Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Cold War movies

The Cold War inspired a number of movies that are under-appreciated today. Everyone loves Strangelove and the Manchurian Candidate, but there are others that remain to be seen. All the movies here are worth seeing, but a few (The War Game, the Fog of War and the Battle of Algiers) stand out.

Matinee: This comedy stars John Goodman as a monster movie maker trying to hit it big in the Florida Keys during the Cuban Missile Crisis. While the setting is the main Cold War element, the movie is a celebration of monster movies, themselves a byproduct of the rise of nuclear weapons. It is also just a good funny movie.

Seven Days in May and A Very British Coup. What is the Cold War without coups? In Seven Days, the lesser of these two movies, a military cabal plans to overthrow the US government due to peace treaty. This one feels more far fetched as the more extreme elements in the US government (Curtis LeMay aside) tend to be in the civilian ranks. It is still a good movie. The British movie is about conservative attempts to (illegally) unseat a strongly leftist Labour party PM. It's excellent, in that understated British way.

The Dogs of War: Why should the First World get all the fun? This early career Walken effort has our hero overthrowing a corrupt African government. Not the world's best movie, but a rare look at Africa in the Cold War. The author of the novel, Frederick Forsythe, researched what it would cost to actually mount the coup and some claim he was planning on actually launching it.

By the Dawn's Early Light: Most nuclear war movies focus on the after effects, this one focuses on the war itself. Rogue elements of the Soviet military launch a strike on a Russian city and after the mistaken attack on the US, the Soviet Premier and US President try to end the war. Not so easy. Good for international security students.

The War Game. Not the silly mad computer picture, but a 60s British documentary about the results of a nuclear exchange in Britain. Incredibly harrowing. Don't schedule anything fun the night you watch this one.

The Fog of War
: I tend to avoid political documentaries, as they are not trustworthy. The one-sided approach to argumentation and the reliance on image make me doubt their messages. Based on a recommendation, I made an exception for this one and I'm glad I did. The movie is a long interview with Robert McNamara about the use of force. It is one of the clearest and most dispassionate discussions of the topic I have ever seen. One of the key lessons is that policy making is incredibly difficult and any success is amazing. Watch this one.

The Battle of Algiers: An admirably balanced movie, for a communist director at least. The movie explores the wars of national liberation that characterized much of the Cold War. No good news here, but a compelling story and one of the best uses of music in any movie.

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