Dec 11, 2007

Sergeant York

Sergeant York is an American World War II(sett during the first war) propaganda film directed and produced by Christian Scientist, Howard Hawks. It is a biographical film about Medal of Honor winner Alvin York. Hailing from Tennessee, York made the ultimate hero story for someone from the middle of nowhere. York epitomized the hillbilly and redneck stereotypes America has about Southern Americans. The irony is that he became a hero and role model for all.

Sergeant York is excellent propaganda in that it could make the poor Southerner feel like he could be a hero. Like World War I, America needed a reason to convince American’s to get into World War II. After the first war, American’s had enough. The depression also did not help with American patriotism. Southerners have always made great soldiers due to being underprivileged, backwards, and working class. At least in this point in American history, Southern soldiers contributions to America were acknowledged. Most contemporary films dealing with Southerners generally take a derogatory or defaming route.

Directors (or should I say showman) like Steven Spielberg have utilized the formulas and conventions of American World War II propaganda films for contemporary propaganda films like Saving Private Ryan. Each film features various characters from around the United States. The newer films add a larger collection of characters such as blacks, hippies, and surfers (in anti-Vietnam films like Platoon and Apocalypse Now) to represent a more diverse and changing America. Sergeant York is where you would probably want to start if searching for the birth of the contemporary War film. Although masterworks such as Birth of a Nation set-up the model, Sergeant York filled in the little details that made the war film much more entertaining and sentimental. Directors like Steven Spielberg have just taken these conventions and formulas to extremes (especially with sentimentalism). It is a shame that American War films haven’t advanced much in comparison to European War films which take endless different approaches.

Films like Sergeant York confuse me in my feelings on war and the war film. No one completely wins the war. At the end of each millions are left dead and for what? Alvin York was a hero is his own right. He did what he believed was honorable and important. The real question is whether or not the global bankers, politicians, and countries did the right thing. It is doubtful as human nature has always been one focused on self-destruction. Sergeant York almost makes me feel as if Alvin York was exploited for the use of propaganda. Either way, the film and Alvin York have made history.

I have almost become obsessed with the dishonesty of the American war film. After watching countless European war films I can only look at War for what it is; barbarianism. Whether it be Elem Klimov’s Soviet classic, Come and See, or documentary filmmakers Sebastian Dehnhardt, Christian Deick and Jörg Müllner’s Stalingrad, War is hell. It will be interesting to see what the future has for the American war film with the failure and disaster America has gotten itself into, in the Middle East.

-Ty E


Oscar said...

I realize I am a backwards southerner, but you have about 15 grammatical errors in your blog. Just an FYI. Also, you might want to correct the first reference to "WWII", I'm pretty sure that should read WWI.

Anonymous said...

I am a backwards Southerner too. BTW you're a bit wrong. The blog states "American World War II propaganda film" which it was. It was directed in 1941. I don't think World War I was still going on in 1941. I'll adjust the blog to make it a little clearer.

Oscar said...

Ahh see now. I serve on the Sgt. York Patriotic Foundation and am very involved with preserving his legacy, of which the war was a very small part, at least in relation to the people of Fentress County.