Sunday, January 28, 2007

Flags Vs. Letters

I want to throw this out there... I think it's worth debating:

Clint Eastwood released two films about Iwo Jima this year, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima. Both received positive reviews across the board, and while both are no-shows at the box office (Flags - $33 million domestic, Letters - $5 million domestic), Letters has received a lot of acclaim from award shows and critics' lists and the Academy, and it's currently up for both Best Picture and Best Directing, while Flags is up for... Best Sound Recording and Best Sound Mixing (Letters is also up for Best Sound Recording but not for Mixing. Somewhere in LA there's a film mixer who is pissed), and nothing else.

Now Flags is an English-language film about the Americans who raised the flag at Iwo Jima, and how the U. S. government shamelessly used them to promote good relations press for the rest of the war. Letters is in Japanese, and is about... well, basically, it's one of "those darn Japanese! They're so crazy!" movies. A lot of soldiers commit suicide rather than retreat to higher ground to keep fighting, except for the Japanese officers who have traveled to America and learned the much more logical American system of only dying when it actually helps that particular war that you're fighting in. These soldiers, lead by a quietly charismatic Ken Watanabe (who I would actually follow into a war with pretty much anyone), hold out against the Americans as long as they can, even though they learn during this battle that Americans are not crazy savages like they've been told, but instead thoughtful, average people with a fondness for Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. Except for one American soldier who turns out to be a douche. And in the end, pretty much everyone dies. But you knew that.

My argument is this: I think the reason that Letters is receiving so much more adulation is that it's much more a pro-America type movie, which makes its tricky subject matter easier to swallow. Americans don't like movies where the dirty secrets about a much-lauded war effort are revealed. They like movies about honor and glory that make them feel good about sacrifice and being an American.

I don't think that's surprising to anyone. But I think if that's the reason we're all praising a movie, we should say it. Let's not hide our true affections under a rug.*

* And just to clarify, for people who read this post and miss the point completely - I thought Letters From Iwo Jima was an excellent movie, I really did. I'm not into war flicks, but this had beauty and pizazz and glory and explosions and that little "bullets whipping by the camera" zipping noise that makes you tense up in your seat and all those movie tricks that make you feel like you're right there on the battlefront. I don't want to hear people complain about how I bashed on a movie that they like. I didn't bash on any movie in this post. Just shut up.


At January 28, 2007 5:05 PM, Blogger Assistant Village Idiot said...

The link I sent you touches on this.

I think it is because we are not of united mind about the issue. Some would like to speak openly about their pro-Americanism, others fear it might be seen as racist and so prefer it in disguise. Still others would suggest that it is racist and raise a fuss.

Which, it seems, the box office could have used.


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