They Shall Not Grow Old

A hundred years from now, people will not have to guess what we were like, or how we lived or what thoughts we might have. Our technology and culture is resulting in the most documented, photographed/filmed generation in human history. For good or ill, our lives will be available in a format that ten decades from now will be understood and easily accessible. Go backwards a hundred years and the exact opposite is true. We have grainy pictures, incomplete sound and you have to go to an historical archive to even see that world, at least until now. Peter Jackson, of “Lord of the Rings” fame, has scoured through the 100 hours of film footage that the Imperial War Museum has, and put it together to make a fascinating look at the experience of soldiers on the Western Front of “The Great War”.

His collaborators have meticulously re-timed the footage to create a smooth flow of film that was usually hand-cranked at different speeds. Computers have been employed to correct lighting, remove scratches and debris and generally make an experience feel as if it was recorded with contemporary technology. Voice actors from appropriate parts of the British Isles give voice to words silently spoken in the film clips from the war, by using lip reading technology and extensive notes of official publications. Sound effects are recreated using traditional Foley techniques and authentic equipment from the era. It is as if a film crew from 2018 was able to step back into 1918 and get a brief glimpse into the world of those serving in the trenches.

That world is both inspiring and horrifying. The actual voices of WW I vets, from oral history recordings done when they were in their seventies, are played over scenes and create a narrative that is pretty basic but just right for the footage we are seeing. Boys who were 15 and 16, lied about their ages to volunteer. Everyone was enthusiastic in supporting the war effort of their nation. During the film, they are not shy about describing some terrible conditions and nightmare inducing experiences. All war is hell, but this particular version of hell involved circumstances that were brutal. The insects, the vermin and the stench practically crawls off the screen to make us all glad that we did not have to do this ourselves. It also should make us stand in awe of the men who did.

Jackson has not attempted to cover all the fronts in the war. So navel conflict, the air war, the home front and the role of women, doctors, and politicians is excluded. This is about the front line. The men who slept in trenches , while standing up or crawling into a mudhole between duty assignments are the focus of this documentary. The story is told somewhat chronologically, staring with recruitment and training efforts and ending with unemployment at the wars conclusion. This was a Fathom Event, so it was a one day set of screenings. If you find this wonderful piece of history somewhere, be sure to watch, it will devastate you and inspire you simultaneously.

My Family Contribution to the Great War
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