[Marxism] Clint Eastwood tells the tale behind that photo
walterlx at earthlink.net
Sun Oct 22 10:24:20 MDT 2006
(Typos and formatting errors corrected, and a few points clarified.
I apologize for my errors and any consequent confusion caused.)
With public support for Washington's war invasion and occupation of
Iraq tanking, Clint Eastwood's new movie, to be followed by a parallel
film showing the same battle from the Japanese point of view, could
not be more timely and helpful. Far from being a propaganda product
aimed at demonstrating imperialism's virtue, the picture illustrates, in
a sharp but non-didactic manner, the human cost of modern warfare.
It's a picture designed to make you think, not to rally round the flag
and rush off to sign up for the military. The iconic image of the U.S.
soldiers planting the United States flag on Japanese national soil is
one they wouldn't use today. The Japanese were overwhelmed by
massive U.S. firepower, but the decisive end was brought about by
the use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Resistance
to the U.S. invasion and occupation soon collapsed. The image itself
was staged, as the movie shows, as it helps the viewer to understand
the political impact of such propaganda in a troubled nation.
What marks Eastwood's film as of such urgent importance at this very
moment is the way it demonstrates, with a modern understanding, the
way spin-doctoring was mobilized so effectively by Washington as the
Second World War drew to a close. The film tells us that the popular
support for that war was winding down, and funding was drying up at
that conjuncture. Today's audiences know more about the methods
used to manufacture consent, thought the process of manufacturing
it has continued to be effectively used by Washington, up until today.
Military resistance in Japan vanished, and the country was occupied
by the United States, which wrote its constitution and set up Japan's
political system. In today's Iraq, by contrast, armed resistance to the
U.S. occupation has steadily expanded and deepened, the opposite of
what happened in Japan. The same is happening in Afghanistan today.
Of course, that's exactly what Washington did to Cuba a century ago.
Perhaps it's because it's been sixty years since World War II, but it's
also because people in the United States don't have the confidence
they did at that time in such institutions as the media, the church
and the government itself in general. Can we imagine any director
TODAY trying to make a movie about Iraq, FROM THE VIEWPOINT
OF THE IRAQI RESISTANCE? That difference is what makes Clint
Eastwood's movie so timely, especially for United States audiences.
The crude racism expressed toward the Native American Ira Hayes
at various points in the film, which would not be used in a film about
present-day conflicts, is eloquently documented in Eastwood'd movie.
That will surely be written about separately.
This image itself, and many others which have been manipulated for
political purposes, is fiscussed in the fascinating book PHOTO FAKERY:
The History and Techniques of Photographic Deception and Manipulation
by Dino A. Brugioni, a founder of the CIA's National Phograophic Inter-
pretation Center, published in 1999.
Los Angeles, California
This conflict between the reality of the flag-raising and the image the
government insisted on projecting for its own needs (a conflict that
including refusing to correct a misidentification of one of the dead
flag-raisers) is the "Flags of Our Fathers" theme that resonates
most pointedly today.
It is interesting to note, in this age of the overblown Jessica Lynch
story and President Bush's "Mission Accomplished" aircraft carrier
speech, that the need to create media heroes and the determination
to use war for political/governmental purposes has hardly gone away.
The war in Iraq was likely not high on anyone's mind when this film
was conceptualized, but the echoes of the current conflict turn out
to be inescapable.
'Flags of Our Fathers'
Clint Eastwood's war drama grippingly tells
the tale behind that photograph from Iwo Jima.
By Kenneth Turan
Times Staff Writer
October 20, 2006
"Flags of Our Fathers" is a story of extremes. It's the story of great
heroism on a tiny island, of a photograph taken in 1/400th of a second that wreaked
havoc with the lives of everyone in it and influenced the course of a war.
It's also a very American tale, set 60 years ago but startlingly relevant today,
which intertwines and often contrasts bravery and chicanery, idealism and disillusion,
war and propaganda, truth and national security. This sad true story wrings you
out emotionally because it's concerned with both the deaths of young men in
battle and what happens when the needs of those who survive clash with what society
expects and politics demands.
A narrative like this requires a measured, classical style to be most effective,
and it couldn't have found a better director than Clint Eastwood. After two
best picture Oscars, 26 films behind the camera and more than 50 years as an actor,
Clint Eastwood knows a gripping story and how to tell it. He found this one in James
Bradley's book about the celebrated Feb. 23, 1945, flag-raising on Iwo Jima,
a narrative that was nearly a year on the New York Times bestseller list and has
3 million copies in print.
Bradley (who co-wrote the book with Ron Powers) was not a disinterested World War
II historian. His father, Navy corpsman John "Doc" Bradley, was the only
non-Marine of the six men who raised the flag and figured in Joe Rosenthal's
Bradley was also one of the three who survived perhaps the most hellish battle of
the war only to be brought back to the U.S. and exhibited like a prize heifer in
a crucial war bonds tour, nicknamed the Mighty 7th, which saw the raising of an
unprecedented and much-needed $26.3 billion for the war effort. The author's
quest to understand how that unnerving combination of experiences whipsawed his
father and his comrades is the engine that powers both the book and this gripping,
Certainly everything about the Iwo Jima firestorm and its aftermath turned out to
be so much larger than life that it led to three previous films, a Johnny Cash song
and the 100-ton statue of the six men that dominates Arlington National Cemetery.
Twenty-seven Congressional Medals of Honor, the most ever for one battle, were earned
on Iwo Jima; one-third of all Marines who died in World War II were killed on that
7 1/2-square-mile island, as were 95% of its 22,000 Japanese defenders, whose story
Eastwood will tell in a parallel film, "Letters From Iwo Jima," to be
released in early 2007.
Making this carnage that much more poignant was the fact that most of it was happening
to boys/men in their teens and early 20s. Eastwood and his casting director, Phyllis
Huffman (who, like veteran production designer Henry Bumstead, died before the film
was released), tried hard to select actors who either were young or looked it. The
result is a strong ensemble that includes Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford and Adam
Beach as the three flag-raising survivors and Barry Pepper as their sergeant.
Written by William Broyles Jr. (himself a former Marine) and Paul Haggis ("Million
Dollar Baby," "Crash"), "Flags of Our Fathers" opts for
an opening that is structurally complex, touching lightly on most of the situations
and viewpoints the film will eventually flesh out.
The first shot is of a young soldier (Phillippe) alone in the devastated lunar landscape
that was Iwo Jima in combat (these sequences were shot in Iceland, which has similar
black sand beaches). This, we learn in seconds, is a recurring dream an elderly
Doc Bradley has of himself on Iwo, desperately looking for the close buddy, Ralph
"Iggy" Ignatowski (Jamie Bell), who he has unaccountably become separated
In addition to Bradley in combat and in retirement, we witness the fuss Rosenthal's
photo, considered perhaps the most reproduced shot in history, made from the moment
it was first seen. And we also get a glimpse of the surreal nature of the ensuing
bond tour; the first flag-raising we see is not the real thing but a garish re-creation
before 100,000 spectators at Chicago's Soldier Field.
We also hear photographer Rosenthal as he attempts to explain why his picture touched
a national nerve. "What we do in war, the cruelty is almost incomprehensible,"
he says. "But somehow we need to make sense of it. The right picture can win
or lose a war. I took a lot of other pictures that day, but none of them made a
difference. Looking it at, you could believe the sacrifice was not a waste."
It's at this point that the men who raised the flag are introduced softly, not
really differentiated from the others in their units. Though "Flags" eventually
shows us all six, it concentrates on experienced Sgt. Mike Strank (Pepper, a veteran
of "Saving Private Ryan") and the three men who will make it back alive.
First among equals is Bradley, the calm, centered undertaker-in-training whose character
is well served by Phillippe's naturally haunted air. Most problematic as a soldier
is handsome Rene Gagnon (Bradford), a.k.a. "our own Tyrone Power," who
literally joined the Marines because he liked the uniform.
Then there is Ira Hayes ("Smoke Signals' " Beach), a Native American
from the Pima tribe, a soldier whose grim experiences putting up with constant prejudicial
put-downs and surviving the most brutal hand-to-hand combat are the emotional heart
of the film. With the Japanese so entrenched in a system of underground bunkers
and tunnels that many Marines never saw an enemy soldier alive, the landing at Iwo
is portrayed, in the film's action centerpiece, as especially devastating in
the "Saving Private Ryan" tradition. As shot by Eastwood veteran Tom Stern,
the battle is pure, pitiless chaos, an unflinchingly graphic look at the split-second
randomness of who stays alive and who is savagely cut down.
Compared with this brutality, the two flag-raisings that took place on Iwo Jima's
Mt. Suribachi (the film is careful to explain this often misunderstood situation)
ended up being no big deal at all, mundane moments that were the equivalent, as
one of the survivors said, of "becoming a hero for putting up a pole."
But that is precisely what happened.
It happened because no one counted on the torrential impact of that photograph,
which, among other things, ended up on 150 million postage stamps. The trio of surviving
flag-raisers are air-lifted back to the States, in Hayes' case very much against
his will, and in effect press-ganged into an extensive public relations tour to
raise that much-needed money.
The bulk of "Flags of our Fathers" cuts back and forth between the tour
and the men's flashbacks to the hellacious combat on Iwo, detailing the reality
the survivors are haunted by, a reality that makes them powerfully uncomfortable
with being lionized for their connection to what they consider to be a misleading
This conflict between the reality of the flag-raising and the image the government
insisted on projecting for its own needs (a conflict that including refusing to
correct a misidentification of one of the dead flag-raisers) is the "Flags
of Our Fathers" theme that resonates most pointedly today.
It is interesting to note, in this age of the overblown Jessica Lynch story and
President Bush's "Mission Accomplished" aircraft carrier speech, that
the need to create media heroes and the determination to use war for political/governmental
purposes has hardly gone away. The war in Iraq was likely not high on anyone's
mind when this film was conceptualized, but the echoes of the current conflict turn
out to be inescapable.
Also inescapable is the wonderful appropriateness of having this thoughtful and
disturbing meditation on the qualities that make up heroism and the quixotic nature
of fame come from a man who made his considerable reputation playing clean-cut heroes.
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