16 October 2008

I think I'm warming to the movie...

...in spite of what I wrote about the movie Passchendaele a while back. And also in spite of a review of the film which says the movie has exactly the weakness I thought it might: namely, that the love story detracts from the war story.

A while back, a cousin of mine and I were discussing what Canadian battle would make a great movie, and we tossed around a few, among them Passchendaele. We hashed out a theoretical movie treatment, which was similar to movies like "The Longest Day" or "A Bridge too Far." Essentially, we would take a few eyewitness accounts and try and give an overview of the battle as a whole. There are several Canadians who wrote of their experiences at the battle, William Bird, Agar Adamson, Canon Scott to name three just off the top of my head. We would have began with General Currie arguing with General Haig: "Passhendaele? Let the Germans keep it! It's not worth one drop of blood!" and go from there. It would have been one horrible, depressing nightmare of a movie.

Still, there are other things that draw me to this movie. I am so happy to finally see a Canadian movie about our history that isn't an apology. I am happy to see a Canadian movie that isn't some artistic nonsense about dysfunctional families and meaningless sex. There are some surface details about the movie that I rather like. It is- apparently- the most expensive Canadian movie ever made- at 20 million dollars. Yes, for the price of lunch for a Hollywood star, we made our most expensive movie ever. Which is why so many of our stars go south. Incidentally, lunch appears to have been a major way of raising funds for this movie. Writer/Director/Actor Paul Gross said in an interview he raised money for the film using a process he called "dinner with millionaires." Secondly, it appears poised to be the most successful Canadian movie yet. After the critically acclaimed commercial flops of crud like "Young People F*cking" (yes, that indeed was a movie title) I would hope someone might wake up and say, "Hey, Canadians want to see this stuff, not that pseudo-European slop!" and perhaps make one or two more. However, I won't hold my breath.

So I hope to see it soon. I hope it's good. I know Gross went to great pains to make the battlefield look authentic, which alone should give people some inkling of how bad the fight was. I've heard some schools are taking classes out to see the flick. I hope it kindles an interest in some of them about history, about the sacrifices our people made in the name of a better future. I don't want school kids learning their history solely from the movies, but if it gets them started, great.

My biggest regret is that it took so long to make a movie about the war. Growing up I heard about WWII from my father. I read all his books about that war, I read other books about that war, I saw movies about that war, but WWI was nebulous to me, just the war that came before the really big show. All this attention paid to the second war, while the vets of the first sat back, ignored, forgotten, dying. Lately there has been a spate of really excellent documentaries about the war, but by the time they started in the 90's there were only a few vets left. Now there is only one Canadian vet of the Great War still alive- and he lives in America- and he was one of those who lied about their age and got caught on the way over, and never actually fought. It would have been good to have seen this movie while a few were still alive to appreciate it. Maybe even see an old guy in the theatre, turn to him, ask him "Was that what it was like?" and hear his words, and thank him.

At any rate, I'll give a review when I see it, but for now, I approve that it simply exists. I hope, in spite of everything, this movie may inspire others to follow, make more movies. And hey, if they need any help coming up with an idea for a movie, send them my way. I've got a few.

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