Tag Archives: trench warfare

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.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Review: Im Westen nichts Neues [All Quiet on the Western Front] (Remarque)

im-westen-nichts-neues-remarqueall quiet wheenmurdoch

Im Westen nichts Neues [All Quiet on the Western Front].

“Nothing New in the West.” That’s what the title of Remarque’s classic novel really means, and if I ever produce my own translation of the book (after scouring the rust off the German I learned when I lived in Bavaria for a year in the 1970s), that’s what I’m going to call it. The title that the first translator, Wheen, came up with is now enshrined in literary and cinematic history, but Remarque’s title is more accurately descriptive, if for no other reason than because it was not quiet on the Western Front until some time after the Armistice officially began (soldiers were still being killed by enemy fire, because it took a while for the news to get out, and for some military units to accept it).

The title is not the only reason why I’d be tempted to try writing a new translation: In general, the two translations I’ve read (Wheen, center, and Murdoch, right) do not do the original justice, because they obliterate the German voice. Not only are the puns, rhymes and other plays on words that go with the peculiarities of the German language lost entirely, but the characters seem to lose their nationality and become, in effect, just another bunch of “Tommies.”  I understand that it can be difficult to take idiomatic expressions from one language and represent them accurately in another, but there’s no good reason for taking the story and anglicizing it culturally as well as linguistically. Perhaps Wheen’s true agenda was to use it for propaganda; by 1929, the winners of the Great War were heavily into self-doubt and second-guessing their victory, with the result that they neglected to enforce much of the Versailles Treaty. Wheen’s translation certainly helped make possible two sympathetic – if not pro-German – cinematic adaptations of Remarque’s story (see my reviews of the 1930 and 1979 films).

Wheen’s translation immediately starts off on the wrong foot, because he uses Remarque’s epigraph to further his own purposes by grossly distorting it with his own opinion, adding words which do not appear in the original:

This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war. (Wheen rendering: the words in bold red italics are not Remarque’s words.)

Here is what Remarque actually wrote (followed by a translation from Google Translate, in italics):

Dieses Buch soll weder eine Anklage noch ein Bekenntnis sein. Es soll nur den Versuch machen, über eine Generation zu berichten, die vom Kriege zerstört wurd – auch wenn sie seinen Granaten entkam.

This book is neither an indictment nor a confession. It will only make the attempt to report on a generation that was destroyed by the war – even if they escaped his grenades.

Murdoch’s translation of the epigraph is more faithful to the original:

This book is intended neither as an accusation or as a confession, but simply as an attempt to give an account of a generation that was destroyed by the war – even those of it who survived the shelling.

What Wheen did is inexcusable. I understand that there has to be some latitude for interpretation in translation, but there is no place for interpolation. By inserting his own opinion, Wheen attempted to assume the role of co-author, which puts his entire translation in doubt as to its truthfulness.

If you can read German – even if you need the help of a dictionary and grammar – by all means, tackle the original. Otherwise, look for Brian Murdoch’s version. It’s the lesser of two evils.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized