Jump to content


Photo

Black Hawk Down


  • Please log in to reply
23 replies to this topic

#1 kenmorefield

kenmorefield

    Supergenius

  • Member
  • 1,322 posts

Posted 24 July 2006 - 03:45 PM

I've been revisiting this film since Mark Bowden's new book was released (and because I recently had a student write a paper about it), and I was surprised to find no thread devoted to it.

How am I supposed to know whether I like it or not?

A&F, tell me what to think!

Peace.

Ken

P.S. I keep thinking of In Cold Blood, but there may be other reasons I have that title on my brain.

Edited by kenmorefield, 24 July 2006 - 07:43 PM.


#2 John

John

    Member

  • Member
  • 424 posts

Posted 24 July 2006 - 04:06 PM

Ken, you don't like it. Think Munich in Africa.

Your welcome.

John

Edited by John, 24 July 2006 - 04:06 PM.


#3 Doug C

Doug C

    Member

  • Member
  • 1,564 posts

Posted 24 July 2006 - 05:24 PM

How can anything shot by both Ridley Scott and Slavomir Idziak (A Short Film About Killing, The Double Life of Veronique, Blue) not have at least some virtue?

#4 Overstreet

Overstreet

    Sometimes, there's a man.

  • Member
  • 17,485 posts

Posted 24 July 2006 - 05:35 PM

It's a gruelling film, but, as Doug suggests, visually enthralling. As a war film, it's all business. And it has a huge, talented cast, which helps make up for the prominence of Josh Hartnett.

#5 Peter T Chattaway

Peter T Chattaway

    He's fictional, but you can't have everything.

  • Member
  • 30,188 posts

Posted 24 July 2006 - 05:45 PM

There is only one "d" in "Ridley".

Link to my review (and I sense at least one odd bit of punctuation in there that was probably imposed on the piece by an editor; but maybe it is invisible to the average reader).

#6 Andrew

Andrew

    And a good day to you, sir!

  • Member
  • 2,247 posts

Posted 24 July 2006 - 06:00 PM

I saw the film twice and read Bowden's book once, but it's been a while, so I'm working from semi-hazy memory. But here are some of my recollections:

- as Jeffrey said, it's visually enthralling, while skimping on characterization in order to keep the story moving briskly

- pretty true to the facts, as depicted by Bowden

- a dual image of America's Army: the grunts are conscientious, tough, and self-sacrificing; the upper rank officers are borderline incompetent, failing to direct a quick and efficient rescue

- lots of Somalis get mowed down, in the face of America's superior weaponry

- a pretty clear 'why were we there in the first place?' message - Warlord Mohammad Farah Aideed (spelling?) was in power before we arrived and after we departed

- from the book: what a sad country, with shockingly high rates of unemployment and drug addiction (over 50% for both, IIRC)

#7 Peter T Chattaway

Peter T Chattaway

    He's fictional, but you can't have everything.

  • Member
  • 30,188 posts

Posted 24 July 2006 - 06:40 PM

Andrew wrote:
: - a pretty clear 'why were we there in the first place?' message - Warlord Mohammad Farah
: Aideed (spelling?) was in power before we arrived and after we departed

Well, wasn't that partly because you got out of there so quickly? You (by which I mean your nation, of course) arguably didn't have to depart so quickly; you could have stayed and finished the job.

I don't mean to be harsh, but I saw Shooting Dogs (about the Rwandan genocide) this morning, and in there, someone points out that the Hutus may have killed some UN troops precisely because they had seen the Somali example -- America completely withdrawing from a country simply because 18 men were killed -- and they figured the United Nations would do the same if a token number of its own men were killed. Someone asks if the Hutus would have been worried about the "repercussions", and the point is made pretty clearly that the Hutus had reason to believe the only "repercussions" would be the withdrawal of their enemy -- i.e., the only "repercussions" would be their own complete victory over a much larger force.

Like it or not, displays of weakness attract further attacks. That's the kind of insight that a film like Black Hawk Down could have made if it had been concerned with anything more than mere "war porn".

Note, BTW, that I am not saying that you SHOULD have been there. But once you're in, you're in, and the fact that you failed to achieve your objective doesn't necessarily mean you SHOULDN'T have been there.

#8 Andrew

Andrew

    And a good day to you, sir!

  • Member
  • 2,247 posts

Posted 24 July 2006 - 06:52 PM

Sorry if this was unclear from my post, but I didn't intend to provoke a debate on the rightness or wrongness of U.S. intervention in Somalia. Instead, I was commenting on the apparent message of the film as I understood it.

spoilers1.gif

For, IIRC, the film ends with a paragraph that the U.S. left, and Aideed - the target of the mission at the start of the film - remained in power.

#9 Buckeye Jones

Buckeye Jones

    Killer of threads

  • Member
  • 1,748 posts

Posted 24 July 2006 - 09:32 PM

I watched this in a double feature with We Were Soldiers while on a business trip in Memphis.

BHD was masterful when compared with Wallace's film, for its heightened realism, its refusal to wrap itself up in the flag, and its unrelentingness to pander to its audience. We Were Soldiers (while the book was an excellent memoir) seemed like it wanted to be both a John Wayne WWII film (or his Green Berets) and a Saving Private Ryan-styled War Is Horror film. BHD dispensed with showy heroism and politics and such--even though Andrew mentioned its coda, which certainly is an element to the film--in exchange for a grueling "in their boots" feel for the battle itself. It did an excellent job of conveying both the confusion of battle while also making it comprehensible.

FWIW, I was in my first year of ROTC classes during Oct 93, and the feeling among the cadets and cadre then was that Clinton screwed up both by being there and then exiting the way he did--remember the media was waiting on the Somali beaches with camera crews when the landing took place. There was a lot of "PR" in the Somali conflict, and once it switched from good to bad PR, we bailed. And as Romeo Dalliere points out in Shake Hands with the Devil, that single action did more for anything else in emboldening guerrilla warlordism seen from Kigali to Kabul.

That geopolitical argument alone makes Scott's Black Hawk Down worth seeing, and even as he's sometimes caught up more in the style of things, I'm glad to see him tackle things with substance.

#10 goneganesh

goneganesh

    Member

  • Member
  • 264 posts

Posted 24 July 2006 - 11:02 PM

QUOTE
Ken wrote: With Munich, I sort of felt an internal divide, as though Spielberg was at odds with himself. When I watch BHD, I feel like two or more hands are pulling in different directions. I don't know if I can be more specific than that and whether or not I mean Scott v Bowden or visuals v. narrative (not quite the same thing) or something else.

My student argued (among other things) that the book's ability to give more time to following the Somalis made it feel more neutral than the film even while the film seems to be trying so hard to be dispassionate and apolitical.

I wonder if the very striking nature of the visuals works against what Scott might be trying to say, that it is hard to receive the film as flat, and message-less in a "just-the-facts"-Dragnet sort of way when there is so much going on visually.

It's almost like Scott tricks (hmm, interesting word choice) us into thinking that beauty is the natural state of things so that we might feel the disconnect between aesthetic experience and meaning more fully. (Like I do when I see newsreels of mushroom shaped cloud and think, "That's really beautiful"). It doesn't quite succeed on that level (for me), but I find it a difficult film to dismiss as readily as I want to.




When I'm feeling kinda generous -- like now -- I sometimes feel inclined to think that Black Hawk Down (the movie) is a full blown masterpiece. And even though I agree that Munich is ideologically and artistically confused, I never feel the same way about BHD. The film is a rich, ironic critique of both of the folly of (1) "charitable warfare" (2) Technological Video Game Warfare and (3) the (to me) bizarre military policy that seems to be driven by advances both in crude sentimentality, sanitation, and refrigeration: The "No Man Left Behind" Policy. This understandable idea, which seems to be about the paradoxical denial and confirmation of imperial ambition -- "No pesky foreign cemeteries filled with the imperial dead for us, thanks." And this often works against us, because it's part of our strange cultural baggage that we often send people to fight and die for other nations -- often for obscure, well-meant and problematic reasons. Why these dead men are not properly monumentalized in places like Somalia, Vietnam, and Lebanon has a lot to do with the degradation of the old honorable currency of war. There might also be a racist whiff to this odd sanitation of human remains in certain countries and not in others.

In other words, BHD is not at all dispassionate, but rather passionate. And the beautiful formal elements are a crucial part of the film. Scott has probably the best "eye" in the business.

This is a film that was made (ostensibly as a propaganda excercise) with the full cooperation of the armed forces about a MILITARY DISASTER -- a film that...

SPOILERS

...ends with a shot of coffins loaded on a plane and the door closing. And this is a striking, ambiguous image -- that we would never be allowed to see on TV -- at least not since Vietnam.

END SPOILER

And to those who miss the rhetorical point (as your student may have done, Ken) of Scott's apparently jingoistic de-humanization of the Somalians (those swarms of black dots) miss a formal conceit of the film: in both real life and in this movie, the soldiers are looking at and killing green dots on their machines. Their commanders are watching, like the viewers at home, the battle on TV. The true lie would be to pseudo-humanize the enemy in this mode of warfare.

The beautiful haunting final sequence of the film --

SPOILER AGAIN

when the last few men race on foot back to the UN safezone of the soccer stadium, where they are met by Pakistani peacekeepers who appear like an orientalist fantasy of a brown-skinned waiter -- they offer evian water to the arriving soldiers as if it were a marathon sporting event or the officer's club at the Raj. This image is not something that is lightly chosen.

END SPOILER

And it requires us to read and examine the film ironically, I think.

P.S. Another thing I like and really do find admirable about the film -- the interchangeable soldiers speak in banalities -- just as they do in real life. I remember no great Tony Kushner speeches or Elegiac Michael Herr voiceovers in this movie.

#11 Peter T Chattaway

Peter T Chattaway

    He's fictional, but you can't have everything.

  • Member
  • 30,188 posts

Posted 25 July 2006 - 12:11 AM

Andrew wrote:
: Sorry if this was unclear from my post, but I didn't intend to provoke a debate on the rightness
: or wrongness of U.S. intervention in Somalia. Instead, I was commenting on the apparent
: message of the film as I understood it.

Understood. But if Ridley Scott is trying to say, "Why were we there? We didn't even catch the guy," then I think his film needs to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. In the end, though, it doesn't; in fact, via the Eric Bana character IIRC, the film explicitly eschews politics and focuses on combat for combat's sake.

kenmorefield wrote:
: Thanks for the link. I'm assuming "OK" is the punctuation thing you were talking about?

Nah, I'm fine with that, actually; I was thinking rather of a place where I'm pretty sure I would NOT have used a period to break up two related thoughts while leaving other, not-quite-so-related thoughts semi-connected to one of the original thoughts with semi-colons.

: By "the people who brought you" Pearl Harbor, do you mean anyone other than the producer(s)?

Some of the actors, too (I mentioned Hartnett and Sizemore, right?), and probably the composers and who knows who else.

: I bristled a bit at the use of "botched," (which to me implies clumsiness or stupidity) . . .

Hmmm, well, the primary Merriam-Webster definition of that word is "to foul up hopelessly", and I think the situation depicted in the film fits that description; nothing is necessarily implied regarding HOW or WHY the situation was fouled up. I also like the sound of that word more than, I dunno, "failed".

#12 The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man

    Member

  • Member
  • 505 posts

Posted 25 July 2006 - 04:32 AM

I haven't seen Black Hawk Down because, as I have indicated before, I dislike films that play fast and loose with history (I haven't seen Munich for the same reason), but I was intrigued by the discussion here (especially Peter's review and his comment about it being war porn) and so I decided to read up on it further. My worst fears were confirmed by a piece by George Monbiot in the Guardian:

QUOTE
The Somalis in Black Hawk Down speak only to condemn themselves. They display no emotions other than greed and the lust for blood. Their appearances are accompanied by sinister Arab techno, while the US forces are trailed by violins, oboes and vocals inspired by Enya. The American troops display horrific wounds. They clutch photos of their loved ones and ask to be remembered to their parents or their children as they die. The Somalis drop like flies, killed cleanly, dispensable, unmourned.


The full piece is somewhat anti-American, but perhaps Ken will find it useful?

Edited by The Invisible Man, 25 July 2006 - 04:33 AM.


#13 M. Leary

M. Leary

    Member

  • Member
  • 5,528 posts

Posted 25 July 2006 - 06:02 AM

QUOTE(kenmorefield @ Jul 24 2006, 11:04 PM) View Post

I wonder if the very striking nature of the visuals works against what Scott might be trying to say, that it is hard to receive the film as flat, and message-less in a "just-the-facts"-Dragnet sort of way when there is so much going on visually.


Back when we were working through the whole "war film footage" debate that didn't pan out for me, I thought about bringing up BHD as an example of "neutral" war footage, or war footage that simply presents itself as an aesthetic experience leading to significant reflection on a broad range of issues rather than a politicized one that speaks to a specific set of questions. But in mulling it over, there are far to many politic overtones to each image that inadvertantly creep in, so I let this sleeping dog lie. I would bet that the film could strike a viewer as "flat" and "message-less" (which I think are good things) if they were completely ignorant of the political issues involved, but such a person is little more than a theoretical construct.

QUOTE(goneganesh @ Jul 25 2006, 12:02 AM) View Post

And to those who miss the rhetorical point (as your student may have done, Ken) of Scott's apparently jingoistic de-humanization of the Somalians (those swarms of black dots) miss a formal conceit of the film: in both real life and in this movie, the soldiers are looking at and killing green dots on their machines. Their commanders are watching, like the viewers at home, the battle on TV. The true lie would be to pseudo-humanize the enemy in this mode of warfare.


Sold! I may be reading you incorrectly, but your last post seems to be a great example of what I was trying to get at in that thread a few months back about depoliticizing war footage, or war films, and enabling them to speak about far more abstract issues.

QUOTE(goneganesh @ Jul 25 2006, 12:02 AM) View Post

And it requires us to read and examine the film ironically, I think.


I first mistakenly read this as "iconically," which was great fun for a second.


#14 The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man

    Member

  • Member
  • 505 posts

Posted 25 July 2006 - 07:37 AM

The trouble with any film of this sort is that there is seldom any attempt at context. The writer and the director play God and remodel actual people and actual events, and declare "This is the beginning of the story", and "This particular event isn't relevant to the plot", or perhaps "It would be better if this particular hero wasn't actually a child molester". So people get a false view; and most people stop at the false view and simply aren't interested in digging any deeper.

Edited by The Invisible Man, 25 July 2006 - 07:46 AM.


#15 Buckeye Jones

Buckeye Jones

    Killer of threads

  • Member
  • 1,748 posts

Posted 25 July 2006 - 08:21 AM

QUOTE(The Invisible Man @ Jul 25 2006, 08:37 AM) View Post

The trouble with any film of this sort is that there is seldom any attempt at context ... [They] declare "This is the beginning of the story", and "This particular event isn't relevant to the plot", or perhaps "It would be better if this particular hero wasn't actually a child molester".


Zing!

But to your main point, isn't that a problem with all films? How do you set up the proper context for any of them? The Battle for Algiers did an excellent job of context setting, and perhaps could be used as a model for a film about a wider political and military conflict.

But in Black Hawk Down you get the exploration of one twenty four hour period with a bit of set-up on either end. I don't know how much more context you can give and still make the film about the firefight in Mogadishu as opposed to the overall Somali operation.



#16 Peter T Chattaway

Peter T Chattaway

    He's fictional, but you can't have everything.

  • Member
  • 30,188 posts

Posted 26 July 2006 - 01:38 AM

MLeary wrote:
: . . . but such a person is little more than a theoretical construct.

MLeary, this is a beautiful semi-sentence, and it has been on my mind All Day -- possibly because I think it is just about plausible that Scott intended his movie for such theoretical constructs, rather than persons. smile.gif

#17 Doug C

Doug C

    Member

  • Member
  • 1,564 posts

Posted 26 July 2006 - 08:53 AM

Very well put, Ken. I'd wager that if we all got off our computers right now and were asked to describe Operation Restore Hope with any historical nuance, that a large number of us couldn't crank out more than a couple sentences without the help of Google to provide 95% of our content. Hopefully, we'll never let aesthetic or emotional appreciation alone replace actual historical awareness.

#18 John

John

    Member

  • Member
  • 424 posts

Posted 26 July 2006 - 10:20 AM

QUOTE(kenmorefield @ Jul 24 2006, 10:04 PM) View Post
With Munich, I sort of felt an internal divide, as though Spielberg was at odds with himself. When I watch BHD, I feel like two or more hands are pulling in different directions. I don't know if I can be more specific than that and whether or not I mean Scott v Bowden or visuals v. narrative (not quite the same thing) or something else.

My student argued (among other things) that the book's ability to give more time to following the Somalis made it feel more neutral than the film even while the film seems to be trying so hard to be dispassionate and apolitical.

I wonder if the very striking nature of the visuals works against what Scott might be trying to say, that it is hard to receive the film as flat, and message-less in a "just-the-facts"-Dragnet sort of way when there is so much going on visually. Reminds me (hate to bring up another divisive film) of American Beauty and the way that the beauty of a particular image can leak into the rest of the film and create a sort of meaning/interpretation that comments ironically on the narrative. (I don't think AB did that as succuessfully as some people do, but I bring it up as an example of what the heck I'm talking about.)


Ken, thanks for your thoughtful reply. You may very well be right about the conflict, at least in terms of how I saw the movie 5 years ago when it came out. It has been far too long since I've seen it to be able to give the kind of detail I would like. Goneganesh's post will be in my mind the next time I get a chance to see this. I frankly prefer his read of the "swarms of black dots" as part of an ironic portrayal by Scott, rather than taking those images at face value, as somehow indicative of the value of those people in some kind of fundamental way.

My initial post in this thread was due to the negative impression the images in the film that stick with me today, the most significant of which involves a bunch of Somalis, aptly looking like cockroaches scurrying from the light, being mowed down by helicopter fire. Scott's portrayal may indeed be ironic. At the time, I felt the beauty and raw power of the visuals made scenes like the aforementioned helicopter gunfire go down way too easy.

One other note: seeing this movie sticks in my mind for another reason. At the beginning of the film, some of the soldiers are checking in or something, and they have to give their birthdates. Since this happened in 1993, some of them were 18, the same age as me. So while I was busy graduating HS, heading off to college and generally consumed by my own conceits, other 18 year old kids were taking fire and dying in Somalia. I remember that moment coming as a bit of a shock to me, and certainly made the film hit a bit closer to home.

Edited by John, 26 July 2006 - 10:21 AM.


#19 M. Leary

M. Leary

    Member

  • Member
  • 5,528 posts

Posted 26 July 2006 - 10:35 AM

QUOTE(kenmorefield @ Jul 26 2006, 09:21 AM) View Post

Maybe it's foolish think of BHD as a (relatively) message-less film, but I've met a lot of fools who were flesh and blood and not just theoretical constructs.


I am thickheaded enough that I don't quite follow this. I don't think it is foolish to think of BHD as a (relatively) message-less film, which is why I like it so much as a "war" film. So I would then be one of those flesh and blood fools rather than a theoretical construct. But, it takes a lot of legwork on my part to begin to abstract the film from its context.

The person I was referring to above is a "theoretical construct" because even your least aware students will see American soldiers shooting other people in BHD. Even if that is all they know, there are a host of political connotations involved with this imagery from the get-go.

QUOTE(Doug C @ Jul 26 2006, 09:53 AM) View Post

Hopefully, we'll never let aesthetic or emotional appreciation alone replace actual historical awareness.


Why? In the case of BHD it is patently obvious that there is some historical context to the film, and the same will be true of any war film for the most part. But when do we get to allow directors to think aesthetically and emotionally about things apart from the political significance of a particular image? This seems to be precisely what Denis is doing in L'Intrus when she starts off with a few overtly political images and then seems to forget them as the film turns inward on its emotional and aesthetic issues.

Isn't it possible that I can critically overpoliticize a film far beyond the intention of the director? This happens, for example, with Mad Max 1 and 2 all the time.

Edited by MLeary, 26 July 2006 - 10:39 AM.


#20 Doug C

Doug C

    Member

  • Member
  • 1,564 posts

Posted 26 July 2006 - 11:08 AM

QUOTE(MLeary @ Jul 26 2006, 08:35 AM) View Post

Why? In the case of BHD it is patently obvious that there is some historical context to the film, and the same will be true of any war film for the most part.

Right, so a primary question is, Is this film true to history? I take film's power to reveal the world seriously. If it's promoting falsehoods by supposition or omission, I want to know about it. I don't want my memory of world events to be co-opted by movies, particularly ones that dismiss historicity. (Note that I'm not saying BHD does this--I haven't seen it yet.)


QUOTE
But when do we get to allow directors to think aesthetically and emotionally about things apart from the political significance of a particular image? This seems to be precisely what Denis is doing in L'Intrus when she starts off with a few overtly political images and then seems to forget them as the film turns inward on its emotional and aesthetic issues.

Which is one reason I find her film beautiful, but a bit self-destructive and inconsequentially poetic.

Meaning cannot be compartmentalized. Images have aesethetic, emotional, political, spiritual and many other meanings whether we want them to or not. It's not an either/or dichotomy.


QUOTE
Isn't it possible that I can critically overpoliticize a film far beyond the intention of the director? This happens, for example, with Mad Max 1 and 2 all the time.

Well...artistic intentionality is ultimately a red herring for any critic, isn't it? As long as we're not George Miller, we can never say for certain what his intentions were--and even then, many artists work inuitively and don't always know what vibe they're plugging into. (Witness--by all appearances--PTA and Magnolia and his "writing from the gut" approach.)