This has been quite the anniversary weekend. First off, on Friday was the 30th Anniversary of STAR WARS, making all of us who were alive and remember its release feel old. On top of that is the ironic fact that this very weekend, I connected with friends via Facebook with whom I went to elementary school, and remember talking about the release of Star Wars at school with them 30 years ago – although I wasn’t allowed to see them until I got a little older, starting with Jedi (thank goodness for re-releases).
It is interesting to note just how timeless that film truly is. Yes, the prequels have taken some of the sheen off the Star Wars/Lucas juggernaut, and yes, one day Star Wars junkies, you too will look silly in those Stormtrooper outfits like the Trekkies now do in their Vulcan ears and Klingon costumes (full disclosure that I am indeed a Star Trek fan and a Star Wars fan – although, please, do not even THINK of calling me a Trekkie – and I never dress up). Even now I can still watch STAR WARS or THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK anytime, and still get the full enjoyment of it as I did when they were first released.
Another major milestone came on Saturday, May 26th with the 100th anniversary of John Wayne’s birth. And how ironic is it that this anniversary just happens to land on Memorial Day weekend, a weekend where the nation reflects on those who died for freedom, democracy and the American Way of Life and John Wayne is a figure who best exemplified those qualities and also tarred in numerous war films (most of which were aired on either TCM or AMC this weekend). I happened to celebrate the Duke’s birthday with a viewing of the John Ford 1939 classic STAGECOACH, the movie that made the Duke a star, and with it being Memorial Day weekend and all, I had to pop in the 1949 SANDS OF IWO JIMA, which I of course followed up with Clint Eastwood’s FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS newly released in a 2 disc special edition (and a 5 disc gift pack with LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA) last Tuesday.
The Duke so exemplifies America, that you can’t even think of the USA without him. America = Mickey Mouse, The Yankees, John Wayne and of course Apple Pie. He had the look, the attitude, and was so perfectly cast as the Cowboy or War Hero that frankly I think if the Army had sent him charging into Tokyo or Berlin, the Japanese and Germans upon sighting the Duke would have surrendered immediately. Clint Eastwood has the same effect, and really is John Wayne for modern age. He was a hero, but also played the anti-hero, a man whose loyalty came with a price, and his background was suspect, hinting at a shady past – perfect for the turbulent and pessimistic 60s and 70s. Remember after 9/11 the big telethon with every celebrity imaginable making a plea for funds, and Clint finishes it up looking mad as hell and talking tough? If I were Al Queada (and thank God I’m NOT) I’d be terrified thinking….OMG, we just made Clint Eastwood angry. I wonder if Wayne had been around in ’92 if Clint would have cast him in UNFORGIVEN, although Wayne voiced considerable protest to Clint over the revisionist western, specifically HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (he must have hated THE WILD BUNCH). Remember too that Wayne made the only Pro-Vietnam war film there is, THE GREEN BERETS. I still would have killed to see that pairing.
So however you spent your Memorial Day weekend, whether it was in the wild west or the pacific theatre with John Wayne, or in a galaxy far, far away -- let me tell ya pilgrim, May the Force be With You!