Saturday, June 17, 2017

Kubrick Crazy

"These are great days we're living, bros. We are jolly green giants, walking the Earth with guns. These people we wasted here today are the finest human beings we will ever know. After we rotate back to the world, we're gonna miss having anyone around that's worth shooting."

Crazy Earl (Kieron Jecchinis)

I've seen enough Stanley Kubrick movies that I am pretty sure I could identify one even if I stumbled onto one I had never seen before while I was channel surfing.

Some directors are like that. They use certain styles — for example, certain types of lighting or camera angles — in all their films.

If you've seen some of Kubrick's movies, you're bound to recognize things like shots that show as much of a room as possible, giving the shot unusual depth.

Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket," which was first shown on this day in Beverly Hills in 1987, was like that. I first saw it on the big screen and knew who directed it long before I went to see it. But if my first exposure to it had been a few years later when it was showing on TV and I stumbled onto it when it was already half over, I'm sure I could still figure out rather quickly who had directed it.

I always thought one of the most telling signs that it was a Kubrick movie was the performance of Vincent D'Onofrio who played an overweight Marine recruit.

The character's weight was an important part of the story. The character was originally written as a "skinny ignorant redneck" but was rewritten as fat and clumsy instead. This required D'Onofrio to put on 70 pounds — the greatest weight gain for a movie role ever (eclipsing Robert De Niro's record of 60 pounds for "Raging Bull"). Physical transformations are big in Kubrick movies.

More telling than that, though, are facial expressions. And D'Onofrio, a weak–minded overweight recruit who was ridiculed mercilessly by his sergeant (R. Lee Ermey, a Marine–turned–actor whose name became a household word with this movie), finally snapped.

When the audience caught up with him in the barracks lavatory late one night, the expression on his face was one Kubrick's audiences had seen before — most notably on the faces of Jack Nicholson in "The Shining" and Malcom McDowell in "A Clockwork Orange."

But I've got to tell you. I thought D'Onofrio did Kubrick crazy best. Even better than Nicholson.

D'Onofrio shot his sergeant, then shot himself so he wasn't a factor in what happened in the rest of the movie.

But there was plenty of Kubrick crazy in the second half of the movie.

The rest of the movie was about one of D'Onofrio's fellow recruits (Matthew Modine) and his participation in some of the atrocities of the Vietnam War at the time of the Tet offensive that essentially doomed the American war effort.

From what I have heard, just about everyone who served in 'Nam was at least a little Kubrick crazy — some more than others. And the experiences of the platoon with which Modine found himself in the city of Huế during the Tet offensive certainly seemed to bear that out.

In case you aren't up on your Vietnam War history, Huế was the site of one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the conflict. Fighting there lasted nearly a month. Thousands were killed or wounded on both sides.

It is always striking to me how violent the movie is — but, of course, you can't really make a movie about war that isn't violent, can you? And while it is tempting to criticize Kubrick for making an excessively violent movie, the nonfiction account of that war is filled with even worse.

It also occurs to me when I watch this movie that it must take a special mentality to fight a war. I suppose it has always been that way, even when the weapons in use were not as sophisticated as they are today (although the automatic weapons of today are certainly more efficient than the weapons that were used in the Revolutionary War and the Civil War). So many people are shot (graphically) in full view of the audience and the other characters in the movie.

I tend to put myself in the position of those other characters. Would I be able to carry on with an offensive after watching one of my best friends get killed in front of me? I feel like I would at least need some time to grieve before channeling my energies in another direction — so maybe it is a good thing that I was never called upon to fight in a war.

But in "Full Metal Jacket" — and probably in reality — there was no time to grieve, not even for Modine when a buddy from his boot camp days (Arliss Howard) was shot by a sniper and died in Modine's arms.

They found the sniper — turned out to be a young girl, probably in her teens. One of the guys in the platoon shot her and as she lay dying she begged for someone to end her life and her misery, repeatedly saying just two words — "Shoot me." Modine finally performed the mercy killing.

"Full Metal Jacket" was nominated for one Oscar — Best Adapted Screenplay — but lost to the big winner on Oscar night that year, "The Last Emperor."