Courage and Cameras
I watched Barry Lyndon last weekend - a film that's as old as me! It was recommended to me for its stunning cinematography and brilliant direction - and it was fantastic in those respects.
But as a story it is deeply unsatisfactory. Not because it's badly written, but because it is in fact too well-written. The reality cuts too deep.
Based on a novel by William Makepeace Thackeray (who wrote Vanity Fair, a pretty similar story), the problem with Barry Lyndon is that you like the character and want him to succeed - and he doesn't. Instead, he does the stupid things all of us do - selfish, greedy, impulsive things.
"What are you doing, Barry?" you yell at the screen as he philanders, or gambles, or makes silly, fateful decisions based on emotion. "Don't you know we're watching?"
Which took me back to a documentary I'd seen earlier that day. Shooting War tells the story of World War II combat cameramen, the ones who took up cameras while their comrades took up guns.
One of them, Richard Brooks, was with the US Army as they landed on one of the Pacific Islands to heavy Japanese resistance. The commanding officer told Brooks to make sure he had his camera with him at all times during the landing. It didn't even matter if he had film.
"There are no cowards in front of the camera."
That camera, he said, is the eyes of the world. And our boys aren't going to want to show anything but courage when Mom and Dad are watching back home.
If only Barry had known.