn't joking. He phoned the production manager, Victor Linden, right away.
"Listen, Victor," I heard him say, "you'd better check out Pete and those earphones. He may be stressing... Well, I think he ought to cool it with the earphones. Yeah, it looks like he's trying to ridicule the BBC or something, know what I'm saying? All we need is to get shut down for a crazy stunt like that. Jesus Christ."
Victor Linden was the quintessential thirty-five-year-old English gentleman of the Eton-Oxford persuasion, the sort more likely to join the Foreign Office than the film industry; and, in fact, on more than one occasion I overheard him saying, "With some of us, dear boy, the wags begin at Calais."
As production manager, it was his job to arrange for, among other things, accommodations for members of the company, including a certain yours truly. "I've found some digs for you," he said, "in Knightsbridge, not far from Stanley's place. I'm afraid they may not be up to Beverly Hills standards, but I think you'll find them quite pleasant.... The main thing, of course, is that you'll be close to Stanley, because of his writing plan."
Stanley's "writing plan" proved to be a dandy. At five A.M., the car would arrive, a large black Bentley, with a back seat the size of a small train compartment -- two fold-out desk tops, perfect over the-left-shoulder lighting, controlled temperature, dark gray windows. In short, an ideal no-exit writing situation. The drive from London to Shepperton took an hour more or less, depending on the traffic and the density of the unfailing fog. During this trip we would write and rewrite, usually the pages to be filmed that day.
It was at a time when the Cold War was at its most intense. As part of the American defense strategy, bombing missions were flown daily toward targets deep inside the Soviet Union, each B-52 carrying a nuclear bomb more powerful than those used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Bombers were instructed to continue their missions unless they received the recall code at their "fail-safe" points.
In my Knightsbridge rooms, I carefully read Red Alert, a book written by an ex-RAF intelligence officer named Peter George that had prompted Stanley's original interest. Perhaps the best thing about the book was the fact that the national security regulations in England, concerning what could and could not be published, were extremely lax by American standards. George had been able to reveal details concerning the "fail-safe" aspect of nuclear deterrence (for example, the so-called black box and the CRM Discriminator) -- revelations that, in the spy-crazy U.S.A. of the Cold War era, would have been downright treasonous. Thus the entire complicated technology of nuclear deterrence in Dr Strangelove was based on a bedrock of authenticity that gave the film what must have been its greatest strength: credibility.
The shooting schedule, which had been devised by Victor Linden and of course Kubrick -- who scarcely let as much as a trouser pleat go unsupervised -- called for the series of scenes that take place inside a B-52 bomber to be filmed first. Peter Sellers had mastered the tricky Texas twang without untoward incident, and then had completed the first day's shooting of Major Kong's lines in admirable fashion. Kubrick was delighted. The following morning, however, we were met at the door by Victor Linden.
"Bad luck," he said, with a touch of grim relish, "Sellers has taken a fall Last night, in front of that Indian restaurant in King's Road. You know the one, Stanley, the posh one you detested. Well, he slipped getting out of the car. Rather nasty I'm afraid. Sprain of ankle, perhaps a hairline fracture." The injury was not as serious as everyone had feared it might be. Sellers arrived at the studio shortly after lunch, and worked beautifully through a couple of scenes. Everything seemed fine until we broke for tea and Kubrick remarked in the most offhand manner, "Ace [the co-pilot] is sitting taller than Peter."
Almost immediately, he announced that we would do a run-through of another scene (much further along in the shooting schedule), which required Major Kong to move from the cockpit to the bomb-bay area via two eight-foot ladders. Sellers negotiated the first, but coming down the second, at about the fourth rung from the bottom, one of his legs abruptly buckled, and he tumbled and sprawled, in obvious pain, on the unforgiving bomb-bay floor.
It was Victor Linden who again brought the bad news, the next day, after Sellers had undergone a physical exam in Harley Street. "The completion-bond people," he announced gravely, "know about Peter's injury and the physical demands of the Major Kong role. They say they'll pull out if he plays the part." Once that grim reality had sunk in, Kubrick's response was an extraordinary tribute to Sellers as an actor: "I can't replace him with another actor, we've got to get an authentic character from life, someone whose acting career is secondary -- a real-life cowboy." Kubrick, however, had not visited the United States in about fifteen years, and was not familiar with the secondary actors of the day. He asked for my opinion and I immediately suggested big Dan ("Hoss Cartwright") Blocker. He hadn't heard of Blocker, or even -- so eccentrically isolated had he become -- of the TV show Bonanza.
"How big a man is he?" Stanley asked.
"Bigger than John Wayne," I said.
We looked up his picture in a copy of The Player's Guide and Stanley decided to go with him without further query. He made arrangements for a script to be delivered to Blocker that afternoon, but a cabled response from Blocker's agent arrived in quick order: "Thanks a lot, but the material is too pinko for Dan. Or anyone else we know for that matter. Regards, Leibman, CMA."
As I recall, this was the first hint that this sort of political interpretation of our work-in-progress might exist. Stanley seemed genuinely surprised and disappointed. Linden, however, was quite resilient. "Pinko. . ." he said with a sniff. "Unless I'm quite mistaken, an English talent agency would have used the word subversive."'
Years earlier, while Kubrick was directing the western called One Eyed Jacks (his place was taken by Marlon "Bud" Brando, the producer and star of the film, following an ambiguous contretemps), he'd noticed the authentic qualities of the most natural thespian to come out of the west, an actor with the homey sobriquet of Slim Pickens.
Slim Pickens, born Lotus Bert Lindley in Texas in 1919, was an unschooled cowhand who traveled the rodeo circuit from El Paso to Montana, sometimes competing in events, other times performing the dangerous work of rodeo clown -- distracting the bulls long enough for injured cowboys to be removed from the arena. At one point, a friend persuaded him to accept work as a stunt rider in westerns. During an open call for One Eyed Jacks, Brando noticed him and cast him in the role of the uncouth deputy sheriff. Except for the occasional stunt work on location, Slim had never been anywhere off the small-town western rodeo circuit, much less outside the U.S. When his agent told him about this remarkable job in England, he asked what he should wear on his trip there. His agent told him to wear whatever he would if he were "going into town to buy a sack of feed" -- which meant his Justin boots and wide-brimmed Stetson.
"He's in the office with Victor," Stanley said, "and I don't think they can understand each other. Victor said he arrived in costume. Go and see if he's all right. Ask him if his hotel is okay and all that." When I reached the production office, I saw Victor first, his face furrowed in consternation as he perched in the center of his big Eames wingbat. Then I saw Slim Pickens, who was every inch and ounce the size of the Duke, leaning one elbow to the wall, staring out the window.
"This place," I heard him drawl, "would make one helluva good horse pasture ... if there's any water."
"Oh, I believe there's water, all right," Victor was absurdly assuring him when he saw me. "Ah, there you are, dear boy," he said. "This is Mr. Slim Pickens. This is Terry Southern." We shook hands, Slim grinning crazily.
"Howdy," he drawled, as gracious as if I were a heroine in an old western. "Mighty proud to know yuh." I went straight to our little makeshift bar, where I had stashed a quart of Wild Turkey specifically for the occasion, which I was ballpark certain would meet his requirements.
"Do you reckon it's too early for a drink, Slim?" I asked. He guffawed, then shook his head and crinkled his nose, as he always did when about to put someone on. "Wal, you know ah think it was jest this mornin' that ah was tryin' to figure out if and when ah ever think it was too early fer a drink, an' damned if ah didn't come up bone dry! Hee-hee-hee!" He cackled his falsetto laugh. "Why hell yes, I'll have a drink with you. Be glad to."
"How about you, Victor?" I asked. His reply was a small explosion of coughs and "hrumphs."
"Actually, it is a bit early for me in point of fact," he spluttered. "I've got all those bloody meetings... ." I poured a couple and handed one to Slim.
"Stanley wanted me to find out if you got settled in at your hotel, Slim, and if everything is all right." Slim had this unusual habit of sometimes prefacing his reply to a question with a small grimace and a wipe of his mouth against the back of his hand, a gesture of modesty or self-deprecation somehow. "Wal," he said, "it's like this ole friend of mine from Oklahoma says: jest gimme a pair of loose-fittin' shoes, some tight pussy, and a warm place to shit, an' ah'll be all right."
We were occupying three of the big sound stages at Shepperton: one of them for the War Room set, another for bomber set and a third that accommodated two smaller sets, General Ripper's office, including its corridor with Coke machine and telephone booth ("If you try any perversion in there, I'll blow your head off "), and the General Turgidson motel-room set. The B-52 set, where we were shooting at the time, consisted of an actual B-52 bomber, or at least its nose and forward fuselage, suspended about fifteen feet above the floor of the stage. They were between takes when I climbed into the cockpit area where they were doing "character shots": individual close-ups of the co-pilot scrutinizing a Penthouse centerfold, the navigator practicing his card tricks, the radar operator wistfully reading a letter from home. Short snippets of action meant to establish the crew as legendary boy-next-door types. Conspicuously absent from the line-up was the bombardier and single black member of the crew, James Earl Jones, or Jimmy, as everyone called him. A classic thespian of high purpose, Jones was about as cultured and scholarly as it is possible for an actor to be, with a voice and presence that were invariably compared to Paul Robeson's.
Kubrick came over to where I was standing, but he remained absorbed in what he called "this obligatory Our Town character crap that always seems to come off like a parody of All Quiet on the Western Front," a movie that took an outlandish amount of time to focus on the individual behavioral quirks of every man in the regiment. "The only rationale for doing it now," Kubrick said, "is that you're making fun of that historic and corny technique of character delineation." Just as he started to go back to the camera, I saw that his eye was caught by something off the set. "Look at that," he said, "Slim and Jimmy are on a collision course."
Slim was ambling along the apron of the stage toward where Jimmy was sitting by the prop truck absorbed in his script. "Why don't you go down there," Kubrick went on, "and introduce them." It was not so much a question as a very pointed suggestion, perhaps even, it occurred to me, a direct order. I bounded down the scaffolding steps and across the floor of the stage, just in time to intercept Slim in full stride a few feet from where Jimmy was sitting.
"Hold on there, Slim," I said. "I want you to meet another member of the cast." Jimmy got to his feet. "James Earl Jones -- Slim Pickens." They shook hands but both continued to look equally puzzled. They had obviously never heard of each other. Somehow I knew the best route to some kind of rapprochement would be through Jones. "Slim has just finished working on a picture with Marlon Brando," I said.
"Oh well," he boomed, "that must have been very interesting indeed.... Yes, I should very much like to hear what it is like to work with the great Mr. Brando."
As if the question were a cue for a well-rehearsed bit of bumpkin business, Slim began to hem and haw, kicking at an imaginary rock on the floor. "Wal," he drawled, his head to one side, "you know ah worked with Bud Brando for right near a full year, an' durin' that time ah never seen him do one thing that wudn't all man an' all white."
When I asked Jimmy about it later, he laughed. His laugh, it must be said, is one of the all-time great laughs. "I was beginning to think," and there were tears in his eyes as he said it, "that I must have imagined it."
The quality of Jones's voice comes through most clearly as he delivers the last line of the Strangelove script before the bomb is released. The ultimate fail-safe device requires the manual operation of two final safety switches, to insure that the bomb will never be dropped by mistake. Major Kong's command over the intercom is brisk: "Release second safety!" Jones's response, although measured, is unhesitating. He reaches out and moves the lever. It is in his acknowledgement of the order, over the intercom, that he manages to imbue the words with the fatalism and pathos of the ages:" Second safety..."
Not long afterward, we began shooting the famous eleven-minute "lost pie fight," which was to come near the end of the movie. This footage began at a point in the War Room where the Russian ambassador is seen, for the second time, surreptitiously taking photographs of the Big Board, using six or seven tiny spy-cameras disguised as a wristwatch, a diamond ring, a cigarette lighter, and cufflinks. The head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) catches him in flagrante and, as before, tackles him and throws him to the floor. They fight furiously until President Merkin Muffley intervenes:
"This is the War Room, gentlemen! How dare you fight in here!"
General Turgidson is unfazed. "We've got the Commie rat redhanded this time, Mr. President!"
The detachment of four military police, which earlier escorted the ambassador to the War Room, stands by as General Turgidson continues: "Mr. President, my experience in these matters of espionage has caused me to be more skeptical than your average Joe. I think these cameras," he indicates the array of ingenious devices, "may be dummy cameras, Just to put us off. I say he's got the real McCoy concealed on his person. I would like to have your permission, Mr. President, to have him fully searched."
"All right," the President says, "permission granted."
General Turgidson addresses the military police: "Okay boys, you heard the President. I want you to search the ambassador thoroughly. And due to the tininess of his equipment do not overlook any of the seven bodily orifices." The camera focuses on the face of the ambassador as he listens and mentally calculates the orifices with an expression of great annoyance.
"Why you capitalist swine!" he roars, and reaches out of the frame to the huge three-tiered table that was wheeled in earlier. Then he turns back to General Turgidson, who now has a look of apprehension on his face as he ducks aside, managing to evade a custard pie that the ambassador is throwing at him. President Muffley has been standing directly behind the general, so that when he ducks, the president is hit directly in the face with the pie. He is so overwhelmed by the sheer indignity of being struck with a pie that he simply blacks out. General Turgidson catches him as he collapses.
"Gentlemen," he intones, "The president has been struck down, in the prime of his life and his presidency. I say massive retaliation!" And he picks up another pie and hurls it at the ambassador. It misses and hits instead General Faceman, the joint Chief representing the Army. Faceman is furious.
"You've gone too far this time, Buck!" he says, throwing a pie himself, which hits Admiral Pooper, the Naval Joint Chief who, of course, also retaliates. A monumental pie fight ensues.
Meanwhile, parallel to the pie-fight sequence, another sequence is occurring. At about the time that the first pie is thrown, Dr. Strangelove raises himself from his wheelchair. Then, looking rather wild-eyed, he shouts, "Mein Fuhrer, I can valk!" He takes a triumphant step forward and pitches flat on his face. He immediately tries to regain the wheelchair, snaking his way across the floor, which is so highly polished and slippery that the wheelchair scoots out of reach as soon as Strangelove touches it. We intercut between the pie fight and Strangelove's snakelike movements -- reach and scoot, reach and scoot -- which suggest a curious, macabre pas de deux. When the chair finally reaches the wall, it shoots sideways across the floor and comes to a stop ten feet away, hopelessly out of reach.
Strangelove, exhausted and dejected, pulls himself up so that he is sitting on the floor, his back against the wall at the far end of the War Room. He stares for a moment at the surreal activity occurring there, the pie fight appearing like a distant, blurry, white blizzard. The camera moves in on Strangelove as he gazes, expressionless now, at the distant fray. Then, unobserved by him, his right hand slowly rises, moves to the inner pocket of his jacket and, with considerable stealth, withdraws a German Luger pistol and moves the barrel toward his right temple. The hand holding the pistol is seized at the last minute by the free hand and both grapple for its control. The hand grasping the wrist prevails and is able to deflect the pistol's aim so that when it goes off with a tremendous roar, it misses the temple.
The explosion reverberates with such volume that the pie fight freezes. A tableau, of white and ghostly aspect: Strangelove stares for a moment before realizing that he has gained the upper hand. "Gentlemen," he calls out to them. "Enough of these childish games. Vee hab vork to do. Azzemble here pleeze!" For a moment, no one moves. Then a solitary figure breaks rank: It is General Turgidson, who walks across the room to the wheelchair and pushes it over to the stricken Strangelove.
"May I help you into your chair, Doctor?" he asks. He begins wheeling Strangelove across the War Room floor, which is now about half a foot deep in custard pie. They move slowly until they reach the president and the Russian ambassador who are sitting cross-legged, facing each other, building a sandcastle.
"What in Sam Hill --" mutters General Turgidson.
"Ach," says Strangelove. "I think their minds have snapped under the strain. Perhaps they will have to be institutionalized."
As they near the pie-covered formation of generals and admirals, General Turgidson announces gravely: "Well, boys, it looks like the future of this great land of ours is going to be in the hands of people like Dr. Strangelove here. So let's hear three for the good doctor!" And as he pushes off again, the eerie formation raise their voices in a thin, apparition-like lamentation: "Hip, hip, hooray, hip, hip, hooray!" followed by Vera Lynn's rendition of "We'll Meet Again." The camera is up and back in a dramatic long shot as General Turgidson moves across the War Room floor in a metaphorical visual marriage of Mad Scientist and United States Military. The End.
This was a truly fantastic sequence. In the first place it was a strictly one-shot affair; there was neither time nor money to reshoot -- which would have meant cleaning the hundred or so uniforms and buying a thousand more custard pies. The studio representatives, who were skeptical of the scene all along, had been excruciatingly clear about the matter: "We're talkin' one take. One take and you're outta here, even if you only got shit in the can!"
So it was with considerable trepidation that we screened the results that evening. It must be recalled that each branch of the military service -- Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine -- receives a separate budget that determines the welfare and the life-style of its top brass. The pie fight, at its most contentious and prolonged, was not between the Russian ambassador and the United States military but between the rival branches of the U.S. military, and it represented a bitter and unrelenting struggle for congressional appropriations. This continuing jealousy between service branches, which causes each one to exaggerate its needs, precludes any chance of reducing our absurdly high defense budget.
The style and mood of the sequence should have reflected these grim circumstances. Kubrick's major goof was his failure to communicate that idea to the sixty or so pie-throwing admirals and generals, so that the prevailing atmosphere, as it came across on the film, might best be described as bacchanalian-with everyone gaily tossing pies, obviously in the highest of spirits. A disaster of, as Kubrick said, "Homeric proportions." Needless to say, the scene was cut.
It was about this time that word began to reach us, reflecting concern as to the nature of the film in production. Was it anti-American? or just anti-military? And the jackpot question, was it, in fact, anti-American to whatever extent it was anti-military? This "buzz along the Rialto" was occasionally fleshed out by an actual Nosey Parker type dropping in from New York or Hollywood on behalf of Columbia Pictures. They usually traveled in pairs, presumably on the theory that sleaze is more palatable if spread somewhat thin.
"I feel like Elisha Cook in one of those early Warner films," said Stanley. "You know, when you learn there's a contract out on you, and all you can do is wait for the hit. They're ruthless," he went on, carried away by the film noir image, "absolutely ruthless."
The early visits of those snoopers (with their little high-speed cameras and voice-activated recorders, which they would try to stash on the set and retrieve later) were harbingers of stressful things to come about nine months later, when the first prints of the film were being sporadically screened at the Gulf and Western Building in New York, and word came back to Old Smoke that the Columbia head honchos, Abe Schneider and Mo Rothman, were never in attendance.
I overheard Stanley on the phone to New York. "Listen, Mo," he said, "don't you think you ought to have a look at the film you're making?" Afterward he told me: "Mo says they've been too busy with the new Carl Foreman film -- the one with Bing Crosby singing 'White Christmas' while a soldier is being executed. He said, 'It's not so zany as yours, Stanley.' Can you believe it? And that isn't the worst. He also said, get this, he said, 'The publicity department is having a hard time getting a handle on how to promote a comedy about the destruction of the planet."
It was the first time I had seen Kubrick utterly depressed, and during the ride back to London, he said, "I have the feeling distribution is totally fucked." The next day, however, he was bouncing with optimism and a bold scheme. "I have learned," he said, "that Mo Rothman is a highly serious golfer." In a trice he was on the phone to Abercrombie & Fitch, Manhattan's ultra swank sporting-goods emporium. Some fairly elaborate manipulations (plus an untold cash outlay) got him a "surprise gift" presentation of the store's top-of-the-line electric golf cart, to be delivered to the clubhouse of Rothman's Westchester Country Club.
It is a sad anticlimax to report the negative response on Rothman's part. "The son of a bitch refused to accept it!" Stanley exclaimed. "He said it would be 'bad form."'
It soon became apparent that no one in the company wished to be associated with the film, as if they were pretending that it had somehow spontaneously come into existence. Kubrick was hopping. "It's like they think it was some kind of immaculate fucking conception," he exclaimed with the ultra-righteous indignation of someone caught in an unsuccessful bribery attempt. It was difficult to contain him. "'Bad form!"' he kept shouting, "Can you imagine Mo Rothman saying that? His secretary must have taught him that phrase!"
In the months that followed, the studio continued to distance itself from the film. Even when Strangelove received the infrequent good review, it dismissed the critic as a pinko nutcase and on at least one occasion the Columbia Pictures publicity department defended the company against the film by saying it was definitely not "anti-U.S. military," but "just a zany novelty flick which did not reflect the views of the corporation in any way." This party line persisted, I believe, until about five years ago, when the Library of Congress announced that the film had been selected as one of the fifty greatest American films of all time -- in a ceremony at which I noted Rothman in prominent attendance. Who said satire was "something that closed Wednesday in Philadelphia"?
Southern also spoke elsewhere regarding some of Kubrick's working habits; the following is excerpted from The Movies, Volume One, No.1, July 1983:
Dark London winter mornings, and I would go over to Kubrick's place in Knightsbridge at about 5:00 AM. We would work in the back seat -- more like a small room than a seat -- of his grand old Bentley, during the long ride to Shepperton Studios. Outside it was pitch black, cold, and fantastic with the all-enveloping London fog. Inside it was warm, glowing with peach-colored sconce light from the corners behind, and the script pages spread across two table tops, folded out in front of us. With the driver's partition closed, we could have been in a cozy compartment on the Orient Express, working on that morning's scene -- already written, of course, perhaps many times rewritten, but never really perfect. It was a magical time.
"Now then," Kubrick might begin, only half in jest, "just what is it we're trying to say with this scene?"
"A comment about some poignant aspect of la condition humaine?" I might venture.
"Have you been drinking?" he would want to know.
"Are you kidding? It's five-thirty in the morning."
"Last night. You could still be drunk from last night. Don your think-cap, mister--what's the obligation of the scene? What do we want to say?"
"That we're up shit creek?"
"Wait a minute...that we're 'in rat's alley where the dead men lost their bones.'"
In question might be the Burpelson Air Force Base scene, after the siege, when Col. "Bat" Guano (Keenan Wynn), having taken Mandrake (Peter Sellers) prisoner, allows him to use a pay phone to report the recall-code to the President.
"Now let's consider," Stan would say, waxing expansive. "When 'Bat' Guano lets Mandrake go into the phone booth to call the President...what's the most interesting thing he can say to him -- some sort of weird last-minute admonition to Mandrake."
In the sequence at hand we already had:
Mandrake (imploring): Colonel, I must know what you think has been going on here.
Col. "Bat" Guano: You wanna know what I think? I think you're some kind of deviated pre-vert. I t
Words and Movies
by Stanley Kubrick
The perfect novel from which to make a movie is, I think, not the novel of action but, on the contrary, the novel which is mainly concerned with the inner life of its characters. It will give the adaptor an absolute compass bearing, as it were, on what a character is thinking or feeling at any given moment of the story. And from this he can invent action which will be an objective correlative of the book's psychological content, will accurately dramatize this in an implicit, off-the-nose way without resorting to having the actors deliver literal statements of meaning.
I think that for a movie or a play to say anything really truthful about life, it has to do so very obliquely, so as to avoid all pat conclusions and neatly tied-up ideas. The point of view it is conveying has to be completely entwined with a sense of life as it is, and has to be got across through a subtle injection into the audience's consciousness. Ideas which are valid and truthful are so multi-faceted that they don't yield themselves to frontal assault. The ideas have to be discovered by the audience, and their thrill in making the discovery makes those ideas all the more powerful. You use the audience's thrill of surprise and discovery to reinforce your ideas, rather than reinforce them artificially through plot points or phony drama or phony stage dynamics put in to power them across.
It's sometimes said that a great novel makes a less promising basis for a film than a novel which is merely good. I don't think that adapting great novels presents any special problems which are not involved in adapting good novels or mediocre novels; except that you will be more heavily criticized if the film is bad, and you may be even if it's good. I think almost any novel can be successfully adapted, provided it is not one whose aesthetic integrity is lost along with its length. For example, the kind of novel in which a great deal and variety of action is absolutely essential to the story, so that it loses much of its point when you subtract heavily from the number of events or their development. People have asked me how it is possible to make a film out of Lolita when so much of the quality of the book depends on Nabokov's prose style. But to take the prose style as any more than just a part of a great book is simply misunderstanding just what a great book is. Of course, the quality of the writing is one of the elements that make a novel great. But this quality is a result of the quality of the writer's obsession with his subject, with a theme and a concept and a view of life and an understanding of character. Style is what an artist uses to fascinate the beholder in order to convey to him his feelings and emotions and thoughts. These are what have to be dramatized, not the style. The dramatizing has to find a style of its own, as it will do if it really grasps the content. And in doing this it will bring out another side of that structure which has gone into the novel. It may or may not be as good as the novel; sometimes it may in certain ways be even better.
Oddly enough, acting comes into the picture somewhere here. At its best, realistic drama consists of a progression of moods and feelings that play upon the audience's feelings and transform the author's meaning into an emotional experience. This means that the author must not think of paper and ink and words as being his writing tools, but rather that he works in flesh and feeling. And in this sense I feel that too few writers seem to understand what an actor can communicate emotionally and what he cannot. Often, at one point, the writer expects a silent look to get across what it would take a rebus puzzle to explain, and in the next moment the actor is given a long speech to convey something that is quite apparent in the situation and for which a brief look would be sufficient. Writers tend to approach the creation of drama too much in terms of words, failing to realize that the greatest force they have is the mood and feeling they can produce in the audience through the actor. They tend to see the actor grudgingly, as someone likely to ruin what they have written, rather than seeing that the actor is in every sense their medium.
You might wonder, as a result of this, whether directing was anything more or less than a continuation of the writing. I think that is precisely what directing should be. It would follow, then, that a writer-director is really the perfect dramatic instrument; and the few examples we have where these two peculiar techniques have been properly mastered by one man have, I believe, produced the most consistently fine work.
When the director is not his own author, I think it is his duty to be one hundred per cent faithful to the author's meaning and to sacrifice none of it for the sake of climax or effect. This seems a fairly obvious notion, yet how many plays and films have you seen where the experience was exciting and arresting but when it was over you felt there was less there than met the eye? And this is usually due to artificial stimulation of the senses by technique which disregards the inner design of the play. It is here that we see the cult of the director at its worst.
On the other hand, I don't want to imply rigidity. Nothing in making movies gives a greater sense of elation than participation in a process of allowing the work to grow, through vital collaboration between script, director and actors, as it goes along. Any art form properly practiced involves a to and fro between conception and execution, the original intention being constantly modified as one tries to give it objective realization. In painting a picture this goes on between the artist and his canvas; in making a movie it goes on between people.
The preceding article appeared in the journal Sight & Sound, vol.30 (1960/61), p.14.
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