Jack­son brings war to life

The Dominion Post - - Opinion -

Armistice Day has usu­ally been over­shad­owed in New Zealand by An­zac Day but to­mor­row’s 100th an­niver­sary of the end of World War I will be an Armistice Day with a dif­fer­ence. The two-minute si­lence that will be ob­served at Pukeahu Na­tional War Memo­rial Park in Welling­ton at 11am will be bro­ken by ‘‘a fan­fare of bells, sirens and horns across the city and har­bour, echo­ing the joy­ous sounds heard across Aotearoa when news of the Armistice reached our shores’’, ac­cord­ing to the Gov­ern­ment’s ww100 web­site. In case the noise fails to reach you, there will be smaller events in churches, halls and at war memo­ri­als all over the coun­try.

Or you may pre­fer the quiet of the cin­ema. For New Zealan­ders, Sir Peter Jack­son’s new, fea­ture-length World War I doc­u­men­tary, They Shall Not Grow Old, will seem a nat­u­ral com­pan­ion to Te Papa’s mon­u­men­tal The Scale of Our War ex­hi­bi­tion, in which the Gal­lipoli story was pow­er­fully told by Weta Work­shop’s gi­ant, hy­per-real sculp­tures, and Jack­son’s The Great War Ex­hi­bi­tion, which aimed to recre­ate the over­whelm­ing sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence of com­bat.

Like those ex­hi­bi­tions, They Shall Not Grow Old is an ex­per­i­ment de­signed to bring his­tory into the present. Jack­son as­sem­bled a new World War I nar­ra­tive from footage held by the Bri­tish Im­pe­rial War Mu­se­ums, in­clud­ing the leg­endary 1916 film The Bat­tle of the Somme. One of his in­no­va­tions was to colourise and change the speed of grainy black and white footage, giv­ing us a clearer sense of how war must have looked to sol­diers on the Western Front.

A world we have al­ways seen in shades of grey can even look as­ton­ish­ingly pretty. That only makes the war’s hor­rors harder to take.

Colouri­sa­tion has had a bad rep­u­ta­tion as a gim­micky de­vice and some film buffs re­sist it. But it works ef­fec­tively in this case be­cause of the way it adds mean­ing. Like The Wizard of Oz, or even the Rus­sian cult clas­sic Stalker, Jack­son’s film be­gins and ends in a mun­dane black and white world. The film only switches to colour once we are within shelling dis­tance of the front line.

Ev­ery­thing comes vividly alive: the rou­tines of the sol­diers, the noise and im­pact of ar­tillery, the clouds of poi­sonous gas, the lice and the rats. We see the ner­vous grins of the sol­diers as they face the cam­era. Some of these young men were just 17 or 18 – Jack­son wants to reach out to them across the abyss of his­tory.

While the vis­ual in­no­va­tions have been widely com­mented on, the sound­track is equally ef­fec­tive. Voices of more than 100 old sol­diers col­lected by the BBC and the Im­pe­rial War Mu­se­ums are woven to­gether to cre­ate nar­ra­tion that runs from the ex­cited an­tic­i­pa­tion of war to the oddly de­press­ing af­ter­math.

One of the tru­isms of the war is that re­turned ser­vice­men felt un­able to com­mu­ni­cate the ex­pe­ri­ence to oth­ers. Jack­son’s doc­u­men­tary helps ex­plain why, and it was not just the hor­rors of wartime that were so out of the or­di­nary, but also the ca­ma­raderie and a sense of be­long­ing. And while it was pro­duced from Bri­tish ma­te­ri­als orig­i­nally for a Bri­tish au­di­ence, it has plenty of lo­cal res­o­nance, in­clud­ing war songs de­liv­ered by gusto by Welling­ton mu­si­cians Plan 9.

Ev­ery­thing comes vividly alive: the rou­tines of the sol­diers, the noise of ar­tillery, the clouds of poi­sonous gas.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.