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Posts Tagged ‘World War II’

“If you don’t think it can get worse, it can—and it will.” 
Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) in Fury

’Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud
Shelter From The Storm/Bob Dylan

“I’m a Veteran. I was in the Navy, in the submarine corps. I come from a military family. Both of my grandparents were in World War II and retired as officers. One fought in the Pacific and one fought in Europe. The whole family was in the war. I grew up exposed to it and hearing the stories, but the stories I heard weren’t kind of the whole ‘Rah, rah, rah! We saved the world!’ They were about the personal price and the emotional price. The pain and the loss are the shadows that sort of stalk my family. That was something that I wanted to communicate with people. Even though it was literally a fight of good against evil and it had an incredibly positive outcome, the individual man fighting it was just as tired, scared and freaked out as a guy operating a base in Afghanistan or a guy in the jungle in Vietnam.”
Fury writer/director David Ayer
Collier interview with Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub

P.S. I think Brad Pitt’s line in Fury —”Ideals are peaceful, history is violent”—is the most profound movie line this year. A quote that you’d expect attributed to Patton or Lincoln. If AFI ever does the list 100 Years…100 Profound Movie Lines, I expect that line to be there. And if that line was ad libbed on the set by Pitt (as Ayer’s has said in interviews) then Pitt deserves an ad lib line of the year award.

Related posts:
Screenwriting from Hell “There are certain rules about a war, and rule number one is young men die.”
Filmmaking Quote #24 (Brad Pitt)
Brad Pitt and the Future of Journalism
Writing ‘Black Hawk Down’

Scott W. Smith

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“What gets me is that there never was a movie about POWs — about prisoners of war.”
From Billy Wilder’s 1953 film  Stalag 17

This week I had a video shoot that took me through Algona, Iowa and I was reminded of a little known piece of American history. And  an unusual Christmas story.

During World War II, German Prisoners of War were kept in various cities in the United States and Canada. One of those cities was Algona, Iowa in the northern middle part of the state.  Between 1944-46 over 10,000 German POWs spent time in Algona, though no more than 5,452 were there at one time.

Some think Algona being chosen had something to do with Vice President Henry Wallace who was born and raised in Iowa. But whatever the reason, the government purchased 287 acres of land and in three months the camp was built.

Today the camp is gone and all that is left are some remnants collected in a museum and the stories. Some of the stories involve how the town and the POW were friendly with each other. German was not a totally foreign language in parts of the the Midwest that were founded by German immigrants. Apparently the POW were not limited to the camp but worked on farms and in factories in Iowa and nearby Minnesota. As according to The Geneva Convention regulations the POW were paid between 10 & 80 cents a day for their labor. And this is where the Christmas twist occurs in the story.

Eduard Kaib was an architect in Germany before becoming an officer in the Germany Army and ending up as a POW in Algona in 1944. Using a mixture of soil and an oven he made a small Nativity scene and displayed it at the camp. The next year Kaib and and five friends began working on a much more elaborate Nativity scene that involved 60 one-half sized figures made of wood, plaster and concrete. The expenses were covered by the POW from their earnings.

The Nativity was set up in the camp but also in a way that could be seen by the public. When the camp was disband in 1946 the town preserved the Nativity scene and the tradition of viewing during Christmas time in Algona survives until this day.  It’s a pretty interesting story. Especially when you contrast it to war itself, Hitler and Nazi Germany. Like It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol it’s a feel good story that has a dark side.

At least one screenplay has been written regarding this unique era, but as far as I know no film has been produced. But one day I think this story will get told as a feature because stories that contrast the best and worst of mankind need to be told to give us hope. That the light shines in the darkness.

Merry Christmas.

P.S. For more information about the camp visit the Camp Algona POW Museum website.

Scott W. Smith

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In the 1950s, while Akira Kurosawa was in Japan making two of the most highly regarding films in cinematic history (Ikira and Seven Samurai) there was another filmmaker in Japan who was making a film with one of the most memorable and recognizable characters in cinematic history—Godzilla. Ishiro Honda, the director (and co-writer) of the first Godzilla film actually worked early and late in his career with Kurosawa.

So along with his Godzilla directing credits (Godzilla, King Kong vs. Godzilla, Mothra vs. Godzilla, All Monster Attack) he also worked as an assistant with Kurosawa on Stray Dogs, Ran and Dreams. After Honda passed away at age 81 in 1993, his eulogy was done by Kurosawa.

In his book Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men: The Fantastic Cinema of Ishiro Honda Peter H. Brothers writes, “While Honda is best remembered today for having directed the original Godzilla film, there was considerable more to his career. Honda worked on 82 feature-length films, 36 as assistant director and 46 as principle director. Of those 46 films, 25 were in the fantasy-film realm (or genre), making him arguably the most prolific director of such films in the history of cinema.”

Also part of Honda resume includes serving in the Imperial Army during World War II where he was a prisoner of war for six months in China. Honda later said, “When I returned from the war, and passed through Hiroshima there was a heavy atmosphere, a fear that the world was already coming to an end.” That gives an extra layer of needed context to the man behind Godzilla.

The version that most American’s saw as some  part of their childhood is different than the Godzilla seen in Japan in the 1950s. Remember the first fire-breathing Godzilla came on the scene in 1954. The atomic bombs that the United States dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki occurred in 1945 at the tail end of World War II. The death and destruction of those bombs has been well documented. I have not seen the original cut of Godzilla, but I’ve read some say that it’s politically anti-American and or at least critical of America’s use of the bomb. Godzilla either represents America or  the fire-breathing atom bomb that America dropped. Either way, its serious anti-nuke warning is a long way from some of the cheesy Godzilla movies I remember.

According to the NPR Program that aired May 25, 2004 Original ‘Godzilla’ to Make  Uncut Debut in U.S. the exploitation distributors repackaged the Japanese film for an American audience by cutting out 40 minutes, and reshooting some scenes written by Al C. Ward. The result was the 1956 film Godzilla , King of the Monsters! starring in Raymond Burr.

Can’t imagine Honda being to thrilled with the results. Anyone have Honda quotes in regard to what he thought of the American version of his film originally known as Gojira? (It was probably whatever is Japanese for WTF.)

Ishiro Honda website.

Scott W. Smith


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“Film makers can’t get enough of Adolf Hitler. I think it’s because he’s the perfect villain.” Arnold Pistorius

Once upon a time in Hollywood…1941-1976

So in a sweeping look at American film history today we’re going to clip off 35 years.  Again one of the reasons for this brief look back at film history is to see how change has been a constant throughout the business and to see how we are in another major shift.

Hollywood had enjoyed its greatest decade through the 1930s in the short history of the film industry. (Some still believe that era was the greatest movie decade of all-time.)

1940 & 1941 continued the Golden Era of cinema. But then on December 7, 1941 the world changed for Americans with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The United States was coming off The Great Depression which started with the crash of Wall Street in 1929.

Hollywood actors and directors lended a hand in making training and propaganda films . And then there were movies about the war and its lingering effects back in the states.

So Proudly We Hail, 1943
Best Years of Our Lives, 1946

But I think the biggest lingering effect of Hitler and the Nazi’s is it created a world of fear. I’m not sure we’ve ever recovered from the idea that one man could cause so much pain and destruction in the modern world.

“The motion pictures made during World War II deeply affected Steven Spielberg, and movies about the war remain fertile ground for numerous filmmakers during subsequent decades. One reason for the continued popularity of these sages, and for movies about different wars as well, is the panoply of visual pleasures such conflicts offer.” “Citizen Spielberg”: by Lester D. Friedman

Europe exported existential thought and a new wave of movies that we free morality standards in the American film industry.

Much has been written about the prosperity that followed World War II, but many films reflected a period of questioning human existence and sometimes landing on nihilism or some for of despair. And themes that followed from World War II were prevalent for at least the next 30 years—and maybe until the present day. (The names and fears have just changed over the years)

Look at some of the top films of the 50s:

Rebel Without a Cause
On the Waterfront
Sunset Boulevard
Rear Window
War of the Worlds
Death of a Salesman

Sci-Fi films with end of the world themes were popular:
It Came From Outer Space
The Thing
The Invasion of the Body Snatchers
The Day the Earth Stood Still
Them

Hilter may have been gone but there were plenty of worries beyond wondering how Jerry Mathers was going to break in his baseball glove on Leave it to Beaver. (The Korean War, Soviets, the Bomb, communists, etc.)

And then into the 60s President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr were shot and killed, there were riots in Chicago,  L.A. and other cities. Viet Nam War.  And if things werem’t bad enough TIME Magazine’s cover on April 8, 1966 asked, “Is God Dead?”

Some of the more well known movies of the 60s were:

Dr, Strangelove; or how I stopped learning to Love the Bomb
They Don’t Shoot Horses Do They?
Easy Rider
Psycho
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Bonnie & Clyde
Cool-Hand Luke
Midnight Cowboy
2001 A Space Odyssey
The Wild Bunch
The Manchurian Candidate

The pessimistic trend  continued into the early 1970s in politics with Viet Nam & Watergate as well as at the movies:

M*A*S*H
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Deliverance
Five Easy Pieces
The Last Picture Show
The Godfather
Chinatown

Sure you had Disney movies and light musicals during all these years but these films represent much of the best films of the era.

Bruce became the catalyst for change. Bruce was a mechanical shark on the set of the 1975 film JAWS who didn’t work as well as desired.  But he worked well in the edit bay and the $7 million film went on to make over $400 million worldwide. Sure there was blood and guts, but it had a happy ending.

The tent pole movie was born (or maybe just perfected). And once that genie was out of the bottle everybody in Hollywood was shooting for the  $100 million boxoffice goal.  By this time Viet Nam was over and Americans were ready to get on with life and the bicentennial celebration of the United States in 1976.

And Rocky was there toward the end of the year to give audiences something to cheer about. I do believe the one-two punch of JAWS & Rocky had a huge impact on the future of the film business. More thills per minute and a somewhat happy ending that would make a lot of money.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Part 5)

Scott W. Smith

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Once upon a time…between 1927-1941.

By 1927 the film industry was barely 30 years old but great strides artistically and its popularity grew. Filmmaking which started in the United States and France was now happening in Russia, Germany, Italy, Britain, Sweden and beyond. Film technique grew more sophisticated and the audiences simply grew.

Movie theaters became known as picture palaces sometimes the size of cathedrals. In the larger cities the plush carpet, dome ceilings with artwork, and seating for 2,000- 4,000 per theater was not unheard of. They were often grand and sometimes gaudy. Ushers were needed for crowd control. Keep in mind this was not only long before the invention of television, but before the great depression.

There was around 20 movie studios by the end of the 1920s and many people don’t realize that  the 800 films produced per year was at an all-time high. (Compare that today with about 400 feature films being made these days on average. Granted many of these films were shorter.)  Director like D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille were respected.

Stars like Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, William S. Hart, and Lillian Gish were well paid for their talent. But they were not paid to talk. Because until 1927 films were silent. The Jazz Singer changed all of that. Though largely a silent picture it did employ sync sound. Within two years most American movies were talkies.

If you think the industry is going through shift now can you imagine the changes than occurred at that time? Famous and glamourous actors for various reasons were done. Career over. Directors and cinematographers who had the freedom to move the camera freely down had larger cameras and cumbersome sound issues to deal with. And the poor pianist and organist across the country who played the scored music at theaters were now out of the business.

But audiences didn’t care about all of that. By 1929 movie attendance was averaging 90 million tickets sold per week. Even the stock market crashing in 1929 at the start of The Great Depression did not really show down the movie industry. And some would say people during the great depression was a boom to the movie industry as people look for hope and diversion in cheap entertainment. The 30s and into the early 40s are known as the golden age of cinema.

The movie making system was controlled by studios where writers, directors and actors were under contract  so not free to work on any movie they desired and filmmakers had to work under the restriction of  they Hays Code which put restraints on what could and could be on screen. In perhaps a nod to the belief that creativity is best expressed when limitations are set rather than allowed total freedom, the Hollywood golden era produced what many believe to be the finest films ever made.

And even if you disagree with that it’s hard to disagree with scholars who believe that 1939 was the single best year for movies. Check out the lineup:

Gone with the Wind
The Wizard of Oz
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Stagecoach
Goodbye Mr. Chips
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Ninotchka
Gulliver’s Travels
Jesse James
Dark Victory
Gunga Din
Wuthering Heights

Though personally I think 1941 was the single best year for movies (Citizen Kane, How Green Was My Valley, The Maltese Falcon, Meet John Doe, Dumbo, Sullivan’s Travels, Suspicion, Sergeant York, The Little Foxes, The Lady Eve). The truth is whatever year you pick around that time there is an amazing list of great films.

I honestly don’t know why that short studio era was so prolific. But I do know we’ve never been able to return. Perhaps it was just a shear numbers game in that they were making twice as many films as they are today. (There was no competition from TV, Internet, video games, etc.) Or maybe creating fine work in the hyper-studio controlled era has something to do with an old T.S. Elliot quote;

“When forced to work within a strict framework the imagination is taxed to its utmost—and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl.”

Every decade since then has turned out some great films, but there has been a lot of sprawl. Of course, maybe all that sprawl from the 1930s has just been long forgotten.

What I do know is that on December 7, 1941 the United States was attacked on Pearl Harbor and followed by the U.S. joining World War II. A war that only lasted a few years but where between 50-70 million people died. Things have never been the same. Including movies.

Hollywood side note: Edwin S. Porter, a lead pioneer in the early film business who gave D.W. Griffith his first acting job and who in 1903 directed highly the successful The Great Train Robbery , resisted the changes in the film business and was working in the appliance business in 1930.

Scott W. Smith

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“I’ve been told that I’m not smart enough to realize I can’t tilt windmills and win, but tenacity has a life and a way all its own, I’ve found. If one approach to a problem doesn’t work, figure out how to go around it”
Jack Lewis

Since today is Memorial Day I wanted to find a quote from a screenwriter with a military background and landed on Lt. Colonel Jack Lewis, USMCR (Ret) in part because he just happens to be a honored veteran and was born right here in Iowa.

Before he joined the Marines and served in World War II Lewis was a writer, selling his first short story when he was 14 years-old for five dollars. He has gone on to write an estimated 6,000 magazine articles and work on more than ten films as a screenwriter.

He was born in 1924 and joined the Marines at age 18. According to Wikipedia after the War he earned a degree in Jouralism  from the University of Iowa and later returned to active duty during the Korean War where he earned a Bronze Star as Combat Correspondent and Photographer.

In addition to writing screenplays (A Yank in Viet Nam), he wrote the novel Tell it to the Marines, and his memoirs on Hollywood, White Horse, Black Hat —A Quarter Century on Hollywood’s Poverty Row. In total, he’s had more than 30 books published including Mojave. Lewis is still writing (under the name C. Jack Lewis) and living in a beach house in Hawaii. Just this month (May 09) at age 84 he had an article in Leatherneck (Magazine of the Marines.)

“Two of my characters in my mystery series are probably somewhat autobiographical.  Charlie Cougar is a Mescalero Apache who has been a stuntman, a drunk and a rodeo rider.  I’m a quarter Mescalero and I’ve been all of those things.  Sam Light is a newspaper man who has been a Marine, a reporter, a drunk, an editor and a hobo.  I’ve been all of those things, too.  But at least, I’m writing about things of which I have a basic knowledge!”
Jack Lewis

Update: From the odd connection section I found out that when Lewis and his parents moved from Florida from Iowa when he was two, he lived in Winter Park. Winter Park, Florida is where I lived for 13 years before moving to Iowa. (Still checking to find out where he spent time in Iowa beside college in Iowa City.)

Update June 10: Found out today that Jack died on May 24 of this year. Just one day before I posted this article. I also found out from someone who worked with Jack for many years that Jack spent much of his youth in North English, Iowa which is a small town southeast of Iowa City. Here’s Jack’s obituary from the L.A. Times.

Scott W. Smith

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“I don’t believe the American public will believe, itself, what comes up on that panavision screen next March.”
James Dickey in a letter to a friend
while the movie Deliverance was being shot

Since I mentioned both director John Boorman and Liberal Arts in the last few days that lead me to the writer of Deliverance, James Dickey. It took Dickey ten years to write the novel and he also wrote the screenplay for the 1972 movie that would be his only feature film release. (Though he did also write the TV version of Jack London’s The Call of the Wild.) 

Dickey was born and raised in the Atlanta area and was an athlete in high school and began writing poetry while serving in the Army during World War II flying combat missions in the South Pacific. He didn’t want the girls back home to forget him. After the war he attended Vanderbilt and earned a B.A. in philosophy and minored in astronomy and then went on to earn an M.A. in English.

After school he taught at what is now Rice University before being recalled to active duty in the U.S. Air Force due to the Korean War. He later worked as a copywriter in Atlanta and in New York where he said he was “selling his soul to the devil in the daytime and buying it back at night.”

He published his first book of poetry in 1960 and appointed in 1966 he as the Poet Laureate Consultant to the Library of Congress.  In 1977 he was invited to read his poem “The Strength of Fields” at President Jimmy Carter’s inauguration. And just to top off an interesting life, he played Sheriff Bullard in Deliverance. 

Though Dickey’s popularity exploded after the movie Deliverance was released he taught and wrote poetry until he died in 1997. His limited role with Hollywood  may have something to do with the stories of the behind the scene drama of the Deliverance location shoot that sometimes matched the drama on-screen of Burt Reynolds and his buddies little boating adventure. In short, Dickey was banned from the set.

Dickey was like many a classic southern writer – greatly talented and greatly flawed. Given to drink and sometimes hard to get along with Dickey was an exaggerator and liar on par with the father in the movie Big Fish. (While Dickey was in many flight missions over the South Pacific during World War II he was never the pilot he claimed to be.)

Dickey’s oldest son, Christopher Dickey, an accomplished writer and speaker (who also has a website and blog) , wrote the book Summer of Deliverance about his father and the film. (Christopher worked on the film including standing in as Ned Beatty’s character in the famous pig scene.)

Christopher also has done us all a favor by setting up the blog, James Dickey: Deep Deliverance, devoted to his father and his writings. And where I found this quote from a You Tube link where James says in a distinctly slow southern draw:

“To anyone who reads my work, I would like to have it deepen him and make him more aware of possibilities… of the mystery of things, and the strangeness of the creation — the universe. Although as much as I write about death, disease, and mutilation, and so I on, I essentially consider myself an affirmative poet. I remember hearing that Beethoven once said, ‘He who truly knows my music can never know unhappiness again.’ I would like to think it had some effect of that sort.” 

And as a side note here’s something interesting to ponder from one of Dickey’s letters, “I heard from John Boorman day before yesterday, and he says Marlon Brando is definitely going to play Lewis (Burt’s character) in the film version of Deliverance. I certainly hope so, for that would bring Nicholson in, and after that the rest would be easy, provided we don’t get Brando’s and Nicholson’s heads bashed in on some of those rocks up in north Georgia, which is quite easy to do.”

Scott W. Smith

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