Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Battle of San Pietro (1945) or, Why You Should Definitely NOT Join the Army

First Huston angered the Army by making an "anti-war" movie (to which he apparently replied that he should be shot if he ever made a pro-war movie) and then he was championed and made an honorary major for making an excellent training film. No, he didn't make two films to achieve this.

He made one, incredibly short and fantastically boring film to achieve that.

San Pietro feels like about four hours. Maybe that's because I'm not reaching for my smelling salts just because there were dead bodies on screen. Maybe because I didn't have to take to bed because of the loud noises produced by bombs and guns (although one of our cats, Zooey, is now convinced we're under siege). Or maybe, most likely, it's because this film had those REALLY boring strategy maps with flags and whatnot and a pointer and blah blah blah.

So, this film made me think of a few things:
1. You shouldn't hire John Huston to make a pro-war film. Obviously.
2. I was reminded of the footage I saw of the first Gulf invasion when the attacks first started.
3. And Charlie Brown's teacher. Sorry, John Huston. It's not you, it's me. History talk makes me sleepy.

So, why is it on the list? Well, for one, it's Huston. He has eight films on the list (five of which I can vouch are better than Pietro and I don't even like Prizzi's Honor--the other four I haven't seen). And it's a major Hollywood player doing a war propaganda film that's not so much war propaganda exactly. It is an honest look at war if it is damned boring and if by "fairly honest" I mean we see dead people.

But 1001 Movies claims this film "remains the best war documentary ever made, despite changes made to remove some material thought too disturbing for civilian viewers." The "best war documentary ever made"? Really? The book doesn't really explain that claim except to basically say that this is a fairly honest look at war. But that's just not a good enough reason. We've already watched another war doc that's a fairly honest look at war in the life of this blog and we're only on movie #5.

What completely undermines the argument of the book is the last line in the write-up: "with some stock footage and staged scenes not detracting from the overall effect of authenticity and objectivity." Oh dear. Stock footage is ok. Staged scenes are ok. What's not ok is the fact that there is no discerning what's what in the film to an untrained eye or brain (meaning--I'm no history buff and don't want to be). Using stock footage and/or staged scenes without alerting your audience is trickery and that's by no means authentic or objective (See: Fahrenheit 9/11). And we now have plenty o' war docs that do not resort to such pranks.

Now, might it have been the best war doc before the editors removed the gore and added in the fluff? Perhaps. But the fact of the matter is this is not that film and may never be. We can't judge the film on what it was when the premise is "you must see before you die" because I can't see that film.

If you'd like to see the film for yourself and don't want to track down a DVD or be the lucky gal who now owns this gem, the film is actually online in it's entirety here.


  1. Hah! The best war documentary ever made? I think it's already losing to Pig.

  2. Um, yeah. And that superlative makes me nervous for both the authors of the book and the war docs we've yet to see.

  3. Who do you think would be a worse director to get to make a war documentary? My vote is for Rob Reiner.

  4. Ooooh. I think I'm going with M. Night Shamalamadingdong. Can you imagine "the twist"?

    Rob Reiner was on Bill Maher the other night. He's, um, er, loopy.