Thursday, April 29, 2010

How "priceless" is priceless art?

The Allies are approaching Paris and everyone knows the city will be liberated in a few days. A Nazi colonel loots dozens of paintings from the Louvre and puts them on a train headed for Germany.

The French Resistance is asked to delay the train until the Allies show up. But that will almost certainly cost lives. If nothing else, the Germans tend to shoot a lot of innocent hostages in reprisals against acts of sabotage. And the war is almost over--those few members of the Resistance who have been lucky enough to survive this long aren't anxious to risk their lives for a bunch of paint and canvas.

On the other hand, those paintings are a part of France's heritage. They are unquestionably great art--something whose value can't really be measured in monetary value. So can it be measured in human lives?

That's the theme behind The Train (1964), a beautifully photographed and directed movie that manages to work both as an action film and an examination of what ideals are worth dying for.

The director was John Frankenheimer and, boy, he does a magnificent job. There's a couple of instances where he uses long tracking shots to astonishing effect. He stages the action expertly and always makes sure we understand what is going on. I particularly love the long shot of a train yard being bombed.

And he used real steam trains throughout the film, which is just plain cool by itself. 1964 was pre-CGI, of course, but there's no reliance on miniatures or any camera tricks. When we see one train slam into another--that's really one train slamming into another.

Burt Lancaster is very effective as the main protagonist and Paul Scofield does such a great job as the Nazi colonel that you almost want to track him down and shoot him in real life.  The movie is never gory, but it doesn't hold back on just how brutal the Nazis were.

Another great aspect of the film is how effectively it builds empathy for the various Resistance people working to delay the train. I was literally yelling "No!" at the screen when guys I liked got killed.

And that's one of the reasons the movie works so well thematically.  Is art ever worth dying for? Is it worth getting your friends and allies killed to save it?  The movie doesn't ever really answer that question--it just makes you think about it.

You can watch it via Hulu right here. If you subscribe to Netflix, they've got it on "instant play," which would allow you to watch it without commercials.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...