Friday, February 09, 2007

Kathleen says It's All About Point Of View

This week I saw the best picture of the year.

I've seen lots of movies--we're talking '06--and I wasn't sure I wanted to see "Letters From Iwo Jima" in the theater because I'm lazy about subtitles. Not to worry. Not a problem. This movie had to be made in Japanese. It's amazing that it was directed by an American who presumably doesn't speak English, but I'll get to him soon. (This blog is mainly about him and me. Be patient.) Don't wait for the DVD. This movie is a unique experience, well worth the rising price of admission.

I didn't think "Letters" could possibly impress me more than "Flags Of Our Fathers," but it did. I teach the occasional fiction writing class, and I'm always hammering away about the importance of point of view. I'll be using these two films as my new examples.

First of all, you think you know what this movie is about, and you do. It's the flip side of "Flags." It's the battle --one of WW II's worst--from the side of the enemy. But it's so much more. It's not your 1950's John Wayne movie--although there is a horse. And a dog. The animals function the way they do in many romances--to soften a hero's hard edges.

The main character--Saigo, the baker--has a pregant wife instead of a pet. But he doesn't even need that to make him sympathetic from the get-go. He is Everyman, but he is every bit as Japanese as the guys he's shooting at are American. And therein lies the beauty of the movie. Even though Saigo speaks a language that is foreign to me and wears a uniform that means enemy, I was not mindful that he was shooting at my guys. I've seen this done in movies before, but never this well.

Taken together, "Flags Of Our Fathers" (with heartthrob Adam Beach, left) and "Letters" add up to an amazing piece of work. Yes, they're war movies, and yes, there's gore. I don't like bloodletting, but I think it's necessary to depict war in a truthful way. These are not "men's action adventure" films. Not escapist entertainment. They are certainly entertaining for anyone who's entertained by having her heart ripped out, i.e, women. And, yes, there's plenty of action. But this pair of films challenges the viewer to take a risk and experience the lives of other human beings, much the way a memorable book does.

And the artist responsible? These days Clint Eastwood (far left on the set of "Flags") is a well-respected director. I fell in love with him as Rowdy Yates on TV's "Rawhide" back in the 60's, but I stuck with him as he changed the cowboy image from his "spaghetti Westerns" to (left) "The Outlaw Josey Wales" and "Two Mules For Sister Sarah," two of my all-time favorites. As a kid I probably saw every war movie and Western John Wayne ever made, but he rarely played my kind of hero. I love Eastwood's cowboys. Sexy, cool, quotable (in our house and occasionally in my books) and--extremely important--he walks like a cowboy. And now he's an artist. A genius! The cinematography alone in "Letters" is masterful.

I also have a bit of a "thing" about Iwo Jima. I've been there. My dad was a WW II vet and an AF pilot in the 50's and 60's. It amazes me now to realize that when we landed on Iwo on the way from Guam to Japan (lost an engine on the MATS plane, emergency landing) and toured the island in jeeps, I thought WWII was ancient history. But I think it was 1957--a mere 13 years after the battle. I remember the black sand beaches, the view from the top of Mt. Surabachi, the wind, the ocean, and the fact that no one was talking. We'd already heard about the tunnels, and we'd seen pillboxes and wreckage, and I was aware that my father saw more there than what met my young eyes.

At the time there were no civilians on the island, not much besides U.S. military and an airfield, so it wasn't a great place to be stationed. We only stayed long enough to get the plane fixed--a day--but there was very nearly another casualty on that sad island. As we boarded the huge military transport plane my 3-year-old sister saw Daddy standing on the plane. She ran ahead of our mother and up the steps, which were not pushed tight to the plane, and she fell to the tarmac. Get this--there was no X-ray available on the island. The doctor couldn't do anything for her, so off we went to Japan with my mother and sister crying the whole way. Baby sister surprised everyone on the plane by surviving multiple skull fractures. She's been a survivor ever since.

It's all about viewpoint. Each of us brings something to every story we experience, which is why stories outlive their creators. Every time a person reads, hears, sees a story, something new is created. It's such a wonderful process!

I'd love to hear about movies that shook you to the core and actors that you've been hooked on and followed and never mind forking over the cash to watch on the big screen.


Helen Brenna said...

Kathy, I haven't seen either of these movies. But Saving Private Ryan shook me to the core as did Tom Hanks' performance. He's an all-time favorite of mine.

Clint Eastwood is amazing, isn't he? I love it when someone is successful in breaking down preconceptions. When he first started directing, I remember thinking, yeah, right. Wasn't Forgiven the first movie he'd ever directed. Like I said, amazing.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Exactly what I said when Clint started directing--yeah, right.

"Saving Private Ryan" was the perfect example of Tom Hanks as the consummate actor. He became the character, and you forgot Tom Hanks and any other role he'd played before.

When we saw SPR, there were 2 men sitting behind us, the older fellow the age of "the greatest generation." During the tough opening scene, I heard "Are you okay, Dad?" and "How're you doing, Dad?"

Nobody moved while the credits rolled at the end. (I always watch them unless I didn't like the movie and don't care.) When the lights went up at the end, people were slow to move. I mopped up with the tissue, but I did the writer's rise--you know, observing the room as you stand to take your leave, making some attempt to be casual. Lots of eyes still being dabbed, including son's behind us. (Don't worry. I was discreet--didn't stare.) Dad looked sad but not maudlin and blubbering, like most of us. More like his mind was somewhere else.

Yep, SPR was moving. But "Letters" is something else. A whole 'nother level.

Christie Ridgway said...

Kathy: I can't wait to recommend this to my mom and her husband. Not only is he a WW2 vet, but he is hard of hearing, so a movie with subtitles will be a good choice for him.

lois greiman said...

Yeah but Kathy, when I get depressed I'm depressed for a month. Is this going to break my heart?

Debra Dixon said...

Kathy-- POV made me think about Vanity Fair with Reese Witherspoon.

That movie was stunningly beautiful. Gorgeous.

But the thing that really struck me was the movie's consistent POV. Becky Thatcher came off not as a scheming social climber but as a loyal, level-headed woman in fan era when women had few options for making their way alone. She was willing to accept opportunity that came her way and work hard to achieve a better life.

I didn't see it at the theater because I just didn't think I could connect to the character. Yet when NetFlix dropped it in my mailbox I was so glad I took that chance and rented it.

It was so stunningly beautiful in terms of how it was shot, I've tossed the director's other films in my queue. (Mira Nair, an East Indian director)

I'm sure there are others but this was just a recent wake up call reminding me how powerful point of view can be in connecting viewers/readers to entertainment.

Michele said...

Movies that shook me to the core? I don't believe I've been shaken lately. That's not necessarily a good thing, either. I can't recall the last movie that made me cry for long minutes after it was over, but I know there have been movies like that. Usually it's very domestic sort of show that maybe touches a something going on in my own relationship, and explodes it on the big screen, and makes me reevaluate my own life. I'm remembering A Walk On THe Moon (that was the one with Viggo as the blouse man, right?) That shook me. Not because I've had an affair, but just aspects of Diane Lane's character really spoke to me.

As for actors I follow from screen to screen? Two Frenchmen, Vincent Cassel and Jean-Hugues Anglade. Incredible actors. The emotion they peddle on the big screen really does it for me. And they're pretty easy on the eyes, too. :-)


Kathleen Eagle said...

Loved A Walk On the Moon--first Viggo sighting, I think--very sexy. I agree with Deb about Vanity Fair. I had a hard time getting through the book, so hesitated to see the movie until it came out on dvd. But hubby likes to see the hist movies on the big screen for the sake of the horses. I really did get into the character more on screen than in the book. I'll have to go back and look at the book again and see if it's different for me now. Someday.

Lois, a month? Seriously? Well, these are war movies, which is pretty heartbreaking, but it's not like you get blindsided or anything. What's the quote from MASH? First rule of war: young men die. (That's changed a bit lately, hasn't it?) Anybody remember Rule #2?

Meljprincess said...

I would like to see "Letters" very much but I'll wait for the DVD.
Readers and Authors! You must see PRIZE WINNER OF DEFIANCE OHIO. It's excellent!


Kaitlin said...

First off, just wanted to say that I came across this blog via Cindy Gerard's website and I really like it. :) You guys are great.

As for movies that touched me...I'd have to say Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan. I'm only 30, so obviously I wasn't alive during this time in our history, but both of my grandfathers served during the war.

Schindler's List just boggled my mind because of the fact that it's actual history. There are so many factors to this movie that still get me to this day.

Saving Private Ryan was bloody & violent, but it was one of those movies that made me think. It made me feel & I like that.

As for your Clint Eastwood obsession (:)) I completely understand. I grew up in a household with a father who LOVES westerns. I saw The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly when I was 8 years old and that's when I fell in love. I've always said that if I could find myself a man who embodied Clint, I'd be a happy camper. he-he

Cindy Gerard said...

Hey Kaitlin
Glad you dropped by my site then swung on over to the convertible :o)
Clearly I need to see some of these movies. I've been behind this keyboard way too long.

Jackie W said...

Reading this reminded me of one summer when I was attending Ariz State University and as a class project I had to interview the man who played taps at the funeral of Ira Hayes, the American Indian who helped raise the flag on Iwo Jima. That was a very interesting part of my college experience. Haven't seen the movies yet but hope to.

Joye said...

I think the first movie that moved me was when as a child I saw BAMBI and as a teen I saw GONE WITH THE WIND and boy, he said dam......
I try to watch certain movies while my husband isn't around-he makes comments like "What are you crying for... it's just a movie"
And the actor that I have followed for all of these years has the most perfect blue eyes-Paul Newman. Not many can have an eye-color named after them, plus, he's a terrific actor.

Candace said...

Rule #2 is "Doctors can't change rule #1." MASH was one of my favorite shows.