Thursday, October 14, 2010
McKenna and I were introduced by Ath director Bonnie Snortum. She knew of my grandfather's service record -- he won the Navy Cross -- after I told her how excited I was to see McKenna. He asked where it was that my grandfather got the Navy Cross and I told him off of Honshu Island. He knew immediately when in the war that was. I was mighty impressed and we were just getting started.
I was lucky in that I got to sit at the head table for the dinner and that my friends, Bryce Gerard and Aditya Bindal (both CMC '11) were there to ask him good, interesting questions about his corpus. At the head table, he told us about two projects he was working on Midway which will be featured in a big Warner Bros. movie and a script he's writing about William Mulholland and the California water wars.
He agreed with my assessment that we are living in a Golden Age of Television. (See Paul Cantor's essay on this subject here.) We discussed why it is that literature seems so lacking, while television seems so exciting. Indeed, we talked about why so few people seem to read books anymore. It seems all of the oomph in our culture is on television.
Enough people are asking me for my notes on Bruce McKenna's speech at the Athenaeum, so here they are for all of mankind to enjoy. (There's no video online as of yet, unfortunately...)
They are roughly done up so don't quote them verbatim and be generous in attributing them to McKenna. It is possible and probable that I got something or other wrong.
Second World War and CMC have a "deep bond".
"History and Histrionics" -- it's more important to get the feeling right, who cares about the shoe laces?
fusing of History and Drama, defusing the tension.
History and Drama are cousins.
He came to studying WWII -- as a kid, he read kid-friendly tomes of World War II Aircraft.
4 years studying European History- Psycho-History at Wesleyan.
Hoover Center- Robert Cronqvist- sat next to him when he did his Ph.D.at Stanford.
But he realized he wanted to be a different kind of storyteller, one that did historical dramas.
"docu-dramas" – allow us to ask new questions about the past
To think of yourself as a storyteller and that there is such a thing as truth– that makes you pretty conservative in the Academy.
But there are many narratives to look at the past.
History’s attempt at objectivity, but drama are human motives and conditions.
Most dramatists believe in human condition.
“Social Scientists” – don’t really believe that human condition exists.
Time is a crueler master than budget.
What is Drama?
Intended to portray a conflict: drama is storytelling, too.
(Rules that work) come from Aristotle “poetics”
Film never confirms to past narratives.
Rules that work in drama:
6. Melody or music
These are all imitation, not of person or happiness or imagery.
“a kind of thing that might be” or might have been.
Great art explores universal things, rather than parochialism.
You don't want to produce Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor and not Schindler’s List.
If you don’t know what act you are in, the movies stinks –
mini- series are disparaged, but that's hopefully changing.
TV is better, time isn’t your limit.
“Cinematic Ghengis Khan" – Hugh Ambrose says that about Bruce McKenna.
2003 – narrow my focus down –
A story that made sense –
Choose characters – war in the pacific, invent characters, events
“Unity of Character”
If you bore them, “Pop in the DVD of True Blood”
narrowing down to 10 episodes out of 13
We had to “boil down the war enough”
go through the entire war, narrative problems of Band of Brothers.
Odysseus – our version of him.
War from under the helmet – no one above the rank of second Lieutenant but one in The Pacific.
Richard Frank on the Pacific.
"We’re not ignorant; we choose."
We strive to capture the spirit.
small mistakes – wrong weapon, wrong campaign.
Both the veterans don’t remember the patch or the shoelaces.
Remembers what it was like to kill a human being.
All war on all men and women.
hopefully universal in its appeal –
degradation of ground combat – a greek hoplite.
An Israeli reporter – force him to temper his enthusiasm for war.
HBO wanted band of brothers under the palm trees.
it’s an anti-war film.
combat veterans get it, almost unanimously.
They praised us, visceral manner –
not just as dramatists, but as historians as well.
Katherine Singer I wish you could have made the series 50 years ago so we could have been better wives, better daughters, better sisters.
(Editor's note: He then showed some clips from The Pacific.)
Basilone’s Baptism of Fire – Seven Sacraments originally, gets you right into it..
large scale encounter. take their white t- shirts off – up on the hill.
New Second Lts. have a very short half life.
Aristotle ask what “might have happened.”
regiment and battalion – don’t care about them.
Common theme, moral effect – a draft dodger in a previous life asks wife?
Questions he asks that Historians don’t:
What is it like to feel afraid?
What is it like to Kill another Human Being?
These are all Christ Figures – They died for us.
Marines Going to Australia – We didn’t have trains meeting them at the Port –
Basilone – Bivouacked at different places; had to put them together,
It was easier to get vets to talk about the European Theatre than the Pacific Theatre.
Eugene Sledge’s children and his grandchildren are victims of World War II.
A Wife of Easy Company
You saved my marriage and my husband’s life –
weeping for a week, and come back 50 years.
You send young men that don’t come back whole.
“Combat Veterans – State Policy We don’t do more.
I am not condoning American Foreign Policy.
Makes his children shake hands of veterans: what they do is tough.
What a Sacrifice!
Eugene Sledge didn’t see a woman for 18 months!
The Environment, a bit of Moby Dick in this.
racial undertones, a war of extermination, which it was in the Pacific.
The Pacific was more universal.
context for that
started writing in 2003 Iraq
Jarred by what we were doing over there – had to come to it.
Hot Water with the right rather than the left.
Iowa boys killing people on the basis of.
Where Hanks is Wrong:
Racism was not the motivating impulse.
Specific military policy of the Japanese Army and Navy.
The Marines had no problem with the Chinese.
R. F. – There’s not one unit above the size of a squad that ever surrendered in Japan.
This is unprecedented in the entire history of the world.
Buck Tooth Jap propaganda – the japs were doing the same to us.
The jungle and the rain are something that affects you.
Robert Leckie Never actually wrote to Vera.
With those letters we could show how deeply introspective Leckie was – all of the letters disintegrate in the rain and he never ends them , trying to capture the modern state of your soul.
He never sent the letters to his Beatrice.
The Good War – Pacified.
Do you have a responsibility to look at something like Vietnam?
cut off fingers, keep rings, shoot SS officers on sight.
Old guy: This bothers me, blood or gore for a few specific groups –
rear echelons - spear can’t be wielded with the rear echelons.
Can’t speak to the rear echelons –
film loves war – pornographic violence –
Violence needs to have an emotional connection to the characters.
Dispatches on Vietnam – Michael Are – spectacle of way the awesomeness of this, a spectacle.
Pearl Harbor is great act of pornography because the violence is divorced from its impact on the characters.
The Christian Question
Sledge and Leckie together.
Eugene Sledges best friend (Sid Phillips) Served with Robert Leckie “guy with all the books” – dramatic trope.
Leckie: crisis of faith during the war, became very religious after war.
Was in a Mental Hospital for a month.
Robert Shaeder – The Kentucky Cycle –
fabulous person on the series.
If you gave Michael Bay a trillion dollars, think he would recreate it.
$200 million dollar budget.
days of shooting;
more money does not make that much –
Downfall was one of the best movies ever made.
Budget is irrelevant.
You are literally putting words in someone’s mouth.
It’s an imitation of something, enormous amounts of research – you are going to three or four movies a week – they learned to speak through movies.
Asked permissions – there’s a bed involved.
“Of course Robert had girlfriends in Australia”
“If you go to Melbourne you will see a lot of children that looked like you” to his daughter.
The F’ Word was used a lot – The degradation of language is the first to go.
Oliver Stone has done it. Platoon – Somebody will make a miniseries about Vietnam.
It’s not going to be me.
Paleliu – nobody liked MacArthur –
no Marine liked him.
What’s the unifying theme of Band of Prothers –
Band of brothers is a love story. Honor is another word for brotherhood.
The Pacific is Irony.
The Pacific shows us what we are; The Band of Brothers shows us what we really are.
Okinawa scene with the woman and baby –
New Yorker of all things excoriated me
he confronted the person who shot her in real life.
So jaded that he might kill someone.
Deep well of empathy,
So sensitive – Old woman dies –
empathy – to show it only through action.
Shoots a young Okinawan boy –
We don’t know what really happened.
Perfect example of what dramatists do.
He kept his soul at great cost.
If you have gotten this far and want to ask me some questions about the notes, feel free to leave a question in the comments.
...Dreier is precisely the kind of representative who makes us glad there are no term limits for members of Congress. His knowledge of the way government works runs deep and wide. His constituent service, especially including the field representatives he chooses as local staff, is exemplary. His cordial, courtly approach to representation comes across as a sheer joy in the privilege he knows it is to serve in government. In a time of government-bashing, Dreier takes the opposite tack. We appreciate that, and the way he pushes in Washington for local issues such as the important extension of the Gold Line light-rail line into the East San Gabriel Valley and on to the Ontario Airport. We endorse his candidacy for two more years in Congress.The reason they have endorsed him is the reason I dislike him, but hey, at least he's better than also-ran Warner and he's one of us, a CMCer through and through.
Prof. Pitney weighs in on the contentious fight between Loretta Sanchez and Van Tran in CA-47. Sanchez is something of a racist as you can see from this video where she says that the Vietnamese are trying to steal the Latino's seat. (Hey, if diversity is such a good thing, you'd think we should give this one to the Vietnamese, given how many congressional seats the Latinos control. Okay, I'm being facetious, but you get the point: There's no such thing as a "Hispanic," "black", "Jewish", etc. seat. There is only the people's seat.)
Anyways, Van Tran sounds a bit like a van that picks up transsexuals (that's a poor attempt at a joke -- maybe that would be a Tran Van?), but I assure you that he is not. I met him a little while ago with a friend. At a Republican fundraiser, he referred to founding fathers and mothers, which struck me as a little too PC. Forgive him dear reader for if that is the least of his flaws we shall be in good company.
I'm something of a critic of the approach that we need all go to Silicon Valley to start tech companies. It seems, in fact, that a lot of the new firms are innovating outside of Silicon Valley, thanks to their more generous tax benefits and business friendly environment.
Still, good for the college. I hope Mr. Barton Evans succeeds in getting this approved. We don't agree on a lot politically -- he once told me that he funded a literature professor to cause trouble at a "right-wing" school -- but on the need for this kind of program he's exactly right.