Deconstructing Private Ryan
By Ed Driscoll · April 10, 2005 02:50 AM · Hollywood, Interrupted
Last May, I linked to an interview with Lionel Chetwynd, the producer of last year's Ike: Countdown To D-Day, starring Tom Selleck in the title role.
Chetwynd grew up in Montreal, and at one point, he wanted to produce a film on the allies' attack on the French town of Dieppe in 1942. It was a sort of prototype D-Day, except that it was a horrific failure, resulting in the deaths of over 3,000 Canadian troops. (Yes Virginia, there was a time when Canada could field a large army.)
Chetwynd tells an amazing story of Hollywood's response to the idea:
Many years later, when Chetwynd was a successful Hollywood writer specializing in historical dramas, he told the Dieppe story during a Malibu dinner party — as a sort of tribute to the men who died there so people could sit around debating politics at Malibu dinner parties. One of the guests was a network head who asked Chetwynd to come in and pitch the story.This week, Mark Steyn reprints his 1998 review of Saving Private Ryan, which noted similiar motives from the filmmakers who made Ryan as Chetwynd discovered when he pitched his Dieppe script:
Purporting to be a recreation of the US landings on Omaha Beach, Private Ryan is actually an elite commando raid by Hollywood and the Hamptons to seize the past. After the spectacular D-Day prologue, the film settles down, Tom Hanks and his men are dispatched to rescue Matt Damon (the elusive Private Ryan) and Spielberg finds himself in need of the odd line of dialogue. Endeavouring to justify their mission to his unit, Hanks's sergeant muses that, in years to come when they look back on the war, they'll figure that `maybe saving Private Ryan was the one decent thing we managed to pull out of this whole godawful mess'. Once upon a time, defeating Hitler and his Axis hordes bent on world domination would have been considered `one decent thing'. Even soppy liberals figured that keeping a few million more Jews from going to the gas chambers was `one decent thing'. When fashions in victim groups changed, ending the Nazi persecution of pink-triangled gays was still `one decent thing'. But, for Spielberg, the one decent thing is getting one GI joe back to his picturesque farmhouse in Iowa.Contrast this with the fine early '60s D-Day film, The Longest Day. No wonder the post-Class of '72 Hollywood can't produce a decent film about 9/11 or America's liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq. If World War II wasn't worth fighting, why would any war since?
Update: Gregg Hanke of the Impacted Wisdom Truth blog emailed me to mention that there have been several effective television films on 9/11:
Actually, there IS a very good movie about 9/11 out there. It was written and produced by...Lionel Chetwynd, the same chap you cite in your "Deconstructing Private Ryan" post as the producer of the Ike D-Day film. It is entitled DC 9/11: Time Of Crisis. Chetwynd had unprecedented access to the administration during the writing phase of the project. He interviewed President Bush, Ari Fleisher, and a host of others he names in the director's commentary track on the DVD.He's right, and Hollywood's television productions have been somewhat more even-handed than its film division. But movies are still considered the top of the pecking order in Tinsel Town, and its telling that the only bigtime productions that I can think of that can be said to reference 9/11 directly are Michael Moore's odious Fahrenheit 9/11, and possibly Trey Parker and Matt Stone's Team America. James Lileks wrote last year that Hollywood's film productions are deep into "the Golden Era of beating around the bush".
In an earlier era, I'd be able to see Chetwynd's film about 9/11 (and his Ike movie as well) at my local theater--and I'd have happily paid money to do so. While a 50 inch-plus TV and surround sound can produce quite an impact at home, nothing beats seeing an image on a huge film screen. Hollywood knows this better than anybody, which is why, for the reasons that Lileks noted, that it will probably be sometime--if ever--before a dramatic movie about 9/11 hits the theater.
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