C'est la Guerre: J. Hoberman on Cannes and the Contemporary War Film

By Hoberman, J. | Artforum International, September 2004 | Go to article overview

C'est la Guerre: J. Hoberman on Cannes and the Contemporary War Film


Hoberman, J., Artforum International


LIKE MUCH IN contemporary Hollywood movies, the current model combat film was developed by Steven Spielberg. Saving Private Ryan (1998) provided a total immersion in state-of-the-art virtual carnage--the opening D-day landing is the most impressive demonstration of cinematic virtuosity of Spielberg's career--while conspicuously failing to provide any historical context. Representing World War II but thinking Vietnam, Saving Private Ryan proposed the army's band of brothers (rather than, say, the Nation or some abstract ideal or even the nature of the enemy) as war's ultimate source of moral justification.

Although released two summers too late to help the last-hurrah presidential campaign of World War II hero Bob Dole, Saving Private Ryan did create the template for the Mogadishu bloodbath of Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down (2001) and the gruesome Battle of la Drang in Randall Wallace's We Were Soldiers (2002), both movies that, fortuitously opening during the war against the Taliban, were publicly endorsed by the Bush administration. Indeed, Black Hawk Down's "leave no man behind" sell line succinctly encapsulates the tautological argument that wars are essentially fought to rescue those soldiers who have been sent to war. (That this rationale has yet to be advanced for the American commitment to Iraq hardly means that it will not be. During the 2000 campaign candidate Bush declared Saving Private Ryan his favorite movie.)

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Of course, Saving Private Ryan isn't without its own historical context. With impressive sleight of hand, Spielberg managed to evoke the inspirational rhetoric of Ronald Reagan's 1984 D-day pageant while channeling the battle-hardened brutalism of Samuel Fuller, patron saint of New Wave and neo-New Wave filmmakers from Godard to Tarantino. Fuller, a onetime infantryman who was wounded twice in World War II, often maintained that it was impossible to show combat on the screen--unless, perhaps, one were to "fire real shots over the audience's head [and] have actual casualties in the theater."

Fuller once said that the response he wanted from his war movies was that "only an idiot would go to war"; asked if Saving Private Ryan was an antiwar film, Spielberg offered a Zen paradox: "It's an antiwar film only in that if you want to go to war after seeing this picture, then it's not an antiwar film." Fuller loathed "phony heroics"; Saving Private Ryan reconfigured World War II as a mission to save a single soldier. Hardly inspirational, Fuller's The Big Red One (1980) recounts the war as a series of grotesque (or grotesquely corny) adventures in which Lee Marvin's stoic god of war leads a platoon of callow recruits through the carnage. (In one Fullerian gag, Marvin is briefly captured and smooched by a Nazi doctor who exclaims, "I adore supermen!" Hate merges with love as the enemy is personalized.) Saving Private Ryan ends on a note of divine redemption; Fuller's stand-in in his quasi-autobiographical labor of love concludes that surviving is war's only glory.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Last May The Big Red One resurfaced--some forty minutes longer than its release version--to shake its gory locks at the generally war-obsessed 57th Cannes Film Festival. Held in the aftermath of what was then the bloodiest month since the US-led coalition invaded Iraq, haunted by the revelations of prisoners tortured at Abu Ghraib, dominated by the first screenings of Michael Moore's rapturously received Fahrenheit 9/11, Cannes premiered not only the "restored" Big Red One but also meditations on the Bosnian war by Emir Kusturica and Jean-Luc Godard, as well as the West's canonical war text in the form of Wolfgang Petersen's Homeric epic, Troy. ("They'll be talking about this war for a thousand years," publicity-minded Achilles--or rather, Brad Pitt--predicts.)

Unlike Petersen's CGI brawn-fest, The Big Red One is all the more horrific for being obvious make-believe. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

C'est la Guerre: J. Hoberman on Cannes and the Contemporary War Film
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.