The Saga of the War Movie

Here’s the debate: When is it the appropiate time to film a movie about a war? Is during the war acceptable? Or should filmmakers wait until after the war ends to make a movie?

If you look at the set precedents this has never really been done before. The only movie I can think of is The Green Berets from 1968 starring John Wayne, where his character leads a group into South Vietnam. (Don’t see it; it’s craporrible). Yet, most movies about the Vietnam Conflict weren’t made until 1978 and Gulf War movies, came about eight years after the fact. Hollywood just has not been comfortable on touching the subject of war.

Is this true now, during the War in Iraq? Not so much. By the looks of it, Hollywood isn’t as worried as it has been in the past. The documentary Gunner Palace, about American soldiers living in Saddam Hussein’s palace, and Syriana, a film about the social and political effects of big oil are just two example of Iraq War related movies.

But leave it to my favorite Italian (Roberto Benigini) to really push the limits. His recent film, (which probably won’t be released in the US until early-mid 2006) is comedy set against the backdrop of the Iraq War.

And I say, that is the way it should be. There is no time like the present to make films about what is going on now so that those affected by the issue can appreciate or completely hate the movie.

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Bring It On
by Jeffrey Wells

Shoot any kind of outdoor footage of the Middle East (especially in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, et. al.) and you get the same flat terrain…aflame, parched, bleachy…which makes for a kind of atmospheric monotony.

But movies shot there (or which happen there) don’t have to be dull. The Middle East is the dramatic boiling pot of our times. It’s just a matter of going there and absorbing the particulars and pruning them down into something fitting and well- sprung.

I’ve recently seen a no-pulse, no-conflict, Waiting-for-Godot Middle East film (Sam Mendes’ Jarhead) and a complex, multi-layered, altogether fascinating one about the pernicious social and political political effects of big oil (Stephen Gaghan’s Syriana)…and leapin’ lizards, talk about a night-and-day response. […]

Jarhead was so bad and so nothing that it would feel almost refreshing to see a real Middle East war movie — a half-real, half- fictional narrative about the current conflict in Iraq, say. And why not? It’s time.

Hollywood didn’t feel safe about making Vietnam movies until 1978, and the first major Gulf War movie — David O. Russell’s Three Kings — didn’t happen until ’99, or about eight years after the fact. But the concepts of lag-time and the usual “gee, can we get into this?” no longer apply.

The reality of instant digital commnunications means that dramas (or black come- dies) about current military conflicts need to be shot and rescrambled with some urgency. Waiting around won’t do. Immediacy may not be the whole game, but it matters as much as anything else.

Syriana, which Gaghan researched in the Middle East for a full year, is a geo-political spellbinder that doesn’t feel the least bit dated. The story could have happened last summer, or even a year or two from now.

Steven Bochco’s Over There, the first dramatic TV series about an ongoing war, much less one about U.S. troops in Iraq, had its debut on FX last summer. And Hany Abu-Assad’s Paradise Now, a respected film about a couple of would-be Palestinian martyrs, has a ripped-from-right-now quality.

Why not an Iraq War feature right now? Write it, shoot it…sort it out as you go along.

A writer-director of some vision and gumption needs to visit Iraq, get imbedded with the grunts like Gunner Palace‘s Michael Tucker did, soak it up, write it down, find the funding and make a feature film about what’s eally happening in that hell-hole.

Shoot the atmospheric stuff right there, maybe bring some of the cast over…risk it, dodge the bullets, burrow in. And then wrap it, cut it and open it quickly.

If Oliver Stone was the Oliver Stone of the mid to late ’80s, he’d be the guy to do this.

If Italian actor-filmmaker Roberto Benigni (who won a Best Actor and Best Foreign Film Oscar for Life Is Beautiful) can make an Iraqi War film, why can’t Americans?

Benigni just opened a comedy set against the backdrop of the Iraq conflict, although it was shot in Tunisia. An admired film (if not quite the anti-American rant some of his Italian fans had expected), The Tiger and the Snow opened on 10.14 in Italy and will debut in France in mid-December and probably open here during the first six months of ’06.

A U.S.-produced drama about the current conflict obviously wouldn’t have to be shot in the streets of Baghdad or Fallujah.

A satisfying film for me would probably have to be something like Syriana or Traffic — a multi-character, five or six-plot-thread piece. I’m not going to try and dream up a story here and now, but it would either need to be a Costa Gavras-type condem- nation piece, or one that shows balanced compassion for U.S. troops as well as Iraqi locals.

Has anyone out there written a script or heard of a good one making the rounds? Is there a military veteran, freelance journalist and/or contract engineer who’s been to Iraq within the last couple of years who’s published stories or recollections on a site that could be made into a good script?

If there’s anything really good that’s been put into script form, or if anyone’s heard of something exceptional making the rounds, please advise.

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I think it’s time. Do you?

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8 thoughts on “The Saga of the War Movie”

  1. I don’t really care when these movies come out, but I do care about the content, and whether it is hurting the view of the war in Iraq, and whether it is more degrading to the world-wide image of America and our foreign policy. As far as the big oil movie is concerned, it sounds Farenheit 9-11-ish to me, which means liberal propoganda.

  2. “Craporrible?” My new favorite war.

    I think the reason Hollywood waits before making war movies, is too avoid sabre rattling speeches. Movies are usually stories about people, and I think it takes a while before the stories written are about people, and not politics.

    War sucks, people die, and all the flag waving in the world doesn’t change that. So, if we show our boys dying, during a war, there’s a political backlash – by both sides.

    If you show the enemy dying, during a war, there’s a political backlash.

    The only safe way is to make a war movie where no one dies.But then, what’s the point?

    Oh, and propoganda isn’t a word.

  3. With movies, content is ALWAYS important. But depending on when the movie is released the content can become more important than originally intended.

    Take “Casablanca” for instance. When is was released in 1942 it was going to be just a regular movie about refugees during WWII. But as it turned out, the week of its release was the same week that Casablanca was invaded. More people saw “Casablanca” because it was in the news.

    Or look at “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” people saw it because of the Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie saga. So timing really does matter.

    War movies are a delicate subject because someone will get hurt somehow. I feel that War movies should be made. A reason that people my age understand the horrors of D-Day is because of the opening scene in “Saving Private Ryan”. As long as War movies are made with care and respect for the deceased in mind, then they are a necessary film genre.

    Sable – You rock! Isn’t craporrible the greatest word ever? I think I’m going to add it to my voabulary.

  4. Hi Cinefille, So nice to come over & read your reveiws. As I dilike ‘War’ movies. I don’t watch them. I did watch ‘Pvt. Ryan’, tho.
    it made me think of the horror of war, is all. I don’t remember anything else I got out of it but lasting images of gore.
    I remember during the Viet Nam war I was in a foster home (I was 12). They’d recently lost their son to the war. One of the kids wanted to watch a WWII flick & this poor woman came in & saw it on the T.V. & lost her mind. It was very sad & awfull. That was my most profound experience of that war.
    BTW, you are a Harry Potter nut, too?
    i read the books & saw one of the movies on T.V. I think it’s cute & a very good kids book, but that is it. Am scratching my head about the phenomenon!?

  5. Oh, I am so a Harry Poter nut. I love it, love it, love it.

    I don’t think anyone really enjoys watching watching war movies. I really don’t but I do anyway. Maybe they don’t affect me as much because I haven’t been directly affected by any war. I don’t know. Some war movies are excellent though, and are definitely worth watching. (“Saving Private Ryan”, “Platoon”, “Apocolypse Now” etc.)

    Thanks for stopping by and I’m glad you enjoy my site!

  6. Oh yes ‘Apocolypse Now’ I’ve always loved Marlin Brando. I guess that was a war movie I forgot. It wasn’t just Marlin Brando of course, It was the earee run up the river that captivated me.

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