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...
...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.
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 --
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.
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.