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From war to Italian memories

The Dirty Dozen is one of those films that claim to be about World War II, but none of the historical events of this war is actually central to the films plot. I always feel that all The Dirty Dozen really wants is a war scenario, and it chooses WWII simply because it is easy, at the time of the film’s production already mythified and because the Nazis make great villains.

The plot is simple. Lee Marvin is assigned twelve prisoners to train into a special unit, so that they can travel behind enemy lines and kill people. The prisoners include people like Telly Savalas and Charles Bronson. There is a lot of wisecracking and Lee Marvin does his thing as the biggest bad ass of them all. The film is quite okay and entertaining until the last twenty minutes, when they decide to dispense with the plot and instead have endless scenes of people firing machine guns. The latter gets tedious about as fast as you think it does.

What I do find interesting with this film, and others like it - for instance Kelly’s Heroes and Where Eagles Dare - is that they are as much tongue-in-cheek adventure films as war films. For the last decade or so most films about WWII have been serious, colour saturated affairs like Saving Private Ryan and Letters from Iwo Jima. Films that desire to be so serious and profound that they wouldn’t know tounge-in-cheek if it came up and… well frenched them I guess. Now I generally like my WWII films to be serious and so focused on historical re-enacment that they spend time on getting shoulder patches and weapons right, but I must admit there is something refreshing about a film that cares so little about historical accuracy as The Dirty Dozen does. Though I’ll likely get all the historical inaccuracy I can handle very soon as Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds [sic!] looks like it will revive the WWII-adventure film. I just wish people would stop talking about how Tarantino is doing something new. He doesn’t, he never has – he just revives film genres very, very well.

Tora! Tora! Tora! is somewhat the opposite to The Dirty Dozen, in that it takes its strive for historical accuracy so to heart that it adopts an almost documentary style. The film is a Japanese & American co-production about the attack on Pearl Harbour. Famously Akira Kurosawa was suppose to direct the Japanese half, but after having what was diplomatically called "creative differences" he quit. Quite a shame really because I would have loved to see how Kurosawa would have filmed modern war.

Regardless Tora! Tora! Tora! has a lot of spectacular scenes – particularly involving planes, and since I love 1940’s aviation (shut up!) I really enjoyed that.

The rest of Tora! Tora! Tora! isn’t bad as such, it is just so meticulous that it at times can become a bit dull. But there is this little thing about the film that bugs me, and it was the same thing that bugged me about Letters from Iwo Jima, namely the focus on the brilliant Japanese officers having an American education. In Letters from Iwo Jima it was both Kuribayashi and Baron Nishi, and in Tora! Tora! Tora! it is Yamamoto. These characters are consistently shown to be the less aggressive, yet most brilliant commanders – and in the end they all prophesy how attacking the USA was a bad thing. Or as Yamamoto says at the end of the film: I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.
I have no problem with the brilliant commanders being, well, brilliant – but both films can at times be read as saying "they were brilliant because they had an American education" and that just strikes too close to The Kingdom’s only Saudi good guy wanting to be a cop because of American television.

My favourite scene in Amarcord is when the Fascists hold a rally, and as part of the celebration they run around the town all while talking to the camera about how glorious everything is. In the background is giant head of Mussolini that looks like something out of Monty Python cartoon. It all looks terribly silly and you find yourself laughing at the strange fascists. Then a quick turn of events later and suddenly the Fascist are forcing the father of the main character to drink castor oil while threatening with worse if he doesn’t comply. Suddenly things aren’t funny any more. Suddenly the silly Fascists are scary, scary thugs – all the more frightening because of their previously identified childish streak. In fact you are left with the sense that you are only laughing at them at your own folly.

In an essence this is what Amarcord does again and again. It shows you one thing, and then expands and alters your perception of said event – pulling the rug out from underneath you as it goes along. Now I love films like that, and so I loved Amaracord.

The name Amarcord is based on the Romagno dialect’s phrase a m'arcòrd meaning "I remember". It was made by Federico Fellini and is in a sense based on his recollections about growing up in Romagna in the 1920’s and 1930’s. It is a beautiful film, both in story and cinematography and even though it has a huge cast of characters it never becomes confusing. I also loved how many of the characters broke the fourth wall repeatedly, particularly the tiny sub-plot about the lawyer wanting to talk about the history of the Rimini while being hindered in some way.

There is not a clear linear plot in Amarcord, but I’m fine with that. In fact I found it rather fitting. It is after all a film dealing with recollections and so the disjointed narrative fits the way memories work. Memories are impressions, often highly emotional, sometimes horrible and other times incredibly dazzling.


Films seen in 2009.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 24th, 2009 05:46 pm (UTC)
I'm told I do a very good impression of Volpina. Hahahahaha... ;) My Dad's fav scene is the old guy up in the tree. Mine is when that giant ship passes them by while they float in their tiny boats. So poignant.
Apr. 24th, 2009 06:08 pm (UTC)
Hee. That's almost a bit frightening to comprehend. ;) I love the scenes with the tiny boats too - that and the peacock in the snow. There is something so magical and sad about them that touches me. Yet it is the scene of the Fascists rally that I keep coming back too with its surreal blend of humour, tragedy and terror.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )