What is Hollywood doing right about war

Media war

What does it look like to be fighting for your life on the front lines? How would you prove yourself in battle? These questions have haunted viewers of war films since films about war have existed.

Cinema is a relatively new invention. In 1895, the Skladanowsky brothers in Berlin and the Lumière brothers in Paris organized the first public film screenings. Wars have been going on for much longer, but both cinema and war were subject to rapid technical development in the 20th century. Wars became material battles, which could be portrayed better and better with new cameras, lenses and higher quality film material. There are war films in almost every country. Most war films, however, are produced in Hollywood, America. This is no coincidence: war films cost a lot of money, which the large production companies there in particular have at their disposal. In addition, Hollywood has always stood for the combination of great action with great feeling. So the high cost and general supremacy of American cinema has resulted in the most famous war films being produced by Hollywood. Political messages are often conveyed with war films. In times of war they often serve to raise one's own morale and devalue the military opponent. However, there are also examples of pacifist films that criticize the war as man-made madness.

Films about the First World War (1914–1918)

There was a bitter dispute in Germany over the film "Nothing New in the West" (1929/1930). Conservative circles saw it as anti-German propaganda, including because dead German soldiers are clearly shown again and again.
Excerpts from the film "Nothing New in the West" can be found on the DVD "The War in the Media" in E1 - Live there? / Knowledge in detail / The war in the media / History. (& copy Universal)
Overall, only a few war films have been made to date that have the First World War as their theme. War films made in Germany in the twenties and thirties carry a mostly pacifist message: Never again war! The military can only be further glorified in the pseudo-historical "Prussian films". In the USA, however, the aviator film "Wings" (1927), which celebrates the US pilots of the First World War as heroes, wins the first Oscar (1929). At that time, however, a realistic reproduction of the events of the war was not yet possible: all films are silent films. Only the sound film makes the noise of cannon thunder and the screaming of soldiers audible. One of the first sound films to address the war is Lewis Milestone's "Nothing New in the West" (1930). This American war film is an adaptation of the German anti-war novel by Erich Maria Remarque (1929), which was very popular at the time. It shows the misery in the trenches, does not shy away from drastic depictions - and is thus successful worldwide.

Films about the Second World War (1939-1945)

As in the First World War, the German audience learns about the events at the front through short documentary films. The Nazis use these "newsreels" only for propaganda, not for education. As the war went on, more and more "persistence films" were made in Germany.
In the film "Die Brücke" (1959), eight young people who were still underage received the senseless order to defend a bridge in a small town from the approaching Americans. The film does not gloss over heroism, but the senselessness of the war becomes tangible and the fear of the young soldiers can be clearly seen.
Excerpts from the film "Die Brücke" can be found on the DVD "The War in the Media" in E2 - Media Product War? / Knowledge in detail / war film / history. (& copy Fono)
which mostly only make a subtle reference to current war events, as in the "Prussian film" "Kolberg" (1943/1945). For the fairytale spectacle "Münchhausen" (1943), in which Hans Albers rides a cannonball, Propaganda Minister Goebbels has the American Technicolor method copied. With films like "Air Force" (1943) the Americans also produce war propaganda. Formative is the awareness of fighting for a just cause.

Immediately after the end of the war, which was traumatic for all sides, only a few war films were made. In Germany people cover up their guilty conscience with homeland films, in the USA the war is dealt with in comedies and love stories. The events of the war remain in the background, the audience should be spared overly brutal images. A German exception is Bernhard Wicki's film "Die Brücke" (1959), which takes up the senseless death of young fighters in the last days of the war. The international co-production "The Longest Day" (1963) stages the landing of the Allies in Normandy from the perspective of all participating armies with a documentary claim. Hard, realistic war films were mainly produced by Great Britain during the Cold War. Widescreen spectacles such as "Agenten die einsam" (1968) and "Ein dreckiger Haufen" (1968) became the flagship of British cinema.

Films about the Vietnam War (1965–1973)

In "Platoon" (1986) Oliver Stone shows death in slow motion (& copy shirtale)
The war in Vietnam radically changed the attitude of Americans towards war and thus also the war film. For the first time, independent television teams and photographers are permitted. Your pictures shock the nation. The protest generation of the hippies (with the idea of ​​a more humane, relaxed and peaceful life, which was covered by the catchphrase "flower power") mobilized against the war: "Make love, not was ". Only "The Green Devils" (1968) by and with gunslinger John Wayne tries to justify American involvement in the distant country - without success.

After the defeat in Vietnam, several hundred films are being produced that deal with this American trauma. Many of them are extremely critical and show the dying of the US soldiers in images that are as brutal as their massacres. Michael Cimino's "Those Going Through Hell" (1978) and Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" (1979) cause heated discussions because they deliberately refuse to choose between fascination and disgust. For example, pop music from the anti-war generation, such as Jimi Hendrix or The Doors, is used here as a means of irritation. Anti-war films aim to convey not only the horrors, but also the illusionary power of war. Later film classics such as Oliver Stone's "Platoon" (1986) and Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket" (1987) were made, which take up these contradictions. It is therefore becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between war and anti-war films.

The war film today

With some time after the war in Vietnam, the anti-war film is receding into the background. War films, such as the aviator film "Top Gun - You fear neither death nor the devil" (1986) with Tom Cruise, now convey the fascination of the military more and more frequently. In the 1990s at the latest, the direct one also begins
The pilot film "Top Gun - They fear neither death nor the devil" (1986) manages to show only the "clean" side of the war with its "clean", cool heroes. The film caused a real rush of applicants for the US Army.
Excerpts from the film "Top Gun - You fear neither death nor the devil" can be found on the DVD "The War in the Media" in E3 - Everything Propaganda? / Knowledge in detail / Methods / Aestheticization. (& copy Paramount Pictures)
Cooperation between Hollywood and the US military ("Militainment"). The Department of Defense supports films such as "Armageddon - The Last Judgment" (1998) and "Men of Honor" (2000), which can be understood as a recruiting message to young men and see the war as an honorable adventure. The military provided soldiers and helicopters for the production of "Black Hawk Down" (2001). "We were heroes" (2002) is a Vietnam film that shows the American soldiers in a milder light.

More important than historical references, however, are the most modern film, sound and computer technologies, which are intended to make the war "tangible" for the viewer. Political messages are less clear in such films than the effort to make them as realistic as possible. Even in the opening sequence of Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" (1998), the viewer has the feeling of being in the middle of the battle. The film about the Allied landings in Normandy on June 6, 1944 is considered the beginning of a new war film aesthetic.


In contrast to Hollywood, which mostly tells heroic stories, numerous war films outside of Hollywood relocated entirely to the perspective of victims or children. The British film with the ironic title "Hope and Glory - The Children's War" (1987) shows English school children during the German air raids in World War II. They see the adult war as a great adventure. The corpse of a fallen bomber pilot confronts her with reality. In the Japanese animated film "The Last Glow Worms" (1988), two little war orphans survive the last phase of the war in a bunker.

Documentaries about war

The documentary "White Ravens - Nightmare Chechnya" (2005) vividly shows the fate of young combatants in the Chechnya war. The interview with a mine victim is particularly impressive.
An excerpt from the film "White Ravens - Nightmare Chechnya" can be found on the DVD "The War in the Media" in E1 - Live there? At the end of the introductory tour. (© zero film)
Unlike feature films, documentaries about wars are often based on original recordings (shot at risk of death) and stories from contemporary witnesses. Usually they are commented on by a narration. Documentary films are less based on aesthetic (visual or acoustic) effects, but rather aim to make the context, background and consequences of the events shown understandable, i.e. to provide information.

However, they can also provide the viewers with just a picture of what is actually happening and have the same influence as feature films, e.g. B. by the selection of the events shown. Therefore they are used for educational purposes as well as for propaganda purposes.