I look at him. He looks at the grease gun. He calls out: “I NEVER LIKED YOU JOKER. I NEVER THOUGHT YOU WERE FUNNY–”
Bang. I sight down the short metal tube and I watch my bullet enter Cowboy’s left eye. My bullet passes through his eye socket, punches through fluid-filled sinus cavities, through membranes, nerves, arteries, muscle tissue, through the tiny blood vessels that feed three pounds of gray butter-soft high protein meat where brain cells arranged like jewels in a clock hold every thought and memory and dream of one adult male Homo sapiens.
My bullet exits through the occipital bone, knocks out hairy, brain-wet clods of jagged meat, then buries itself in the roots of a tree.
The magic of the internet.
Almost a year ago, I saw a tweet by @ftngleprechaun that led me to this post by Nathan Webster (Stanley Kubrick’s cowardice ruined “Full Metal Jacket” and betrayed Gustav Hasford’s “The Short-Timers.”). I had never read The Short-Timers but was a big fan of Full Metal Jacket. That post inspired me to read it, which I did, and then wrote a reaction.
In the process of writing that post, I came across a blog dedicated to the work of Gustav Hasford (the author of The Short-Timers) that is managed by comic writer Jason Aaron, who I then followed on Twitter.
Months pass, and then I see this retweet by Jason.
Without question, FMJ is my favorite movie. Like a giddy fan-boy, I jumped at the chance to watch it and pepper Matthew Modine with questions during the showing. If you follow me on Twitter, it was all probably really annoying.
My furious Tweeting paid off. I won a free copy of Full Metal Jacket Diary for iPad, which I was literally in the process of buying when I learned I had won. I read it over the holidays.
This isn’t really an App review, but if you are a fan of Full Metal Jacket, I’d highly recommend it. It’s a diary that you can read and listen to with pictures as accompaniment. It’s beautiful.
Mr. Modine kept a diary during the grueling filming process. He talks about the off-screen drama (there was plenty) and you’ll get his musings on what he thinks the film might be as he was filming it. You’ll also see lots of photos, many by Mr. Modine himself (he was experimenting with a camera at the time of filming). The photos are fantastic and revealing. You’ll also learn more about the elusive Stanley Kubrick, which is fascinating as Mr. Modine paints him as pretty plain, albeit dedicated to getting his craft right.
What I enjoyed most about FMJ Diary was getting into the head of the actor who played Joker. He became Joker, and it is refreshing to read that this movie, in and out, is everything I wanted it to be.
This is what he writes after Kubrick urges him to “be” Joker as opposed to “play” Joker:
Okay, as of today, I am Joker. I’m not playing or interpreting. I am bringing my life and all my experience to this role. Not someone else’s I will take the information I’ve read and a childhood of watching war on television and “be” the role. I will use Michael and Gus’s books to understand the terrain and put myself into the world they created.
I now reject the traditional movies about war and its nobility. I honor the stories about soldiers’ dedication toward each other, but I question the motivation of the governments that send young men to battle.
I confirm my choice not to work on films that glorify war and perpetuate lies about other countries and cultures…
One of my favorite parts of FMJ is the sharp transition from the basic training sequence to Vietnam, with Joker and Rafterman being approached by a Vietnamese hooker. Joker’s hair is long and wild, his uniform sloppy. It is the transition between the order of military training and the chaos of war. There it is.
Mr. Modine saw this too:
The military’s goal is to create order.
To the military, the world is chaos.
The military recognizes this and imposes conformity.
There is only one way, one god, one country. You do not belong to yourself. You are part of a machine. Theirs.
Directors are the same way.
The diary goes on like that. Minutiae and detail. It’s a story.
If you’re a fan, check it out.
FMJ Diary at the App Store.
War of the masses, the outcome, disastrous
Many of the victim family save they ashes
A million names on walls engraved in plaques
Those who went back, received penalties for the axe
Another heart is torn as close ones mourn
Those who stray, niggaz get slayed on the song
A couple of weeks ago, Don and Arnold sat down to discuss Arnold’s son’s predicament. He was avoiding the draft. The Vietnam War has been the background song of this past season, and I found myself enthralled by this conversation between Arnold and Don, talking about war, youth, and soldiering, topics I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.
Arnold: It doesn’t matter if he goes to school, he’s 1A, his induction can be tomorrow, he’s on a damn list for the rest of his life.
Don: On some level you have to admire his idealism.
Arnold: You sound like Sylvia. But she doesn’t really buy his bullshit. You think she’s gonna let her baby rot in jail for a cause?
I don’t know what to do. What would you do?
Don: What I’d do with my kid? Or if it was me?
Arnold: You were in the service right?
Don: I was.
Arnold: You see action?
Don: It was very different. I wanted to go. I did when when I got there.
Arnold: That’s the trick. Kid’s 18, 19 years old they have no sense of their own mortality.
Don: Or anyone else’s. That’s why they make good soldiers.
Arnold: Well the Army paid for Med School. I served in a hospital in Pusan.
Don: We were very lucky.
Arnold: Lucky enough to live in this country. And service is a part of that bargain, sacrifice. We knew that.
Don: The war is wrong.
Arnold: I’ll tell you if there’s anyone that’s going to get it it’s going to be him. He’s soft.
Don: I’m sure he’s a good kid.
Arnold: The best.
CBS Sunday Morning ran a fantastic story today about Army photographer Charlie Haughey who served in Vietnam and packed away his photos from that infamous war in a shoebox for decades. Those images were recently pulled out and printed for display. They are really amazing.
Vietnam used to be a war I really didn’t want to know anything about. I was more curious about World War II and the heroes of that war. Lately, I’ve found myself reading more and more about Vietnam. Completely fascinated. It’s its own special time. There it is.
This haunting image was the one that left me frozen on my couch. There is something about the darkness of his face, the smoke, and the white eyes looking right back at me that captures something ancient about the infantry.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about some of the special qualities that makes an infantryman an infantryman. A lot of it revolves around darkness, and letting go of your own humanity. It’s scary stuff. And this image comes close to exposing it.
I jumped back into Mass Effect today to play the Citadel DLC and was inspired by some of the things in this interview between a journalist and Admiral David Anderson. I’ve pulled out the parts I found the most interesting.
Whoever wrote this is spot on. For all of the military training we have, things often come down to instincts. Thousands of years of warfare there for us to study, to inform our training, but instinct is still the thing that sits there at the unforgiving minute, the last hundred yards.
And isn’t that the truth concerning the terrible burden of leadership? How horrible is it that we ask our military leaders to choose the mission over the men, and to carry that cross for the rest of their lives?
But then, is war not terrible? I love how Admiral Anderson makes that final statement. To me, it is a critique on war, and a warning to avoid it at all costs, because there truly are no winners, just better-off losers.
Journalist: Does the program make the man, or do you think you were born for this?
It is a bit of both I suppose. Every soldier reaches a point in their career, sometimes more than once, when they are asked to give more than they ever thought they could. That moment is the test. I’ve seen men and women almost sure to fail, persevere long past the point of breaking. That experience changes them. Others, with all the gifts and abilities, fail in that moment. Sometimes they pick themselves up and carry on, sometimes, they’re just done.
Journalist: Do you trust your intuition? Do you follow your heart or your mind?
No, I suppose if I were to be honest, I do trust my instincts. The problem is… war isn’t orderly. And the enemy is never predictable. Even the most experienced veteran is going to find themselves in situations they haven’t trained for. In those instances – and there is more than I’d like to admit – your instincts are the only thing keeping you alive. That, and the men and women you’re fighting aside.
Journalist: But soldiers are only as good as their leader, isn’t that true?
Yeah, a good leader can make an ‘ok’ squad great. And a bad leader, well, war tends to make examples of them.
Journalist: What makes a good leader then?
Hm… a good leader is someone who values the life of his men over the success of the mission, but understands that sometimes, the cost of failing a mission is higher than the cost of losing those men.
Journalist: That’s a terrible line to have to walk.
Yes it is. But war is a terrible thing.
Through one of the internet’s many rabbit holes, I came across this video from 1943 of Judy Garland singing ‘Over the Rainbow’ on the ‘Command Performance‘ program. She is introduced here by Bob Hope.
‘Over the Rainbow’ as a theme seems a universe away from ‘Courtesy of the Red White and Blue‘ so I dug a little further. ‘Over the Rainbow’ debuted in The Wizard of Oz in 1939. It came to be thought of as a symbol of the United States by US troops (Barnet, Nemerov, and Taylor, The Story Behind the Song). Their book makes it seem like it was the go-to anthem during World War II, much like Toby Keith’s song became popular in the years following the September 11th attacks. I haven’t been able to track down any more information on it, though.
‘Over the Rainbow’ would later be named the #1 song in a film of all time by the American Film Institute.