small d, Big J

What Steven desJardins is interested in.
Tuesday, July 08, 2003
If you live in DC and have never seen Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen, you have until Friday at the AFI Silver Theater before it closes. I had never seen it at all, and I'm glad I waited, because it was simply magnificient and a TV screen would not have done it justice at all.

One thing that struck me was how little action there was. Much of the movie consists simply of people walking or riding through the desert. And these shots, which a lesser filmmaker might have thought unnecessary, are absolutely essential, because they drive home how difficult the journey is and how hostile the desert environment can be. When, after several minutes of uneventful travelling shots, somebody falls off their camel from exhaustion, the moment is riveting. In the desert falling off your camel can mean death. This is something the movie had to show, and it did show.

I also recently saw two movies from the AFI's post-War German series. Kirmes was about a deserter from the German army who runs to his home village and finds everyone, even his own family, even the church, afraid to protect him. It's a strong indictment of a broader German failure during the War to stand up and defy their leaders.

The Doctor From Stalingrad is set in a Soviet prison camp in 1949. (I admit I didn't even know Germans were still prisoners then.) It's like just about every other WWII prison camp movie, only this time it's the Germans who are the victims of sadistic prison camp guards. The hero is a German doctor trying to keep his people alive, despite inadequate rations and virtually nonexistent medical supplies. His decisions on who is fit to work are routinely overridden by the Soviet doctor, and many of the men sent back to work die. The Germans themselves feel little hope that they can survive. It seems obvious that the goal of their Soviet captors is to work them to death.

The doctrine of collective responsibility is used by the Soviets to justify themselves. The Germans destroyed their country, so the Germans must help to rebuild it. Any complaint of Soviet brutality is countered with some German atrocity during the War. When a prison snitch is murdered, everyone is punished. But there are also signs that the Soviets are not as unfeeling as they seem. The Soviet doctor reveals that she has little choice in sending men back to work; she is under strict orders that no more than 3% of the men can be in the hospital at any time. The fact that she is just following orders is, of course, a bitter irony.

I got my first fruit share delivery today--five golden apples and a small basket of wineberries. The wineberries look like raspberries, but are smaller and more fragile, and taste a bit like wine. Very, very good.


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