Wednesday, February 05, 2020

1917 backlash?

The trench cultural warfare looks to have reached stalemate point when it comes to BAFTAs chosen flick of the year. When I hear that a movie like this is little more than a vehicle for the white male worldview I do kind of sigh.

Some of the other criticisms appear to refer to creative decisions that were made a little more deliberately, such as the everyman nature of the protagonists, the gameplay qualities of its single shot cinematography, its focus on individual redemption rather than the collective impotence and futile slaughter of the Flanders front etc. 

These gripes tend to indicate the disappointment of audience members who went in expecting to see a different movie altogether. I'd point them in the direction of Journey's End, also excellent, though arguably even more 'white'. 

The apparent lack of strict authenticity and the gameplay vibe did worry me just a little during the first half hour or so of 1917. I recalled my wet blanket objections to the WWI first person shooter Battlefield 1 a couple of years ago - that it seemed to dishonour and diminish the sacrifice of a generation. 

The plot here emerged from the stories told by the director's grandfather Alfred, the poet and novelist from Trinidad and Tobago, who was indeed a messenger repeatedly tasked with 'going over' with important bits of paper. Knowing this, I can see that Mendes is using no man's land in the way that Ad Astra and films of that ilk use outer space, as context for an oneiric, metaphysical, individual journey. 

I have to admit I did poke fun a bit at Ad Astra for its apparent lack of realism, but let's just say that (almost) nobody goes into Apocalypse Now expecting a traditional war movie. 

That 1917 has prospered in the US market, where the Great War has much shallower cultural roots, says something about Mendes's unusual take on this conflict. Schofield's perpendicular run across the ill-advised charge of the Devons will undoubtedly become its most iconic scene and one that is emblematic of the film's intrinsic vision. 

As an observation more on the zeitgeist than any single cultural artefact that it varnishes, we live in an era where we perhaps need to keep a closer eye on all art of the 'liberal' sort, because 'realism' is increasingly taken to mean presenting the world as it ought to be rather than as it is. There's always going to be a place in the market for this, but not as a virtual monopoly. 

It can become especially pernicious when it comes to dramas set in the past, for history is always a work in progress and thus susceptible to the mendacity of good intentions.

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