Wednesday 16 October 2019

The Seduction and Horror of War

President Woodrow Wilson
Siegfried Sassoon

“You will see the effect upon  people. They will acclaim it with enthusiasm; everybody is already looking forward to the first onslaught—so dull have their lives become.
—Herman Hesse, Damian

"One of the most troubling reasons men love war is the love of destruction, the thrill of killing...all you do is move the finger so imperceptibly, just a wish flashing across your mind like a shadow, not even a full brain synapse, and poof, in a blast of sound and energy and light a truck or a house or even people disappear, everything flying and settling back into dust."
William Broyles, "Why Men Love War," Esquire, November 1984, veteran of the Vietnam War

"Oh! What a Lovely War does recreate this time, in a bitter mixture of history, satire, detail, panorama and music.
Especially music. There is something paradoxical in the thought of singing about a war, and yet cheap popular songs often capture the spirit of a time better than any collection of speeches and histories. Miss (Joan) Littlewood (in the 1963 stage production), and (Richard) Attenborough after her, present the war as a British music hall review; there's a lot of smiling up front, but backstage you can see the greasepaint and smell the sweat, and the smiles become desperate, and there begins to be blood.

This sense is captured most tellingly in Maggie Smith's scene. She plays a robust, patriotic broad who lures the young men from the audience to the stage with promises of love and implications of heroic death. But death is reserved for the young, not for the old, and John Mills (as Sir Douglas Haig) stays far behind the lines, studying the front from an observation tower. Meanwhile, politicians, kings and rulers play stupid games of diplomacy and etiquette, and 'acceptable losses' are counted in the hundreds of thousands. But always everyone whistles a happy tune...."
— Roger Ebert, October 30, 1969

"The picture of the country 100 years ago is often unwholesome in ways that, again, resonate with current turmoil. Prejudice against immigrants ran high. Anti-German feelings were virulent, and Wilson issued orders requiring the registration of all German-born residents (a program administered by the 22-year-old J. Edgar Hoover).
Americans were encouraged to spy on and report one another for violations of voluntary rationing programs or failure to buy war bonds. The government engaged in a sophisticated large-scale propaganda campaign enforcing loyalty. A poster shown in the film asks, in menacing capital letters, “Are You 100% American?”
Watching “The Great War” can give you a sense of a full circle of events. If this was how America became the world’s pre-eminent power, is this also how it surrenders the role?"
— Mike Hale,"‘The Great War,’When America Took the World Stage,"  The New York Times  April 
 by Adam Hochschild   

A World War I documentary in 3D with colorized archival footage that looks as new as the day it was shot. What sounds like an impossible feat becomes a riveting reality in the hands of director Peter Jackson and his New Zealand Weta crew of restoration miracle workers, led by digital VFX supervisor Wayne Stables. In They Shall Not Grow Old, the lord of The Lord of the Rings uses a treasure trove of material — more than 600 hours worth — from England’s Imperial War Museum to bring the Great War to vivid life.

"Through original diaries, letters, and memoirs, this unforgettable documentary tells how the lives of regular British men and women were transformed by the Great War. A reservist leaves for the front determined to write to his mother every few days. A newlywed says goodbye to his pregnant wife. A young woman fears that when her fiancé sails for France, her hopes of marriage will disappear. For parents and children, soldiers and factory workers alike, life and love go on but never again as they did before. Few could imagine the horrors ahead: hundreds of thousands would never return, and those who did would carry wounds-physical, emotional, psychological- that would change their lives forever.

Along with historical footage, an outstanding cast of actors reenact first-hand accounts uncovered from attics, archives, and libraries across Britain. Performers include Daniel Mays (Ashes to Ashes), Matthew McNulty (The Paradise), Claire Foy (Little Dorrit), Romola Garai (Emma), Alison Steadman (Pride and Prejudice), and Brian Cox (The Bourne Supremacy). Narrated by Olivia Colman (Broadchurch), this four-part series re-creates the extraordinary stories of ordinary people, told in their own words."

"Over three days of fighting in March of 1918, British soldiers stuck in the WWI trenches of northern France and their commanding officers quartered below await a German attack. Raleigh (Hugo‘s Asa Butterfield), an inexperienced 19-year-old officer, had actually requested to join C Company, led his much-beloved former school housemaster and prospective brother-in-law Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin). The latter tries to hide his rattling insecurities and mask his depression in booze and the counsel of his second in command, Osborne (Paul Bettany). Before the war, the lieutenant was teacher and family man with a knack for holding things together, or trying to, at least. But the brass know this will result in near-total casualties. It’s just a matter of when the bombs are going to start falling....
The vise-like tension grows out of the waiting, punctuated by bursts of action that achieve an explosive impact enhanced by their brevity. The play stayed mostly with the officers. But the film, drawing more on the later novel by Sherriff and Vernon Bartlett, opens up the action and expands to let us see every man facing his own individual fears....
Journey’s End is a bleak, sobering experience that puts audiences
through a wringer. It’s also an emotional powerhouse you will not forget." 
— Peter Travers, RollingStone March 16, 2017

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Based on Pat Barker's novel of the same name, Regeneration  (later renamed Behind the Lines when released in DVD) tells the story of World War One British officers suffering from shell shock who are sent to Craiglockhart Hospital, including poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. The centerpiece of this novel/drama is the perceptive and wise physician William Rivers.

Testament of  Youth
"Testament of YouthJames Kent’s stately screen adaptation of the British author Vera Brittain’s 1933 World War I memoir, evokes the march of history with a balance and restraint exhibited by few movies with such grand ambitions. Most similar films strain at the seams with bombast and sentimentality....
The movie is also the stronger for having no battle sequences or scenes depicting acts of courage, though you hear about such heroics after the fact. There are just enough shots of life in the trenches to give a glimpse of a hell, peopled by exhausted, mud-covered soldiers who are almost unrecognizable from the vital young men who left Britain thinking they were bound for glory. Other scenes in army hospitals in England and behind the lines in France are unrelievedly grim tableaus.
Testament of Youth might be described as a feminist war film, because it is saturated with Vera’s frustration at her parents’ limited ambitions for her and later with her contempt for war. It isn’t until the end that she delivers a scathing antiwar diatribe."
— Stephen Holden,The New York Times June 4, 2015

More recommendations:

"Deafening is the story of Grania, a little girl growing up on the shores of the Bay of Quinte in southern Ontario in the early years of the 20th century, who is struck deaf by scarlet fever at the age of five. 

It’s also the story of Jim, her hearing husband who, shortly after their honeymoon, leaves to play his part in the Great War in Europe. Itani’s theme throughout this quietly lovely novel is the complexity of sound and silence and how they can be both blessing and curse to the humans who experience them. "

— An unnamed reviewer in Quill and QuireThis novel is I believe one of the best novels on the war.

"There are a few fits and starts, and a palette switch from black-and-white to color. But ( Francois) Ozon is onto something about nationalism, borders and a hatred of the other that’s as timely as Trump.

Ozon’s script, adapted from a play by Maurice Rostand written before the (Ernst) Lubitsch 1932 film (Broken Lullaby), is anchored by an image of a Frenchman putting flowers on the grave of a German soldier. The time is 1919, just after the World War I – and the point of view has now been switched from the French victors to the German losers. Anna, powerfully played by German star Paula Beer, is mourning her fiancée Frantz (Anton von Lucke, in flashbacks) , who was killed in the trenches. She lives with her late beau’s parents, Dr. Hans Hoffmeister (Ernst Stötzner) and his wife Magda (Marie Gruber). Anna is a keeper of the flame, so the sight of a Gallic gent named Adrien (Pierre Niney), the one leaving roses by Frantz’s tombstone, startles her. Dr. Hofffmeister instinctively sees the stranger as the enemy (“all Frenchmen killed my only son”), but slowly warms – as does Anna – to his tales of her soldier boyfriend in Paris before the war, where the two men visited the Louvre and spent hours discussing Manet’s painting “Le Suicidé.” Ozon keeps the homoerotic possibilities between Adrien and Frantz as subtext. And Anna’s attraction to this mysterious stranger leads her to follow him to Paris after they part on a note of brutal truth."
— Peter Travers, RollingStoneMarch 16, 2017

Screen shot of one of the most electric scenes in Berlin Metroplis

"Babylon Berlin (on Netflix) is an exhilarating, gritty sixteen-part series that is a mash-up of genres. On the most basic level, it is a propulsive police procedural and political thriller that has been adapted from the crime novel of the same name by Volker Kutscher (Picador, translated in 2016), the first in a series planned by the author culminating with the 1938 Kristallnacht. More importantly, the drama – reportedly the most expensive German television production involving three directors in every episode – is a vivid evocation of 1929 Berlin accented with film noir a few months before the crash of the American stock market. Ten years after the end of the Great War veterans still carry its scars; the war's consequences accelerate extremist politics from the left and the right threatening the rule of law and destabilizing the fragility of the Weimar Republic; pockets of poverty in the city remain with its attendant political and social ramifications, particularly for vulnerable women; and the attempt to blot out a humiliating defeat and for most Germans a shameful peace treaty explain in part its frenetic cultural, social and sexual life. Very little of the political, social and cultural tapestry of Berlin portrayed in the series is based on the novel. The series other strength is its focus on character development that enables the actors to grow into their roles and deliver strong performances."
— Robert Douglas, Critics at Large

"Metropolis is the 14th book in the critically acclaimed and award-winning Bernie Gunther series from the late Philip Kerr. However, this tale is more a prequel as it outlines the early years of a young Bernie as a detective in Berlin, unaware of the horrors that will await him in the coming days.

It is 1928 and Berlin is a modern Babylon, bursting with artistic creativity as well as unprecedented sexual freedom, yet also witnessing of virulent anti-Semitism, anti-immigration, and anti-gay fervor, and street battles between political extremists on the right and the leftThe Weimar Republic is nearing its end, and a monster called Hitler is about to make his appearance....
Like Bernie, Berlin’s people are still suffering from the devastating psychic and physical wounds of World War I, with which he is only too well acquainted from his hell on the Western Front. Even mundane things like cigar smoke still brings flashbacks of the bloody nightmare of four years of trench warfare....

Metropolis is Kerr’s and Bernie’s swan song—a brilliant Berlin opera...with an intricate and riveting plot. And just like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Philip Kerr’s Metropolis is a masterpiece."
— Sam Millar, New York Journal of Books

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