Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Great War at the Movies

Still from Abel Gance's 1919 J'Accuse. © SF Silent Film Festival Blog
I've been dreaming of the silver screen lately, and I wanted to compile an initial list of essential films about the First World War. There are lots, of course, and many movies feature unexpected links between a primary storyline and the war. Perhaps because I spend so much time reading and writing about the war, these links pop out at me--sometimes surprising me in films I've seen many times before. For instance, the 1992 Chaplin, a favorite of mine for several reasons, includes a phase of the silent star's life when, as he travels in Britain after the war, the relevance of his art is questioned in light of the devastation that his native country has experienced. Chaplin actually made a war "comedy" in 1918, called Shoulder Arms, about which Chris Edwards writes quite eloquently at his blog, Silent Volume. I have not seen the film, but Edwards writes that the Little Tramp character enlists in the American army. Perhaps this alignment, though surely stemming from Chaplin's association with American film studios, allows the film's (strangely chosen) comedy to avoid representational contact with British experience of the war. Though comedy was not an unknown note in this experience or its expression, it is true that the film may strike viewers as odd or somewhat disorienting in its unreal depictions. 

Here are ten films, to start. These are my personal picks for today, not all well-known or widely-recognized as war films, but the ghosts of 1914 haunt them nonetheless. Sometimes the most moving encounters with the Great War on film are not in movies directly about the war, after all. 

1. J'Accuse (1919) Clips from this incredible film can be found here.

2. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

3. War Horse (2011)

4. A Very Long Engagement/ Un long dimanche de fiancailles (2004)

5. Chariots of Fire (1981)

6. Paths of Glory (1957)

7. Joyeux Noel (1995)

8. Fairy Tale (A True Story) (1997)

9. Gallipoli (1981)

10. The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain (1992)

I hope you enjoy watching or remembering some of these films. Take a moment to consider the ways in which the ghosts of 1914 appear in these and other movies--at times manifesting right before our eyes, and at others, hovering at the edges of the screen.

© Fiona Robinson

No comments:

Post a Comment