I just viewed "They Shall Not Grow Old" - a very powerful WW I film by the great Kiwi director, Peter Jackson (director of "Lord of the Rings”), whose own grandfather and several other family members fought in that war.
He and his brilliant team viewed hundreds of hours of contemporary WW I video footage, and hundreds of hours of recordings of the veterans telling their own stories, and using the amazing computer graphics now available, combined with a great deal of research, accurately repaired, corrected, and colorized a great deal of the footage they used, and put together what may be the best documentary on that war ever made.
Some of my relatives were in that war, as was the pipe major of the band I played in as a boy, and when I was growing up, there were still many WW I veterans alive who I had the privilege of speaking with and gathering some of their stories. (One had been in the German Army, but later emigrated to the US, and another who was a first cousin of W. C. Fields, the comedian - but that is a story for another day.)
This film is an amazing piece of work, as these once dark, faded, jerky and jittery images come alive in full color, and appear on screen, not as the quaint images we so often associate with that war, but the real thing.
Jackson paid a great deal of attention to detail, and even employed forensic lip readers to figure out what was being said in some shots, and had an actor from the appropriate area of the UK speak the words.
The only other use of actors or others was in the making of the sounds of that war - the artillery being loaded and fired, and the shells whistling in and exploding, the “scrunch” of mud in the trenches, and the music and songs used. (Most of the music and songs were authentic from the period, though a few tracks were composed for the film in period style.)
(For those of us who were in the trenches at KS, the trench war in WW I was eerily similar to ours in several ways - the mud, the discomfort, the regular bombardments, the rats, the stench of death and unwashed Marines, the lack of adequate sanitation or often even food and water - all resonated with my experience in the trenches - and interestingly, with the stories I heard from the WW I veterans over the years.
One of my favorite aspects is how they juxtaposed the recordings of the veterans with the action in the film, almost as though the participants were doing a “voice-over” of photos of the actions they are describing.
There is a wide range of views expressed by the veterans, just as their is among our own number (and I suspect among soldiers in all times and places), and Jackson makes no attempt to interject his own views, instead wisely allowing the men to tell their own stories.
It has enjoyed not only the commercial success it deserves, but great critical acclaim as well.
This film is currently available on Apple TV for $20 (and doubtless other film suppliers).
I will also be viewing two about the current wars, “Restrepo” and “Korengal” about a unit posted to the dangerous and deadly Korengal Valley. I haven’t seen them yet, but from the trailers, they look authentic, and I am interested in hearing about the current wars from the young men who are fighting them. From the bit that I have heard, their experience, though different in some ways, is also very similar to ours - but perhaps it is the same for all soldiers in all wars, countries, and eras - rather like the "Universal Soldier” (by Buffy St.-Marie) which had many elements of truth.
F. J. Taylor
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