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January 11, 1990 - Image 7

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1990-01-11

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The Michigan Doily

Thursday, January 11, 1990

Page 7

A hirsute Tom Cruise (right) stars, and even does a respectable job, as Vietnam vet and eventual anti-war
activist Ron Kovic in Born on the Fourth of July, Oliver Stone's followup to Platoon.Willem Dafoe puts in a brief
but memorable appearance.
Marine tells it to the world

by Gary Taylor
Weidenfeld and Nicolson, $29.95
Cultural historians tell us that
when Athens was at war with Sparta
in the fifth century B.C. the city's
generals countenanced, even financed
and attended, productions of plays by
Aristophanes in which they were
brutally mocked. The historians take
this for a demonstration of the won-
derful liberality of the first democ-
racy, but I have always worried that
the story had more to say about the
impotence of art.
So when Gary Taylor writes that
a history of Shakespeare is "really a
history of four centuries of our cul-
ture," I am doubtful. That Shake-
speare has fed and shaped English
like nothing except the King James
Bible, I acknowledge, but how has
he affected people's lives? For good
or bad? It's a question Taylor doesn't
ask enough or ever answer. In Ren-
venting Shakespeare he runs
through a list of crucial perfor-
mances and editions and attempts to
account for changing tastes along the
way; at the close, though, one is left
only with an impression of how
English speakers have fed and shaped
"The language of poetry," Taylor
quotes from the critic William Ha-
zlitt, "naturally falls in with the lan-
guage of power." Hazlitt meant that
poetry, like good rhetoric, is high-
sounding and memorable, and that
politicians profit by taking their cue
from poetry. A long view of the
treatment of Shakespeare through the
years shows the deeper truth of Ha-
zlitt's words.
What is remarkable about Shake-
speare is his hold on the top. Since
he was brought back to the stage
during the Restoration, Taylor
records, he has survived Protestant
prudery, Enlightenment emenda-

tions, Romantic hero-worship, Vic-
torian dissection, on down to the
present historicizing movement (of
which Taylor considers himself a
leader), with his reputation reaf-
firmed and enhanced at each turn.
Shakespeare has fallen in with every
crowd, or at least with every crowd
that has made its way to power.
Kings could point to Shakespeare
as authority for their sovereign right.
Edmund Burke thought he illustrated
the danger of defiance and used him
as a bulwark against the French
Revolution spreading to England. In
the time of the British raj in India,
Parliament decided to put Shake-
speare on civil service exams - he
became a prerequisite for administer-
ing imperialism. Today, superstar
literary theorist Terry Eagleton finds
it "difficult to read Shakespeare
without feeling that he was almost
certainly familiar with the writings
of Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud,
Wittgenstein and Derrida."
In a strange twist of Hamlet's ar-

gument that "the purpose of playing.
. . was and is to hold, as 'twere, the
mirror up to nature," successive ages
have held Shakespeare up as a flatter-
ing reflection of themselves. Shake-
speare is taught today b) thousands
of liberal arts professors who claim
he poses eternal questions and in-
duces edifying self-crit ism, yet the
record presented in :einventing
Shakespeare suggests that no one
has ever learned from Shakespeare,
only manhandled him. Surely the
plays are by now too encrusted with
centuries of dominant-culture values
to be read unbesmirched in the un-
dergraduate classroom.
Hamlet hoped "to show virtue her
own feature, scorn her own image,
and the very age and body of the
time his form and pressure" with the
play. Hamlet's lines, I believe, come
as close as anything to revealing
Shakespeare's aspirations for his
own art. Taylor's book shows how
he has been failed.
-Greg Rowe

Born on the Fourth
of July
dir. Oliver Stone
It's not just another Vietnam
magnum opus - after all, it was di-
rected and co-written by the tell-it-
like-it-is war vet Oliver Stone -
but Born on the Fourth of July
comes so close to being an outstand-
ing film and ultimately misses the
mark. It's a sequel of sorts to
Stone's Platoon, depicting the expe-
rience of a Marine coming home, de-
feated, from the front. He's using re-
ally powerful material: Ron Kovic's
autobiographical account, the story
of an eager, patriotic young man
who becomes an anti-war activist
after becoming paralyzed in battle
and returning to an often hostile
As the wheelchair-bound Kovic,
Tom Cruise is almost always on-
screen, trying very hard to ditch his
cute/vapid image. He succeeds for
+ the most part, a feat for which he

should be given a good amount of
credit - although the meaty, blood,
sweat, and tears nature of the role
surely gave him a lot to work with.
Subtlety is not his forte, although
Stone is fond of presenting him in
super close-up, video-ready shots.
Platoon alum Willem Dafoe puts in
a notable and scruffy turn as Charlie,
a drunken, paralyzed vet who sticks
around a veteran's resort in Mexico
because he refuses to deal with a
country that doesn't want him back.
There's a lot of powerful film-
making to be found here, but it is
often presented against a drippy
backdrop. Early on, the Kovic fam-
ily clusters around the TV, listening
to Kennedy's "what you can do for
your country" speech, when Kovic
mere tells little Ronnie that she had
a dream, that someday, he'll be
speaking to millions of people. Sure
enough, Ron does do this at the end
of the film, as a heckler at the '72
Republican convention and a guest
of honor for the Democrats in '76.
But do we really need a flashback to
the earlier scene, not to mention the
overwhelmingly surging John

Williams score? Moving, well-made
scenes keep getting bogged down by
such simplistically manipulative
Another crucial flaw lies in the
depiction of Kovic's transformation
from "love it or leave it" hawk to
peace crusader. It feels as if, faced
with the film's already two-and-a-
half-hour running time, Stone (or
scissor-happy Universal Pictures)
left something out. All that we actu-
ally get to know is that Kovic found
his killing of women, children and a
member of his squadron abhorrent;
the explanation of his change of sen-
timent doesn't get much more com-
plex than that.
Stone is excellent when it comes
to hard-hitting realism. The Vietnam
scenes play powerfully, thanks in
large part to frantic hand-held camer-
See BORN, page 9

Michigan Alumni work here:
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The New York Times
The Washington Post
The Detroit Free Press
The Detroit News
NBC Sports
Associated Press
United Press International
Scientific American
Sports Illustrated
Because they worked here:

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