“Almost every American war film worth seeing in the last 40 years owes DNA to this hot bastard.”

10/13/2009 8:57 AM |

Primitivist, wild man, heavy-brushstroke hyperbolist, Cornel Wilde remains autuer non grata in the American canon, but, among a handful of other geysers to duck, there may never be or have been a less sentimental American war film than Beach Red (1967). After a big-gulp opening on a Pacific beachfront invasion, where the title-sequence pulp-art paintings suddenly segue without a cut onto the real deal and palm trees explode a decade before Apocalypse Now, the movie reinvents even the limits of Sam Fuller’s vulgar modernism by way of unpredictable metafictive splooges, feverish slo-mo close-ups, step-printed hallucinations, freeze-framed memories, blood syrup dripped on the lens, warped POVs, Vaseline-ed home movie flashbacks, overlapping streams-of-consciousness, Pudovkinian montages, and so on. Symptomatic of its post-New Wave day, it’s also ‘Nam-ishly empathic—both Americans and Japanese have their thumbnail moments in the sympathetic sun, before disembowelment—and Wilde’s more eloquent poetic moments (a terrified soldier obssessing in flashbacks about the roach he skilled on the boat, a maimed soldier wondering where his arms are) are scrambled in with comically flat cutaways and visual schtick so crude it recalls Monty Python. Not that Wilde was being ironic—he was just a torrential moralist with more reckless energy than he cared to harness. Beach Red was the daring experience that Saving Private Ryan started out wanting to be; indeed, almost every American war film worth seeing in the last 40 years owes DNA to this hot bastard.

Screening tonight at 9:15pm at BAM.