Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day

It always seems weird to me that a festive occasion should be called “Memorial Day.” The purpose of the day is to pay tribute to the men and women of our armed forces who have given their lives for our freedom. There is a national cemetery near my home and every Memorial Day American flags are posted in front of all the tombstone. It’s a startling sight – endless rows of matching white gravestones with American flags. When my kids were teenagers they helped plant the flags.

Having served in the Armed Forces Reserves, I've always considered myself incredibly lucky that I didn't have to fight in a war.  Back in those days we were drafted.  And it's all the more reason to give thanks to our current military personnel.  Not only are they there putting themselves in harm's way in awful hellholes, but they volunteered.

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of participating in the Veterans Retreat Weekend put on by the WGA.  Returning vets worked in small groups with professional writers who served as mentors.  It was amazing how talented these people were.  And the stories they had to tell -- wow.

Maybe a cool thing to do today is watch some war movies.   And they don't have to be horrifically gruesome (although SAVING PRIVATE RYAN should be on the top of your must-see list).  CASABLANCA is a war movie of sorts.  And there are comedies like MASH.  APOCALYPSE NOW really captures the absurdity of war (and has some amazing performances), and if you've never seen Kubrick's PATHS OF GLORY you will be blown away.

Others worth seeing are FULL METAL JACKET, SGT. YORK, PATTON, THE HURT LOCKER, THE DIRTY DOZEN, THREE KINGS, DEER HUNTER, and a film with one of my favorite titles ever -- DUCK, YOU SUCKER.

All terrific, and I'm sure you have your own, but my all-time never-to-be-topped favorite war movie is BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI.   It's David Lean's three-hour masterpiece starring Alec Guinness and William Holden.  It's not just one of the greatest war films ever made, it's one of the greatest movies PERIOD ever made.   And it's in Cinemascope!

Hope you have a wonderful day.  I plan to too.  But I'll be thinking of those flags. 

26 comments:

DwWashburn said...

Ken, in the same vein as your confusion as to why we "celebrate" Memorial Day, I've always wondered how we can entertain ourselves by watching war movies. I cut a little slack to film or TV events that don't show battles (MASH, for example) but what's so entertaining about watching humans kill each other, even if it is fake Hollywood?

My father served in WWII and forbade us from watching or going to war movies. Personally I agree. I never even enjoyed James Bond pictures because in my mind they were just war pictures in tuxedos.

However, war pictures usually do great at the box office and are constantly nominated for awards so I know I'm in the minority. But for my entertainment today I'll be happy with the St. Louis Cardinals and reruns of Flintstones' cartoons.

Declan BH said...

Hi Ken, I have a Friday Question regarding Cheers (well really several qualifying questions).

The first season is renowned for taking place solely in the bar while later seasons had far more sets and location shooting. How much of an increase in budget did the show receive over the years as the show became more and more staggeringly popular (and rightly so)? Could you persuade NBC to foot the bill for pretty much any idea or were you still fairly constrained?

Thank you for continuing to write your blog; it has been incredibly amusing, but also provided great insight into how the system functions, particularly useful for an aspiring screenwriter.

Stoney said...

I'm not far from Waterloo, New York where Memorial Day has it's roots. There, ceremonies will be held on the 31st which was the original designated "Decoration Day" before Monday-holidays were enacted in the mid 1960's.

"Happy Memorial Day" was what I heard at the top of "Good Morning America" and that just doesn't work for me. This day seems to have a dual purpose; remembrance for the war dead and unofficial kickoff of Summer. We haven't quite reached "Christmas commercialization" for this holiday yet but we're getting there!

This may seem like an odd choice but I'd recommend the 2001 film "The Majestic". It gets corny and does require suspension of disbelief (Why they didn't take the dying Harry to a hospital is still beyond me.) but it does make it's point very nicely! (BTW; who's that playing Doc Stanton?)


Stoney said...

I'm not far from Waterloo, New York where Memorial Day has it's roots. There, ceremonies will be held on the 31st which was the original designated "Decoration Day" before Monday-holidays were enacted in the mid 1960's.

"Happy Memorial Day" was what I heard at the top of "Good Morning America" and that just doesn't work for me. This day seems to have a dual purpose; remembrance for the war dead and unofficial kickoff of Summer. We haven't quite reached "Christmas commercialization" for this holiday yet but we're getting there!

This may seem like an odd choice but I'd recommend the 2001 film "The Majestic". It gets corny and does require suspension of disbelief (Why they didn't take the dying Harry to a hospital is still beyond me.) but it does make it's point very nicely! (BTW; who's that playing Doc Stanton?)

RyderDA said...

I was at Arlington National Cemetery a few years back a few days before Memorial Day. I watched numerous platoons of soldiers precisely placing one flag at each headstone. I am a Canadian, but am not sure if that or the cemetery itself was more moving.

Igor said...


Ken wrote: "BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI... It's not just one of the greatest war films ever made, it's one of the greatest movies PERIOD ever made."

Really? I mean, I like it. I've watched it a number of times; most recently, just 6 months ago. But "one of the greatest movies PERIOD ever made"?

You stumped me with that one, Ken.

vicernie said...

In Canada we honour those who have sacrificed in war on November 11. WWI ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1914. it was called the war to end all wars and tragically it was not. bless those who served in both countries.
I agree with your assessment of Bridge on the River Kwai. several years ago my daughter was travelling in SE Asia and was taking a train east of Bangkok to view some bat caves. the train stopped and all the passengers were directed to a museum to honour the prisoners of war who died building the railroad to Burma.
another great movie of his with an international war theme was Lawrence of Arabia. and Gallipoli is a wonderful Australian film. The Charge of the Light Brigade shows the stupidity of the Crimean War and shows how that region has been in dispute for almost 200 years.

Breadbaker said...

RyderDA, I read your comment over ten times, it was so beautiful

DBenson said...

Re "Bridge on the River Kwai":

SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!

Am I the only one who was surprised by Sessue Hayakawa's character at the end? We'd seen him preparing for suicide; the completion of the bridge under Guinness's effective command had become a personal defeat and disgrace. I fully expected him to enable or even complete the detonation instead of trying to stop it.

Yes, completing and protecting that bridge was his duty. But with Guinness losing sight of his own duty up until the last moments, I was ready to see that mirrored in his chief adversary. I understand how dramatically, Guinness needed a clear redemption. But I wanted to see at least a flash of ambivalence from Hayakawa when his personal demons came up against his mission.

mdv1959 said...

Igor:

Ken wrote: "BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI... one of the greatest movies PERIOD ever made."

Really? I mean, I like it... But "one of the greatest movies PERIOD ever made"?


Then you'll be shocked to find out that the American Film Institute has "THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI" listed as the 13th greatest film of all time on it's list of the 100 Greatest Films of All Time

Mike said...

Bridge on the River Kwai is just amazing. Not from a story standpoint, but from a visual standpoint, too. I'm always amazed/saddened by how few of my contemporaries have seen it, or have even heard of it.

Mike said...

Sorry, I meant to say "Not only from a story point..." In other words, the story is as amazing as the visuals.

RCP said...

I'm looking forward to the film version of "Unbroken" (directed by Angelina Jolie) coming out later this year. The book was amazing - about Louis Zamperini's experiences during WWII. Fascinating life: he was a runner at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin; survived on a raft with two other soldiers (after their plane crashed into the ocean) for 47 days living off of rainwater, fish, and birds while continuously being circled by sharks; and survived the hellish experience of spending years in Japanese POW camps. Like many (if not all to varying degrees) veterans, his life after the war was traumatic - but he managed to come through that as well - to the point of traveling back to Japan decades later to meet with his former captors in forgiveness. Zamperini is still alive at 97, living in Los Angeles.

Johnny Walker said...

@DwWashburn War movies can treat the horrors of war seriously, or they can trivialise it. I can certainly understand reservations over the latter.

Kurt Vonnegut's introduction to Slaughterhouse Five (which features Dresden) does a great job of explaining the value of the former.

Side note: Every modern war movie owes a huge debt to ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, which basically did every war movie ever made before anyone else.

Brian said...

I watched Bridge over the River Kwai for the first time a couple of weeks ago. It is a great move. Thanks for mentioning it in this blog. A few years ago when my son was in Scouts, he was asked to be the honor guard for a Memorial Day ceremony at a local cemetery. It turned out to be a Jewish ceremony held in the Jewish part of the cemetery. There were huge ceremonies across town with dozens of people, but there we were - us, the rabbi and maybe ten people - very moving.

Eon Flemming said...

I'll agree, Bridge is among the greats.

James Bond movies were great for the Bond girls and their names; and the so-called special effects. I recently watched Dr. No and thoroughly enjoyed Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder and the rest was mostly unintentional comedy. It doesn't hold up, but it couldn't.

Kate said...

The traditional date for Memorial Day was May 30, not 31. I remember, because it is also my father's birthday. He was a Vietnam veteran, a volunteer, not drafted. He died going on two years ago, from prostate cancer that was the final gift of his service near Agent Orange. Our veterans deserve better than a parade and a movie marathon. Give a buck to your local VFW, or to the Wounded Warrior Project, or to some other veteran's group you like.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Make time to see THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES. Technically a post-war film, it depicts the ways in which combat veterans never really get over their experiences. All too timely, as we never seem to stop making more veterans with life-long problems.

Anonymous said...

Two great, but under appreciated war movies:
Zulu, the film that really launched Michael Caine's career. Zulu is under appreciated here in America, but is well known in Great Britain and South Africa.
Also
Go Tell The Spartans - a later work by Burt Lancaster about the early days in Vietnam. almost no one I know has ever heard of it, let alone seen it, but it ranks with the best Vietnam war movies.

Barry Traylor said...

Wonderful post today Ken. Thank you.

McAlvie said...

Happy to see the plug for "Bridge." Yeah, it's not a movie for everyone. It's not all heroes doing heroic things, and is pretty depressing, actually. But it is an excellent psycological portrayal. Niven's character starts out just trying to keep his men alive, and in the process kinda loses his mind. We take dark, reality movies for granted these days, but Bridge was, for it's time, pretty groundbreaking.

For DwWashburn, the point of watching war movies on Memorial Day isn't to entertain ourselves. The movies tell stories of what war is, what our men and women go through. I can totally understand veterans preferring not to watch, as they already had to live it. But for most of us, its as close as we'll come to having some understanding. So we watch the movies because it's important that we remember what we ask them to do, and what they've sacrificed for us. And in the case of WWII, because it's so very important that we never forget.

But I agree that it's not a day for wishing anyone happy.

McAlvie said...

Gah. Sorry, I meant Guiness, not Niven.

Igor said...

mdv1959: "Then you'll be shocked to find out that the American Film Institute has "THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI" listed as the 13th greatest film of all time on it's list of the 100 Greatest Films of All Time"

Nope. I knew that.

If I were making a list of the Greatest Films of All Time relative to when they were released, and in consideration of how important they were to the path that cinema has taken since its start, Kwai would be on it. But otherwise, no.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

@buttermilk sky

I agree with you about BEST YEARS as one of the best war movies (as war is also about the soldiers and those that loved them).

Other great Memorial Day movies not mentioned, THE LONGEST DAY, GLORY, GETTYSBURG, PLATOON, BAND OF BROTHERS, BLACKHAWK DOWN

chuckcd said...

Don't forget Kelly's Heroes

Anonymous said...

U-571 is another great war movie. I was at a party one time, and it was pretty wild. Somehow we got to watching it, and we were transfixed. We ended up missed the whole party.