Brittany Runs a Marathon
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Has to be top marks. Richard Attenborough's Masterwork combining the genuine horror of WW! with the genuine humour of the men in the trenches. Brilliantly constructed movie around songs of the time and who can forget that final horrifying scene peaceful though it is. Packed with wonderful mostly British stars who as expected give wonderful performances.
Scathing with a killing satire of a glossy august musical, Sir Richard Attenborough's directorial debut is a cri de coeur against the lunacy, futility and bestiality of World War One never before seen.
A surreal critic of war, but this comic style which is just as much a satire enhances the ludicrously pointless loss of life the 'Great War' was, and the pompous attitudes of the British elite towards it.
A war film unlike any other.
Strange adaption of the WWI play. The comedy and satire is I guess mostly lost on me in translation as this movie is VERY British. Goes on way too long, and despite all of the great British actors, I just couldn't get into it or get over its stagey methods.
A strange and interesting Great War film that presents the conflict as, among other things, a garish seaside carnival to which everyone wanted a ticket. More than many films I've seen based on plays, this one incorporates elements of staging you'd expect from the theatre without any ill effects; in some scenes, it's like there's a camera in the theatre and you can see literal set pieces, while others (increasingly, as the film goes on) immerse you in the action you'd need to mostly imagine were you in a theatre. I also found in places that the film's sense of the absurd (if not its hilarity) rivalled that of Monty Python. Do we call it a satire? I think so... but its project of laying bare the conflict's human cost and its deference to the symbolic value of the poppy and the increasingly fatalistic songs of the soldiers is worth noting, too. In all it's not an overly exciting movie to watch, but it's a rich and layered document that ought to survive.
A Strange Way of Visualizing It
Gwen has this philosophy about war. She believes that you should never go into a war you can't explain to a seven-year-old. Graham asked me to give him the short version of what World War I was about when I was explaining today's feature to him, and I couldn't. I told him that it was impossible. No one can give a short version of what World War I is about. There are, I think, fewer movies about it than any war the US has been involved in after 1812 and before Korea. There may even be more movies about Korea, for all I know. I'd have to look it up. But the point is, I think this is an attempt to render a confusing situation a little more understandable. It's an interesting experiment, certainly, and I really do approve of the attempt. Even if, I must confess, it didn't always work for me. You also have to admit that it's got a great cast, if nothing else.
It's a bit hard to explain the plot, obviously. It is a collage of sorts, pieced together from authentic dialogue and musical numbers. However, instead of showing the real horrors of the war, it for the most part puts it into a fantasized, stylized milieu, presenting the war as yet another amusement at Brighton Pier, among other views. Dame Maggie Smith performs a rousing musical number to get boys to enlist. John Mills (Hayley's father) plays Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, selling tickets to the show. Vanessa Redgrave as Sylvia Pankhurst campaigns for an end to the war and votes for women. We get to see the Christmas Truce of 1914, and we see the regret the men feel when they have to go back to war. Dirk Bogarde expresses distaste at those who would deign to serve cider, even in a time of national emergency. And so forth. It's Jane Seymour's first film; she is one of the chorus girls. And one by one, they muddle their way through the war. And one by one, starting with Franz Ferdinand (Wensley Pithey) and his wife (Ruth Kettlewell), they get poppies . . . .
It is, of course, impossible to really express the entire war in a single picture. This is true of any war, even something like the Six Days War. It may have been short, but it was the story of many people in many places interacting. World War I was longer and took place over more territory. It would, I think, be hard to tell the story of even a single person over the course of the war in any kind of detail, and telling the story of the war itself, even using a family to do so, is probably impossible as well. After all, how do you cover every front? I guess you could have that one family be the ancestors of Queen Victoria, which would admittedly involve both sides and a half-dozen countries. However, that wouldn't give you much view of the actual fighting, just what happened in the halls of power. Since this story is trying to show both, it of necessity dabbles--some at the top, and some in the trenches.
Okay, and it's mostly the British story. We learn a little bit about what's happening to the Russians, but if Gallipoli is mentioned, I missed it. We do get the sudden appearance of the Americans, but I don't think we got the Lusitania. (I confess that it wasn't the easiest for me to keep track of when certain moments were, but the Lusitania is pretty distinctive; I didn't see anything naval through the whole movie.) Mostly what we get is the conflict between the foolish old men at the top, who still dream of cavalry charges, and the poor sods in the trenches, who actually do the fighting and dying. Gas does put in its appearance, but the idea that perhaps war is different here and now than decades ago in Africa or India is not something that occurs to these men. I've often thought that the real reason the Americans were able to clear everything up as quickly, aside from being fresh troops when the Germans and Austro-Hungarians were exhausted, was that we'd had the Civil War and learned lessons from it that Europe had not.
This was an ambitious film. Apparently, some people felt it de-emphasized the actual deaths in the war that the source material--a radio play and a stage play--did not, and I think that's a fair enough criticism as far as it goes. I did not come away from it any more aware of the ridiculous waste than I had been before I went in, but I think I'm still more aware than average of the ridiculous waste that was World War I. People don't much remember it, and I think that's in part because it is so awfully difficult to explain what the fighting was about. Several people have also mentioned that the giant lighted sign declaring it to be World War I is an anachronism; it is, however, worth noting that the first reference to it as "the first world war" dates to 1914. What's more, I think there is a cruel irony that we can do without in labeling it "the Great War," even in a historical context. And we all know how well "the War to End All Wars" worked out long term.
This film is everything a movie musical about World War 1 should be. It trades in the deep dissonance between the brutality of total war and the frivolity of Edwardian culture. A war shatters the carefree summer of 1914 and instead of being appalled that their fun has come to an end, they treat the war like just one more great spectator sport in a summer full of rowing competitions and football matches. The ultimate masculine game.
What follows is a brilliant display of dissonance between the world of civilians and officers (played out like yet another music hall show) and the somewhat more realistically presented world of the front line troops.
Throughout the film, violence is often highly stylized (particularly in the scenes with a dapper photographer who hands out poppies to characters to symbolize their deaths) but never trivialized, and the absurdity of the mounting casualties is driven home throughout the course of the film.
The film's cheery score and cavalcade of well-choreographed singers and dancers do not come off as a sugar coating on a bitter pill, but as a device to lighten the mood just enough to allow the idea of death on a large scale to have as much impact on the viewer as possible without shocking them with graphic violence; the viewer's innocence is repeatedly built up by catchy soft-shoe numbers and sappy ballads, then shattered. The comic relief is used to take us on an emotional journey that finds us desperately attempting to return to the good cheer of 1914 and being cut down every time.
In all, as musicals about war go, it avoids being frivolous propaganda, while using the trappings of frivolity to soften its tone just enough to not be sanctimonious. I was quite impressed with it over all.
Despite the jokes and jovial sing songs the clear anti war message shines brightest. Incredibly powerful and thought provoking throughout.
Wrong Collin Farrell