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February 1997, Week 1


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 4 Feb 1997 16:56:23 EST
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On Mon, 3 Feb 1997 18:05:31 -0100 David Ezell said:
>A friend and I were discussing the strereotypical, loud mouthed drill
>sargeant--the prototype would have to be Louis Gossett, Jr. in AN OFFICER
>Would ya'll be willing to list other examples of this character on the screen?
I think a key film in this genre is THE D. I. (1957) with Jack Webb.  Seems
like every boot camp movie I can think of (NOT TIME FOR SERGEANTS, PRIVATE
BENJAMIN, STRIPES, A SOLDIER'S ST0RY) has some variation of the tough d.i.
I've never served in the military, but I've always assumed that this was a
reflection of reality.
Of course, there's more to it than that.  (Hollywood has never been terribly
concerned with depicting reality accurately, after all).  Many action films
with cops as heroes have the tough d.i.'s sibling, the loud captain who's
always on the hero's case for breaking the rules.  As is often observed,
the American male hero is just a boy at heart--an overgrown Huck Finn
chafing at the shackles of society.  The superior officer is the father,
principal, (insert your own disciplinary figure) whose ire makes the hero
seem an individual, a loner, a trailblazer, etc.
>Off the top of my head, I can name two more.  The hilarious basic training
>sequences in Woody Allen's LOVE AND DEATH, and also the sargent in FULL
The latter example interests me in several ways.  Kubrick, of course, is
creating a parallel to GOMER PYLE USMC (which is made explicit in the film
by the sergeant calling the grinning recruit "Pyle"), making us aware that
a) GOMER PYLE was a Vietnam-era program that intentionally ignored the
war and that b) beneath the comedy of such a program (or an earlier version
like NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS) there is the mission of teaching young men to
Another interesting aspect is how R. Lee Ermey, in real life a former drill
instructor, has turned up over and over in parodies of that role:  in the
tv series SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND, in a Coors Light commercial with the
ghost of John Wayne, in THE FRIGHTENERS, and in TOY STORY (an especially
interesting one since the target audience of TOY STORY has probably never
Chris Pyle
University of Kentucky
P.S.  To anybody in the Central Kentucky area, UK is hosting a popular
culture conference this weekend.  The program includes several papers on
film and screenings of two independently-produced documentaries.  You can
write to me for more information.
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