So I haven't seen an anglo Canadian movie since the awesomeness that was FUBAR, and my mum was a bit keen on Due South, so we went to see Passchendaele last night. And my hat goes off to Paul Gross, who wrote, directed and starred in what's been billed as the most expensive domestically financed Canadian film ever. He is absolutely unique: the only man who has succeeded in exploiting the greatest mass slaughter of military-age innocents our naughty world has ever seen by turning it into a two hour wank fantasy about Paul Gross.
In general terms - holy shit, it was so bad. It trotted out every North American Great War Movie cliche, except for one (the Funny Native Guy didn't die first, or indeed at all - atta break new cinematic ground) and the story made no fucking sense, with plot holes that looked like they'd been blown through by German artillery. Honestly, that shit made Pearl Harbour's story look like a masterpiece of verisimilitude and art. There was some good gruesome bayoneting, stabbing, and slicing, a couple of rats coming out of corpses' mouths, lots of mud, some all-too-brief-relative-to-the-wank reminders of things we must never forget and never allow to happen again - some points where I was able to focus on the action long enough to stop cringing and to thank the Lord that my brothers are getting past military age, and no matter how apeshit the world goes the Man will never be able to conscript them. And the Funny Native Guy didn't die. Otherwise . . .
It's the Gross that's pissing me off though. How the hell he had the gall to make the battle of Passchendaele in particular and World War I in general into fan fiction about himself is absolutely fucking beyond me, and how the producers let him is even more so. Though maybe it will work, financially. He has some sort of built-in fan base from being the Mountie. But honestly, the movie offended me, even disgusted me, and I can't believe it wouldn't offend anybody, or rather I can't understand how it wouldn't. World War I was horrible and brutal, a nauseating example of what governments are willing to do to their own citizenry, and an infuriating example of what imperial powers were willing to do to their colonials; certainly the story of Canada during that war is tragic. It was not about Paul Gross.
Oh, there are stories to tell from all of us people who aren't yanks or limeys. And we have a prototype or an example of how such a story can be told: Winston Churchill, that big fat fucking hero, turned the citizens of Australia and New Zealand into hapless bayonet-catchers at Gallipolli and the kangaroonis managed to make a movie out of that that didn't really fucking suck. And the efforts to re-humanize all those men, colonial punching bags and imperial citizens alike, who were so utterly dehumanized by their leaders, should never stop. They should be told more than they are - has any memorable pop culture shit about it came out since Blackadder Goes Forth, whose ending made me cry like a baby?
They should be told more because of the horror and the heroism of the way the soldiers and the European civilians lived and died, and they should be told more because it's starting to seem like World War II is obsessing everybody's war movie budgets; we can convince ourselves with that one that it was Nazis bad, us good - but there are no such easy convictions with World War I. And if there are no easy convictions about World War I, and if World War II came out of World War I, what was World War II really? Seriously, if we'd like to think that the Nazis could have done what they did to Europe's Jews, gypsies, homos and commies without the collusion of its neighbours and putative enemies, we are lying to ourselves. And that is why war is evil and why we are obliged to think about it. It's always a possibility, always an option, and if the men in charge feel it's to their advantage to choose that option, they'll be happy to drag us all along - and we need to know why we shouldn't be.
But Paul Gross curing a hot nurse of morphia addiction, striking a Jesus pose, getting laid while bombs burst in air and while being the Fonz in flannel is not, for me, a step in the right direction. One thing I will say for World War II movies and such is that Band of Brothers and even Shaving Ryan's Privates and whatnot illustrated beautifully that you don't need to maudlin the hell out of stories about soldiers for them to be deeply emotionally effecting. What could be more emotionally effecting than watching a character risk death or die during the best of his youth, the best of his days, for no good fucking reason? How absurd and soppily romantic do you have to make his backstory to make your audience understand that they mustn't look away? How one-dimensional do all the other characters have to be to make us care? Not much. It's been proven. So, ugh. The whole thing pissed me off.