The War (2007)
There have been a ton of World War II documentaries made over the last, what, 62 years? Some range from absurd, but still interesting (like the SS/Occult stuff) to pure masterpieces such as Ken Burns’ The War.
The focus in this series of seven episodes, is to let people from four US towns/cities tell their stories of the war. Some fought, some stayed home, some were innocent victims abroad, and some lost loved ones. But the stories are their’s, and told by them. That’s what makes this series particularly interesting.
Since the story is told from these four locations (Mobile AL, Waterbury CT, Sacramento CA, and Luverne MN) the entire series does tend to take on a US-centric perspective. A lot of relevant events and history of the war before the US involvement is touched on, but not in great detail. And there are some events that just aren’t mentioned at all. But, after seeing the entire series, I suppose it makes sense to only tell those events that their subjects had experience with.
From the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, all the way through to the servicemen and prisoners returning home afterwards and struggling with what they’d been through…. There are moments which will make you furious, make you laugh, and at times nearly bring you to tears. The stories told are just that moving. There are times you can see in these guys’ eyes that there are still things they aren’t telling… things that they are remembering that they really don’t want to.
I said in my “First Impressions” post that I thought The War was taking a bit too much of a “PC” stance. While I still think Burns et al. went out of their way to find these controversial stories, such as the all-Japanese 100th 442nd unit Sen. Inouye was in, the Japanese internment camps, the racial oppression and discrimination surrounding Mobile and the shipyards, the same in the services with their tales of discrimination…. Those are stories that need to be told as well, and in hindsight I am glad they were told.
The entire series is presented in two “facets” if you want to call it that. The first being the face-to-face interviews of the story-tellers, intertwined with their own photos and home movies…. The second is the exclusive use of stock photos and footage, which have expertly had sound effects added to them, where there wouldn’t have been otherwise. Every attempt was made to put you right into the situations the stock footage portrays.
The soundtrack also puts you in there as well, from contemporary music from Bing Crosby and others, to new music composed specifically for the series. (and I can’t recall the guys name! shame on me! I can see his face!) It hangs in the background and jumps out at opportune times to add just the right amount of drama to a particular situation. You might notice some familiar voices expertly narrating some of the parts that aren’t told first hand, such as Tom Hanks and Samuel L. Jackson.
Speaking of stock footage, as the series moves along, some of it becomes more and more grisly and graphic, with lots of shots of wounded and dead, civilians and soldiers from all sides. Be aware of this if you’re thinking of presenting this i.e. in your school or where ever. In particular the last three episodes become increasingly intense and graphic. But I have a feeling that it could have been a lot worse. These images coincide with some of the stories, and quite frankly had to be shown, if nothing else just to prove how completely terrible the whole thing was.
I should admit a bit of bias in this review, and let me relate a story of my own. My grandfather was a tank driver involved in some part of the D-Day invasion. I was told this by my dad, who then said, “but don’t ever ask him about it.” And I didn’t, and that was that. He died in ’95, and I don’t believe he told his story to anyone, at least anyone else who will re-tell it.
I can’t help but think how many other stories and accounts have been lost, and putting this 14+ hours on film with this mere fraction of those accounts…. It’s a piece that should be put up on a shelf, and when your kids are older, and ask about their great-grandparents and what it was like for them, you might let them see what The War was all about.
You should also check out the Veterans’ History Project, if you are interested in contributing to the annals of history.