Sunday, November 6, 2011
Saturday at the Movies
Dad has quite the collection of videos. All the Lonesome Dove Series, 310 to Yuma, John Wayne and Steve Mcqueen, Bridge on the River Kwai, The African Queen, Dirty Dancing???? (Dad, we need to have a Father Daughter chat)
I usually share one he hasn't seen when I visit. This trip I suggested Flyboys.
First the planes. Only someone with absolutely no aviation soul wouldn't be moved, all canva s and wood and held together by spit and a prayer, taxiing out of the early morning fog as the music soars and the eager young men jumping to get up in the air and get themselves killed defending the honor of themselves, of a nation, the reasons for their flights were as varied as their backgrounds.
Just the idea of the Great War, the build-in tragedy and pathos of too many young lives chewed up by the sudden and unexpected new horrors of mechanized warfare -- No one does WWI any more, and I would bet most of my generation doesn't even remember that 9 million people died in this war.
I didn't see the movie when it hit the theaters because many of the reviews were pretty bad. But I knew my Dad would like it if it was available to rent. It took me about half an hour (which is way too long to have a movie about airplanes not have any flying in it) to realize I was going to enjoy it. It was in that moment in the film when the American squadron of the Lafayette Escadrilles took part in their first aerial conflict that I knew I'd love this sometimes silly movie. So what if it's CGI enhanced and half of the aerobatic maneuvers I saw could not be done in a WW1 plane without defying physics or the countenance of wood. All I saw was beautiful planes, soaring and falling and crashing in a blended symphony of wood and fire and courage. In that moment I sat up in my seat and watched. According to the Lafaette Flying Corps Memorial Foundation, 180 American volunteers flew combat missions in French Uniform. Fifty-one pilots were killed in action, six in training accidents and six from illness in the field.
These fresh-faced boys arrive all enthusiastic into the middle of what would be the most horrible war ever without the benefit of our hindsight, and they learn to fly -- become among the first people ever to learn to fly, actually, in those tiny pathetic machines with no instruments -- and learn to live with their own shocked selves as the realities of this new way of waging war hit them in the face, pilots dying in heroic and sometimes stupid ways. Because planes were slow and turned sharply, a dogfight could be contained over a large pasture, just above the treetops. The only modern way to really describe a WWI dogfight is to picture a knife fight in a phone booth.
The characters come from all all over. There'sa former rancher from Texas who lost his farm to the bank, there's the selfish and oh so rich kid sent to Europe by his father to grow up. There's an African American expatriate boxer and the cocksure son of a famed Calvary officer, looking to uphold the family name. There leader is old amonst their ranks 28 years old with more than 20 kills under his belt and the last American left flying. The rest of his squadron are dead, and although he knows the French could use the assistance of this new group of pilots he doesn’t want to waste his time getting to know of them as friends knowing the majority won’t live past their very first combat flight.
Sure, they add in the obligatory romance with a beautiful French local and an ongoing bit about a rogue German of dobuious honor trolling the skies in a big black biplane. But the movie, when all is said and done, it about young men learning to fly, fight and die in a brand new war machine that was not much more than a flyig wicker basket.
It's not Memphis Bell, it's not Saving Private Ryan, and it may not do a single thing we don't see coming, but in the end, this movie somehow movie wrapped itself around my heart, simmering up emotion that was affecting and stayed with me for a long time after I clicked off the TV.
The plot, from a warfare standpoint is simple, the short careers of the world’s first fighter pilots in the skies over France told in a style that brings to mind old fashioned Hollywood.. And I use the phrase “old-fashioned Hollywood” in the very best way, like the feeling you'd get if you'd been surfing across the channels late at night and come across some great old classic black and white film you had never seen and instantly loved..
Sure, from an aviaiton standpoint there were some factual errors in the movie. The Fokker triplane in the film didn't appear until September 1917 which is a few months after the time the film depicted. Likewise, the Bristol Fighter and SE5a weren't available until after the time period depicted in the movie. Also, the paint schemes shown on the triplanes are wrong. The crosses weren't painted on the upper surfaces of the lower wing and the all-red paint scheme was only used on Manfred von Richtofen's (the Red Baron's) plane; however many of the planes in his unit were partly red. Correct German fighter planes for the time frame of the movie would have been the Albatros DI,DII,and DIII, and the Halberstadt DII.
The anti aircraft artillery shown in use by the Germans was not of any type used by any side in the First World War, nor was anti aircraft fire nearly as effective or accurate as shown. Were any of the portrayed shell bursts as close as they appeared in the film, they would have instantly destroyed the aircraft with the combination of the explosive power, fire, and shrapnel.
When Cassidy is in a head-on attack against the black triplane during the Zeppelin battle he is firing both a Lewis, mounted on top of the top wing, and a Vickers machine gun. A real Lewis gun has a drum magazine which rotates as the gun fires and the bullets advance against an internal spiral guide. When Cassidy's Lewis fires the drum is motionless. Little things, but certaily no less than the errors most of us pick out of movies involving firearms.
When the movie finished I was surprised that the sky had grown dark, the movie was well over two hours, yet the time passed like a moment as I was caught up in the grand yarn of adventure and catastrophe, in these men's optimistic dreams settling into shattered certainly.
The life expectancy of these pilots was about 3 weeks. And they knew it going into it yet still embraced the aircraft, hugged the battle in close. I can only imagine the courage that took, courage, that even in the most daring flight adventures I've had, I've never even touched upon.
Posted by Brigid at 7:36 AM