AMC - Amercian Movie Classics

You know I hate, detest, and can't bear a lie, not because I am straighter than the rest of us, but simply because it appalls me.
There is a taint of death, a flavor of mortality in lies,--which is
exactly what I hate and detest in the world--what I want to forget.

Joseph Conrad, "Heart of Darkness"

A few days ago I sat down to watch a documentary I had pvr'd off of AMC. The documentary was called 'Hollywood Vietnam' and was about the Vietnam War and the change in Hollywood to the kind of war films they were making. There was a significant shift from the glorious heroic war picture to the brooding and introspective pictures.

The documentary was pretty good, full of clips and interviews and a fairly comprehensive overview of the politics and attitudes of the day. Yet, in a strange irony, AMC had decided to play the documentary with all the vulgar language censored. They silenced all the swear words. What was ironic was that all the violence was left intact. There were scenes shown that had people taking a bullet in the head at point blank range. It was bloody but it wasn't fucking bloody...

Of course, this leaves me somewhat bewildered. Is someone getting their heads blown off less offensive than the F word? It reminded me, oddly enough, of Apocalypse Now. Kurtz, a moment before his assassination, is reading his propaganda into a radio microphone:

We train young men to drop fire on
people, but their commanders won't
allow them to write "fuck" on their
airplanes because it's obscene.

It's all lies.

I worked on a season of 'Celebrity Deathmatch' and one of the
rules of the show was no sex. I suspect this comes from the
religious right but it seems ass backwards to me. They felt it
was fine to disembowel someone but sexuality was disgusting.
For me, the end result of violence is death. The end result
of sex is creation. What kind of age are we in living here?


Oliver Stone's 'Nixon' Revisited

I published a number of 'top film lists' without comment and with the thought that people would find them interesting and evocative. If I have a comment to make on these lists, it is that a film needs a moratorium of at least ten years before it should be considered for any ranking of the 'best of all time '(even if it is a bit silly to compare great films to one another for the purpose of finding the best). When asked what my favourite movie is I can't answer. I'll rhyme off a hundred of my favourite movies but I can't rank them - it's a pointless and subjective exercise. I do believe that there are superior films out there, absolutely, but I don't see the need to give them a number. Is Godfather #1 and Kane #2?! They're both spectacular in their own ways. Still, if I am to play along I would require a moratorium - what is hot and 'fresh' today might be dated and old tomorrow.

Oliver Stone's provocative political films 'JFK' and 'Nixon' are now past my moratorium and it's interesting to see how they are holding up. The other night I put on 'Nixon'.

Oliver Stone's 'Nixon' came out in 1994 and like most of Stone's films there was a storm of controversy. Stone attempts to dramatize and mythologize events in US history and is often accused of historical innacuracies and skewed politics. On a previous post I linked to a story of filmmakers responsible for aiding in the ignorance of science. Here Stone could be accused of creating ignorance of history. 'JFK' was the most glaring example of dramatic liberty, drawing on conspiracy theory in the assassination of John F Kennedy. His critics were furious that Stone creates an argument using false facts and imaginary characters and incidents. In 'Nixon', unlike 'JFK', there is a text card at the head of the film that makes it clear that the film is a work of fiction based on the true story. Events are dramatized, dialogue created and several characters are condensed into a single persona.

Personally, I have no issue with this.

Stone is not a journalist. He is not a documentary filmmaker. He is not a biographer. Oliver Stone is a filmmaker who is working through his own ideas and obsessions and creating works that are trying to speak to something greater than the subject. This is what makes 'Nixon' a magnificent film. It is a rich character study of both Nixon and the American system of government. Roger Ebert said that this film would still have been great had Nixon not existed. I agree. It is a film that strives for the tragedy of Shakespeare and the visual prowess of Citizen Kane. It is also a film that resonates with what is going on at the White House today.

In my efforts not to 'review' films I will not go into the details of the plot here. What I would like to make note of is Stone's ability to create a fully realized and complex sketch of Nixon. Stone fully acknowledges the good that Nixon did for America. Nixon ended the American involvement in the Vietnam War, created the Environmental Protection Agency and cooled off the Cold War. He had success in dividing the communist nations so America could deal with them individually instead of facing a unified front (the lack of unity is what keeps the middle east from becoming a real threat to the United States). Nixon held the cards to greatness yet he left the White House with his tail between his legs, humiliated and defeated. Stone sees the contradictions and created a film that makes Nixon into a tragic figure. The difference between tragedy and drama is that in tragedy, the protagonist is their own worst enemy. The protagonist's own character flaws end up being the architect of their own demise. With Nixon, Stone contends that the things that brought him to the White House, a man who came from humble beginnings and an 'outsider', were the things that brought him down. Nixon always felt that he was conspired against by the press and the ivy league politicians. This paranoia led to the events of Watergate and his eventual resignation from the Presidency.

Beyond Nixon himself we can see how the government itself moves forward, independent of its leadership. Nixon, no matter what he wants, has to deal with the constant machine. The machine has been running before he got there and it will continue to run after he leaves. Every president has had to compromise (right or wrong) to the wheel that is already in motion. There are institutions present that work beyond four year terms - the CIA, the FBI, the DEA, the IRS. These institutions don't easily bend to the whims of a president (a lesson that Barack Obama seems to be naive about). To gain the Presidency one must make deals and gain support from the true powers that be. Nixon, as Stone portrays him, is indebted to this system. He must compromise as all politicians and every level of government is busy protecting their own interests.

The details of the film, right or wrong, don't waiver from a truth that we can understand. I'm drawn to this film because it has an honesty to it. It doesn't demonize Nixon nor does it ex halt him. It shows that even a man who can achieve the highest goals can still be a human being - fragile, complex, contradictory. I suspect that George W will be the subject of such scrutiny. I don't believe in the archetypes. I don't think he's evil or that in his heart, he is a bad person. It's easy to create monsters. It makes it easier for us to separate ourselves from them. We stand on a soap box and scream without having to spend anytime in these men's shoes. I agree that the true hero is the one who walks the high ground and who doesn't compromise their ideals. Yet, most of us are mere humans. Flesh and blood, full of weakness and contradictions. Flawed in our own greatness. Oliver Stone seems to understand that.


If you can't blame Canada, blame Hollywood!

Rob sent me this article.

Hollywood Blamed For Scientific Ignorance

Some scientists are slack-jawed at the thought that people believe sinking in lava is even possible, not to mention leaping onto the wings of a hovering fighter jet.

Hollywood gets the blame for all manner of ills in today's society, from promiscuity to violence to reckless driving. Seldom is there evidence for such claims beyond that which has been cherry-picked and packaged to fit a political agenda.

To the list of grievances against Hollywood, add scientific illiteracy.

In an article published in the German journal "Praxis der Naturwissenschaften Physik," two University of Central Florida professors argue that the disregard for the laws of physics evident in Hollywood films is contributing to students' poor understanding of science.

The paper, "Hollywood Blockbusters: Unlimited Fun But Limited Science Literacy," by UCF professor Costas J. Efthimiou and former UCF physics chair R. A. Llewellyn, makes no effort to establish a causal link between viewing impossible physics and believing the world works the same way. Rather, it assumes exposure leads to ignorance.

"Sometimes the scene is so profoundly wrong that it is hard to be missed," the paper concludes. "However, often the absurdity is hard to detect by people not very fluent in science literacy and untrained in critical thinking. In this way, Hollywood is reinforcing (or even creating) incorrect scientific attitudes that can have negative results for the society. This is a good reason to recommend that all citizens be taught critical thinking and be required to develop basic science and quantitative literacy."

Despite the absence of evidence of a connection between bad film physics and real-world ignorance, the paper provides an entertaining analysis of scientific flaws in recent films.

For example, a scene in the 2003 movie "The Core" depicts a person in a protective suit sinking in lava. As Efthimiou and Llewellyn explain, people would not sink completely in molten stone: "The human body is made mainly of water, thus its density will be almost equal to that of water, pwater [parts per water] = 1000kg/m3. The lava is mostly molten rock; surface rocks have an approximate density of 3300kg/m3. So plava [parts per lava] = 3300kg/m3. Therefore, for the human body, once a third of it submerges in lava, the two forces become equal and the body stops sinking. Even more, sinking (in lava) will happen at a slower rate compared to the rate on the surface of the Earth since gravity is weaker at that depth."

Efthimiou has been using Hollywood films in physics courses since 2002, when he and Llewellyn created a course called "Physics in Film" that he continues to teach.

In a 2006 paper by the same name, Efthimiou and his three co-authors state, "Hollywood is often willing to sacrifice scientific accuracy for the sake of drama. The problem with this is that many people, without the tools for critical analysis, accept what they see on-screen as realistic and accurate."

Consider the 1996 film Independence Day, which features alien spaceships crashing into the Earth. "The spaceships crash over every major city in the world with what would be the energy release of tens of thousands of atomic bombs, yet people celebrate this as a victory," Efthimiou and his co-authors lament.

While such arguments may suggest a rationale for public service warnings to dissuade viewers of films like Live Free or Die Hard from leaping John McClane-style off collapsing highways onto the wings of hovering fighter jets, they also underscore the real concern in the technical community that the U.S. can't compete in science.

As the Association for Computing Machinery observed in a 2006 report on globalization, "the United States educational system is still trying to understand how to change its curriculum to address application domain knowledge, a global workplace, and maintaining its innovative edge. In addition, the United States faces long-term challenges from falling interest and skills in math and science programs in its primary education system."

The Science and Engineering Indicators 2006 report appears to support Efthimiou's position, at least in part. It shows that average science scores among U.S. 12th graders declined from the year before and that only a third of students tested demonstrated proficiency in science.

At the same time, the 2006 report indicates that the number of science and engineering degrees awarded in the United States at all levels is rising. And the number of doctoral degrees rose in 2003 for both U.S. citizens and temporary visa holders.

Complicating the picture is whether those scientists and engineers end up leaving the U.S. Since 1995, the number of temporary residents obtaining doctoral degrees has been growing at a faster rate than the number of U.S citizens and permanent residents obtaining doctoral degrees. If an increasing number of those temporary residents end up leaving the U.S., that brain emigration could affect U.S. competitiveness.

Kevin Scott, a member of the education board at the Association for Computing Machinery, the VP of engineering and operations at AdMob, and a former senior engineer at Google, doesn't worry about the Hollywood as a vector of scientific ignorance.

"From my perspective, I think movies are helpful and encouraging to make kids think about science and technology in good ways," Scott said, noting that a film like Shrek might instill curiosity about computer graphics. "This was the way I got interested in computing and chose it as a career. I really wanted to understand from an entertainment perspective how these things are done."

Scott said there are two different issues with regard to technical education. One is whether the U.S. education system is competitive with education systems in other countries; the other involves the talent needs of technology companies.

While technology companies may not have as much access to affordable technical talent as they might like, Scott said that the U.S. university system is doing a pretty good job. "The Ph.D. candidates I see at AdMob and Google are really, really quite good," he said. "Our first choices for candidates are still the top computer science schools in the U.S."


Ed Wood might respond: "haven't you ever heard of the suspension of disbelief?". Of course the scientists are arguing against the 'creation of ignorance'.

The same issue has come up in forensic science with arm chair idiots believing every thing they see on "CSI", a show I find unwatchable (give me 'Columbo' any day). The high tech gadgetry and lack of lab coats have given the audience a false sense of what is actually possible. Does this matter? The other hand says that these are works of fiction and the makers of fiction don't have the responsibility to cater to reality. It's not their fault the audience is so damn gullible.

The problem with the scientist is that he doesn't see the lack of dramatic value in having the guy float along in the lava.

The problem with the filmmaker is that they've fallen in love with computer graphics and are using them to try to up the ante on every action film. I'll take 'Fitzcarraldo' any day.

I'm reminded of the story in Jaws where the effects guys had gone to the morgue and studied what corpses really look like. They were creating an arm and hand that had floated up on the beach after the first shark attack and they were precise to how it would actually look. However, Spielberg saw the hand and said it looked fake. They responded that this is how it really looks to which Spielberg made them change it saying that he wasn't interested in whether the three physicians in the audience loved the verisimilitude, he was more interested in what the audience thought a corpse would look like. They changed it.

And now for a Simpsons quote:

Homer: "Hey, mister. How come you're painting those horses to look like cows?"

Movie Guy: "Cows don't look like cows on film. You gotta use horses."

Homer: "What do you use if you want horses?"

Movie Guy: "We just duct tape a bunch of cats together."


John Milius

It turns out not all video game companies have their heads in the sand. John Milius was hired by EA to work on their WWII game Medal of Honor 'European Assault'.

Here's the interview from G4.

Ten Minutes with John Milius

written by Coury Turczyn

The Director of Conan the Barbarian Enters the Video Game Arena with Medal of Honor: European Assault

John Milius earned a Hollywood reputation as a true he-man film director and writer, co-writing the screenplay for Apocalypse Now, and directing the ‘80s classics Conan the Barbarian and Red Dawn. ("Wolverines!") He was also the fellow who coined Dirty Harry’s signature catchphrase: "Go ahead, make my day." And now he’s entered the video game industry by consulting and writing for the latest chapter in the Medal of Honor franchise, European Assault. A hardcore World War II history buff, Milius was the perfect choice to bring historical authenticity and a cinematic viewpoint to the popular FPS series. In this interview, Milius talks about how writing for video games is different than screenwriting, and why future video games will be more like novels than movies.

How did you get involved with Medal of Honor: European Assault?

I was working for EA on another project. I had written a very detailed script for it, and they decided to put it on hold. And that’s about the time that this game started, really. They said, “Gee, we’d like to have him work on Medal of Honor.” So they took me over there and I jumped right in.

Had you played any war games previous to this?

I can’t do those things on my own—I don’t have the computer skills. The only war games I ever played were board games when I was a kid, like Avalon Hill and those kinds of things. Of course, I’m a guy from the ICT: the Institute of Creative Technology, which is like the Rand Corporation, a think tank. We did very, very complex war games there for the Pentagon, and we still do that. So I did know a little about this.

What was your goal on the project?

My goal was just to make it interesting and try to bring real history into it—give people a sense of the things that happened. If you’re going to go through World War II, don’t go through it in a really fanciful and unnecessary way; go through it in a way that gives you a sense of the shape of World War II and what really, historically happened and what things influenced others.

What’s the scenario behind European Assault?

The player will be introduced to the main character, (U.S. Army Lieutenant William) Holt, who’s an OSS man. Very early in the war, he’s sent off to the British to participate in one of the most daring commando raids of World War II. And in that commando raid, he finds things that lead them to other theaters of operation. Originally, it starts with following up the development of the eighty-eight artillery piece, which leads to more dark and sinister things. And by doing that, you’re able to have him go to different theaters and key events in World War II.

How did you tackle the balance between gameplay and historical accuracy?

I was always for historical accuracy, and they had to tone me down. If I was to do a game, it probably would be boring. There are certain things you can’t do. Like, I wanted to follow an armored assault, but they decided that they didn’t want to have people be in tanks. They wanted to follow ground combat with squads because it worked better for the game. I would like to see all different aspects to the event, which eventually you’ll be able to do—you’ll see it from the point of view of somebody in the air, somebody in an infantry unit or a tank, or a civilian. There’s no doubt that games will eventually come to this.

Do you think that games will ever be able to truly simulate the experience of war?

Yeah, I think games will be much more like long novels in the future; they will be much more story oriented than they are now. They’re headed that way. They’ll be very story oriented, and they’ll take a long time. So you’ll have an experience that’s a real experience. Last summer, I read War and Peace, and it took me a long time to read it, so I was immersed in Russia from 1805 to 1813 or whatever—the events of the Napoleonic Wars and the lives of the different aristocratic families in Russia. And because I was immersed in it for a long time—and because Tolstoy is a very good writer, too— I probably got a much greater feel for that period, certainly much better than if I would have seen a movie. And a game can do the same thing. I can imagine somebody doing a game that takes a month to complete in which you would have all kinds of emotions, and follow all kinds of stories.

Working on this particular game, did you try to inject drama as you would on a movie script?

I tried to do that often. But I’m just a consultant. They told me what I could do and what I couldn’t. It was sort of interesting to do it that way—just to come in, sit there, and throw my stuff out there. They used what they wanted, other stuff they didn’t. I had no ego about it. I wasn’t sitting there saying, “This is the way you should’ve done it,” because it’s a game, a different thing. And it was a relief, in a way. It was sort of a nice way to work.

How close do you think European Assault came to what you envisioned?

Well, I didn’t really envision a total picture. I just envisioned what I could help with. It’s not like a screenplay or a story, where I envisioned a beginning, middle, and an end. A whole story is a much different thing, especially when you write a screenplay and direct it.

How was it different working as a video game writer as opposed to being a film writer?

Well, in video games, there really isn’t “a writer”—there are a lot of different writers, and a lot of different aspects that go into it. So the story voice you’re trying to make is subject to what can be done and what’s exciting gameplay. Gaming hasn’t really reached the level yet where the story is very important or that you’re following the events of the story very carefully. It’s like a broad over-story. It’s very, very different in a movie where every line is important, and there’s the whole concept media dramaturgy. But this is kind of fun. It’s still in a very crude stage; this is going to change a lot in the next year—and in the next five years, it’s going to be unrecognizable. If it continues the way it is, in five years games will be extremely sophisticated and much, much different from what they are now.

Are you planning on doing any more video game projects?

Yeah, I love doing this. It’s really a lot of fun because it’s a certain kind of creativity without pressure. And everybody loves to live in a world of fantasy, so to speak—to go back in history. That’s why we have re-enactors.

Is there any information you can divulge on King Conan?

Well, King Conan is pretty well on hold. Warner Brothers decided they’re going to do their own version of whatever they want to do with Conan. They’ve sort of put it in deep, deep freeze. I don’t know. You’ll have to talk to Warner Brothers and ask them what their wisdom is. They’ll probably do an animated, kid-friendly Conan.

My Dealer

Rob, my dealer (of information, which is a lot like a drug) sent me this link to the '10 Most Awesome Films that Hollywood Ever Killed'. Despite the bad title the article is interesting with films I didn't know about like Peter Jackson's 'Halo'!? I love Peter Jackson's films but there is something slightly moronic about movies based on video games. Does anyone remember 'Super Mario Bros'? Thank god I missed it.

Has there been any good film translation of a video game?

Now that I'm on the topic, are there any good cinematics/cut scenes in video games? It's an issue that has bothered me for years. I feel that it would be great if these game companies would hire actual filmmakers to create their scripts and cut scenes. Every game I've seen makes me imagine video game nerds wanting to be filmmakers. It seems that they could do something really remarkable if they would hire an 'expert' to create the little films within the games. I do remember Lucas Arts creating some great little gems with 'Sam & Max Hit the Road' and 'Day of the Tentacle' but that just feeds into my argument that they need to hire proper writers and directors (it is a George Lucas company after all). To top it off, the hugely successful Ubisoft Games out of Montreal has announced that they are going to get into the movie business. What frightens me is that they have the funds to make some great films but none of the film talent to make it. It frightens me because they are going to end up flushing their money down the toilet if they allow amateurs to make their films. It'll be another 'Wing Commander' or 'Tomb Raider' movie, full of cliches and masturbatory cinematics.

On a side note, Roger Ebert has been having a bit of a tussle with Clive Barker over some statements that Video Games are not art. This isn't my point but I'll link to it as it is an interesting topic.

In the article '10 Most Awesome Films that Hollywood Ever Killed' they state that George Lucas was originally 'hired' to direct Apocalypse Now. This is slightly incorrect. The project was in-house with Zoetrope (Coppola's company) and Lucas and Milius were originally going to make the film. Lucas went on to make American Grafitti and Star Wars and Coppola decided to make it himself. It was never a studio owned film and Coppola financed the film himself (with United Artists as distributor).


Spielberg Part 3 - Saving Private Ryan, The William Goldman Essay

I finally tracked down that essay by Goldman regarding 'Saving Private Ryan'. I thought I'd put it up here to make sure I didn't misrepresent his opinion. It's from 'The Big Picture; Who killed Hollywood? and other essays'.

The bullshit started early with this baby. I remember these remarkable interviews being given on the talk shows during the standard pre-opening hype. Sort of like this:

RYAN HYPIST I have to tell you the most important thing of all.
RYAN HYPIST (Pause) Well this movie, it's . . . UM . . . violent.
GENERIC KATIE (Nodding—fascinated) You mean . . . bloody?
RYAN HYPIST Oh yes, oh God yes, bloody, so much blood, people getting blown up, killed—I have to tell you all this Generic Katie because I would never want to mislead the audience: this movie is a blood bath. Just so your audience knows that before they go—this movie is filled with battle scenes and gore and explosions and young men dying.
GENERIC KATIE (moved) Thank you for being so . . . brave and honest with us. I know it must have been hard for you.

And I am staring at the tube thinking, what is everybody smoking? Let me put it another way. Let's say I am hyping a re-make of How To Marry A Millionaire. But instead of a frothy comedy with Bacall and Grable and Monroe, I have made a hard R version. Starring Cameron Diaz and Heather Graham and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

MILLIONAIRE HYPIST I have to tell you the most important thing of all.
MILLIONAIRE HYPIST (Pause) Well, this movie, it's .. . um . . . sexual.
GENERIC KATIE (nodding, fascinated) You mean .. . with nudity?
MILLIONAIRE HYPIST Oh yes, oh God yes, passion, so much nakedness, people having orgasms—I have to tell you all this Generic Katie because I would never want to mislead the audience: this movie is carnal. Just so your audience knows be¬fore they go—this movie is filled with rapes and lesbianism and nipples and young women screaming with sexual pleasure.
GENERIC KATIE (moved) Thank you so for being so . . . brave and honest with us. I know it must have been hard for you.

Sex and violence are the twin items Hollywood wants most desperately to sell these awful days. That's why the Ryan hype was so fraudulent. Here is the kind of brave and honest hype you will never live to see.

HYPIST I have to tell you the most important thing of
HYPIST (Pause) Well this movie, it's . . . um . . . philo-sophical.
GENERIC KATIE (Nodding, fascinated) You mean . . . with talk?
HYPIST Oh, yes, oh God, yes, tons of conversation, all of it dealing with pain and suffering and how to live on earth without doing harm. I would never want to mislead your audience: This movie is intelligent. Just so your audience knows before they go—this movie is thought-provoking and deep and filled with the kind of wisdom we so need on earth these days.
GENERIC KATIE (To herself) Didn't believe one word.

Saving Private Ryan begins, as I'm sure everyone has told you, with an incredible battle sequence. Maybe that was true for them, but the version I saw sure began differently: a fif-teen-second shot of Old Glory a-wavin' in the wind. With Copland-like music in the background. Even John Wayne would have been embarrassed to start a movie that way. Hearts and flowers, God bless America, all that awful stuff. Today, only the Farrellys could get away with something like that.

Then there follows a weird sequence which I have sub-titled "The Man With the Big-Boobed Girls." And I am not being facetious. This old guy lumbers around someplace, we don't know where, and behind him are a bunch of Norman Rockwell types, but all I can concentrate on are these big¬boobed girls who are tagging along. Then we find that we're in a cemetery, and a shot of a flag tells us France. Lots of crosses. He kneels, at a particular cross, weeps, some of the family run to him, the big-boobed ones hanging back.

Then a long shot of his moist eyes and as the camera moves slowly into a close up of those eyes, we know this much: we are going into flashback now.
The story that has moved this old man is about to be told.
And now we are into the battle sequence.

What to say about it? Fabulous, brilliant, extraordinary, whatever you want. And do you know why? The length: twenty four minutes. The stuff itself is absolute as good and no better than Francis Coppola's war stuff or Oliver Stone's war stuff. But here it just goes pulverizingly on and on. It was brave of writer Robert Rodat to write it that way and brave of director Steven Spielberg to direct it with that incredible relentless tension.

What to say about Spielberg? For me, as great a shooter as anyone in movie history. Clearly the most important American director of the last thirty years, and on occasion, the most brilliant.

When he is in his wheel house. More of that presently.

As anybody reading this must know, Robert Rodat's story is about a squad of soldiers sent on a rescue mission—to find a Private Ryan, a young soldier who has lost three broth¬ers in action. Ryan, once located, is to be sent back home be¬fore another tragedy totally destroys the remains of his family.

The last shot of the great battle sequence is a shot of a dead soldier named Ryan.
OK, so what the movie has to do is simple: get the rescue squad going after the kid. The Spielberg of Raider's of the Lost Ark would have taken maybe a minute to set that up. Tom Hanks, the squad leader would have been called into a commander's presence, told to find a Private Ryan. Hanks would ask why and the Commander would say what you know: to make sure he does not die like his brothers. Get him home now and get him home safely. Those are your orders. Go!

That is not a hard premise to set up. In this movie it takes Spielberg thirteen pretentious, operatic minutes. (An amazing length of movie time.) Climaxed when a General reads a letter Honest Abe Lincoln wrote which is s0000 moving, sports fans, it brings tears to the other high officers who are listening to the General.


Then, after more uninteresting stuff, forty minutes into the movie, Hanks' squad finally sets off on their odyssey to find Private Ryan. And the hunt for him is just terrific. (A word here—he will not win the Oscar but Tom Sanders sure should—great production design.)

Sequence after sequence. The village with the French girl and the sudden Nazi's and the wrong Ryan. The church. The wounded area with the haunted pilot where they fmd out where Ryan might be. The bunker fight with the Nazi who Hanks releases and wonderful work between Tom Sizemore and Ed Burns and Hanks. Then the fight with the tank and off¬handedly, surprisingly, they find Private Ryan.

We are an hour and forty five minutes into the movie now. We have just had an hour plus of sensational storytelling. And I am so excited because I know what is going to happen now: they are going to take Ryan back only it is going to be so much harder than finding him was. Maybe they would revisit some of the places—would the pilot have killed himself, would the French girl be killed by sniper madness, would the madness of the entire enterprise come crashing down around them? The story was going to be like a great snowball, accumulating as it roared toward climax, gathering weight and size and emotional power as Hanks desperately tried to get the kid home to his shattered mother.

And guess what: the rest of the movie is a disgrace. Fifty plus minutes of phony manipulative shit.

Things start going south immediately. We are in a bombed French village which has a valuable bridge. Hanks tells Ryan to get ready. And Ryan—Matt Damon—says this: he doesn't want to go. Sure his mom has suffered, sure it's awful what's happened to his family, but these guys are his brothers now and he will not leave them.

Do you believe that? Do you believe that a young man who has just been informed his family has been devastated, that his mother has had grief overpowering poured on her, would say, hey, I'm sure mom'll understand but I want to stay here in the mud with my buddies.


I can kind of make a case that Ryan is young and in such shock and feels so guilty at his good/bad fortune, he really at that moment wants to stay. OK. I go with that.
Then the first nail in the coffin: Hanks goes along with it—hey, what a neat idea, I'll stay too.

Inconceivable, as Vizzini would say.

Before I get to how it's done in the movie, let me make a parallel. Let's say you and I were given a sworn task by our father. To make sure little Matt next store gets to school that day. Our most important task on earth is to make sure that happens.
OK. We go to little Matt's house, tell him to come along. And he says this: "My best friend in the world is visiting me today. I won't go."

And you and I think about it and decide we have only two choices.
(1) To let him stay home.
(2) To stay home with him.

Take a second. That make sense? Are those the only two choices available? How about adding a third: bringing the little fucker to school.
In an awful awful scene, after Matt has stamped his foot in anger, Hanks and Tom Sizemore, the tough Sergeant have a talk.

Sizemore asks what Hanks' orders are and Hanks replies thusly: "Sergeant, we have crossed some strange boundary here. The world has taken a turn for the surreal."
And I am sitting there thinking no, nothing surreal about it. A simple request has been made that needs a simple answer.

Sizemore tells Hanks this. "Some part of me thinks the kid's right. What's he done to deserve this? If he wants to stay here fine. Let's leave him and go home."
And Hanks says "yeah."

And I say, where did the notion of leaving him and going home come from? Surely it has never been breathed on planet Earth before. What are you talking about? Then Sizemore hits him with the clincher: "But another part of me thinks what if by some miracle we stay and actually make it out of here? Some day we might look back on this and decide that saving Private Ryan was the one decent thing we were able to pull out of this whole God awful shitty mess . . . . We do that, Captain, we all earn the right to go home."

So they stay. (Sizemore's speech might have made sense earlier—when they were having the fight about staying or going home, earlier in the flick, before they had found Ryan.)

You know the worst thing? It would have been easy to have them stay and not be phony about it. How? Try this:

Matt makes his pitch. Hanks says I understand your emotions, but we're out of here right now.
Next cut, they are leaving the village. Next cut they are crossing the bridge. Next cut, walking in the countryside
-and then a close up of Hanks and he stares and guess what?—
—The Germans are coming, They're here, it's too late to leave.
Next cut, exactly what we have now, and go on as be¬fore, only with more urgency. And without the awful manipulation.

The Ugly Tree
The most damaging speech of the movie comes next. Hanks and Matt Damon are waiting for the attack. Damon says he cannot summon up his dead brothers faces and Hanks says, think of something specific. Hanks, when he thinks of home, thinks of his hammock or his wife pruning the roses wearing his gloves.

And Matt Damon starts into this long—two minutes, folks—remembrance of the last time he and his brothers were together. A sexual escapade when one of his brothers was trying to fuck this girl, a girl who "took a nose dive out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down."

The speech—ad libbed by Matt Damon is the only time we get to spend any private time with Ryan. And the speech does not exactly endear him to us. It also rips a lot of the emotional fabric of the film to pieces. I would love to know what the real script said at this point. And I wonder only this: how could Spielberg allow something this atrocious to happen?

The Shooting of Tom Hanks

A bunch of Germans come running toward camera. They get into prone position, start to fire. We are drawn to¬ward one particular German bad guy. Want to know why? He's the only one without a helmet. And, gasp, we realize he is that very same Nodzi who Hanks let live in the earlier sequence. (Spielberg has just discovered irony.) And, shock of shocks, he is the very one who plugs poor Tom.

Now of course, this is manipulation to the nth power. But that's ok, lots of movies do that. But it is not ok here. And why?

Because it gives the lie to the great part of the film.

That wonderful twenty-four minute sequence? What did that tell us about war? That it is awful, yes, of course that. But it also told us this: war is non-sensical, illogical, totally beyond human comprehension.

But here it is all totally understandable. Let a bad guy go, guess what, he will return, relentless and helmetless to kill you. (And hang around conveniently so the cowardly lion of the flick, the translator, can become a man by killing the very man who shot his captain.) In order for this sequence to be in balance with the entire film, that opening battle sequence would have to be altered so that it was about John Wayne fighting his way to glory and saving all his raw recruits around him. Then this bullshit with the German soldier is in keeping with the film.

But it doesn't fucking matter who kills Tom Hanks. His death is what matters. His death is the tragedy.

The Death of Tom Hanks

Hanks is dying, Ed Burns runs for a medic, Matt Damon is alone with Hanks. And do you know what Hanks' last words were? Of course you don't, no one does, not the first time they see the movie. Because not only are they whispered so softly, they have never before been spoken on this or any planet. "Earn this . . . earn it." Those are the words.

I have zero idea what that can possibly mean. My only explanation is this: Spielberg was up half the night before reading Philosophy for Dummies and he wanted to inject that nugget into his flick.

Ed Burns at the Cemetery

Hanks is dead, the awful pretentious voice of the actor playing General Marshall is treackling away, we hear ole Honest Abe's letter again and I am now waiting for the shot of Ed Burns with the big boobed girls back at the cemetery. Why do I know that is coming? Well, only two members of the squad are left, Burns and the cowardly translator and I know it can't be him because he was not with Hanks and the squad during the twenty-four minutes of glory at the start of the film. So it has to be Burns standing there among the graves.

Now the morphing shot comes -and I am looking at the old face of Matt Damon at the cemetery.
Well, you can't do that. Don't you see, he wasn't fucking there. He knew nothing of the attack on the beach, knew nothing of the odyssey that followed, and he never had a chance to hear about it. The only spare moment he had was when he was telling us all about his brothers and the ugly girl and setting the barn on fire.

When he was great, and he was great, Spielberg was a phenomenal storyteller. All gone. That, or he doesn't care.

How's about Spielberg's version of Moby Dick: "Call me Ishmael. I'm going to tell you a story of this ship and this one legged captain and this whale. Actually, I don't know if the guy was one legged. Never saw him, never saw the ship, never saw the whale, never talked to anybody who ever saw anything."

"Who better than I to tell you what happened?"

The other disgrace of this storytelling is this: there is no pregnant moment to the story. (I'm not going all intellectual on you—remember, the Zipper scene and Matt Dillon trying to electrocute the dog back to life were my happiest moments this year in a theatre.) But all stories do and must have them. They are the reason the story is being told. The pregnant moment of Shakespeare in Love is this: Will has a block. We do not tell of Joe and Gwyneth after he's written King Lear—the whole point is the guy can't write anything. Armageddon happens when it happens because the meteor is on its way.

There is absolutely no reason for this story being told now since Matt has no specific reason for visiting the cemetery.

Didn't have to be phony. Say it was Ed Burns. Who has the flashback legitimately. Say he had a reason for coming pick any one you want. Try this: Ryan has just done something splendid. Or Ryan has just died but had a good life.

"Remember that little shit you died for?" Burns might say. "Guess what? He turned out okay. Not worth your dying, Captain, but at least it's something. Thought you'd like to know."

The Ending

Just when you think Spielberg has stooped as low as even he can, new thresholds are reached. Four agonizing minutes of pretentious syrup, climaxing when Matt asks his wife has he been a good man? What is she going to answer? Her husband is clearly having a breakdown. She says yes and Matt—wait for it—he salutes!

Then Old Glory returns, waving at us for half a minute. I guess reminding us that God and Steven Spielberg are on the same side.

Medicinal Level—A.

Can't get much higher. Patriotism and the flag and easy answers galore. Phony and manipulative, all in the sense of Country.

What to say about Spielberg at this stage of his career? He will win his second Oscar for this work, and probably a third when he finds another 'importante' subject to hide be¬hind. (Religious persecution, racial injustice, patriotism.)
I have never met him, never been in a room with him, but no person can come so far in such a killingly competitive business without having a reservoir of anger and rage and dark-ness hiding in there somewhere. I just wish once he would let it show.
There is no reason for him to do anything else than what he has been doing. The movies are wildly successful at the box-office, the critics bow.

And if he had directed Bambi, guess what? Bambi's mother would never have died .. .