Tag Archives: trench warfare

Review: Private Peaceful (film)

Private Peaceful.

This film adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s novel by the same name may be better critiqued by someone who has read the book and can compare the two. I have not, but having looked up the book and found it to have been classified as being appropriate for ages 8 to 12 (what used to be lumped into the broad classification of “Juvenile Fiction,” but these days could perhaps be shoehorned into “Middle Grade”), I can only surmise that certain liberties may have been taken with the plot to make the story more appealing to an adult audience that expects “adult themes” in its entertainment.

It stretches credulity that a career gamekeeper and forester would have neglected to teach his children never to approach during a shoot, because of the risk of their being mistakenly shot, and the possibility of their scaring away the game; nor to approach him when he was at work felling trees, or failing that, where not to stand when a tree was being felled: a forester of my acquaintance always knew exactly where any tree he chopped down would fall.

The battle scenes leave a little to be desired: the pyrotechnics are not as powerful as in other war films, and the cinematography not as skillful. There is a fine moment of irony in the accusation of “cowardice in the face of the enemy,” when “the enemy” becomes identified with someone not normally described by that term.

The continual jumping back and forth between flashback time periods gets a little wearing on the patience. The accents are sometimes difficult for this North American to decipher. At the end of the movie, a sudden caginess in the dialogue makes the viewer suspect that a plot twist is about to be perpetrated that makes the opening scene in the prison begin to look like a red herring: after the film was over, I replayed the last two segments to make sure that what I thought I’d missed hearing really wasn’t there.

The film does function as an interesting perspective on the primitive nature of the physical and social conditions of life only a hundred years ago, and the hazards appertaining thereto.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Review: Kaiserschlacht 1918 (video)

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized