Michael Cimino (YGtCTO #189)

The Deer Hunter

Film written by Michael Cimino, Deric Washburn, Louis Garfinkle and Quinn K. Redeker; directed by Michael Cimino

After enough years have accumulated, we can look back and recognize moments when shocking experiences dragged us forward on that unstoppable march to adulthood. As a child, if the weather was inclement, I could be found on the floor in front of the television reading the newspaper comics while the national news played in the background. As more and more understanding accrued, I paid more and more attention to Mr. Cronkite.

I missed most, but not all the Vietnam War images. One night, Cronkite warned that they were about to broadcast footage that may upset some viewers. Naturally, I was riveted as they showed an assassination in an airport. I could be muddled about the details though there was the sensation of vulnerability. Not much later, I sat on a floor among adults and watched while Richard Nixon resigned the presidency.

All those events were real. (Granted, The Godfather has an airport assassination, but I don’t think that was it… .) As much as anything, they signal a confrontation with the wider world- the notice by the young individual that things occur beyond their field of vision that may be worthy of notice.

It’s interesting (to me, anyway) to consider that those without access to widespread communication may never have had that same experience. Perhaps this is why so many “first contact” memoirs tend to infantalize the contactees. The perspectives of the two parties are so much in conflict that the only overlap can be found in a common immaturity. On the other hand, children everywhere must go through that process of recognizing experiences that they will never share, but which they must still understand after a fashion. The failure to do so leaves wide the door for prejudice and conflict.

Art can provide

another entry into understanding. One of the jobs of youth is to push themselves to try things that they are not quite prepared for. In our culture, that sometimes seems to be watching movies that ask a bit too much.

Michael Cimino

My brother and his future wife were my usual marks for pestering about movies that I would not see otherwise. I don’t think they were quite prepared to have me along for The Deer Hunter, but you rolls the dice and you takes your chances. I’m pretty sure that the original movie poster did not portray the Russian Roulette game for which the movie is often remembered.

I also remember the portrayal of young men who lived near me, only a few years older, who went to war. Suddenly, it seemed real. Those were real people on the other end of the gun. The amount of gore and muck seemed overwhelming. Pain happened to a degree that I heretofore had not imagined.

And it changed people. War made you different. Sure, John Wayne had said that war was Hell, but then he charged into a hail of bullets and emerged a hero. I don’t blame Wayne or any of the other artists involved in making films that glorified war- they, too, struggled to find a grammar to express their feelings. Their art told us an answer, but it took Michael Cimino to show us the question.

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 111 more to go.

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