Flags of Our Fathers (Movie)





Iwo Jima was an island about 500 miles south of Tokyo. It was volcanic, and it was known for its black sand. Like many islands in the Pacific, it was not much to speak of and not valuable to hold. But it lay directly in the path of America's theoretical invasion of Japan. Moreover, Japanese forces had occupied the island and prepared their positions. Iwo Jima had to be attacked. The battle was fought in February and March of 1945, and when it was over the Japanese losses were 20,000 while 26,000 American Marines had been killed.

These deaths were a vital part of the calculation that a direct assault on Japan would result in as many as half-a-million losses. It was in July that the atom bomb would be tested for the first time. And by then, America had thrilled to a journalistic photograph of a group of Marines raising the American flag on the shattered peak of Iwo Jima. In the photo, the flag is not yet upright and the Marines are labouring over it. It looks like a Rodin bronze. The composition is "perfect" - but sometimes photographs are like that, aren't they?

This autumn that photo will live again in what may be not just the movie of the year, but one of those now rare occasions in which a mainstream entertainment picture captures the public spirit. Flags of Our Fathers may be a very important movie: only two weeks ago, with the opening and disappearance of All the King's Men in just a few days, official Hollywood was prepared to say no more "important" pictures, no more great novels, no more portraits of America. Just give the kids what they want. The re-make of Robert Penn Warren's novel, directed by Steven Zaillian, and with a dazzling cast (Sean Penn, Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins, Mark Ruffalo, Kate Winslet, Patricia Clarkson) was so complete and sudden a failure it left Hollywood power-brokers aghast at the condition of the audience.

But now people are seeing Flags of Our Fathers and beginning to marvel that Clint Eastwood, at 76, may have done it again. There have been books in recent years - by James Bradley and Ron Powers - that have reassessed the great photograph from the conclusion of the battle on Iwo Jima. I really don't mean to spoil the movie for you. Let me just say that there is a "great" photograph by Robert Capa of a Republican infantryman being shot and killed in the Spanish Civil War. It was a photo used to raise money and recruits in the war effort. It is a photo that has graced museum walls. But, over the years, under steady and tender scrutiny by scholars, it has been effectively proved as not a superb piece of journalism but an event staged for public consumption....



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