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Movie Critic Article: The Genre and the Crisis

Reflections On Iraqi War Movies

How many wars has the US been in so far?
Seventeen? More? Check them out!
How many movies were inspired by these wars or by the preparations
for some more?
Apart from internal, regional and world wars, there was Korea, then Vietnam. Then the fiasco of the invasion of the Bay of Pigs (Cuba),  Lebanon 1982, the escape from Somalia, the first Gulf war and the second Gulf war. Actually this last one along with the current war
in Afghanistan are not yet history. They are part of a surreal universal combat named the War on Terrorism which is as broad and long-drawn as the Cold War (which was certainly a war, by the way).
This combative history created its parallel in cinematic expression known as the 'war genre' of movies, a category of movies which has known stability of concept only through the fourties and fifies when it was largely understood as a message to the world declaring the emergence of the greatest world power on the land of the "American Dream". Many war movies of those decades served as universal reservoirs for stories of bravery and sacrifice, of human sufferings for noble intentions and alliances against evils. But, then the drafts and mass conscriptions (and, possibly, conscientious abstinence) ensued
as the militarization of the American society was ushered in.
More movies were needed!
Following the defeat in Vietnam, on pressures from civil and intellectual groups and under the guise of healing the wounds of the nation came the films of the war on Vietnam. It was passed in pop culture under a specific name: the Vietnam war movie genre.
A change in terminology. Those were the years of the movement for civil rights of the late sixties and the seventies. Great movies were made, that told of the sufferings of the American soldiers. Coming Home, The Deer hunter, Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, Platoon..etc.

Oliver Stone
The shift from propoganda to wound-healing was allowed to pass as it would help reconcile the Americans with.... war! Then another mystification of the genre came into the scene when they added the concept of the superhero, Rambo (First Blood 1981) and sequels.
The crisis in categorization of such movie productions was further deepened by subsequent US military adventures around the globe. Categorization of movies into genres is not the business of film producers or scholars exclusively. Cinema spectators also need it to better understand and relate to movies.

 A solid genre definition helps augment the viewing experience by allowing the viewer to make references to similarities with other movies of the same genre, or make predictions and have expectations that would not necessarily spoil the movie but would definitely enable him to appreciate how a filmmaker differed from another on the same genre.
Martin Scorsese
So was Rambo a war movie? Of course it was not an anti-war movie!
There are more evidences to the crisis in genre such as when someone enlists Taxi Driver as a Vietnam-inspired movie (would you?) or when someone denies that Platoon was a war movie. I wouldn't.

Films on the war in Iraq have only accentuated the perplexity.

Marlon Brando
In Vietnam there were massacres, but it was not the norm. They did not happen every day, as they did in Iraq. The Americans knew about the war in Vietnam from the press as movies on that war were produced after it was over, unlike movies on Iraq. The press then were freer and told the truth because there was a strong movement of public opinion. De Palma's movie "Redacted 2007" according to him "was an attempt to let the general public know the truth about what is happening in Iraq." It was shocking. On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes it rated "rotten". De Palma was accused of treason and the film was a commercial failure. It was about the American soldiers who were involved in the real-life Mahmudiya Killings in which a little girl was raped and then killed along with her parents and brother.

So in what genre would "Redacted" be?

Kathryn Bigelow
Then came the movie that earned its director the 2010 Oscar. "The Hurt Locker 2008" was made by Kathryn Bigelow, the first woman to win the Oscar for directing a movie. This was also a pop failure but still it earned many prizes. Read on to find out why!
"The Hurt Locker" is the most absurd of all the eighteen or so Iraq war movies. It has no solid storyline. It tells about some brave American explosives experts who were sent to Iraq to defuse explosive devices and 'save the lives of Iraqis' whom the movie shows as ghosts or as too similar to tell apart. The very people who started the war on Iraq and based the whole venture on a lie are now the ones who risk their lives to safe the poor Iraqi citizen from being killed or maimed by these primitive devices which were put on the way to kill Americans and other good-intentioned western citizens who only went their to dismantle weapons of mass-destruction which they did not find because they were not there to be found.
The film of course is hard to place in any genre, let alone award it six Oscars!

James Cameron
People did not wish to see it because they could not categorize it. Could not identify with it or draw parallels to it.
But, I must hasten to say that this is not the worst of the Iraq war movies. The one that starred Mat Damon is awefully stupid, "Green Zone".  It shows some American servicemen going from place to place to find, in vain of course, weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Trying to sell you the story you followed on TV!
Is this documentation? Is this a war movie?
Oliver Stone, the maker of Platoon 1986, was asked why Iraq war films were not as successful as those of the Vietnam war. He answered:
"A difficult question indeed, but the conditions differ in that the country during the Vietnam war was divided from the beginning. Conservatives were pro-war and most young people were anti-war. The war in Iraq took place after the aggression against the US (09/11) Most people felt they had been targeted so they favored movies that support the war more than ones that criticized it and most of the movies that came out of the war in Iraq were critical.
There is also the television and news networks. Today they convey to you what is happening at once and at all times, while during the sixties the news would arrive much later." He went on to say:

"Traditionally Hollywood produced movies on every war fought by the United States after it was over, such as what happened with films of World War II and the Korean War and Vietnam, but here with the Iraq war it was an exception. Films of World War II carried the flavor of championship and victory, but this flavor was replaced by  disappointment and psychological problems with the films of the Vietnam War and also overshadowed later films on the topic of Iraq." 
Stone was obviously touching on the objective analysis of the crisis in the genre.
So, the once-called war genre, the source of courage and pride, the fuel for patriotism, unity and other positive sentiments, is now becoming more of a nightmare. No one wants to see scenes of the mutilated bodies of his fellow citizens. Or, to put it on a stiff note, go see where his tax money is spent. But on the deeper level the absurdity of the cause for war is bringing more people to adopt the anti-war view!
In fact, many scholars believe the huge number of movies on 'the war on terrorism' reflects a deep rejection of this war among the larger sectors of the American society.
Sam Mendes
It is possibe to assume that the Osacr winnings of the "Hurt Locker"
where meant as a kind of recognition of the many movies on Iraq war, especially when there were strong expectations that James Cameron's "Avatar" would be the winner. The film industry has its ways of sending coded messages that only inner circles of production would decipher.
The awarding of the Golden Bear at the last Berlin International Film Festival to Roman Polanski despite his being under house arrest in Switzerland on the eve of his trial on charges of sexual harassment was a message of explicit support.

Roman Polanski
Indeed there must be some hidden meanings when a movie so crude in its attemp at improving the image of the US military is favored over "Avatar",  a thought-provoking and technically advanced epic movie that has gained both positive reviews and commercial success.
It is amusing that Kathryn Bigelow, the Oscar winner for directing "Hurt Locker" is the ex-wife of James Cameron, the dicrector of "Avatar" !
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Notable Vietnam and Iraq movies: The Deer Hunter (1978), Apocalypse Now (1979), Coming Home (1978) The Rambo Trilogy (1982-1988), GI Jesus (2007), The Situation (2007), Home of the Brave (2007), In the Valley of Elah (2007), Lions For Lambs (2007), Redacted (2007), Badland (2007), Grace is Gone (2008), Stop-Loss (2008), The Lucky Ones (2008), The Hurt Locker (2008), The Objective (2009), Brothers (2009), The Messenger (2010), and Green Zone (2010)


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