CLV – Memorial Day Alternative

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare

I
have grown weary of the war-lovers
taking over every holiday and
exploiting them for their own
deadly ambitions. Turning July
4th into a celebration
of militaristic statism (see
the old Bing Crosby musical
Holiday
Inn
) was bad enough.
But then seeing a Santa Claus
in a flag-draped Uncle Sam suit
on a Christmas card a couple
years ago was simply too much.

Memorial
Day is one holiday on which
I often hold an u201CAnti-War Film
Festival,u201D inviting a few friends
— who, being friends of mine,
have no need to be reminded
of the evils of warfare — to
watch what I consider the best
of the films that bring war
into disrepute. Instead of going
out to a cemetery to join an
u201Chonor guardu201D gang to play taps
and fire their rifles to celebrate
the deaths of victims of warfare,
I suggest such an anti-war film
festival for your own consideration.

Some
of the films I find most effective
are the following (with the
number of * [1–3] reflecting
my opinion as to importance):

***

Joyeux Noel
— a recent
film depicting an actual pause
in battle — on Christmas Eve
— during World War I. French,
German, and British soldiers
met in a u201Cno-man's-landu201D to
exchange candy and cigarettes,
converse, and even play an abbreviated
game of soccer.

***
The King of Hearts
— an
Alan Bates film, set in World
War I, in which a soldier, Bates,
is sent into a French town to
check things out, not being
aware that the inhabitants had
left the town, and residents
of the local mental asylum had
taken their places. Very good
comedy.

**
Paths of Glory
— A Kirk
Douglas film. A general sends
his men on a suicide mission.
When the mission fails, a few
soldiers are arbitrarily selected
to be tried — and executed —
for cowardice.

*
M*A*S*H
— anyone not familiar with
this comedic dark look at war
— the Korean being the one in
question — has probably been
out in the desert too long.

***
Oh! What a Lovely War

a British musical comedy
(it originated as a stage show)
set in World War I. The ending
scene, in particular, will bring
tears to the eyes of those who
abhor the systematic killing
of people. One of my all-time
favorites!

**
Johnny
Got His Gun
— a Dalton
Trumbo film, set in World War
I, from the perspective of an
all-but-dead wounded soldier.
The darkest of the films I'm
recommending.

*
The Mouse That Roared

the Peter Sellers classic
about a European duchy that
figures the best way out of
its financial difficulties is
to wage war on America, and
then receive post-war foreign
aid.

**
All Quiet on the Western Front

— won the Oscar (1930) for
best film and best director.
A very good anti-war film —
from the perspective of some
young Germans. I particularly
like it because it stars one
of the few real heroes from
Hollywood, Lew Ayres, who refused
to be conscripted into the army
during World War II, a decision
that virtually ruined his Hollywood
career.

While
on the topic of u201Cheroes,u201D I
would exclude any and
all war films by John Wayne
who, more than anyone else,
helped Hollywood glorify wartime
butchery, even as he managed
to keep himself out of the war.
Sound like any presidents?

*
Apocalypse Now
— an
excellent Vietnam war era film
with dark and dark-side overtones.

**
The Deer Hunter
— a
powerful, not for the squeamish,
look at the Vietnam war. It
won an Oscar (1978) for best
picture, and for best supporting
actor (Christopher Walken).

**
Gallipoli
— a film by one of my favorite
directors, Peter Weir. It takes
place in World War I, and does
a moving job of showing the
disillusionment of young men
caught up in the ersatz u201Cgloryu201D
of war.

***
Shenandoah
— the best
anti-war film with a consistent
libertarian message. Jimmy Stewart
plays a Virginia farmer — with
a large family — who has no
use for the Civil War and its
intrusions upon his property.
When I first sat through this
film over 40 years ago, I kept
waiting for Stewart to cave
in and see the errors of his
ways. He never does. Some wonderful
lines that you'll not soon forget.
One
of the very few films that later
became a stage play. If you
haven't seen this one, where
have you been?

**
Catch-22
— the film
adaptation of Joseph Hiller's
treatment of the u201Cnormalu201D insanity
of the war system, based on
his own war-time experiences.

**
Slaughterhouse-Five
— Kurt
Vonnegut's offering of the same
basic theme of the normalcy
of institutionalized insanity,
from the perspective of a soldier.
I once saw a lengthy interview
(on C-SPAN, as I recall) of
Heller and Vonnegut together.
Vonnegut related a conversation
he had had with a friend on
a troop-ship coming back from
Europe. Vonnegut asked his friend:
u201Cwhat did you learn from all
of this?,u201D to which the other
man replied: u201Cnever to believe
your own government.u201D

**
Dr. Strangelove
— another
Peter Sellers offering that
involves an Air Force general
who decides to start a war with
the Soviet Union. As with The
Mouse That Roared, Sellers
plays a number of roles. A film
that ages well with time.

***
Wag the Dog
— for those
who reject, out of hand, the
idea that political conspiracies
exist — unless, of course, one
is talking about conspiracies
perpetrated by u201Cbad guysu201D —
this film may prove either troublesome
or enlightening. In an age when
the best way to satirize something
is to make a factual report
of same, this film of a contrived
war engineered to enliven a
presidential reelection campaign,
has all the ring of a documentary.
A u201Cmustu201D for any modern film
festival.

**
The
Quiet American
[2002
version] — the adaptation
of Graham Greene's novel deals
with the behind-the-scenes manipulations
that led to America's involvement
in the Vietnam war. Don't waste
your time with the 1958 version,
which treats Greene's novel
as a murder mystery, not a political
intrigue.

***
Aftermath:
The Remnants of War
— one
of the most powerful of all
anti-war films, particularly
since it doesn't show any battle
scenes. It is a documentary,
produced by the Canadian Film
Board, of the various messes
that the war system leaves to
the rest of mankind to deal
with decades after the wars
have ended (e.g., unexploded
munitions from World Wars I
and II that continue to kill
French farmers each year).

***
The Americanization of Emily

— I have saved my favorite
anti-war film for last. This
James Garner/Julie Andrews picture
is quite good. The most powerful
portion of it is the garden
scene, in which Garner and Andrews
are talking with Andrews' mother
about war. Garner's impassioned
soliloquy on the nature of war
— with emphasis on the wives
and mothers who keep the bloodbaths
going by honoring them — packs
more wallop than just about
any other film. Garner ends
up declaring that it will be
cowards — such as himself —
who will save the world.

You
may well have other films you
would like to add to the list
— and there are other excellent
anti-war movies — but these
represent my favorites. If you
decide to undertake your own
Anti-War Film Festival this
Memorial Day, you should have
adequate time to check with
your local video-rental outlet
or, as I have done, go to Amazon.com
to purchase some of them (deliveries
should get to you before Memorial
Day).

Next
Chapter
                               Table
of Contents

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare