Seeing Red


Red Dawn; Directed by John Milius; Written by John Milius and Kevin Reynolds; MGM-UA Entertainment.


by C. P. Dragash


There is a common daydream among men who grew up in the years between the Berlin blockade and the Cuban missile crisis: the Russians have invaded the American heartland, and a dedicated band of teenage boys conduct an heroic partisan war against the ruthless occupation forces. For most of them it remained a daydream, at best an unfinished novel. It was inevitable that someone in Hollywood would tum his private fantasy into the public reality of celluloid.



In Red Dawn a band of frightened teenagers is slowly turned into a crack fighting force that succeeds, somewhat improbably, in harrassing the Russian and Cuban hordes who have occupied most of Colorado. John Milius, who wrote and directed the movie, describes himself as a zen anarchist and NRA fanatic. Red Dawn is already being reviled for its “mastadon machismo” and “fascist fantasies,” for “right wing paranoia” and “German — forget zen — fascism.” The movie does, in fact, sing the praises of toughness; it does celebrate the paleolithic pleasures of small-town America: the kids know how to ride shoot, and stay alive in the wilderness’. Now that the Boy Scouts do social work, all this woodcraft must seem bizarre to city boys. Yet in many parts of this land, drinking deer’s blood is not — as they may think in New York — a kinky survivalist ritual but an initiation rite for a boy who’s got his first buck. The really unpardonable crime of the film is not that the young partisans shoot deer: they actually shoot Russians — a clear violation of the visitors’ civil rights. Eventually they are forced to shoot one of their own members, the student-body president who has betrayed them (Milius doesn’t like politicians). When the young resistance leader is asked to explain what makes them so different from the invaders, his only answer is ”We live here”-an obviously fascist blasphemy against the spirit of internationalism.


Where is it we live, in the vision of John Milius? The reviewers have summed it up as either militant patriotism or a cheap exploitation of the American love of violence. The film is, in fact; remark ably free of ideology but what it does offer is a glimpse of an America that still exists, although not in commuting distance from Manhattan and LA. It is a small-town nation, complete with main street, public park, and white-painted churches, where fathers take their sons hunting and fishing and where children, even running for their lives, think first of their families and of home. The partisan leader who urges his followers to turn their grief into “something else” cannot keep back his own tears when he looks at a photograph of himself and his younger brother as small children. In the end the brothers, wounded in a hopeless assault on the enemy, make their way to the playground and die in each other’s arms.


Red Dawn, despite its virtues, is built upon an absurd premise. The explanation of how we came to fight a conventional war on our own soil would not satisfy even an Ian Fleming or the creators of The Spike. None of the characters is developed to the point of being a recognizable stereotype (on the other hand, what teenage kid is a real person?). Worst of all, Milius’s own libertarian   code   of toughness and independence weakens the social impact. When the resistance leader refuses to join the regular army in the big war, you get the feeling that Milius approves of patriotism in the abstract because real men are patriotic. To this extent his teenage guerrillas are less like partisans and more like feuding anarchists.


It used to be questioned whether or not a Christian could write a tragedy. After all, the Christian view of life (and history) seems to presuppose a happy ending. One thing is clear, there can be no such thing as an anarchist or libertarian tragedy. Tragedy requires heroism­ a risk of self in behalf of something greater: family, community, divine will. Rootless individualism can never be heroic-heroism implies sacrifice­ only strenuous. To the extent that the heroes of Red Dawn manage to transcend their creator’s “zanarchism,” they engage our interest.


This is a film which could not have been made in the 60’s or 70’s. The effects are hard to calculate. It may be only a flash in the pan or the beginning of a trend, although it will be hard for Holly wood to resist the evidence of over $8 million in ticket sales in one weekend Even a little reality can be dangerous to the health of political illusions. In an election year when the conciliatory platitudes of George Kennan are being mouthed by Walter Mondale, the millions of Americans who will have seen Red Dawn before November 6 may not be in any mood to roll over and play dead.   cc





Koyaanisqatsi; Directed by Godfrey Reggio; Island Alive/New Cinema.


by Stephen Macaulay


As Koyaanisqatsi continues to make its way across the land, it’s worth asking whether, as the title of Mr. Reggio’s film has it, life is “out of balance.” (The title, incidentally, is a Hopi Indian word; only Hopis and members of the chorus that composer Philip Glass employed for dirge-like punctuation in the soundtrack can pronounce it, I think.) Mr. Reggio opens the film with travelogue shots that show the splendor of Nature: deserts, buttes, rock formations, canyons, etc. These scenes are, eventually, contrasted with what Man has wrought: oil re­ fineries, freeways, housing projects, and Las Vegas. Now if that is all that could be placed on the scales, then civilization would come out the big loser and one could, as the titles at the end of the film imply, expect the “Day of Putrefaction” sometime early next week.


But is life, even in Nature, ever in balance? No. There is always and everywhere a vector that causes things to change: those cathedral-like rock formations, for example, were once not so delicately shaped; those who like more brute forms might see the spires as destruction of a more basic design. Rivers rip rock into canyons. And so on. The work of man is not always in the best of taste but for my money an oil refinery beats an earthquake or a flood every time.          cc



The Age of Responsibility


Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom; Directed by Steven Spielberg; Screenplay by Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz; Story by George Lucas; Paramount Pictures.


Raiders of the Lost Arkas everybody knows, was a wildly successful film. For some reason, it is thought of as a children’s movie; adults attend only in the company of children. That is nonsense, of course, for the situation could be reversed. However, the child orientation has caused Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to be met with cries of dismay: “It’s too violent for children, too horribly gruesome!” The “PG” rating was said to be too lenient. Steven Spielberg’s public announcement that he wouldn’t permit his young children, if he had any, to see one sequence in the Temple of Doom didn’t provoke silence. Several points should be considered. Is it possible that fully mature and legally responsible members of our society can find enjoyment in a movie which fails to exhibit bare skin and dirty language, or is such enjoyment limited only to junior members?


Indiana Jones is hardly the sort of character who could be found on Saturday morning cartoon shows or in boys’ adventure stories. A better parallel can be found on the covers of the pulp magazines of the 1930’s, on which the muscles of the hero ripple and the breasts of the damsel heave. After Raiders, should anyone be surprised? It was not a gentle film: melting faces are somehow not the same thing as Bambi in a forest fire. Yet that cinematic parallel is implicit in the criticisms raised against the Temple of Doom.


The rating system, while it might have some merits, should not have the power, or effect, that it does. Too many parents are willing to surrender their responsibility to the anonymous forces found in Hollywood who determine the ratings. Most people recognize that the horoscope columns that run in daily newspapers are rather silly: as if the population of the planet can be divided into 12 groups. Unfortunately, many of those same people imagine that a little group of cinematic swamis can divide all of the feature films released into four groups. Sometimes, people have to make up their own minds; they must cease relying on others.


Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doomdoes have generous dollops of violence and even a touch of “spice” in the form of sexual innuendo. But this is no chainsaw massacre nor a case of glands unchained. The opening sequence uses Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” as the score, but the anything isn’t everything; Spielberg has taste. Mature adult taste: responsible but not stultified. He recognizes that there is a child in all of us — or at least most of us. cc