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From: Horky, Roger Karl <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: War movies are right, too Date: March 7, 2010 1:12:10 AM EST To: H-NET Military History Discussion List <H-WAR@H-NET.MSU.EDU> Someone else may have said this earlier but I don't recall having seen it. One thing that war movies can do better than fiction and nonfiction books, better than photographs, better than paintings, is to present what an event was like visually and audibly. For all the complaints about its plot and historicity, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN gives its audience the sights and sounds of battle. I did not see it in a theatre, but even on my tiny TV the opening battle sticks with me. The most horrific thing about the scene is the sound of random bullets striking various metal objects. I do not recall any books giving me a similar chill. MASTER AND COMMANDER provided me with the same sense of horror. It is one thing to read about "wood splinters flying everywhere" in a history book or a swashbuckling novel; it is another to see and hear them, even in a recreation that the audience knows was filmed in a very controlled environment, with sound effects added later and chosen for their power. Photographs, of course, can provide accuracy, but they are static. Even Robert Capa's famous D-Day photos are frozen moments of time, and they are further handicapped by being in black-and-white. Motion-picture footage can give a better sense of movement, but suffer from many other types of problems. They are usually too short, and often seem to have been taken furtively. Early films are grainy and shaky and B&W. Of course, these drawbacks are themselves useful clues in decoding the event, but few combat photographers have the luxury that feature film directors have, of choosing the best vantages and framing their scenes to provide the best visual composition. Consider an aerial dogfight, the essence of which is movement. Photographs fail utterly to convey the dynamacism of the event--or its scope or scale. Documentary film footage of an air battle is often very obviously the result of a cameraman getting lucky enough to catch something interesting. I have seen countless photographs of Lancaster bombers, and have seen one in a museum, but the scene in THE DAMBUSTERS in which the Lancs are flying below the hilltops conveys far better than any narrative the speed and power of the machines. I like a good costume drama, if only for the opportunity to see people moving around in garb that I know only through still pictures in books. Motion pictures recreate street scenes and interior locations that we could otherwise visit only with out imaginations. Richard Lester's two musketeer films are fictional stories, but still present costume, architecture, and landscape well enough. Turn off the sound and enjoy the spectacle. Paintings can convey color, but are also static. They are like movies, by which I mean that they are usually created by non-participants and are intended to produce an emotional reaction and not be an unimpeachable source of accurate information. Many history books include contemporary paintings, woodcuts, cartoons, and maps. We do not kvetch about their inaccuracies as we do those in contemporary movies. How will our professional descendants respond to today's feature films as a reflection of a reality? Most of us on H-War are professional historians, and as such we know better than to rely on one source for our knowledge. We collect our information from a host of material. We also know how to interrogate a source, to analyze its strengths and weaknesses. A commercial motion picture can be a source of knowledge, if one respects its boundaries and limitations, which are many. The knowledge may not be historic or accurate, but it is knowledge, and thus should not be dismissed. Roger Horky PhD Student and Teaching Assistant History Department Texas A&M University College Station TX ----- For subscription help, go to: http://www.h-net.org/lists/help/ To change your subscription settings, go to http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/wa?SUBED1=h-war -----