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Born September 26, 1928 in New York City, Harold Becker made his fame through filmmaking. His works include movies, documentaries and even commercials, but his best works are his intense films which explore deep into human nature and depict the rough reality of life. Taps might not be his best known film, but it has Becker in it all the way to its core. It explores the life of a military high school that gets shut down when “the board” decides to sell the land to a condominium company. The kids have invested their entire lives into their school since youth, and though they might be young and naïve, they know their constitutional rights a little too well. All hell breaks loose when they seize the school and it’s armory in an effort to protest. Becker walks a fine line with Taps between far, and too far, as the boys defend their rights and beliefs.
One of Becker’s strengths is accurately depicting humans and using his knowledge of human psychology to lay the foundation of his films. Two examples of this are “the sexual intensity of Sea of Love and the political intrigue of City Hall” (Harold Becker Bio). The difference with Taps is only that he explores a different aspect of human behavior. He focuses on the difference between civilian and military lifestyles illustrating the pros and cons of each.
Taps was inspired by Devery Freeman's novel Father Sky . Freeman attended a military academy similar to the one created by Becker in Taps, which explains his motivation to write a novel about the misuse of guns. What's interesting about the making of this film is the undiscovered talent in the cast. Most obvious would be Tom Cruise , who first got noticed by critics when he appeared in Taps, his second film. Becker actually gave Cruise a more important role when he noticed his potential. Then there is Timothy Hutton , who was the youngest actor to win "Best Supporting Actor Oscar" in 1980, about a year before he starred in Taps
. Hutton's father was an actor as well which is interesting since his character in Taps is the son of a military father.Sean Penn , The third undiscovered star, started his career on broadway before he appeared in his first film Taps. However, It wasn't until later when he starred in Fast Times at Ridgemont High that he got his fame.
Becker had a difficult time finding a place to shoot the film. Most of the movie takes place inside Bunker Hill Academy and was filmed in an actual military academy called Valley Forge Military Academy . He chose this school for two different reasons. One was because other military academies didn’t have the walls he needed, but the other was because he was denied by a lot of other schools. More often than not, the school would read the script with its controversial gruesome ending and say no to Becker. In many ways Taps can be viewed negatively, putting a bad rep on military institutions like West Point, VMI, and Valley Forge. This wasn’t Becker’s goal, but he was denied many times while looking for a place to shoot Taps until he found Valley Forge.
Similarities to Lord of the FliesEdit
Roger Ebert, in his review of Taps, breifly compared it to Lord of the Flies saying both used a "realistic texture as a setting for a fantasy about human nature" (Ebert). Lord of the Flies, for example, starts off with a plane crash where only elementary age schoolboys survived unharmed and were stranded on an island. The chances of this scenario occuring are probably somwhere around zero. Likewise, the sticky situation in Taps also seems unrealistic since no other teachers are seen working other than General Bache, who kickly is removed from the action. Both stories focus on adolescence and human nature.
A society run by kids will obviously have many faults. A world completely adult free sounds fun at first, but chaos eventually wins in both stories. A common idea in both appears to be authoritariansm, which begins when leaders naturally take command. In Taps, this role is assumed by Cadet Brian Moreland who's already shown promising leadership potential with his recent promotion to leader of the corp.In Lord of the Flies, Ralph gets voted leader by the others and his friend Piggy becomes his right hand man. Like all leaders, they are both presented with adversity and not all the kids approve of their decisions. They both question themselves and their ability to lead, and both learn a lot about themselves through the process. Ralph and Moreland try to use what they've learned from the real world to decipher right from wrong, but both stories result negativly. The purpose of this isn't to say adolesencts can't run a society. A society has never been run perfectly and never will be despite who's in charge. Anyone can see that just by watching the evening news. These stories were created for a different reason, to make people think and hopefully learn something about themselves.
The climax of Taps proves to be one of the most powerful scenes of the whole movie. Becker reveals the point of the whole movie in this scene with the magic of Tom Cruise's acting. This tragic ending makes the viewer think about when far is too far when standing up against authority.Tom Cruise ) comes into the scene next and ruins Colonel Kerby's victory. This hot-headed cadet has had a thirst for blood the entire film and realizes this will be his last chance for battle. He loses his composure and opens fire onto Colonel Kerby and the rest of his men without warning. Becker uses this to show how some people glorify war. Cadet Shawn is the only one who gets what he wants in this scene. He gets his "beautiful" battle scene and dies what he believes to be a glorious, honorable death. Cadet Moreland, however, draws the short straw. He only tries to do the right thing and ends up getting himself killed. Colonel Kerby loses control of the situation and misses his oppurtunity to end the standup peacefully.
The setting throughout the entire film primarily takes place inside the walls of the school. Becker's reasoning for this was to create an unrealistic world to explore an idea. The practicality of this entire situation seems to be impossible. Nothing about the setting changed for this scene. It all takes place either on the school grounds or inside the dorms.
Mise-en-scene & Camera Work:
Becker doesn't play many tricks with the camera in this scene. He wants his message to be clear to his viewers and doesn't mess around with any fancy mise-en-scene artsy camera tricks. He focuses more on presenting a difficult ending to a tense movie in order to make the viewer think. Everyone will have a different take on the issue at hand after watching this scene.
There are dozens of camera shots once the action starts, each about one full second if not shorter. This enhances the speed of the scene making it more realistic. One shot puts the viewer in the eyes of Cadet Shawn as he looks through the scope and its crosshairs at Colonel Kerby. A second cool shot appears when the tank crashes throught the gates. The view point starts very low to the ground enhancing the power of the tank and it moves with it making showing the tank's menace.
Sound and Music:
Becker chooses not to put music in this particular scene and does so very effectively. While the cadets are falling in and preparing to surrender the only sounds are the pounding boots and yelling to "fall in." The lack of music keeps the viewer on the edge of the seat anticipating the inevitable. Everyone knows it can't end this way and when Becker shows Cadet Shawn it double the suspense. Once he breaks the tension and starts the gunfire, the sounds explode into the chaos of war. He very succesfully leaves music out of this scene.
Battle of Bunker HillEdit
It seems ironic that Becker chose Bunker Hill Military Academy for the name of the school. In the Revolutionary War, the Battle of Bunker Hill involved the British and the Americans; however, it resulted in a brutal loss for the Colonial States. It some ways though, this seems an appropriate name due to the way the movie ended ("Battle of Bunker Hill").
Many similarities can be drawn between the cadets and the Colonial militiamen that fought and lost at the Battle of Bunker Hill. First off, both were on the defensive. The militiamen knew the Redcoats were planning to surround Boston so they dug deep into the woods. In a similar way, Bunker Hill Academy was surrounded by the National Gaurd because the cadets wouldn't surrender their home. In both situations, they were low on numbers and ammunition. The militiamen were outnumbered over 2 to 1. A famous quote from this battle came from Colonel William Prescott when he said, "Don't Fire until you see the whites of their eyes!" This quote shows the intensity of this battle and the leadership qualities Prescott was known for. In the heat of the battle, one young soldier was shot and killed. This destroyed the militiamen's moral and many left the field. In a similar way, one night 12 cadets fled the school. The only difference is the leadership abilities of Cadet Captain Moreland don't compare to those of Colonel Prescott. At one point, Prescott stood on top of his redoubt to raise the moral of his troops. Though the battle ended in a loss for both Prescott and Moreland, their stand showed their courage. It showed the British how much the Americans valued their liberty, and for Moreland it showed the world how much those kids cared for the school.
Devery Freeman, with his novel Father Sky, inspired Becker to film Taps. Father Sky however, was Freeman's first novel. Though he wrote many articles for magazines prior to writing Father Sky, his inexperience with novels showed in the low quality of storytelling in his first novel. The unlikelihood of the cadets in Taps taking over Bunker HIll Academy doesn't compare to the unlikelihood of the cadets taking over Peddington Academy.
Peddington Academy, a New Jersey military academy, had to close up when its superintendent shoots and kills an anti-gun protester. The cadets however, take over the academy in the summer just like the cadets in Taps. This makes very little sense for many reasons. first of all, what students would support a mad superintendent. Freeman claims that the students were brained washed but the chances of this are close to none. This novel in many ways puts gives a bad reputation to military institutes promotes anti-gun protesting.Father Sky might be a fictional story but it still puts high school level military institutes in a bad light. Freean clearly thinks these institutes wrongly influence adolescents and that their easy access to armarments should be reconsidered by authorities. Fortunately, Becker changed the overall point of the plot to a more appropiate story. He saw the potential of Father Sky and changed it to deliver a different message.
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