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Our Daily Bread #8

Exploring "American Sniper" through images, and films by John Ford, Manoel de Oliveira, Straub-Huillet, King Vidor & Mizoguchi.
Neil Bahadur
"Glory, something some men chase and others find themselves stumbling upon, not expecting to find them.  Either way it is a noble gesture that one finds bestowed upon them.  My question is when does glory fade away and become a wrongful crusade, or an unjustified means by which consumes one completely?"
Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper is a movie about men who salute the country that betrayed and mutilated them.
Like in Manoel de Oliveria’s No, or the Vain Glory of Command, where men, their arms cut off, struggle to hold uphold the flag of their country.
As Mr. Lewis says:
“We live in a democracy, gentlemen!  And in a democracy, it’s every mans right to be killed fighting for his country!”
Some men can be changed. It is possible to find a new consciousness:
“Those machine guns are in position.  It would mean needless slaughter to oppose us now!  You can prevent it!”
And perhaps a woman's intervention can eradicate a chauvinistic hell:
Or perhaps not:
In The Black Watch, Captain King literally becomes a king, but loses his beloved. and his new consciousness becomes useless:
This loss affords him a promotion.  The Parade moves on:
Like Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet’s Othon:
In American Sniper, however, while Chris Kyle’s wife Taya grows despondent over his service, she nevertheless remains complicit in his actions.  She too joins the celebration.
So it’s Chris who dies, not Taya.
And instead of getting a promotion, Chris becomes a myth:
Like ancient Rome, here too, the parade moves on:
Men charge off, ideological slaves:
Order is inarguable: the code must forever be upheld.
In Kenji Mizoguchi’s 47 Ronin, the act of living is an act of subservience:
Indeed, when one code is rejected, it is only to uphold another one!
The conflict is resolved in an artificial snow bed, spoken to a gravestone:
Then, choose to die honorably: ‘noble’ suicide.
Virtue is obedience even until death, subservience of individuality to a code of honor:
A fascist’s revolution.
Nevertheless, everyone marches in order.
“I’m looking for warriors!”
So men masochistically torture themselves, to prove they are men:
A black man even renounces his own heritage:
“What are you doing in my line, everybody knows black guys can’t swim.”
“I’m not black.  I’m the new black.  We run slow, we jump low, we swim good and we stop that gap.  And I make the white folk proud.”
And it’s on the mountains that Northwest Passage's Major Rogers has his moment of awareness:
But Chris Kyle never has this realization.  He only gets the insinuation of a different consciousness.
“Fuck this place.”
He takes off his sunglasses.  They drift apart.
“Fuck this place.”
“Fuck this place.”
And then it’s back to the parade.
Because Chris is unable to recognize this separate consciousness, it’s up to the film to formalize Chris’s shift from man to beast.  When he is first named “The Legend,” he’s drowned in chiaroscuro:
The chiaroscuro:  Chris’s confused feelings, of course.  But he can do nothing about it, because to acknowledge them would be to question authority.
He does what he’s told:
In American Sniper, as with Oliveria, the Straubs, Ford, Mizoguchi, Vidor, and Jerry Lewis, more important than what is being said is how it is being said.
Indeed, these Iraqi deaths are by the hands of other Iraqis, because they broke the code: not to speak to the Americans.
So it’s quite obvious:  these deaths could have been avoided, had the Americans not imposed their own code:
Because Kyle is unable to reconcile these new feelings with ‘duty,’ his psyche collapses:
He responds to this by creating his own mythos:
“Would you be surprised if I told you that the Navy has credited you with over 160 kills?
Chris deifies himself.
“The thing that haunts me the most is all the guys that I couldn’t save.”
Chris diverts responsibility, not unlike Eastwood’s other film from 2014, Jersey Boys, in which Eastwood’s Frankie Valli writes his own history.
“Like that bunny with the battery on TV, I just keep goin’ and goin’.  Chasing the music.  Trying to find a way home.”
And, rather the opposite from “goin’ and goin,” reverts back into his younger self:
Before launching into outright fantasy:
But even Valli has a moment to acknowledge his responsibility: the wife he abandoned, the daughters he neglected.
My friend Kurt Walker has a very good theory:  that with the use of “My Eyes Adore You” (previously used in a sequence with Valli’s now deceased daughter) and Valli’s stare directly into the camera, it is almost like Valli is acknowledging the ghost of his dead child and the guilt that comes with it.
The camera even lowers itself to the height of the child.
But Chris Kyle never acknowledges the ghosts.  He only acknowledges himself.
Kyle is rather like the king in No, or the Vain Glory of Command, who is so obstinate in his refusal to say "no" that he would rather die.
In fact, he kills himself to avoid acknowledging defeat.
It makes perfect sense to the imperial samurai, the fascists:  suicide is honorable.
Even the trees and the leaves are fake:
Fort Apache's Colonel Thursday too chooses the same fate, he knows he’s wrong at this point, but he along with the older soldiers choose to die.
Because to do any otherwise would not, in Victor McLagen’s words; “uphold the morals of decorum.”
In 47 Ronin, a young woman dresses as a boy and defies the social order to see her beloved, as it’s the only way she would gain entry into the masculine society of warriors.  She joins the mass suicide because she too, in this sick and twisted, purile world, desires to “print the legend.”
The sun sets in the final shot of From the Clouds to the Resistance, like a teardrop running down the face of a landscape:
American Sniper (Clint Eastwood, 2014)
No, or the Vain Glory of Command (Manoel de Oliveria, 1990)
Which Way To The Front? (Jerry Lewis, 1970)
The Black Watch (John Ford, 1929)
Othon (Straub-Huillet, 1969)
Fort Apache (John Ford, 1948)
The Loyal 47 Ronin (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1941/42)
Northwest Passage (King Vidor, 1940)
From The Clouds To The Resistance (Straub-Huillet, 1979)
Jersey Boys (Clint Eastwood, 2014)
Pasolini (Abel Ferrara, 2015)

Our Daily Bread is a column on not necessarily beautiful images, nor similar images, but images that when brought together interact in meaningful ways.


Clint EastwoodColumnsDanièle HuilletJean-Marie StraubJerry LewisJohn FordKenji MizoguchiKing VidorLong ReadsManoel de OliveiraOur Daily BreadStraub-Huillet
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