Archive for WWI

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 15, 2017 by cdascher

Lawrence_of_arabia_ver3_xxlgIn Oxford England, home to some of the oldest higher learning institutions in the world, is the Bodleian Library’s Treasury, where they display important and historical books to the public. Among the blackletter parchment texts and First Folios, you can see the manuscript for the memoirs of a British intelligence officer from the First World War and Oxford alum, T.E. Lawrence. An archaeologist; like many of his generation his career was interrupted by service in the war. While certainly not the only literary figure to emerge from the Great War, writers like Siegfried Sassoon and Ernst Junger described an experience harder to attach a narrative: the misery of trench life and futile battlefield draws that went on for years. Lawrence served in the Middle East, aiding the Arab Bedouins in their revolt against the Ottoman Empire, taking not only  the role of battlefield commander, but adopting the Bedouins’ dress and aspects of their culture. He stood out as an almost swashbuckling figure, leading a small army of robed fighters on camels and horses across the desert. Romantic as he may have appeared, in no way did his dashing image insulate him from the horrors of war, and his role as a bridge between two nations left him in a deeply conflicted position.

Over the course of our project, I’ve realized that many Oscar winning pictures are about war. As someone who is a staunch anti-militarist, this was off-putting at first; however, as the daughter and granddaughter of veterans I am also grateful for it. If anything, seeing tell of the horrors of war and the individual lives impacted solidifies my convictions.

Lawrence of Arabia is a powerful film on a host of levels, not the least of which is its visuals. The film has gorgeous landscapes as our protagonist spans the globe; the scenes in the desert are stunning and made me wish I could visit soon. One error I think we made in watching this film was neglecting to find time and space to see it on the big screen. That’s a little hard to do with a three and a half hour film though, especially when you have a toddler. Continue reading

ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (1930)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 1, 2014 by cdascher

It’s no secret that I am not a huge fan of A. black and white films, B. old films, and C. films about war. I wasn’t thrilled going into the viewing of this feature. At one point, though, I made a comment to Mouse that summarizes how I feel about this film and it’s significance. I was looking at Paul, the protagonist, who we follow as he goes from a young German man in school to a soldier on the frontlines in World War I. He enlists at the urging of his esteemed professor and classmates in an effort to valiantly serve his country – but a few years in, he learns all too well the futility and brutality of war. In one scene, I looked at his countenance and said, “He could be a young man today – as he was cast, he could be a modern soldier.

That is why this film, based on the renown book with the same title, is relevant. It depicts the relationships formed between the enlisted with heart and sensitivity. While the frontlines as they once were don’t exist in the modern theater of war in the same way much of the time, the violence of artillery and bombs and grenades is as shocking and jarring now as it was then. We remain engaged in a war in Afghanistan that has needlessly claimed lives and is, for all intents and purposes, going nowhere. So while this film is old, and in black and white, and set in another country, it hardly feels dated.

This is indeed an old one, only the second Best Picture with sound and third winner overall. As such, I was particularly keen on seeing how the technical aspects of the film were handled. I find the transition to sound an interesting phenomenon. As I’ve understood the story, the introduction of sound necessitated a whole new batch of technology, the handling of which had a deleterious effect on other aspects of filmmaking, particularly cinematography. I’ve tended to imagine sound films of this era as primitive curiosities, more like stage plays with a camera rolling, with the settings in interiors or soundstages clearly recognizable as such. In this, All Quiet On The Western Front exceeded my expectations. Yes, it had the uneven, noisy sound and Continue reading

WINGS (1928)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 27, 2013 by katyotto

WINGSTo pick our first Best Picture winner to watch, we drew from a hat. Improbably enough, the movie we drew for our first viewing, out of 83 possibilities, was the first-ever Oscar winner: 1928’s Wings. And with that auspicious selection, our project begins.

Looking at a list of Best Picture winners is like looking at one of those lists of American presidents. It starts with that guy I always see on TV, then other guys I kinda remember, through the guys I’ve never heard of and finally, at the end of the list, men who seem more like mythological characters to appear in paintings than real people. Wings is the George Washingon of Oscar winners. It takes us to the zenith of Hollywood’s silent era, the pre-Golden Age golden age, a nearly mythical time when whole epic features were made, shown to millions and then lost altogether. Wings itself was considered a lost film, until someone found a print in France.

The first movie we chose to write about coincidentally happened to be the first feature film to win an Oscar. Wings is a 1927 silent film about two World War I fighter pilots. The story begins in their hometown, and we see that they both have fallen for the same girl, Sylvia. One of the boys, Jack, fails to pay proper attention to the girl next door, Mary, who is head over heels for him. He does leave his car – The Shooting Star – for her to drive when he gets deployed. This results in her learning to drive and enlisting herself as an ambulance driver.

Wings is a bit long, but has extraordinary cinematography for its time. I found myself asking out loud how they might have filmed the battle scenes. The friendship between the two boys is quintessential – despite a rivalry over the affection of Sylvia, Jack and David become close during their basic training. I work at an organization that advocates for service members, veterans and their families, so I paid special attention to the depiction of military throughout. The special features section of the DVD showed that a lot of production work was actually done in San Antonio, Texas – home of Lackland Air Force Base, the site of all Air Force basic training.

After David and Jack receive medals of honor, they get time off in Paris and commence to drinking and cavorting with women. Mary hasn’t made her presence known to the young men yet, but learns that their leave is cut short and tries to help them get the message. This results in one of the most memorable scenes from the film. Jack has a young woman on his arm but is more fascinated with the bubbles he sees spouting out everywhere. He doesn’t recognize Mary, who eventually decides to doll herself up to distract him from the woman he is with. She is successful – he notes that of the two, Mary has “bubbles in her eyes.” Even though her character’s role isn’t critical to the plot and feels tacked on, it’s hard not to fall in love with Mary and appreciate that Clara Bow has a presence in the film.

When you watch a movie this old, apart from enjoying it as the producers intended, it’s a little like peeking out the windows of a time machine and you get to see the world that hasn’t existed since my grandmother was in grade school. This was a world where the Great War, so largely forgotten today, was the defining event of an era, a catastrophic conflict that consumed whole nations and millions of lives. Could they have imagined there would even be other wars after? This was the year the Kellogg-Briand Pact outlawed war for good. I’ve heard of anti-German-American sentiment during World War I. The way I’ve heard the story told, the German-American community did such a good job presenting themselves as more American than German (Schwimpf’s flag tattoo!) that by the time the Second World War came around, it was a non-issue. Now we’re mostly just left with names like Dascher and Otto. Sources on the internet hint that the movie was rewritten to include one of the studio’s most popular stars, Clara Bow. Had all of her scenes ended on the cutting room floor, I can’t think of a way the plot would have changed at all. Of course the studio bosses had no way of knowing that in a few years, Bow, like so many of her contemporaries, would be left behind by the shift to talkies.

Next film: TOM JONES (1963)