Which fiction portrays the future war realistically?

War & Anti-War Films - Definitions, History & Controversies


1 Introduction

2. Definitions of war and anti-war films

3. The history of war and anti-war films
3.1. First war films and the 1st World War
3.2. The 2nd World War
3.3. The Cold War
3.4. The Korean War
3.5. The Vietnam film

4. Hollywood and the Pentagon

5. Conclusion


Selection filmography

1 Introduction

No other medium like film has such a strong suggestive power to convey the horror of war events so much that the lines between reality and fiction are almost blurred. The memory of the peoples of the wars they touched is as varied as the films about the wars.

The war film can be full of nationalism, militarism and patriotism. He can reinterpret history, defeats can turn into victories, criminals into heroes. The war film can once again justify the human sacrifices that served a higher goal - for people and fatherland, for king and leader.

The anti-war film can show the viewer the horror of war and show that the dead and cripples were in vain and without point, questioning the whole point.

The following treatise first deals with the various definitions of war and, in particular, anti-war film. The largest part is devoted to the history of war and anti-war films, which treats examples of noteworthy works from film history divided into conflicts. It should be pointed out here that the content is restricted: with a few exceptions, these are mainly US-American productions, which characterize this film genre so much and are characteristic of most of the controversies in the genre. Finally, there is a consideration of the cooperation between the Hollywood studios and the US Department of Defense.

2. Definitions of war and anti-war films

There are different approaches to interpreting war films and assessing whether they are war films or anti-war films. In particular, the question “What is an anti-war film” is discussed a lot. The views on it are sometimes very different, some films are so "controversial" and the filmmaker's intentions so ambiguous that some films are described as patriotic, flag-waving propaganda, while other critics describe them as good examples of one denote critical anti-war film. A number of different interpretative approaches are described below.

According to Andrew Kelly's definition, anti-war films show the effects and consequences of war on soldiers and their families, as well as the problems of returning veterans. It is also important how the enemy is portrayed in the film. Is he a person with personality and face or just a shadowy, anonymous, exchangeable, depersonalized object of killing? (Kelly, 1997: Cinema and the Great War)

For Knut Hickethier, aesthetics and dramaturgy are the same in both war and anti-war films. However, the representation itself serves the war film as an end in itself. The anti-war film should not only make the actors objectively understandable about the material of the film, but also the dehumanization, delimitation and absurdity of the war. (Hickethier 1990: Fischer Filmgeschichte, Volume III)

The American magazine for media education Media & Values offers a number of questions for the evaluation of war films, which should not only help clarify whether it is a film with a pro or contra-war attitude, but also the cultural views regarding heroism, politics, the military, authority, justice, Analyze patriotism, family and gender relations:

1. Is high-tech equipment the star of the show? How do the actors oppose this equipment?
2. How are the opponents shown? Are they portrayed in a clichéd and demonized manner?
3. Does the film portray violence and aggression as the only means of solving problems, or are alternative solutions shown?
4. What are the protagonists fighting for? Does the film affirm the prevailing system and the status quo, or does it question it? Does the film have an opinion on current social issues?
5. What importance does the film assign to the man? What is the meaning of the woman? Is she just a contrast to the male characters or a real personality?
6. Does the film contain a system of myths that characterize a certain group (e.g. men)?
7. Is war presented as an interesting alternative to everyday life?
8. Does the story really tell what is “bad” about the enemy, or should one simply accept his bad nature naturally?

The article also names a number of films that they think either support or reject the war.

Pro-war: Rambo: First Blood Part 2 (1985), Top Gun (1986), Red Dawn (1984), An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)

Anti-war: Das Boot (1981), Apocalypse Now (1979), Platoon (1986), Full Metal Jacket (1987), Casualties of War (1989)

(Media & Values: How to Evaluate War Movies, Issue 56/1991 & Questions Help Evaluate War Films, Issue 39/1987)

Nancy Hollander sees a problem in many seemingly anti-war films, such as Platoon (1986)that while they illustrate the horror of the war, they do not analyze the social and political context that shows that this war was really bad. The anti-war film should not leave the viewer without hope in the end, and without the sense of responsibility to want to change something in the foreign policy of the country (based on the American viewer). Under Fire (1983) be an example of a film that lives up to their demands. Two journalists in the civil war in Nicaragua in the 1970s are faced with a choice between maintaining their journalistic objectivity or helping the rebels. The viewer is offered to identify with this moral choice. (Hollander in Media & Values: War is Hell ... Pass the Popcorn, issue 39/1987)

There are no different views among film critics about what a propaganda film is. Michael Strübel almost combines its properties with the following features:

Propaganda films convey a pronounced black and white thinking. Their own troops are only equipped with discipline, patriotism, courage to fight and bravery. The enemy is portrayed as a cowardly, fearful, unfair fool, villain or idiot up to the caricature. Often one's own superiority is suggested by racist undertones. The people willingly support the troops, social and ethnic barriers no longer exist.

The war hero is an active, energetic, clever and omnipotent man. The woman is either a prostitute or the mother who takes care of the house and child until she gives up on herself.

Democratic social systems are being replaced by hierarchical command and order structures.

There are no mutinies, deserters receive the “just punishment”. In battle there is no disorientation, depression or fear, no controversy in the leadership, no shelling of one's own troops. During the breaks there are no drinking bouts, visits to brothels or rape.

(Strübel 2002: War film and anti-war film in: Film and War)

3. The history of war and anti-war films

The following is an outline of the history of (anti) war films, which goes into more detail about important, interesting and noteworthy films, and presents the sometimes different, sometimes unambiguous opinions about them.

Every era in which the films were made, as well as every war that the individual films deal with, produced films that tend to be more patriotic, heroic or critical and judgmental. There is therefore a division into wars. The film history is then dealt with chronologically.

3.1. First war films and the 1st World War

Birth of a Nation (1915), a film about the time of the American Civil War of the Northern States against the Southern States and the subsequent reconstruction period, is considered a milestone in film history. The 3-hour silent film is the first modern film epic in American film history, which was the most commercially successful film in the USA for two decades until the establishment of the sound film. Director D.W. Griffith introduced film techniques that were to have a major impact on the following films: subtitles to explain the scenes, a separate soundtrack written for the orchestra, outside scenes, moving and zooming camera positions, scene dissolves, close-ups and many other cinematic techniques that are standard for everyone future films should be. Although Griffith had pacifist intentions, the film was always heavily criticized for its clearly demonstrated racism. The film shows the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan as a heroic knightly group against the vicious barbaric African American. Ironically, the black leading roles are played by whites painted black. These controversies, which continued at the time, also ensured that Birth of a Nation became a blockbuster.

Even this first classic war film contains the contradiction that many later anti-war films have to contend with. The actually pacifist message of the film, at the end of which the god of war has to give way to the prince of peace, is overturned by the picturesque scenes of the heroically depicted battles.

In response to the many reviews, Griffith created Intolerance (1916), another monumental work of the silent movie era, with clearer pacifist messages about intolerance, inhumanity, persecution, discrimination and injustice, embedded in four stories in modern times, the time of Christ, 16th century France and Babylon 500 BC. At around half a million dollars, it was the most expensive film at the time and again used techniques that were ahead of their time, such as scenes filmed by cranes and crowd scenes. Nevertheless, the film was a commercial flop, probably also due to the imminent entry of the USA into the First World War, when pacifist topics were not well received.

Griffith made a number of other war films, which, however, no longer portrayed pacifist views, but were purely propaganda films. Griffith later regretted his involvement in these works.

One of those films was Hearts of the World (1918), which includes actual footage of battles on the front lines, depicting the Germans as the barbaric, cold-hearted murderer of innocents. This film was mainly used for recruiting soldiers.

At that time, the film industry produced other films that portrayed Germany as demonically evil, such as The Kaiser, Beast of Berlin (1918) or The Prussian Cur (1918).

Charles Spencer Chaplin's satire on World War I Shoulder Arms (1918) does not portray the German opponent so one-sidedly evil. The pointlessness and the boredom of waiting for the front deployment in the trenches were implemented in a tragic-comic way, which makes it an anti-war film for Strübel. It received a series of performance bans and could only be shown in Germany in 1968.

After the end of World War I, the film industry's interest in war films initially disappeared. The Big Parade (1925) was the first war film after the war. He portrayed the atrocities of trench warfare very realistically from the point of view of a simple GI, without, however, adopting a contra attitude to war. His strengths were neither political nor psychological, as the historical basis of World War I and the war itself are never questioned. Instead, the film portrays the cliché that war shapes character and creates real men.

What Price Glory (1926) should be a pacifist response The Big Parade that conveys the waste of young life in trench warfare. The protagonists, portrayed as tough tough guys, often harbored nostalgic rather than pacifist feelings about military life in the audience.


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