Brian Turner’s The Hurt Locker

Brian Turner

You may or you may not know that the movie The Hurt Locker was inspired by a poem.  The poem is from Brian Turner’s first collection Here, Bullet. Turner is a US Army veteran. He was stationed in Bosnia Herzegovina and Iraq.

The Hurt Locker
Nothing but hurt left here.
Nothing but bullets and pain
and the bled-out slumping
and all the fucks and goddamns
and Jesus Christs of the wounded.
Nothing left here but the hurt.

 

Believe it when you see it.
Believe it when a twelve-year-old
rolls a grenade into the room.
Or when a sniper punches a hole
deep into someone’s skull.
Believe it when four men
step from a taxicab in Mosul
to shower the street in brass
and fire. Open the hurt locker
and see what there is of knives
and teeth. Open the hurt locker and learn
how rough men come hunting for souls.

 

Here’s Turner reading his poem and explaining its title.

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War Movie Watchalong – Johnny Got His Gun – Sunday 23 September

The poll has decided and the movie we are going to watch and discuss is:

Johnny Got His Gun (1971 US)

It was quite close. Johnny Got His Gun received 5 votes, The Bomber – Ballada O Bombere was following with 4 and The Hurt Locker with 3 votes.

I think it’s a good choice and I’m looking forward to the discussion.

If you’d like to join and have a blog, please post on the same day, if you don’t have a blog, just watch the movie and join the discussion.

The discussion will take place on Sunday 23 September 2012

War Movie Watchalong – Choose the Movie

It’s been a while since the last watchalong, 8 months to be precise, and I thought it was about time to do it again. Like the last time I will give you the opportunity to choose from a list of movies.

The “rules” are simple. If you’d like to join and have a blog, please post on the same day, if you don’t have a blog, just watch the movie and join the discussion.

The poll will decide which one we will watch.

Here are the choices:

The Bomber – Ballada O Bombere (2011 Russia)

Johnny Got His Gun (1971 US)

The Hurt Locker (2008 US)

I will announce the poll results on Sunday 9 September 2012.

The discussion will take place on Sunday 23 September 2012

The 15 Most Original War Movies

The question you might ask yourself right away is probably: What is an original war movie? Is Stalingrad original or Black Hawk Down? I would argue, no, they are not. They are great, they are absolute must-sees but they are not original. They consist pretty much of linear story telling. Well filmed but nothing out of the ordinary. What about Enemy at the Gates? Admittedly according to my definition this  almost made it into the list, as it is originally beautiful, but so are others.

Original is about something more than beautiful cinematography, it is something beyond the well-trodden path. Either a different way of telling an old story, a new look at something we saw before, a different way of filming, a genre-blend, an original story etc. After thinking for a very long time about it, I came up with the following fifteen movies that are far from the ordinary. I guess that all these fifteen films are movies that mostly also appeal to cinema lovers in general.

Three Kings (USA, 1999): Taking place during the first Iraq war it is definitely one of the most original movies I have ever seen. The way certain things are filmed is pretty unusual. When someone gets hit by a bullet we follow the bullet on its way inside the body, see how it affects the system and causes gangrene. Quite astonishing. On top of that it is a crazy, fast-paced story. Like a filmed version of a rock song.

Pan’s Labyrinth aka El laberinto del fauno (Spain, 2006): Set during WWII in Franco’s Spain. A genre blend, half fantasy, half war movie. Uses lots of fantastic elements, striking colors. Absolutely different.

Ovelord (UK, 1975): WWII, UK just before D-Day. A very short movie that alternates original footage and filmed bits. Filmed in black and white, it has a very old-fashioned feel. The story is original as well as it focuses on one individual soldier who will be shipped to France. Uses dream sequences, elements of foreboding. Still straightforward storytelling. (see my post Overlord: An Overlooked War Movies masterpiece)

The Thin Red Line (USA, 1998): WWII, The Pacific. This is the most lyrical of all  war movies. Intense pictures, haunting voices in the off meditate about death and dying. It is one of those cases –  you love it or you hate it but can’t deny it is original.

War Requiem (UK, 1989): WWI, France. Silent movie. Visual interpretation of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem based o the life of the poet Siegfried Sassoon. Mixed with original footage that gets more and more gruesome towards the end. The most gruesome original footage that I have every seen. Heavy on symbolism, colors etc. Despite Sean Bean this is definitely not everybody’s cup of tea. (see my post War Requiem; Derek Jarman’s Impressive Interpretation of Benjamin Britten’s Eponymous Requiem)

Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (UK, 1943): Boer war, WWI, WWII. A movie that relies heavily on almost choreography like acting, loads of allusions to British culture. Extremely funny, filmed in brilliant Technicolor. Quite slapsticky at times, reminded me of one or the other Laurel and Hardy at war movies, but undeniably British humor. Two astonishing acting achievements. Deborah Kerr playing three different women and Roger Livesey playing the young, the middle-aged and the old Colonel Blimp. Amazing performances.

The Downfall aka Der Untergang (Germany, 2004). There have been such a lot of movies about Hitler but this concentrates on his very last moment, in the bunker in Berlin. Quite an unusual look. Creepy, spooky, with a fabulous Bruno Ganz in one of his best roles.

300 (USA, 2006): The last fight of the Spartans is original because of the heavy use of CGI, outstanding camera work and graphics. (see my post 300: This is Sparta! )

The Hurt Locker (USA, 2008). Iraq movie. Academy Award Winner. Different in the sense that it focuses on one special task, bomb disposal and one special man who is doing it his way. He goes about his business as if he was a player in some video game. Death-defying. Plus the movie has a thriller feel which is quite unusual for a war movie. At times it feels like Speed goes to Iraq. (see my post A War Movie Gone Thriller: The Hurt Locker)

Birdy (USA, 1984). Post-Vietnam. This is unusual in many ways. Outstanding acting, a story that is far from ordinary and a way to treat post-traumatic stress syndrome like we haven’t seen it often before. (see my post Alan Parker’s Birdy: A Tale of Frienship, War and Being Different)

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (USA, 2008). WWII, Holocaust. Haven’t we all seen a lot of Holocaust movies? This is one that will stay with you. The cinematography is brilliant and the story is haunting. Nobody would expect that ending. The Holocaust seen through the eyes of a child that has no clue what is going on, only sees the signs and interprets them his way, is creepy. (see my post The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas: An Unusual Look at the Holocaust)

Grave of the Fireflies aka Hotaru no Haka (Japan, 1988). Beautiful anime from the Ghibli studios. The sad and moving tale of two kids in WWII Japan, fighting for their survival after the loss of their family. (see my post Grave of the Fireflies: An Anime War Movies)

Waltz with Bashir (Israel, 2008): Israel.  Another animated movie but of an altogether very different kind. This looks more like a woodcut. Interesting take at the Lebanon war.

Apocalypse Now (USA, 1979). Considered by many to be one of the best war movies there is, it is also very original as it doesn’t show the Vietnam war as it was, instead more like a hallucinatory re-telling of The Heart of Darkness set during the Vietnam war. Using Wagner’s Valkyrie and The End by the Doors further underlines it’s aiming at being something different. Whether you like it or not, it is very original.

Full Metal Jacket (USA, 1987). This is a highly original movie as it creates images that will burn themselves into your memory. Visually one of the most powerful movies. Plus it tells two stories. Boot camp and street fight. This last element is also quite original as Vietnam movies mostly portay combat in the jungle. Plus the Vietnamese sniper…

Have I forgotten any and if so, why should they be included?

Danger UXB (1979) A Clever British TV Series about a Bomb Squad During the Blitz

I would say that this British TV series is one of the most realistic stories ever told about London during the Blitz and the dangerous duty of defusing the numerous unexploded bombs that hit the country. Danger UXB focuses on a young lieutenant, Brian Ash (Anthony Andrews), appointed to a bomb squad. His squad defuses all sorts of unexploded German bombs. This is highly stressful and very difficult. There are so many different types of bombs with different types of fuses. Magnetic, movement detectors, chemical reaction, clock work and time delay fuses. The bombs are found in many different places such as  schools, gardens, back yards, living rooms,  a night club, a factory  which gives ample opportunity to tell side stories and show the lives of ordinary people during this time. It is hard to imagine what it must have been like to be bombed every single night. The series manages to give a very good feel for the danger of this line of work.  I would say Danger UXB provides a rare combination of instruction and entertainment, combining historical accuracy with tales of everyday lives and the story of one young officer, his work , his dealings with fellow officers and commanders and  his love life. British TV is a great source for realistic historical series and movies. I haven’t seen Piece of Cake yet but it is sitting here, waiting to be watched. Danger UXB is far less known. I highly recommend it. I think it is also interesting to compare it to the ubiquitous The Hurt Locker (see my post on The Hurt Locker) and see the difference between a bomb squad now and then.

I attached a video for you, where you can see that each episode initiates with original footage to enhance accuracy. Unfortunately this video has an addition to it but it is the best I could come up with. I couldn’t find any trailer only some fan videos but they had insufferable music.

A War Movie Gone Thriller: The Hurt Locker (2008)

Yes, I had to do it. I had to add something on this ubiquitous film.

The story of The Hurt Locker should be sufficiently known by now. We are shown a bomb squad on their mission to disarm bombs in Iraq. When a real danger addict is appointed to be the new leader of the squad things get really exciting.

Somehow, when I realized I liked it, I felt a soft tingling feeling of shame that made me wonder.

But the fact that I did enjoy The Hurt Locker doesn´t necessarily mean I think it is a good war movie. There was a whole lot of suspense going on. It was entertaining and it sure felt like a thriller. The possibility of every  bomb or object to prove deadly seemed like a serial killer lurking around in the dark. He sees you, you sense him. Creepy. I stopped breathing every time Sgt. First Class James started to cut those little wires.

While I was watching it I did not for one second question it. I felt just so swept away and liked it. Period. But afterwards I found it kind of problematic. One is almost grateful wars take place and offer us such a great topic of suspense.

I remember that I had very comparable feelings after having seen Apocalypse Now. The anti-war message was just not clear enough for me.

Same here. It´s like saying: yeah well, war is shit, we shouldn´t do it but so what, it´s fun.

Of course that is not what Kathryn Bigelow tried to say but it is what the audience could understand.

This potential to be misunderstood comes from the blending of the genres. Or rather the blending of major techniques of different genres. War movies don´t normally create this type of suspense. It would have been possible to show the same without creating the suspense.

Maybe I should put it that way: The Hurt Locker is one hell of an exciting movie but a dubious war movie. It is especially problematic as it shows a very specific bit of warfare in Iraq. Where every other movie with an attempt at realism (the most extreme example would be Redacted. Come to think of it, Redacted is actually the antithesis of The Hurt Locker. It is so boring it hurts) has often long boring stretches where nothing else happens but watching road blocks, this one shows it as if the war in Iraq had nothing else but moments that got your adrenaline pumping.

Be it as it may it is great filmmaking. Kathryn Bigelow is very good at that. If you want to watch another one of her movies either try Point Break (1991) or Strange Days (1995). Both are highly enjoyable without creating any guilty feelings. Especially the first one is one of the rare movies that I can watch again and again. And, as an additional asset, it will help you understand her technique and where she comes from genre and theme wise.

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