Tuesday, 22 January 2013

the mountains of the stars

 Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of eastern North Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River i
n what is now the modern country of Egypt. The civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh, and it developed over the next three millennia. Its history occurred in a series of stable Kingdoms, separated by periods of relative instability known as Intermediate Periods. Ancient Egypt reached its pinnacle during the New Kingdom, after which it entered a period of slow decline. Egypt was conquered by a succession of foreign powers in this late period, and the rule of the pharaohs officially ended in 31 BC when the earlyRoman Empire conquered Egypt and made it a province.
For most parts of its long history, ancient Egypt was unified under one government. The main military concern for the nation was to keep enemies out. The arid plains they wanted to get rid of and deserts surrounding Egypt were inhabited by nomadic tribes who occasionally tried to raid or settle in the fertile Nile river valley. Nevertheless the great expanses of the desert formed a barrier that protected the river valley and was almost impossible for massive armies to cross. The Egyptians built fortresses and outposts along the borders east and west of the Nile Delta, in the Eastern Desert, and in Nubia to the south. Small garrisons could prevent minor incursions, but if a large force was detected a message was sent for the main army corps. Most Egyptian cities lacked city walls and other defenses.
The history of ancient Egypt is divided into three kingdoms and two intermediate periods. During the three Kingdoms Egypt was unified under one government. During the Intermediate periods (the periods of time between Kingdoms) government control was in the hands of the various nomes (provinces within Egypt) and various foreigners. The geography of Egypt served to isolate the country and allowed it to thrive. This circumstance set the stage for many of Egypt's military conquests. They weakened their enemies by using small projectile weapons, like bows and arrows. They also had chariots which they used to charge at the enemy.

Sexuality in ancient Egypt was open, untainted by guilt. Sex was an important part of life - from birth to death and rebirth. Singles and married couples made love. The gods themselves were earthy enough to copulate. The Egyptians even believed in sex in the afterlife. Sex was not taboo. Even the Egyptian religion was filled with tales of adultery, incest, homosexuality and masturbation... with hints of necrophillia! Masculinity and femininity itself were strongly linked with the ability to conceive and bear children.

play dirty

“War is a criminal enterprise. I fight it with criminals.” That line. God dammit, I do love that line. It’s spoken by the great, great, great British character actor Nigel Green to the equally great Michael Caine discussing the ragtag platoon of killers and criminals he’s assembled for a suicide mission behind enemy lines (is there any other kind?) in Andre De Toth’s PLAY DIRTY.  Now of course, THE DIRTY DOZEN had the same idea behind it and came out one year earlier, but unlike the Aldrich classic, that’s not what PLAY DIRTY is really all about.  DIRTY DOZEN, an absolutely terrific movie in its own right, is about how these guys are all criminals and the mission they find themselves on is secondary to that, whereas PLAY DIRTY is about that mission and how the fighting men get fucked over by the officers above them. The entire essence of the movie is right there in that line. PLAY DIRTY is a movie that celebrates the solider but also questions the necessity of war and extends its finger at the powers that be. It’s one of the best WWII movies and one of the best anti-war movies, too. God damn, do I love this movie.
On paper, PLAY DIRTY doesn’t really sound all that exciting or original, and even during the first twenty minutes or so you’re not expecting it to pack the punch that it does.  mission is to destroy German fuel tanks in North Africa, just as Rommel is starting to retreat; that’s a pretty standard WW II movie plot. It’s once the mission gets underway that PLAY DIRTY reveals that its title is indeed quite apt. Turns out that Caine’s crew (which also includes a terrific Nigel Hawthorne) is, in fact, a decoy meant to be caught or killed, leading the way for a more established crew to actually complete the mission and take all the glory. But things don’t turn out the way they’re planned and the way that they don’t is pretty damn shocking, even to an audience today. Caine, chosen to head the mission only due to his experience with petrol, learns the hard way of the realities of war; men on both sides are killed for the slightest wrong move and no one is spared any indignity. Even routine moments of the squadron traveling are shown as being difficult and treacherous; tires have to constantly replaced due to the rocky North African terrain, mines can be buried anywhere in the desert, and the enemy can be found lurking anywhere. PLAY DIRTY is a true “War is Hell” made about a supposedly noble fight made at a time when war was proving itself unpopular and it’s not much of a surprise that it hits home even today.
But like almost all great war movies, there’s a level of excitement to it that cannot be avoided and with an expert action/suspense director like De Toth behind the camera (it’s his final completed film) you know for sure that’s going to happen. PLAY DIRTY’s most memorable sequence isn’t even a battle scene but rather a fantastically intense scene where they pull their trucks up a mountainside. Conceptually, it seems like a kind of standard WW II “behind enemy lines” scene and as it begins you think “What’s the point of this?”  But once it’s over you’ve invested so much in it that you know this is the moment when the film becomes something special and not just another WW II movie. It takes up about 10 minutes or so, but what you see is a beautifully handled exercise in suspense, which then becomes dramatically powerful as it continues on and it really makes the movie. From this moment on, PLAY DIRTY has you.
War movies don’t come as cynical as PLAY DIRTY. This is an angry film about war and it’s interesting that it came at a time when other similar films, such as Jack Cardiff’s DARK OF THE SUN, were also getting made. Just as GRAND ILLUSION was the film that noted that the “honorable” warfare of WW I was a thing of the past in a new world order, PLAY DIRTY announces better than any film of its time that the nobility of a war like WW II was a falsehood. Unlike many other anti-war films, it’s also a terrific action picture, one that knows that the best way to get a message across to an audience is to smuggle it in an entertaining package. I think it’s a subversive little masterpiece and it keeps growing as a personal favorite.
Dirty Dozen meet the Stiff Upper Lip. A British Petroleum executive (Michael Caine) is assigned to work with the British Army in North Africa handling port duties for incoming fuels. This gives him the official rank of Captain in the British Army. The Colonel (Nigel Green) in charge of the Dirty Dozen is told he must have a British officer accompany his men on a dangerous mission 400 miles behind the German lines and is saddled with the Petroleum executive, who tries to argue his way out by saying that his contract states he is to only work port duties. That argument is lost on the Brigade Commander (Harry Andrews) who simply points out that the executive is wearing a British uniform. The real leader of the Dirty Dozen (Nigel Davenport), a released prisoner himself, doesn't need or want the British officer, who's supposed to be in charge, but he's promised an extra 2,000 British Pounds if he gets him back alive. Disguised as Italians, their trek across Rommel's Africa includes meeting and battling many kinds of enemies and the plot twists at the end will keep your interest.