Sixty years later,the Pearl Harbor tragedy still touches a nerve. Last year’s hit film,”Pearl Harbor,” was merely the latest of nearly 30 films on the subject so far.
“I’m not sure the best (movie on Pearl Harbor) has been done yet,” said Barry Collin,president of Independent Feature Film Producers in California.
Experts figure that of the 30 movies and TV series that have featured the attack that killed more than 2,300 persons and led the United States into World War II,at least 10 of them are documentaries.
Hundreds of films also use the disaster as a linchpin for their plots.
To critic and writer Joseph De Matteo,there is a reason for the event’s ubiquity: “When you write a book you want to capture the attention of the viewer quickly,and this is just a dramatic scene. A warm Sunday morning and the beautiful Hawaiian island,and all of a sudden the planes came and devastated the area.”
The earliest attempts to film the disaster were wartime propaganda movies sponsored by the government.
“Hollywood rushed to make a movie about Pearl Harbor,” according to Patrick Loughney,head of the Moving Image section at the Library of Congress. “They wanted to create the awareness that there was a need to reorient American industry to produce military hardware and get everybody ready for war,”
From “From Here to Eternity” (1953),starring Frank Sinatra and Burt Lancaster,to “1941”(1979),directed by Steven Spielberg,these movies share common narrative features.
The disaster is often presented as a failure that should teach the nation how to be ready in the future. An implied call to be more suspicious lies behind the majority of the plots.
“(This feature) is problematic because it is almost saying mistrust the other,mistrust the Japanese or mistrust the Middle Eastern now,” said Dana Polan,professor of critical studies at the School of Cinema and Television at the University of Southern California.
The stoicism and bravery of the common man are also a denominator of Pearl Harbor movies.
“Normally,politicians at the highest levels got things wrong and the consequences were felt by the little man,but he often has a kind of resilience,he knows how to fight back,” Polan said.
Naturally,most of these films display a pronounced bias.
“Any kind of historical film deals with that problem. Even in a true documentary you have to make editorial decisions,so there is no way to avoid putting some type of slant onto the film,a political slant,” says Alex Meiller,deputy director of the New York Film Academy.
However,many critics,producers,and scholars share the same opinion: the American-Japanese production “Tora Tora Tora” was the best Pearl Harbor movie ever made.
The recreation of the historical background,the footage of both American and Japanese military actions and the fair portrayal of the Japanese fighters made,they say,for a remarkable film.
But perhaps a greater film is yet to come.
“We still have a lot of sensitivity (about Pearl Harbor) in America and overseas,and it’s going to take a while to ferment it,before you come up with the real film,” predicted Collin.