Responses to “Killing fields for couch potatoes” (Metro Times, April 2-8) — a survey of 25 of the best anti-war movies of all time — have been coming in steadily. We all like to watch, even when there’s nothing on. But here are a dozen suggestions from readers and Metro Times staffers that turn watching into a compelling responsibility. Though these visions of organized violence and its effects didn’t appear on the first list, they still ask the age-old question: “War, what is it good for?”
Attack! (1956, dir. Robert Aldrich)
Stuart Freedman of Southfield recommends Aldrich’s black-and-white tale of a cowardly U.S. Army captain in World War II: “Soon to be released on DVD, it was made in the mid-’50s and was ignored” — this despite a supremely disturbing death scene by Jack Palance.
“Band of Brothers” (2001, various directors)
This TV miniseries, based upon Stephen Ambrose’s account of a U.S. airborne company that dropped into France on D-Day, inspired Carla of Farmington Hills to write: “The dialogue with the surviving veterans just left me stunned, awed to speechlessness. I couldn’t leave my seat.”
“Culloden” (1964, dir. Peter Watkins)
Detroit filmmaker and installation artist juLiE mEitZ informs us that Watkins, director of The War Game, “did a war flick called “[Battle of] Culloden” which is similar in style to Saving Private Ryan [i.e. full of grisly violence]. It’s an excellent TV docudrama.”
The Grey Zone (2001, dir. Tim Blake Nelson)
Joel Jansen of Ypsilanti suggests this “serious and intense inside look at the Jewish laborers who fed Jews into the Nazi ovens. It really got to me.” Featuring Steve Buscemi and Harvey Keitel (who also produced it), the film poses the moral dilemma of how far people will go to prolong their own lives.
Three Kings (1999, dir. David O. Russell)
Southfield’s Stuart Freedman also writes, “A recent must is Three Kings about the first Gulf War. Most critics liked it, but audiences couldn’t figure it out.” Russell’s darkly satirical take on our first Iraqi misadventure stars George Clooney, Ice Cube and Mark Wahlberg.
Metro Times staff picks:
The Big Red One (1980, dir. Samuel Fuller)
“I had Sam Fuller’s gritty, no-nonsense saga of the U.S. Army’s First Infantry Division on my original list of 25, but it got bumped by M*A*S*H. The great Lee Marvin stars as a sergeant guiding young recruits through death and brimstone.” —George Tysh
Gandhi (1982, dir. Richard Attenborough)
“Early on in the movie, a young Gandhi tells the crowd in a packed auditorium that he’s prepared to die for the cause of justice — he’s just not prepared to kill. That speaks to a kind of moral courage this world has seen far too little of.” —Curt Guyette
Little Big Man (1970, dir. Arthur Penn)
“Cavalry charging through an Indian village, slaughtering its inhabitants. An insane George Custer at Little Big Horn. This movie offers a lot more than a great performance by Dustin Hoffman.” —Curt Guyette
A Midnight Clear (1992, dir. Keith Gordon)
“A low-budget and little-known flick about a vulnerable and forgotten company assigned to guard a deserted manor during World War II. They wait in the path of the Wehrmacht’s thrust in the Battle of the Bulge. It’s Christmas. The Germans opposing them are equally hapless. The film — by turns heartbreaking, sweet and suspenseful — is superbly directed by Keith Gordon (Mother Night [another fave], Waking the Dead and television’s “Homicide” series).” —Jeremy Voas
Schindler’s List (1993, dir. Steven Spielberg)
“Spielberg’s best movie, in my opinion — a too-real exposition of the extremes of human atavism. Ralph Fiennes’ cool, cruel diffidence is nightmarish.” —Jeremy Voas
Sophie’s Choice (1982, dir. Alan J. Pakula)
“The film version of William Styron’s epic novel plumbs the psyches of characters attempting to survive — by way of suppression — the shame and savage knowledge of the Holocaust. The book is one of the most shattering I’ve read, and the movie does it grave justice. Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline are brilliant.” —Jeremy Voas
A Walk in the Sun (1946, dir. Lewis Milestone)
“This masterpiece by All Quiet on the Western Front director Milestone was released just at the end of World War II. It lets us in on the terror-stricken private thoughts of a group of American soldiers as they prepare to assault an Italian farmhouse held by Germans.” —George Tysh
More indispensable viewing arrives April 22 with the DVD release of one of 2002’s great movie moments, Standing in the Shadows of Motown, a documentary on the Funk Brothers, the Motown house band that “played on more No. 1 records than the Beatles, Beach Boys, Rolling Stones and Elvis combined.” Produced by Paul Justman and Alan Slutsky, the film features terrifically soulful reinterpretations by Joan Osborne, Gerald Levert, Bootsy Collins and Chaka Khan (and Ben Harper, who doesn’t cut it) of a slew of Motown hits — all interwoven with first-hand interviews of the band, dramatic re-enactments of legends and memories, as well as a beautiful situating of the Motown sound within the larger context of Detroit history. For all us folks who call ourselves Detroiters, Standing is a guaranteed high, one that’ll keep tears of joy, sadness, pride and nostalgia flowing for years to come.
Another April 22 treat is “Man on a Propeller: Charlie Chaplin and the Soviet Avant-Garde of the Twenties,” a lecture and slide show by professor Yuri Tsivian of the University of Chicago, sponsored by Wayne State University’s English department and film studies program. Professor Tsivian is a leading theorist and historian of the Soviet cinema, and the author of a monograph on Sergei Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible. This free event, the annual Dennis Turner Memorial Lecture on cinema, takes place Tuesday at 3 p.m. in the third-floor conference room of 51 W. Warren, Detroit.George Tysh is the arts editor of Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org