Saturday, September 29, 2007

War Over War Movies

Before Vietnam, war movies were either gung-ho patriotic starring John Wayne or philosophically anti-war, starting with “All Quiet on the Western Front.”

This week the Los Angeles Times has been OpEding an argument prompted by a conservative’s contention that today’s Hollywood “stakes out an anti-victory position on the current war in Iraq, continuing its deplorable 40-year streak of working against the United States' strategic objectives at a time of war.”

That’s a mouthful of accusation: 40 years of celluloid treason, and most Americans failed to notice. While there are legitimate questions about Brian DePalma’s latest opus, they don’t begin to support a collective indictment of Hollywood film-makers as disloyal to their country.

Looking back at decades of the best war movies, from “Paths of Glory” and “The Bridge on the River Kwai” to “Saving Private Ryan” and “Flags of Our Fathers,” what’s most striking is how apolitical they have been, evoking horror over the brutality, hypocrisy and waste of lives and/or celebrating the bloody gallantry of young people under fire.

Until now, even in time of war, serious film-makers were not propagandists with “strategic objectives” but artists trying to get at universal truths.

Just before Iraq, a number of conservative contributors to National Review named as their favorite war movie “Patton,” the 1970 biopic of America’s red-white-and-blue World War II general, co-written by Francis Ford Coppola.

Seven years later, Coppola made “Apocalypse Now,” which ideologues would see as a savage indictment of our involvement in Vietnam.

But both were made years after the wars were over and neither was intended as a political statement, any more than “The Godfather,” which came between the two.

Hollywood people have always had strong political beliefs, but few expressed them during working hours. There was too much money at stake.

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