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Bridge On The River Kwai

Does Bridge On The River Kwai belong on the AFI list?  

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  1. 1. Does Bridge On The River Kwai belong on the AFI list?

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  • Poll closed on 05/29/20 at 07:00 AM

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Amy and Paul cross 1957's David Lean WWII epic The Bridge On The River Kwai! They explore the career of star Sessue Hayakawa, ask why Lean's tyrannical methods pop up so often in the AFI 100, and compare the film to author Pierre Boulle's other famous work "Planet Of The Apes." Plus: responding to your comments on Goodfellas, and the passing of Fred Willard and Lynn Shelton.

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I voted a soft no. For me, the segments with Alec Guinness are really brilliant and the segments with William Holden are . . . fine, but mostly I'm just waiting for the movie to get back to the prison camp. The list also seems pretty replete with WW2-related movies and also already has the best Lean/Guinness collaboration in Lawrence of Arabia, so I'm not sure we really NEED to keep this one, even though it is very good.

I think Spielberg would qualify as an "epic war movie" filmmaker who isn't a difficult tyrant on set.

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Yea I vote no too, but I do like the film more than most of the war movies we've seen. I just don't think it's better than them. Likability isn't everything when you get to the top of a list like this.

I mentioned on my Letterboxd that the film didn't leave me much to think about, and I think Paul & Amy expressed it similarly. The film has some depth to it, but it's not a particularly engaging depth. And that may be part of its appeal, I'm not sure, but that's where it loses me some. 

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1 hour ago, sycasey 2.0 said:

I think Spielberg would qualify as an "epic war movie" filmmaker who isn't a difficult tyrant on set.

Thank you! That was what I was shouting at the podcast, but they couldn't hear me. 

I wonder if the tyrannical director is a feature of Hollywood that isn't as present anymore. It fueled and was then propigated by the Auteur Theory, I'm sure, but doesn't seem how we define it these days. Are there any directors who have emerged in the past 40 years or so (using Speilberg as the timeline) that match a chariacature of the volitile "artiste" director?     

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I know Lawrence is considered the more important film, but I'll take Bridge On the River Kwai over it any day. All those "epic" shots of vast landscapes of sand just bored me in Lawrence. It's a movie about just surprising the enemy by being willing to walk a long distance. There's hardly even a battle once they arrive. Kwai has a clash of personalities with different beliefs in the unusual circumstances of a Japanese POW camp in southeast asia. Lawrence just has Lawrence, who's supposed to be something of an enigma (and I never found all that interesting). But if I could remove it in exchange for kicking off M*A*S*H, I'd be tempted due to how thoroughly I dislike that.

6 minutes ago, DannytheWall said:

Thank you! That was what I was shouting at the podcast, but they couldn't hear me. 

I wonder if the tyrannical director is a feature of Hollywood that isn't as present anymore. It fueled and was then propigated by the Auteur Theory, I'm sure, but doesn't seem how we define it these days. Are there any directors who have emerged in the past 40 years or so (using Speilberg as the timeline) that match a chariacature of the volitile "artiste" director?     

Have you seen the video of David O. Russell throwing a tantrum at Lily Tomlin on I Heart Huckabees? George Clooney punched him on Three Kings, and Christian Bale had to get in his face to stop him being awful to Amy Adams on American Hustle.

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I also prefer Bridge on the River Kwai to Lawrence of Arabia.

3 hours ago, AlmostAGhost said:

I mentioned on my Letterboxd that the film didn't leave me much to think about, and I think Paul & Amy expressed it similarly.

You see, I basically felt the opposite, and I thought Paul and Amy expressed it the way I saw it, which is that the complexity of the characters leaves you a lot to think about, in such a way that perhaps thinking about it is more interesting than actually watching the movie.  I thought Paul and Amy nailed how the different characters represented different types of morality and skewed heroism.  Nicholson is so rigidly by the book that it morphs him into the antithesis of what he's fighting for.  Shears is just doing whatever it takes to survive, almost cowardly, but shows a different type of heroism at the end.  Saito is also just trying to survive, and it's interesting that Shears and Saito were so diametrically opposed to each other when their characters were more similar than it would appear on first glance.  And then the psychology behind the Saito and Nicholson relationship is a lot of fun for me to think about too.  How much did Saito know that ceding as much power as he did to Nicholson would ultimately help Saito more to achieve his goal?  Did Saito play Nicholson, or was their partnership an unexpected accidental clash of egos?

But perhaps, as I said, it's to the film's detriment that for me, thinking about these characters is a little more interesting than the film itself.  But I still voted yes, because I think it all works well enough, and I do find it incredibly watchable.  I really did not think this particular David Lean film felt too long, and I'm very sensitive about films feeling too long.  And I guess I didn't feel particularly let down by the relative blah-ness of the final explosion, because I was far more invested in the emotions of the characters than in the spectacle by that point.  And to that end, Guinness plays that final scene so wonderfully.

Also, I'm SO glad that Amy talked about "Hitler Has Only Got One Ball."  I probably learned about it for the first time a decade or so ago when I did a Wikipedia dive on the Colonel Bogey March the first time I saw this film, and have associated the tune with those lyrics ever since.  I'm such a fan of it, even as I resent the fact that "Goebbels" and "no balls" don't quite rhyme exactly as the song would demand them to.

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50 minutes ago, bleary said:

You see, I basically felt the opposite, and I thought Paul and Amy expressed it the way I saw it, which is that the complexity of the characters leaves you a lot to think about, in such a way that perhaps thinking about it is more interesting than actually watching the movie.  I thought Paul and Amy nailed how the different characters represented different types of morality and skewed heroism.

I mean the very first sentiment Paul offered when they started was to call it 'basic', and I think during the wrap up, he reiterated that as well.

But that's what I mean... the characters do represent that stuff, which is the depth I was referring to, but I don't think the film handles those ideas, really at all. If it did, I never felt engaged by the ideas presented.  

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14 hours ago, FictionIsntReal said:

Have you seen the video of David O. Russell throwing a tantrum at Lily Tomlin on I Heart Huckabees? George Clooney punched him on Three Kings, and Christian Bale had to get in his face to stop him being awful to Amy Adams on American Hustle.

Russell definitely fits. I've heard that Alexander Payne is no peach either.

And I think James Cameron fits within Spielberg's generation.

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This was another hard one but I think I'll have to vote 'no.' I really liked the prison camp plot line but I felt the movie spent way too much time on Shears' journey back to the bridge. I actually enjoyed the bits at the hospital before they headed out including the little bit about Shears taking on a higher ranking officer's identity and all the little comedic moments regarding his lack of training ("with or without a parachute?"). But I could have done without most of their trek save for the one conversation about 'leaving no man behind' (paraphrasing).

Everything with Alec Guinness was great and the final series of events following Shears and crew's arrival at the bridge were so tense and really brought me back into the film after that boring traipse through the jungle.

I also wondered if the Joyce character was an inspiration for Upham in Saving Private Ryan as they both had very similar story lines, save for their respective final moments.

Ultimately, I voted no because, though I enjoyed the majority of the film, the lows really brought it down for me and, in general, I feel like any film included on this list should have something really special about them, and I don't know that I can say that about 'Bridge.' Really good but not great enough. Definitely would replace this with Planet of the Apes.

Really great episode of the podcast! Loved all the stories they had about the making of the film. I also agree with Amy that David Lynch deserves to be on this list in some fashion.

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When Amy said that there was an 80's movie that made the Colonel Bogey March popular for our generation this was my first thought:
 

 

 

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On 5/23/2020 at 5:56 AM, hahmstrung said:

When Amy said that there was an 80's movie that made the Colonel Bogey March popular for our generation this was my first thought:
 

 

 

Haha, same.

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Late to the party on this, but I just listened to the unspooling of Bridge on the River Kwai. Since Amy mentioned Sessue Hayakawa and his importance to early silent film, they might be interested to know that a film on the list which they discussed a few weeks back, Yankee Doodle Dandy, also has a connection to Asian American film history. That film's cinematographer is James Wong Howe, the first Asian American Oscar winner (nominated 10 times, won twice). It will warm Amy's heart to know that while making the film he became close friends with, who else, James Cagney. Cagney wore an "I Am Chinese" button to show his solidarity with Howe and other Chinese Americans during a time of intense Anti-Japanese sentiment and internment.

All that said, if I had my choice I'd happily take Bridge on the River Kwai *and* Yankee Doodle Dandy off the list and put on instead Josef von Sternberg's Shanghai Express (I'd also toss a 1933 Busby Berkeley film on for good measure too). As progressive as it is problematic, there are so, so, so many things worth discussing about this film. Not only does it have (uncredited) documentary footage from Howe spliced into it, but it also features iconic performances from Anna May Wong and Marlene Dietrich.

One more thing: that "Shanghai 'Lil" segment from Footlight Parade they played in the Yankee Doodle Dandy episode? It's a takeoff on Marlene Dietrich's character Shanghai Lily in Shanghai Express, which came out the year before. Talk about a quick turn around time!

Anyways, the problem of what to do with Hollywood and American Orientalism is not going away any time soon -- Blade Runner's just two weeks away!

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