Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Hurt Locker and the war film

I don't like war films very much. As a good cinephile-liberal, I want my war films to be antiwar, but without functioning as ideological treatises that force my thought in too particular a direction. In other words, I still want them to be works of art and not pamphlets, admirable though the making of a pamphlet may be. But that's a tough request, particularly since the making of an effective work of art still frequently requires a coherent, if not forced, political perspective. And for an industry that pivots around the celebrity star's persona, it is hard for the war film to avoid endorsing, or at least admiring, the central actions their frequently appealing and even glamorous protagonists undertake.

Samuel Fuller, whose films are often forthrightly, and powerfully, unglamorous, once suggested otherwise. In his thoroughly enjoyable posthumous biography A Third Face, Fuller waxes philosophical on the reception and intended purpose of his 1980 war film, The Big Red One:

In a strange twist of fate, some people got the idea I was a warmonger, that my films promoted war. What bullshit! For Chrissakes, war is living hell. I hope no one ever has to have that goddamned experience again, either as a soldier or a noncombatant. Never! We must avoid war at all costs (219).

The first half of that quote captures the insolence and beautifully single-minded determination of the Fuller who made crackerjack and paradoxically inimitable (because they were works of genre) films in the 1950s. I want to believe the passion behind Fuller's statement: his Run of the Arrow (1957) still stands as one my most revelatory cinematic experiences - seeing it alongside my first French New Wave films, it helped me understand how the stylistic construction of a film could generate, rather than merely illustrate or invisibly convey, narrative content. But as much as I admire him, the second half of Fuller's quote strikes me as bullshit. If Fuller didn't want anyone to have that "goddamned experience again," why make a movie about it?