Images of war on film sometimes have an unexpected effect on the viewer. Imagination Connoisseur, Julian Mushkin, shares the story of how he learned about his grandfathers’ sacrifices during WW-II in such a way. Plus more letters from other viewers.
On Memorial Day and CONAN and bringing the carnage of war into sharper focus.
Greeting to you Rob and the rest of my fellow PGS members. It is May and beyond this month’s importance to Star Wars fans, my wedding anniversary of May 5th, Mothers Day, and its proximity to June and the encroaching advent of Summer Vacation for many students, there are two other points of significance to the Month as well. Memorial Day falls in May and it is also the month in which Conan the Barbarian opened in North America.
Yes, 39 years ago this month Director John Milius, Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a supporting cast of greats including Mako, James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow, and Sandahl Bergman, brought Robert E. Howards sword wielding Cimmerian to life on the big screen. Despite being negatively viewed at the time for its violent content and screenwriting, reaction to it was mainly positive based on its action sequences, production design, directing, visual style, effects and Schwarzenegger’s performance.
Indeed, it has become a cornerstone in the body of genre films that came out in 1982 along with other movies like Blade Runner, The Dark Crystal, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Poltergeist, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, The Sword and the Sorcerer, The Thing, Tron, and even Cat People. Conan would become a commercial success, grossing between $68.9 million and $79.1 million worldwide, against a budget of $20 million. The movie went on to become a cult film and spawned the sequel film, Conan the Destroyer in 1984 as well as a reboot production of the same name in 2011.
“But Julian”, I hear the PGS cry out, “What does Conan the Barbarian have to do with Memorial Day?” Well, let me tell you why I feel a sense of connection between that movie and a day which has become a sacred day of observance, centered on acknowledging, remembering, and thanking the millions of people in uniform who gave their lives for this country.
Both my grandfathers served in the U. S. Army during the Second World War. Luckily they survived the war and I was able to spend many wonderful moments with both of them. As both of them are no longer with us on this mortal plain, I think it is fair to include them in my Memorial Day rememberance.
As is common with many veterans of that conflict, my grandfathers did not talk much about their time during the war. My maternal grandfather, ‘Grandpa Jack’, only talked about his experiences once. After I had seen a couple pictures of him in uniform and found out he had some German bayonets in the attic somewhere I asked him about his service. I was in middle school at the time and reading about military history, and particularly World War II, were passions of mine.
Grandpa Jack had been in the ETO, the European Theater of Operations, serving in an Anti-Aircraft Battery. He told me that his unit had come into France after the D-Day invasion of Normandy and that they were pretty fresh with little or no combat experience. They were in a truck convoy of troops when the trucks came to a halt beside an open field. No one knew what was going on, being in trucks with the covers up over the back. Grandpa Jack was right at the back of his truck when others started yelling about a pile of abandoned German equipment out in the field.
Of course my grandfather tried to get out, like everyone else, to see if they could score some war souvenirs but in the rush he was knocked down and other soldiers got to the field before him. It probably saved his life because, of course, the equipment was booby-trapped and the field was full of mines. At that point souvenirs suddenly became less important to my grandfather.
I asked him if he had brought back anything besides the bayonets and he told me he had brought back some Luger pistols. When I inquired if he still had them he told me had had sold them for a cement mixer. He had been building his house at the time and a cement mixer was more important to him than the pistols. I was crestfallen then, my young teen boy brain having not really gotten the message Grandpa Jack was telling me at the time.
Grandpa Mushkin was even more taciturn then Grandpa Jack when it came to talking about his experiences in the war. My grandmother had shown me a picture of him from his time in the Service, rail thin with a beer in his hand. She said he had written to her about subsisting on nothing but K-Rations and beer for months.
All I ever had from him was a confirmation that, yes, he had been in the Pacific during his service and that he had been involved in the Palau (Pahl – Ow – Oo) Islands campaign on the island of Peleliu (Pey-lay-lee-u.) codenamed Operation Stalemate II as part of the larger Operation Forager. I had read about that campaign in my Time-Life books about World War II so I knew about the tough fighting, knew about the high number of casualties. Intellectually I knew. So I had to ask my grandfather, “Was it really as tough as I’ve read? What was it like?” I asked him if he had been in any of the noted battles I had read about. “It was pretty bad.”
That was all he would say about it.So one summer, maybe ’83, when I was vacationing as usual with my grandparents at their home on Mercer Island I found myself very excited to see that Showtime, or HBO, I can’t remember which, was going to play a Sword and Sorcery double feature of The Sword and the Sorcerer followed by Conan the Barbarian. This was perfect! I had not seen The Sword and the Sorcerer yet but my dad and I had gone to see Conan when it was in the theaters and I could not wait to see it again. So I made plans to watch this double bill.
I would have to watch it in the small dinette next to the kitchen as this was the only TV with the particular subscription. The wet bar was also here and Grandpa Mushkin often liked to relax in the dinette with a Gin and Tonic and watch TV so I had to convince him that these movies would be some exciting fantasy pieces. I assured him that my dad had already taken me to Conan. He agreed and we settled in to watch the movies.
I don’t really recall any of his reactions to The Sword and the Sorcerer other then wincing a bit at some of the sword fighting scenes. To be honest, I found the movie pretty silly and I’ve only watched it twice that I can recall. The film is notable to me mostly for the triple bladed projectile sword and the Dragon Archers with the flaming bows. Not because they were good but because they were so ridiculous.
Then came the main feature. I remember constantly looking over at my grandfather to see how he was reacting. Again he winced at a lot of the sword play action but this time, with the copious blood splatter present in the movie, he was moved to exclaim “Eee-gad!” or “Oh my God!” at particularly violent scenes. He did not finish watching the movie with me but went off to bed.
Years have passed since that night and in those years Hollywood achieved ever increasing heights in portraying to movie audiences the horrific carnage inflicted in war. Movies like Platoon and Saving Private Ryan have, according to many vets, achieved a verisimilitude that has allowed them to state, “That’s what it was like.”
The HBO series’ Band of Brothers and The Pacific, both excellent shows based on non-fiction books by the same name have followed movies like Saving Private Ryan in trying to realistically depict the brutal reality of warfare. I had read both books before either series came out. Both are very fine reads. Both affected me strongly on an emotional level.
Astonishingly to me, my reading of Band of Brothers changed how I related to Tolkiens’ The Lord of the Rings series. This is a series I reread every five years or so and after reading Band of Brothers, on my next reading of TLOR I found myself viewing the story of the Fellowship and the conflict in Middle Earth completely in a new light. I saw the Fellowships bonds forged in the fires of conflict just like they had been for the men of Easy Company.
I never served in the military but many of my friends did and I listened as one friend, who had been Air Police in the US Air Force, described to me the absolute fucking terror he felt as he and his Service Dog were pinned down behind his jeep by automatic weapons fire while he called for backup.
And then I had the opportunity to watch The Pacific. This series really hit me hard particularly as the campaign in the Palau Island chain is a major event for several of the series’ characters. I remembered what I had read in my Time Life books about the campaign. I remembered the paintings by Tom Lea who had gone in with the first Marine waves to hit the beach. Those paintings painfully illustrated the horrors, exhaustion, and sheer, mind numbing brutality, experienced by soldiers in war. One of his paintings, The Two Thousand Yard Stare, forcefully brings the viewer face to face with one Marine who has been pushed beyond the breaking point.
Marine commanders had predicted the battle would be over and the islands secured within four days. Instead, it took the Ist Marine Division and the U.S. Army’s 81st Infantry Division over two months before they could declare the islands secured. Total casualties for the US forces were 7, 919 with 1,460 of those killed giving this operation the highest casualty rate of any other amphibious operation during the Pacific War.
This series brought all of these things in to fuller focus for me. They were no longer just facts on a page, and remembering that my grandfather had fought there, now there was a personal connection.
I thought back to that night watching Conan the Barbarian with my grandfather and realized that what he was reacting to might not have had anything to do with the movie and everything to do with his past service. Perhaps not finishing the movie with me told me everything I needed to know about his experiences in the Pacific War.
I miss my grandfathers and I hope that their spirits are truly Resting in Peace. To those who served and gave all, I thank you and salute you for your sacrifice.
If you took the time to read this rumination during your show Rob, I thank you as well. Cheers!
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Maybe it’s not as bad as people say it is over at Disney?
Oh hi Rob,
Hope you and the post geek singularity are having a good day.
I’m of mixed feelings regarding a few recent topics.Bob Chapek was spoken about in Variety. No doubt some meetings were required to smooth over relationships and bruised egos. But let’s consider new Bob’s perspective: Handed the CEO keys and less than a month later he’s had to shut down all of The Disney Company’s Theme Parks, Cruise Lines and Theatrical releases, without somehow tanking the stock price. Remember that DisneyLand wasn’t shut down for only 3 days. So if he wants to run a meeting or structure things in a way that prioritizes the one thing that is exciting investors, maybe it’s not completely terrible.
What was Matthew Ball saying? At its core, an entertainment business does only three things:
- Create/tell stories
- Build love for those stories
- Monetize that love
As far as I know, Disney still has studio heads that create and tell stories. Eventually you need suits to find ways to monetize that love. Should Luca be in theaters? Maybe, but Papa Chapek is trying to compete with Netflix. Miss that new 110 million subscriber goal and get skewered. But back to love. How many kids and other viewers will watch Luca, free with subscription? Time to Monetize that love.
You often lament the idea that giant corporations own popular characters. I don’t see how Marvel in the 90s, constantly on the verge of bankruptcy, was better. Small companies can have terrific or terrible editors in chief just as large ones. A company like Disney can create bigger stories and monetize that love better. Big companies, managed well, allow for greater specialization.
As for Bob Iger, he made some brilliant moves. But he stepped down, and somebody has to replace him. Any new CEO would likely not be the force multiplier that Iger was. That said, the Sequel Trilogy happened under Iger’s watch. It’s a bit harder to build love for those stories.
Ignoring the premise that the Sequels could have been planned and mapped out better, here is a question: can any new movie hope to have the same impact that Luke, Han, and Leia had in 1977? We’re talking about a movie that played in theaters for 43 weeks! Minecraft or Fortnite is the closest thing to an entertainment zeitgeist shift in modern times.
I like Kylo Ren and Adam Driver, but the Mandalorian was what really got me reinvested in Star Wars. Similarly, my love of Wanda and Vision was strengthened by giving them the screen time they needed. My love of Sam, Bucky and Zemo were increased by their show.
I wonder what will happen to WB and the DC characters in the long run. AT&T has too much debt due soon to also be spending the Billions it requires to keep up with Netflix and Disney. So we’ve entered another awkward hurry up and wait period where people will be hesitant to do much. If the new ownership takes place, I keep thinking about random things like crew size. Ms. Marvel had a day with 450 crew. How much crew does an episode of House Hunters have? Yeah, I know, apples and oranges, but they’ll have to really consider their models. Reality shows work because they get a reasonable amount of viewership for very little production cost in comparison to other genres.
Bit rambling, but I wanted to share a few things on my mind.
All the best,
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Batman-ed out and hope for THE ETERNALS
Dear Captain Of The USS Imagination
Kudos to Pasty Coppertop. I’m about as Batmanned out as he is. The character has always felt flat and outshined by his rogues gallery on the big screen. The Dark Knight Rises (ugh!) is the top grossing Batman movie of all time, but Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker movie was only $10,687,788 million away from matching it. That doesn’t feel right, but at least the latter is a better film. Only Timm & Dini have done Batman justice outside of comics, like it seemed Zack Snyder and Ben Affleck were about to do, but sadly that cinematic ship has sailed.
Having said that, the trailer for the Reeves/Pattinson Batman movie looks like the Darknight Detective movie we’ve never had. Btw, Hawkman will show up in the Black Adam movie. That should make Mr. Coppertop happy.Last week I saw two documentaries, one that I felt was Oscar worthy “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” the Mr. Rogers biopic, and another that was very entertaining and educational, John Campea’s “Movie Trailers: A Love Story”, which made me remember the trailers that completely bamboozled me into a watching awful movies. The teasers for “Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace”, “Prometheus” and “The Dark Knight Rises”.
The trailer for Marvel’s “The Eternals” dropped today and it looks epic and beautiful. As beautiful as Gemma Chan or as the breathtaking vistas Chloe Zhao regaled us in “Nomadland”. Jack Kirby’s brainchildren seem to be in good hands. I think that Skeeter Davis’ song means that the red Celestial Arishem, the Judge, is about to arrive. Everyone looked great, but as a Kirby aficionado, the most thrilling moment was when energy tendrils seemed to be about to join them into the Uni-Mind.
Thank you for reading my letters Rob. Btw, I’m glad the short story contest was postponed, maybe now I’ll finish mine. Many blessings and stay metal.
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Appreciating the beauty of Frank Herbert’s prose in the DUNE series of books.
Hi Rob and fellow midnighters,
I have a confession to make, as I have an inexcusable blind spot in my fandom, this proverbial blind spot takes form in Frank Herbert’s renowned series, Dune. I’m not quite sure how, but in my many years of nerd indulgences I’ve never read the series.However, in leu of Denis Villeneuves film adaptations imminent approach, I have finally decided to give Dune shot. At the time of writing this I am twenty odd pages into book one and, well, I’m only twenty pages in to the book so I’m afraid I don’t have much insight to offer, but I’ll do my best. There’s a beautiful moment when starting a book, movie or even album where nothing has changed from the moment before you started it.
I’ve heard the sentiment echoed many a time that if only a person could experience their favorite piece of art as if it where the first time, that’s what starting Dune felt like. From the opening paragraph Frank Herbert’s writing style is strangely alien, yet somehow intoxicating. Herbert launches you into this vast world as if you already understand the dynamics of its culture, allowing him to explain things through natural dialogue instead of heady exposition drops.
All things considered I found the first twenty pages of Dune intriguing if a bit confusing at times, and I look forward to writing you about any new thought I have along this grand adventure.
Sincerely, The PGS’s villain who very jealous of Frank Herbert’s Vocabulary.
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A tribute to Jack “King” Kirby
Hi Rob, moderators, and Post Geek Singularity,
This new Eternals trailer had me looking back at the work of Jack Kirby, and what a titan he was.After years of saying I would read it, I finally started reading his and Stan Lee’s original Fantastic Four run a few weeks ago, and I’m really enjoying it. I had read and liked later Fantastic Four stories, such as all of Jonathan Hickman’s run, but didn’t start with the original stuff until a few weeks back.
He was just one man, but singlehandedly laid the foundation for almost all the entire Marvel Universe, as well as creating the Fourth World for DC Comics. He created so many different characters, worlds, costumes, creatures, spaceships, and science fiction equipment. All of which still exists and is still used by comic creators today.
Kirby is the king of comics, without question, but it’s only when you read the original comics you truly understand what that means, whereas just hearing Kirby be described as that.
Thanks, live long and prosper.
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Is there hope for a DC Snyderverse even without Zack Snyder?
Hey Rob! Happy Tuesday! And not to mention, Happy 44th birthday to the entire Star Wars saga! Hard to believe it’s been alive and rockin for that long! That’s effin metal!!So, in thinking through Zack Snyder’s Justice League and after having watched it three times, I realize that several of these stories actually will be continued in the solo film sequels such as, Aquaman 2, Wonder Woman 3, and the Flash movie. All of which I am super stoked for. That being said, with Warner Media possibly merging with another major film company or DC being bought out, do you think that the SnyderVerse can continue even if it wasn’t with some of the same actors or even the same producers?
Maybe these are the words of a desperate SnyderVerse fan wanting to see the unfinished story arc we saw in Zack Snyder’s Justice League through to completion. Honestly, there is nothing complete about seeing Darkseid say, “Ready the armada, we will go back to the old ways,” or seeing Batfleck say to Martian Manhunter, “We could use your help,” or anything about that nightmare scene seeing how there is just too much mystery to it.
Snyder himself decided to film these scene inserts just last year if I am not mistaken. Why would he do that if he is not planning to continue the SnyderVerse? It just adds to the fan’s appetite to want more of our beloved Justice League universe.
I understand if Warner Bros wants to cut off this franchise completely. It’s all about the dough, “It ain’t yo friends, it’s your business!” If it’s not making the green, they can’t make the scene! Unfortunately, that’s life for the movie industry. Anyway, just thought I’d share my thoughts and hear yours and the Post-Geek Singularity’s in exchange.
You, sir, have yourself a better day! And have yourself a great Star Wars Day! May the force be with you always!
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