The World War II Combat Film: Anatomy of a Genre, by Jeanine Basinger

Tanine Allison, Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies at Emory University, offers the first of what we hope will be a regular collection of reviews of Key Works in war and media studies. Tanine’s own manuscript on the visual aesthetics of the WWII combat film, Destructive Sublime: WWII in American Film and Media, should be out from Rutgers UP in 2018 (spoiler alert about a new contract for one of our members). Thanks to Tanine for getting us started!

The World War II Combat Film, by Jeanine BasingerJeanine Basinger’s comprehensive look at American World War II combat films is one of the formative studies of the war genre. Although the book looks solely at American combat films (in which fighting is central to the narrative and aesthetic form of the film) that are set during World War II, its impact has reached beyond this relatively narrow category because of the massive influence the conventions of these films had on the development of war-related filmmaking in other eras and other countries. Therefore, it’s often necessary to have a firm grasp on the tropes of World War II combat films if one is to have a full understanding of how other war films create meaning. As a compendium of these tropes, Basinger’s book has established itself as a must-read for anyone investigating the role combat plays in contemporary war media.

One of Basinger’s major claims is that the World War II combat film is a genre in and of itself, not merely a subgenre of the war film. She makes this case by analyzing hundreds of American combat films set during World War II, giving particular emphasis to those films made during the war itself. For Basinger, the major narrative conventions of the genre congealed in five quintessential combat films released in 1943: Sahara, Guadalcanal Diary, Air Force, Destination Tokyo, and Bataan. The conventions established by these films include the ethnically mixed group of soldiers that overcomes internal conflicts to become a cohesive fighting unit, the reluctant hero who is forced to become the leader of the group, the important military objective that the group must achieve, and typical narrative elements like burials, outnumbered heroes, discussion of “why we fight,” mail call, a dedication to the fighting forces, and a last stand against the enemy.

The World War II Combat Film was first published in 1986, when it seemed as if the “good war” could not adequately speak to audiences in the post-Vietnam era. However, Basinger published a revised and updated version of the book in 2003 to account for the rising nostalgia for the Second World War in the 1990s, which culminated in Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan in 1998. In addition to elucidating the typical narrative conventions of the genre, Basinger traces their origins in films about World War I and other early 20th-century conflicts.  She also uses much of the book to explore the evolution of the genre over time, arguing that the repeated appearances of World War II on American movie screens reflects changing cultural notions of what the war was about, as well as reflections of current conflicts, such as Vietnam. The book includes an extensive filmography with descriptions of nearly all American World War II combat films released between 1941 and 2002 (in the revised edition).

Basinger’s book is essential for any scholar (or student) of the war genre, and it is written is an accessible, almost conversational tone. In my own work, I have found it a cornerstone, but I also worry that its elucidation of genre conventions can be taken to be monolithic or settled, when the genre also displays such variation and originality. Basinger focuses more on narrative than aesthetics, so her book neglects some of the truly weird and wonderful audiovisual innovations of combat sequences from the 1940s to today. And because of when it was written, she does not address television series like Band of Brothers (2001) and The Pacific (2010) or combat video games like Medal of Honor (1999-) or Call of Duty (2003-) that explicitly reference and transform the conventions of World War II combat films. I address these more recent works in relation to Basinger’s foundational study in my upcoming book on the aesthetics of combat sequences in American World War II media.

From the Feeds [2-15-2017]

CFPs of interest in this month’s feeds

Militarism and Capitalism: The Work and Wages of ViolenceIssue number 133 (January 2019)

Special Issue Editors: Simeon Man, University of California, San Diego; A. Naomi Paik, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; Melina Pappademos, University of Connecticut

Abstract Deadline: June 1, 2017
Contactcontactrhr@gmail.com

Somatechnics special journal issue “Cinematic Bodies”

Co-edited by Cáel M. Keegan, Eliza Steinbock, Laura Horak

Deadline for article submissions: March 1st, 2017
Length: 6000 words + 200 word abstract + 150 word author biography
Submission email: cinematicbodies@gmail.com
Journal submission details: http://www.euppublishing.com/page/soma/submissions


Special Issues of Journals

Journal of War and Culture Studies, Vol. 10 (2017)

Special issues on World War I, disfigurement, and the Gueules cassées (or “broken mouths”), with a couple of articles on visual culture, popular film and photography. Subtitle “From Surgery to Art”

Media War and Conflict Journal, Vol 9, No 3 (December 2016)

Essays in the latest issues address Middle Eastern conflicts and the uses of imagery and social media. The Syrian and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts are particularly prominent.

Game Studies: Special Issue on War Gaming, Vol 16, no 2 (December 2016)

Articles examine the “war/game nexus” in a variety of war games, both traditional multiplayer and FPS games and art games.


Articles of interest from this month’s news feeds:

Bare Strength: representing veterans of the desert wars in US media by Jenna Pitchford-Hyde; Media, Culture and Society, Vol 39, no. 1 (2017)


Books of Interest

Hymns for the Fallen: Combat Movie Music and Sound after Vietnam, by Todd Decker. University of California Press, 2017

In Hymns for the Fallen, Todd Decker listens closely to forty years of Hollywood combat films produced after Vietnam. Ever a noisy genre, post-Vietnam war films have deployed music and sound to place the audience in the midst of battle and to provoke reflection on the experience of combat. Considering landmark movies—such as Apocalypse NowSaving Private RyanThe Thin Red LineBlack Hawk DownThe Hurt Locker, and American Sniper—as well as lesser-known films, Decker shows how the domain of sound, an experientially rich and culturally resonant aspect of cinema, not only invokes the realities of war, but also shapes the American audience’s engagement with soldiers and veterans as flesh-and-blood representatives of the nation. Hymns for the Fallen explores all three elements of film sound—dialogue, sound effects, music—and considers how expressive and formal choices in the soundtrack have turned the serious war film into a patriotic ritual enacted in the commercial space of the cinema. Congratulations to SIG member Todd Decker!

 

 

 

SCMS statement on Travel to the 2017 Conference

If you haven’t seen the statement from SCMS already, in light of the US President’s recent ban on travel from certain countries, the conference registration deadline is being extended to Feb 10, and remote presentations will be allowed in Chicago. See http://www.cmstudies.org/default.asp? for more details. The deadline extension will hopefully allow some of these issues to be clarified and international members to make informed decisions regarding travel to the US.

Any SIG members unable to, or fearful of, travel to the US should contact SCMS.

Please get in touch with SIG co-chairs (you can write to rebecca.harrison@glasgow.ac.uk or stacy.takacs@okstate.edu) if you are unable to attend or present remotely but would like your paper read out. We’ll try to help organise that for you.

From the Feeds [01-15-2017]

CFPS of interest from this month’s news feeds:

Ruins: 2017 Media Fields Conference

University of California, Santa Barbara | April 6-7, 2017
Submission deadline: January 15, 2017

The Media Fields Collective invites proposals that address the deteriorations and afterlives of media texts, technologies, and architectures.

Email 250- to 300-word proposals and a brief bio (both in Word format) to conference@mediafieldsjournal.org by January 15, 2017. For inquiries, contact: Tyler Morgenstern (tyler.morgenstern@gmail.com), Lisa Han (lisahan@umail.ucsb.edu), or Daniel Grinberg (dgrinberg@umail.ucsb.edu).

“Objects in and After Hostility: The Materiality of Conflict” Conference

A two-day conference to be held at Newcastle and Northumbria Universities (March 30-31, 2017).

Deadline for abstract submissions (250 words): January 16, 2017. Submit to: objectsinandafter@gmail.com

Somatechnics special journal issue “Cinematic Bodies”

Co-edited by Cáel M. Keegan, Eliza Steinbock, Laura Horak

Deadline for article submissions: March 1st, 2017
Length: 6000 words + 200 word abstract + 150 word author biography
Submission email: cinematicbodies@gmail.com
Journal submission details: http://www.euppublishing.com/page/soma/submissions


Special Issues of Journals

Media War and Conflict Journal, Vol 9, No 3 (December 2016)

Essays in the latest issues address Middle Eastern conflicts and the uses of imagery and social media. The Syrian and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts are particularly prominent.

Flow, TV Journal: MEDIA ACTIVISM POLITICS IN/FOR THE AGE OF TRUMP

Excellent pieces on Trumpist populism, activism and, yes, “fake news”

Game Studies: Special Issue on War Gaming, Vol 16, no 2 (December 2016)

Articles examine the “war/game nexus” in a variety of war games, both traditional multiplayer and FPS games and art games.

Journal of 20th Century British HistoryVolume 27 Issue 4 December 2016

Contains a special forum on the commemoration of the First World War in Britain

Special Issue of Media, Culture and Society: The Media and the Military

This issues on “The Media and The Military” was available online for advanced review, but is now available in print. Check it out!

MCS also has an interesting “Virtual Special Issue” on “Media Infrastructures and Empire.”  


Articles of interest from this month’s news feeds:

From Zero to Hero: The CIA and Hollywood Today by Tony Shaw and Tricia Jenkins;

Cinema Journal, Vol. 56, No. 2, Winter 2017, pp. 91-113

La jetée in Historical Time: Torture, Visuality, Displacement by Matthew Croombs;

Cinema Journal, Vol. 56, No. 2, Winter 2017, pp. 25-45

Celebrity power and powers of war: the rise of the COINdinistas in American popular media by Colleen Bell

Critical Military Studies (Jan. 2017)

Normalizing violence through front-line stories: the case of American Sniper by Julien Pomarède

Critical Military Studies (Jan. 2017)

Are Soldiers Morally Exploited? by Michael Robillard and Bradley J. Strawser,

Stockholm Center for The Ethics of War and Peace Blog

As always, the “History Journals” section 

offers a wealth of new scholarship on a range of issues of concern to the SIG, including the First WW, Cold War, British Imperialism, and the cultural mediations of same.


Book Reviews of Interest

Adi Kuntsman and Rebecca Stein, Digital Militarism: Israel’s Occupation in the Social Media Age (Stanford UP, 2015) [reviewed by Rikke Bjerg Jensen]

From the Feeds [12-15-2016]

CFPS of interest from this month’s news feeds:

“Objects in and After Hostility: The Materiality of Conflict” Conference

A two-day conference to be held at Newcastle and Northumbria Universities (March 30-31, 2017). Deadline for abstract submissions (250 words): January 16, 2017. Submit to: objectsinandafter@gmail.com

Somatechnics special journal issue “Cinematic Bodies”

Co-edited by Cáel M. Keegan, Eliza Steinbock, Laura Horak
Deadline for article submissions: March 1st, 2017
Length: 6000 words + 200 word abstract + 150 word author biography
Submission email: cinematicbodies@gmail.com
Journal submission details: http://www.euppublishing.com/page/soma/submissions


Special Issues of Journals

Special Issue of Media, Culture and Society: The Media and the Military

From the editors: This issue uses the idea of ‘the military’, rather than ‘war’ or ‘conflict’ (both of which have been the organising terms for a developing literature of media research) in order to place a focus on the activities and forms of mediation of a key range of institutions internationally. . . . military involvement in, and use of, media flows, including forms of social media, has developed significantly in the last decades. Coverage of military activity. . . has developed too, if with significant national variations, drawing on new resources of visualisation and testimony. The shifts in what can be said and shown in situations of . . . political dispute has had consequences both for military-political and military-civilian relations. New lines of visibility, emphasis and, sometimes, contradiction have emerged . . .

We should note MCS also has an interesting “Virtual Special Issue” on “Media Infrastructures and Empire.”  


Articles of interest from this month’s news feeds:

The first issue of mediaesthetics – Journal of Poetics of Audiovisual Images, devoted to “Images of War” (in English and German)

The dossier “Rising flags, falling soldiers: film, icons and political violence” by Jeremy Hicks, Libby Saxton, and Guy Westwellin Screen, vol. 57, no. 3 (2016).

The article “Visual propaganda on Facebook: A comparative analysis of Syrian conflicts” by Hyunjin Seo and Husain Ebrahim in Media, War & Conflict, vol. 9, no. 3 (December 2016).

Matt Evans’ article “Information dissemination in new media: YouTube and the Israeli–Palestinian conflict” in Media, War & Conflict, vol. 9, no. 3 (December 2016).

Julien Pomarède’s article “Normalizing violence through front-line stories: the case of American Sniper” in Critical Military Studies (November 2016).

Maggie Andrews’ article “Tropes and Trench Cakes: The Home Front in the Media and Community History” in Twentieth Century British History, vol. 27, no. 4 (2016).


Book Reviews of Interest

Doughboys on the Great War: How American Soldiers Viewed Their Military Experience, Edward A. Gutiérrez (reviewed by Ian Andrew Isherwood)

From the Feeds [11-15-2016]

CFPS of interest from this month’s news feeds:

Special Issue on Human Rights Memory
Popular Communication: The International Journal of Media and Culture
deadline for paper submissions: December 15, 2016
Papers should be 7000 words or less
Susana Kaiser / University of San Francisco, kaisers@usfca.edu

Hollywood and American War [Edited Collection]
deadline for abstract submissionsDecember 11, 2016
Andrew Rayment / Chiba University (rayment13@chiba-u.jp)

International Cultural Responses to Wartime Rape: Ethical Questions and Critical ChallengesMaynooth University, Ireland – 19th-20th June 2017
deadline for submissions: January 15, 2017
Katie Stone / Maynooth University, Katie.Stone@nuim.ie


Articles of interest from this month’s news feeds:

In addition to several hold-over recommendations from last month, see these:

Cinema Journal 56.1: In Focus and Review sections on 9/11 Fifteen Years Later.

Theory & Event 19.4Special Issue: On Colonial Unknowing

TV & New Media November 2016: contains a section devoted to the Trump phenomenon

Repressentations of Displacement from the Middle East and North Africa, Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E.


Book Reviews of Interest

American Cinematographers in the Great War, 1914–1918, James Castellan, Ron Van Dopperen, and Cooper Graham, eds.

 In Secrecy’s Shadow: the OSS and CIA in Hollywood Cinema 1941–1979, Simon Willmetts.


Conference Report

International Society for First World War Studies

Note you can join the organization from the link at the bottom of the report. European scholars may be particularly interested in this network.