“The Battle of the Somme”

(I just had to throw this on there too)

I’m going to watch one of the first “realistic” portrayals of battle in cinema – Geoffrey Malins’ “The First Day on the Somme” (released Sep 1916, while the battle was still going on in France), filmed in the very place (though before the very time) of the battle itself by the Official Kinematographer (sic) of the British Army.
To put this in historical context:
This is a silent film and clearly a “sanitized” and distanced form of warfare on the ground – and later proved to have many staged scenes, including a soldier who is shot and “killed” before advancing. Even the 30-second TV ads for “Call of Duty” are more graphic than this thing, not least due to the degree of censorship imposed on the British media during the war.

However, I think it can still be powerful if you can put yourself in the mindset of the period. Okay. Imagine you’re a civilian who has a brother or father or or husband or son at the front. And imagine pretty much everyone else you know does too, or at least knows someone who is “somewhere in France.” And furthermore imagine that the cinema, though it has been around for a few years now, still seems startingly novel and “real” to you. (Compare it, perhaps, to the development of virtual reality – or even the constructed realism of CGI effects. There is a major suspension of disbelief going on; you know the dinosaurs or the spaceships or the orcs or whatever aren’t “real,” but they’re pretty impressive nonetheless.) Now imagine watching the opening of “Saving Private Ryan” (I know, I know, different war) and realize that the whole time you’re watching, indeed the reason you went to see this film in the first place, is to really understand that that’s what they’re doing right now, and that this is the closest you will ever get to understanding your loved one’s experience as a soldier.

And even so, you are seeing the visual – no sound, no texture or sensation, and (perhaps not remembered enough) no smell or taste.

So this is, to you, simultaneously a glimpse into the reality of the war, and yet an affirmation that you are still very, very far away from that world.

Yeah, it’s kinda like that.


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