movies and books that go well together

i’d like to pair a couple of literary classics with a few movies each and i thought i’d turn to the collective expertise of this blog’s writers. the books are the red badge of courage and in cold blood. having just seen stop-loss, i’m intrigued by the two extremely different representations of desertion of red badge and stop-loss. i wonder whether a representation of desertion such as the one that takes place in RB would even be possible in a contemporary movie. apart from the technical difficulties of simply absenting oneself from the battle, it seems to me that our contemporary conception of the war hero is so infused with nationalism and testosterone that one could not conceive of a war movie hero that undergoes the kind of existential transformation henry fleming does. the taint of the original cowardice would be too strong to allow for redemption — yes? one the other hand, henry fleming’s ultimate valor is an entirely personal achievement, unconnected to an esprit de corps that seems so essential to the contemporary war movie (and to contemporary understanding of war psychology). blah blah blah. maybe you have other war movies in mind that would enhance and complicate the themes of RB.

as for in cold blood, the movie that comes to mind first is badlands, for obvious reasons. but i am just in the first few page of CB, so i don’t have much more to add.

4 thoughts on “movies and books that go well together”

  1. Hm. I can’t think of another war movie that handles desertion, except maybe the adaptation of Catch-22. In fact, I might be recalling the book more than the film, and I also think _Going After Cacciato_ handles desertion and cowardice in ways that are complex, and complement _Red Badge_ really well. But I’m stumped about flicks.

    I think Blue Velvet would be a fucking great partner with _In Cold Blood_ — both texts unraveling our sense of mystery, playing with the small town mythos and innocence, pushing on right and wrong and an evil world… but so very, very different in tone, form, aesthetics. I’ve taught BV, but it can be a tough sell to some.

    What other books are you doing?

  2. don’t know if you remember red badge, mike, but there are other issues in it other than desertion. valor, for one, but also, of course, courage, identity (masculinity), and moral righteousness. guilt, too, of course. do we have movies that deal with war in existential, humanistic, moral-as-in-personal-morality terms? how about paths of glory?

    i have never seen (i confess) blue velvet!

  3. Paths of Glory would be a great connection; even Kubrick’s other war flick, Full Metal Jacket, would hit on many of those issues (‘though PoG seems more on point).

    DePalma’s Casualties of War might also work–a band of soldiers ends up raping a Vietnamese woman, one soldier resists… I’m not sure I liked it, but it’s a very well-acted and in some respects challenging film.

    And maybe something very recent–Errol Morris has a new documentary coming out about Abu Ghraib and why/how people went along. (I think it’s called Standard Operating Procedure.) A piece of the book he co-wrote with Philip Gourevitch on the subject was in the New Yorker about a month ago, and it was damn good. Masculinity is a subject, but in relation to gender and sexuality; group-think, institutional structures which shape individual action, the difficulty of ethical choice… And it’s also really interesting about the infamous pictures taken: how and why we represent, and how these representations shape our sense of events…

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