With billions of folks now trapped in their homes and hungry for entertainment, we must not neglect to cite 1917 as one of the great war films of recent years (www.amzn.com/B082PQH2P7). This film, directed by Sam Mendes, was an absolute tour de force. It is a thrill ride of a movie that grips the viewer immediately. Its "one take" technique (Like Hitchcock's Rope and others) helped to win a deserved Oscar for best cinematography.
Beyond its evident technical achievement this film deserves credit for taking on a too often neglected or forgotten war in a starkly realistic manner. The story is loosely based on experiences actually lived by Sam Mendes grandfather who served as a "Tommy" on the Western Front in WWI. The
topic of WWI is generally disdained in favor of WWII by Hollywood. No veterans of WWI are still alive. Our media remains obsessed with what happened yesterday. Yet WWI has tremendous dramatic and cinematic opportunity as evidenced by Lawrence of Arabia, Sergeant York and many other films.
I opened the Introduction to An Adventure in 1914 with...
"The world can change fundamentally in a single day. It has done so many times. The world changed on September 11, 2001; it changed on December 7, 1941. Earlier in the twentieth century, the world was shaken to its foundations on June 28, 1914, with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo. Of course, it took longer than one day for World War I to erupt—it took a summer. My great-grandfather, Thomas Tileston Wells, was an eyewitness to that refulgent and transformative summer. An Adventure in 1914 is his testament.
|Thomas Tileston Wells|
An Adventure in 1914
The film 1917 shows the muddy slog through the trenches of the Western Front in WWI. Two British Tommies (played by George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) are charged with bringing an urgent message across no man's land. Over a mile of trenches were constructed by the production crew on the Salisbury plain near Stonehenge in order to make the film. Digitally fabricated rats infest these trenches and sometimes interact with the actors.
In addition to the grim horrors of war there are moments of haunting beauty in this film. A particularly poignant scene depicts a soldier singing "I am a poor wayfarer" while being surrounded by his enraptured comrades.
Spoiler alert: Lance Corporal Tom Blake, a major character played by Chapman, is killed about half way through the film. He is brutally stabbed to death by a crashed German pilot whom he had just rescued by pulling from his burning plane. This seems to be the one false note in an otherwise excellent film. Would a soldier in combat be likely to immediately murder his savior? This smacks of Germano-phobia at the least. We know that there were many instances of astonishing humanity during the Great War -- including the famous Christmas truce of 1914 when soldiers from both sides played soccer and sang carols.
In this dark days of the COVID-19 global pandemic, 1917 is a reminder that other generations have faced existential challenges that were, in fact, far greater than our own. Just over a hundred thousand Americans were killed in the Great War and we could lose a similar number of Americans in 2020 due to the Coronavirus...? The world changed suddenly and catastrophically in the summer of 1914 and it changed again in the spring of 2020. The sun breaks through the clouds as Lance Corporal William Schofield finally gets his life-saving message through to the British General in command of that sector of the front. All of us enduring the pandemic of 2020 must emulate his superhuman determination as we traverse the "no man's land" of today.
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Listen to my interview with Bob Cudmore...http://bobcudmore.com/thehistorians/tracks/ChristopherKelly(August2017)(29)(mp3).mp3
And my interview...www.thebook-club.com/blog/bookshelf-interview-with-christopher-kelly
And my most recent interview...http://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2018/08/17/america-invaded-christopher-kelly