Halfway through today’s film, I started feeling out of touch. The closure of theaters meant that the year after seeing the most mainstream releases of my life, I fell completely off. Today’s watching was one that filled in a personal blind spot, but the film felt every one of its 50 years. That is not to say I did not enjoy the film (keep reading to rind out), but rather it made me realize I want to slightly adjust my viewings. I am still going to be filling in my classic blind spots, but I am going to make sure that I am watching at least one wide release (or steaming equivalent) 2021 film a week.
M*A*S*H (1970, Dir. Robert Altman)
While I have a passing knowledge of the long running TV show that followed (I can likely count on one hand the number of full episodes I have seen), my knowledge of the Robert Altman film was only that it preceded the series and that is had different actors that the show. While I know that second point makes viewing the movie a difficult ask for many, thankfully my relative unfamiliarity with the material allows me to view the Korean War comedy with relatively uncompromised eyes.
I do not think I am shattering anyone’s mind when I say that M*A*S*H is a very funny film. That said, I found the film to exist in a sort of uncanny valley for humor. The humor is simultaneously unrelenting and underwhelming. This is due to constant subtle jokes despite the serious setting with only a few moments of pure absurdity. This tone was likely deliberately chosen by Altman to keep a constant thread of levity when dealing with the war elements as the film came out amid the Vietnam War. M*A*S*H exists to allow the viewing public of 1970 to experience war in an enjoyable manner contrasting with the footage on the nightly news. This relation is also why outside of the couple of scenes at Major Margaret O’Houlihan’s (Sally Kellerman) expense the film avoided pure farse. Altman did not want to insult the men fighting in the actual war.
The delicate balance that Altman maintained to create a seminal war comedy while the country was actively engaged in another war. While the elements in M*A*S*H maintain much of their comedy today, the different era makes Altman’s balancing act feel unnecessary in hindsight. While it does not detract from the film overall, it clearly dates the film.