Review: World War I in Color (video)

World War I in Color.

Color still photography existed at the time of the Great War, enabled by a process that used potato starch, and it yielded spectacular results. You can see some fine examples in Hew Strachan‘s book (as well as at the site I linked to in that blog post).

But there was no color technology available then for motion pictures. The producers of this series of video programs felt that was a handicap to the latest generations (whom they characterized as “color literate”), who may not fully appreciate learning history that is taught exclusively in monochrome grey-scale or sepia tones. This was their justification for undertaking to colorize what they determined by their research in the archives to be the best Great War footage available.

At the time this project was produced, many of the film clips that were used may have been rarely seen, but since then other documentaries have accessed the same footage, so what you’re going to see is not necessarily going to be unusual. Some sequences took colorizing better than others, and as a whole, like other documentaries, there is a tendency to repeat scenes a little too frequently. Also as with other documentaries, the filmmakers felt it was necessary to add sound effects that would not have existed in the originals, for there was no soundtrack technology back then. (“Movies” did become “talkies” not long after the war was over, which encouraged some silent-film actors to retire, because they did not like how their voices sounded in recordings, and they feared adding speech to their performances would destroy the image their careers had built.)

The narration is professionally voiced, and the history being read is generally sound, but the writers seriously erred in attributing a “von” to Ludendorf’s name (his family was not of the nobility), and in suggesting that the Belgian people resisted the German invasion when they most emphatically did not: only the Belgian military took up arms, and the Belgian government warned civilians to turn in their own weapons to local government officials, and to avoid provoking the invading troops; nevertheless, the German army, afflicted with paranoid delusions at all levels, took out its fears and guilt complexes in fatal atrocities committed against some 6,500 innocents.

The archival footage episodes on the first two discs are arranged chronologically, with a few topically-treated digressions. The “bonus features” disc is nothing to write home about: a short talking-head segment with the filmmakers; a partly computer-animated special feature about tactics and strategy (the graphics look primitive, in comparison to that which is seen in “virtual reality” video games); and a slide show of biographical information, war facts, and a timeline. (The set that I acquired is second-hand, so it’s missing the printed viewer’s guide.)

Apart from the two errors noted above, this documentary set would make a decent enhancement to a homeschool history curriculum.

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