American History Through Film
It is often agreed upon that there are different categories of history: the history that happened, the history created by historians and the history that people believe. Since the early 1920s, the American film industry has attempted to recreate history using films and television programs that aim to pass specific messages to viewers. War is often a fascinating subject for most filmmakers as it gives them an avenue to express their opinions and pursue various agendas. This text examines three different war films: the Green Berets, Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down. It also analyses specific scenes pertaining to their realism and entertainment value.
The Green Berets
The Green Berets is a controversial Vietnam War film by John Wayne which was released in 1968. This was at the height of the South East Asian conflict and America was losing the war, amidst the outcry of anti-war movements requesting for the troops to come back home. The few supporters of the war were intent on America winning, their reason being that losing would expand the communist ideology from new communist states to other countries across the globe. The film is based on a book, a collection of short stories about a skilled green beret. John Wayne, a popular heroic actor at the time, was the best pick for the role as he had publicly expressed his support for the Vietnam conflict. His popularity at the time was an added advantage as he would use it to increase support for the war.
The film is about a team highly skilled soldiers who take charge of a strike camp that is located in Viet Cong territory, and try to lure an enemy combatant to their trap. The key characters are a journalist who is against the war but joins the troops to Vietnam and a Vietnamese orphan who associates with the American soldiers as the war goes on. The film begins with a chauvinistic song that builds the heroism of the soldiers, which is intended to make Americans know how much they are giving up to go fight on their behalf. The berets display their skill to viewers in an auditorium and two soldiers give an account of the situation in Vietnam. They degrade the Vietnamese saying they are ruthless killers, a scene that clearly points out the enemy. The Vietnamese orphan who cheers the soldiers on represents their acceptance of help from America, which might have been a misconception as the Americans are clearly the ones invading their territory. The harsh reality of the war is displayed when the orphan's soldier friend, Peterson, is killed and the kid runs around frantically calling out for him.
The journalist is a controversial character who represents those who are against the war. He starts out opposing the war but after his encounter in Vietnam, he sees its importance and even signs up for a tour of duty. This character targets the journalists who give biased reports on the war without a clear understanding of the situation on the ground. It also intends to condemn those who judge what they do not understand, well explained in Wayne's words to the journalist: "pretty hard to talk to anyone in this country until they've come over here and seen it." Eventually, the heroes are able to take back the camp after a U.S. Air Force plane decimates the enemy ranks.
Saving Private Ryan
Saving Private Ryan, a 1998 war film by Steven Spielberg, is about the search for an American soldier lost in Normandy, France, during the Second World War. The first scene is at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial where Harrison Young walks along rows of gravestones with his family and is overcome by grief when he gets to a grave of a fallen comrade. The film then goes on to reveal the gruesome details of the war with bloody scenes being displayed as soldiers are shot at as they advance into German defenses. One soldier is seen holding his intestines and another bends to pick up his lost arm. With impressive camera work, the directors create a vivid experience for the viewers, as they capture the confusion of...
They lose two men on their way to Ramelle, where they find Ryan, and at one point the Captain lets a German free - casting great doubt on his leadership skills. When the group finally gets to Ramelle, they find Ryan and other soldiers defending the town from German troops and they join in securing the bridge at Merderet River. Spielberg visualizes horrific details of the war in the next scenes as Miller's men get injured and become malnourished as they are heavily outnumbered. Eventually, the film ends with Captain Miller being shot and the town is saved with only three survivors left.
Black Hawk Down
Ridley Scot's acclaimed 2001 war film, Black Hawk Down, tells the story of the events of 3-4 October 1993 in Mogadishu, Somalia. The Gladiator director adopted Mark Bowden's book, Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War, producing a movie that set the bar very high for other war films. In 1992, the United Nations established the "United Nations Organization in Somalia," UNOSOM, intended to alleviate human suffering in Somalia. However, a group of loyal Mohamed Farah Aidid's supporters greatly opposed UN supporters and often sabotaged peacekeeping operations. In August 1993, Task Force RANGER was deployed by the Clinton administration to implement Security Council Resolution 837.
Ridley Scott begins his film with a picture of a ghostly landscape full of starved bodies. As a Black Hawk flies into the scene, the viewer gets an idea of the situation in Somalia and identifies the troops as the good guys who come to 'save the people'. The group of soldiers, both young and old, is introduced to us with a picture of a professional operation centre and confident men ready to do their job. The Delta Force, United States Army Rangers, and 160th SOAR then plan a mission to capture Aidid and his top advisers. The operation is initiated, with Delta Force capturing the two advisers in some building - but trouble starts when Black Hawk Super-Six One is shot down.
The rest of the film is has ifs fair share of bloodshed and explosions, as the forces fight through a chaotic swarm of gun wielding Somalis intent on killing every American they see. Both sides become organized and the camerawork resembles more of a video game action scene. Panic sets in when the American's plan fails and the viewer cannot help but sympathize with the hopelessness of the situation. The camera team does an excellent job creating a vivid picture of the war and, as expected in a Ridley Scott movie, dust and debris fly all over with images of blood and body parts. The movie ends with Pakistani forces salvaging the situation and a heroic team of soldiers running into the camp as they are cheered on by thankful Somali citizens, which provokes more mixed feelings than understanding. Overall, the movie gives us a realistic impression of what a war is like. As a matter of fact, the events seem amazingly real.
A comparison of the Green Berets, Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down
Of the three movies, the Green Berets lacks realism and is the most historically inaccurate. In an attempt to win over the hearts and minds of the American public, in support of war, it makes blatant use of propaganda, coming off as enflaming and arrogant. This results in a glamorization of the war where the Vietnamese are dehumanized in an effort to portray America as the hero. In contrast, Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down are keen on giving us a realistic impression of what it feels like to be in the middle of a war. Spielberg's movie did the best in terms of creating memorable scenes for the viewer, the battle on the bridge and the Omaha sequence, which are emphasized by the timelessness of the visual effects in the film. Moving cameras create exhilarating scenes; hand held cameras use jerky movements, achieving a high level of realism. The attention to gory detail is also unmatched as seen by the splashes of water and blood onto the lenses in the middle of the battle. Its historical accuracy is also on point. Black Hawk Down, unlike the other two, is deemed racist - as evidenced by forces referring to Somalis as 'Skinnies'. Unlike Wayne's film, which is a good representation of the book, Scott loses some important aspects in the transition from book to film. America's vision of the world and the high regard for U.S. Forces is what made the situation difficult, not a failed mission. Compared to Saving Private Ryan, however, the color…
War Films Taking Jeanine Basinger at her word would leave us with far fewer war films than we think we have. Basinger is a 'strict constructionist,' accepting as war films only those that have actual scenes of warfare (Curley and Wetta, 1992. p. 8; Kinney, 2001, p. 21). That means that the four films that will be considered here, and especially the two World War II films, are not war films.