World War II is one of my favorite historic eras and film genres. Perhaps it has been idealized too much in the recent past, but I believe it was a time when we saw humanity at its best and worst simultaneously. The worst represented by the German war machine that gave birth to the Holocaust. And the best with the sight of the brave men landing at Normandy under heavy gunfire – on their way to freeing on continent.
Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk brought to light an event of the Second World War which few Americans know about (it took place in 1940, before Pearl Harbor and America’s involvement) and did so in Nolan’s atypical auteur style. It combined one of my favorite directors with one of my favorite genres – making for exceptional storytelling.
This was not your dad’s World War II movie; it was something different: an arthouse blockbuster in the purest sense of the phrase. But an art-house that wasn’t self-important or self-indulgent. It was easy to understand, which was great considering the subject matter.
Dunkirk was the harrowing story of what was essentially a miracle – almost 400,000 men evacuated from France as enemy forces closed in on all sides. It captured what the British call the “Dunkirk spirit” that the British people developed after the evacuation and maintained for the duration of the war. So many things came together perfectly that I have no doubt in my mind that this was one of the Lord’s divine interventions that have been chronicled throughout history.
There are many images that come to my mind on Memorial Day. I remember first seeing the sight of thousands of grave markers that dotted the green hills of Arlington National Cemetery and how emotionally overwhelming it felt standing amongst them.
But this image stays with me the most on Memorial Day. It was taken in December 1942 / January 1943 and depicts three dead American soldiers lying on a beach during the Battle of Buna-Gona in New Guinea. Printed in LIFE Magazine, it was the first photograph of dead soldiers that the American public was allowed to see since the start of American involvement in World War II two years earlier.
Accompanying the image was an editorial from the magazine, giving a rationale to why the photograph was published. It was a piece that beautifully captured the grief of the moment, but also the reverence and resolve of the nation that bore these soldiers. I’ve included a few especially poignant excerpts below, but you can read the entire article here.
“Here lie three Americans. What shall we say of them?…Shall we say that this is a fine thing, and that they should give their lives for their country?…Why print this picture, anyway, or three American boys dead upon an alien shore?
The reason is that words are never enough. The eye sees. The mind knows. The heart feels. But the words do not exist to see, or know, or feel what it is like, what actually happens. The words are never right.
And so here it is. This is the reality that lies behind the names that come to rest at last on monuments in the leafy squares of busy American towns.
No, the camera doesn’t show America, not any part of America, not even her mighty hills and rivers, not even the great gray cities or the freight trains tramping through the night loaded with the paraphernalia of war…
And yet here on the beach is America, three parts of a hundred and thirty million parts, three fragments of that life we call American life: three units of freedom.
America is the symbol of freedom…It is the symbol of freedom all over the earth, wherever men dream of freedom or desire it…And all over the world, now, there are living fragments of this symbol, and all over the world they are being shot down, like these fragments.
And it is not an easy thing to understand why they are there, and why, if freedom is to live, they must be willing to die. But this is because freedom is something more than a set of rules, or a set of principles. Freedom is a free man. It is a package. But it is God’s package.
So when these living units of freedom are extinguished we cannot bring them back to life. All we can do is give meaning to their death.
And this is to say that when freedom falls, as it has here on the beach in Buna, it is our task to cause it to rise again: not in living units, which we cannot make and to which we cannot give life, but in the mighty symbol, America, the beacon for all men, which is ours to have, to hold, and to increase.”
LIFE Magazine – September 20, 1943
This is exactly what Memorial Day is about. Those three men fought and died on a remote beach in the Pacific so that millions more would live in freedom and liberty – not just in America, but all around the world.
We can never repay them for their sacrifice. What we can do is honor them by living our lives with a sense of reverence, enjoying the blessings of liberty they purchased for us. We must remember them and the thousands more who have fallen on battlefields across the globe for our country and our ideals – not just today, but every day.
It is they who have preserved our liberty through the over two hundred years that this country has existed, and why we must never, ever take that liberty for granted or willingly give it up for unfulfillable promises from would-be tyrants. Freedom is not the default setting in this world. It was bought with the blood of heroes like those three men lying on a New Guinea beach, and is therefore a most precious thing.
May God give rest to our fallen heroes, give comfort to their families, and bless our great nation.
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Last Wednesday, Warner Bros. announced that director Zack Snyder’s cut of Justice League will be available exclusively on WarnerMedia’s soon-to-launch streaming service HBO Max in 2021. What’s more is that the filmmaker will be going back and redoing scenes and visual effects to the alleged tune of $20 – 30 million.
If you’d like a good recap of the drama that led to this, check out this article.
In my initial review of the original 2017 Justice Leagueon Letterboxd, I commented that the film seemed to be cobbled together with competing visions. It had lots of potential, but all of it was buried under a pile of Whedon-esque bromides that didn’t fit with the rest of the dark vision of the DC Extended Universe. You can love or hate Snyder’s approach, but at least it was a uniform vision.
This is a very smart move on Warner Bros.’ part. It’s a great way to get people to sign up for their new streaming service. I’m definitely interested in seeing this new cut, albeit just for morbid curiosity. I’m sure the movie will be marginally better, but still “meh” overall. But I’m holding off until 2021. No sense in signing up until then, even if they do have exclusive new Looney Tunes shorts. I’m a patient guy.
I enjoy internet memes. They elicit a momentary chuckle or eye-roll (depending on the subject and/or point-of-view). That’s usually where it ends; I don’t have a lot of time to dwell on silly things like that. But every once in awhile, there comes a meme that is so absurd that I can’t abide it.
The memes in question are connected to the current COVID-19 pandemic. It compares the words and actions, when it comes to COVID-19, of President Donald Trump and other (mostly conservative) politicians to those of Larry Vaughn, the feckless mayor of Amity Island (played by Murray Hamilton) from Steven Spielberg’s 1975 masterpiece, Jaws.
As you may recall, Mayor Vaughn was adamant about opening the beaches of Amity, which were the economic lifeblood of the community, for the busy summer season – even though there was a very real threat of a great white shark attacking and killing beachgoers. The comparison to Trump et al comes from their supposed callousness and enthusiasm for reopening the economy “prematurely” at the expense of thousands of people succumbing to the virus.
While it may make for a momentary, emotional comparison without a lot of thought, as both a big movie fan and a big fan of common sense, this comparison doesn’t tread water (pun intended).
Last Thursday, May 8, would have been graphic designer Saul Bass’ 100th birthday. You may not know his name, but you have no doubt seen his iconic artwork. Bass has always been one of my favorite graphic artists, and it’s really great that he is appreciated for the aesthetic visionary he was.
Bass is best known for his work in film – specifically with directors like Otto Preminger, Alfred Hitchcock, and Stanley Kubrick. His minimalist design philosophy revolutionized how films were advertised. Using a few colors, lines, and shapes, Bass would boil down the ideas of a film into one striking image, rather than using a more classical style to focus on the movie’s stars, as so many posters did in the mid-20th century.
Bass also created some of the most impressionistic, avant-garde title sequences for films, again reflecting the ideas and situations presented in the film itself. He used all kinds of interesting animation techniques to pull these off, which I have always been mesmerized by. My favorites among these inventive titles are all Hitchcock films: Psycho, North by Northwest, and Vertigo.
On top of all that, Saul Bass was also responsible for some amazing corporate logos that we have all grown up with. Some of these simple yet effective icons are still in use by their organizations to this day.
Last year, the Royal Ocean Film Society, a YouTube channel run by the very talented Andrew Saladino, published an outstanding video essay on Saul Bass’ work with film posters – highlighting the designer’s philosophy and style. Take a look below. And be sure to subscribe to the channel for some more interesting film retrospectives!