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Saturday, April 10, 2021
NATHAN RERA ON HIS LONG OBSESSION WITH 'OUTRAGES'
AUTHOR INTERVIEWED BRIAN DE PALMA, DAVID RABE, MICHAEL VERHOEVEN, AND MORE FOR NEW BOOK
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/casualtiesposterlandscape2.jpg

Nathan Réra, whose book about Casualties Of War (Outrages) will be published on April 22, has posted an article at Gone Hollywood that details his years-long obsession with Brian De Palma's film, and the real-life events that it is based on. In the article, Réra reveals that he interviewed De Palma, David Rabe, Michael Verhoeven, and more for the book. In the introduction to the article, the Gone Hollywood editors state that Réra is a "lecturer in the history of contemporary art at the University of Poitiers, who offers a fascinating backward inquiry into the film and the 'news item' from which it is inspired." Here is a Google-assisted translation of Réra's post:
STORY OF AN OBSESSION

I have vivid memories of my discovery of Outrages at the end of my adolescence: I can still see myself buying the very first edition of the film on DVD, to expand my collection of works by De Palma… We were then at the very beginning from the 2000s. I was intrigued by this film, of which I only knew a few images; I assumed that it must be in line with the “great” films on the Vietnam War, alongside Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, Platoon or Full Metal Jacket, films that I had seen during my adolescence and which had marked me, each in their own way. However, watching De Palma's film awakened feelings in me that I had never experienced in any other war film. I came away deeply shaken. I quickly realized that Outrages was not just another war film - nor was it completely a film about Vietnam ... - but a film about rape as a weapon of war. The impact the feature film had on me owes a lot to the heartbreaking renditions of Thuy Thu Le and Michael J. Fox, the terrifying performances of Sean Penn and Don Harvey, the chiseled writing of David Rabe as well as the overwhelming music of Ennio Morricone (in my eyes, perhaps his most beautiful score…). Since that first viewing, Outrages has not let go of me; I have seen it many times. Between the young film buff that I was when I discovered it and the confirmed researcher that I have become, a specialist in visual representations of mass violence and genocide, I have obviously come a long way. For example, a film like Schindler's List, which sparked my interest in depictions of the destruction of European Jews, confronted me with aesthetic, ethical and moral issues of the highest order; so much so that today my take on this film, from a filmmaker whom I admire by the way, is much more nuanced than it was twenty years ago. Quite the opposite of Outrages: with each viewing, the impression of strength and accuracy exuded by Brian De Palma's film remains intact.

I wanted to study the film to try to understand why it obsessed me so much, a bit like Eriksson who cannot forget the face of Oanh. This research was initially a personal, intimate quest. Originally, my plan was to write a book focusing exclusively on De Palma's film, which would have retraced its history, from its genesis to its theatrical release. To that end, I first contacted the filmmaker and screenwriter, David Rabe, to find out if they would be willing to speak with me. They both answered yes. It took several months for a meeting with De Palma to take place; on the other hand, I very quickly started a long correspondence with David Rabe. Our discussions convinced me of the interest of giving the floor to all those who had participated in the film, not just the most illustrious… Of course, I knew that De Palma's film was based on a text by the American journalist Daniel Lang originally published in the New Yorker. I had acquired the excellent French translation published by Editions Allia in 2018, but I was eager to know more about the fabric of the report and the journalist's intentions. The investigation into De Palma's film was then coupled with an investigation into Lang's work, which I was able to carry out with the agreement of his daughters, who allowed me to have access to his archives. . At the same time, I got my hands on the archives of the court martial trials; I was able to locate several funds relating to the early adaptation projects of Casualties of War, well before that of De Palma; and I also spoke with Michael Verhoeven, the author of o. k., the first film inspired by Lang's investigation, known to have prematurely interrupted the Berlin International Film Festival in 1970. My research thus took on a scale that I was far from suspecting at first! I am summarizing here in a few lines nearly three years of intensive work, punctuated by periods of doubts, false leads, trial and error ... I sometimes had the impression of throwing bottles into the sea! But my persistence paid off. It was essential to stir broad in order to reconstruct the history of Casualties of War over the long term, from 1966 (date of the real events) to 1989 (date of release of De Palma's feature film).

CASUALTIES OF WAR BEFORE OUTRAGES

Several parameters made possible the realization of Outrages, which Warner had started in 1970 without succeeding in completing the project. De Palma reactivated the project in the wake of the release of The Untouchables (in 1987), which was at the time his greatest commercial success; the collaboration with its producer, Art Linson, was in good shape. When the latter asks him which project he now wishes to work on, De Palma sends him Lang's text, which he had dreamed of bringing to the screen since 1969. He had also tried to carry it out in 1979-1980, in a time when he was already working with David Rabe on a project called Prince of the City (which Sidney Lumet would eventually direct). Coincidence: Rabe, too, had been dreaming of writing an adaptation of Casualties of War for the big screen for several years! The screenwriter approached Lang at the time, shortly before the journalist's death, but negotiations did not go very far, and De Palma eventually embarked on the directing of Dressed To Kill. Seven or eight years later, the situation has changed: after the success of The Untouchables, De Palma has the big studios at his feet and can afford the luxury of choosing his projects. However, it should be remembered that the choice to adapt Casualties of War was perilous: the war in Vietnam remained at the time a sensitive subject, on both political and moral levels, despite the great cinematic successes that followed one another throughout the decade ... It is for this reason that Paramount, which was initially supposed to produce the film, finally threw in the towel, before Columbia decided to grant it its "green light".

Outrages is a film adaptation of a journalistic investigation, which is itself based on the hundreds of pages of court martial transcripts Lang had viewed. David Rabe and Brian De Palma therefore necessarily made cuts, simplifications or adjustments. Some of their narrative choices conflict with the vision of Daniel Lang, who was heavily involved in the various adaptation projects prior to Outrages. However, Rabe's script is broadly faithful to Lang's text, as it is to the real story. The portrait he paints of soldier Eriksson is very close to the sensitive one painted by the journalist, and the unfolding of the facts resumes that of the book, even if the first part of the film, which relates the daily life of the soldiers in Vietnam, extrapolates the testimony of the real Eriksson. Everything is plausible, however, and we must insist on the realism of the feature film, which is due to the vision of Rabe (himself a Vietnam veteran) as much as to the work of historical or military advisers. There are of course some differences between reality and its cinematographic transposition. The main one relates to the nature of the crime: in reality, it was a planned feminicide. From the start of the mission, it was agreed that the soldiers would abduct the young woman, Phan Thi Mao, to satisfy their sexual urges, and then kill her. In the film, the kidnapping and the rape are well planned, but the murder is decided in haste, when Meserve (Sean Penn) becomes concerned that the captive will be spotted by the American helicopters which fly over the area where he and his men lie. In my book, I analyze these different gaps between reality and film; it was necessary not to obscure them, as they reveal the tensions inherent in the work of adaptation.

RAPE OF WAR VS. FEMINICIDE

Outrages is evidently at the heart of the great DePalmian oeuvre, because it contains figures and themes dear to the filmmaker; but at the same time it constitutes a kind of outgrowth of it, forming part of a small nucleus of films (with Greetings and Redacted) which tackle war, male domination and violence against women. On the directing side, the film has a few brave moments that bring to mind De Palma's taste for complex camera movements (especially the tunnel sequence, at the start of the film). However, one feels the director less concerned with visual performance than in his other films; he seeks throughout the story to adapt the form to his subject. From this point of view, his use of Steadicam is particularly interesting, because the movements performed with the device are not aimed at gratuitous virtuosity: they take care of the moral questions raised by the narrative. Among the passages that arouse in me a renewed emotion each time is the metro scene, which frames the film. This almost silent sequence, carried by the music of Morricone, gives an account of Eriksson's break-up, of his inability to stay in the present, in the world of the living, to simply relive without thinking of the one he couldn't save. It seems like the ending leaves us on a "positive" note, but studying the multiple layers of scriptwriting reveals how reductive that feeling is, and does not do justice to Rabe's intentions. Eriksson’s last look is unforgettable… I could also cite the sequence of the kidnapping of Oanh, of unbearable violence, and the rape itself, which De Palma films with remarkable ethics. More broadly, I find Thuy Thu Le's bodywork gripping. Rarely has an actress portrayed a rape victim so realistically; the passage where Eriksson tries to establish a dialogue with Oanh, while her body is ravaged by multiple wounds and bruises, does not leave the spectator unscathed.

De Palma has often said that the reception of his film in the United States has been abysmal. It seems to me that this impression needs to be qualified a little: by going through the archives of the American press of the time, we also find good (even very good) reviews, not only that of Pauline Kael in the New Yorker! But it is true that many others have distinguished themselves by their great violence. The most striking is undoubtedly that of Frances FitzGerald, who won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1973 for a book on Vietnam. In the magazine Village Voice, she attacked De Palma, reproaching him for having made a "sado-porn" film and denouncing the supposed improbabilities of the story ... She had obviously not read Lang's book! Veterans associations have also stepped up to denounce the portrayal of the US military, claiming that the facts recounted in the film were "exceptions." I believe the reception of the film in the United States is indicative of the depth of the moral wound that the Vietnam War has caused in American society. Of course, Platoon had achieved resounding success two years earlier; but Stone's film was by no means as critical as De Palma's film. The reception of Outrages also reflects, in retrospect, how war rape and femicide were viewed at the time. That part of the criticism, supported by the veterans' associations, could deplore the image that the feature gave of the American army seems, in today's society, quite improbable ... While the real subject of the film was at the same time very largely brushed aside! In France, the film also had its detractors, but overall the critics were much more receptive, with excellent analytical articles published by Laurent Vachaud and Antoine de Baecque, among others, in Positif and Les Cahiers du cinéma.

WHY REVISITING OUTRAGES IS NECESSARY

De Palma never really recovered from the critical failure of Outrages. Of course he returned to success afterwards, but he never took in the reception that was given to this film, which he rightly considers to be his most personal work. Some of his collaborators, whom he reunited with for his next film (The Bonfire of Vanities), told me that De Palma is not a filmmaker who dwells on failures; he never poured himself out with them. His reaction, after the film's screening at the Cinémathèque française in 2018, however, proves that Outrages is particularly close to his heart. It is not trivial to let such emotion shine through when you talk about a film made thirty years earlier! In 2006, De Palma directed Redacted, which is the tracing of the story of Outrages in the context of the Iraq War; a film once again based on a true story. Among his recent projects, there is also a film inspired by the Weinstein affair ... But I believe that on closer examination, the problem of violence against women and male domination haunts all of De Palma's work.

Revisiting Outrages is more necessary than ever, for at least three reasons. First of all, because it is a great film, still too little known, with complex issues, one of Brian De Palma's most successful works, and undoubtedly the film that best crystallized the moral bankruptcy of America in Vietnam. Secondly, because rape as a weapon of war is a subject that is still too little talked about, despite the existence of remarkable work by historians and journalists. Finally, because we must fight this culture of rape which plagues our societies. We feel that things are evolving, with the liberation of speech movements, but there is still a long way to go to educate the conscience, and especially those of men. Outrages speaks of rape committed in wartime, in a context where all moral barriers are collapsing; but it also speaks of the constitution of a culture of rape, which flourishes well upstream, through homosocial rituals. Outrages is also the antithesis of films which trivialize rape, or which make it a spectacle. Rape is represented here as an experience of great violence, from which one cannot recover; neither the one who is the victim, nor the one who is the witness. I believe that this film - like the book by Daniel Lang - can help educate the conscience and the gaze, because it raises the decisive question of individual responsibility. Positioning yourself on the good (or the bad) side is not inevitable: it is a choice.


Posted by Geoff at 11:53 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, April 10, 2021 11:56 PM CDT
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Tuesday, April 6, 2021
FRENCH BOOK ABOUT 'CASUALTIES OF WAR' - APRIL 22
AUTHOR NATHAN RERA INVESTIGATES THE TRUE STORY REPORTED BY DANIEL LANG, AND THEN IMMERSES INTO DE PALMA'S FILM
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/outragesbookcover.jpg

Rouge Profond will publish a new book about Casualties Of War on April 22. Written by Nathan Réra, who has previously written a Rouge Profond book of interviews with Paul Verhoeven, the new book, Outrages, is said to be "almost 600 pages" long, and illustrated with many images and stills (see below). Here is a Google-assisted translation of the publisher's book description:
Adapted from an investigation by Daniel Lang published in the New Yorker in 1969, Outrages (Casualties of War), Brian De Palma's nineteenth feature film, chronicles the kidnapping, rape and murder of a Vietnamese woman by a patrol of American soldiers led by Sergeant Meserve (Sean Penn). First Class Eriksson (Michael J. Fox) refuses to participate and sets out to expose the culprits.

Nathan Réra's book reconstructs the pitiful history that led to the creation of this underestimated masterpiece. From numerous rare documents (military archives, correspondence, unpublished scenarios), the author returns to the real facts and their revelation in the American press, then on to the adaptation projects which followed one another during a decade, before immersing the reader in the heart of De Palma's film creation.



Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, April 7, 2021 1:02 AM CDT
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Monday, May 25, 2020
PARADE LIST - 'CASUALTIES' ONE OF 50 BEST WAR FILMS
AND POCKET-LINT - "WHAT ORDER SHOULD YOU WATCH THE BEST VIETNAM WAR FILMS?"
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/casualties15a.jpg

Parade's Neil Pond kicked off this weekend Friday with "50 Must-See War Films for Your Memorial Day Movie Marathon." "Encompassing everything from the awfulness of war to the far reaches of its absurdity," Pond states, "this list of the best war movies serves as our tribute to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve our prolonged times of peace." While the list is not numbered, Casualties Of War is the fourteenth film from the top:
Casualties of War (1989)

Best known for his work in the genres of suspense, crime, horror and thrillers (like Carrie, Scarface, The Untouchables and Body Double), director Brian de Palma takes a harrowing plunge into the battlefield with this take on a real-life incident about how an American soldier finds himself on the outside of his rogue squad when they kidnap a young Vietnamese woman and rape her. Michael J. Fox (who took time off from TV’s Family Ties to film) and Sean Penn give riveting performances on opposite sides of the situational-ethics line, and the movie marks the first film appearance of John C. Reilly.


Meanwhile, last week, Pocket-lint's Chris Hall attempted to place the best Vietnam films in a chronological viewing order:
The conflict in Vietnam spanned decades of fighting, from the outbreak of the war with France in 1946, through to the political and ideological division of the country into north and south which formed the foundation for the US involvement in Vietnam. That involvement escalated through advisory roles through the early 1960s, until emerging as full conflict around 1965.

For the USA, the era of the Vietnam War is surrounded by socially and culturally significant events in the homeland, the passage of Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon through the presidency and a rich depiction in a wide range of movies. There are a vast number of productions that owe their stories Vietnam, from the Rambo series, to Forrest Gump, the characterisation of The Simpson's Principal Skinner - "I was in 'Nam" - to those movies that actually tell the stories of Vietnam itself.

Here we present many of the best films that address Vietnam. We think the best order is chronological, based on the dates of the events depicted. But we're also giving a number of different approaches, which you can jump to in the table below, avoiding spoilers if you want to.

...

The best Vietnam movie viewing order (spoilers)

These are the movies we consider to be essential viewing not only for the stories that they tell, but how they tell those stories. They are ordered to fit the unfolding of events in the Vietnam War, although in some cases we deviate from that timeline when the emphasis of the film is on the return home, for example. Where there's no clear event being portrayed - because it's a fictionalised work - we've placed that movie in its position based on its content and context in the passage of the conflict.


The chronological order of films then goes like this:
  • Good Morning, Vietnam
  • We Were Soldiers
  • Casualties of War
  • Rescue Dawn
  • Tour of Duty
  • Platoon
  • Full Metal Jacket
  • Hamburger Hill
  • Apocalypse Now
  • Tigerland
  • Born on the Fourth of July
  • The Deer Hunter

And here is Hall's description of Casualties Of War:

Casualties of War takes us into 1966, telling a true story reported by Daniel Lang in The New Yorker in 1969. Michael J Fox plays Max Eriksson, a "cherry" in Vietnam who joins a squad to head out to Hill 192. Squad leader Sergeant Meserve, played by a powerful Sean Penn, has other ideas for the mission, kidnapping a Vietnamese girl to take with them for a little "R&R". It's a haunting tale, depicting the breakdown of any sort of moral standards and the conflict between comrades that ensues. The 1989 film from director Brian De Palma pulls at many of the threads we see across Vietnam movies, particularly the dehumanisation of the Vietnamese reflected in the US GIs. Watch out for Dale Dye's appearance, who also stars in Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July.

Posted by Geoff at 8:05 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, May 25, 2020 8:08 PM CDT
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Saturday, January 11, 2020
'CASUALTIES' RANKS ON VULTURE'S 50 BEST WAR MOVIES
KEITH PHIPPS - "IT REMAINS A TOUGH FILM TO WATCH"
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/casualtiesbeer.jpg

Yesterday, as Sam Mendes' 1917 opened in U.S. theaters, Vulture's Keith Phipps posted his ranking of "the 50 greatest war movies ever made." The article includes the subheadline, "A look back at a genre that has inspired a century of cinema." Brian De Palma's Casualties Of War doesn't rank very high on Phipps' list, but two excellent Paul Verhoeven films, Black Book and Soldier Of Orange, didn't make Phipps' list at all, which speaks, perhaps, to the inherently subjective nature of one person's viewpoint. In the article's intro, Phipps thoughtfully discusses how war films are viewed and perceived, as well as what constitutes a "war film" for his list:
Speaking to Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune in 1973, Francois Truffaut made an observation that’s cast a shadow over war movies ever since, even those seemingly opposed to war. Asked why there’s little killing in his films, Truffaut replied, “I find that violence is very ambiguous in movies. For example, some films claim to be antiwar, but I don’t think I’ve really seen an antiwar film. Every film about war ends up being pro-war.” The evidence often bears him out. In Anthony Swofford’s Gulf War memoir Jarhead, Swofford recalls joining fellow recruits in getting pumped up while watching Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket, two of the most famous films about the horrors of war. (On the occasion of the death of R. Lee Ermey, the real-life drill instructor who played the same in Full Metal Jacket, Swofford offered a remembrance in the New York Times with the headline “Full Metal Jacket Seduced My Generation and Sent Us to War.”)

Is it true that movies glamorize whatever they touch, no matter how horrific? And if a war movie isn’t to sound a warning against war, what purpose does it serve? Even if Truffaut’s wrong — and it’s hard to see his observation applying to at least some of the movies on this list — it might be best to remove the burden of making the world a better place from war movies. It’s a lot to ask, especially since war seems to be baked into human existence.

So, like other inescapable elements of the human experience, we tell stories about war, stories that reflect our attitudes toward it, and how they shift over time. War movies reflect the artistic impulses of their creators, but they also reflect the attitudes of the times and places in which they were created. A World War II film made in the midst of the war, for instance, might serve a propagandist purpose than one made after the war ends, when there’s more room for nuance and complexity, but it also might not.

Maybe the ultimate purpose of a war movie is to let others hear the force of these stories. Another director, Sam Fuller, once offered a quote that doesn’t necessarily contradict Truffaut’s observation but better explains the impulse to make war movies: “A war film’s objective, no matter how personal or emotional, is to make a viewer feel war.” The films selected for this list of the genre’s most essential entries often have little in common, but they do share that. Each offers a vision that asks viewers to consider and understand the experience of war, be it in the trenches of World War I, the wilderness skirmishes of Civil War militias, or the still-ongoing conflicts that have helped define 21st-century warfare.

Compiled as Sam Mendes’s stylistically audacious World War I film, 1917, heads to theaters, this list opts for a somewhat narrow definition of a war movie, focusing on films that deal with the experiences of soldiers during wartime. That means no films about the experience of returning from war (Coming Home, The Best Years of Our Lives, First Blood) or of civilian life during wartime (Mrs. Miniver, Forbidden Games, Hope and Glory) or of wartime stories whose action rests far away from the battlefield (Casablanca). It also leaves films primarily about the Holocaust out of consideration, as they seem substantively different from other sorts of war films. Also excluded are films that blur genres, like the military science fiction of Starship Troopers and Aliens (even if the latter does have a lot to say about the Vietnam War). That eliminates many great movies, but it leaves room for many others, starting with a film made at the height of World War II in an attempt to help rally a nation with a story of an operation whose success required secrecy, extensive training, and beating overwhelming odds.


Casualties Of War places at #44 on Phipps' list:
Brian De Palma’s brutal, fact-inspired film about the kidnapping, rape, and murder of a young Vietnamese woman didn’t catch on with audiences, helping to end the cycle of ’80s Vietnam War films and sidelining star Michael J. Fox’s attempt to cross over to more dramatic roles. It remains a tough film to watch, in part because De Palma shifts his skills as a creator of tense suspense films to a story of unbearable sadness in which a group of American soldiers (whose ranks include John C. Reilly and John Leguizamo in their film debuts) uses the permission of a violent, charismatic superior (Sean Penn) to engage in barbaric acts. Fox’s casting as the film’s moral center, and a man who suffers for his honesty, feels disorienting at first, but it works. Marty McFly looks out of place in such an awful situation, but that only drives the point home.

Posted by Geoff at 10:07 AM CST
Updated: Saturday, January 11, 2020 10:10 AM CST
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Wednesday, January 8, 2020
'CASUALTIES' PART OF KAEL SERIES NEXT WEEK - CHICAGO
KAEL'S CAUSES CÉLÈBRES RUNS JAN 10-22 AT GENE SISKEL FILM CENTER
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/kaelscauses.jpg

Brian De Palma's Casualties Of War will screen at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago on Saturday, January 18, and on Tuesday, January 21st. The screenings are part of a series centered around critic Pauline Kael, who wrote a deeply impassioned New Yorker review of Casualties Of War upon its initial release in 1989. The series, "Kael's Causes Célèbres," runs January 10-22, featuring "seven films that are especially important in defining Kael's taste and influence," Martin Rubin, associate director of programming at the Gene Siskel Film Center, states in the program notes. Also screening alongside the series is the recent documentary, What She Said: The Art Of Pauline Kael.

Here's Rubin's program description of Casualties Of War:

One of Kael's last great causes célèbres was CASUALTIES OF WAR, a film that divided critics and represented a marked change-of-pace for a director whose stylish thrillers she had long championed. Based on a real incident from the Vietnam War, it tells of a American reconnaissance squad, sexually and otherwise frustrated, who are incited by their sergeant (Penn) to kidnap a Vietnamese girl, over the increasingly urgent (and risky) objections of one of the soldiers (Fox). What's remarkable is how many of the characteristic elements of De Palma's thrillers and crime films (ominous p.o.v. tracking shots, split-focus widescreen frames, voyeurism, complicity, lingering guilt, the link between sex and violence, etc.) are adapted so effectively to a very different context, rendering the Vietnam War as an expressionistic nightmare rooted in reality rather than in genre tropes. 35mm widescreen.

Posted by Geoff at 11:58 PM CST
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Wednesday, November 20, 2019
ZANZIE VIDEO -AN ORAL HISTORY OF 'CASUALTIES OF WAR'
DE PALMA, RABE, THUY THU LE, DALE DYE, & MORE ALL ANSWERED QUESTIONS FOR ZANZIE'S VIDEO
For the past few months, Adam Zanzie has been working on the above video, "An Oral History of CASUALTIES OF WAR (1989)," and now it is here. Here is Zanzie's full description from YouTube:
On this day, 53 years ago, in 1966, a woman named Phan Thi Mao was murdered in Vietnam.

50 years ago this year, in 1969, journalist Daniel Lang's article about the incident was published in The New Yorker Magazine.

And 30 years ago this year, in 1989, director Brian De Palma's Hollywood feature film adaptation was released.

For this oral history video essay about the legacy of "Casualties of War", director Brian De Palma, screenwriter David Rabe, co-producer Fred Caruso, Captain Dale Dye, Sergeant Mike Stokey, actor Erik King, actor Jack Gwaltney, actor Darren E. Burrows and actress Thuy Thu Le all kindly answered questions that I had about their memories of the production.

Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted. "Fair Use" guidelines: copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html

Music by Ennio Morricone and the Chamber Brothers.


Posted by Geoff at 7:33 AM CST
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Thursday, August 22, 2019
JEREMY SMITH ON 'CASUALTIES OF WAR' 30 YEARS LATER
"CRUELTY, AMERICAN STYLE"
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At Yardbarker, Jeremy Smith takes a look at the relevance of Brian De Palma's Casualties Of War 30 years later-- here's an excerpt:
Judged strictly on its artistic merits, there’s a case to be made that "Casualties of War" is the most acutely devastating condemnation of the United States’ ravaging of Southeast Asia ever filmed. De Palma was at the height of his visual storytelling powers when he took on this production, and he presents the moral quandary with a savage concision; at no point in the film are you allowed to draw back and get your bearings. When the squad’s most beloved member, Brownie (Erik King), is gunned down with a month left on his tour, the swaggering Sgt. Meserve (Sean Penn) takes charge. Also a short-timer, he’s outraged at his friend’s horrendous luck. When he’s denied the opportunity to blow off steam with a prostitute while on leave, Meserve decides to requisition some "portable R&R" — a young Vietnamese woman named Oanh (Thuy Thu Le) — to boost morale during their next assignment. Only Eriksson (Michael J. Fox), a relatively new arrival (hence his nickname "Cherry"), openly protests, though another member of the squad, Diaz (John Leguizamo), claims he has his back. There’s hope they might be able to talk sense to the dim but seemingly decent Hatcher (John C. Reilly).

Of course, when Meserve decides it’s time to make good on their brutal intentions with Oanh, Diaz buckles. It’s one against four. To his credit, Eriksson draws down on Meserve, but a very far gone Meserve delights in the standoff. "We all got weapons," he exclaims. “Anybody can blow anybody away at any second. Which is the way it ought to be. Always." Meserve already had a healthy distrust of the people he was ostensibly sent to defend, but now he views them as animals to be used and abused for his amusement. Clark (Don Harvey) is and probably always was a full-blown psychopath. But the rest of the squad still retains a sense of right and wrong; it’s just that for Diaz and Hatcher, their fear of Meserve supersedes their morality. They will participate in the gang rape. And when the time comes, they will murder Oanh rather than face the consequences of a court martial. It’s a disquieting numbers game De Palma is playing here, and according to the current electoral scoreboard in this country, it’s possible he’s being charitable.

Eriksson’s scorched conscience won’t allow him to back off on calls for a court martial (even though his superiors are desperate to sweep the incident under the rug). Whereas an Oscar bait film would portray his quest for justice as the centerpiece of the story, De Palma makes it plain that he failed by not fighting harder for Oanh when he had a chance. He tries to inform a sympathetic superior before they head out on their mission, and he threatens to take up arms against Meserve and the others prior to the assault, but he can’t bring himself to make the ultimate moral sacrifice. Should he have shot Meserve? Given the moral calculus crunched by De Palma (though not explicitly stated), yes. Better that than to be a shell of a man numbly riding the BART.

The absence of a conventionally rousing courtroom victory is the final subversive flourish of De Palma’s film. The only meaningful sentence dished out to the squad goes to Clark: life in prison. It didn’t stick. Three years after the release of "Casualties of War," the real-life Clark — a white supremacist — was charged as an accessory after the fact in the murder of African-American soldier Harold J. Mansfield. He served one year’s probation.

"Casualties of War" was a box office disappointment in 1989, but as a depiction of this country’s capacity for cruelty, it is startlingly relevant.


Posted by Geoff at 12:42 AM CDT
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Sunday, August 18, 2019
CASUALTIES OF WAR, OPENED 30 YEARS AGO TODAY
BASED ON TRUE EVENTS FIRST REPORTED IN THE NEW YORKER IN 1969
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Posted by Geoff at 11:49 AM CDT
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Saturday, September 15, 2018
JOHN C. REILLY - HUMOR, DRAMA, 'CASUALTIES OF WAR'
"HE'S A FUNNY CHARACTER WITHIN A VERY SERIOUS MOVIE"
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John C. Reilly sat down for several interviews last week at the Toronto International Film Festival to promote Jacques Audiard's The Sisters Brothers, which Reilly stars in (with Joaquin Phoenix) and also co-produced with his wife, Alison Dickey. At least two of those TIFF interviews have led to some discussion about Reilly's film debut in Brian De Palma's Casualties Of War (which Sony has just released on Blu-ray for the first time, but not with the extended director's cut). Here are a couple of links and excerpts:

David Edelstein, Vulture

When you hear stuff like this, you can understand why directors liked working with Reilly right from the beginning and why Sean Penn, of all people, suggested De Palma give Reilly a lead role in Casualties of War. “I think Sean saw something that I always aspire to be,” says Reilly: “Guileless.”

The Casualties story is amazing. After graduating from the Theatre School at DePaul University, Reilly worked at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre, then flew to Thailand to be a “day player” in De Palma’s war film. When a supporting actor was fired, Reilly got a bigger part. After flying home to the U.S., he learned another actor had been fired and De Palma and Penn wanted him back to play one of the leads. He’d missed the last flight of the day going west across the Pacific, so he flew, he says, “across America, across the Atlantic, over to Asia, and then down back down to Bangkok,” where he was promptly whisked to the set, given a haircut and a costume, and escorted to a rice paddy, where he had to pretend to snooze and be jarred awake.

I ask what he thinks they saw in him, and he tells me about the days in “a weird conference room” in a Thai hotel: “It’s full of guys trying to out-impress each other, because Sean sets a high bar. The two guys that got fired were doing that shit: ‘I’ll out-Method you. I’ll outdrink you after work. I’ll fucking say something insulting to you because you think you’re such a fucking hotshot actor.’ I’m like, ‘Guys, What are you doing? Are you insane? You can’t say that to that person. Aren’t we trying to put on a play?’ ”

“A play,” as in what he was doing in Chicago, where actors who pull out-Method-you shit don’t last. “You’re not going to get discovered in Chicago,” he says, “the way you might in New York or L.A., so that takes some of the pressure off. You’re part of an ensemble. You’re there to play.” In that Bangkok hotel, he says, he was ready to do anything. “I’d go nuts. I’d read not just my part but an old Vietnamese man or whoever wasn’t there. ‘Have John do it,’ they’d say.” Penn was so taken with Reilly’s gung ho spirit that he recommended Reilly for parts in We’re No Angels (1989) and State of Grace (1990). As a bonus, on Casualties Reilly met Dickey. She was Penn’s assistant.


Mike Ryan, UPROXX
Speaking of more relevance, you’re never going to admit to this, but it felt like you were making a statement in this movie. I looked and 26 of your first 27 movies were dramas.

That never occurred to me. When my wife read me that part of that review, I was like, “Wow, that’s amazing. I should start using that line: Well, I made 26 before I did any comedies!”

I feel like you’re on screen going, look, I can carry a drama Western, how about that?

You know, the truth is, I don’t really have to remind people. My work has a lot of variety to it and the last few things I’ve done haven’t been comedy. And even though, like you say, the first 26 movies I did were not necessarily thought of as comedies, but I was often a funnier character. Even my first movie, Casualties of War, he’s a funny character within a very serious movie.

That was on TV the other day and I was shocked when you showed up in it.

Yeah, it was the first time I was on an airplane! The first time I left the country. It was a surreal time.

Your first director was Brian De Palma.

I know, Sean Penn and all these people. The thing is, I would never lecture an audience (over not being remembered for dramatic work).

It would be funny if you did. “Look, people…”

“You forgot!” No, because the truth is, I actually feel really grateful to audiences. Because actors often get stereotyped into things and it’s not their fault. It’s often because an audience wants people to be a certain way. They find you really appealing when you play this kind of role and they want that over and over again. And I feel really lucky and grateful that, over the years, the audiences allowed me to be all these different things. So even though certain kinds of moviegoers might know me for comedy, it just depends what you’re into. At this point, I’ve made almost 80 movies or something. So the chance is that I’ve made some kind of movie that you like at some point in my life.


Posted by Geoff at 7:46 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, September 15, 2018 7:48 PM CDT
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Friday, June 22, 2018
VIDEO LINK - DE PALMA DISCUSSES 'CASUALTIES OF WAR'
AT CINEMATHEQUE MASTERCLASS EARLIER THIS MONTH - CLICK ON IMAGE FOR LINK
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/artemasterclassjune2018.jpg

Posted by Geoff at 8:16 AM CDT
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