Title: Soldier’s Girl
Release Date: 2003
Nationality and Language:
Running time: 110 Min
Distributor and Production Company:
Director; Writer: Frank Pierson, Ron Nyswaner,
Relevance to doaskdotell site: Gays in the military
When I was in the Army in 1969, my roommate at
A major studio theater release film about
“don’t ask, don’ tell” has yet to be made. It needs to be. I hope
that I will have something to do with that and I am
working towards that. Again, what strikes
me is that this issue—gays in the military—sits as the interface
point of so many other issues, ranging from national security,
freedom of speech, due process, equal protection, discrimination,
and the idea that freedom comes with obligations. This is so even
though the ban supposedly affects relatively few people numerically,
so it is not usually on a politician’s A-list. Yet, the ban can
affect people not in the military and people who are not gay. It can
affect anyone. This film shows that by presenting Barry
Winchell, the victim of the July 1999
brutal baseball bat murder in
At first glance, the script, as reported by critics, seemed more to relate to the story of transgendered Calpernia Addams and to play on the issue of a soldier falling in love with a transgendered person. Apparently this is pretty close to what really happened. Barry Winchell fell in love with Calpernia in a really psychologically polarized relationship. It plays on the screen as a heterosexual relationship. It seems that Winchell perceived his own sexuality as primarily heterosexual. Yet, the screenplay gets back to the problems of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” first with scenes between Justin Fisher and Barry Winchell where Winchell insists on keeping his “private life.” There is one scene where Fisher taunts Winchell near a public pay phone and Winchell cannot protests that he cannot keep any personal affairs private. There is dialogue that demonstrates unit cohesion, that military buddies bond and die for each other in such a way that privacy as a civilian knows it is impossible. Sam Nunn and Charles Moskos often argued this point in 1993, but I and many others disagreed. When I was in the Army, there was indeed more “privacy” stateside, but I was quartered with generally better educated men than those in this film.
The early scenes, where the soldiers visit the gay bar (The Vision) in Nashville (with the drag shows it somewhat resembles the Gay 90s in Minneapolis and probably draws a lot of straight couples and men) creates the impression of homosexuality as “masculine gay men” know it as attached to military “homosociality” on a continuum that is indeed often blurred. At times, Justin Fisher seems (to me) gay himself. Glover, on the other hand, comes across as not just psychotic (he should have never been enlisted) by also emotionally rather infantile and tragically unable to understand any subtlety in the social behavior of other men in his unit. Winchell will best him in a fight, and Fisher will tease him about being beaten by a “fag” and the “humor” will simply go over Glover’s head. But, of course, the military says, this is part of the problem with accepting open gays. It must deal with the least educated and opportuned young men in society in the ranks and accommodate them into the ranks.
There is one scene between the brass where the brass talk about Glover’s “rumor” that Winchell is “gay.” They cover the material well with little screen time. First they mention that the facts don’t warrant and investigation, but then slide into opportunism, that there might be a “homosexual” on base, when, in fact, homoeroticisim is always present in their environment.
The film is mostly linear in exposition, and manages to expand into covering trans-gendered issues and sexual reassignment surgery when presenting the Calpernia’s side of the story. The film layers the climatic murder scene with another of Calpernia’s performances, and then has her find out about Winchell’s demise on the radio. It covers a lot of territory in 100 minutes and educates the audience. I think, however, the film would be stronger if it were a theatrical release, and filmed in wide screen (anamorphic Panavision) to make the gay bar and club scenes even more real. A theatrical release would also draw more attention to the film and to the problems of “don’t ask don’t tell” (as well as the issues of trans-sexualism). One point that would need to be added, however, is that most gay relationships (including those with military members) involve two partners socially perceived as men, so the introduction of transsexualism, while historically correct for this story, may go off center for a public audience as to its perception of most gay relationships.
The Advocate has covered, in its review “Boys Do Cry” (by
The closing moments of the film summarize the military justice and
outcome, and sets up the story and controversy (over anti-gay
Showtime followed the
This film was a major hit at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival.
A Few Good Men
(Columbia, 1992, dir. Rob Reiner,
written by Araon
Sorkin) is a much larger film based on the event of
soldier’s—in this case Marines stationed at
This film was released in December 1992, about six weeks before President Clinton’s inauguration and his opening volley in the attempt to lift the ban on gays in the military. It was nominated for Best Picture.
The film is also controversial now because, of course, Gitmo has become the holding tank for suspected Al Qaeda terrorists arrested overseas and held as unlawful combatants. Yet, just a bit more than thirty years ago we had the Cuban Missile Crisis. The enemies have just changed. That is the moral tragedy of this film, for in a sense, Jessup (in his final speech) is right. Our freedoms depend on those who are willing to give their lives and live according to a “Code.” Sometimes sacrificing one life saves others (as in the Doolittle Raid of Pearl Harbor). But we also have an obligation to help those—even in uniform—who cannot always take care of themselves. Kaffee, as played by Tom Cruise, is indeed almost the perfect hero; he becomes adversarial and competitive and appropriately assertive only when he knows he is morally right.
As a screenwriting example (the “three part structure”), this film is also instructive. Kaffee is not in obvious trouble at the beginning of the film, although his reputation with his peers is controversial, yet maybe he doesn’t need them. When he finds the “truth” he will risk courts-martial himself (falsely accusing an officer) if he can’t prove his own finding. Of course, the two suspects are in obvious trouble from the beginning, but one identifies with them less. The final showdown is not preachy because Kaffee manipulates Jessup’s character weakness with so much charisma. Would a redneck officer really countenance his weakest subordinate being “sacrificed.” Maybe, and that is part of our whole problem of ethics today. Still, that is not preachy.
& Jagger (2003, Israel,
Strand Releasing, with Ohad
Knoller and Yehuda
Levi, written and directed by Eytan Fox,
71 min.), a hit at the Tribeca Film
Festival, provides look at sexuality (and not just homosexuality)
and unit cohesion in a patrol unit of the Israeli Army. Most of the
film takes place in winter at 8000 feet in the
The relatively little known DC area independent film Five Lines from Brainbox explores homophobia in the Army also; see the link below.
Eytan Fox has followed up this work with
the content-rich drama
Walk on Water
(2004, Samuel Goldwyn/Roadside Attractions/Lama/Israeli Film
Fund, 104 min, NR but rec. “R” based on male nude scene and very
mature subject matter). (Don’t confuse this with two other recent
films called “Walking on Water” – check imdb).
The film starts with a impressive
Eyal travels to
So here we have a film so richly plotted and woven with political and social issues. Underneath everything is the problem of reconciling the values of individualism with those of loyalty to family and blood, so necessary to raise kids and protect the elderly and infirm and yet the source of great tribal conflicts that to an individualist like Axel seem superfluous. A student of Filosofia could write an examination essay on how this film addresses that problem.
The film is also rich with on-location shots around
The Bubble (“Ha-Buah,” 2006, Strand Releasing, dir. Eytan Fox, 117 min, R) has an “affair of strangers” between a nice Jewish reserve soldier Noam and a Palestinian Ashraf, eventually leading to a tragic conclusion where Ashraf blows the two of them (including himself) up in a supposed honor suicide bombing, with no other people around (he wanders into a relatively empty street and beckons Noam to come outside from his deli shop). There is a tactless line about what gay suicide bombers expect in the hereafter. But the film really does explore the levels of moral issues. The title of the film refers to how people live their own lives in isolated corners away from a conflict. There are no body "preparations" as there were in Paradise Now, and the moral issues are much more personal and less religious. As in Eytan's other film work, gay characters are shown as fitting into the Israeli military with absolutely no problems. Blogger review is here. That review compares it to the HBO documentary "To Die in Jerusalem" (below) that involves a female suicide bomber.
This film has no connection to a similarly named film from HDNET (below).
Jerusalem Is Proud to Present ((“Yerushalaim geaa lehatzig,” 2007, Kesnet/Israel Channel 8, dir. Nitzan Gildady, in Hebrew and English with subtitles, 86 min, NR but would be R) traces the first major gay pride celebrations in Jerusalem in 2006, against vigorous religious opposition. Many political points get made, such as the fact that gay Palestinian men have been allowed by Israeli police to cross to visit the Shushan gay bar, which is now reported to be close. blogger discussion.
Related reviews: Any Mother’s Son, Serving in Silence History Channel video Coming Out Under Fire In the Heart of America Five Lines The Journey of Jared Price Paradise Now Bubble (HDNET) To Die in Jerusalem
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Email me at Jboushka@aol.com