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War seen through the eyes of poets

April 15, 2005|Kevin Crust | Times Staff Writer

Far from a liberal screed, the documentary "Voices in Wartime" is a thoughtful, provocative exploration of the ways poets have dealt with the experience of battle throughout history. The words of Homer, Emily Dickinson, Wilfred Owen and Langston Hughes as well as a scribe from ancient Babylonia and contemporary writers are read with eloquence against a backdrop of disturbing images from actual combat footage and from fiction films, to produce a searing chronicle of the effects of armed conflict on humanity.

The film juxtaposes the historical record with the effort of a group of poets to oppose the invasion of Iraq. In early 2003, with the war just weeks away, more than 50 writers, led by Sam Hamill and Emily Warn, felt disinclined to participate in a symposium organized by Laura Bush on "Poetry and the American Voice," and organized to register their resistance. They felt it hypocritical to celebrate writers such as Dickinson and Hughes with an administration that was on the verge of staging what they viewed as an unnecessary war.

Though there is an inherent antiwar message -- it seems impossible to deal realistically with the subject and feel otherwise -- the film steadfastly focuses on the effects of war and the idea that no one escapes it unchanged. Among the scholars and artists interviewed are current and former soldiers, including Lt. Gen. William J. Lennox Jr., the superintendent at West Point, whose doctoral dissertation at Princeton was on American war poets.

Released to coincide with National Poetry Month and the second anniversary of the war with Iraq, the articulate film is backed by the Voices in Wartime Network, a worldwide effort to communally respond to the traumas of war. Director Rick King collects insightful interviews and affecting visuals, while uniting personal stories and universal themes, to create a documentary that inspires its own level of shock and awe.

-- Kevin Crust

"Voices in Wartime," unrated. Some gruesome war images. Running time: 1 hour, 14 minutes. Exclusively at Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500.


Men will be boys at the 'Derby'

The aimed-at-kids comedy "Down and Derby" stars Greg Germann as one among a cul-de-sac of suburban dads who elbow aside their young sons to replay their own childhoods. Driven to win the local Pinewood Derby, a competition in which Cub Scouts craft 5-ounce racing cars from a block of wood, the grown-ups become obsessed with designing and building the ultimate car to settle a decades-long feud with a neighbor.

Written and directed by Eric Hendershot, a veteran of family films for the home video market, the cartoonish movie might have made for a funny half-hour short or sitcom pilot but runs out of track well before its conclusion.

Ten-year-olds will be amused by its wealth of sight gags and pre-adolescent fixation with breasts, but most adults will find themselves checking their watches.

-- K.C.

"Down and Derby," rated PG for some crude humor, sensuality and brief mild language. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. In selected theaters.

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