Most critics seemed to like Letters from Iwo Jima, the Japanese film, better than Flags of Our Fathers, the American film, but I found Flags much more interesting than Letters, mainly because I’m really interested in the nature of photography and the relationship between mythic images and the mundane realities behind them. One of my favorite quotes, from Chris Marker’s La Jeteé (1962), states: “Nothing tells memories from ordinary moments; only afterwards do they claim remembrance, on account of their scars.” Photographs — those pieces of film or bits of data on a flash card — are the scars that separate slivers in time from the ordinary moments that came before and after them and are now forgotten while the photographs live on. And it is always interesting to see how some slivers in time come to take on a greater iconic meaning that goes way beyond the original ordinariness of the moment.
Incidentally, I just discovered via Wikipedia that there is actual colour 16mm footage of the flag raising, which you can watch at that site. How fascinating to see this black-and-white still photo come to life like that. The 16mm footage was apparently shot from almost the exact same angle as the photo, and, following the Marker quote above, you could almost say that the frame which resembles the photo most closely would be the “scar” that we have all remembered, while all the frames that come before and after it are the “ordinary moments” that we have forgotten. Or, rather, we would have forgotten them, if it were not for the 16mm footage. But now the 16mm footage has, itself, become the “scar” that remembers a narrow sliver of time — not as narrow as the photo, but still narrow in its own way — while all the things that happened before and after the camera rolled have passed into oblivion.
Anyway. Eastwood’s World War II movies are back in the news again, now that Spike Lee has snapped at them and Eastwood has snapped back. The Guardian reports:
Clint Eastwood folds his gangly frame behind a clifftop table at the Hotel Du Cap, a few miles up the coast from Cannes, sighs deeply, and squints out over the Mediterranean. “Has he ever studied the history?” he asks, in that familiar near-whisper.
The “he” is Spike Lee, and the reason Eastwood is asking is because of something Lee had said about Eastwood’s Iwo Jima movie Flags of Our Fathers, while promoting his own war movie, Miracle at St Anna, about a black US unit in the second world war. Lee had noted the lack of African-Americans in Eastwood’s movie and told reporters: “That was his version. The negro version did not exist.”
Eastwood has no time for Lee’s gripes. “He was complaining when I did Bird [the 1988 biopic of Charlie Parker]. Why would a white guy be doing that? I was the only guy who made it, that’s why. He could have gone ahead and made it. Instead he was making something else.” As for Flags of Our Fathers, he says, yes, there was a small detachment of black troops on Iwo Jima as a part of a munitions company, “but they didn’t raise the flag. The story is Flags of Our Fathers, the famous flag-raising picture, and they didn’t do that. If I go ahead and put an African-American actor in there, people’d go, ‘This guy’s lost his mind.’ I mean, it’s not accurate.”
Lee shouldn’t be demanding African-Americans in Eastwood’s next picture, either. Changeling is set in Los Angeles during the Depression, before the city’s make-up was changed by the large black influx. “What are you going to do, you gonna tell a fuckin’ story about that?” he growls. “Make it look like a commercial for an equal opportunity player? I’m not in that game. I’m playing it the way I read it historically, and that’s the way it is. When I do a picture and it’s 90% black, like Bird, I use 90% black people.”
Eastwood pauses, deliberately – once it would have provided him with the beat in which to spit out his cheroot before flinging back his poncho – and offers a last word of advice to the most influential black director in American movies. “A guy like him should shut his face.”
That last sentence in particular has been making its way around the interwebs — and so it, too, has become an iconic, memorable, sliver-of-time scar that stands apart from all the ordinary words Eastwood said in that interview that have not been remembered.
And of all the online comments, perhaps the pithiest and most interesting one comes from Jeffrey Wells, who notes:
I don’t see why there’s a debate at all because (and I got this straight from my old man, an ex-Marine who fought at Iwo Jima) there were no black solders doing any early-wave fighting during that horrific encounter, so Lee is wrong.
Lee, of course, can’t let it sit at that, and so he told ABC News what he thought of Eastwood’s response to his remarks:
“First of all, the man is not my father and we’re not on a plantation either,” he told ABCNEWS.com. “He’s a great director. He makes his films, I make my films. The thing about it though, I didn’t personally attack him. And a comment like ‘a guy like that should shut his face’ — come on Clint, come on. He sounds like an angry old man right there.” . . .
Lee’s last words took a different tone.
“Even though he’s trying to have a Dirty Harry flashback, I’m going to take the Obama high road and end it right here,” he told ABCNEWS.com. “Peace and love.”
That is such a stupid, offensive response on so many levels, it’s probably best not to dignify it with a point-by-point response like, say, the one provided by the folks at Libertas.
The thing is, I’d like to know more about the experience of African-American soldiers during World War II. But given his track record, I just don’t know if we can trust Spike Lee to tell that story the way it needs to be told. This feud has certainly raised my interest in the subject of Lee’s film, but not in the film itself, per se.