Once again, George Lucas has shown that he can see way over the horizon to the essence of a problem, and in this case, with his most recent film, he grapples with the spirit of America and what makes our country tick. The genius of this very, very good film titled Red Tails can be seen at the start of most NFL football games, like this one during a home game with the San Francisco 49er’s where the actual Tuskegee Airmen which Red Tails is all about, took center stage as Elijah Kelly sung the National Anthem. If you’ve ever wondered why moments like the one shown in this video gives you chills up your spine, the movie Red Tails will define it for you.
I loved the film Red Tails featuring the adventurous exploits of the Tuskegee Airmen for all the reasons that The Huffington Post and The Hollywood Reporter disliked it. You can read those reviews below for reference against the one I’m writing. Contrary to the three reviews below I love John Wayne films and I love “Old Hollywood.” And I love stories where the good guys know they are good guys, and the bad guys are purely evil. I also like my villains with scars on their faces so you can clearly see who they are and what they are up to. In real life it’s often more difficult to see who the enemies are, so in our movies, it’s fun to see them clearly. And I love stories where squeaky clean crusaders fight for justice against tyranny! For all those reasons I have looked forward to George Lucas’s epic story about the real life Tuskegee Airmen for over three years now and the last 6 months have left me very hungry for the meal that is Red Tails. On the day after my viewing, I feel filled the way only an exquisite meal can sooth and I can assure you that I will not forget it.
Red Tails review from The Huffington Post which complains the film is blatenly old fashioned.
Hollywood Reporter review complains that the characters are squeaky clean.
Slant Magazine: I really think this one is funny.
I would recommend that you stop reading this review right now and go see the movie. You can return here later, after you’ve seen it………….I’m serious, GO SEE THE MOVIE! NOW!
But in case you didn’t listen to me, let me continue—many critics of films like this are those who seek to tell stories that reflect their life philosophies, which reflect their broken family trees, the propaganda education they’ve received, and believe that every story about African-Americans must include broken down beings who overcome racism in the methods determined in the 60’s. While the racism story is a sub-plot in Red Tails, it’s not the focus of the story because it was not the focus of the original Airmen who collaborated closely with Lucas and the filmmakers to bring this story to life. It is not George Lucas’s issue that most of America has forgotten what kind of men made up this era of freedom fighters, and if the men of the period were not squeaky clean, they at least attempted to appear that way, because the films of the period created the mythology that society functioned under. When Lucas makes movies, he does so with the long view in mind, and that is certainly the case for this movie. My wife and I watched Red Tails late on opening night to a crowd that was a heavily black audience. There was a lot of laughing during the film, and there was a lot of crying. When the film ended I heard something I have not heard in over a decade at a films conclusion—people clapped and cheered. When the lights came up streaks of tears were running down people’s faces and a feeling of patriotism filled the very large theater. The movie ended with a very moving scene involving American patriotism similar to the Elijah Kelly National Anthem shown above. You would have to be brain-dead to not like the characters in Red Tails so the ending was particularly potent. Every character was very compelling and I felt I knew them well as the credits rolled. My wife and I sat until the last credit left the screen and as I stood up to leave, the theater was still packed with weeping women, men who stood with their shoulders squared almost wanting to salute the screen. And little children were glass eyed and looked eager to find an airplane. In the lobby there was a line at the movie poster where dads were standing with their children in front of the painting to get a picture as mothers snapped the proud poses. I cannot remember a time when I’ve seen so much enthusiasm upon leaving a movie and it was a wonderful feeling. Even the sleet falling outside didn’t sour the spirits. As I held the door open for a woman coming out behind me, tears still fresh on her face, she said—“bless you.” Thus, the magic of movies, where they can unite an audience toward a common theme and touch their hearts beyond any social conventions and provoke them to bring out the best in what stirs in the mind of each and every individual on planet earth, a love of freedom, and a yearning to overcome adversity.
Lucas and I both have in common a love of Joseph Campbell, in fact Lucas served on the board of directors of the Joseph Campbell Foundation for a number of years while I was also a member. I had the fortune of attending a special showing of the Star Wars Smithsonian Exhibit back in 1997 because of my affiliation with the Joseph Campbell Foundation, and I can report that I understand exactly what George Lucas was trying to achieve as a filmmaker in Red Tails, and I agree with him 100000000%. He knows the period of history between 1900 and 1970 better than most functioning historians and his knowledge of history is reflected accurately in Red Tails.
While watching Red Tails to be honest I did not think about black men and white men until the characters reminded me of racism during the film. Racism has long been destroyed in America and it was largely through events like what the Tuskegee Airmen performed in World War II that ended it. There was a gradual acceptance by whites of black culture as they enjoyed Jazz in the speakeasy of the prohibition, and the actual black soldiers who fought for the South in the Civil War and begun the process shown in Red Tails of respect for the men behind the color. Respect for the African-American was well on its way by natural causes. It was the looters of government who used the Civil Rights movement to grab power, create bloc voting groups, and push social programs in the 60’s and 70’s that distorted history, and ironically created the falsehoods in education that many of the current movie critics are functioning from.
It’s not that those men of the World War II period did not abuse their wives, or tie up their children into dog cages and torture them, or did not run around womanizing and getting drunk. The difference between the age of Red Tails and today is that the behavior is now accepted, so watching a film about characters who are either squeaky clean, or are trying to be squeaky clean is an accurate representation of the era, and Lucas clearly loves the period so much that he poured $100 million dollars of his own money into a modern mythmaking endeavor, so he’s going to tell the story he wants to tell, and for Lucas, a true historian, he’s going to not only capture the time period, but also the propaganda mood of the films he grew up loving as a child. So the supposed insult from many critics that Red Tails has all the bravado of a John Wayne picture is to me the highest compliment. In fact, the movie is so good that if you did not listen before and are still reading then I urge you to stop right now at your computer and head to the movie theater. Finish reading this review while you wait for the movie to start on your phone because when the lights dim, magic will happen right before your eyes.
The picture opens with my personal favorite plane, the P-40’s on an attack run, and that’s the way I like a movie, fast and furious! And Red Tails is fast, the action is dramatic. It’s a grand, epic film that if directed by someone else, and produced by anyone but Lucas, the film would be touted for an Academy Award in the year 2012. The acting reminded me of the film Chicago, which was critically acclaimed. The dialogue reflects the period. If people think its cardboard, they need to go back and watch more films from that period.
For those who think the characters are unrealistically squeaky clean then I would suggest a visit to the next air show that comes near the town you live in. Over the summer, my wife and I met some of these Tuskegee Airmen at The Dayton Air Show where they routinely attend these events. So it is possible to shake their hands, and speak with them. They’ll tell you stories from those days and history will unfold in front of you. Were they squeaky clean—no. But they tried to be, and that’s the clear difference between the age of the Tuskegee Airmen and the modern young person.
Lucas is offering in his film Red Tails not only some very good role models for young African-American boys ages 7 to 19 to learn about, but a film for all young people to enjoy that is a pleasant alternative to the apocalyptic visions of today’s filmmakers who try to attempt their own versions of Star Wars, but get lost in the special effects and forget about the heart of the story, the characters and their likeability. But Red Tails is not just for the young person, but the historian, the airplane enthusiasts, the avid museum goers who number in the millions, there is no better display of old vintage planes anywhere. To see so many P-40’s flying through the air, 109’s, 262’s, and P-51’s was a serious treat that brought an epic quality to this picture that I personally found overwhelming.
I enjoy the company of these old pilots and enjoy thoroughly the time period of early aviation, which is why the only jacket I wear is a period styled flight jacket. Although I enjoy modern flying, I can’t stand all the rules of the modern FFA. I do not take instruction well, so having a tower tell me when and where I can land does not sit well with me. In the film Red Tails my favorite character was Lightening. I live my life-like Lightening does, so I particularly found myself attracted to his character. Lightening if he lived in the modern age might have found himself paralleling my own life, constantly in trouble and always in a fight. I don’t like to be told what the flight ceiling I’m allowed to fly is when flying near a municipality, so the regulations are a turn-off to me. I prefer the early days of aviation before all the rules when adventurers took to the air at age 19 and were given expensive airplanes to go up and shoot down the enemy and expected to land in one piece, and they did. Most of those planes did not have good heating systems, so the cockpits were cold a few thousand feet off the deck, and the rough conditions made for tough men. The demons that rot the mind of modern males who have adventure robbed from them with too many regulations in our safety conscious society did not rot the mind of the fighter pilots in the largely unregulated early days of flight. And it shows. If you shake the hand of the modern Tuskegee Airman you’ll see a man look back at you, not a watered down human being lacking real experience. When a 19-year-old took to the air to face every fear imaginable, and conquered that fear, they became men of a higher caliber. And that swagger, that higher caliber is what is seen in this film.
To keep that ambition alive in my own life I ride motorcycles here in the modern age to stay sharp. The big pistons on my 1500 CC motorcycle remind me of the big engines in the old P-40’s and P-51’s. When I ride to work in the pouring rain and the snow I get noticeably perplexed gazes. In fact just the other day I was pulled over by a West Chester cop who was shocked that I was riding in a torrential rainstorm down the highway on my way to Congressman Boehner’s Office. I had to attempt to answer the question the cop had about why I was riding a motorcycle on such a terrible day. The young fellow thought he would be looking at a maniacal lunatic of some kind when I took off my winter gear and face mask to reveal a middle-aged suburbanite on his way to a congressman’s office. The cop thought he hit the mother load when he pulled me over, assuming that nobody would be crazy enough to ride in such harsh weather on a motorcycle but a criminal of some kind up to no good. I couldn’t tell the cop that I rode in the hard winter out of a desire to stay strong, to harden my resolve, to reach for a fraction of the adventure old fighter pilots used to feel in my daily commutes.
My eyesight has always been 20/10 which is better than normal and my physical attitude is such that when I was younger I could have easily passed the Navy or Air force examinations for admission, and my intelligence would have easily qualified me for being a pilot in the military. But I couldn’t stand the idea of being in the military for years before I could fly. I couldn’t stand a drill sergeant harassing me. I couldn’t take orders and acknowledge anyone as sir, so military life was an out for me. I would have been attracted to the military in the days of Red Tails, but not in the days of Top Gun. There is too much math, too many rules, and too many computers who come between the pilot and their craft as a modern fighter pilot. Each day when I get up I start-up my big motorcycle in the cold of the darkened mornings and listen to the big pistons roar to life in the massive V-Twin, I think of fighter pilots like the Tuskegee Airmen, The Flying Tigers and the Great Chuck Yeager. This morning I had to pull back into the garage because one of my hydraulic lifters was starving for oil with a very noticeable “Tick, Tick,” emerging from the engine. This required an engine flush since the oil was a bit dirty, the viscosity was thickened in the near zero temperatures, and the hydraulic lifters weren’t filling because they were clogged from the hard weather. To run the engine with such a clog could ruin the piston tolerances, so immediate action had to take place.
The old pilots of the P-51’s had similar concerns. They listened to their craft and responded between their mechanics and the desire to fly into combat by the sounds that came from their war machines. Pilots listened to the way their pistons sounded as exploded gas was pushed out and a fresh mixture was pulled in. The mess halls between flights where card games went on and camaraderie among those who pushed danger to the limit bonded pilots in a unique way that is lost to the modern latte drinker in Santa Monica which is why Lucas had to fund Red Tails on his own, the studios just don’t understand these kinds of things anymore, because bravery and valor have been driven from our society. If Lucas wanted to make a film about some young twenty something’s who bar hop around LA, the studios would scramble for his project. But some black pilots fighting Nazi’s over Europe and empowering themselves to rise above their station does not fit in with the modern perception of history, so the project sat on a shelf as studios had no idea how to make or sell such a picture to the public.
I do everything in my power to avoid these pretentious types, the leeches of bravery that have infected our society. I instead from the back of my motorcycle seek the bar and grill with the heavily tattooed bikers and the earrings draped from their ears and noses who frequent such places because there is honor among them, at least in the fashion of pushing danger and a love of piston engines. I have more in common with them than I do the well dressed executives at the Katsuya restaurant at Americana at the Brand in Hollywood. I sat at the bar eating my sushi there one night and had to listen to a very sheltered couple both dressed in pink designer shirts explain to me the fundamentals of economics in America. This man and his friend were nice enough, but were obviously lacking experience in their lives, which I felt sorry for them because they were the same age as I was. Both men had six figure incomes so life in L.A was easy enough for them. They could shop at the Americana, and work in the valley, and never leave. Their biggest trip was a daring adventure over the mountains into Las Vegas in a coming weekend. They were complaining that they couldn’t get a flight out of Burbank soon enough. I suggested they rent a couple of Harley’s and ride there on their own. They gave me the oddest look—such a thought was incomprehensible to them.
I can’t imagine such a sheltered existence. From my perspective I would never dream of flying from L.A. to Las Vegas. It’s just too close. You can almost see Vegas from over L.A. just a few thousand feet above the city. It’s not very far at all. And on the back of a motorcycle there’s a lot of adventure from one city to the other.
I’ve been on motorcycle trips where I’ve met riders at a McDonalds in some far-away land for a group ride, and I find I always enjoy the company, not because most of the riders are hardened men who could have led more productive lives, or smell like B.O. and lack dental hygiene. We share in common a love of freedom and a willingness to brave danger to have it. To me, it’s the closest experience to being a fighter pilot like the camaraderie seen in Red Tails that I’m likely to get in my lifetime. Piston driven motorcycles and piston driven airplanes are brothers from the same mother but different fathers, but are family none-the-less.
Red Tails is a fantastic film that is about everything that is good about Hollywood, and everything that Hollywood used to be, and is still hungered for by the ticket buying public. That is why despite the poor reviews from a generation of people who have lost touch with their history, the movie does what it is supposed to do, entertain, inspire, and leaves the viewer hungry to know more about the subject matter. Because of Red Tails the History Channel will cover the Tuskegee Airman and at air shows little children will seek the hand of the real Red Tails like celebrities, which they deserve. That is the magic of movies, to extend into the daily lives of the viewer long after the lights come up in the darkened theater, a feeling of hope and inspiration. Red Tails does all this and more, which makes it a successful film and one I will purchase on Blu-Ray when it comes out. And I’ll show it to my grandchildren before I take them to the Dayton Air Museum so they can see the real planes. Red Tails is about having a great time at the theater, then reaching for more in an experience that doesn’t just give back for the two hours you watch it, but will enrich your life for years as the name of a Tuskegee Fighter Pilot comes to your mind and evokes images of bravery and fortitude.
The idea of America and the film industry in general became one of the greatest exports of the United States because Hollywood used to make many movies like Red Tails. It is sad that such films are now a rarity, but thank goodness this one was made. George Lucas for many reasons that I’ll cover in a separate article has been under attack by the filmmaking establishment for years, and much of the anger toward Red Tails has nothing to do with the movie. Lucas is a visionary and that makes people angry. But Lucas is more than a visionary. He knows what society needs and he knows how to tell a story that stays with people in the deepest reaches of their minds. Red Tails is in many ways a movie about healing, not just in race relations, but in American spirit. It is an instant classic in my book and will prove to be a film that will be reflected on generations from now as a pivotal moment in Hollywood’s history that might just save it from itself.
If you’ve listened to me, then you are now sitting in the movie theater and the film is about to begin. So turn off your phone, buy some pop corn, and hang on tight. Let the Tuskegee Airmen take you on the ride of your life, and relish every frame of film shown on the screen, because what you are about to see is movie magic at it’s best, and captures the spirit of America in a bottle for all to enjoy for the price of a movie ticket. That’s why I’m going to post this, then go see it again!
In the title I thank George Lucas personally because I am grateful to his contributions of art to human civilization. I truly am. Without him, I wonder what would have become of the human race. As we speak millions and millions of young people are playing the latest Star Wars online game called The Old Republic, which is a valuable social myth maker in its own right. The impact Star Wars has had on so many lives is obvious. But other films like Willow, which is a personal favorite of my wife and I, and the great movie Tucker: The Man and His Dream taught me at a young age how quickly and precisely why men like Tucker and Howard Hughes were pushed aside and attacked for their innovations. Red Tails does for racism, bravery and American pride what thousands of films have failed to do, and is a skill uniquely suited to George Lucas who continues to bring quality to a society that seems hell-bent to destroy itself. The subtle message to Red Tails is that if the pilots had behaved nicely and not pushed politics the way they did, nobody today would know anything of the Tuskegee Airmen. They constantly pushed the limit of their orders and the law to arrive as heroes, especially Lightening. So George Lucas……..THANK YOU!
To learn more about this period see my article about the Flying Tigers here:
You can see my coverage of The Dayton Air Show here:
Also, if you want to meet some of the old bomber pilots and actually touch some of the old planes, you can see and speak with both at the Tri-State Warbird Museum in Clermont County, Ohio. It’s a wonderful place.
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