Pearl Harbor

Johannes Schneider Johannes.Schneider at
Mon May 28 02:25:22 MDT 2001

Below is a critique from today's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
. I am just wondering whether 'respectable' US papers have been similiarily
critical of the film.


Marketing the Last Good War

By Verena Leuken

NEW YORK. Nothing could be lovelier than a soldier's life -- at least in
Hawaii. The shirts are colorful, the nurses are easy, and when the sun sinks
into the sea, this paradise glows as if every evening were Christmas. Time
for love. But also time for a fighter pilot to ask himself if heroes might
be needed more elsewhere -- in England, for example, repulsing the Blitz.

We are almost 45 minutes into the film "Pearl Harbor" before Rafe, played by
Ben Affleck, asks himself this obvious question, leaves his nurse behind and
sets off voluntarily on his daring adventure. And it takes just about as
long before he suddenly reappears -- after having been shot down and
presumed dead -- on her doorstep, after she has since found a new life in
the arms of his best friend.

By that point the film has long since gone down the tubes, though it is
still barely half over. There remains another hour and a half to endure,
featuring the fateful attack on Pearl Harbor -- staged with amazingly little
bloodshed -- before the final credits roll. These alone will cost another
good ten minutes of your life. Few movies bring home so cogently what
Theodor Adorno had in mind when he said that cinema stupefies. "Pearl
Harbor," with its unconscionable length of more than three hours, will also
make you old.

Some films, like Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut," are an event because
people have had to wait so long for them; others, because of their
controversial subject matter, like Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List."
But some films are events simply because of their cost. "Pearl Harbor" is
such a film. For the sake of completeness, it should be added that the film
was directed by Michael Bay, maker of commercials, and produced by that
tycoon of taste for the masses, Jerry Bruckheimer.

The reviews have been miserable: "three hours of dreck," was MSNBC's
verdict. But if artistic merit mattered, Hollywood would still be orange
groves. Disney, the production studio, controls more than 3,000 screens
across the United States, and all indications are that the film will set
box-office records over the long Memorial Day weekend. This is nothing but a
marketing phenomenon of the kind that explains the success of films like
"Mission Impossible 2" or "Armageddon" and many others.

The oft-repeated hypothesis that the United States has recently become
especially interested in World War II is highly unlikely. "Interested"
assumes someone wants to know something. Even if veterans' memoirs are
selling like hotcakes in the bookstores, this is hardly the case. World War
II, when Americans were unambiguous heroes for the last time and good could
be clearly distinguished from evil is, like the Wild West before it, an
ideal setting for simple stories of male bonding, romance, bravery and
patriotism. No later war offers similar narratives, not Vietnam and not the
Gulf War -- to say nothing of everyday life in peacetime.

After a series of Vietnam films during the 1970s and 1980s, hardly any
American soldiers had fought in American movie theaters until Spielberg's
"Saving Private Ryan" brought World War II back to the screen in 1998. This
film revived a genre once pronounced dead, which has since recovered
splendidly. Since then the "Greatest Generation" of veterans is the only one
to command as much attention as the baby boomers.

Last year, Roland Emmerich tried to make the Revolutionary War into a
socially acceptable patriotic alternative to World War II with "The
Patriot." The main reason he failed was because Americans were embarrassed
to see their forefathers wearing wigs. In "Pearl Harbor" they get to see
themselves as they are today: childlike, chaste nonsmokers as indifferent to
world events and the course of the war itself as the soldiers in Hawaii.

No matter how many stories might be told against the backdrop of World War
II, the war that still haunts this country is Vietnam. In the American
consciousness, World War II is nothing more than a distant event that can be
used to make some serious money today. No one is interested in the details
of what happened, and as one might expect, "Pearl Harbor" does not give
historical truth its due but instead offers clichés firmly rooted in genre
cinema, not history.

It will be another story entirely if Francis Coppola's long version of
"Apocalypse Now" is released in the United States this summer. Then even
Americans will be talking about what it means to kill for one's country.

More information about the Marxism mailing list