War Movies

Films exist as cascades of images and sounds. Few people have actually seen war. And that’s why it’s a nearly perfect cinematic subject. What is the real sound of bullets whizzing past? How do the severed parts of limbs really look? How do you reconcile the vision of enemy troops stalking you and your crew, wanting to make all of you a stinking pile of corpses?

Hollywood finds itself in the war business, aestheticizing its rationales and turning it into moral entertainment. Audiences shake their heads at the anonymous brutality in that Saving Private Ryan scene where American troops land on the beaches of Normandy only to be bombarded by German gunfire as soon as the hatches open. War is America’s own genre, like kung-fu flicks are a Chinese thing. (Jeff Richardson and I agreed to this during an afternoon beer with basketball running mates Mike Owh, Jerry Tanaka, James Tai and his son Roebling, and Mark Cho). Film is war’s vessel.

To film, war is exotic lands, young men in uniform, guns and roaring heavy metal killing machinery, moral conflict under the pressure cooker of animalistic survival, the threat of evil overrunning the world, and the tragedy of heroism. Could Hollywood have invented war?  “Shock and awe” is cinematic effect as military strategy.

But war must also be boring. After dinner a soldier, a guy who just wants to come back to America alive without firing a gun, steps out into the middle of an empty street in a little town of rustic homes and a central square in front of a mosque. He’s full and for a fleeting moment, his thoughts are bright. He looks right down the middle of the street following it to its disappearance and was amazed by the symmetry of it all. The buildings on the left mirrored those on the right. Banged up cars were parked directly opposite of each other. The thought entered his mind that the world was as he imagined it. Somebody should make a film about that.

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