Authorguy's Blog

Tying it all together 3 – Follies

Posted on: January 9, 2011

‘Follies’ is not a recognized genre, as far as I know. Which is probably all for the best, since I’ve seen only one movie that qualifies as a folly unreservedly, a splendid little film called ‘Oh What a Lovely War.’  I first discovered this movie on a public station, where I tried to record it using a VHS tape with not enough room left. My dismay was great, you may be sure. Fortunately I discovered that it was released in DVD format recently and now I own it and have seen it in its entirety.

OWALW is a movie about World War 1, presenting it as a day at a seaside carnival. The purpose of the film is to capture the foolishness of the war itself, and that it does admirably. The imagery used is a little arcane in some spots, though, and only a knowledge of the history of the events enabled me to understand and enjoy what was shown and what it meant. The causes of the war, as well as its conduct, are presented as blind gamesmanship on the part of stupid and shallow pretenders at statecraft. The literal causes of the war, the Archduke and his wife who were assassinated in Sarajevo, do nothing, as good tokens will. They are an excuse for the war that every so-called statesman in the room says he doesn’t want.

Then the carnival begins, and all the male members of a single family buy tickets to the show. The movie follows these men, and occasionally their wives, alternating with scenes from the home front, where relatively few people know that a war is even being fought, or what’s happening in the trenches. The stunning incompetence of the military leadership is captured by a single scene, in which the numbers of dead men are read off like a score, while the number of yards gained is tossed off as ‘Nil.’ ‘In the end, we have ten thousand men, they have five thousand, we win.’ The horror of what is really happening is caught in a series of vignettes, in the form of carnival attractions such as a merry-go-round. These rides suddenly expand into song-and-dance routines, based on the actual songs sung during WW1, a pleasant facade that all too soon comes crashing down, dead men and broken horses, the curtain swiftly drawn and…Hey, look over there! The many members of the family are gradually killed off, as shown by the presence of little red flowers, until the final scene shows the women picnicking among a sea of crosses.

I know no movie which so perfectly captures the folly of its subject, with the possible exception of Dr. Strangelove, or War Inc., a strange little movie in which John Cusack almost reprises his Martin Blank character, an assassin for hire, who gets sent to ‘Turaqistan’ to kill an oil minister while undergoing a crisis of conscience.


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