Monday, 26 April 2010

Stephen Ambrose - Massive Fraud?

As far as Historians go, Stephen E. Ambrose, who passed away in 2002, appeared to be the cream of the crop. He had an informative, yet evocative writing style. He was a personal favourite of mine, before Band Of Brothers was even a TV idea. Works such as Citizen Soldiers and The Wild Blue, brought the realities of World War Two in to perspective. Brought them off of the page, and to life. Had a personal feeling, that most other WW2 non-fiction lacks. It's difficult to describe exactly why they were some of my favourite books, when I was in my teens and still naive to many of the key battles of the War.

Now, the writer has been posthumously de-faced, and I'm not quite sure how I feel about that. I'm not even sure how much truth there really is to the story. About 80% of me believes these stories may have been fabricated. I mean, how can somebody lie about spending, literally, hundreds of hours with a President, and get away with it for so many years? Somebody...a bodyguard, accomplice, whatever, would have spoken up years ago, announcing Ambrose as a fraud. How convenient that this should come out, "accidentally", long after his death.

For anybody interested, here is an article and some BG info on Ambrose:

I'm not about to cry conspiracy on this, but it just seems very unusual. Apparently, some passages in "The Wild Blue" were also plagiarised, but he claimed that he merely failed to name a source and to place the passages in quotations. Fair enough, I say. We're all human. We make mistakes. Even great writers make mistakes.

As well as questions over how much time he actually spent with the former President Eisenhower before his death, and how much material he fabricated, there's also questions concerning who made first contact between the two; Eisenhower claiming Ambrose, and Ambrose vice versa.

I haven't actually read any of S.Ambrose' works on Eisenhower, and I don't intend to in the immediate future. All I know is that his books were a great source of interest and education to me in a time when I needed it. They will continue to be, despite this mess. Stephen E. Ambrose was a man dedicated to the cause; savouring the words of a great generation for others to learn from them and admire them. I respect him for that. In fact, I may go and re-read Citizen Soldiers.

I do wonder how this will affect his son, Hugh Ambrose, project consultant on the new miniseries "The Pacific".

Friday, 16 April 2010

Images Imprinted On The Mind

The true test of a film is how long it stays with somebody after they've digested it. If a movie manages to succeed in this, there is usually a particular image, or series of images, that the person will always remember from the movie. A defining image, that encapsulates what that person was feeling as they experienced the film. That is what makes movies so special, exceptional even. When we read a novel, we experience the story in mainly thoughts and feelings, and they shape the images and sounds that our minds must slave to create. It's always like playing the lottery when you read a book, because you don't know if you will experience it how the author intended. But when you watch a movie, somebody has spent many hours, maybe days, on creating scenes, creating images and sounds in a certain way, perfecting them, so that they will affect us emotionally and stay with us. Today I want to share a few of the movies, and the key scene within those movies, that have left the deepest imprint on my mind.

Stand By Me

This is one of my all time, favourite movies. The cast is perfect, the story is faultless and the pacing is excellent. There are many memorable scenes, such as dodging the train, sitting in the treehouse or finally discovering the dead body, only to be foiled by the older gang. However, for me, this film is encapsulated by one scene. The movie has climaxed, and they have travelled back to the town in which they live. They've said their goodbyes, and somehow, we know that their friendship will never be the same again. They've changed, beyond repair. It's a point in life that all young boys experience, the passing of a friendship. It can be compared to the parting of friends leaving the military. They've been through everything together, the good, the bad and the sad. They've drank together, sung together, and experienced war together. Then there's the realisation that it is ending, and that it was only ever to be for a limited time. Friendship in the Military is friendship in childhood. A phase of life that must pass. I'm left with the image of Wil Wheaton and River Phoenix, saying their goodbyes among the trees and weeds, below the old treehouse.

Memphis Belle

This is one of the films that I blame for my infatuation with World War 2, in particular the aviation aspects. The great battles fought in the air. Thanks to this movie, written by Monte Merrick, I have been visiting airshows irregularly since I was little, to see the star of the show, B17 "Sally B", take to the skies. At my first airshow, when I was around eight, I had to drag my family closer to the B17 Flying Fortress so that I could see past the nuisance of a crowd blocking my view. The sheer size of the plane struck me at that age. Many have slammed the movie for not being accurate to the real crew of the "Memphis Belle", and their actual war experiences. But I believe that movies based on War Stories have no obligation to be 100% accurate, because they are key to hooking people and getting their attention. Then, those that are genuinely interested enough will go and fish for information themselves. It's not like real stories are hard to come by, with veteran pages and documentaries readily accessible all over the internet, twenty four hours a day. There are other historical innaccuracies that I feel can be ignored, thanks to the era-driven dialogue, excellent footage in the air, and of course, the award winning soundtrack. Again, it's difficult to pick a defining scene from Memphis Belle. There's no feeling comparable to the moment the landing gear locks in place and the tires let out a screech of relief, and we feel so happy for them to be alive. However, something that has stayed with me for my entire life, is the scene as Danny stands, embarassed and belittled under the sun of Spring, and reads out the edited excerpt from W.B.Yeats' famous "An Irish Airmen Foresees His Death". The scene where it is later recalled as a dream of Danny's as he rests close to death, is just as powerful. The words are just so relative to the events, and this scene never fails to touch me.

My Girl

Everybody has seen this movie. It's one of the defining coming-of-age films. It's not the kiss scene, or the poem scene. The most powerful scene from this movie is Thomas J's funeral. The music stirs and we feel Vada's pain as we watch her on the stairs, viewing the ceremony as an outsider. She slowly makes her way to the casket, and breaks down in tears, finally telling everybody "he can't see without his glasses", something only the closest of friends would think of at that moment in life. It truly is a sad moment, that we can or will, all relate to.

I won't go on any further, you all get the point. I challenge you to spend some time, thinking about your favourite movies, and the scene or scenes, that define them for you. Maybe rewatch them. The truly great scenes don't lose their effect, no matter how many times you've seen them.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Picks Of The 70's

I've been thinking about this list for a while. It's a tough one. Many consider the 70's to be the best year for Cinema, although I accuse them of being overly nostalgic. I'm not saying the 70's didn't produce a lot of great movies, just that there have been much better movies in other decades.

So, here are my top 20 movies of the 70's!

1. The Getaway (1972, Sam Peckinpah, Steve Mcqueen).
2. Taxi Driver (1976, Scorsese, De Niro).
3. Deer Hunter (1978, Cimino, Walken, De Niro).
4. Apocalypse Now (1979, Coppola, Martin Sheen, Brando).
5. Jaws (1975, Spielberg).
6. Badlands (1973, Terrence Mallick).
7. Kramer Vs Kramer (1979, Robert Benton).
8. The Godfather Pt II (1974, Coppola).
9. One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest (1975, Milos Forman, Jack Nicholson).
10. A Clockwork Orange (1971, Kubrick).
11. Rocky (1976, Avildsen, Stallone).
12. The Warriors (1979, Walter Hill).
13. Grease (1978, Randal Kleiser).
14. New York New York (1977, Scorsese).
15. Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971, Mel Stuart).
16. Mean Streets (1973, Scorsese).
17. Bedknobs & Broomsticks (1971, Robert Stevenson).
18. Catch-22 (1970, Mike Nichols).
19. Papillon (1973, Franklin J. Schaffner, Mcqueen).
20. Pete's Dragon (1977, Don Chaffey, Helen Reddy).

Pretty awesome list I have to say. Maybe I was talking out of my harris in the introduction. Watch these movies.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Recently Watched and Recommended

Over the last week, i've seen quite a few pretty impressive movies that I had never seen before, and I think it's only fair to share them here with my loyal readers. I'll even give a few reasons for each, why you should take the time to buy/rent/steal them and watch them. How great am I!?

The Hurt Locker - An interesting look at a bomb disposal unit in Iraq, and the daily terrors they amust endure. A semi-character study of the energetic, sometimes erratic leading man, his methods, and how he deals with things outside of normal procedure. I won't say too much as it's a huge movie that you can read about in any of the regular places, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and can say it had a well structured mix of tension, sadness and excitement. I will say you should watch it on Blu-Ray if you have the option, as it's stunning. What it lacks in actual story, it makes up for in detailed, glorious intensity.

District 9 - I never really had much interest in this movie until I saw a clip of it during the BAFTA awards. The first sight of the aliens grabbed me, and i knew i had to see it. Finally got to watch it on Blu-Ray last week, and was not disappointed. I hadn't really heard much about it or the screenplay as i'm not one to seek out science-fiction movies, so i was pleasently surprised with the documentary format to start with, which really draws the viewer in to the story, and also gives us a chance to become close to the primary character, who we later feel deep sympathy for as his predicament deepens. The CGI is amazing, never disappointing, and it's nice that the movie is set in South Africa rather than a predictable LA or NY. Go watch this film if you want to be enthralled for 2 hours.

Life With Judy Garland: Me And My Shadows - This is the story of the wonderfully impressive Judy Garland. Her rise and fall and rise and fall. It's the story of constant ups and downs for the late singer, and anybody who has even minimal interest in Judy Garland should watch this. It won't tell you everything there is to know about Judy and her time, but Judy Davis does an excellent job of portraying the late singer and bringing her energetic passion to the screen. It also gives an interesting insight in to her family life and her addiction to pills. It's a sad story of exploitation and cruelty that we all know the end to, but it deserves to be seen by anyone with even a passing interest in that period of music history.

The Pianist - This true-life movie begins in Poland in 1938 and stretches all the way through to 1945; the end of the Second World War. We experience the war of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a talented Jewish-Polish pianist who eventually, after the capture of Poland, watches his family get taken away to certain death, while he is left to struggle and starve through every day on minimal rations and a constant threat from Nazi thugs, until the Russians liberate Poland once again. This film made me feel lucky to live in such comfortable, safe times. The music is beautiful and fits perfectly. What stood out for me was Adrien Brody's pure and faultless dedication to the part. It's admirable. It's also refreshing to view the Holocaust from a slightly fresh, albeit narrowed perspective. Rather than see the death and decay in concentration camps(portrayed perfectly in Schindlers List and other films), we experience the almost-fatal twists and turns of one mans war as he's trying to survive within a ruined, decaying city. My heart nearly exploded from my chest at the films end, and I won't say any more than that. Watch this film.

The Blind Side - I'm not a Sandra Bullock fan, but i'd heard she was good in this film. Then my girlfriend watched it and recommended it so i gave the movie a chance. It's the true-life sentimental story of one boy, down on his luck, at the bottom of the barrel, being given more than a helping hand by a strange family and eventually being drafted in to the NFL after a struggle through High School. It's one of those films that almost restores your faith in humanity. Some moments are really heart wrenching and sad to watch, other moments make you laugh and sigh in relief, and it's my favourite Sandra Bullock movie since Speed. The rest of the cast ain't too shabby either, although i found the son, S.J., to be way over the top sometimes, but i suppose that gives the film extra comedy points. It's not my favourite movie in this bunch, but it's worth the ticket price. As you all know i'm a fan of unique credit sequences, and at the end of this film we get to see some pictures of the real family that the movie is based on. I thought that was a particularly nice touch.

Thanks for reading.