Why Saving Private Ryan´s Movie Poster is so Convincing or War Movie Posters Part I

I have been looking at a lot of war movie posters and there are quite a few I like because of their esthetic qualities. But these were probably not necessarily the most successful ones. After awhile I realised that many of the best ones share a few common themes.

First we do see a juxtaposition of the individual and the collective or the personal and the impersonal. You often see a few faces of soldiers whose story is told in the movie, like on the Saving Private Ryan one and additionally you either see a row of dark silhouettes or one dark silhouette like in this case that stands for the whole body of soldiers. This juxtaposition is actually also the key to all successful war movies and not only to their posters. Take a historical event in which a great number of people is involved and then pick one person and tell his or her story. The fact that millions of Jews have been killed during WWII as horrible and tragic as this is doesn´t suffice to make us sympathize. But take Anne Franks destiny, think of Schindler´s List or The Pianist… That´s quite a different story. We identify and sympathize.

This is exactly what great war movie posters manage to symbolize. The anonymous mass versus the individual destiny.

Of course there are other ways to interpret these posters. Loneliness in the event of a tragedy. Comradeship… The figures seem small against the background, huddled against one another.

A Soldier´s Story (1984) or Racism in the Military

The worst thing you can do, in this part of the country, is pay too much attention to the death of a negro under mysterious circumstances. (Colonel Nivens)

Norman Jewison´s movie A Soldier´s Story (1984) shows you what great acting can be.

It is one of Denzel Washigton´s first movies. Although he is not the leading actor you can already tell what he´s capable of. What is very obvious, that´he´s not only a movie actor but one hell of a good theater actor as well. The story is based on a theater play and almost the whole cast is from the original ensemble.

The movie takes place in a base in Louisiana during WWII.

Sgt. Waters, a black sergeant, is found dead and an army attorney is sent from Washington to investigate the murder. What no one suspects, least the white commanding officers, is the fact that the attorney is also Afro-American. The base which consists to a great extent of black Americans has never seen a black decorated officer before. They are awed whereas the white officers are outraged. It´s one of the best moments in this movie.

Soon it is obvious what a contradictory character the victim was. However the investigation is hindered by uncooperative officers and fearful soldiers. Bit by bit,shown through flashbacks, the victims true character and the actual events are revealed. The shocking truth is that the killed sergeant though African-American himself was a racist at heart and punished every act that he deemed unworthy of other black people, notably singing and dancing.In his own words:

You know the damage one ignorant Negro can do? We were in France in the first war; we’d won decorations. But the white boys had told all them French gals that we had tails. Then they found this ignorant colored soldier, paid him to tie a tail to his ass and run around half-naked, making monkey sounds. Put him on the big round table in the Cafe Napoleon, put a reed in his hand, crown on his head, blanket on his shoulders, and made him eat *bananas* in front of all them Frenchies. Oh, how the white boys danced that night… passed out leaflets with that boy’s picture on it. Called him Moonshine, King of the Monkeys. And when we slit his throat, you know that fool asked us what he had done wrong?

He was cruel, unjust and unfair. He wasn´t liked by neither white nor black soldiers and officers and really had it coming.

The character portraits in this movie are all extremely convincing, the acting is outstanding, the tale is gripping and it really doesn´t leave you untouched. This is a 100% convincing anti-racism movie and one of the few movies about racism in the military. A must-see.

Is There such a Thing as a Bad War Movie? Part II

I had an entry with almost this title a few weeks back and now, looking at it again, I think it was  totally misleading. I was slagging off Windtalkers because I truly didn´t like it but there are far worse movies out there that probably deserve much more to be called  “bad” than Windtalkers did. But this is actually not the annoying part, the truly annoying part is that I gave away a potentially very good title about a topic that would be worth looking into.

So I decided to take this title up again and  answer the question (as a matter of fact it is the blog entry that is being read most. I´m pretty sure this is not because people are so desperately in need to read something about how bad Windtalkers was, but they want to know: Are there bad war movies?). Rest assured: there a lot of bad war movies but to be totally franc here- I haven´t seen many. I really try to avoid them. But that goes for every movie that I would call bad, only what is bad for one genre is not necessarily bad for another one, right? I mean who blames Koyaanisqatsi for its lack of dialogue?

Now, what is a bad war movie? Anything boring or with a lack of psychologically well-developed character portraits, unrealistic acting etc. Inaccurate rendering of history. All this together is a little bit the problem with Windtalkers. Still as clichéd as it was plus  the bad acting it wasn´t on top of that harmful. There is a combination of gung-ho violence glorifying, macho movies that are not only bad but also harmful. Actually we are talking about movies for which the war theme is just a pretext to show violence. Or romance. Yes actually any drifting off of the message: war is not nice or beautiful or to be wished for and it´s neither a great opportunity to show what a powerful man I am nor the most intense and therefore wished for background to romantic entanglement, any drifting off of those messages is pretty harmful.  Furthermore movies that are totally biased in which the enemy is shown as an anonymous mass short of a wild animal or cartoon-like baddie, would have to be called bad. Propaganda is something else that I would call bad. Idealizing is bad as well (an otherwise good movie like We were soldiers does a lot of that) and I think war movies shouldn´t be corny.

In short – yes I know I repeat myself here – any war movie that is not essentially an anti war movie is bad.

Well… Feel free to comment. Would like to hear your opinion on this.

Vietnam War Movie Quotes Film Quiz 2

This is quite a hard one. Below you will find a few quotes. All taken from Vietnam War Movies.

  1. You all take a good look at this lump of shit. Remember what it looks like. You fuck up in a firefight… and I goddamn guarantee you a trip out of the bush – in a body bag! Out here, assholes, you keep your shit wired tight at all times! And that goes for you, shit-for-brains. You don’t sleep on no fuckin’ ambush! And the next sum’bitch I catch coppin Z’s in the bush, I’m personally gonna take an interest in seein’ him suffer. I shit you not. Doc, tag him and bag him!
  2. Graduation is only a few days away, and the recruits of Platoon 3092 are salty. They are ready to eat their own guts and ask for seconds. The drill instructors are proud to see that we are growing beyond their control. The Marine Corps does not want robots. The Marine Corps wants killers. The Marine Corps wants to build indestructible men, men without fear.
  3. All right, listen up. You people will not die on me in combat. You fucking new guys will do everything you can to prove me wrong. You’ll walk on trails, kick cans, sleep on guard, smoke dope and diddely-bop through the bush like you were back on the block. Or on guard at night you’ll write letters, play with your organ, and think of your girl back home. Forget her. Right now, some hair head has her on her back and is telling her to fuck for peace. This is Han. Those of you who are foolish will think of him as ‘gook,’ ‘slope,’ ‘slant’ or ‘dink.’ He is your enemy. He came over on the Chieu Hoi programme, and after he fattens himself on C-rations he will be hunting your young asses in the Ashau Valley. Now forget about this Viet Cong shit. What you’ll encounter out there is hard core NVA, North Vietnamese. Highly motivated, highly trained and well equipped. If you meet Han or his cousins, you will give him respect and refer to those little bastards as ‘Nathanial Victor.’ Meet him twice, and survive, and you will refer to him as ‘MISTER Nathanial Victor.’ Now people, I am sick and tired of filling body bags with your dumb fucking mistakes.
  4. I was working in a lab, back in the rear – post-production. Sometimes we would get these cans of film in, you know? No cameraman, just the reels of film. And, we hear he got shot, he’s dead or something. But the spookiest is thing is waiting for that film to develop, man, because you didn’t know what you were gonna see. Sometimes you saw nothing. But other times…
  5. These are the true events of November, 1965, the Ia Drang Valley of Vietnam, a place our country does not remember, in a war it does not understand. This story’s a testament to the young Americans who died in the valley of death, and a tribute to the young men of the People’s Army of Vietnam who died by our hand in that place. To tell this story, I must start at the beginning. But where does it begin? Maybe in June of 1954 when French Group Mobile 100 moved into the same central highlands of Vietnam where we would go 11 years later. 
  6. Eriksson: Give me a minute on this thing we’re doing. I mean, what we’re doing. What are we doing, sarge?
    Meserve: We have a VC suspect. Is that what you mean? She’s a VC whore and we’re gonna have fun with her.
    Eriksson: She’s just a farm girl.
    Meserve: You’re the cherry here, right? So lighten up.
    Clark: -Let me carry the weight. -What’s the problem, sarge?
    Meserve: He don’t think our VC whore is a VC whore.
  7. It is not true that we are here to solve problems, sir. WE are the problem.
  8. I’ve seen horrors… horrors that you’ve seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that… but you have no right to judge me. It’s impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror… Horror has a face… and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies! I remember when I was with Special Forces… seems a thousand centuries ago. We went into a camp to inoculate some children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for polio, and this old man came running after us and he was crying. He couldn’t see. We went back there, and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile. A pile of little arms. And I remember… I… I… I cried, I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out; I didn’t know what I wanted to do! And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it… I never want to forget. And then I realized… like I was shot… like I was shot with a diamond… a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought, my God… the genius of that! The genius! The will to do that! Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they were stronger than we, because they could stand that these were not monsters, these were men… trained cadres. These men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who had children, who were filled with love… but they had the strength… the strength… to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men, our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral… and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling… without passion… without judgment… without judgment! Because it’s judgment that defeats us.

Difficult? I guess so. Would have been a tad easier to mix it more. But we don´t like it easy, do we?

OK, now I´m going to help you a little bit.

These are the movies (not in this order).

Hamburger Hill, Casualties of War, Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, We were Soldiers, 84 Charlie MoPic, A Bright and Shining Lie.

And your solutions as follows:

Movie 1

Movie 2

Movie 3

Movies 4

Movie 5

Movie 6

Movie 7

Movie 8

My Top Ten Favourite War Movies

Yes, I had to name them sooner or later since many a person reading my blog was certainly wondering. Furthermore, if many people are like me, then many people like reading lists. Or making them. I must admit I do like making Top Ten Favourite Lists. Somehow ten seems never to be enough though that´s why we list makers stick to the cunningly shrewd device of splitting topics in subgenres. I could for example start naming my Top Ten Favourite WWII Movies or my Top Ten Favourite Civil War Movies. Yes, I could but I won’t do it.

This is a no-cheating-and-splitting-the-genre-down-to-the-tiniest-subgenre list. This is the real deal.

And here it comes , in random order, since I´m not grading these brilliant films, although I have a top favourite one.

Band of Brothers

Black Hawk Down

Stalingrad

Platoon

When Trumpets Fade

Glory

The Thin Red Line

Gallipoli

Joyeux Noel

Hamburger Hill

War movies simply don´t get any better than these. Don´t you think?

Interestingly this list hasn´t changed much in the last few years. This means that since 2005, the year Joyeux Noel came out, there hasn´t been any movie that I would deem worthy to be added to this list. However ther are a few older ones I haven´t seen yet, amongst them The Battle of Algiers which might kick one or the other one out. That´s going to be hard, should that happen. The only thing I know for sure: it won´t be Black Hawk Down. Guess why? Yeah, it´s simply THE one.