All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) A Timeless Anti-War Movie Classic

All Quiet on the Western Front, based on Erich Maria Remarque’s novel of the same name, is THE classic war movie. One of the best, first and certainly one of the most influential there is.

However we need to bear in mind how old this movie is and that it was one of the first talkies. It was actually even filmed in two versions. The silent-movie feel can’t be denied.

It is very much a movie in scenes. The story as such is easily told. Paul Bäumer, a young student, volunteers, together with his friends, as soon as WWI breaks out. They believe it is noble, honorable and courageous to do so. The teachers and politicians all paint a picture of glory and urge them to enlist and fight for their country. As soon a they arrive in the trenches it becomes obvious that there is nothing glorious in being shelled, ripped to shreds and end as pieces dangling from barbed wire. The older soldiers seem hardened but when the younger ones start to be killed, his first friends die, Paul forms a bond with the old-timer Kat (a great character and superb contrast to the naive Paul), whom he didn’t like at first.

As stated before the movie is told in very distinct scenes that can all be seen like mini-movies themselves.

The one that impressed me most would have to be called “The story of the boots”. One of Paul’s friends is dying and another one would very much like his brand-new, expensive boots. When the friend has died the other one gets the boots. What follows is cinematographic genius. We see the boots, only the boots, from one little scene to the next and how they keep on changing their possessor.

Another memorable scene is the one showing Paul on leave. He lies to his mother and sister about the atrocities of war. This makes his stay very difficult and he is happy to go back as he doesn’t fit in anymore. He can’t stand being with people who don’t know shit about what is going on out there.

A funny scene is when the young soldiers meet a bunch of French girls and spend the night with them. It shows quite well that they were all just humans. The same can be said of the most famous scene. Paul is in a trench with a French soldier and kills him. He spends the night with the dead man. When he finds the pictures of the Frenchman’s wife and kid, he is devastated.

All Quiet on the Western Front is on almost every war movie list. Occasionally in the Top 5, often in the Top 10, always in the Top 100. I guess I will include it in my Top 20. 5/5

It is hard to compare this movie with the outstanding novel. It is probably also one of those movies that has been remade the most. There will soon be another remake starring Daniel Radcliffe (2012). I still haven’t seen the TV production that is said to be quite alright.

What I would really wish for is a German production.

See my post on Remakes and on Daniel Radcliffe.

Bravo Two Zero (1999) British SAS Patrol Behind Enemy Lines

Bravo Two Zero based on Andy McNab’s true account tells the story of a SAS mission that goes awfully wrong. The mission took place during the first Gulf war. McNab is the leader of a small special unit, mainly British and Australian SAS. They are dropped behind enemy lines where they should cut communication lines and take out scud missiles. In the event of their capture they should pretend to be part of a rescue team.

The mission goes wrong from the start as they are spotted by shepherds and their transmission system (their code word  is Bravo Two Zero) doesn’t work. The only thing they can do is try to get to the Syrian border. The way leads them through enemy territory swarming with tanks and trucks, night temperatures dropping below zero and blizzard-like weather during the day. It seems impossibly hard to achieve. The small group has to face many combat situations where they are outnumbered but being far better trained and with better equipment they are not overpowered.

They advance slowly fighting not only enemies but hypothermia and end up separated. They are captured one by one. McNab thinks at first he is the only who has been captured but two of the others are held captive in the same place, one of them is his best friend. The Iraqis think that they are Israelis and torture and beat them up to get a confession. One would presume this would subside once it is apparent that they are British but the cruelties are intensified. The three men are in extremely bad shape, loosing their teeth, bruised and batered but they survive and ultimately get to tell the tale.

The end is somewhat questionable. We hear McNab’s voice in the off making fun of those who suffer from post-traumatic stress. He states that he is a soldier and he likes to be a soldier. What happened was part of the job. There is no place for post-traumatic stress. There is nothing he wouldn’t do again and he thinks that the enemies only did their job as well, they only seemed to have liked it a bit too much.

This is a fast-paced, action-packed movie. Gripping and I think very accurate and honest. How often do we see missions that go completely wrong? But it is certainly not an anti-war statement. On the very contrary.  Sean Bean is very good in this. Some roles are just perfect for him, and this is one of them. I liked the beginning, when it is shown how they come together in England, getting ready for their tour. The music, the humour. There are also very funny scenes during the movie.

All in all, even though I have a nagging little voice in my head telling me it is not OK, I enjoyed this a great deal.

Here is the trailer from yesterday’s post.

Ridiculous War Movie Characters

Maybe I am going to hurt a few feelings here, I am sorry, but I can’t help it. I discussed war movie characters I liked, some that I found obnoxious and now it’s the turn of those I think ridiculous. There are not that many  (I certainly forgot quite a few). The question is probably also, what do I consider to be ridiculous.  Let me explain my choices.

4. David Schwimmer as Herbert M. Sobel in Band of Brothers. This is really a ridiculous character. He is insufferable and makes himself look ridiculous by misjudging his own capabilities.

3. Blackburn in Black Hawk Down. I do have my problems with Orlando Bloom outside of Lord of the Rings. Occasionally I do believe he shouldn’t have done anything else than Lord of the Rings. When I spotted him in Black Hawk Down I couldn’t help sniggering. On top of looking silly the poor guy has one of the most ridiculous accidents in war movie history. He falls out of the chopper before the action even begins.

2. Nicolas Cage as Sgt. Joe Enders in Windtalkers. I have spoken at length about Windtalkers in an earlier post. A lot of my criticism is linked to Nicolas Cage being just so outrageously ridiculous in this movie. Bad, bad acting. If you suffer from post-traumatic stress, please, don’t look as if you were  having indigestion. It is not becoming.

1. Mel Gibson in Braveheart. This simply beats it. Is anyone allowed to look this  ridiculous? He was just the wrong man for this role. No amount of kilt-wearing, long hair or war paint can make this guy look like some pre 20th century warrior. This cast was a total no-go. I can not even remember the movie anymore, I was so entranced by his appearance. Mel Gibson on his worst hair day. My absolute no 1. ridiculous war movie character. (Don’t get me wrong, I think he did a lot of very good movies, but this one was not for him). Actually, they should have let him ride a bike in it.

Any other suggestions?

War Requiem (1989) Derek Jarman’s Impressive Interpretation of Benjamin Britten’s Eponymous Requiem

Futility 

Move him into the sun —
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds —
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved, — still warm, — too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
— O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?

 

I have never seen anything like the War Requiem before. Although I used to like Derek Jarman‘s movies (especially Caravaggio, Sebastiane and The Tempest) I wasn’t aware that this existed before I saw a review on the War Movie Blog. This is certainly not for everybody. If you don’t like classical music, especially requiem’s you will have a hard time. I tell you this right away. Jarman took Britten’s War Requiem, which consists of a proper requiem and sung versions of Wilfred Owen’s poems, and illustrated it. Wilfred Owen is the young poet we also see in the movie Regeneration. He was killed in action one week before the end of in WWI. As you can see I added two of his poems for you.

War Requiem is actually a silent movie so to speak. We see images, acted scenes and hear Britten’s music. In part it’s a reenactment of Wilfred Owen’s story, in part we see actual footage of different wars. Documentary and art are entwined and the result is extremely rich and interesting. The acting is of course somewhat exaggerated as the actors are miming not acting as they don’t talk (silent movie style). The two main actors are Nathaniel Parker (Owen) and Tilda Swinton (The Nurse): Sean Bean (The German Soldier) and Laurence Olivier (The old Soldier) are in minor roles. There is a bit with Tilda Swinton who plays the nurse that is very annoying (scene 10). But that was the only bit I found hard to take. The rest is impressive. Beautiful images. Colors are very important and highly overdrawn as they are in all of Jarman’s movies. In this one it is the color red that is artificially bright. Colors have a special meaning in Jarman’s work. He wrote a book, Chroma: A Book of Colors, dedicated to color interpretations and his last movie is dedicated solely to the color Blue. The tragedy behind all this is that Jarman was going blind towards the end of his life. He suffered from AIDS related illnesses and finally succumbed to them.

War Requiem is remarkable also because it is not only an anti-war movie but also an “anti war movie movie”. If you watch all of it and don’t give up in the middle you might be astonished to see what kind of actual footage you see towards the end. I have never seen anything like it before and felt very uncomfortable. The footage we see – especially from Vietnam and Angola – is horrible and gruesome. What is even more horrible is that you see the difference between wounds in a war movie and these head wounds and other wounds in these documentary bits. It simply doesn’t look the same. You see immediately that these people are really dead. I think to see something like this would be good for every person who regularly watches war movies. The atrocities of war are so much more horrible in reality. It was extremely sobering to say the least.

This is a really special movie. It is an interesting contribution to cinema history as well as to war movies  in general. But it is not for everybody.

Anthem for Doomed Youth 

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, —
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.