Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The War

The War (Ken Burns & Lynne Novick, 2007) [9]

This will undoubtedly be on my Top Ten list of 2007 even though it will never see a commercial theatrical release. I don't really see the need to be so dogmatic to say that films that weren't shown in theatres somehow don't count. Burns has created a thoughtful, grateful, and refreshingly apolitical film that triggers strong emotions yet isn't pandering or cheap. The subtle difference that Burns uses for his approach, telling personal stories of the war, make it much stronger than retelling history as every WW II documentary on the History Channel. Each man or woman's story has enough of their own personal experience to show human elements that haven't yet been seen yet all the while still threading them into the greater narrative of the war itself. It creates some truly powerful moments as you can see how much each story means to the people telling them. This film really isn't about the broad scope of history of war; it's about people and the sacrifices they made to fight and win. People tend to forget that the war was fought by actual people, not broad terms like Allies vs. Nazis/good vs. evil, etc. By giving a more human experience of the war, Burns has made his film much more powerful as well as interesting.

Ken Burns' style gets parodied and ridiculed to an extent and I could see how most film snobs wouldn't have much use for it. His overemphasis on geography, always reminding everyone of the four cities he focuses on can become a little tiresome after a while but that's about the only real formal flaw I have with the film. Obviously, the film relies heavily on archival footage and it has some remarkable yet graphic footage. The one element that Burns reiterates that is truly effective is that while World War II may have been a just and necessary war, that doesn't mean it was any different from any war. Lives, both soldiers and civilians, were lost. Much of Europe and Japan were virtually wiped off the face of the earth. The men who fought dealt with all the killing, maiming, and shock that war entails. World War II may have been a war that had to be fought, but that by no means makes it a "good" war. War is hell, and many of the veterans speaking in the film say as much. And while the film has no overt political agenda, all the graphic footage can make one feel that war in whatever the case is never necessary. As Spielberg said, all war films are anti-war films.

No comments: