Full…Metal..Jacket…

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Stanley Kubrick’s take on the Vietnam War follows smart-aleck Private Davis played by Matthew Modine whom is quickly christened “Joker” by his foul-mouthed drill sergeant R. Lee Ermey in the role of gunnery Sargent Hartman and pudgy Private Lawrence portrayed brilliantly by Vincent D’Onofrio nicknamed “Gomer Pyle,” as they endure the rigors of basic training.

Though Pyle takes a frightening detour, Joker graduates to the Marine Corps and is sent to Vietnam as a journalist, covering — and eventually participating in — the bloody Battle of Hué.

Kubrick had very specific inspirations for writing the screenplay.

He contacted Michael Herr, author of the Vietnam war memoir “Dispatches”, in the spring of 1980 to discuss working on a film about the holocaust, but he eventually discarded that in favour of a film about the Vietnam war.

They met in England, and the director told Herr that he wanted to do a war film but had yet to find a story to adapt. Kubrick discovered Gustav Hasford’s‘s novel “The Sort-Timers” while reading the Virginia Kirkus review. Herr received it in bound galleys and thought that it was a masterpiece.

In 1982, Kubrick read the novel twice, concluding that it was a unique and absolutely wonderful book, and decided, along with Herr, to adapt it for his next film.

According to Kubrick, he was drawn to the books dialogue, finding it almost poetic in it’s carved out, Stark quality.

In 1983, Kubrick began conducting research for the film, watching past footage and documentaries, reading Vietnamese newspapers on microfilm from the library of Congress, and studying hundreds of photographs from the era.

Initially, her was not interested in revisiting his Vietnam war experiences, and Kubrick spent three years persuading him to participate in what the author describes as a single phone call lasting three years, with interruptions.

In 1985, Kubrick contacted Hasford to work on the screenplay with him and Herr, and often talked to Hasford on the phone 3 to 4 times a week for hours at a time.

Kubrick had already written a detailed treatment. Kubrick and Herr got together at Kubrick‘s home every day, breaking down the treatment into scenes.

From that Herr wrote the first draft. The filmmaker worried that the books title might be miss-read by audiences as referring to people who only did half a days work and changed it to full metal jacket after discovering the phrase while going through a gun catalog.

After the first draft was completed, Kubrick phoned in his orders, and Hasford and Herr mailed their submissions to him. Kubrick read and edited them, and then the team repeated the process.

Neither Hasford nor Herr knew how much he had contributed to the screenplay, which led to a dispute over the final credits.

Hasford Recalled that they were like guys on an assembly line in a car factory. He was putting on a widget and Michael was putting on another widget and Kubrick was the only one who knew that this was going to end up being a car.

Herr said that the director was not interested in making an anti-war film, but that he wanted to show what war was like.

At some point, Kubrick wanted to meet Hasford in person, but Herr had advised him against this, describing the “Short-Timers” author as a scary man and believing he and Kubrick would not get along.

Nonetheless, Kubrick insisted, and they all met at Kubrick’s house in England for dinner. It did not go well, and Hasford did not meet with Kubrick again.

Kubrick shot the film in England, in Cambridgeshire, on the Norfolk broad’s, and at the former millennium Mills, Becton gasworks, Newham in East London and the isle of dogs.

A former Royal Air Force and then British army base, Bassingbourn Barracks doubled as the Parris Island Marine Boot Camp.

A British army rifle range near Barton, outside Cambridge, was used in the scene where Hartman congratulates private pile for his shooting skills.

Kubrick worked from still photographs of Hue, taken in 1968, and found an area owned by British gas that closely resembled that and was scheduled to be demolished. The disused Beckton gas Works, a few miles from central London, were filmed to represent Hue after attacks.

Kubrick had buildings blown up, and the films art director used a wrecking ball to knock specific holes in certain buildings over the course of two months.

Originally, Kubrick had a plastic replica jungle flown in from California, but once he looked at it he was reported to have said that he didn’t like it and to get rid of it.

The open country was filmed in the Cliffe marshes, and along the river Thames, supplemented with 200 imported Spanish palm trees and 100,000 plastic tropical plants from Hong Kong.

Kubrick acquired four M41 tanks from a Belgian army Colonel and Westland Wessex helicopters painted marine green to represent Marine Corps Sikorsky H 34 Choctaw helicopters.

Although the Wessex was a licensed derivative of the Sikorsky H-34, the Wessex substituted two gas turbine engines for the H-34’s radial piston engine. This resulted in a much longer and less rounded nose than that of the Vietnam era H-34.

Kubrick also obtained a selection of rifles, M79 grenade launchers, and M60 machine guns from a licensed weapons dealer.

To cast the roles in the film, Kubrick advertised a national casting search in the United States and Canada. The director used videotape to audition actors and received over 3000 submissions. His staff screened all the tapes, leaving 800 of them for Kubrick to review personally.

Former US Marine drill instructor Ermey, originally hired as a technical advisor, asked Kubrick if he could audition for the role of Hartman. Kubrick had seen Ermey’s portrayal of drill instructor staff Sergeant Loyce in “The boys in Company C” and told the marine that he was not vicious enough to play the character.

Ermey improvised insulting dialogue against a group of Royal Marines who were being considered for the part of background Marines, to demonstrate his ability to play the character, as well as to show how a drill instructor goes about breaking down the individuality of new recruits.

Ermey knew that The rehearsals would be videotaped. And with that in mind, he approached the wardrobe department, and requested a drill instructor uniform.

Upon reviewing the tapes of the sessions, Kubrick gave Ermey the role, realizing he was a genius for the part.

Kubrick also incorporated the 250 page transcript of Ermey’s rants into the script. Ermey’s experience as a drill instructor during the Vietnam era proved invaluable. Kubrick estimated that Ermey wrote 50% of his own dialogue, especially the insults.

While Ermey practised his lines in a rehearsal room, a production assistant would throw tennis balls and oranges at him. Ermey had to catch the ball and throw it back as quickly as possible, while at the same time saying his lines as fast as he could.

Any hesitation, slur, or missed line would necessitate starting over. 20 error free runs were required.

The original casting plan envisaged Anthony Michael Hall starring as private Joker. After eight months of negotiations, a deal between Kubrick and Hall fell through. Kubrick offered Bruce Willis the role but the actor had to turn it down because he was to start filming his own television series called Moonlighting.

The part eventually went to Matthew Modine who had just finished working on the film “Birdy”.

Vincent D’onofrio had heard of the auditions through Modine.

Using a rented video camera and dressed in army fatigues, D’Onofrio recorded his audition for the part of private Pyle in his backyard.

Despite Kubrick saying that Pyle was the hardest part to cast in the whole movie, he quickly responded to D’Onofrio, telling the actor he had won the part.

The film was released on June 17th 1987.

Initially, the film wasn’t very well received by critics and reviewer‘s. It Drew immediate comparisons to Platoon which was released the previous year.

Rotten Tomatoes summary states that Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket is intense, tightly constructed, and darkly comic at times.

It may not boast the most original themes, but it is exceedingly effective at communicating them.

A point of view that I might have is that the film can be viewed as a tale of a dysfunctional family. With a mother, a father and a son.

Or, as two short films with a recurring cast, with the first film being the training of the recruits, and the second film as they go off to war.

Personally, I actually see it as three short films, but maybe that’s a story for another day.

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So what are some of your thoughts on this film, I would love to hear them, don’t forget to drop them in the comments section down below.

This concludes today’s episode on Devil’s in the Details, I’m BD, and I’ll see you later.

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