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Tony Grist

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Flags Of Our Fathers [Aug. 10th, 2007|09:21 am]
Tony Grist
I'm sorry, but young white men all look the same to me. Put 'em in uniform and things get worse. (But's that the point of uniform, isn't it-  to subsume the individual in the herd?) "Where's Iggy?" asks a confused old guy, remembering a pal who died horribly on the battlefield.- and afterwards I turned to Ailz and asked, "So which one was Iggy?"

Actually, she knew. So ,OK, maybe Clint doesn't do such a bad job of establishing the characters. 

But Ailz agreed about the structure-  all that to-and-froing in time. You've not only got to keep track of who all the young guys are but also who all the old guys are and which old guy corresponds to which young guy. Ailz said the effect was to  point up the artifice and stop you caring. Good point. 

Three men survived to tell the story of how the flag got planted on Iwo Jima. The government promptly grabbed them by the scruff and sent them round America on a whistle-stop tour selling war bonds. Interesting story. Well worth telling. Trouble is Eastwood gives most screen time to the least interesting of the three- the saintly "Doc", a bona fide hero with no apparent flaws, a chiselled jaw line and a blameless, middle-American life back home. It would have been better to concentrate on the guy with the French name and the pushy girlfriend who didn't make it as a salesman and wound up as a janitor or- even better- on Ira Hayes, the native America who came off the battlefield reeling with shell-shock, made such an drunken exhibition of himself on tour that he was sent back to his unit and afterwards became a bum and died of "exposure" in a farmyard. 

So what's the film about? Actually it starts all sorts of hares- war is hell, racism,  how  you go about selling war in a democracy, truth and lies- but never chases any of them to the kill. You know  it's lost confidence in itself when someone we've no reason to be interested in- Doc's son as it happens- appears in the final reel to spell out the moral in voiceover.  According to him, it's all about the nature of heroism. But if that's the case,  why have we  just been treated to a sickly-sweet deathbed scene between saintly old Doc and his eldest son?  You know what? One of the reasons I hate Hollywood so much is every bloody movie that comes off the production line turns out to be a sickly sweet movie about fathers and sons. What's the problem with you guys? Don't you have mothers in California?

I wanted to like this movie- I really did- but I'm afraid it's a mess. What would be good is if  Eastwood went back into the editing suite and recut it as the Ira Hayes Story. I guess the result would be a whole lot shorter- an hour and a half instead of two- but- hey- is that a problem?
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: goddlefrood
2007-08-10 10:26 am (UTC)
A little jingoistic, it sounds like, quite typical of many recent Hollywood war films. This was the one where Eastwood also filmed the same story from the Japanese perspective, but I can't recall the title just now. I am glad to have seen this review, it looks like one to probably miss as well.

Clint's last few films haven't really been all that good I reckon. I used to like his stuff a good deal, however haven't been a follower of his films since Mystic River, which I thought was pretty awful.

I looked into Ozu's films a bit, it seems they aren't available on DVD easily. I had seen the Drifting Weeds some time ago. After I saw the synopsis at IMDB I remembered it a little and I've seen Tokyo Story too.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-08-10 11:06 am (UTC)
I don't think this movie knows what it's about. there are moments of jingoism and sentimentality and moments that pull in the other direction. The other half of the diptych- the japanese half- is supposed to be a lot better. We've got it and I'll be watching it soon.

I don't think Clint was ever a fiest-rate director. He's made a bundle of so-so movies and the only one I'd call great (I haven't seen them all) is Unforgiven.
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[User Picture]From: goddlefrood
2007-08-10 11:13 am (UTC)
Unforgiven was about his last really good one, and it is good. You're probably right on the whole, he was better in front of the camera than he is behind.

I'll be interested how to see how you find the Japanese perspective one (still can't bring the name to mind).
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-08-10 11:37 am (UTC)
Letters From Iwo Jima.

I think he's lost without a strong script. That's true of all directors of course, but most of them can tell a good script from a bad one and I'm not convinced Clint can.
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From: (Anonymous)
2007-08-16 10:53 pm (UTC)
You're obviously a fucking idiot. Go away.
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From: (Anonymous)
2007-08-10 09:01 pm (UTC)
I wonder if my grandfather thought the same as he rose over the top during the battle of the Somme..I wonder what his first thoughts,actually were as he strode over..do you think he thought all white men look the same or perhaps it was " what the fuck "...what is it about white men..go now in HMV..in Manchester..a whole bank of DVD's celebrating Black men films..has there been an outcry no..if it was white man films..aaarrhh yes...we have no banana's...
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-08-11 09:55 am (UTC)
But films about white men are the default position. 90% of all movies are about white men. I know what you're getting at but we honkies aren't that badly treated, you know.
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[User Picture]From: four_thorns
2007-08-12 08:42 pm (UTC)
well hello! i haven't seen flags of our fathers, but i did see its companion piece, letters from iwo jima. this too was a lot about the nature of heroism-- mainly, it was highly critical of japanese ideals regarding honor, death before defeat, obedience to authority. the two characters we're supposed to sympathize with both display "american" values-- willingness to use subterfuge and tactics that the japanese military considers dishonorable for not being straightforward, a questioning rather than blindly obedient attitude towards authority, etc.

it's interesting how culture influences our ideas about what's "heroic"-- in school here when they teach about the revolutionary war, they frame the brits as being foolishly concerned with order and discipline (marching out in the open in formations makes them easy targets) and the patriots as being clever for firing from cover and exploiting this "weakness", whereas i'm told by a friend in london that over there, they frame the americans' tactics as dirty and dishonorable.

it seems to me that these different ways of framing things stem from cultural power relationships-- it's a lot easier to fight "honorably" when you have the upper hand. in capoeira, which was originally practiced by slaves in brazil, it's perfectly acceptable to use trickery, to go back on your word, to attack when the other person lets their guard down- because the slaves had to take any advantage they could find when fighting their masters.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-08-13 09:07 am (UTC)
When I was a kid (in the long shadow of WWII) we got taught that the Colonists were the good guys and the Brits the bad guys. Winston Churchill even went so far as to characterise the War of Independence as a classic war of us (stalwart farmers of English stock) against them (King George's German mercenaries) If that's no longer the way history gets slanted in British schools I guess it's evidence of what George Bush has done to Anglo-American relations.

That's an interesting point you make about cultural power relationships. I'd want to add that it also depends which side you're on. Roadside bombs are heroic when deployed by the French resistance but cowardly when used against allied troops by Iraqi "terrorists".

I haven't seen letters From Iwo Jima yet, but it's sitting there on the shelf and I aim to get round to it soon.
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