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Last Updated: Monday, 21 July, 2003, 12:58 GMT 13:58 UK
Buffalo Soldiers
Buffalo Soldiers
Newsnight Review discussed Buffalo Soldiers: a dark comedy set on an American military base in Germany at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

(Edited highlights of the panel's review taken from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight Review.)

MARK LAWSON:
Mark, it's going to be about as easy for Americans to find this film as to find Saddam Hussein. Is it as dangerous as suggested?

MARK KERMODE:
No, it's not. It's had greatness thrust upon it by mistake rather than by design. It looked more offensive because of the proximity to September 11th. It's not Catch 22, M*A*S*H or Slaugterhouse Five. It happens to be set against the background of American troops. The director says that his touchstones for the central character are things like Scarface and such like. It's very much like the recent film Igby Goes Down. It's entertaining and amusing and all the political stuff comes after the fact. It is one of those films which has definitely been seen in a different light because of the circumstances that happened around it, but I think those circumstances don't do it any favours. It should be seen primarily as a flimsy but enjoyable black comedy.

JULIE MYERSON:
Mark is right, in a way. There is quite an interesting film. There is a good film to be made about these soldiers just killing time. I love the venom of this film. They are so bored. I liked the black comedy, but it didn't work. There are too many different films stacked on top of each other. They don't know quite what they are. The black, black comedy at the beginning where the soldiers are stoned in the tank causing violence and mayhem was very funny. There is some funny acting. But later on when the best friend is killed and the whole thing degenerates, I wasn't laughing enough to make it fun and I wasn't uneasy enough. It didn't work for me as a tone thing.

MARK LAWSON:
We have the rare sensation in this country of getting American culture before they get it, but Tom, did you feel privileged watching it?

TOM PAULIN:
Absolutely. I thought it was a radically patriotic film, absolutely spot-on.

MARK LAWSON:
Patriotic?

TOM PAULIN:
Radical patriotism of the Tom Payne variety. You had these American GIs getting drunk and saying, "Actually, what part of Germany are we in? Are we west or east?" While on television the Berlin Wall is about to come down. Of course, it's extraordinary to watch it now with the war in Iraq, because you can see that there is this deep hang-up about Vietnam, about the American civil war, which are getting linked together constantly, not just here, but as I think we may see later on. It's spectacularly brilliant because, unlike most American movies, it doesn't lose its way two-thirds of the way through. It's perfectly crafted to the double ending which is absolutely brilliant. A quite extraordinary ending which I can't reveal.

MARK LAWSON:
Mark, as you say, a lot of things are being read into this, but in fact it could be looked at the other way, that the reason they made this film was an assumption America had fought all its wars and we were into peacetime, it carries that irony with it as well.

MARK KERMODE:
Except that it lends a glibness to it. Had they expected that it would ever be caught in this kind of controversy, I don't think it would have been made in the same way. The director has subsequently said that, watching the film again now two years after he first made it, he was surprised by how dark and venomous it seemed to be. It's almost as if the world has changed so much since he made it that he wouldn't make the same film again.

TOM PAULIN:
But he knew it was about to happen at some level. TS Eliot says "Great art comes out of the experiences we are going to have, not the ones we have had."

MARK LAWSON:
You believe he was in some way precedent about this?

TOM PAULIN:
In some way, he must have known.

JULIE MYERSON:
Whether it was or it wasn't, it's not a very good film in fact. It has this dreadful romance in the middle of it. A love story that was so sloppy. A swimming pool scene where she is supposed to be making it all right for him to lose his fear of falling and dive in - please! It isn't good. The music isn't very good, it's terrible. Plonky plonky music, and jazzy music for us to relax. It wasn't well made.

MARK LAWSON:
It's quite sentimental isn't it? When you look at the original M*A*S*H film, it wasn't particularly harsh.

TOM PAULIN:
I didn't think it was soft. It has a sort of tackiness and aggression in it, which I liked.

MARK KERMODE:
But it's made from a position of security, from people who don't believe the film is going to have a significance. That's why even the makers of it are slightly shocked when in the end it does. I feel fondly towards the film, because the dark humour and venomous behaviour does work.

MARK LAWSON:
Does it say something terrible about American culture as they are only releasing this in a couple of cinemas?

MARK KERMODE:
It does, it absolutely does. The film deserves to be seen by a wide audience. Igby Goes Down was seen by a bunch of people and this deserves to as well. There is no reason to suppress it.


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