M*A*S*H ★½

M*A*S*H? More like, T*R*A*S*H am I right?!

So you may have noticed a lot of positive reviews coming from me lately, and that’s mostly to make up for my contentious, contrarian reviews I posted before all those. To sort of balance everything out and not make it seem like I’m some kind edgelord just throwing out bait. But there’s one movie I watched recently that I have to let out: Mash. Oh man, after I watched this, I just had to get my thoughts out there, yet at the same time I waited patiently as to not fill my page with so much negativity. These reviews are sort of therapeutic to me in a way, because these movies that are often considered great just confuse me as to what holds them up to this status and why people like them. I’ll first say this that if you like this movie or any movie I dislike, that’s fine what do I care? But throwing insults at me and shaming me for saying such a thing, is censoring different opinions about something so insignificant like a movie. I love movies and despite my feelings on the lackluster show, I wanted to love it. However, the series looks like Seinfeld compared to the feature length film!

So anyway Mash is terrible. Like I don’t think this is just a me thing, I mean it’s really bad! And from what I’ve seen from Robert Altman, I just can’t get into his films or filmmaking style. I hate to say that, because I was looking so forward to finally watching his films, but I just can’t get into them. And from what I’ve seen his films seem to have the same problems and nowhere are my issues with his films more evident than in this insensitive trash heap Mash. Barely any sign of a plot, poorly defined characters, and technically incompetent filmmaking. Yes, “Technically Incompetent” I hate to say it, as Altman is one of the most famous directors in American history and boy am I going to get endless comments for saying that, but honestly if you’ve seen this movie you should at least be able to understand where I’m coming from. In fact as I did a little more research I’ve learned that Mash despite it’s cultural impact is not loved that much by people today. It certainly has it’s fans still but I’ve seen other people claim they don’t care for it, so maybe you’ll hate me or maybe you’ll agree with me. Let’s see how this film comes out after I’m done with it!

First off the film starts off with the most God damn depressing song I’ve ever heard. A song called “Suicide is Painless” with lyrics like: ‘what’s the point we’re going to lose the game anyway. Suicide is painless’ It’s actually a good song and appears later in the film, but Jesus, I thought Mash was a comedy! Why did they decide to start things off with Simon and Garfunkel on Prozac?

The absolute worst thing about this film is the sound mixing. It’s just the most atrocious sound editing I’ve ever heard in a film. Characters talk over each other, the background noise drowns out the main dialogue, Sentences will spurt out either at the end or in the middle of their lines, pretty much everything that could go wrong with bad sound mixing happened. I was amazed alright. Amazed that someone could follow this dialogue or call this garbage ‘great.’ Even when there wasn’t constant, distracting ambiance about, the characters all talk so low. I had my TV turned up to 100 and still had a hard time gathering what they were saying or what was going on. But that’s okay because nothing happens in this tone-deaf, eventless plot about. I was looking around at other reviews and someone said the sound design was brilliant as the faulty grading of the ears was intentional. That Altman made the sound so chaotic as it was to reflect the chaos of war. That’s… a bit of a stretch. The sound to me doesn’t come off as reflectively chaotic, but is more clunky and disorganized. It would make sense perhaps if they were in a battle and the sound went from booming, to sharp edit-outs, but we never actually see any scenes of the war here. Instead all the scenes take place in tents, and the film is driven by the characters dialogue. And how are you supposed to understand what’s going on or laugh (since it’s a comedy) when you can’t even tell what they’re saying. So people claiming the sound mixing was intentional are basically saying that all the funny dialogue and crucial detail is just pointless and you’re not actually supposed to know what’s happening. The best example I can think of is “Come and See” yeah I know it’s a little bit of apples and oranges, but just like your reasoning, this film does the same thing except it has some of the best sound design ever made in a film. Halfway through we hear a buzzing noise symbolizing the psychological breakdown of our protagonist and creating an eerie atmosphere of everlasting doom. This is a war film that makes great use of it’s sound and you can also dissect what it means and how it’s used. With Mash, the whole thing just sounds terrible, and there’s really no evidence to back up how it was utilized well in the film. It feels like fans of the film just sort of tacked it on to make up for it because oh boy, it is not something you can ignore.

The other problem is the cinematography. Yeah, I know, just shoot me already, but first hear me out. Most of the shots are terribly positioned and framed, often filming people from outside a tent, from a distance, or with objects obstructing the way. While the shots in McCabe and Mrs. Miller were well shot, here it just comes off as lacking. Take a shot that I actually like for example (or would have liked more if this wasn’t present) It’s the scene in which some of the soldiers are sitting around a table in resemblance to “The Last Supper”. It’s a great shot with humor and allusion, except for one problem: there’s a big freakin’ pole in the way! It obstructs the shot and just ruined it for me. Yes, I know they’re in a tent, and tents have poles, but couldn’t they have found some way around that? Are there going to be any tent experts in the audience criticizing your film for inaccurate structures of tents? The laws of cinema don’t have to follow the laws of reality to a tee, its fiction. And this is truly what angered me the most, just how poorly executed on a technical level this film is. Yes, as if I haven’t pissed off all the Altman fans already but film is an audio-visual product. This film doesn’t have to be blow me away with Lynch like styles. All it had to do was show clear shots of characters, and let us easily hear their dialogue. And if your audio-visual product fails at being audible and visual, what’s there to grasp! I’m sorry that I’m harping on this so much, but from a director who is often hailed as one of the greatest American directors, I expect better, MUCH better.

Now you may say ‘Hey, there is something else to grasp. What about the story?’ Oh ok, did you find a story? If it weren’t for the technical aspects I probably wouldn’t even be so harsh on this, but now I can get into what so often bothers me in Robert Altman’s films and that’s his lack of a plot whatsoever. Look I’ll be the first to stick up for simplistic films with lose narratives and low stake scenarios. I love films like that, but films with minimalism often have something else to be interested by. They can be a character study like “Nights of Cabiria,” an exploration of a setting like in “La Pointe Courte,” or a comfy, yet honest look at families, like with Ozu or Koreeda. But with Mash there was nothing worth unraveling. I get what they were going for, and I like the concept: Soldiers in the Mash unit deal with the trauma they face by goofing around, pulling pranks and ensuing on other shenanigans. It sounds like a bittersweet yet uplifting comedy and that’s perfect for my tastes! However I just found myself so bored with this film. I never laughed and could hardly be engaged in what was going on due to the issues I mentioned above. I couldn’t find myself getting into the characters, and although I understood their plight (maybe because I read the back of the DVD cover) I never felt it truly afflicting them within. The most common issue I saw detractors take with this were the characters and just how sexist, and obnoxious they were. It’s funny as I’d say I wasn’t as bothered by most people, but trust me I still did not like these characters. They’re poorly defined and at the very least are just assholes. They engage in wire-tapping their commander having sex, pull down the women’s shower tent, and even blackmail another officer, all under the pretense of ‘these men are sad so it’s okay for them to do what they want. And besides, naked women are funny! Har, har, har!’ The film makes no effort of reminding us of the trauma these men go through and hardly shows us any either. I think there’s one scene in which it’s too late for them to operate on a patient, but that’s it. Also I believe that happened toward the beginning and I don’t even remember the protagonists being there. (Another problem with Altman’s films is too much pointless characters, but I’ll save that for another time.) Instead we’re just supposed to except that these men are tortured and have seen a lot here without any setup or basis for what that is. Nothing for the audience to connect with these men on and understand what they’ve been through. It’s like a pointless tragic backstory of a villain in a superhero movie, or to angst-driven teen who does whatever they want, but it’s okay, because they’re sad. Also it was clear the movie had no idea how to end, so they just throw in this football game and pretend that’s what they were building up to the whole time. It’s something I’ve noticed a lot of bad comedies with limited plots do, the best example I can think of right now being “Grown-Ups”

After all this trashing I will confess there is one scene I liked. And not just liked, I thought it was great! It comes right after the shot of the Last Supper reference which I already showed my appreciation for. It’s the scene in which one of their friends wants to commit suicide, so they pretend to go along with it. It’s humorous in the way they go about it, yet is also bittersweet and heartwarming, as they make their friend feel loved and accepted and give him a reason to live. There’s also a live rendition of “Suicide is Painless” played over and it fits perfectly this time. I legitimately loved this scene and so wish the rest of the film captured the spirit of this moment. This also goes to show how I’m not just hating this film in a contrarian way. I loved a scene from a film I otherwise think is terrible! After that wonderful scene I sat up and thought “Okay maybe the films getting better. I’d like to keep watching, I want to give this film another chance” and so I did. I tried giving the film more of my attention but alas I still couldn’t wrapped into the rest of the film. I tried listening to more of the conversations but… well I harped on that enough. Not to mention none of the dialogue was funny or interesting. I understand that’s a pretty subjective statement but I didn’t find any kind of humor, development or unique point of view in these conversations which is basically what the whole film is!

I was just so bored watching this movie! If you like it, then great, but I also feel it’s important to acknowledge that something you love can still have flaws. Even a classic that which many might claim is immune is still just a movie. It is up to interpretation, and is probably imperfect in some way or another. Take my words like medicine: You may not like it, but it’s good for you. I just didn’t laugh and was never interested, this film just did not appeal to me at all, and what’s even worse is Robert Altman just doesn’t appeal to me. I’ll certainly watch more of his films later down the road. He has a lot of classics and has made tons of films so I’m bound to like something! It’s pretty sad when I prefer “Popeye” over “Mash”

All in all Mash just fails to me in every way a movie could, and what bothers me most about it is just the status that it has and I just have to express my true feelings on this film! Thanks for reading, and all apologies, but I just thought this movie was terrible!