War documentaries fill in the blanks left by mainstream movies
The Hollywood war movie is a staple of American popular culture. Each new combative film, no matter the position on war, displays stunningly high-tech battle scenes -- which Carl Boggs, co-author of The Hollywood War Machine: US Militarism and Popular Culture, says is contributing to the depersonalization of violence and war in America. In an interview with? the alt-weekly Sacramento News & Review, Boggs points out that just about every Hollywood combat movie, whether its anti-war (Platoon), a war tribute (Pearl Harbor), or just a shoot-'em-up (Terminator), glorifies violence by indulging in special effects spectacle. The films' high-tech portrayals of violence inure viewers to the US military's war campaigns overseas. 'If you think about the celebrated 'shock and awe' tactics that initiated the recent Iraq war in March 2003,' says Boggs, 'the media just fell in love with this, because it was very telegenic.'
Writing for Time, Richard Corliss lodges another complaint against today's war movies, or lack thereof. Hollywood has failed to address the concerns of a country mired in 'the so-called war on terror.' While filmmakers from the '40s jumped to tell the day's war stories, today's Hollywood sticks to 'hymns of tribute' (World Trade Center, United 93) if it says anything at all. Corliss suggests that Hollywood's conspicuous absence during today's conflict could be due to the divided American opinion of the current war, the lack of 'easily dramatizable battles,' that too few Americans are actually touched by the war, or that movies just don't carry the same pop-cultural weight they used to.
So if Hollywood is demurring to address the conflict of the day, does that mean the end of war movies? Far from it if you expand your viewing to include independent documentaries. Leif Utne provides a helpful viewing list in the January/February issue of Utne ($$). And in The Capital Times, Rob Thomas highlights Deborah Scranton's revolutionary documentary The War Tapes as compelling and 'absolutely apolitical.' Scranton handed out cameras to soldiers in an attempt to 'get inside the experience of war' -- an experience currently unavailable to metroplex moviegoers.
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