‘Mind the steppe…’

catandcomputerI might as well come clean at the start and confess that this posting actually begins with two introductions: yes, you are expected to work your way through two lots of preamble — and three clips! — before you get to the main amble. In fact, having just written those words, I suddenly realise that, forming as they do an introduction to my introductions, they bring the total number of introductions to three

Now, constructing a posting in such a way is not something that I do lightly. For one thing, it’s bound to make my well-read musical friends think of the great D F Tovey’s caustic criticism of a Liszt ‘symphonic poem’ as containing “an introduction to an introduction to a connecting link to another introduction […]” — and I’ll be happy to stay out of range of that barb as long as I possibly can. More importantly, however, there is what I would describe as the ethical requirement that a writer — no less than a composer! — doesn’t take up more of their audience’s time than is absolutely necessary: readers and listeners have other things to do in their lives, and anything that postpones their arrival at the important part of a communication needs to have a darn good reason for being there.

All in all, then, I’d better make sure that the two ‘proper’ introductions I am about to write are as short and as functional as possible. Let me know if they aren’t.

First introduction. This consists of two music clips whose full relevance should — in the manner of all good introductions! — become clear at a later stage. The first clip consists of music drawn from Wagner’s early middle-period opera Tannhäuser — in full, it’s Tannhäuser und der Sängerkrieg auf dem Wartburg (‘Tannhäuser and the Song Contest on the Wartburg’) — and there’s nothing I need to say about it at this point other than that it is made from a ‘pilgrims’ chorus’ that features in the work at various junctures…

(Before any of my music-world pals asks: No, I don’t think that conductor is much cop at all. For one thing, any decent choral director would know that the most obvious place where things risk coming unglued is at the join just before the two minute mark — and this guy isn’t paying proper attention . . . with the result that, for a moment, things actually do. On top of that, those thumped bar accents are terribly destructive of line and tension, and shouldn’t be there. As Doran’s Fourth Law makes clear, ‘Meaningful music needs fewer accents than you think it does’; in fact, a valuable exercise with pupils can be to snip all the accents out until we come to a point where the harmony actually forces us to put one back in…)

And now the other music clip — once again from Wagner, though this time from his penultimate late-period drama Götterdämmerung (‘Twilight of the Gods’); all I need to say about this short extract is that it relates to the body of a slain character being lifted up and carried from the scene…

All right; that’s the end of Introduction 1 — whose point will have become clear by the end, I promise you.

Second Introduction.  For this, I need to explain to new readers something that regular followers of this blog will have learned many months ago — which is that for me to discuss what one might call ‘the average war film’ tends to be a somewhat testy exercise in floccinaucinihilipilification. I won’t go through all the reasons now — at the last count, there were around six dozen of them — but I will mention three of the basic categories: specifically, the way the dream-factories of the imperial and neo-imperial West have long used the medium of ‘the war film’ to tell empire-serving lies about motives, victims and means.

Where motives are concerned, what we normally see is imperial or national aggression misrepresented either as necessary ‘self-defence’ or as altruistic ‘intervention’ carried out in the service of all manner of good things (material gain and geo-strategic advantage somehow not among them). Going hand-in-hand with this spurious selflessness is the dehumanizing anonymization and barbarification of the foreign victims — together with their complete de-legitimization by way of the distortion or erasure of whatever their case or cause might have been. And binding both of these together is the indulgence of whatever kind of perverted eroticism it is that fetishizes an entire spectrum of murderously violent acts and the ‘exciting realism’ of their exceedingly unrealistic representation — the acts themselves ranging in size and significance from the most small-scale and individual to the most technologically de-personalised and industrial.

If you need a reminder of how simply and sheerly pornographic is the spectacle that results when all engines of the film-studio filth-machine are functioning in high gear, I give you the following three minutes drawn from one of the US imperium’s major celluloid obscenities of 1968…

And with that we reach the end of my Introduction 2.

Which brings me to the main body of this posting — which comes in the form of an entire movie, about which (and about whose relation to my two introductions) I am not going to say anything at all right now. My only comments at this stage will be to say that I came across this film entirely by chance, just the other month, and that it has haunted me for weeks — which is something that only one or two other ‘war films’ have ever managed to do…

Let me know about those introductions…

MD

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