Amoeblog

The Violent Itch—Rewatching The Dirty Dozen

Posted by Chuck, April 8, 2011 08:30am | Post a Comment

Lee Marvin in The Dirty Dozen

There are certain situations—usually in Tarantino films, or any Sandra Bullock movie—where you end up pulling for people to be slaughtered wholesale. I had a chance to watch all 150 minutes of that glorious Nazi-quashing movie The Dirty Dozen again, the 1967 WWII film that stars a pantheon of iconic actors, and this became (as it’s always been) the case. If you’re not egging Jefferson on at the end to get those grenades down the air shafts of the gas-soaked Nazi bomb shelter to carry out massive, truly satisfying immolation, well, there’s something wrong with you. Yes, Hollywood knows you know the context of WWII. But its finest directors—in this case Robert Aldrich—know even better that your mind is totally malleable and that the trick is not directing actors but in directing audience desires. Even hidden ones.

That’s never truer than in this case. 

The Dirty Dozen does what a good movie-watching experience does well, which is take you out of yourself (reconnects you to your closeted self?). In it we are dealt a series of derelicts, felons and military rogues—some of them already scheduled for the execution by hanging—who are given a chance to exoneJim Brown in The Dirty Dozenrate themselves by carrying out a very tall order. In other words, we’re presented a band of underdogs. These guys are like Virginia Commonwealth making their run at the Final Four, only they’re on their way to a Nazi raid in France and they have records. They can’t possibility succeed—we’re told this in as many words. It’s written in Ernest Borgnine’s big diabolical smile. Telly Savalas (as “Maggott”) is incorrigible; Charles Bronson (as “Wladislaw”) is disinterested; Donald Sutherland (as “Pinkley”) too knuckleheaded. Even Jefferson—played by a just-retired Jim Brown of the Cleveland Browns—has the blank-faced nothingness of the deeply psychopathic.

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The Tarantino Solution 3: Inglourious Basterds (2009), A Moral Defense

Posted by Charles Reece, September 27, 2009 11:06pm | Post a Comment
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Aryan Some Differences

While its propaganda might seem dated, Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin presents a critical alternative to heroism as traditionally depicted in most films, collective instead of individualistic. Along with a wishfullfilling counterfactual approach to history and a five act structure, Inglourious Basterds shares a similar approach to the heroic act, closer to the first 20 or so minutes of Saving Private Ryan than its remaining hour and a half. (I note that two early supporters of Eisenstein's film, who helped bring it to world attention, were Goebbels and -- as Tarantino has it -- his Hollywood role model, David O. Selznick.) Eisenstein's two most prominent characters, the sailors Vakulinchuk and Matyshenko, serve more as inspirational catalysts for the inchoate revolutionary spirit than a John Wayne (or even Tom Hanks) type who dominates narrative destiny through his will. As Bill Nichols suggests in his analysis of the film (in the book Film Analysis), the idea of a revolution begins to widen across each act:

One of Eisenstein's great achievements as a filmmaker is that he provided a model for a cinema of groups, crowds, and masses rather than individuals. In Battleship Potemkin he does so by telling the story of three distinct examples of political awakening over the course of five acts. [...] Each awakening broadens the political scope of the film, from the revolt of one ship's crew through the rising up of one town to the rebellion of the entire fleet. -- p. 163-4

Indeed, as he points out, Vakulinchuk dies in the second act and Matyshenko doesn't reappear until the fifth -- hardly the kind of heroism as charismatic leadership favored by a Leni Reifenstahl or George Lucas (the latter's well-known appropriation from the former receives a nice spoof here). No matter how seemingly innocuous the fantasy (from the Golden Age Superman, despite his defense of labor, to Star Wars), there's always a whiff of authoritarianism that accompanies this great man portrayal of heroism -- that a change for the betterment of all comes solely from the determination of a few. That is, follow those so privileged by God, genetics (Aryan, Kryptonian) or midi-chlorians, not morality per se.

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