|Varley: For What?|
—Herman Hesse, Damian
One of the most troubling reasons men love war is the love of destruction, the thrill of killing...all you do is move the finger so imperceptibly, just a wish flashing across your mind like a shadow, not even a full brain synapse, and poof, in a blast of sound and energy and light a truck or a house or even people disappear, everything flying and settling back into dust.
—William Broyles, "Why Men Love War, Esquire, November 1984, veteran of the Vietnam War
Last summer I attended a conference at the Munk Centre on the Great War one hundred years ago the following link is my piece on it that I highly recommend you reading before the class.
I will begin with a PowerPoint to illustrate the ideas indicated in the above piece and then show a clip from the documentary Churchill's First World War that is keeping with that spirit. Then I will show clips that either satirize, or critique it. Clips will be shown from Oh! What a Lovely War, All Quiet on the Western Front and Behind the Lines based on Pat Barker's novel Regeneration.
Apart from Behind the Lines, selections from the following films will not be shown in the class but they are worth watching.
Director Peter Weir's 1981 film Gallipoli follows two idealistic young friends, Frank ( Mel Gibson) and Archy (Mark Lee), who join the Australian army during World War I and fight the doomed Battle of Gallipoli in Turkey. The first half of the film documents the lives of the young men in Australia, detailing their personalities and beliefs. The second half of the movie chronicles the ill-fated and ill-planned battle, where the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps is hopelessly outmatched by the enemy forces.
Janet Maslin in The New York Times says: "There's nothing pointed in Mr. Weir's decorous approach, even when the material would seem to call for toughness. But if the lush mood makes Gallipoli a less weighty war film than it might be, it also makes it a more airborne adventure."
In the 1966 film King of Hearts, a Scottish soldier is sent by his commanding officer to disarm a bomb placed in the town square by the retreating Germans. As the fighting comes closer to the town, its inhabitants—including those who run the insane asylum—abandon it. The asylum gates are left open, and the inmates leave the asylum and take on the roles of the townspeople. The Scot has no reason to think they are not who they appear to be—other than the colorful and playful way in which they're living their lives, so at odds with the fearful and war-ravaged times. The lunatics crown the soldier King of Hearts with surreal pageantry as he frantically tries to find the bomb before it goes off. Although the tone of the film is comical—even at times farcical—the "mad" characters reveal more humanity than what is displayed by outsiders who engaged in the madness of war.
canvas of rural England and Europe during the First World War. War Horse begins with the remarkable friendship between a horse named Joey and a young man called Albert, who tames and trains him. When they are forcefully parted, the film follows the extraordinary journey of the horse as he moves through the war, changing and inspiring the lives of all those he meets—British cavalry, German soldiers, and a French farmer and his granddaughter—before the story reaches its (perhaps improbable) emotional climax in the heart of No Man’s Land. The film is especially relevant for this course because of the courage of both the boy and the horse that is displayed amid the horror of war.
Perhaps most interesting is the film Max set in Munich December 1918 that depicts an unlikely friendship between two men who endured the horror of war, a Jewish art dealer named Rothman and a fledgling artist, Adolf Hitler. Rothman tries to encourage Hitler's humanistic impulses by supporting his art while others tap into his budding hateful demagoguery. One of the most enjoyable features of the film is viewing the modernist paintings displayed in Rothman's studio and observing Hitler's reactions to them. They include Max Ernst's Spanking of the Christ Child, a satirical take on the hypocritical and the life denying expressions of religion that is vividly captured in The White Ribbon, an austere German film that is set in a village prior to the outbreak of war, and the works of the acerbic Expressionist artist, George Grosz, who makes a cameo appearance.
|The Grey Day by George Grosz|
|Spanking of the Christ-Child|
|The White Ribbon|
|Shell-shocked soldier in Paths of Glory|