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September 1998, Week 5


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Leo Enticknap <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 29 Sep 1998 12:35:13 +0100
TEXT/PLAIN (61 lines)
On Sat, 26 Sep 1998 00:55:53 -0400 "Charles Derry, Professor of Film,
Department of Theatre Arts,              Wright State University"
<[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> Much of the discussion regarding the narrative "flaws" in SAVING PRIVATE
> RYAN seems misguided to me.  Because the film appears on some level to
> mislead is being held up as a sign that the film is on some special level
> dishonest or flawed.  This idea takes as its premise the idea that films
> are to be realistic, that they are never to be contrived.
> The fact that so much
> of the hype and comment on PRIVATE RYAN has tended to emphasize its
> "realism"--whatever we mean by that--has tended to obscure its
> contrivance.
I think what we mean by that - and certainly what Spielberg has meant by that
in countless interviews, articles &c. - is that the film is intended in some
sense to serve as a "truthful" representation of the soldiers' experience of
D-Day.  However coherent the film may be as an internal narrative system, I
don't think that lets him off the hook for what are obviously misleading and
propagandist claims.
OK, you can get a load of veterans in to watch it, have them look at the body
parts and entrails adorning Omaha Beach and say "that's what it was like".
Stick the quote on a poster, and bingo, the film is a masterpiece of gritty
realism.  But I'm sure there are just as many D-Day veterans who would regard
the film as a misrepresentation (despite not having been born until 29 years
after the event, one thing I noticed was the complete absence of any British
people - I seem to recall that we did have something do do with the Second
World War, even if it was only a minor role!).  Unless you're dealing with
actuality footage being shown as such, in which case the spectator will
probably give you the benefit of the doubt, "realism" depends first and
foremost on how good you are at selling your film as "real".  Remember the crap
Spielberg came out with about draining the hues so that the D-Day sequence
would look like a colour newsreel?  I still can't believe that no-one pointed
out that there were no colour newsreels in 1944.  Some of the Capra "Why We
Fight" films - yes.  The odd Techicolor documentary - yes.  Regular, bi-weekly
newsreels in colour - no.  Still, it sounded good, and that's all that mattered.
"When I hear of John Ford's 'Grapes of Wrath' and Mary Field's 'Secrets of
Nature' both being described as documentaries, I feel entitled to draw the line
somewhere." - Pat Jackson
Leo Enticknap
Postgraduate Common Room
(newly renamed) School of English
University of Exeter
Queen's Building, The Queen's Drive
Devon EX4 4QH
United Kingdom
email: [log in to unmask]
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