“Das Boot” (1981)

April 7, 2009 at 3:21 pm (Cinema, Reviews & Articles, Roger Ebert)

I remember seeing this movie back in 1997 when it was re-released in the “Director’s Cut” version. I was amazed at what a brilliant film it was and how you actually felt sorry for the German crew members (though, one of the reasons for that is because most of the members are very critical of the Nazi party).
This is considered one of the greatest war movies ever made and one of the most realistic. Director Wolfgang Petersen wanted to reflect how horrendous war truly is. He succeeded brilliantly.
This review comes from famed
Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert, April 4, 1997…


The interior dimensions of the German U-boat in Das Boot are 10 feet by 150 feet. The officers’ mess is so cramped that when a crew member wants to move from the front to the back, he asks “permission to pass,” and an officer stands up to let him squeeze by. War is hell. Being trapped in a disabled submarine is worse.
Das Boot is not about claustrophobia, however, because the crew members have come to terms with that. It is about the desperate, dangerous and exacting job of manning a submarine. In a way we can focus on that better because it is a German submarine. If it were an American sub, we would assume the film ends in victory, identify with the crew, and cheer them on. By making it a German boat, the filmmakers neatly remove the patriotic element and increase the suspense. We identify not with the mission, but with the job.
When Das Boot was first released in the United States, it ran 145 minutes and won huge audiences and no less than six Oscar nominations–unheard of for a foreign film. This 1997 release of Wolfgang Petersen’s director’s cut, is not a minor readjustment but a substantially longer film, running 210 minutes.
The film is like a documentary in its impact. Although we become familiar with several of the characters, it is not their story, really, but the story of a single U-boat mission, from beginning to end. There is a brief opening sequence in which the boat puts out to sea from a French base, and a refueling sequence near the end, but all the other scenes are shot inside the cramped sub, or on the bridge.
And it’s not shot in tidy setups, either; the cinematographer, Jost Vacano, hurtles his camera through the boat from one end to the other, plunging through cramped openings, hurdling obstacles on the deck, ducking under hammocks and swinging light fixtures. There are long sequences here–especially when the boat is sinking out of control–when we feel trapped in the same time and space as the desperate crew.
The boat’s captain (Jurgen Prochnow) is the rock the others depend on. Experienced, steady, he’s capable of shouting “I demand proper reports!” even as the boat seems to be breaking up. He is not a Nazi, and the movie makes that clear in an early scene where he ridicules Goering and other leaders for their “brilliant strategy.” For this mission (an assignment to torpedo Allied shipping in the North Atlantic), a journalist has been assigned to join the crew. Played by Herbert Groenemeyer, he probably represents Lothar-Gunther Buchheim, whose novel was based on these wartime events. The addition of this character is useful, because it gives the captain a reason to explain things that might otherwise go unsaid.
The centerpiece of the film is an attack on an Allied convoy; the U-boat torpedoes three ships. We share the experience of the hunt; they drift below the surface, waiting for the explosions that signal hits. And then they endure a long and thorough counterattack, during which destroyers criss-cross the area, dropping depth charges. The chase is conducted by sound, the crew whispering beneath the deadly hunters above.
Then comes the episode that was endlessly discussed when the film came out in 1981. Having finally outlasted the destroyers, the sub surfaces to administer a coup de grace–a final torpedo to a burning tanker. As the ship explodes, the captain is startled to see men leaping from its deck: “What are they doing still on board?” he shouts. “Why haven’t they been rescued?” Drowning sailors can clearly be seen in the flames from the tanker. They swim toward the U-boat, their pitiful cries for help carrying clearly across the water. The captain orders his boat to reverse at half speed, to keep it away from them. What does he think of having let the victims drown? He does not say. Only one sentence in the ship’s log (“assumed no men were on board”) gives a hint. It is against the instinct of every sailor to let another sailor drown in the sea. But in war, it is certainly not practical for a submarine to take prisoners. Somehow it is easier when the targets are seen through periscope sights, and the cries of victims cannot be heard.
That scene supplies another example of why it is effective that Das Boot is a German sub. One cannot easily imagine a Hollywood film in which American submariners are shown allowing drowning men to die. The German filmmakers regard their subject dispassionately; it is a record of the way things were.
Wolfgang Petersen’s direction is an exercise in pure craftsmanship. The film is constructed mostly out of closeups and cramped two- and three-shots. All of the light sources are made to seem visible (when the lights fail, flashlight beams dance in the darkness). Long, involved shots are constructed with meticulous detail; when a sailor races toward the torpedo room, the reactions from the other men seem exactly right.
The sound adds another dimension. During the destroyer attacks, the boat rocks with explosions and reverberates with desperate cries and commands. During the cat-and-mouse chases, we can hear the sonar pings bouncing off the U-boat’s hull. When the boat dives below its rated depth, rivets come loose like rifle bullets. When it appears the boat may be trapped at the bottom of the Straits of Gibraltar, the sailors lie on their hammocks, gasping oxygen like dying men.
Francois Truffaut
said it is impossible to make an anti-war film, because films tend to make war look exciting. In general, Truffaut was right. But his theory doesn’t extend to Das Boot.


Roger Ebert


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Bill Flanagan – “Interview with Bob Dylan – Part 2” (2009)

April 7, 2009 at 9:57 am (Bob Dylan, Music, Reviews & Articles)

More of Bill Flanagan’s recent interview with Bob Dylan, whose new album, Together Through Life, will be released this month…


A lot of violence in these tunes – you advise anyone going to Houston to keep their gun belts tight, someone’s packing a Saturday Night Special in JOLENE, there’s a cold blooded killer stalking the town in IT’S ALL GOOD and the woman in MY WIFE’S HOME TOWN is going to make the singer kill someone. Does putting violence in a song up the ante?

How do you mean that?


Does it make the song riskier?

Well no. The main point is to acknowledge things without going off the deep end. I think whatever’s there is justified. You choose these things carefully.


You’ve been working in a lot of different areas lately. Your book was a best-seller, you acted in a movie, “Theme Time Radio Hour” is very popular and you had an exhibit of your art work. Does working in other media feed back into the music?

I think if it happens it might happen the other way around.


Did Chronicles work like that?

Well sure, Chronicles has its own rhythm. And I guess that would come out of playing songs. 


How about your art work?

That’s completely out of the blue. I’ve always drawn and painted, but up until recently, nobody’s taken an interest. There’s never been any support for it.


And now?

Well, I’ve had a museum exhibit, I have an association with a London gallery, and there’ll probably be another exhibition of new works in another European museum in 2010. Now I’m scrambling to keep up. I’ve been commissioned to do paintings and they want me to work with iron and lead.


How do you find subject matter?

I just draw what’s interesting to me, and then I paint it. Rows of houses, orchard acres, lines of tree trunks, could be anything. I can take a bowl of fruit and turn it into a life and death drama. Women are power figures, so I depict them that way. I can find people to paint in mobile home communities. I could paint bourgeois people too. I’m not trying to make social comment or fulfill somebody’s vision and I can find subject matter anywhere. I guess in some way that comes out of the folk world that I came up in.


Say you wake up in a hotel room in Wichita and look out the window. A little girl is walking along the train tracks dragging a big statue of Buddha in a wooden wagon with a three-legged dog following behind. Do you reach for your guitar or your drawing pad?

Oh wow. It would depend on a lot of things. The environment mostly; like what kind of day is it. Is it a cloudless blue-gray sky or does it look like rain? A little girl dragging a wagon with a statue in it? I’d probably put that in last. The three-legged dog – what type? A spaniel, a bulldog, a retriever? That would make a difference. I’d have to think about that. Depends what angle I’m seeing it all from. Second floor, third floor, eighth floor. I don’t know. Maybe I’d want to go down there. The train tracks too. I’d have to find a way to connect it all up. I guess I would be thinking about if this was an omen or a harbinger of something.


If a young man considering a career in the arts wanted to meet a lot of women, would he be better off learning to paint or to play guitar?

Probably neither. If he had women on his mind, he might think about becoming a lawyer or a doctor.



Yeah, seriously. Maybe a private detective, but that would be the wrong motivation for any career.


In IF YOU EVER GO TO HOUSTON the character sends messages to three sisters in Dallas; two get off with a friendly greeting but then the other is warned to “Pray the Sinner’s Prayer.” What’s the Sinner’s Prayer?

That’s the one that begins with “Father forgive me for I have sinned.”


The guy in IF YOU EVER GO TO HOUSTON mentions he was in Houston during the Mexican War. A lot of people think the Anglos treated the Spanish badly in Texas, but miss the fact that the Spanish had claimed Texas for Mexico without ever populating it. They just drew a big line on the map and said, “All this is ours.” The people who actually lived there were either Anglo settlers or Indians, and none of them wanted anything to do with Spain or its Mexican colony. Do you think Sam Houston has gotten a bum rap?

I don’t know. I never heard that he had gotten a bum rap. Are we talking about Sam Houston the statesman, soldier and politician? Sam Houston was the governor of two states, both Texas and Tennessee. Who else has ever done that! What was he supposed to have gotten a bum rap for?


Well, he chopped off Texas from Mexico.

No he didn’t. He chopped it off from Spain. Just like somebody else chopped off Florida from Spain. Where does the bum rap come in?


Somebody insulted him in the movie GIANT, which got Rock Hudson all worked up. And I think Steve Earle might have taken a shot at him – or maybe it was Colonel Travis.

GIANT’S all about money. That’s where Jimmy Dean says to Rock Hudson, “I’ll have more money than you and all the rest of you stinkin’ sons of Benedict.” I thought it was that which got Rock so worked up. Steve Earle, he may know something I don’t know. As for Travis, he was a lawyer and died at the Alamo. It could have been something personal.


The instrumental sections on your albums have a different quality than the usual rock instrumental sections. For instance, on an Aerosmith record, at least part of it is about Joe Perry’s solo. While there’s wonderful playing on BEYOND HERE LIES NOTHING, we don’t hear the usual guitar soloing technique. Is there a special way you approach the instrumental sections on a record?

What can I say, if I had Joe Perry with me everything would obviously be different. As it is though, he wasn’t there. Soloing is not a big part of my records anyway. Nobody buys them to hear solos. What I try to do is to make sure that the instrumental sections are dynamic and are extensions of the overall feeling of the song.


Who’s that playing with you here?

Mike Campbell.


You have a history with Mike?

Yeah, I do. He played with me a lot when I played with Tom Petty.


I saw some of those shows. I particularly liked the segment during the show when it was just you and Mike and Benmont and no bass or drums.

Yeah. We worked out a few things. I would’ve always liked to have seen that develop more, but it didn’t.


How is he to work with?

He’s good with me. He’s been playing with Tom for so long that he hears everything from a songwriter’s point of view and he can play most any style.


A lot of accordion on this record – in places where we might expect to hear harmonica or organ or lead guitar.

Yeah, I guess so. The accordion can sound like all those instruments. Actually, I wished I had used it more on some of my past records.


Who’s playing that?

David Hidalgo.


Have you guys ever played together before.

I think so. Los Lobos played some shows with me in Mexico a while back. I remember playing some things with David and Cesar then.


Is there a chance you’ll add an accordion on stage?

Well sure, if I could fit it into my rhythm section.


Did you write any of these songs with the accordion in mind or did it come up during the sessions?

I use an accordion player when I play off-road shows. It’s a perfect instrument in a lot of ways. It’s orchestrative and percussive at the same time. Actually accordion players were the first musicians that I had seen a lot of growing up.


“Opened his eyes to the tune of the accordion.”



Tell me about Joey Gallo.

Tell you what about him?


You wrote a song about him. Some say it takes liberty with the truth.

Really? I wouldn’t know. Jacques Levy wrote the words. Jacques had a theatrical mind and he wrote a lot of plays. So the song might have been theater of the mind. I just sang it. Some say Davy Crockett takes a lot of liberties with the truth and Billy the Kid too – FDR in Trinidad. Have you ever heard that?


I certainly do remember it. “When Roosevelt came to the land of the hummingbird.” I wonder if anybody in Georgia or Ukraine wrote a song about George Bush’s visit? I know they named the airport road after him and his popularity in those places remained very high, even when no one liked him at home.

They name roads after a lot of people.


In MY WIFE’S HOME TOWN there’s the line, “Dreams never did work for me anyway.” Do you really believe that?

Well, yeah. Dreams can lead us up a blind alley. Everybody has dreams. We go to sleep and we dream. I’ve always thought of them as coming out of the subconscious. I guess you can interpret them. Dreams can tell us a lot about ourselves, if we can remember them. We can see what’s coming around the corner sometimes without actually going to the corner.


Can’t dreams also mean hopes about the future?

Oh sure. It’s about how we use the word, I guess. Hopes for the future? I’ve always connected them up with fears about the future. Hopes and fears go together like a comedy team. But I know what you are talking about. Like in the Everly Brothers song, ALL I HAVE TO DO IS DREAM. If they said, “All I have to do is hope,” it wouldn’t be saying the same thing. It wouldn’t be as strong.


What about political dreams?

Oh yeah. Politicians would have political dreams – dreams and ambitions. Maybe we are talking about two different things.


What’s your take on politics?

Politics is entertainment. It’s a sport. It’s for the well groomed and well heeled. The impeccably dressed. Party animals. Politicians are interchangeable.


Don’t you believe in the democratic process?

Yeah, but what’s that got to do with politics? Politics creates more problems than it solves. It can be counter-productive. The real power is in the hands of small groups of people and I don’t think they have titles.


To be continued in part 3 …….. 


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