Born in Bronx, New York 1961. Successful teenage actor (in de Palma's Dressed to Kill (1980)) who turned to directing (theatre and TV) and filmmaking. First film as directore The Chocalate War (1988) an adaptation from a novel about nonconformity in an oppressive Catholic boading school. A Midnight Clear (1992) only his second film.
The German Ardennes Offensive in December 1944. Aim was to seize Antwerp (which failed) and to reach Meuse River (blocked by US troops encircled at Bastogne and which was relieved by Gen. Patton's troops the day after Christmas).
Gordon's screenplay adapted from William Wharton's autobiographical novel, A Midnight Clear .
William Wharton served in WW2 in US Army Specialized Training Program for sodliers with genius IQs. Wrote several novels based upon his war experience. Like Remarque and many other veterans writing was a form of therapy for war trauma:
The war was a traumatic experience for me. After the war I had a lot of nightmares. I would get up in the middle of the night and just write, handwrite, and then tear it up when morning came and flush it away. And that helped. (Liner notes of LD).
The disclaimer at the beginning of the novel: "The names in this wintry Christmas tale have been changed to protect the guilty...".
WW's description of his squad:
There are many peculiar things about our squad. I'll start with a few. First, we almost never call the Germans KRAUT or JERRY or HUN or NAZIS, any of the usual army names. At the most, they're "the enemy." Only Stan Shutzer, our professional Jew, calls them anything he wants. Father Paul Mundy gave him a special dispensation. Yes, we have a squad father, too; Mother Wilkins, Father Mundy. But that isn't the second squad's second peculiarity, it's only an accident.
Father Mundy invented our squad "no obscenity" rule. We want to make it clear that we are not actually part of this army. We're princely orphans left on the wrong doorstep, maybe bastards of the blood. It helps. This might well be one of Father's greatest coups. For a guy who acts so dumb sometimes, he can be shrewd. Mundy's twenty-six, a dropout - but not fallen - almost priest. He and Mother are the old men in the squad now, the rest of us are under twenty. (p. 7).
William Wharton, Birdy (1978) (Penguin, 1980).
William Wharton, Franky Furbo ()
William Wharton, A Midnight Clear (1982) (New York: Ballantine Books, 1989)
Advent and Christmas Carol by Edmund Hamilton Sears (1810-76) "It came upon the midnight clear" from The Psalms and Church Hymnary (Oxford University Press), Hymn no. 47, pp. 44-45.
- 1. It came upon the midnight clear,
- That glorious song of old,
- From angels bending near the earth
- To touch their harps of gold:-
- 'Peace on the earth, good will to men,
- From heaven's all-gracious King!'
- The world in solemn stillness lay
- To hear the angels sing.
- 3. But with the woes of sin and strife
- The world has suffered long;
- Beneath the angel strain have rolled
- Two thousand years of wrong;
- And man, at war with man, hears not
- The love song which they bring;
- O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
- And hear the angels sing.
Set in Ardennes forest near the French and German border in December 1944. An Intelligence and Reconnaissance platoon of young American soldiers which has been decimated (actually halved) in battle is led by 19 year old Will Knott (nickname "Won't"). They are stationed in an abandoned 17thC chateau in the forest to watch for German troop movements in an expected last ditch offensive. They encounter a German patrol (part of a group of young and old soldiers which has just returned from the Eastern Front) which attempts to make friendly contact with the Americans.
Originally planned to be filmed in Yugoslavia in 1989, a lack of snow necessitated a change of location to Park City, Utah where it conveniently snowed at the appropriate moments.
1. Religious/Christian references: the priest "Father"; statues (religious figures (headless saint holding his head in his hands), dead men as statues, snow man (Hitler)); washing the body and the feet of Christ; Christmas (Christmas tree, carols - "Oh Tannebaum", "Silent Night" (Stille Nacht), "O Come All Ye Faithful"); crosses; annointing the dead; the "mass" with Mundy's blood (p. 238) ( a communion in reverse?):
We turn Mundy over. When we press down on him, blood comes out of his mouth from his lungs. I soak some of it up on a pad from Wilkin's aid kit, the last one we have, and I use it to stipple red crosses on the helmets and on the sleeves of the snowsuits. The blood is thick, viscous, dark, but mixed with whitening it comes out red. I almost vomit twice in the process but convince myself Father wouldn't mind. Maybe we're violating the temple of the Holy Ghost but it's in a good cause, us. With the white circles and the blood, there's almost something of a mass going on, too.
2. Intelligence, Reason and Youth vs army organisation and destruction of war: Intelligence and Reconnaissance unit chosen by ambitious officer from recruits with highest IQs, shells have no respect for intelligence of soldiers, waste of war that so many are killed, regret that those (officers) who are incompetent and of limited intelligence will survive and inherit the post-war world. Myth of the "lost generation" as a result of WW1.
2. Swearing in the army - Fussell's Wartime. In order to be as unlike the US Army as possible, the platoon bans swearing.
3. "Old Europe": chateau, art works in attic, forest in winter, Catholicism. Mother's interest in the art stored in the attic of the chateau, art reminds him that "someone cares", says to Won't "remember who is the real enemy" (those who have no respect for reason, intelligence, art).
3. Reference to Sgt York - WW1 pacifist conscripted into the army, comes to see noble purpose of the war and becomes decorated hero. Made into a film in 1941 (starring Gary Cooper).
4. The novels the soldiers are reading at the time of the events described: Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms and EMR's All Quiet on the Western Front (p. 8).
5. The "live and let live" system - emerged on both
Western and Turkish fronts in WW1, frontline troops tried to minimize
casualties (not provoking other side, firing at set times each
day) and even fraternized with "enemy" (playing football).