My review for IMDB from 1998

10 04 2013

I still get flashbacks of this movie.

D.Mason in the earlier [IMDB] comment wrote about the silence, while people were leaving the auditory. That’s what I remember too. And I remember faces of some viewers as they went out — looking as they were witnesses of some terrible accident. Never before and never after I saw such a reaction to a movie. It was spring 1988, and the theatre was in Poland.

Next thing I remember was my own flash of fear during the first jungle sequence, as if the tranquility of the scene was a prelude to some unbearable horror. I thought (like Chris Taylor pointed out in his monologue) that I’d made a mistake coming, not sure what I actually meant: the theatre or the jungle. For there was no screen, no auditory anymore. I was on the other side “humping the boonies”.

After the first viewing I was so overwhelmed by the emotional impact of Platoon that I didn’t really got the plot. I was just like Chris, not knowing what was going on, witnessing the civil war between Elias and Barnes, that seemed to have its roots somewhere in the past, far beyond the story told in the film.

For usually I’m not so eager to analyze what I don’t understand, particularly when it’s only a movie. But this time it was different. I just had to see it again. And again…

…to find out that beyond the apparent simplicity of the storyline, there is a huge space for interpretations. And the closer you look, the more you see…

Furthermore – what IMO makes “Platoon” to stand out among the most movies of the genre (back in the 1980s, but now even more) is the way of showing violence: it is not just an element of decoration here. It means something, one doesn’t want it to happen, no matter on which side the victim is. Or have you ever heard screams of protest in the audience after somebody was killed in Rambo?

I didn’t know much about the war in Vietnam back then, and couldn’t tell if Platoon was historically accurate. But for me the movie’s power lays not so much in the accuracy itself, but in the overwhelming IMPRESSION of authenticity. I never saw anyone of the cast on the screen before and it made the feeling even stronger – they were just anonymous faces in the midst of war and madness.

On the other side – not having much other information on Vietnam War than this movie, for a while I was near to believe it was the one and only, absolute truth about it. Now I know it isn’t. It cannot be, as Schindler’s List cannot be the whole truth about WWII, or Dead Ringers is not a whole truth of twins or doctors. Even though there are certain autobiographic elements, the story didn’t happen the way it is shown, and as far as I know, Stone never claimed it did. One can tell a good story or a true story – life is seldom dramatic enough.

In America Platoon still seems to divide people. There is so much arguing about it, charged with so extreme emotions that sometimes I fear, people would start to shoot each other if they had a chance… Which, ironically, underlines the movie’s statement about “the enemy in us”.

As for me: still, after 11 years, Barbers Adagio for Strings makes my heart beat faster. I can hear a crying child or helicopters flying by, and get a flashback of that very special mix of emotions the movie had triggered in me. Isn’t it enough to say this movie is something special?

Thought of the day

15 09 2008

Isn’t it strange that we (as: humanity) spend so much time and energy creating things that don’t exist? Whole industries are dedicated solely to the purpose of creating non-existent worlds. And then, other people come and analyze those non-existent stories and characters that populate them, treating them as if they were real.

But stories and life are not the same, even if some of us can see some story patterns to what happens in the reality. What drives us to do so?

On Captain Harris Doing Nothing and “Impossibility of Reason”

7 09 2008

Apparently a longer time must have passed between the village incident and Barnes shooting Elias, which calls a question why the heck capt. Harris didn’t do anything about it — was it because they haven’t been to the headquarters during that time, or because he didn’t want to deal with the issue, (just like in the case of Ericksson in Casualties of War), maybe even hoping the problem will solve itself — and it indeed happened…

After a brief look into the script: there was nothing that indicated the time passing in the original draft. The following passage was added to the movie as it was shot:

Day by day, I struggle to maintain… not only my strength, but my sanity. It’s all a blur. I have no energy to write. I don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong any more. The morale of the men is low. There’s civil war in the platoon. Half the men with Elias, half with Barnes. There’s a lot of suspicion and hate. I can’t believe we’re fighting each other… when we should be fighting them.

Hmmm, interesting… in the script, the church battle and Elias’ death could have happened the next day after the village incident. (Which somehow fits into the parallel between the “beautiful night” scene and the Jesus’ night at Gethsemane I wrote about before) I wonder why Stone decided to “stretch” the time? To insert the voiceover pointing out the “civil war” inside of the platoon?


BTW I have read somewhere about the usual routine in an infantry unit: like the platoons were on their feet for the whole day, at the evening  getting ressuplied and digging in, only to march another couple of miles the next day, trying to “search and destroy” the enemy — and that for weeks in one piece before they were allowed to rest in the base camp.

I might be just an ignorant to military strategy, but the way things were going, it looked more like an organized waste of resources than any strategy at all, and probably it was also what Chris was referring to as “impossibility of reason”. Have to find that source again…


10 08 2008

… I managed to transfer all findings from last 10 months into this blog. Now it’s officially open. 

ARCHIVE FILE | Soldier’s perspective in Platoon

5 08 2008

Platoon shows the POV of an infantry soldier” — similar statements can be read in almost every review. But not often it is mentioned that this line can be taken literally.

Actually there are only two takes in the whole movie filmed from a crane: a very short glimpse of soldiers entering the village and a longer sequence of the soldiers leaving the burning place behind. All other takes are literally filmed from a POV of a soldier: walking, crawling, sometimes flying on a helicopter. IMO this choice is a part of the claustrophobic mood that seems to enclose the viewer and of the I-was-there feeling I remember so well from the cinema.

Often the camera seems to be another actor participating in the dialogs. Sometimes the characters speak almost directly to the camera like Rhah in the Underground scene. In the “First time” dialog Elias looks, talks and points his gun directly at the viewer (maybe that’s why the moment is so intimidating, at least to me).

For years now I plan to observe other movies regarding their POVs, but I still forget about it.The only confirmation of this being a deliberate choice is the commentary on Born on the 4th of July where Stone talks of using the POV of the wheelchair to underline the claustrophobic feeling despite the widescreen format he used for the movie.

More Break

2 08 2008

I feel like suddenly Break references surfaced from some hidden dimension, all at once. I know, I know, it’s most probably because the name had no meaning for me before, and I plain and simply overlooked it. And I have a master degree in overlooking things, I can tell you… 🙂

from Wikipedia

QUOTE: After his tour of duty in Vietnam ended in 1968, Stone wrote a screenplay called Break: a semi-autobiographical account detailing his experiences with his parents and his time in Vietnam. It featured several characters who were the seeds of those who would end up in Platoon. The script was set to music from The Doors; Stone sent the script to Jim Morrison in the hope he would play the lead (Morrison never responded). Though Break went ultimately unproduced, it was the spur for him to attend film school.

After penning several other produced screenplays in the early 1970s, Stone came to work with Robert Bolt on an unproduced screenplay, The Cover-up. Bolt’s rigorous approach rubbed off on Stone, and he was inspired to use the characters from his Break screenplay (who in turn were based upon people Stone knew in Vietnam) as the basis for a new screenplay titled The Platoon. Producer Martin Bregman attempted to elicit studio interest in the project, but Hollywood was still apathetic about Vietnam. However, the strength of Stone’s writing on The Platoon was enough to get him the job penning Midnight Express in 1978. (…)

After the release of The Deer Hunter (1978 ) and Apocalypse Now (1979 ), they then cited the perception that these films were considered the pinnacle of the Vietnam War film genre as reasons not to make The Platoon.

Stone instead attempted to break into mainstream direction via the easier-to-finance horror genre, but The Hand (1981) failed at the box office, and Stone began to think that The Platoon would never be made. Stone wrote Year of the Dragon (1985) for a lower-than-usual fee of $200,000, on the condition from producer Dino de Laurentiis that he would then produce The Platoon. De Laurentiis secured financing for the film, but struggled to find a distributor. Because de Laurentiis had already spent money sending Stone to the Philippines to scout for locations, he decided to keep control of the film’s script until he was repaid. Then Stone’s script for what would become Salvador (1986) was passed to John Daly of British production company Hemdale. Once again, this was a project that Stone had struggled to secure financing for, but Daly loved the script and was prepared to finance both Salvador and The Platoon off the back of it. Stone shot Salvador first, before turning his attention to what was by now called Platoon.

Stone: “Vietnam was really visceral, and I had come from a cerebral existence: study… working with a pen and paper, with ideas. I came back really visceral. And I think the camera is so much more… that’s your interpreter, as opposed to a pen.”
Oliver Stone’s return from active duty in Vietnam resulted in a “big change” in how he viewed life and the war. Unproduced screenplay
Break was the result, and it eventually provided the basis for Platoon.

ARCHIVE FILES: Barnes’ and Elias’ past in the AirCav

2 08 2008

This idea started from a discussion I’ve had about the movie back in 1988. It came from the observation that the animosity between Barnes and Elias seems to come from something beyond the movie. One can sense it already in the scene when Barnes assigns Elias squad for the night ambush, later Elias accuses Barnes for causing Gardner’s death. It seems they hate each other, the village accident just brings it clearly to the surface. 

It was quite late at night, a time when people tend to have strange ideas, I think it was my friend who called the situation “your-enemy-was-your-friend relationship”, and we ended up musing about the possibility that Barnes and Elias were friends once, long ago before the movie starts, maybe in another unit.

Both were long enough in Vietnam to “grow” such relationship, alone from their different views on how the war should be led, or from some dramatic accident that turned them into adversaries.

It was just a feeling, a pure “mind burp” belonging rather to the fan fiction than movie theory. Until I’ve laid my hands on Dale Dye’s novelisation of the script and the script itself.

In the movie Elias mentions a place called Ia Drang. A place where an infamous battle took place, and 1st AirCav took heavy casualties. Elias seems to refer to this event, but… he says “it happened in 1966”, while the actual battle took place in 1965. It doesn’t look like a goof to me, it’s in the script and in Dye’s book too. But no matter what Elias is talking about, he has to know because he was in the AirCav before, which is indicated by the patch he’s wearing on his right sleeve.

In the book, and in the script the place appears again, this time in a reference to Barnes: Rhah says: “Barnes took a bullet right there. At Ia Drang Valley…”

I know, it is not much, and doesn’t support in any way the “friendship theory” but it somehow hints a common past. Vietnam is a big country, why the same spot should appear in both sergeants’ history?

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