Roundup: Pop Culture & the Arts ...
Movies, Documentaries and Museum Exhibits
This page features links to reviews of movies, documentaries and exhibits with a historical theme. Listings are in reverse chronological order. Descriptions are taken directly from the linked publication. If you have articles you think should be listed on the Pop Culture page, please send them to the editor firstname.lastname@example.org.
SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (11-4-06)
The period, informed by the Age of Enlightenment, revolution in France and America and social and economic upheaval all over Europe, is virgin territory for an art exhibition.
SOURCE: USA Today (11-3-06)
These men, in addition to facing the Japanese, had to endure bitter racism from their white counterparts. When they came home they received no respect or honor for their sacrifice. These elderly warriors are asking why they are being made to feel the same neglect again.
Hollywood has made another movie, called Flags of Our Fathers, about the Iwo Jima battle. It's directed by Clint Eastwood and produced by Eastwood, Steven Spielberg and Robert Lorenz.
Unlike Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, this movie shows a couple of African-American soldiers briefly in a cutaway shot on one of the ships heading toward Iwo Jima. At the end of the film, if you hang around long enough, you'll see one photograph that features a few black Marines in prayer.
Lorenz told me that blacks who are burning up the phone lines on talk radio and angry bloggers have it wrong. He said 12 black extras were used in the landing scenes. "They are there in this film ... but the focus of this film is the story of the flag raisers. This film is very much about racism and the treatment of Ira Hayes, the Native American flag raiser. "...
SOURCE: Tocqueville Connection (11-6-06)
The prize jury said Littell's debut novel easily triumphed over a field of three other works from French authors with a 7-3 vote.
The book is already a sensation in France, where it sits atop the best-seller list with more than 250,000 copies sold.
Littell, the 39-year-old son of US journalist and spy novel writer Robert Littell, was not present to receive the honour.
His French editor said he remained at his home in Barcelona, Spain, and transmitted a message saying "he prefers to stay out of the limelight."
Littell "is very happy and he accepts this prize with pleasure," added Antoine Gallimard, of the Gallimard publishing house, stressing that no form of disrespect was intended by his absence.
"He has no time for publicity, partly out of shyness, but also because he believes literature is not an entertainment industry. What is important is the book itself," Gallimard said, adding that another 150,000 copies would now be printed.
Born in New York in 1967, Littell moved to France and spent his childhood there until the age of 18, when he returned to the United States for university.
After graduating, he spent 15 years travelling around the world, much of it working for humanitarian organisations.
Fully bilingual, he wrote his 900-page book in France, though admitted that he wrote up much of his methodical research in English.
"Les Bienveillantes" has already won a prestigious Academie Francaise prize given to first-time authors writing in French.
It is soon to be translated and published in Britain, the United States and other countries after auctions believed to have netted Littell more than a million dollars.
The novel tells the story of an unrepetant Nazi SS officer who recounts his extermination of Jews in World War II.
"What interested me was to understand what led people to become torturers," Littell has said in one of his rare interviews.
The premise, though, has earned criticism from some quarters, and a German historian, Peter Schottler, has called the book inaccurate and unconvincing.
The head of the Goncourt jury, Edmonde Charles-Roux, brushed those views aside, enthusiastically endorsing Littell's book after Monday's vote.
"You can't dismiss such a monument," he said.
"The vote was definitive, as it always is for the Goncourt. It was very sharp: some for, others against, but it was even so an impressive vote," Charles-Roux said.
A jury member, Jorge Semprun, said he was "stunned by this amazing book -- it's the literary event of this half-century."
Littell's triumph was the high point of an invasion of foreign writers who have invigorated France's often staid literary world by sweeping several top prizes.
SOURCE: NYT (11-3-06)
This loose-jointed collection of reminiscences by several dozen people who lived on the ranch — hippies and political idealists who “moved there to get away from America,” as one original member puts it — is crammed with pictures and old home movies. Juxtaposed with the vintage material are interviews with the same people today.
However weatherbeaten they appear, they still have a light in their eyes, and they exude the hardy spirit of pioneers who are older and wiser but unbowed. As they look back with pride, amusement and sadness, it is obvious that their experiences on the ranch profoundly shaped their lives. (Occupied today by a handful of younger people, the ranch is now a land trust owned communally by everyone who has spent a winter there.)
SOURCE: Hollywood Reporter (11-3-06)
Until Thursday, that old contract appeared more a historical artifact than a template for the future. But in announcing that it has struck a deal with Tom Cruise and his producing partner Paula Wagner to revive UA, MGM said it was harkening back to UA's storied history as a filmmaker-friendly "place where producers, writers, directors and actors can thrive in a creative environment."
UA, which has earned nine best picture Oscars, has occupied a unique if sometimes embattled spot in Hollywood history. And its legacy is remembered fondly.
SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (11-3-06)
most expensive painting after it was sold in America by the Hollywood entertainment mogul David Geffen for $140 million (£75 million).
In a private deal brokered by Sotheby's, the painting 'No.5, 1948', has been bought by David Martinez, a Mexican financier.
The price beats the recent record set by the cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder who paid $135 million (then £73 million) also in a private sale for Gustav Klimt's portrait, Adele Bloch-Bauer, a German-Jewish sugar heiress, in June.
SOURCE: NYT (11-2-06)
But rehabilitation of a sort is at hand if Emilio Estevez, an unabashed Kennedy admirer who wrote and directed “Bobby,” has his way. Mr. Estevez’s drama about the night of Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination as he sought the presidential nomination in 1968, is scheduled for release on Nov. 17.
In the film a kaleidoscope of renowned actors — Martin Sheen (Mr. Estevez’s father), Harry Belafonte, Sharon Stone, Laurence Fishburne, Demi Moore — play unremarkable, fictional people whose lives intersect at the moment of Kennedy’s shooting at the Ambassador Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
As for the candidate, Mr. Estevez chose to portray him only in newsreels from the time, and only in the most flattering light: striding through Appalachia with poverty-stricken families, championing civil rights, wading through crowds of awestruck supporters, holding forth on high-minded ideals as he did in his very last speech: “Fear not the path of truth for the lack of people walking on it.”
SOURCE: Lloyd Billingsley at FrontpageMag.com (11-2-06)
The new film Catch a Fire centers on a campaign to blow up a South African oil refinery. Key to the operation is Patrick Chamusso, who joins the anti-apartheid fighters of the African National Congress (ANC) after being falsely accused of another attack, arrested and tortured. Patrick also has some family difficulties but things work out for him and his country. As the action fades, viewers see these words: For Joe Slovo, 1926-1995. The other credits indicate that Catch a Fire was produced by Robyn Slovo, Joe's daughter, and was written by Shawn Slovo, another of Joe's daughters. And Joe Slovo himself is in the film too, played by Malcolm Purkey an actor who looks so much like Joe Cocker one expects him to burst into “Feelin’ Alright.” (The real Joe Slovo actually looked more like Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove.) For someone so important, Joe gets scant screen time, and not much to say. The Slovo character, in fact, has about five lines of dialogue, and at first appearance a subtitle explains that he is "Head of Special Operations" for the ANC. An accurate subtitle would have described him as a Stalinist and Soviet colonial official. But there's a bit more to it than that.
Joe Slovo did not come from South Africa or anywhere else on that continent. He was born in Lithuania and came to South Africa as a child with his parents, fleeing anti-Semitism in the Baltic. Supposedly inspired by Soviet gallantry in World War II, Joe became a Moscow loyalist during the Stalin era, when the regime was sinking into its own anti-Semitism, not to mention other mass atrocities. None of that bothered Slovo, who married the daughter of a South African Communist official and rose through the ranks to become General Secretary of the South African Communist Party.
The SACP, like the CPUSA, was a wholly owned subsidiary of the Soviet Union. According to recently revealed files from Soviet intelligence, the USSR sustained the SACP through the KGB. As those files have it, Joe Slovo commanded Umkhonto we Sizwe, a special operations force which, in June 1980, launched four simultaneous attacks on oil storage tanks and a refinery at Secunda. Slovo didn't carry out the attacks. He sent black Africans to do the heavy lifting and take the risks.
According to the KGB files, the leader of the squad that carried out the attack was not Patrick Chamusso, the hero of this film, but Motso Mokgabudi, also known as Obadi. He had been trained in the USSR and ran an ANC sabotage camp in Angola. But was bombing a refinery the best way to fight the apartheid regime? After all, many blacks worked there, and those jobs – high-paying by African standards – enabled them to own houses and cars, just like Patrick Chamusso. What were the feelings of some blacks about a Communist movement symbolized by dead white totalitarians? Did any South African blacks have misgivings about actual Marxist-Leninist regimes in Ethiopia, Angola, and Mozambique?
Catch a Fire conveys a kind of “massa Slovo knows best” attitude from Africans, who come across as uncritical followers of a non-African white leader. There is no mention, much less dissent, in the film, though screenwriter Shawn Slovo gives Africans a few clanky lines about liberating their land. She has also explained that they chose Chamusso who “wasn't one of the icons” but a family man and worker, an ideal image for the ANC. The film takes care to have a character say “we don't want anybody killed” in the refinery attack. Joe Slovo is shown as exulting, however, when told that a bomb will take out the refinery's water system, making it impossible to put out the fires, which indeed raged for a week.
At the time, there were more than 20 million blacks in South Africa. Viewers will get the impression that everyone totally supported the ANC and its militant campaigns. One catches fleeing glimpses of blacks in the police and military but viewers don't learn much about South Africa, which classified people as blacks, whites, coloreds and Indians. In the ANC training camps, recruits chant they want to murder “the Boers."”
This is a movie with villains from central casting. Nic Vos, the police official played by Tim Robbins, at times seems ready to hiss: “Ve vant zuh names. You have zem, yes?” Other times he struggles to show he is human, instructing his daughters on the pistol range, playing the guitar, or conceding to Chamusso that apartheid can't last.
It couldn't and didn't, but viewers don't see how it ended and aren't told that the Africans who run South Africa now have no use for Marxism-Leninism and have even privatized state-owned operations in the style of Margaret Thatcher. Toward the end, Catch a Fire cuts to the actual Patrick Chamusso, then to Nelson Mandela, who decided, apparently with Joe Slovo's support, to negotiate with president F.W. de Klerk. De Klerk called for a non-racist South Africa, lifted the ban on the ANC, and released Mandela from prison. He is not in this movie.
Neither is the practice, indulged by some ANC members, of “necklacing,” the torching of black dissenters with gasoline-soaked tires. Winnie Mandela, Nelson's ex-wife, was a fan of necklacing but she's neither shown nor mentioned.
Catch a Fire is a brand of cinematic apartheid that ignores important events, bans key players, and whitewashes others. It gets authentic only at then end, when it says: For Joe Slovo.
SOURCE: Press Release--New-York Historical Society (11-2-06)
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (11-1-06)
The show includes more than 70 works, starting with early experiments in the 1930s through to sculpture made not long before he was fatally injured in a car crash in 1965.
SOURCE: Times Online (UK) (11-1-06)
The new version, which includes 15 minutes of previously unseen footage of Marlon Brando playing Superman’s father, is radically different from the cinema release. Donner has also inserted footage from screen tests to substitute for scenes that he did not have time to shoot. One restored sequence involves Clark Kent, Superman’s alter ego, being tricked by his girlfriend into revealing his secret identity.
In the theatrical release, Kent gives away his secret when he accidentally places his hand in a fire but does not get burnt. Donner’s version shows Kent reacting with superhero speed when Lois Lane, his girlfriend, shoots at him with a gun loaded with blanks.
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (11-1-06)
Judging by Fagles' past success with two of the other great tomes of ancient literature - The Iliad and then The Odyssey - he can be excused his optimism. Both translations became unexpected best-sellers, helped greatly by audio-book versions narrated respectively by Derek Jacobi and Sir Ian McKellen.
Due to hit American book-shops tomorrow, Fagles' rendering of The Aeneid, the sweeping story of the toils of the warrior Aeneas, who goes on to found the Roman Empire after the fall of Troy, is expected to make a similar impact, replacing fustier versions that go all the way back to John Dryden's 17th-century version. Once more an audio version is in the works, with Simon Callow enlivening the text.
SOURCE: Andrew Ferguson in the Weekly Standard (10-30-06)
The movie star Warren Beatty, like so many people these days, is getting old, and with the hot breath of mortality on the back of his wattled neck he has undertaken the large project of reclaiming his reputation as a maker of movies. And not a moment too soon, either. Beatty's last several pictures have ranged from the kind that barely break even (Bulworth) to the kind that break the bank--calamitous, apocalyptic commercial failures like Love Affair, costarring Pierce Brosnan and Annette Bening, and Town and Country, costarring Goldie Hawn and Garry Shandling. In fact, it's difficult to find anyone in the continental United States who has watched either of these last two Beatty movies anywhere but in an airplane, and even then many passengers were reported to have jumped rather than watch Garry Shandling cuddle Goldie Hawn. Those two aren't getting any younger, either.
So now we who survived Town and Country are being asked to make room for Reds, the 1981 historical epic that Beatty produced, cowrote, directed, and starred in. For some reason Reds has never been released on home video, and although no one seems to have complained about this, Beatty and Paramount Home Entertainment are rolling out a 25th anniversary double DVD this month, with as much fanfare as they can muster. The new discs pile several hours of additional material on top of the movie's original running time of three-and-a-half hours. When a promotional preview copy arrived unbidden in the mail the other week, I was surprised to discover that Reds was worth watching, or rewatching, if only for clinical reasons. It's a period piece, of course, but in a complicated way: It's a window into the past--a window into a 1970s window into the teens, to be specific, and a relic of the kind of leftism that has already faded, though the hangover remains.
Reds tells the story of John Reed, played by Beatty, and his wife Louise Bryant, played by Diane Keaton. Reed, if he's remembered today at all--and he wasn't much remembered in 1981, either--is known as the author of Ten Days that Shook the World, an energetic account of the Russian Revolution. Vladimir Lenin himself wrote the book's introduction. Reed covered the revolution as a highly sympathetic, and highly paid, magazine correspondent. Later, before his death in 1920 at age 33, he became more directly involved, as an American member of the First Comintern. Reed was a courageous adventurer, a vivid writer, and a keen observer. He was not, however, terribly scrupulous in what he recorded. His friend Bertram Wolfe, later to become the great Sovietologist, recalled a mutual acquaintance once reproaching Reed for exaggeration in his reporting:
"But it didn't happen that way!" said the painter friend.
"What the hell difference does it make?" said Reed. He was a painter, too, he said--one who disdained "photographic accuracy" in favor of an "over-all impression."
In politics he was just as gauzy. He knew nothing of economics, socialism, Russian history, or the Russian language, and though he didn't understand capitalism he despised it, for all the usual good-hearted reasons. He fell hard for any strongman who seemed to him embarked on a grand project to remake society and lift up the working man. His politics were ambidextrous: For Reed, Mussolini no less than Lenin pointed the way to a brighter dawn. Well-meaning, ignorant, talented, romantic--he was, in other words, a bit of a booby. Growing up, Warren Beatty idolized him.
As director and screenwriter, Beatty applied Reed's reportorial principle--forgo accuracy for the big picture--to the telling of Reed's adventures. In a notice about the movie's rerelease, a reviewer for the New York Times called Reds a "superior history lesson," which just goes to show how badly Times movie reviewers need a history lesson. It is much easier to make the case that Reds is a grand work of the cinematic art, which it isn't, than that it's an adequate means of conveying accurate information about John Reed or the revolution. Crucial events are telescoped or ignored, characters invented or reimagined, chronologies upended. Scenes that never happened--such as a final confrontation between Reed's wife Louise and her sometime lover Eugene O'Neill, played by Jack Nicholson--become pivot points in the plot.
And it's not as though Beatty was in such a rush he didn't have time to get the story straight. He began working on a screenplay about his hero not long after his breakout movie Bonnie and Clyde, in 1967. This was at the dawn of Radical Chic, when a left-wing movie glamorizing a fellow-traveling, Mussolini-loving American pseudo-Communist--a prime example of one of Lenin's "useful idiots"--might have seemed like a terrific idea; edgy, even. In a new interview included in the DVD release, Beatty mentions that he was inspired to do the movie by what he calls (still!) "the mistaken American paranoia about Communism." He hired the British playwright Trevor Griffiths, a foam-flecked Marxist propagandist, to help him write the screenplay.
Unluckily for them, between the original inspiration in 1967 and the release of the movie in 1981, a terrible thing happened: the 1970s. From Angola to Vietnam to Cambodia to Afghanistan, Communism looked less romantic by the day, and even for some leftists, "fellow traveling" took on a slightly sinister cast. Paranoid Americans elected as their president a Baptist scold who, upon taking office, turned around and began lecturing them about their "inordinate fear of Communism." Meanwhile, the film production ground on, and by the time of its release in 1981 Americans had kicked out the Baptist scold in favor of a president who gave every indication of believing we really would all be better dead than red.
Tossed by these ideological crosscurrents--from Radical Chic to detente to Reaganism--Beatty apparently suffered a failure of nerve. The politics of Reds are a muddle of feints and hesitations and unexplored inferences. As the great movie critic Richard Grenier pointed out at its release, its point of view is best described as "anti-anti-Communist," not so morally obtuse as to be pro-Communist but disdainful above all of anyone who disdained Communism with unseemly zeal. Beatty takes much greater care, for instance, demonstrating the creepiness of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, father of America's first Red Scare in the late teens and early 1920s, than portraying any lapse of the Bolsheviks.
By most accounts, Reed himself had grown disillusioned with the Revolution at the end of his life. Beatty hints at the disenchantment but seems unsure of its cause. Reed is shown objecting strenuously to a Bolshevik functionary who has rewritten one of his dispatches, after which Reed never quite rekindles the old revolutionary fire. A hack myself, I sympathize. I hate it when that happens. But as a source of disillusionment, "They messed with my copy" doesn't compare with "They're liquidating two million kulaks."
With his politics so uncertain--or OTB (overtaken by events) as the journalists say--Beatty decided, instead, to make a movie about sex. Here's where the re-release of Reds has much of its contemporary interest, inadvertent though it is. While he was developing Reds, Beatty made two movies, Shampoo and Heaven Can Wait, that celebrated his status as a swordsman of world-historical achieve ments. Reds gave him the chance to reconcile his progressivism with his priapism--which is also, when you think about it, what the entire New Left was trying to do in the 1970s, too. The movie catches him at the zenith of his pulchritude. Unfortunately, it catches Diane Keaton, playing his wife, at the zenith of looking like Diane Keaton. Yet old photos show Reed to have been an oafish-looking, potatoey fellow, while Bryant was often described as a great beauty. Maybe Beatty should have played her instead.
People who recall the movie from 1981 may be surprised to discover that Louise, not Reed, is at the movie's heart. It begins and ends with her. In real life, however, whatever her looks, Louise Bryant was a much less appealing person than Reed, and much less interesting. By turns an aspiring poet, journalist, artist, and model, she dumped her first husband to follow Reed to New York City, where they set up house in the center of a colony of Greenwich Village bohos. She worked his journalism contacts to build a career of her own. It never quite panned out. She had none of Reed's talent, none of his insouciance or large-heartedness. But the ideology of Free Love--redubbed sexual liberation 50 years later--offered compensations. She took several lovers on the side, including O'Neill, at the time her husband's best friend. She dumped them, too, when she followed Reed to Russia in hopes of advancing her career. And while he grew uneasy as the revolution curdled, she accommodated herself to Leninism quite easily.
She wrote admiringly, for example, of Feliks Dzerzhinski, founder of the Soviet secret police: "It was his duty to see that the prisoners were quickly and humanely disposed of. He performed this grim task with a dispatch and an efficiency for which even the condemned must have been grateful, in that nothing is more horrible than an executioner whose hand trembles and whose heart wavers."
From this sour, unpromising material, Beatty tried to fashion Louise into a feminist ideal, an independent woman and early career gal, whose sex life was omnivorous, earnest, politically potent, and, by the look of it, not much fun at all. The Louise of Reds is as much of a stud as Beatty was in real life, but her studliness is a means to personal liberation. While the God of socialism was failing, on screen and off, Louise holds out a separate set of possibilities. In retrospect, Keaton's performance stands as the high-water mark of a certain kind of feminism, and--wonderful to say--it's the most anachronistic thing in the movie. In 1981 she was supposed to look self-actualized, noble, and worthy of emulation. Now, in the post-feminist age, where the most wholesome elements of feminism have been widely absorbed while others, less wholesome, have been discarded, Louise comes off as shrill, impetuous, self-centered, grandstanding, hedonistic, irresponsible--a mess.
The sexual revolution, we now know, didn't turn out any better than the Russian one. Of course, there's no way that Warren Beatty, of all people, could have figured on that in 1981. He probably thought he was pointing the way to a brighter dawn. Now this creaky old flick captures something else: The moment when sex displaced socialism as the ideological preoccupation of the left--another signpost, confidently directing all who would follow it to another dead end.
SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (10-30-06)
The show, complete with nude romps and new theories about conspiracies and cover-ups, will be built around Christine Keeler.
Keeler was a 19-year-old model and topless dancer whose affair with John Profumo, the Tory War Secretary, led to his resignation in 1963 after he lied about it in Parliament.
Richard Alexander, the creator of the show, to be called A Model Girl, claims to have unearthed new evidence behind the scandal, though he refuses to disclose it until the curtain goes up.
SOURCE: Reuters (10-30-06)
In 1979, eight years after the death of the Doors' magnetic frontman Jim Morrison, the band's song"The End" seared the psyche of moviegoers during the opening scene of Francis Ford Coppola's landmark Vietnam epic,"Apocalypse Now."
Then in 1991, Oliver Stone's Doors biopic relit the fire of interest in the band, recalls manager Jeff Jampol, commenting on the Doors' enduring and cyclical popularity.
Now, the band's surviving members -- keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore -- are preparing to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their 1967 self-titled debut album with a wealth of activities to spark interest in the band among a new generation.
On tap: a new boxed set, the band's first authorized biography and a push into areas ranging from ringtones to a theatrical production in Las Vegas that will feature the group's music.
SOURCE: Reuters (10-30-06)
Ripped from today's headlines? Not quite.
The project is not based on the West's ongoing standoff over Tehran's nuclear program but rather on the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's first overthrow of a foreign government, 53 years ago.
But while the movie is set in the past, Neshat hopes it will reverberate in the present, showing Westerners how their role in history is partly responsible for the current state of affairs.
"I am drawn to this project because I feel so strongly about the need for Westerners to look back in history," she said in an interview with Reuters.
"Most Westerners have amnesia beyond the Islamic revolution. They have very little concept of the foundation of the problems that we have between Islam and America, and Islam and the West."
The movie is set in 1953, the year U.S. and British intelligence services overthrew the government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh over the nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co., which eventually became part of BP.
The coup strengthened the position of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the shah of Iran until the Islamic revolution of 1979.
"Iran was the first coup d'etat, then Guatemala, Congo and Chile," she said."When the Iranians attacked the U.S. embassy (in the 1979 revolution), Americans were at a loss where the anger came from," Neshat said."If they only understood the history behind that."
SOURCE: Independent Institute (10-25-06)
Most of the reviews of Clint Eastwood’s “Flags of Our Fathers” salute the movie as a powerful work of art whose message is that war, whether of choice or necessity, is always horrific.
Actually, it does a lot more than that. It tells us that war tends to involve a double act of predation: the one each warring side inflicts on the other and the one the government—and that vast latticework of interests hidden under the guise of patriotism—inflicts on those who do the fighting and on the rest of society back home.
The first kind of predation is blatant and easily understood, even if it means a country is ready to pay a high price in order to achieve a worthy goal. The other type is more subtle: It is not measured in corpses, it does not take place on the battlefield and it blurs the borderline that separates good and evil. In that respect, war can compromise the moral rectitude even of those who fight for the good cause.
The film, based on James Bradley’s book of the same title, focuses on the men who raised a flag atop Mount Suribachi, the highest mountain on Iwo Jima, on the fifth day of the American assault on the Japanese island in 1945. The picture taken by an Associated Press photographer who has no inkling of the events that will be triggered by his camera is quickly seized upon by the American establishment and becomes a powerful propaganda tool at home. The three surviving raisers of the flag are enlisted as the patriotic symbols of a war-bond drive the government conducts in order to continue to fund its efforts.
There is fraud and deceit at every stage. The flag raised in the picture is not the original flag but a replacement ordered by a commander eager to keep the real one; none of the three survivors of the picture paraded by the government around the nation are real heroes nor do they see themselves as such—they were taken out of the battlefield long before the conclusion of the struggle so they could participate in the propaganda campaign; and, finally, one of the men named in the picture was not really there. The fact that he was one of the men who raised the original flag—the one that was not photographed—only serves to stress the theatrical nature of the ploy.
Individuals that they are, the three surviving Marines deal in unique and different ways with the collective farce they are asked to set in motion in order to bring the nation under the patriotic spell. One is happy to go along with the lie, but eventually realizes the very people who fete him are unwilling to give him a hand once the fervor of the war passes; the other is driven to drink and then death by the psychological torture of what he has seen on and off the battlefield; the third one survives—unhappy, guilty, repressed—to eventually help his own son, the author of “Flags of Our Fathers,” tell the story.
Clint Eastwood’s genius consists of rendering an equally poignant and disturbing picture of the two wars—the relentless savagery going on in the battlefield, where American and Japanese soldiers are engaged in primeval brutality that resulted in 27,000 deaths, and the damage that those conducting the politics of the conflict inflict on the truth back home by bamboozling the public into the perception that war is a beautiful expression of nationhood. ...
SOURCE: David Forsmark at FrontpageMag.com (10-30-06)
Flags of our Fathers is faithfully based on the great book by James Bradley, son of Navy Corpsman John Bradley, one of the men who raised the hugely symbolic American flag over Mount Suribachi early in the Battle of Iwo Jima. It tells the real story of the most reproduced photograph of all time, the raising of the flag — actually, “raisings” would be the appropriate word, given the fact that there was a less dramatic one before the iconic shot was taken — and how becoming something close to cult figures for what they felt was a routine act as their buddies were still fighting and dying affected the surviving two Marines and one sailor involved.
A rumination on heroism, war and the role political leaders and the press play in keeping a war effort alive, Flags has a complex structure of flashbacks that reflects author James Bradley’s search for his recently deceased father’s story on Iwo Jima and juxtaposes it with an account of the battle itself. The film’s point is made early on when author Bradley is interviewing a retired captain played by Harve Presnell for his book.
"The right picture can win or lose a war," the captain declares. "The country was tired of war. One photo, almost all on its own, turned that around."
That might be a bit of a stretch, but it is true that the War Department was successful in getting nearly every American newspaper to carry the dramatic photo of the flag raising, which implied victory, on the front page. The department then used the picture to launch a highly successful War Bond effort at a time when the military was starved for cash and Americans were discouraged.
On the flip side, the captain asserts, “That picture of the South Vietnamese soldier blowing that guy’s brains out” lost the Vietnam War.
Whatever image becomes emblematic of the war, Eastwood seems to be saying in a much more forceful way than the book, will determine the American people’s long-term will to carry on. This prompts the question: What journalist today is even looking for today's version of Joe Rosenthal’s iconic 1945 picture? And if such a photo were taken, would a modern network or wire service consider it newsworthy?
Unlikely. Every mainstream journalist today is looking for the equivalent of the Vietnam picture. With similar unanimity to the newspapers of the 1940s, the modern media decided the emblematic image of the Iraq War is a hooded prisoner at Abu Ghraib.
Five days after the bloody Iwo Jima landings — when one might say “major combat operations were over” and a month before the snipers and dug-in emplacements finally were rooted out, a flag was raised at the top of Mount Suribachi, which was a morale boost for those watching.
An officer ordered a switch for a new and bigger flag; whether it was because he wanted the original as a keepsake or for better visibility is arguable. But the second flag raising gave Rosenthal a chance to get a picture that was missed at the first raising. It was a one-in-a-million photo that Franklin Roosevelt and the War Department used as a symbol of victory (although it was taken on only the fifth day of a 35-day battle) and launched the most successful War Bond drive of the era.
By the time of the publicity tour, three of the six flag raisers were dead in battle on Iwo Jima. The survivors -- Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford), Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) and John Bradley (Ryan Phillippe) -- were shipped stateside to appear at huge bond rallies to cheering crowds.
Wracked by survivor’s guilt, reeling from the sudden change from rockets red glare to photographers' flashbulbs bursting in air, and the feeling they had abandoned their friends in harm’s way for soft duty, the three did not take it well. All the while, they wondered what their buddies would think of all the adulation lavished on them when anyone on Iwo — where more Medals of Honor were awarded for action than any other battle in American history — knew of extraordinary deeds of heroism.
Compounding the problem was the fact that what makes the Rosenthal photo a timeless classic is no faces are featured, which led to one of the soldiers being misidentified, to the resentment of the three survivors.
Hayes, an American Indian, drowned his doubts about himself in booze, enabled by the Marine press secretary whose job it was to keep him together long enough to complete the tour. Gagnon tried to capitalize on his sudden fame to little result, while Bradley, a corpsman accustomed to caring for his men’s physical crises, found himself tending to their mental wounds as well.
The no-name cast acquits itself well, and like the photo itself, may benefit from not having the distraction of recognizable faces. As Pima Indian Hayes, Adam Beach portrays a decent, if troubled, man with admirable nuance.
As Gagnon, Jess Bradford might have the toughest job, and his fine work as the guy with movie-star looks but who isn’t able to hold the limelight easily could have degenerated into caricature. The fact that we like this guy, faults and all, is thanks to a performance that will be mostly overlooked because it seems so natural. Such also will likely be the case with Ryan Phillippe’s strong performance as “Doc” Bradley, the glue that holds them all together.
Eastwood’s battle scenes are less showy than Steven Spielberg’s in Saving Private Ryan, but feel even truer and are just as gripping and horrifying. Some might mislabel Flags of Our Fathers as revisionist or unpatriotic for Eastwood's lack of cheerleading. But this film is a methodical reminder that war — even the most justified war in history — is never what we would like it to be or what we may feel like we need it to be.
The latest Democrat talking point is that we have been in Iraq and Afghanistan longer than we were in World War II. As they say, though, figures lie and liars figure. More than 2,000 soldiers died on the first day of the Iwo landing, for a hunk of volcanic rock. Democrats acted as though that number was a huge indictment of the Bush administration three years into the Iraq War which liberated 25 million people.
Eastwood’s account is matter-of-fact and non-judgmental. While not flinching from the ironies of the often surreal situation in which these heroes found themselves as they were being made into heroes, he neither begrudges the nation what it seemed to need from these men, nor is he unsympathetic to the men for the hard time they had in dealing with it. Only the politicians who line up to bask in the reflected glory of these three and the press who hounded them come in for any scorn — and a few cheap shots.
Flags is a direct rebuke to media types who label the government's presenting its side favorably in wartime as “lies.” Even in WWII, with flag-waving aplenty in the war coverage and headlines, morale was sapped after four years of fighting, and Gold Stars hung in too many windows.
Leftists are trying to appropriate Flags as a condemnation of the use of “propaganda” in wartime. Some on the Right, meanwhile, are acting as though the scenes of the Madison Avenue version of heroism is an anti-American statement. Neither side gets it. Doing the War Bond tour was just another unpleasant thing the three servicemen did for their country, although each was far more comfortable storming off a landing craft in the teeth of machine-gun fire than playing hero before adoring crowds.
In that, they were the exemplars of what Gen. John J. Pershing’s commission found in its exhaustive study of the American soldier after World War I: He enlists because of patriotism but ultimately fights for those around him. He will refuse a suicide mission, but he will die rather than let the men around him think him a coward.
Flags of Our Fathers is not a debunking of an iconic American image — it just sets the record straight. It is unflinching and honest, and Eastwood and company never imply that the manufacturing a synthetic heroism after the fact cheapens the real heroism that preceded or succeeded it.
The fact here is even better than the legend. As the James Bradley character aptly ends the film, “The best way to honor these men is to remember them as they really were, the way my father knew them”: young men willing to give up all their tomorrows for our today.
SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (10-30-06)
Now their glory can be seen in aerial photographs which go on display at the British Museum next month.
The show, The Past from Above, demonstrates, like Shelley's poem Ozymandias ? "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains" ? the impermanence of man's labour. The damage caused by nature, dams, treasure-hunters, farming, mass tourism and wreckers is evident in many of the images, says Lesley Fitton, co-curator of the exhibition.
The photographs of sites in Iraq, such as the Temple of Gareus, the ziggurat at Ur and the 11th century fortress Kar-Tukulti-Ninurta, may be the last, most complete views of the ruins. Archaeologists fear bombing or looting may have caused serious damage.
A photograph taken in 1973 of the huts of marsh dwellers in Iraq is an historic view. The settlement was destroyed when Saddam Hussein diverted the Euphrates after an uprising after the Kuwait war. The 100-plus pictures are by the Swiss photographer Georg Gerster.
Images range from Greek and Roman remains; sand dunes covering the 13th century Qalat-I Gird round fortress in Iran; pyramids, Uluru (Ayers Rock) in Australia; native Indian settlements in north America; Inca and Aztec temples in south America; ancient settlements in Africa; and a surprisingly large number of views of Britain, among them, Maiden Castle in Dorset and the White Horse of Uffington, Oxfordshire.
# The Past from Above, Nov 16 to Feb 11.
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (10-27-06)
The courage of Britain's refugees and their contribution to their adoptive nation were yesterday highlighted in a new exhibition designed to refute the image of asylum-seekers as a social and financial burden.
The show at the Museum of London, entitled Belonging, took two years to produce and is the first major exhibition in Britain focused on refugees. It tells the stories of 150 refugees who arrived in the UK in the past 50 years from countries including Germany, Bosnia, Chile and Eritrea.
Organisers said it was an attempt to redress the balance against the portrayal of refugees as "swamping" Britain in search of a lifestyle unavailable in their native countries.
The exhibition, which includes a display of alarmist headlines about asylum-seekers from newspapers including the Daily Mail and the Daily Express, was conceived by a refugee agency in London after it was inundated with complaints from clients that their image was being distorted.