All Quiet on the Western Front
seen @ Landmark Loews Jersey Theater, Jersey City, NJ
I liked All Quiet on the Western Front well enough, but something about it bugged me, and the more I think about it, the more it bothers me. I'll get to it in a minute.
Okay, so this is a war movie, right? And it's fairly ahead of its time too. At first, all I noticed were the usual war film cliches: boot camp, the heartless, hard-ass drill sergeant, being sent to the front lines, the rookies meeting the veterans, the rookies getting freaked out at being in combat for the first time, et cetera. Then I realized that all those cliches had to come from somewhere. I'm not sure if this is considered the ur-war movie, but I imagine all war movies that followed must owe a debt of some kind to this one.
What impressed me most was the sound, the camerawork and the editing. This was made during the period when sound in films was still a very new thing, and yet, sitting in the Loews Jersey City watching this, I was bowled over by the sounds of the explosions and the gunfire and the yelling and all of that. This was accompanied by exciting battlefield tracking shots from a trench-eye perspective. As the camera sweeps horizontally across the plains, we see soldiers getting mowed down and blown away one by one, plus the fast-paced editing cuts to shots of soldiers leaping into trenches and engaging the enemy in hand-to-hand combat. Visually speaking, this is remarkable to watch.
So what bothered me? Simple. How is it that an image like this
(which happened so quickly that I almost thought I imagined it) makes it into the film, along with other scenes of dudes getting shot at, bayoneted, blown up and beaten to death, but an image of a man and a woman in bed is verboten? There's a sequence late in the film where Paul, our protagonist, hooks up with some French chicks, along with his friends. In one scene, we see - or rather, it's implied - that Paul is talking with a chick in bed; talking, mind you, not having sex. Yet all we see is a static image of the bedpost shadow on a wall. We hear them talking, but this is literally all we see. It's especially bizarre given how well photographed the rest of the movie is.
Yes, I know the "real" reason why it had to be this way; because of the double standard that exists when it comes to sex and violence in the movies. It didn't ruin the movie for me, but it came close. I mean, if a man and a woman in bed can't be explicitly shown on screen (BUT FRIGGIN' SEVERED HANDS CAN), there had to have been better alternatives than what we ended up with.
Don't wanna seem like I'm putting the whole movie down, though. This is a powerful movie, expertly made. One can easily see why it won Best Picture.