|REALITIES OF WAR
How has Saving Private Ryan changed the Hollywood war movie?
August 11, 1998
in this forum:
Will the movie change the public's attitude towards military service? Why was public reaction to the movie so strong? What other war movies do you like or dislike? How do American and foreign films compare? The Online NewsHour asks: What other American war movies do you like or dislike? Why?
John Chambers responds:
My personal favorite movie about war is All Quiet on the Western Front. the 1930 black and white, early sound film from the book by Erich Maria Remarque. This classic antiwar film about World War I was directed by Lewis Milestone and starred Lew Ayres and Louis Wolheim. In my most recent book, "World War II, Film, and History," I assert that it provided a pervasive image in the 1930s in the United States and many other countries of industrialized ground warfare, a devastating image which had to be overcome in order to mobilize for World War II. Since I am currently writing a book about that film. and the image of modern war, I would welcome comments by people who have seen the 1930 black and white version (it was released in 1930 and re-released in 1934, 1939, and 1950; and has since been shown on television regularly and made available on videocassette) or the 1979 color remake (also available on videocassette) which starred Richard Thomas and Ernest Borgnine. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. It would be helpful to me to learn not only people's reaction to either version but also when and where they saw All Quiet on the Western Front.
Like Savinq Private Ryan, All Quiet on the Western Front was hailed when it was first released in 1930 as the most realistic war film ever made. Audiences and critics believed they were finally seeing trench warfare as it had occurred in World War I. What made it so "realistic" was director Lewis Milestone's combination of the use of the new sound film technology (so that the audience was bombarded with the sound of exploding shells and rifle and machine-gun fire) and able camera movement (as the early sound films were visually quite static). Milestone's camera mobility and quick cutting and cross-cutting, as well as the battle sounds and the graphic depictions of massed infantry attacks through "no-man's land" against machine guns, produced a real sense of being there. Milestone reinforced that sense by framing some scenes like those seen in newsreels and previous battle films, which added apparent authenticity to his depiction of reality. Unlike All Quiet on the Western Front, Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, is not meant to be an antiwar film. True they both show the horror of ground combat. But for the young German soldiers of World War I, who are main characters in All Quiet, it is combat without meaning; war is a meaningless waste of youth. But the death of the World War II GIs in Saving Private Ryan is not at all meaningless. We know about the Nazi death camps.
Paul Fussell responds:
Other movies-- To start with dislikes: phony, cheerful, registrations of the war, like The Longest Day, where everybody s obviously an actor and the whole thing smacks of theater in the pejorative sense. A picture about the infantry that I respect is Battleground. I like it because in it bullets crack and do not whine as they do in westerns.