Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Value of a Movie

I work at a psychiatric prison... I interview psychiatrically ill male patients daily, and standard questions include "do you know what the date or day is?" Friday, June 6, 2008, as I interviewed patients who were familiar with me, I asked them another, non-standard question, that while it goes to "fund of knowledge" is a little unorthodox (fund of knowledge usually is: who is the President, what season is it, what sport is played in this season, who makes cars, what oceans touch the United States, what countries touch the United States, count, say the alphabet,etc., depending on level of answerers.)

So, I asked the patients what they knew about World War II.. Most, from the ages of early 20s to late 40s, said they knew little. A couple clicked on "D-Day." Most did not know what D-Day was, until I said, "Did you see Saving Private Ryan?" I told them that the scene on the beach was D-Day, when the Allies landed in France.... Instant recognition... I do not know what they recognized, but hopefully, they were able to put a piece of history in place.

Some time ago, a friend, who grew up in Lubbock, Texas, and had parents who were raised in the area, and I went to the "Silent Wings Museum" which is about the World War II Glider pilots, about 85% of whom trained in Lubbock during WWII. Eventually, Lubbock was the only training place for Glider pilots in WWII... There was the Army Air Field at Reese, which eventually became an Air Force Base, where the Prince of Iran trained in the late 70s... The South Plains Army Air Field, where the glider pilots trained, was at the sight of the current Preston Smith Lubbock International Airport... So, when my friend and I toured the museum, one of her comments was an "aha moment:" her mother used to talk about the glider pilots. But my friend equated those men as the men stationed at Reese Army Air Field, some 10 miles west of town, instead of at the South Plains Army Air Field about 4 miles north of town.. All of a sudden, it made more sense to her...

We all have "aha moments." I had one, after going to the museum the first time, and then re-watching the D-Day movie The Longest Day. A favorite movie for many reasons... I just love the song of the movie. I love that so many stars had credited and uncredited appearances in this picture: it was as if "everybody" wanted to be in this picture, I hope as a tribute to the men and women of WWII who served, suffered, endured or died that day and that war... But, in that movie, it has a very short segment about the (British) Glider division landing in France...Looking through the glider windshield, having seen the glider windshield at the museum, was very authentic: the panel and windshield looked authentic.. it put a piece of history in place. And, by the way, the "Rubber Ruperts" really were used during D-Day!

So, for my patients, their awareness of D-Day is based on Saving Private Ryan. For me, my awareness of the "Rubber Ruperts" was based on a The Longest Day.

Since I visited the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial, and I am not sure which year that was, I have become very much more aware and sensitive to the lessons of history, especially the lessons of war... Some of the best movies that teach these lessons to me include: Mel Gibson's The Patriot, Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima.

Other movies have given me glimpses of life that I have not been otherwise aware of... Sometimes, it is difficult to distinguish fact from fiction... but research and discretion helps.. And, the lesson of the movies is the lesson the Agatha Christie gives us in the "Miss Marple" stories: the human nature of St Mary Mead's is the same human nature all over the world....

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