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Q #25: Dear Picture Show Man:
What is the difference between a war film and an anti–war film?
This story is neither an accusatiion nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war.
Author's Preface to "All Quiet on the Western Front"
by Erich Maria Remarque (1929)
A: This is a fascinating and surprisingly complex question that deserves a rather lengthy discussion. Lets bat some ideas around . . .
Before we begin, lets define what we mean by a "war film". For this discussion we are going to define a war film (or, for that matter, an anti–war film) as:
a movie that takes place primarily during an actual, historical armed conflict between two or more countries or organized factions and is set, at least partially, at or near a scene of battle.
This rather narrow definition will eliminate movies that do not portray, in any way, an actual hostile engagement between opposing forces as part of its main plot, even though the story is about people who have been deeply affected by warfare and/or takes place during a time of war (e.g. 1942's "Casablanca" and "Mrs. Miniver", 1944's "Since You Went Away", 1955's "The Man Who Never Was", and 1982's "Sophie's Choice"). It also eliminates most spy films, prisoner of war films, and virtually all science fiction movies (sorry "Star Wars") . However, the definition does encompass dramas, romances, biopics, so called "sword and sandal" epics, westerns, swashbuckling adventures, comedies, fantasies, and even musicals if they meet our criteria. By limiting the type of film we are considering, we hope to simplify our discussion.
By its very nature war provides the screenwriter with action, adventure, tension, conflict and struggle within a clearly defined context of good and evil. Whether or not the focus or intent of the story ultimately produces a feeling of pride or disgust, there is no doubt that war films almost always produce a strong reaction in an audience. But whether any given movie is considered to be anti–war (or pacifist or anti–militarism) can sometimes be a matter of personal interpretaton because anti–war films have so much in common with war films. Keeping this in mind, lets list the various ways in which most war and anti–war films are similar, and the ways in which they differ.
In the frames reproduced above, from the war film "The Desert Fox"
and the anti–war film "All Quiet on the Western Front", note the
differences in both the expression and attitude of
each character, and
in the background that was chosen for the conclusion of each movie.
Both war and anti–war films usually show, to a greater or lesser extent, the horror, confusion, turmoil, and arbitrary nature of warfare.
The story can be about either side in a conflict, and may end tragically.
Many, if not most, of the main characters in each type of movie die before the end of the story.
Both types of movies may demonstrate that the plans of superiors often go awry, and that some of the leaders are not competent.
Each may show that most of the story's characters are not professional soldiers but just average people like you and me, with many different types of personalities, who have volunteered or been recruited and suddenly find themselves in a dangerous and frightening situation.
War movies do not justify war as a universal concept, but rather show that a particular war or battle somehow represents the fight between good and evil and that this fight is necessary and important. The plot usually concerns accomplishing a task that will either rescue someone, learn valuable information, save lives, and/or somehow shorten the war. The ultimate goal of the main characters will be to succeed.
Anti–war movies imply that the war or battle they are showing represents war in general, and that all wars are political fabrications which by their very nature are unneccessary and futile. The plot, while often concerned with accomplishing a task, usually ends up showing that the task was unnecessary, useless, or inconclusive. Anti–war films also tend to spend much more time showing the daily drudgery of the soldier's lives. The ultimate goal of the main characters will be to survive and/or to somehow escape the insanity of the conflict.
War movies appeal to our patriotism and imply that war is a proving–ground that will ultimately bring out our finer qualities, and that there is honor in fighting for one's country.
Anti–war movies appeal to our compassion by portraying warfare as a nonsensical, arduous battle for survival that only succeeds in mutilating our bodies, robbing us of our humanity, and destroying our world.
In a war movie the enemy, if shown at all, is represented as a heartless, often sadistic, two–dimensional killer. The soldiers on "our" side, however, are shown to be a complex mixture of fear, courage, compassion, selflessness, sacrifice, understanding, and determination. Officers are usually knowledgeable and caring, but if their orders prove to be flawed or unreasonable one of the story's characters will take over and, ignoring the original orders, lead the others past seemingly insurmountable barriers and overwhelming odds to accomplish their task. Characters who die in a war film usually die doing something noble or heroic. The character who most hates a superior will, by the end of the movie, almost always express admiration for him or become just like him.
In an anti–war movie the enemy, if shown at all, will prove to be merely human, frightened individuals like ourselves who are just obeying orders and trying to stay alive in a situation over which they have no control. Officers will usually be shown to be either weak, incompetent, arrogant, vacillating, obdurate, despotic, egocentric, and/or hypocritical. Although the lower ranking soldiers will normally obey the ill–conceived and sometimes suicidal plans they are orderd to carry out, they alone will end up bearing the tragic consequences of these orders. Some or all of the characters in an anti–war movie often reflect the insanity of the war, and those who die usually die a meaningless death.
In most war films the dialogue is, for the most part, strong, confident, and no–nonsense.
In most anti–war films the dialogue is customarily questioning, confused, frustrated, angry, and occasionally satirical.
War movies may or may not end tragically, but they show that those who died were somehow ennobled and that the survivors have grown in dignity, maturity, fortitude, benevolence, and/or wisdom. They also tend to show that the survivors are now willing to accept their difficult responsibilities. By the end of a war movie the main characters will usually have succeeded in accomplishing the task they were given. The movie's star/main character almost always survives, but if he dies he dies a heroic death saving others.
The survivors at the end of an anti–war film, if there are any, usually end up weary, disillusioned, jaded, and/or even more cynical than they were when the movie began, convinced that war is a waste and that the innocent and helpless suffer the most. The movie's star/main character almost always either dies, goes crazy, or is overcome with guilt, remorse and self–reproach.
While it is difficult to make generalizations that apply equally to all movies in any given genre, the similarities and differences listed above should provide a better understanding of what makes an anti–war film different from a typical war film. Because it is more difficult to make an anti–war film both effective and entertaining, and because the profitability of an anti–war film depends entirely on the mood of the country toward war at the time it is released, there have been far fewer anti–war films made than war films.
A selection of War Films released by the end of 1960:
(some viewers may feel that one or more of these films is anti–war)
1927 – Wings, starring Clara Bow & Richard Arlen
1930 – Hell's Angels, directed by Howard Hughes
1935 – The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, starring Gary Cooper & Franchot Tone
1936 – The Charge of the Light Brigade, starring Errol Flynn & Olivia de Havilland
1938 – The Dawn Patrol, starring Errol Flynn & Basil Rathbone
1939 – Gunga Din, starring Cary Grant & Sam Jaffe
1941 – Sergeant York, starring Gary Cooper & Walter Brennan
1941 – They Died With Their Boots On, starring Errol Flynn & Olivia de Havilland
1942 – Flying Tigers, starring John Wayne & Anna Lee
1943 – Bataan, starring Robert Taylor & George Murphy
1943 – Destination Tokyo, starring Cary Grant & John Garfield
1943 – For Whom the Bell Tolls, starring Gary Cooper & Ingrid Bergman
1943 – Sahara, starring Humphrey Bogart & Dan Duryea
1944 – The Fighting Seabees, starring John Wayne & Susan Hayward
1944 – The Sullivans (aka: The Fighting Sullivans), starring Anne Baxter & Thomas Mitchell
1945 – Objective Burma!, starring Errol Flynn & James Brown
1945 – They Were Expendable, starring Robert Montgomery & John Wayne
1949 – Sands of Iwo Jima, starring John Wayne & John Agar
1949 – Twelve O'Clock High, starring Gregory Peck & Hugh Marlowe
1950 – Halls of Montezuma, starring Richard Widmark & Jack Palance
1951 – The Desert Fox, starring James Mason & Jessica Tandy
1951 – Flying Leathernecks, starring Joyn Wayne & Robert Ryan
1952 – One Minute to Zero, starring Robert Mitchum & Ann Blyth
1954 – The Bridges at Toko–Ri, starring William Holden & Grace Kelly
1954 – The Dam Busters, (British), starring Michael Redgrave & Richard Todd
1957 – Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, starring Robert Mitchum & Deborah Kerr
1958 – Dunkirk, (British), starring John Mills & Richard Attenborough
1958 – Run Silent Run Deep, starring Clark Gable & Burt Lancaster
1960 – The Alamo, starring John Wayne & Richard Widmark
1960 – Sink the Bismarck!, (British), starring Kenneth More & Dana Wynter
A selection of Anti–War Films released before 1980:
(some viewers may feel that one or more of these films is not anti–war)
1926 – What Price Glory, directed by Raoul Walsh
1930 – All Quiet on the Western Front, starring Lew Ayres & Louis Wolheim
1930 – The Dawn Patrol, starring Richard Barthelmess & Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
1933 – The Eagle and the Hawk, starring Fredric March & Cary Grant
1936 – The Road to Glory, starring Fredric March & Warner Baxter
1937 – J'Accuse, (French), directed by Abel Gance
1937 – La Grande Illusion, (French), directed by Jean Renoir
1946 – A Walk in the Sun, starring Dana Andrews & Richard Conte
1951 – Fixed Bayonets!, starring Richard Basehart & Gene Evans
1951 – The Red Badge of Courage, directed by John Huston
1957 – Paths of Glory, starring Kirk Douglas & Adolphe Menjou
1959 – The Bridge (aka: Die Brücke), (German), directed by Bernhard Wicki
1970 – Catch 22, starring Alan Arkin & Martin Balsam
1970 – MASH, starring Donald Sutherland & Elliott Gould
1979 – Apocalypse Now, starring Martin Sheen & Marlon Brando
1979 – Breaker Morant, (Australian), starring Edward Woodward & Jack Thompson
The Cold War (which was not an armed conflict) with its threat of a Nuclear Holocaust also inspired some memorable anti–war films including:
1959 – On The Beach, starring Gregory Peck & Ava Gardner
1963 – Dr. Strangelove: or, How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,
starring Peter Sellers & Sterling Hayden
1964 – Fail–Safe, directed by Sidney Lumet
1964 – Seven Days in May, starring Burt Lancaster & Kirk Douglas
1965 – The Bedford Incident, starring Richard Widmark & Sidney Poitier
Q #26: Dear Picture Show Man:
What was "The Production Code Seal of Approval", and what was the first movie to receive one?
A: Long before Hollywood started assigning ratings to movies (G, PG, PG–13, R, or NC–17), 'The Motion Picture Production Code' was used to establish and enforce moral guidelines for Hollywood movies. Initially adopted by Hollywood's major studios in 1930, through their trade organization 'The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America' (MPPDA), the Production Code was not rigorously enforced until the summer of 1934. Movies that adherred to the Code's production guidelines after 1934 received a certificate from the 'Production Code Administration' (a branch of the MPPDA) allowing the studio to display a "Seal of Approval" on the film's release prints. This seal was a visible sign that the movie was deemed morally unobjectionable for all viewers and, therefore, eligible for exhibition in the theaters owned by the major studios. Hollywood's major studios voluntarily agreed that their theater chains (which accounted for more than 70% of America's first–run movie houses in cities with a population greater than 100,000) would not show any movie that didn't have this Seal of Approval, and the MPPDA members who were distributors agreed not to distribute such movies. The first movie to receive a Seal of Approval was John Ford's "The World Moves On", which was awarded certificate #1 on July 11, 1934. From that date until today consecutively numbered certificates continue to be issued for, and displayed by, every movie shown in the United States.
The Motion Picture Production Code began by stating that, "No picture shall be produced which will lower the moral standards of those who see it." While acknowledging that, "Motion pictures are very important as Art", the Code made it clear that, " . . . the sympathy of the audience shall never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin." The Code went on to provide specific moral obligations, working principles, and production guidelines for the treatment of various plots and plot elements.
After World War II the MPPDA was renamed 'The Motion Picture Association of America' (MPAA). Because of many changes in both the motion picture industry and American society during the 1950s and 1960s, the Production Code was gradually weakened until finally, on November 1, 1968, it was replaced by the first version of the MPAA's current movie ratings system. These voluntary movie ratings, which are cautionary warnings to parents rather than an endorsement, continue to be administered by the MPAA, and certificate numbers continue to be issued by them. Although film producers still place both the MPAA's seal and certificate number at the end of their film's credits, the seal and number now merely indicate that the film has been viewed by the MPAA and given a rating.
To learn more about movie censorship, click on the following link:
go to "Movie Censorship in the United States" >>
Q #27: Dear Picture Show Man:
What are the emblems that appear toward the end of a movie's credits?
A: During the 1930s and 1940s various unions associated with Hollywood motion picture production negotiated contracts that required the studios to use union employees when making a movie. In 1937, to signify that a movie had been made in accordance with the unions' contracts, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (an umbrella organization for the various local unions representing different types of motion picture technicians and craftspeople) started placing their emblem in the movie's credits. (The first 20th Century–Fox film to include this emblem was "Second Honeymoon", released in November 1937.) Along with the name and trademark of the sound system used for the movie, the I.A.T.S.E. emblem was placed with the seal of The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) at the end of the production crew's credits. (See our answer to Question #26 above for an explanation of the MPPDA seal.)
In 1995 the I.A.T.S.E. changed its name to "The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States", although it is still referred to as the IATSE and its emblem has remained the same. The IATSE emblem and a variation of the MPPDA seal are still displayed at the end of the production credits of movies today.
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