When WWI Films get it right….

Sorry for the long gap since my last post.  Real life has been keeping me busy.  Still making progress on “Rupp’s Sketchbook”  but having to dig into photography and building a copy stand to photograph the journal.  Will post more about that in the future.

As a fan of story telling and graphic arts, movies are always a draw for me.  I regularly am trolling thru Netflix looking for WW1 and aviation themed films.  Some are really bad, some are okay.  Occasionally thru the Director’s eye something is caught that is so authentic that it stops you in your tracks and you are struck by how right they got it.

I had two hit me that way this month for very different reasons.

The first is called “Photographing Fairies”.  Not really a World War I war film at all.  It is the story of a photographer who loses his wife tragically before the war.  He serves as a wartime photographer documenting  fallen soldiers, but is disconnected from the  world over the loss of his wife.  The story is a fantasy really, how he tries to reconnect with his wife when he discovers real life fairies and tries to photograph them.  The scene that got me is his “post war” photography business.  The service he offers is for parents who lost their sons.  He sets up a photo session and his partner who puts on a uniform and poses with the parents.  He than alters the photograph to place a photo of their son’s face in the picture.

When his partner poses with the couple and puts his hand on the father’s shoulder, he visibly shivers.  So many men lost, it rings true that families would go to great lengths to hold onto their memories and pose for the last picture that they never got time to take.  It was only a few minutes in the film but it was chilling and real and sent the message of how people struggle with grief especially when the death is tragic and sudden.


The second film is called “Behind the Lines” in the States or “Regeneration”.  This is the story of an officer that serves in a hospital trying to aid soldiers that are “shell shocked”.  These are men that are so affected by their time in the trenches that they can no longer speak or control their bodies.  The main character actually becomes shell shocked himself even though he was not at the front lines, because he became so affected by the men he attempts to heal.

The opening credits come up over a black screen.  When the credits finish, the camera slowly pans the front lines at just above ground level, in plan view.  The scene is grisly, fallen men, some living some dead, broken men calling out amid the ruins and debris. If you look close the ground is covered in footprints and you can make out silhouettes of fallen soldiers underneath the living ones.   Eventually the camera passes over a trench to a single soldier, calmly sitting drinking a cup of coffee and smoking a cigarette, seemingly oblivious to it all.

The entire scene lasted maybe 30 seconds.  The books I have read about trench warfare describe a place dominated by sticky grey mud that is everywhere.  Men struggle to find some comfort in the wet trenches amid the rats and mud and constant bombardment.  The artillery churns the mud and men together, layers upon layers.  Any digging exposes that the trenches are really an evolving burial ground with layers of fallen soldiers who served on both sides during this war.  The images below show that layering in a way I had never imagined.  The camera panning to the single soldier calmly having a cup of coffee  sends the message of how dulled to the surroundings the men had to become to survive.  It also gives the viewer a better understanding of how the men with shell shock could have become that way.  Hard to look at, but an amazing bit of cinema. It connected strongly even though it was just a few seconds of the film


Find out more about the films themselves on the Wiki links below



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