Monday, November 12, 2012

Winning Your Wings

Since it's Veteran's Day weekend, I thought I'd share this. The film is called Winning Your Wings. Made in 1942, it was directed by John Huston and is essentially James Stewart telling the audience to join the Air Force. It's classic American propaganda.

What's striking is you can see the ways the film attempts to manipulate it's viewers. Clearly the target audience is men in their late teens to their mid-twenties, and so how do you go about winning them over? Well, you make them feel special. Stewart talks right to the audience, as if he's addressing you. Yes - You! And don't forget about all the pretty ladies you'll woo with your air force pin. 

But what sets Winning Your Wings aside is that it's a fantastic film in it's own right. The cinematography is phenomenal, particularly the flight choreography. There's one shot in particular near the end where lines of planes appear out of the fog. It's mesmerizing - like T.E. Lawrence emerging from the desert.

The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary, and frankly, it deserved the nod. It may be have been a recruitment tool, but it's engaging and enjoyable nonetheless. The way the in-the-air shots are framed, the way eager young cadets are so effectively painted as heroes, the way Stewart breaks down at the end into a flurry of rage. Plus, you've got to love the way the filling station attendant reacts when Stewart tells him he "could grow wings any minute."

Monday, November 5, 2012

Some Thoughts On The Grey

At its surface, The Grey appears to be a simple tale of Man vs. Nature. But in actuality, it is a tale of Man vs. Self. It is about Ottoway’s struggle to survive, or whether he should he even try to survive. 

We begin by seeing him with a shotgun in his mouth. And we end by seeing him with broken bottles of whiskey in his fists.

The wolves are harbingers of death. An unstoppable force than can be staved off, but is ultimately inevitable. They are Grim Reapers, who with their mere touch cause men to die where they stand. And they are collectors, who harvest the body and souls of those who falter along the way.

There is a recurring poem:

Once more into the fray
Into the last good fight I’ll ever know
Live and die on this day
Live and die on this day

I think more of Dickinson:

Because I could not stop for Death
He kindly stopped for me
The carriage held but just ourselves
And immortality

When Ottoway yells to the sky demanding something real, something tangible, there is silence. But is there already something real? Are the wolves that sign, that tool of God? A symbol of the destructiveness of God and nature itself? He giveth and he taketh away.

There may be no way to outrun death, but it is up to the man whether he tries.