Tag Archives: research

Review: Trenches: Battleground WWI (video)

Trenches: Battleground WWI.

This box set emerges from its decorative tin container (which opens both front and back) to provide a 5-disc overview of the First World War.

Its greatest value is as a kind of audiobook, because as many documentaries do, this one suffers from repetition of the film clips, especially those of explosions. Use is made of staged footage from the famous British Somme production of the period, which having been restored is of good quality, but other sequences are in such poor condition as to almost defeat the purpose of their inclusion. In general, discussion of each belligerent’s historical contribution to the fight is accompanied by footage that depicts its soldiers in action, but few scenes can can be positively identified as to exactly where and when they were photographed. Each disc also features stills taken from the footage featured on that disc.

The main soundtrack is narrated by speakers with British accents, punctuated by quotes read by American, and purportedly French- and German-accented voices. Unfortunately, the fine narrator of the first 3 discs disappears for the 4th disc, and the substitution of another voice is a little jarring.

As is often the case with Great War documentaries, the war footage is accompanied by dubbed sound effects (crowds shouting, explosions, mechanical noises for tanks, and even jingling harness bells) which are really unnecessary, and because they’re also repetitious, they can become annoying. In addition to the period war footage, there are excerpts included of interviews with Great War veterans who, to judge from their appearance, were filmed sometime in the mid-20th Century. These men are not personally identified, and one wonders which of them, if any, later ended up among the surviving nonagenarians who appear in other documentaries.

The soundtrack is also accompanied by a pleasant selection of familiar classical music selections, but they are repeated in an almost stereotypical manner; moreover, the clarity and volume of the musical selections can be uneven, and in a few cases they nearly overwhelm the narration. The end credits of each episode are serenaded by the same recording of John McCormack singing “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” which gets a bit tiresome.

The 5th disc of the set consists of 2 documentaries which focus on the American perspective in the war (a biography of Pershing and a feature about the “Stars and Stripes” official “trench newspaper” – which I remember reading when I was in the U. S. Navy, stationed in Europe in the 1970s), and a film about modern commemoration ceremonies held at several Western Front sites, made when there were still a few veterans left alive who could attend them. A 24-page booklet printed on heavy, glossy paper rounds out the collection with more photo stills and a brief (and sometimes inaccurate) summary of the causes of the war, a few significant wartime events, the Treaty of Versailles, and trench life.

Not a very enlightening film presentation, but overall, the narrated history is worth having, and despite its other flaws, it would be a usable resource for homeschoolers beginning their studies of the Great War.

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Review: Kaiserschlacht 1918 (film)

Kaiserschlacht 1918.

With this video, we note today’s centenary of the German Spring Offensive.

It comes across as a relatively low-budget production, because of its lengthy and redundant visual interludes (staged gambling scenes featuring bettor’s chips and a spinning roulette wheel, and slow close-up pans of what look like museum exhibits), as well as repeated views of the same portrait of Haig, during the voice-over. The animated campaign map graphics are also rudimentary, and other than the names of towns, present no geographic detail to help the viewer accurately place them. The “special features” touted on the back cover are low-tech, too: a simple interactive quiz drawn from the script, and a “picture gallery” constituted of stills from the film footage.

The period film footage is presented in sepia tones instead of black-and-white, which is a mildly refreshing variation. This video seems to have more original footage than do a lot of other documentaries, but unfortunately, almost all of the German films are anachronistic, because they show troops wearing the Pickelhaube. Only two film clips show them in the Stahlhelm, which was used from 1916 onwards.

There are only two historians to provide talking-head commentary, but they do present a variety of detail in their analyses, as well as espousing a difference of opinion that is in direct disagreement on one subject. That’s as it should be, and it’s interesting to listen to them.

The main feature is less than an hour long, but then, it is dealing with only one short episode of the Great War. An “okay” refresher.

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Review: The First World War (Reid)

The First World War.

Produced “in association with Imperial War Museums,” this is a mini-encyclopedia of Great War tanks, planes and ships, presented in the form of flash cards.

The set features British (20 cards), German (15 cards), French (9 cards), Italian (2 cards), Austrian (1 card) and Russian (1 card) fighting machines. Two of the cards display a very brief timeline of the war.

The cards are printed in color, but they’re not color-coded, and although military armament is usually painted in drab colors (except for aircraft), there’s not much detail to the illustrations, but for that, a novelist or other adult researcher would probably consult other sources, anyway. Even most injection-molded plastic model-building sets come with more information than the cards supply about authentic appearance, so they would be of limited utility even to hobbyists (of any age).

The cards constitute only a quick reference guide; that said, they may have some value for a homeschool history assignment.

Not worth their list price, but if you can get them at a deep discount, they may make an interesting gift for a child whom you’d like to encourage to study military history.

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