Beau Geste, on 08 January 2012 - 08:21 AM, said:
What interests me though is your comment that you despise Spielberg's work. I've enjoyed many of his films including the Indiana Jones series which, for me anyway, was just sheer harmless fun and thoroughly entertaining . I accept that some factual criticism might be levelled at some of his history based efforts such as "Schindler's List" and "Saving Pte Ryan" but I thoroughly enjoyed them as well.
I liked Raiders of the Lost Ark
and Empire of the Sun,
but both were made 25 or more years ago. Even those had moments of schmaltz or cutesy manipulation that rubbed me the wrong way.
Since most of American cable TV is now devoted to "reality" shows about pawn shops, moonshiners, truck drivers, swamp dwellers, hog hunters, tow-truck companies, and repossession companies (i.e. freaky, low-class weirdos hamming it up for the camera), I've been building up a DVD library to watch when there's nothing on the hundreds of cable channels I get.
I'd say the best old movie I've seen recently is Key Largo,
with Bogart and Bacall. Bogart is a former army major who's come to Florida to tell the young widow of a soldier in his unit how the kid died and what a hero he was. What makes the movie excellent is that the actors let their faces and voices convey their sadness at the waste of it all. They speak of how proud they are of the dead man, while their faces betray their doubt over whether they really think the sacrifice was worth it.
If Spielberg were to remake Key Largo,
he'd have the Bogart character give a lengthy speech about how bad war is and how the Americans were just as awful as the Germans, and he's draw some kind of blundering parallel between the U.S. and the criminal enterprise of the gangster Johnny Rocco, who's also staying at the hotel.
At one point in the movie, Bogart the former soldier is given the chance to shoot Johnny Rocco, knowing that Rocco's men will kill him immediately afterward. He refuses, and Bacall calls him a coward. Later, when she watches Bogart stand up to Rocco and get slapped in the face, she apologizes for calling him a coward. Her exp
ressions as she watches Bogart fearlessly defy Rocco is an amazing bit of acting, all done wordlessly.
The point the director John Huston was making is that this war veteran was sick of killing and had been damaged by performing his duty, even though performing his duty was unquestionably the right thing to do. Later in the movie, he realizes he's the only one who can stop Rocco, so he reluctantly does his duty again. As Bacall says to him, "Your head says one thing, but your heart says another."
The movie is about duty and patriotism, but it's all very subtle. That's why I like it. Huston let us work it all out for ourselves. He had subtexts. Spielberg no longer believes his audience can grasp subtexts, so he smashes you on the head with a giant plank, over and over and over.
I fully realize people see movies for different reasons, so I'm not criticizing people who enjoyed War Horse
or any other Spielberg movie. To me, film is an art form, and I go to movies for the same reason I go to art museums. I like a lot of weird, creepy, silly art, too. But it's art. I just think Spielberg is too manipulative and cynical for my tastes, so I give him a pass now.
Another movie that handles the cost of war really well is Bad Day at Black Rock,
with Spencer Tracy as a maimed war veteran who initially thinks his sacrifice wasn't worth it. The movie also tackles the touchy subject of racism, without being preachy. I want movie directors to return to where they were years ago, when they assumed a level of intelligence and understanding in the audience that they don't think we have anymore.