Reenactment and Catharsis
John Steinbeck explains why veterans often do not discuss their combat experiences in “Why Soldiers Won’t Talk.” Mike Attie and Meghan O’Hara explore a similar topic in the film In Country. Attie and O’Hara follow a group of men over the course of a weekend as the reenact Vietnam War era patrols, ambushes, and fire fights. The documentary isn’t as much a look into the world of reenacting as it is a look into the mind of the combat veteran.
Several of the participants in the reenactment are veterans of the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. The audience is given some insights as to why these men who have experienced war first hand would want to reenact combat. One reenactor, a former soldier of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, states that he feels “whole” and “stronger” when he is with his fellow reenactors. Another reenactor, a veteran of the war in Iraq, discusses how the military philosophy of adapt and overcome desensitized him to feeling core emotions. The audience is left to infer that by reenacting with fellow veterans he is seeking to find part of what he left on the battlefield. All of veterans who reenact give varied reasons why they participate but each man is searching for something.
One of more poignant moments of the film is a piece of archival footage from Vietnam. A reporter asks a soldier, “You think you will ever be able to forget it?” The soldier replies, “No, I won’t.” This may be at the heart of the reason why these men chose to reenact. Steinbeck states that some men experience a form of amnesia that causes them to forget combat and this is why they won’t talk about it. Mike Attie and Meghan O’Hara show us many veterans remember combat all too well and that reenacting may be a way to address and cope with those memories.
In Country (2015) directed by Mike Attie and Meghan O’Hara.
Doing the Impossible
Are you familiar with 24 Hour Comic Day (if you are then skip a few sentences)? Scott McClould came up with the idea in 1990. The premise is pretty straight forward; create a 24 page comic book, from idea to completion, in 24 hours. 24 Hour Comic Book Day was officially established in 2004, and since then creators gather once a year to take up the challenge. Milan Erceg’s documentary 24 Hour Comic follows one group of creators in Portland during the allotted 24 hour time frame. Erceg’s film is both inspirational and sobering in its presentation of comic book creators and their books
Erceg follows a varied group of eight comic book creators in his documentary. They range from a thirteen year old attempting her first 24 Hour Comic challenge to her father who is participating in his sixteenth challenge and several other creators with a variety of 24 Hour Comic Day experiences. The film provides both background and motivation for each of the creators. Erceg also incorporates interviews with individuals familiar with the comic book industry who provide insight into the challenges of creating and publishing comic books.
Watching these eight creators in action is quite an inspirational experience. Erceg provides insight into the creators’ minds and what each hopes to achieve. Their creative processes are laid out for the audience to see and you can’t help but feel motivated. But the movie is also sobering in its presentation of how difficult it is to be successful as a comic book creator. Erceg informs the audience that illustrators, on average, make more than comic book creators. This statistic is reinforced in a few of the interviews with the creators at the 24 Hour Comic Day. The viewer can’t help but ask his or herself, “Do I do what I love or do I do what will pay?”
24 Hour Comic is worth a watch for anyone interested in the creative process that goes into creating a comic book from idea to completion. Erceg’s documentary is also a realistic observation that addresses how difficult it is to make a living creating comic books. Scott McCloud says that 24 Hour Comic Day is, “Asking yourself to do the impossible and then doing it.” That quote may be in reference to 24 Hour Comic Day, but it could also be applied to making a living creating comic books.
24 Hour Comic (2017). Directed by Milan Erceg
or Why Kevin Costner Baseball Movies are about More than Baseball
The best baseball movies are seldom just about baseball. Baseball may serve as a setting or a plot device, but the story itself is about something more than baseball. Field of Dreams (which, by the title, is not what this article is about) isn’t about baseball as much as it is about fathers and sons. Everybody who has seen Field of Dreams remembers the game of catch at the end. A movie that isn’t such a clear example is Bull Durham from 1988. Bull Durham is more than a movie about minor league baseball and the desire to play in the show. It is a movie about having faith in yourself and the willingness to accept help from others.
The movie centers around three central characters. Ebby Calvin ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh, played by Tim Robbins, is a hot headed young phenomenon of a pitcher with the talent to play in the show. Unfortunately, ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh does not have the proper mental toughness required to play at the major league level. Enter Crash Davis, played by Kevin Costner (Costner does have a few exceptional baseball movies out there), a catcher with twelve years of minor league experience. Crash is called upon to teach ‘Nuke’ the ins and outs of the game of baseball, to get him ready to pitch in the show. This dynamic is best summed up when Crash says, “I got the brains, you got the talent,” when talking to ‘Nuke.’ The third character is Annie Savoy, played by Susan Sarandon, a woman who knows more about baseball than most coaches. Annie dedicates herself both sexually and emotionally to one player each season in order to help him develop as a ball player and as a person. Picture a sort of a muse for baseball players (there is a funny line about fucking and poetry in the movie). Each of these characters has faith in who they are as individuals but they need the help of the others to achieve their true potential. Throughout the course of the movie each learns to accept help from the others.
Most people who are not fans of baseball tend to cringe when they hear of a movie that centers on the game (Field of Dreams is probably the only exception to that rule). But most baseball movies are about so much more than baseball. Yes, Bull Durham is movie about a minor league baseball team, the Durham Bulls. It is also a movie about three people who realize that in order to achieve their goals they must not only have faith in themselves but must also accept help from others. Not bad for a movie that most people think is just about a game.
Bull Durham starring Kevin Costner, Tim Robbins, and Susan Sarandon. Directed by Ron Shelton.
An Obligation to Assist Veterans
One given with all wars is that soldiers, victorious or vanquished, come home from them. William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives tells the story of three World War II veterans and the difficulties they face after returning home. Seventy years later the adjustment back into civilian life has not changed much and is just as difficult. Wyler’s movie is required viewing for anybody who wants to develop a better understanding of the difficulties returning veterans face.
The veterans of The Best Years of Our Lives face a variety of difficulties such as physical disabilities, post-traumatic stress disorder, and feelings of isolation. Throughout the course of the movie these men struggle to readjust to civilian life often resorting to alcohol and distancing themselves from those who care. With the assistance of family, fellow veterans, and purposeful work these men are able to make successful transitions into civilian life.
Seventy years later returning veterans face same difficulties as the characters in Wyler’s movie. Seventy years later returning veterans struggle to readjust to civilian life in the same way as the characters of The Best Years of Their Lives. Seventy years later out returning veterans deserve more.
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) with Myrna Loy, Fredrich March, Dana Andrews, and Harold Russell. Directed by William Wyler.
Or Why I Think You Should Watch Hard Rain
Have you ever watched a movie that played out exactly the way you thought it would? Have you ever watched a movie with a simple plot, no dramatic reveals, and characters with very little development? Hard Rain from 1998 fits the bill, and you need to get on the interwebs and stream it posthaste if you haven’t seen it. Why? Because, sometimes it’s good to crack a beer, pour a bowl of flaming hots, and have some fun watching a predictable flick.
I’m not going to bother with any sort of critical analysis of Hard Rain. For those interested in a critical analysis I have two words for you, Morgan Freeman. Morgan Freeman has said in interviews that people shouldn’t bother watching this movie, but who wants to pass up a chance to see Morgan Freeman playing an outlaw (wearing a cowboy hat and sporting an earring)? But maybe you think, -I’m going to listen to Morgan Freeman and pass.- I politely disagree with Mr. Freeman’s recommendation, and I have two words for those who agree with him, Christian Slater. Hard Rain has the lead actor from True Romance. Maybe you haven’t seen True Romance (or 3000 Miles to Graceland). If that’s the case I have two words for you, Randy Quaid. This movie has the alien ass kicker from Independence Day (maybe you know him better as Cousin Eddie). If you’re not a fan of Randy Quaid I have two words for you, Minnie Driver. Hard Rain has Grosse Pointe Blank’s Minnie Driver and she’s British. Maybe you haven’t seen Grosse Pointe Blank or maybe you have something against the British. I have two last words for you, Betty White. ‘Nuff said.
Movies with complex plots and dramatic reveals can be wonderful viewing experiences. In depth character studies can add layers to already incredible films. But sometimes you may be in the mood for a movie that’s simple popcorn fun. If you are looking for a movie with lots of rain, a fair amount of gun play, and something that isn’t too cerebral then Hard Rain is worth a watch.
Hard Rain (1998) with Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater, Randy Quaid, Minnie Driver, and Betty White. Directed by Michael Salomon.
The Visual Appeal of Journey to the End of the Night
I just got back from a week on the road, and I’m thinking about the cliché that says the journey is as important as the destination. I’m wondering if the person who said that ever drove a compact car for fourteen hours straight? I’m also thinking how that old cliché can be applied to movies? There are many movies that have rather predictable plots but we still watch. More often than not we enjoy the movie not so much for the reveal (the destination) but for the development (the journey). Eric Eason’s Journey to the End of the Night is one such movie. You won’t find anything groundbreaking in the movie’s plot, but you will discover a movie that is beautiful in its film noir imagery.
I’m not going to go into great detail about the plot of Journey to the End of the Night. Let’s just say that it has some of the standard plot features of traditional film noir: betrayal, jealousy, and double cross. The topics of plot and character development could easily be an essay on its own, but I want to focus a couple of visual elements of this movie that are great examples of film noir. First, film noir often incorporates elements of bleak urban settings into the story and Journey to the End of the Night is no exception. The best example of this is with the movie’s opening and ending credits. The opening credits give the viewer and aerial view of the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil as night is falling. There is a certain distance, both physically and emotionally in the scene. We can feel the loneliness of the city’s inhabitants and the bleak lives this movie’s characters lead. The ending credits show a similar aerial view of the city as the sun is rising in the distance. Although it may be a new day the same feelings of loneliness and a bleak future linger. Another element common to film noir that can be found in Journey to the End of the Night is the use of grain and contrast. The entire movie is shot with a subtle use of grain and contrast that adds a layer of visual subtext that reinforces feelings of fatalism common to film noir. The characters may try their best to escape the lives they lead but are often victims of fate. This use of grain and contrast also enhances the morally ambiguous lives these characters lead. These people leave gritty lives and the film grain shows this.
I spent fourteen hours one way on my recent road trip. Even though I knew what the destination held for me I made certain to take the time to enjoy the trip there. The same can be said for many movies. Even though the plot may be predictable that doesn’t mean you still can’t enjoy the visual experience of watching it. Journey to the End of the Night utilizes a few visual elements of film noir that make it worth the trip.
Journey to the End of the Night with Brendan Fraser, Yaslin Bey, and Scott Glenn. Directed by Eric Eason.
How a Sixty Year Old Movie Foresaw Our Fascination With Watching.
If a movie predicts the future should it be billed as sci-fi? Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom debuted in 1960 to negative critical reviews. It wasn’t until years later that critics began to see Powell’s production for the well-crafted movie that it is (positive reviews from the likes of Martin Scorsese help). Peeping Tom is billed as a crime drama and a strong argument can be made that it is one of the first modern slasher/horror movies. This movie is great when viewed on all these levels, but there are some interesting points in the movie that can be viewed as eerie predictions of life in 2019. Powell’s movie is obviously not science fiction, but his depiction of scoptophilia provides some interesting connections to our current fascination with watching and being watched.
Although the movie debuted in 1960, there are a few scenes that would be perfect in a contemporary movie focused a compulsion to watch. Mark Lewis, played by Karlheinz Bohm, is the central character of Peeping Tom. Mark suffers from scoptophilia, what is explained in the movie as, “The morbid urge to gaze.” That very explanation sadly can be applied to many people who are drawn to live feeds and up to the minute posts. The first scene of the movie involves Mark secretly filming an event as it happens. Immediately after this first scene we see it replayed as Mark watches his film of the event. The scene may be shocking on first view but it loses some of this shock on a second viewing. One is left to wonder if Mark’s urge to gaze wears off a little with each viewing.This same question can be asked of viewers of the aforementioned live feeds and posts. When does shock give way to apathy? When does the desensitization begin? Although the movie centers on Mark’s morbid urge to gaze there are also scenes that imply an urge to be gazed upon.
We find out rather early in the movie that Mark’s childhood was closely monitored and filmed by his father, a renowned biologist. Mark refers to the key events of his childhood as a series of “sequences” that were all filmed. This scene is prescient of people who currently live their lives on social media. The event (sequence) is less important than the number of likes and shares that it gets. The urge to be gazed upon is not just shown through the character of Mark. Vivian, played by Moira Shearer, is an aspiring actress who agrees to be part of a film Mark is shooting. She makes two statements that speak to an urge to be gazed upon. First, Vivian says, “Make us famous,” while Mark is preparing a set. This quote sounds like a mantra for those who, in 2019, aspire to be ‘instafamous’. Secondly, Vivian playfully gets behind a studio camera and says, “I’m photographing you photographing me.” In her desire to be watched she is oblivious to the danger she is in. How many people living online worry about (or even acknowledge) the possible dangers? Powell’s presentation of both the morbid urge to gaze and to be gazed upon made for an excellent movie in 1960 and gives contemporary audiences a few scenes to contemplate.
Peeping Tom was not well received in 1960 because of its subject matter and Powell’s approach to presenting that subject matter. That subject matter, the urge to gaze and be gazed upon, is a common topic today. Peeping Tom has several prescient scenes that are worth a closer look for those interested in our obsession with watching and being watched.
Peeping Tom with Karlheinz Bohm and Anna Massey. Directed by Michael Powell.