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December 28, 2012 3:55 PM   Subscribe

Of the final scene in The Deer Hunter, Ebert wrote: I won't tell you how it arrives at that particular moment (the unfolding of the final passages should occur to you as events in life) but I do want to observe that the lyrics of "God Bless America" have never before seemed to me to contain such an infinity of possible meanings, some tragic, some unspeakably sad, some few still defiantly hopeful.
The song was first written in 1918, and 20 years later it was introduced by Kate Smith as a patriotic “Peace Song”.
Here’s some trivia about the Deer Hunter, and a bio of the amazing Irving Berlin
posted by growabrain (36 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
"God Bless America" is one of the many patriotic songs Irving Berlin was essentially hounded into writing by people who didn't take too kindly to his scathing pacifist anthem "Stay Down Here Where You Belong."

Here he is singing the former in 1968 on The Ed Sullivan Show. (Meanwhile, in Vancouver...)
posted by Sys Rq at 4:17 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't know what Ebert is on about, but to me this song always be the anthem of post-9/11 jingoism and mindless conformity. I was appalled when they started ramrodding this thing into every baseball game, and anywhere else they could fit it. I mean, what could possibly have been less appropriate at that moment in the time than a song that says, in so many words, "Our country and Christian God are better than yours?"

As counterpoint, it's interesting to consider the story of "This Land is Your Land:"

[Guthrie] was irritated by Irving Berlin's "God Bless America," sung by Kate Smith, which seemed to be endlessly playing on the radio in the late 1930s. So irritated, in fact, that he wrote this song as a retort, at first sarcastically calling it "God Blessed America for Me" before renaming it "This Land Is Your Land."

posted by drjimmy11 at 4:19 PM on December 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


You know, I've never seen The Deer Hunter. Every single day offers a potential spoiler moment.

Is the deer hunter secretly a woman? A dead woman? A dead woman who married your dad? What a twist!
posted by clvrmnky at 4:42 PM on December 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't think I ever heard God Bless America before 9/11. I initially thought it had been a hastily written jingo-anthem as a response to the attack.

/young'un
posted by steamynachos at 4:43 PM on December 28, 2012


Let's just say that deer hunting plays a small part in the plot before things go seriously off the rails and leave it at that, shall we? You should really put it on your Netflix cue and then go ahead and schedule a therapy session afterwards.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:48 PM on December 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


from the trivia link:
Robert De Niro suggested using a single, live bullet for the Russian roulette sequences to increase the tension.


someone should have called his bluff on that one and pretended to seriously go along with his supermacho method acting idiot idea.
posted by Bwithh at 4:56 PM on December 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


This is the best movie that I have ever seen. And I get Ebert completely. He's saying that a song that always seemed jingoistic takes on heartwrenching overtones when sung by these particular characters in this particular scene. Precisely because they also cannot help but bring their own experiences with them as they sing. It is a chilling moment. It is not meant to be either ironic nor patriotic. It is an elegy to a friend who was killed for everything the song stands for sung by exhausted friends who derive no real comfort from the words.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:59 PM on December 28, 2012 [24 favorites]


I feel sympathy for these people (I am also American). We are better at waging wars of adventure now I guess, we've had plenty of practice since then.
posted by idiopath at 5:17 PM on December 28, 2012


someone should have called his bluff on that one

Eh, De Niro is a famously wacky guy able to present the most outlandish ideas in a sort of self-mocking deadpan, e.g.:
[Stiller] also confirms that De Niro definitely has a sense of humor off-camera, although he adds, "It sometimes takes me a little bit to realize that he has cracked a joke because he is so dry."
posted by dhartung at 5:18 PM on December 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Everything you need to know about the Deer Hunter
posted by KokuRyu at 5:27 PM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I guess I am a little older, but I associate God Bless America, Kate Smith's rendition, as that damn song the friggin Philadelphia Flyers played before big games instead of the National Anthem. This Rangers fan learned to hate the song for all the wrong (right?) reasons. Now, it is part of the 7th inning stretch at baseball games. Having lived in Chicago for many years, I can tell you that the only song to be played during the 7th inning stretch should be Take Me Out to the Ballgame sung by Harry Carey (with the occasional guest singing by Bill Murray).

I just saw the Deer Hunter the other night. It is playing on late night Showtime. Every time I watch that movie it seems as if I focus on a different issue. I agree it is not an anti-war movie per se, but it certainly highlights how much war sucks and how stupid it is.

After the last watching, I cannot stop thinking about the hard lives of the steel workers (and other industrial jobs), yet how they seemed to find a bond of going through that life together sort of like the bond found among those going through traumatic experiences (like Vietnam).
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:57 PM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


You know, I've never seen The Deer Hunter.

When a man says no to The Deer Hunter, he says no to life.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:58 PM on December 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


One shot.
posted by scratch at 6:07 PM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


(duh, read the title) (sorry)
posted by scratch at 6:07 PM on December 28, 2012


For background, here's the wiki for God bless America
posted by growabrain at 6:31 PM on December 28, 2012


Deer Hunter was macho nonsense, but I loved the sendup that the UCB did of it, merging the end scene with an extreme fitness routine in a gym. Good stuff.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:33 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I saw it for the first time a couple of days ago. I was almost ready to quit in the first act. What the fuck is this, a documentary on Russian Orthodox wedding ceremonies? This movie was far too loose, scores of little plot points that really didn't go anywhere and weren't particularly interesting. And the extreme othering of those inscruatable and evil Vietnamese was pretty cringey too.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:44 PM on December 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Everything you need to know about the Deer Hunter

Related.
posted by mediated self at 7:45 PM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


The idea that this guy had been successfully playing Russian roulette for, what, months? years? was totally beyond my ability to suspend disbelief, and ruined the movie for me. I don't know if I would have liked the movie without that, but I sure didn't like the movie with it. It was just so inane.
posted by Flunkie at 8:09 PM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Final Scene in The Deer Hunter is one of the most complex things I have ever seen in a movie..
posted by ovvl at 8:14 PM on December 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


"What part of didi mau don't you understand?"
posted by Flashman at 8:52 PM on December 28, 2012


Kate Smith's rendition "God Bless America" plays near the end of Once Upon a Time in America, which also features Robert DeNiro.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:20 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


From the trivia link: "The deaths of approximately twenty-eight people who died playing Russian roulette were reported as having been influenced by scenes in the movie. "
posted by stbalbach at 9:49 PM on December 28, 2012


See this is something that makes no sense to me. How could you watch that movie and think anything of those scenes except how absolutely horrific they are?
posted by shakespeherian at 10:14 PM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Deer Hunter is the best musical I have ever seen.
posted by quadog at 12:55 AM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


That bit in The Deer Hunter made me absolutely cringe. It was toe-curlingly embarrassing. I remember an audible groan going up in the cinema. That sort of thing really doesn't play well with British people. Not well at all. We just find it unspeakably vulgar.
posted by Decani at 1:15 AM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


When you watch The Deer Hunter, an understanding of what was going on in the non-automobile manufacturing sections of the US during the time frame of the film is incredibly important.

The historical downswing of the American steel industry really beat up on small one-industry mill towns like the one in the film. The single fact that these guys saw one of the most horrible foreign wars in American history as a viable out from their otherwise hardscrabble existence working their lives away in a steel mill is so potent, so fucking real, so thick with ambition, that I'm fumbling for words to describe it.

As a bonus, you get to see some really top notch acting. Go into this knowing that people are going to forge long ass careers out of this film.

Walken, DeNiro, Streep, Cazale, Cimino directs, Savage hangs on.
posted by Sphinx at 2:01 AM on December 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Go into this knowing that people are going to forge long ass careers out of this film.

Well, not so much Cazale, sadly.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:56 AM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I first watched The Deer Hunter back to back with my first viewing of Apocalypse Now on a weekend of fairly serious drinking. That really wasn't a great idea, but it sure did leave an impression.
posted by Bovine Love at 5:58 AM on December 29, 2012


clvrmnky, The Deer Hunter was his sled.

What scenes you take away from a movie say a lot about you, or about where you are in life at various times of viewing. I remember first from the movie the complicated attraction between Streep-DiNiro. The post-war scene where he lets the big buck get away. The Franki Valli song.

But these days the economic devastation of the town would ring most hard and true to me.
posted by NorthernLite at 7:57 AM on December 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I saw it for the first time a couple of days ago. I was almost ready to quit in the first act. What the fuck is this, a documentary on Russian Orthodox wedding ceremonies? This movie was far too loose, scores of little plot points that really didn't go anywhere and weren't particularly interesting. And the extreme othering of those inscruatable and evil Vietnamese was pretty cringey too.

Judd Apatow could produce a remake more in line with modern insensibilities.
posted by srboisvert at 10:50 AM on December 29, 2012


That sort of thing really doesn't play well with British people. Not well at all. We just find it unspeakably vulgar.

As evidenced by the acclaim for the Olympics' Opening Ceremony it is only found vulgar when others do it.
posted by srboisvert at 10:51 AM on December 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


Thanks for the thread, folks! It's been an interesting ride, Cimino, early PJ-Kong returns, and all. (I myself preferred the 1976 Guillermin-Kong for Jeff Bridges, OTT decorative racism and the Jessica Lange nip-slip, but I was also 9 y.o. at the time.

My understanding of Film History may be 20+ years old and out of date, but IIRC, studios everywhere were trying to mint the next Francis Ford Coppola because everyone had seen what he was able to do for Paramount, with The Godfather. That's how the wave of increasingly expensive Indy/Studio-backed films came about, ending with Heaven's Gate in 1980. But for a while, it worked -- without some big bets being made, we wouldn't have had the first 3 Star Wars movies, or Steven Spielberg and David Brown producing movies like Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

40 years ago, filmmaking was the get-rich-quick, bubble industry of the moment, the way that the junk bonds, painting and the internet and blew up in the '80s, '90s and 00's. That's why you have oddities like Cimino's interest in Russian Orthodox weddings and such -- Commercial Hollywood just couldn't be bothered with things that weren't for sale down at the mall during the early '70s. Sometimes, the exposition of ethnic minorities here in the US of A created an opportunity to create great art.

What growabrain saw in TDH was the terrific resonance that Cimino created by adding that moment to his film. Up until the God Bless America moment, it had been a pretty horrific, downbeat film about the meat-grinder we'd fed American soldiers to for almost 20 years. I'm not going to sit down and re-watch the 3 hr. movie this holiday weekend, but I wish the resonance of TDH and the dozens of other anti-Vietnam movies made between 1972 and 2001 had stuck with any of the draft-dodging Neocons in the Bush II administration decided to repeat the Nation-Building excercise they'd refrained from participating in 20 and 30 years earlier.
posted by vhsiv at 12:44 PM on December 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


We don't see movies like The Deer Hunter anymore. It is a dense, multilayered philippic that really does act as a Rorschach test for the viewer.

I watched The Deer Hunter every day for 3 weeks during my stint at a video store. They finally made me switch to something less depressing. I haven't seen it since then. It contains my favorite move quote ever, "when a man say no to champagne, he says no to life"

I've always thought the somewhat odd dance sequence is a specific invocation of dance scenes commonly used by Ford in his westerns as shorthand for community. This scene from My Darling Clementine is a good example. In westerns, there is always an assault on community, and civilization, from without. In The Deer Hunter, we see an assault on a community as well, but unlike Ford westerns, it is unclear just who the culprit is. We seem to have a small community under assault by America itself.

It is also interesting that 1978 gave us Coming Home, another more straightforward Vietnam movie that I believe took best Actor and Actress.

I'm going to have to watch both of them again.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:04 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


> I'm going to have to watch both of them again.

Be sure to hide the liquor, the weed and the revolver from yourself before you start!
posted by vhsiv at 3:16 PM on December 29, 2012


Cimino, you need to understand (Heaven's Gate makes it abundantly clear), has a ken as well as a knack for motion for its own sake, like hundreds of Harvard graduates waltzing around a tree seemingly forever. It's part of his narrative language. It was also, of course, part of his downfall.
posted by dhartung at 4:47 PM on December 29, 2012


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