Lidia Yuknavitch’s Weblog

the body of the word

novel: films of war


Topic: Films of war—what are the greatest “war films” of all time and why

Setting: the city of Rimini. Rimini is a city in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. The artists have yet again managed to beg, borrow and steal their way to a house they have rented for a month. In is late summer/early fall. Everything is lazy, even the heavy orange glow of the sun sits low in the sky each day. The drink wine from the moment they wake until they pass out, in general. They take turns making and eating pastas and meats. Figs. They eat a lot of figs and olives. The eating of the figs and olives and the non-stop dreamy drinking sort of becomes part of the mood and tone. They get very dramatic by nightfall. They sit outside at night and make up untrue things about themselves and inflate their ideas to cinematic proportions and fuck a lot.

Someone has just said: “Fucking Apocalypse Now. Fucking perfect in every way.”


  1. Well fuck your fucking Apoc Now! I haven’t seen it, and I don’t need to! My life is all the love and war I need, isn’t yours? Why is apocalypse such an entertaining subject? I’ve read more great pulp about apoc . . . say, why does violence get girls so hot? I haven’t watched a war movie in ages that hasn’t ended in a blowjob, at least . . . maybe I’ll check out A-now. Hm. More wine.

    Comment by evan | August 9, 2007 | Reply

  2. Scew that. Deer Hunter. Apocalypse Now is a comic book. The Godfather is a better war movie. People just don’t come from nowhere, and don’t tell me that’s what war does to people. Don’t…hey. Like you know? Or me? But I mean…how horrible is it that I can only name American war movies?

    Comment by Tye | August 9, 2007 | Reply

  3. Oh fuck you. I don’t care what movie it is, no movie can BE war. What else is the point? No, shut up, seriously? Short of the director squatting behind the screen with an AK-47 and plugging away at every surge of yokels hitting, in droves, the local multiplex, or setting off a mortar in your living room after you get home from Blockbuster – oh yeah, thanks, god that’s good – I mean, short of all that no movie can really BE a “war movie.”

    Although Apocolypse DOES come close, but not for the reasons you probably think. Apocolypse Now IS “cinematic” war, in the truest sense. Those guys went to war to make the movie. They all nearly died; killed each other, themselves… All for the movie.

    Now, I think it’s the littlest, “littlest,” is that a word? Heh, well, it’s a bit overrated honestly, but, but nevermind, scratch all that, forget it, film is too subjective be evaluated based on objective values. It doesn’t matter if it’s “good” or “bad,” “interesting” is better than either of those any day of the week.

    Apocolypse is one of those movies that is really amazing in a lot of ways, but what happens ON screen just can’t hold a candle to what happened OFF it. THERE’S the movie I’d like to see.

    The whole genre bugs me. Film can never hold a candle to war. It’s like saying sculpture can accurately depict and transport you into the middle of kickboxing. You can show it, you can dramatize it, but what does a war movie GIVE you? It’s like “love stories” – such a weird combination of words, eh? I think – to me a story about two people being in love isn’t that interesting. It’s fucking boring, actually. But, a movie ABOUT love, in whatever capacity it may be in this specific case, that’s a lot more like it. To me war is like this. A movie can’t make me feel like I’ve been in war, but it can engage me into thinking about war is, what it might mean.

    I’ll give you an example. One of the best war movies I’ve ever seen? Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. Fuck yeah, you heard me, Frankenstein Meets the fucking Wolf Man. It’s got nothing to do with war, well, except between the titular titans of terror – hahaha, yeah I’ve seen the poster, BUT, but… it was made in the middle of World War II and everything about that war, about that time in the country totally, completely rubs off on this teeny, tiny, meaningless B-movie.

    The film’s setting, that Europian fantasy-land, devoid of Nazis, concentration camps, battlefields, is just metaphor. So are the monsters, they embody what the film and the filmmakers can’t show us. We can’t see bodies being blown apart in combat, but we can see them stitched back together and “Rawwwr!”-ing at us, scaring the kiddies about the possibilities of theirs, their relatives’ deaths, the innevitablity of that death, yet at the same time teasing them with the possibility for transcendence, for conquering fate, for cheating death. We can’t show Nazis as anything but mindless psychotic butcherers. Can we say “Nazi,” in Italy? Is there going to be weirdness if the neighbors hear? Anyway, we can’t show them as people, but we can show Lon Chaney, Jr. – a good enough guy, a regular guy – who under forces perhaps beyond his control, he’s compelled into becoming something terrible, into letting larger forces change his body and mind into something to carry out their own hideous, horrific mechinations, for killing indiscriminently and for devaluing human lives to the level of animals, primed for mass-produced slaughter. You’ve got the monsters, arguably our protagonists since their beef ends being largely with each other, being constantly stalked and chased down by giant hordes of commoners, rising up and emboldened by the promise of a common enemy, something deemed less-than-human (animal) or, perhaps conversely as more-than-themselves, dangerously superhuman (Jews = scapegoat for only the five-TRILLIONTH time in history, but their perceived economic prosperity in comparison to “real” Germans of the Depression makes them a target for derision YET again) and must be stopped. Scenes of these cliched angry mobs become even more powerful. In Frankenstein they were a lynch mob. In Bride of Frankenstein they were the Romans, capturing Christ from the olive garden and crucifying him in vain. By now, they’re a Nazi party rally. The torches might as well be arranged into swastika patterns. They are bloodthirsty. They are bent on destroying anything “different,” “monstrous,” “dangerous,” whether these definitions the true nature of the situation or not.

    Shut up, I’m not reading too much into it. Okay, maybe a little.

    But think about it! It’s fur versus metal! It’s the berserker, the Germanic, crazed-animal warrior versus all the ingenuity and know-how of modern science, personified as a living embodiment of death! It’s the US versus Germany, Germany versus itself, it’s all these things and it tells me more about THAT war than Saving Private Ryan, The Longest Day and, you know, “insert classic WWII movie predominently featuring the European theater-campaign here,” put together.

    Comment by Jesse "The Snake" Walvoord | August 9, 2007 | Reply

  4. Jesus christ, you talk a lot.

    Comment by Debra Di Blasi | August 9, 2007 | Reply

  5. fur vs. metal. fuck. i like that part. i like that part a lot. what are you on that we missed? where is it? why is it that everyone mostly answers this question in terms of vietnam? vietnam was NOT the only war and the deer hunter and apocalypse now are NOT the best and only war movies…it’s like vietnam is axiomatic for anything anybody has to say about war films. HELLO. there are films from OTHER COUNTRIES about OTHER WARS…i’m putting my money on the Battle of Algiers. fucking brilliant. fucking wipes coppola’s ass.

    Comment by lidiaohlidia | August 9, 2007 | Reply

  6. Hey, did anyone see Army of Shadows? A great war movie without, you know, actually having a war. Outside, that is. Though I appreciate that you’re apparently incapable of anything non-performative. You, my piglets, are who uniforms are made for.

    Comment by VP | August 9, 2007 | Reply

  7. Oh, and it’s not allegorical either. Coward.

    Comment by VP | August 9, 2007 | Reply

  8. I will describe to you the perfect war movie now.

    It is called Titanic.

    No, not that one.

    It stars Leonardo DiCaprio.

    No, not that one.

    It also stars Kate Winslet.

    No, not that one.

    These stars are not listed in the order I just gave.

    Please shut up and listen for a moment.

    Yes, yes, of course there are other stars; be quiet.

    The scene I want to describe starts like this:

    Water, water everywhere and all the boards did shrink.

    There is no narrator for this scene, by the way.

    The scene continues like this:

    Water, water everywhere and ne’er a drop to drink.

    I know what you’re thinking.

    And you should be ashamed of yourself.

    Comment by trevor | August 10, 2007 | Reply

  9. oh aren’t you fucking clever. fuck you. that’s fucking superb. come here. i want to put my mouth on you. yeah yeah don’t fucking freak out. we’re all friends here. and before i stuff my tongue down your fucking throat i have this to say: incident at oglala. leonard fucking peltier.

    And the encounter here in this country—the first encounters, colonization. What we did to Native Americans, what all colonizers do to the the ‘raw material’ when they encounter people in the way of their discoveries. that’s motherfucking war.

    Comment by lidiaohlidia | August 11, 2007 | Reply

  10. EXACTLY. And the encounter here in this country—the first encounters, colonization. What we did to Native Americans, what all colonizers do to the the ‘raw material’ when they encounter people in the way of their discoveries.

    Comment by lidiaohlidia | August 11, 2007 | Reply

  11. Chalk one up for the women again. Leave it to women to leave historical authenticity for bleeding heart bullshit.

    Comment by lidiaohlidia | August 11, 2007 | Reply

  12. Fuck you. Violence is not just the ‘famous’ wars, nor a list of calendar dates and so-called historical data. War is everywhere. It’s inside the dynamics of oppression. It’s a habit of being. It’s a structure of consciousness. It’s between genders…it’s embedded inside language itself.

    Comment by lidiaohlidia | August 11, 2007 | Reply

  13. Bravo, and in your next act, you’ll be burning your bra, and pretending that you don’t like a dildo up your ass. right? Bravo. That’s not war. That’s something else. That’s someone’s jack-off dissertation.”

    Comment by lidiaohlidia | August 11, 2007 | Reply

  14. Show her pretending she doesn’t like a dildo up her ass! Actually, why don’t we all just play war-charades?

    Comment by evan | August 11, 2007 | Reply

  15. I’m the only goddamn one here who’s ever fought in a war and no one’s even asked me what I think.

    Comment by Debra Di Blasi | August 12, 2007 | Reply

  16. whadyou think?

    Comment by lidiaohlidia | August 12, 2007 | Reply

  17. I’m lying. I never fought in a war. But I bet I could pass as an ex-grunt with all the war movies I’ve seen, all the war books I’ve read. I’m like the Monday night quarterback who sits on his pleather couch watching the front linemen on TV headbutt like horny rams and thinking he could do that, yeah, he could do that and better, as if the roll of fat around his gut and out-of-control cholesterol and high blood pressure are still somewhere in his future and he’s just 18 and tough and hard and the world and the girls part their legs like the pussy-red sea before him. That’s me. Fuck.

    Look. Ha! Look. I got a hard-on just talking about it.

    Comment by Debra Di Blasi | August 13, 2007 | Reply

  18. then i’m the guy in THE THIN RED LINE … moving through carnage in a kind of beautiful dream-state in a good looking way with a gorgeous soundtrack.

    Comment by lidiaohlidia | August 13, 2007 | Reply

  19. Then you’re Nick Nolte’s character, thinking, too late: “If only I’d chosen love.”

    People get pissed about THE THIN RED LINE because they think it romanticizes war. It romanticizes war if you’re a moron, or an otherwise smart person who is a literalist, like my friend the military historian who complained because the historical facts were not precise and who, by the way, never fuckin saw battle. Those same people — publishers, writers — ragged on James Jones because they thought his novel wasn’t accurate, for example his map in the beginning of the book which is of a place that doesn’t exist. Except it does exist. It exists in James Jones’ head who actually fucking fought at Guadalcanal, and so knew what war is really like — unlike writers and artists who haven’t fought in a war or even fuckin come close to living in a strange tumultuous land — fucking Italy is NOT fucking strange or tumultuous, not even with bribing Berlusconi in office. Jones knew that war is never on any real map, not that dumbass Stratego map of generals, that you’ll never look a some abstract topography and say, “Yeah, this is what happened here then,” because time and space are all fucked up in war, when your so scared you shit yourself, it’s happened all around you but it’s happening mostly in your head. That’s what you realize: The war’s in your head because you’re talking yourself into this or out of that, praying to God, making promises, wearing your lucky socks, kissing your dogtags three times before bed, using words for what hates language.

    And so we here in our fucking high-larious arrogance criticize war movies while soldiers say, “Yeah. Yeah. That’s what is was like, man,” because they know, like James Jones and Tim O’Brien and Oliver Stone and Homer, for chrissake, they know there’s no way to describe it, not ever. That no matter what they say or draw or write or shit or bleed, everybody who wasn’t there ain’t gonna get it because war is fuckin in-EF-fable. Except those little moments. Like a soldier wading through creek water and noticing a bird in a tree just before he gets shot. Or how many shots it takes to kill a baby buffalo. Or Achilles’ PTSD rage. Or that one guy — there’s always at least one — who’s fuckin psychotic and so he’s the best soldier, a killing machine, the military’s dream-n-cream soldier, and he makes it through war because he doesn’t blink when the guy’s head explodes in front of him, and then he disappears into Thailand jungles or becomes a corporate fighter, a mercenary, that’s how much he likes it, or becomes an prosecuting attorney perpetually going for the carotid not because it’s the right thing to do, as everybody always believes (think holier-than-Thou Sam Waterston on Law & Order) but because he loves the smell of blood. Yeah, smell of blood and brain splatter and evisceration.

    If only we’d chosen love.

    Right? You, me, all of us? If only. ‘Cause this ain’t love either, sweetheart.

    Comment by Debra Di Blasi | August 13, 2007 | Reply

  20. naw. i’m james caviezel.

    which is problematic later when that crazy fuck makes the god movie…

    but yeah.




    outside all lexicons and into dream, hallucination, nightmare, flashback, raw physicality.

    man alive.

    Comment by lidiaohlidia | August 13, 2007 | Reply

  21. but since you mentioned sam waterson…i’ll up an ante on the topic…THE KILLING FIELDS.

    Comment by lidiaohlidia | August 13, 2007 | Reply

  22. Sam Waterson sells Wachovia securities now on TV. He is no longer worth mentioning.

    Comment by trevor | August 14, 2007 | Reply

  23. REDS. i say REDS. and i think it’s full of shit to say that war is unrepresentable. it’s righteous, but it’s bullshit. i think the opposite is true. representations of war have replaced the real thing–at least in the viewer’s experience. which is so fucked up…ever since the GULF WAR we’ve had special television productions complete with graphics and slogans and titles…IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF BIN LADEN…jesus.

    kudos to CNN.

    and FOX.

    they make war the show.

    Comment by lidiaohlidia | August 14, 2007 | Reply

  24. Yeah. I don’t see why war is any less representable than the rest of the everything writers try to represent. The question is whether we can represent things we haven’t experienced? And if not, and everything else is beautiful, forgiveable fantasy, necessary fancy, then do we do damage when we try? Should we be imagining war? In the land of the blind, maybe we have to. But to what good?

    Comment by Tye | August 15, 2007 | Reply

  25. Once, I had a blind student. Not thinking, on the first day of class, we watched a movie. Mona Lisa Smile. I’m not proud of this, but it was Intro to Women’s Studies & unprepared, I went to the public library & typed in “feminism” and “film” & Mona Lisa Smile was the only movie to show up so I showed it.

    I spent the entire class trying to include her. After class, she assured me that it was ok, that she listens to movies all the time, that she subscribes to NetFlix. The next day, she dropped the class.

    All I wanted to do was make her a feminist. All I wanted to do was start the revolution, right there in that classroom, and with the subtraction of one, we were just one voice shy of being completely mute.

    Comment by Lily | August 18, 2007 | Reply

  26. You’re like totally missing the point dude TOTALLY no no no the best war movie? The best war movie is the one our government is making right this second. It gets no bigger no better no more beautiful and breathtaking than that.

    Comment by Lance Olsen | August 19, 2007 | Reply

  27. I don’t like it when war movies have jump cuts.

    Comment by Tye | August 19, 2007 | Reply

  28. (hysterical laughing, but not in the hysteria sense) . . .that’s the funniest fucking thing i’ve ever heard. HA. fucking war movies with jump cuts . . .

    ok ok i got it–i got it. WE ARE the best war movie. like what just got said…the movie our government and our media and we as the viewers who tune in for more more more . . . we ARE the fucking movie. you wanna know why i hated SCHINDLER’S LIST so much? fucking award winning shit-mobile…i hated it because it YET AGAIN romanticized the white male uber hero. i hated it because it romanticized WWII as THE war to end all wars. as THE pathos of war to end all pathos of wars. i hated it because liam neeson and ralph fiennes are so goodlooking it hurts. i hated it because it made me into a “never forget” drone…i mean YES, never forget, but we fucking forget every hour of every day, and the MULTITUDE of wars going on every second of ever day don’t EVEN get airtime…


    what am i even talking about? i fucking lost my train of thought.

    steven spielberg. he’s a fuck.

    Comment by lidiaohlidia | August 24, 2007 | Reply

  29. so, what? you shoulda shown a war movie instead? course, that’s too deep for a class on feminism…

    Comment by alyssa | August 24, 2007 | Reply

  30. the numbering of wars is so fucking pompous. and people say world war 3 in the future tense. yeah fucking right.

    Comment by alyssa | August 24, 2007 | Reply

  31. schindler’s list, god. what a piece of work. the people in the camps in that movie were so healthy and fit, it was like pro football training camp compared to archive photos i used to see all the time when i was a kid. everything was beautiful in that movie, even the ugliness, especially the ugliness, the nazi shooting the woman architect in the head was beautiful. fuck.
    best war movie…i don’t know if they’re the best ones, but a couple i think of right now, one is ‘the sand pebbles,’ early sixties, with steve mcqueen when he was serious as hell, like in ‘le mans,’ but i think earlier….anyway, it’s in china, the thirties, he’s an engineer on an old warboat up some river, the crew doesn’t have anything to do and the natives work on the boat for food. the colonialists on land talk about how to give the country into the hands of the chinese, how fucked up things might be if they did, since the chinese people of course are savages. steve mcqueen doesn’t give a shit about anything except keeping the engine running well, but then he falls in love with the missionary’s daughter and then he cares, he helps them get out of their compound alive and get shot in the stomach. he sits there alone and says ‘what happened to me?’ and that’s it. it’s a terrific fucking movie.
    another couple war movies–what’s that french one, the legionaires, the one with the great shots of the shirtless men exercising on the beach, what the fuck is that called, oh yeah, ‘beau travail,’ shit, there’s no war on but the movie is devastating and it’s war. it’s like, it’s absolutely extreme. the commanding officer is the focal point of total control in the desert with nothing to do, totally military, and he’s ugly, this ugly knot of desire, and all his men are young and beautiful, so he sends one alone into the desert to die. but he doesn’t die. nomads find him. then back in france, the commanding officer is lost in his head. the last scene is the officer dancing alone to like techno or something, this ferocious dance.

    Comment by raphael | August 24, 2007 | Reply

  32. i love spielberg. not in a creepy way. but if i had to be in a war movie, i would be in a spielberg show.
    i was going to throw in a vote for wag the dog, but that hits a bit close to home these days.
    so i am voting for lord of the rings: return of the king. i like my wars to have very clear good guys and bad guys. and sweet special effect giant oliphants – or whatever they were.
    not to mention super sexy men that jump of ghost ships and stride like real men.

    Comment by vince | August 26, 2007 | Reply

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