Thursday, January 15, 2009


“You gotta do it, Robert. It’s the spirit of the deer.” Drinking deer blood, isn’t “so bad” according to Robert (C. Thomas Howell). And, as it turns out, it changes you - forever! Gotta try that some time.

Ah, John Milius! The guy who once countered a Leone-bashing female critic with something along the lines of “you know, many years from now ‘Leone’ will be the name on the lips of young girls.”* He who wrote the sleazy, dispassionate Dirty Harry sequel (with Michael Cimino, no less!) Magnum Force. He who helmed the belligerent, bloody Warren Oates vehicle, Dillinger (whose only failing lies in its distractingly lame montage sequences). Despite myself, I love his hawk-beats-dove propaganda with a passion. Perhaps because, as I have since childhood -- I appreciate upheaval’s ability to bring people together.

We’ve lived in a relatively safe society enough now that our personal comfort zones have expanded and our mutual need for one another’s comradery is out of sync. The sedentary life is always beckoning. And I won’t knock it. It’s been very good to me. But I can’t say it’s been good for me. As someone who has always run unfailingly toward the path of least resistance, I can’t say a day goes by that I don’t pray for something to push me into the proverbial fire -- so far that I could never fully extricate myself.

I empathize, however vicariously, with storytellers that possess sentimentality for war. Its utter chaos, life and death shoved together and people forced out of complacency. There’s no time to reflect or doubt -- to ourselves and to each other. I could go on here. Perhaps I’ve got a budding right-wing heart. I don’t think so. I will say this: it’s frustrating that the deplorable liberties taken at Abu Ghraib have received such wide press yet the extent to which the interrogations were successful has not.

Now, I’m just a guy who watches too many movies** – but what else can you do with uncooperative interrogation subjects in war? It ain’t pretty, but in reality none of it is. Is inhumanity not an essential wartime component? Isn’t this the very quality that keeps war going? Even conversing about it requires dispassionateness to get anywhere – otherwise we’re just self-righteously emoting. Phew! It’s all so overwhelming, isn't it? But as head Wolverine Swayze urges: “Don’t cry… Let it turn into something else. Let it turn, let it turn.”

In the movies, humanity and ruthlessness can harmoniously coexist. We can glimpse a line of die-hard patriots wheezing out a bit of “America, The Beautiful” before being gunned down, and know full well that we still have The Wolverines to root for. And in the movies, there’s good killing and bad killing and not much in between (the process of framing sound and imagery itself leaves little room for ambiguity). This is a comfort, despite the fact that if we were invaded today, I wouldn’t be much good to anyone – least of all myself. I don’t have an all-terrain vehicle, I don’t know any militia-men, I’m weaponless and pretty much a pacifist to boot.

Still, Red Dawn’s a comfort. Maybe it’s the cred-lending presences of Harry Dean “AVENGE ME!” Stanton

Powers Boothe (“All that hate’s gonna burn you up, kid.” CTH: “It keeps me warm.”)

and Ben Johnson (Dillinger’s Melvin “G-Man” Purvis)

that help to create this feeling. I love this auxiliary brat pack as well. C. Thomas is charmingly guileless. Jennifer Grey and Leah Thompson have a gone-native sort of vibe (they seem to’ve lived in Ben Johnson’s basement their entire lives),but they’re still an interestingly stern female presence against the bawling testosterone on display. Sheen is great, if somewhat simple as Swayze’s impressionable younger sibling. As for Swayze, you can tell he’s really acting in this one. And while the camp quotient isn’t Road House caliber, Red Dawn still piles on the corny rah-rah red blooded dialogue and he gets the lion's share.

But there’s something endearing about the dopeyness on display here. Perhaps because it’s a frightening idea. And since it doesn’t quite play out like, Invasion U.S.A, this movie often transcends its own hokem. It’s not wholly plausible, but it’s somehow plausible enough to suspend some faint but strident shred of disbelief. The early sleepy classroom scene with the paratroopers cascading down outside a long row of windows is decidedly chilling (likely the reason for that conceptualized DVD cover).

I know I’m just a peon, but it seems to me that people need not be slaughtered. Ever. Why did the first person get killed? What was the motive? To start all wars? Annoyance? Boredom? Perhaps the abundance of potential motives are too tempting not to test out. Or is it just in our blood, as Milius or some such jingoist would posit? If that’s true, perhaps we could afford to get our blood removed, cleansed of murder and replaced. Or maybe we should stop drinking deer blood - give it up to momma earth instead.

I guess it doesn’t matter anymore. Vicious cycles are now a way of life and we must laugh, cry and crap ourselves at it in turn. Perhaps it’s the disarray that we inhabit that makes the drama of this film work. The machinations of war and our enticement therein is the potency that we crave when life is just tedium and disappointment (Let it turn!). We’d all like to be fascinated and fascinating, but we can’t all the time so we strive to be useful or content. And when we can’t even achieve this much, all we can manage is dreaming.

And that’s where Red Dawn comes in. Whether it’s hamfisted or workman-like or both makes no difference. There’s an airtight, agreeable vision of being a proud American and defending it here. And there’s something about guerrilla style fighting (“we’ll hit, run, hide – the highland way”) that’s always appealed to me stylistically -- like a calm-before-the-storm sensation. This film, hawkishly schmaltzy as it is, sure is adorable. I don’t know whether to dread for the future or go play in the woods. When my friends and I were young, we had the great stick wars. I still have a scar on my arm from that, but the memories of the forest horrors we were embroiled in will mark me forever. But we did what had to be done. For brotherhood. For freedom. For Anytown, USA.

A closing rant:

Apparently they are remaking this. The never ending spate of remakes that has come to shape the bulk of the American movie industry’s output knows no bounds. They are completely unnecessary! All the good ideas are not used up! This is an impossible notion. Red Dawn is a not a “lost classic” or whatever. It’s a camp, ragamuffin time-capsule and a good one at that. LEAVE IT ALONE YOU VULTURES! LEAVE ALL OF THEM ALONE. I DON’T CARE WHAT YOUR DATA SUGGESTS! NEW IS BETTER! STOP IT! STOP IT! STOP IT! Name me one remake that hasn’t been completely critically trashed! You can’t, can you! You just want butts in seats, but you’re too chicken to roll the dice with something wholly new. But it’s what WE ALL want. Yeah, I’m speaking for the rest of movie-going humanity. Why not! We all want something new at multi-plex. Stop constantly regurgitating and contributing to creative cannibalism. JUST STOP IT. I DEMAND YOU. Whew. Let it turn, let it turn. LET IT TURN, brother! Wait a sec… What’s this? Paul Blort, Mall Cop? Well, I’ll never watch it, but it’s a start. I mean, Mallrats touches on this subject, but, still and all - way to go.


* This was taken from the closing of J.M.’s commentary bit on the Once Upon A Time in the West DVD. I don’t know what he meant by this, or if it has come to pass. I recall the critic was calling Leone a chauvinist, and Milius was responding by the suggestion that chicks love these kind of guys, and always will. Maybe he just saw the creative distinction of Leone and the critic didn’t. All I know is that it’s fun and wreckless to mix aesthetic appraisals with ethical ones so I’ll just go ahead and assume it’s a

little bit of both.

** I recently viewed Taxi to the Dark Side, and while a lot of what I saw enraged me, I’m still not wholly against torturing as an information acquiring practice in extreme wartime situations. The folks that say “torture them enough and they’ll tell you anything” as a criticism aren’t quite doing it for me. After enough pain, suffering and the promise of more and worse pain and suffering, it stands to reason that prisoners will be telling their captors exactly what they want to hear – certainly not what they think they wanna hear. However, I think torturing people who only want to die for their cause (i.e.- suicide bombers) is bizarre. You are taking a regimented martyr and giving him the Christ treatment. I’m not sure its accomplishing anything (Let it turn!). In war, you can break a prisoner down, but it better be for more than morale – or you’re breaking yourself down in the process. I wouldn’t put it past ‘ol Darth Cheney to’ve opened shop just for some rah-rah publicity…

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