13 March, 2013

Chasing the Dragon

Upon trying to chase the reaction to my entry on Young Adult, I decided to watch a movie on KCET's Classic Cool Theater called Go For Broke and crack wise like a shit bird until I got bored.

PBS' Classic Cool Theater is a program basically designed to prevent the senile from getting riled up by tricking them into thinking that it's still 1951. It comes complete with a newsreel and a vintage cartoon, which means that my dad isn't the only person in the world who misses those things. Go For Broke, the program's feature for the week, is a propaganda film in favor of Japanese-American soldiers in WWII, this whole movie feels like it's a cunt hair away from a character going "Me so solly!" which would be way out of line as that is a Chinese stereotype. It's a strange watch.

What follows are the reactions I had between the point where I started the movie and the point where I gave up because I wanted to play the Leviathan DLC in Mass Effect 3--

 There is a character with a ukelele. Apparently the 1940's had insufferable hipster, douchebags of all creeds and colors, too.

 And apparently their commanding officer is an Aryan superman. Not sure if this is supposed to be ironic. Right now he's arguing with a doughy guy about how he doesn't trust the Japanese-American recruits. Want to bet if he changes his stance on them by the end or not? Alright-- Double or nothing, do you think one of them has to jump on a grenade for him before he sees the light?

Van Johnson is a dead ringer for a guy who would rape Captain America just for sport.

He doesn't trust the Japanese. I haven't heard the word "nip" get thrown out yet. Considering how often McHale's Navy seemed to use the word, I think it might mean I'm not paying attention.

Huh. Apparently a big chunk of the cast were actually in the 442nd. Daniel Inouye is strangely absent. Must have been busy.


Anyways, off the top of my head there is Audie Murphy in To Hell and Back, as well as the guys who raised the flag on top of Mount Suribachi in The Sands of Iwo Jima. Nowadays I think that's sort of standard operating procedure (just about every action movie nowadays, it seems, comes with the approval and resources of some aspect of the DoD), but I can't think of the last where soldiers were included in a film and they weren't serving a purpose that other than an elevated stuntman.

Blacked out there a bit. Apparently the US Army has decided to flank the Italian Army by way of invading southern California.

Alright. Action. Rad. Some Germans are gonna get shot and that's almost never a bad thing in a WWII movie.

I can't tell if the German is firing a semi-automatic weapon or not. I'll put this on my giant, useless list of firearm errors that you'll find my suicide note sitting on top of.
This movie seems about as harmless as every other WWII movie before 'Nam. It needs, like, Jack Palance or maybe the guy who got killed in the Twilight Zone movie from Combat in it to round out the cast, though.

Alright, the grenades went off a little bit too soon, but that was still a well put together piece of action. It actually looked like people might have been fighting in a war and not on a set somewhere in the foothills of Sunland.

Two of the soldiers are going to check a room in the bunker they just took. . . And a pot belly pig comes running out. I think that just about represents the tone and stakes of the picture overall.

. . . I just now realized that this is a movie made in 1951 wherein a bunch of Asians killing a bunch of other white people. Chew on that one, Quentin.

I can't help but think about Broken Blossoms. Now there's a movie that doesn't quite get why people keep calling it racist. It's like if a Ricky Gervais character went back in time and decided to that making movies was his calling.

Then again at least Go for Broke has the common decency to try and hunt down people of Japanese descent to be in this movie-- and people who were veterans of the regiment in question, no less. Even Memoirs of a Geisha with all of its budget and prestige didn't manage that.

Speaking of Griffith, as much as there has been said about him over the years, I'll add this: I think he is most guilty of one of the white man's great follies, which is that he doesn't understand why the racist things he is going are racist.

Other items in this category include: "What do you mean I can't say that? Rappers say it all the time!" or "I've got plenty of black friends" and "Why are they so angry all the time?"

For further information on this subject consult your local dad!

Now I'm actually wondering what the appeal of this movie is, because it carries none of the shame of DW Griffith's more odious works have. It clearly wasn't built with the intention of detached, ironic jerks like myself watching it (even if I was watching it on Classic Cool Theater which makes me think that even they are saying "Hey, isn't this a bit neat?"). It's trying to say something, which is that at a certain point and time a bunch of Americans with every reason in the world to give up rose to the occasion. That's why I was watching it in the first place. There's a reason nobody equivocates about the 442nd's legacy and it's not because they don't want to seem racist.

I guess it's this combination of seeing a movie with sincere intentions, progressive intentions, too, and still have it be mired in tropes of the time. There are little bursts of things in this movie that you usually follow up with the thought of "Boy, that's a bit racist, isn't it?" yet it's about how great these men were and how important they were to the United States.

It doesn't hurt the movies seems to be no better or worse made than a good chunk of the WWII movies I've seen from the era, either. It's just that this one happens to be about the Japanese can be Americans too and that must have been something of a bolt from the blue in 1951.

(It should also be noted that Classic Cool Theater also just had an episode featuring a movie called Blood on the Sun, which definitely puts Go for Broke into relief. . . it also makes me assume that any movie featuring not white people on this particular program might not be safe. That might have been presumptuous.)

(The introduction to this scene is embarrassingly bad, but good, goddamn this is a rad judo fight.)

The legacy of the 442nd is one to be proud of, but maybe this movie is better at pointing in the right direction than being something to be proud of in and of itself.

Alright. I'm bored. I'm going to go watch a better movie about WWII, one where the only time I think about race is because someone gave a dog an unfortunate name.

(Go For Broke is also copy right free, so you can watch it all right here freely and legally.)