|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: Do you notice anything distinctly American about Hollywood war movies? If you have seen foreign war movies, what differences do you notice about how they portray war on film?
John Chambers responds:
Motion pictures reflect not simply the state of cinema technology and industry at any given time but also the nature of their creators and the culture in which they are made. Thus it is not surprising that war films, like other film genres, often have variations in different times and places. Janine Basinger, author of "The World War Two Combat Film: Anatomy Of a Genre" (Columbia University Press, 1986), reveals among other details how Hollywood invented the squad or other military team which was supposed to reflect American ethnic and regional diversity; the wisecracker from Brooklyn to the drawling Southerner and the Midwestern farm boy, the Protestant, the Catholic and the Jewish American.
In regard to the United States in World War II, Clayton R. Koppes and Gregory D. Black, "Hollywood Goes to War: How Politics, Profits and Propaganda Shaped World War II Movies" (Free Press of Macmillan, 1987) stress the active role played by the federal government in using the movies to mobilize Americans for war. Thomas Doherty, "Projections of War: Hollywood, American Culture, and World War II" (Columbia University Press, 1993) emphasizes the interaction between the movies and American society during the war.
Other societies used film to mobilize their populations or interpret war in somewhat different ways. Generalizations are difficult, but clearly American Cinema has emphasized rapid action, while British and French film-makers have been more willing to emphasize dialogue (one of the few antiwar "war" films which does not show battle scenes is Jean Renoir's The Grand Illusion, a French film of 1937). Beginning in the 1970s, some German films, such as The Patriot in 1979, began to reject traditional aesthetic ideas of "realism" for other interpretations of the wartime past which forced viewers to see filmic history as a socia1, construct. The book I co-edited with David Culbert, "World War II, Film, and History" (Oxford University Press, 1996) examines some specific war films from the United States, Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union, and suggests that the aims, audiences, and culture of other countries can produce not simply different interpretations of war but different styles of presentation.
Paul Fussell responds:
Anything distinctly American about Hollywood war movies? Yes, they are cheerful and optimistic, and usually with the obligatory Hollywood happy ending. Foreign war movies are much more likely to achieve realism, that is, nastiness.