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Archive for January 18th, 2009

Great Scenes from a few movie classics are discussed here. The first is All Quiet etc.,

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) is one of the early sound films that can truly be classed as the first major anti-war film and anticipated La Grande Illusion of Jean Renoir by seven years. The film was based upon the 1929 novel by Erich Maria Remarque who had experienced the war first-hand as a young German soldier. This landmark epic film, made on a large-scale budget of $1.25 million for Universal Pictures was a critical and financial success – the grainy black and white film is still not dated and the film hasn’t lost its initial impact. From four Academy Award nominations, it won the Academy Award for Best Picture (the third winner in the history of AMPAS) and Best Director (Lewis Milestone with his first sound feature), and it was also nominated for Best Writing Achievement (George Abbott, Maxwell Anderson, and Del Andrews) and Best Cinematography (Arthur Edeson). Smarting from war wounds naturally the Nazi government of the 30s denounced
The film for its anti-militaristic tone and till 1956 it was banned in Italy.
This story is neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by the war…

Unlike Remarque’s novel that begins with the young men already at war, with flashbacks to earlier times, the film is told in a logical, chronological fashion. The content of the film can be divided into four distinct parts:

1. the pre-war education of schoolboys, and the enlistment of the young German recruits
2. the soldiers’ arrival at the front of World War I
3. the experiences of the cruelties and horrors of war in trench warfare
4. the hero’s homecoming, return to the front, and ultimate death

The film is episodic and in a series of vignettes and scenes we are given a soldier’s point of view which conveys the senselessness of war. We have quite a few war films, including Platoon (1986), Full Metal Jacket (1987), and Saving Private Ryan (1998)  from the point of view of the cannon fodder who shall find no glory on the battlefield, meeting only death and disillusionment. The soldier sums up his view poignantly,  “ And our bodies are earth. And our thoughts are clay. And we sleep and eat with death”.
This film is singular in giving it from a young German’s point of view and not from grandstand of the Allies. Whichever point of view you take will not make the war smell any more fresh than the blackest heart of the warmonger. Kaiser and Hitler sent raw recruits to the eye of the storm and they held consultations with generals over maps, and do you think they ever gave a thought to the common soldier?
Tjaden: “Me and the Kaiser, we are both fighting. The only difference is the Kaiser isn’t here!”

Finally let me give one of the most memorable scenes from the film. How shall one give a soldier’s untimely death its grandeur? Would a pool of blood express it in proper measure?  There is no heroism that can adequately express his life when it is taken from him. He obeys higher authority to kill and if he is killed it is only bad luck.  Even in final scene just before Armistice is declared the soldier shows us he has been subjected to the most wretched experience any man can impose on another, and yet he has not lost the purity of his soul. It may be as fragile as a butterfly enjoying a brief moment of sunshine. In his reaching out for it we know it is so. For one brief moment of clarity he is connected to it as an equal : both are vulnerable and not proof against the hazards of life.
“ In the unforgettable final moments of this film, just before the “all quiet on the western front” armistice and with all of his comrades gone, soldiers are bailing water out of a dilapidated trench. The faint sound of a harmonica can be heard. Paul (Lew Ayres), a young German soldier, is sitting alone, daydreaming inside the trench on a seemingly peaceful, bright day. He is exhausted by terror and boredom. Through the gunhole of his trench, he sees a beautiful lone butterfly that has alighted just beyond his reach next to a discarded tin can outside the parapet. He begins to carefully reach out over the protection of his bunker with his hand to grasp it, momentarily forgetting the danger that is ever-present. As he stretches his hand out yearning for its beauty, a distant French sniper prepares to take careful aim through a scope on a rifle. As he leans out closer to the fragile butterfly and extends his hand, suddenly the sharp whining sound of a shot is heard. Paul’s hand jerks back, twitches for a moment and then goes limp in death. All is silent and quiet. The harmonica tune stops”.(ack: tim dirks-filmsite.org)
benny

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