Tag Archives: Full Metal Jacket

Rocks In The Attic #737: Bing Crosby – ‘The Best Of Bing’ (1973)

rita#737What links the smooth-voiced Bing Crosby with Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket?

No, Bing didn’t ever do a tour of Vietnam (even though his comedy partner Bob Hope did). No, Bing didn’t ever struggle through basic training (it seems his talent kept him from the draft). And no, Bing wasn’t ever robbed by a prostitute in Saigon (although who knows about that one?).

No, the answer lies in a horrible moment in Full Metal Jacket where the unit beat the long-suffering Private Pile in the middle of the night with bars of soap wrapped in pillow-cases. I never really understood this, but it turns out that it’s an old trick – when you beat somebody with soap, or even oranges, in a pillow-case, it doesn’t leave marks. The science behind it is that the object used for the beating absorbs the impact before the skin does.

rita#737aAllegedly Bing Crosby used this trick to beat his kids – according to his estranged son, Gary, and if you believe it, a joke on Family Guy. Who knows? I’m just glad I’ve never been aware of the trick until now.

It’s a shame that Crosby was such a stern father – that fact at least was corroborated by his other children. His voice is so warm and friendly, it’s hard to imagine him being so strict. If we knew half the things that went on behind closed doors, we might have very different opinions of those we hold in such high regard. Allegedly, Oprah Winfrey hunts and eats cats in the local park.

Hit: White Christmas

Hidden Gem: Swinging On A Star

Rocks In The Attic #705: Abigail Mead – ‘Full Metal Jacket (O.S.T.)’ (1987)

RITA#705I watched Ken Burns’ excellent documentary series The Vietnam War recently. After being schooled by Hollywood on the conflict for so many years, it was refreshing to find out what really happened. And what a fucking mess. No wonder the United States is in such a bad state in the twenty-first century. There’s probably a straight line between the war and Donald Trump if you look hard enough. In fact, scratch that, you probably don’t even need to look.

Burns’ documentary is heavy-going at times, whether it’s watching the protesting monk committing suicide by self-immolation, the execution of a VC soldier live on TV, or ‘napalm girl’ and her family running away from friendly fire, you really need to watch something a bit lighter straight after. Something with Adam Sandler maybe.

I grew up in the 1980s, the decade which saw a glut of Vietnam films made for the MTV generation – Platoon, Hamburger Hill, Good Morning Vietnam, Born On The Fourth Of July, Casualties Of War – so it’s strange that Kubrick would visit such a popular genre. Oddly he didn’t direct a film between 1980’s The Shining and this, his only film which belongs firmly in that decade.

I’m not sure what Kubrick’s intentions are. Plenty of other films around the same time get across the ‘war is hell’ message loud and clear, and so Full Metal Jacket doesn’t feel as individual as the rest of his work. If anything, it’s the least Kubrickian of his post-1960 films.

Recently rewatching the film after seeing the Ken Burns documentary, one glaring take-out for me is that the US might have fared better in Vietnam if they hadn’t put so much time and effort into giving each other catchy nicknames (a trope excellently lampooned in Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump).

Music-wise, the choice of Abigail Mead as composer for the score lends the film an ominous gloom, but it’s the contemporary music that is best remembered. Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ opens the second act of the film, soundtracking an infamous scene with a Vietnamese prostitute bartering with two marines. I remember this playing as a comedic scene – a moment of levity – when the film was first released, but watching now, it’s hard to stomach. A number of racist epithets originated in that scene, and have since become ingrained in popular culture.

RITA#705aOn my way to work, I walk past an Asian fusion restaurant which proudly displays one of these phrases on the pavement outside their building. I like to hope that the owners are just trying to reclaim the saying, but it just feels wrong, and must look terrible to our many Asian residents and tourists.

The one mis-step on the soundtrack is the opening track – Full Metal Jacket (I Wanna Be Your Drill Instructor), credited to Abigail Mead and Nigel Goulding. A dated jaunt through Lee Ermey’s drill instructor rhymes, put to a hip hop beat, and accompanied by a Fairlight synthesiser, it’s truly as horrific as it sounds.

Hit: These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ – Nancy Sinatra

Hidden Gem: Hello Vietnam – Johnny Wright

Rocks In The Attic #691: Various Artists – ‘Barry Lyndon (O.S.T.)’ (1975)

RITA#691It happened purely by accident, but over the last five years I’ve become a huge fan of Stanley Kubrick.

I can’t remember the first Kubrick film I watched. An early fascination with both horror and sci-fi leads me to think it was either The Shining or 2001: A Space Odyssey. I would have seen both before I was a teenager, which might explain why every time I see a lift open I expect it to empty a river of blood into the lobby, or why I can spot a match cut from a mile away.

A subsequent interest in war films led me to Full Metal Jacket, his concession to the MTV generation, and a student friend showed me Dr. Strangelove at University. My favourite novel, Vladimir Nabakov’s Lolita, led me to Kubrick’s adaptation, and as soon as the director’s own censorship ban was lifted from A Clockwork Orange following his death in 1999, I hungrily ate it up, the last piece of the puzzle.

There was a problem though. I saw Eyes Wide Shut at the cinema in 1999, and it put me off Kubrick for a long time. What I initially saw as a huge turkey of a film was further supported by a half-hearted viewing of Barry Lyndon in my twenties. I missed the beginning, I was hungover, and I just wasn’t in the mood for an overlong period drama.

Thanks to the New Zealand International Film Festival, I’ve been able to see a number of Kubrick’s films on the huge screen at Auckland’s Civic theatre– first The Shining, and then a retrospective of the director, including Spartacus and 2001. A renewed interest led me back to Barry Lyndon – a masterpiece! – and a middle-of-the-night-on-an-aeroplane viewing of Jon Ronson’s documentary, Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes, prompted me to give Eyes Wide Shut another chance. It’s still a question mark, but an intriguing one which requires further viewing.

RITA#691a
The moment I was won over by Barry Lyndon was in one of the early scenes in which the titular character is almost seduced by his older cousin, Nora. The soundtrack to this encounter – The Chieftains’ Women Of Ireland – might just be one of the most bewitching pieces of music committed to celluloid. The scene skilfully portrays aching, forbidden love, something that was sadly missing from his toned-down adaptation of Lolita.

The one disappointing aspect of Kubrick’s work is that while his films are dense and rich fodder for cinephiles, there just aren’t too many of them (compared to a prolific director like Spielberg or Hitchcock). Five years between Barry Lyndon and The Shining. Another seven years to Full Metal Jacket, and then a whopping twelve years to Eyes Wide Shut (partly explained by the obsessiveness unearthed by the Jon Ronson documentary).

While he may have passed away almost twenty years ago, the director has still left a lot of clues lying around, if Rodney Ascher’s Room 237 documentary is anything to go by. Heard that conspiracy theory about Kubrick filming the moon landings? Prepare to believe it…

Hit: Sarabande (Main Title) – Georg Friedrich Handel

Hidden Gem: Women Of Ireland – The Chieftains