Just ordered new 2-disc Criterion Collection version of Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless. It's great to see a CC version of this film out—but it always kills me a little when I have to buy a new copy of something I already own. I had to do the same thing with Carol Reed/Graham Greene's The Third Man last spring, when the Criterion Collection released a 2-disc version of that. In the case of the new CC The Third Man, it was absolutely worth it, if only for the hour-long BBC documentary: "Graham Greene: The Hunted Man." I suspect the same will be true of the CC Breathless, which comes with a Seberg documentary and, most intriguingly, Charlotte et son Jules, a 1959 short film by Godard—an homage to Cocteau starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Collete.
For the true film masochists out there (and I may be one of them), I should note that Criterion is releasing Fassbinder's 15-hour Berlin Alexanderplatz next week.
OK, since I now have an extra copy of Breathless—the 2001 Fox Lorber release—on my hands: a give-away. I will randomly select a winner from the first ten comments entered on the question, "What's the best—or, at least, your favorite—Criterion Collection release ever?"
Because I am who I am, I had certain expectations of The War--it met some of them. War is not a vehicle of hope, it is not enobling, it is full of disaster and death and compromises of the soul. Ken Burns more-or-less gets this across, sometimes powerfully. But other times the film dithered in a kind of nostalgia that drove me nuts. It happened, however, that my expectations in this regard were tempered when I met a woman who had grown up in Worthington, MN--right next door to Luverne--when I was half-way through the series. She had been old enough during World War Two to remember her afternoons carting scrap metal around in her Radio Flyer, her mother collecting maps on the kitchen wall, the conversations her father--the football coach at Worthington--had with his best friend, who happened to be the football coach at Luverne. "I remember paying twelve cents every Saturday to go see the movies, the thrill of seeing the newsreels of the war," she said. "To see it come back now, after all these years, was very powerful." I nodded and she continued, "I guess we didn't really know how horrible the war really was--they showed a very little bit of the shocking stuff in the newsreels. I was only a little girl, but even after that, after the war and after everyone came home, I never really knew. We didn't talk about it."
Since I'm more or less going to slag on Ken Burns for the duration of this series--and once more again, in summary, when the DVD set comes out--I suppose I should express a few thoughts on what I admire about The War...
First, let's face it: very few, if any, other documentary filmmakers could have gotten something of this scope made. Period. It's true, the Hanks-Spielberg team are making another $100M blockbuster miniseries for HBO, this time on the Pacific Campaign, but that's a feature film, not a documentary. For all the faults in Burns' project, it's bested only by the monumental BBC series, World at War.
Ken Burns gets a huge budget from PBS to make epic 14-hour World War Two documentary and he makes... a Ken Burns film. No surprise, I suppose--but a terrific disappointment so far. In fact, the best half hour of tonight's first 2 1/2 hours of the film was the "tacked-on" bit about the two Latino Marines in Carlson's Raiders and their experience at Guadalcanal. The worst agony was realizing, about 2/3 of the way through, that Midway was going to be relegated to about 30 seconds of voice-over.
To keep this short: Burns' predisposition to tell personal stories while panning-and-scanning over photos just isn't a very effective way to tell stories--at least, to tell stories that convey both the information and the experience one would like to have about such a monumental event. As I talked over tonight's episode with my history buff neighbor (we were both disappointed), an example I used to point up one aspect of my dislike for Burns' method was Errol Morris' Fog of War. In particular, the section in which Robert McNamara discusses his role in WWII, as a statistician on Curtis LeMay's staff. The various intersections/disjunctions between McNamara's facial expressions, tone of voice, actual words, and the visuals used by Morris to convey the points McNamara was making were extraordinary--perhaps the best part of that entire film.
There's good stuff in The War (I'm thrilled to see Sam Hynes take such a huge role, as he's fantastic), but it seems fated to be drowned out by Ken Burns' clumsy hand.
But I have 11 and a half more hours to watch, which means: I have two weeks, or so, to further develop my thoughts on The War. Stay tuned...