Sessue Hayakawa in The Bridge Over the River Kwai
I was looking for poems today by the poet Edmund Blunden, a British writer-soldier who survived World War I and suffered a lifetime of post-traumatic stress. Last night I watched The Bridge on the River Kwai
, the classic David Lean movie about World War II. I’ve noticed that many war movies, beginning from the beginning of war movies, often have a little scene of soldiers entertaining themselves with a makeshift floor show. If the film concerns the Brits, the floor show is always a group of Monty Python-esque crossdressers clowning it up.
This scene in River Kwai
is astonishing in the way it cuts the show with the actions of other soldiers, particularly in the intercutting of the intense, seemingly calm Japanese officer who prepares for life or death while the soldiers dance. This morning in reading an Edmund Blunden poem I found a similar use of cross-action between the show and the reality just beyond. Some World War I poems are brutal in how much is held back but conveyed in a few pointed lines:
Concert Party: Busseboom
The stage was set, the house was packed,
The famous troop began;
Our laughter thundered, act by act;
Time light as sunbeams ran.
Dance sprang and spun and neared and fled,
Jest chirped at gayest pitch,
Rhythm dazzled, action sped
Most comically rich.
With generals and lame privates both
Such charms worked wonders, till
The show was over lagging loth
We faced the sunset chill;
And standing on the sandy way,
With the cracked church peering past,
We heard another matinee,
We heard the maniac blast
Of barrage south by Saint Eloi,
And the red lights flaming there
Called madness: Come, my bonny boy,
And dance to the latest air.
To this new concert, white we stood;
Cold certainty held our breath;
While men in tunnels below Larch Wood
Were kicking men to death.