Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Him
I enjoyed reading Sean Rowe's article "Gimme Subterranean Shelter," (September 26) but I must clarify one or two things. My wife, three cats, and I lived in the bomb shelter on Hibiscus Street from April 1993 to June 1994, and the underground palace was everything Mr. Ivory speaks of and then some.
During those months we did have our share of Jehovah's Witnesses at our door, not to mention lost pizza-delivery people and confused postal workers. On several occasions homeless people would come to the front (or only?) door and ask if we needed yard work done, and several times we were astonished to see neighborhood dogs swimming in the pond that surrounds the shelter.
With regard to the serenity and solitude of the structure, this is true, but because of such security, we were unable to hear someone breaking into our car parked in the driveway.
To me the most interesting feature of the bomb shelter was the spiral staircase leading downstairs, but after my wife severely sprained her ankle, we began to have our doubts. Eventually both my wife and I grew weary of subterranean living and longed to gaze out windows that were aboveground. Thus our time at the bomb shelter ended, but our fondness for Coconut Grove remained, allowing us to move up and out, to a home that was not fourteen feet beneath the Earth's surface.
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Anthony on Vukovar: "Stunning! Breathtaking! The Pinnacle of Cinematic Achievement! I Laughed Out Loud!
Recently I went to see Vukovar at the Bill Cosford Cinema ("Romeo and Juliet Among the Ruins," August 22), primarily on the recommendation of Todd Anthony's article, which was quoted on their answering machine. They mentioned that Anthony thought it was the greatest antiwar film ever made, or something akin to that. Additionally, the word "shattering" was mentioned, though I don't know if this was Anthony's word or not. I have been unable to find a copy of the full review, though I would be interested in reading it, as I have been interested in many of Anthony's amusing pieces.
I am writing now not to dispute taste, but to ask if Anthony has ever seen films like All Quiet on the Western Front, Westfront 1918, The Ascent, Come and See, Paths of Glory, or Ivan's Childhood. I cannot know what he has seen, though I assume he speaks with some authority when making his claim, a comment that made me jump to see the film.
However, I have to wonder why this film ranks as a great war film (or anti-) against these others. It seemed to have been filmed in pale panderama, as it was muddled, cliched, and thoroughly usual. All the production elements were present, but not the writing, which seemed uninspired in an "Oh, what a pity war is" fashion. An imaginary conversation with the director would have ended with, "Tell us something we don't already know."
If Anthony has not seen Come and See especially, I recommend it, as it puts Vukovar out of the running even for "very good." Superlatives seem not to the point of whether the film is good or not or how it fits into or expands the tradition, but rather exist only to be excerpted as a form of advertising. This is quite frustrating, as time is the gold of the moment.
I surely welcome any response, though I am sure Anthony's schedule is more hectic than mine. His task of wading through film detritus is not an enviable one.
Todd Anthony replies: The Cosford Cinema's answering-machine tape notwithstanding, what I wrote was, "When contrasted with the dreamy, idyllic re-creation of pre-war Vukovar that opens the film, the closing spectacle of row upon row of roofless, bombed-out, burned-down buildings and heaps of scattered debris turns the stomach and boggles the mind. It's as powerful and haunting a motion picture image as I've ever witnessed; the shot virtually screams the question, 'How can this happen?'"
That scene is indeed superlative. The film isn't -- I certainly wouldn't rank it alongside All Quiet on the Western Front or Paths of Glory. Still, it is very, very good.
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