Jewish World Review Sept. 7, 2001 /18 Elul, 5761

Stanley Crouch

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Consumer Reports

HBO's now big
shaper of culture -- THE Council on Foreign Relations and Home Box Office hold a screening tonight of one episode of "Band of Brothers," the 10-part miniseries produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, and then the world at large will get to start watching on Sunday night. Stephen Ambrose, author of the book on which the miniseries is based and consultant to Spielberg on "Saving Private Ryan," will be at tonight's screening.

This event illustrates why HBO is arguably the single most remarkable entity in the popular entertainment of our time. Here you have a cable station bringing together the Council on Foreign Relations, a highly respected historian, one of the world's most popular actors and the director whose pictures, no matter what else has been said about them, have grossed more than those of anyone else in cinema history.

The $120 million miniseries focuses on an American unit in World War II, a conflict so heavy in its meaning about the future of civilization that even the right and the left agreed that Adolf Hitler and the Nazis had to go.

Those critical of the miniseries take the position that the audience is not told enough about the Nazis because Spielberg is not hopped up about German soldiers, whom he sees as equal warriors on the other side. Only Nazis working in the concentration camps bother Spielberg. That means that the Nazis are given the "we understand" treatment that American Indians now get.

Still, "Band of Brothers" fits within the HBO constellation of extraordinary productions that keep raising the adult expectations of viewers. Among the credits are such things as "The Corner," "Oz," "The Sopranos" and "Sex and the City," each of which has gone beyond anything possible on network television.

Yes, HBO observes the dictates of business and runs just as many late-night skin flicks and vulgarly revealing sex documentaries as the next pay station. But in the arena of astonishing quality, it stands alone. That mix of top to bottom makes it pure Americana: high-minded and mercantile.

As for "Band of Brothers," if nothing else, the viewer learns just how close the medium of the film can take us to combat. The content is strengthened both by attention to detail and a willingness to show horror as the price soldiers pay for victory - especially when the enemy is ready to fight as though there is no other point to living.

We learn that, in 1944 a company of Americans had the hard, dangerous job of getting to Hitler's mountain palace, known as the Eagle's Nest. They were parachuted in, and few of the unit made their destination.

They fought for as noble a cause as ever in history, but learned the impersonal lessons that war teaches - blood, gore and little glory. If you watch, you'll learn, too.

JWR contributor and cultural icon Stanley Crouch is a columnist for The New York Daily News. He is the author of, among others, The All-American Skin Game, Or, the Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994,       Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives, and Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing. Send your comments by clicking here.


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© 2001, NY Daily News