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Life Arts    H4'ed 3/6/10

The Problem with Having a Light Comedian as Our Historian in Chief

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Tom Hanks, who began his career as a light comedian on the TV show, "Bosom Buddies," is featured on the cover of the latest Time magazine, where he is pictured looking seriously off to the side next to the headline, "History Maker." The smaller print says, "How Tom Hanks is redefining America's past." Well-known historian Douglas Brinkley writes the article.

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Hanks is among the most successful performers in American film history. He has been ranked by Harris Polls as America's Favorite Movie Star three times, tied for the most such listings with Harrison Ford and Clint Eastwood. He is tied with Tom Cruise (at 7) for the second most consecutive movies grossing over $100 million (Will Smith leads with 8).

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Hanks' films generally have a light touch, but often with significant underlying meaning (think of his 1988 film, "Big," which was directed by Penny Marshall). He follows Sidney Poitier and Gary Cooper for most listings, with four, on the American Film Institute's 100 Most Inspiring Movies. Hanks received the AFI's Lifetime Achievement Award (the 30th one awarded) in 2002, when he was 45.

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Hanks' highest-ranking film on the AFI inspirational list (at #10) is the 1998 "Saving Private Ryan," directed by Steven Spielberg, about a group of soldiers searching for a G.I. behind enemy lines after the allied landings at Normandy. Following "Ryan," Hanks produced the 2001 HBO series, "Band of Brothers," based on a book by Stephen Ambrose about a group of soldiers who parachuted behind enemy lines on D-Day, and who then liberated a concentration camp and were the first to enter Hitler's mountain retreat.

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Hanks is now turning to bigger game. He has just produced, along with Spielberg and Gary Goetzman, a 10-hour series (beginning March 14th) for HBO titled, "The Pacific," about the Western theater in World War II. This topic will prove more controversial than his earlier, inspirational, WWII films. Like Clint Eastwood's linked films about the subject, "Flags of Our Fathers"/"Letters From Iwo Jima," the series will detail American's reciprocal brutality towards Japanese soldiers - prisoners were rarely taken.

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But Hanks' series makes far less of an effort to depict the Japanese perspective than did Eastwood, a Hollywood icon whose life's work would not have led viewers to expect his "Letters," filmed entirely from the Japanese soldiers' point of view.

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