Thingish Things

Hollywood-ed History

Written By: William F. B. O'Reilly - Jan• 29•12

“This land was made for war.

“As glass resists the bite of vitriol, so this hard and calcined earth rejects the battles’ hot, corrosive impact.

“Here is no nubile, girlish land. No green and virginal countryside for war to violate. This land is hard, inviolable.”

So reads Sir Lawrence Olivier in the opening moments of Episode Eight, “The Desert: North Africa (1940–1943)”, of inarguably the greatest television documentary series ever made. 

The World at War, all 26-episodes of it, was produced by Jeremy Isaacs and broadcast on British television from October 1973 to May 1974. It took years to assemble, and aimed to provide a leveling look at the War – one with perspective that only comes with time, and without the emotionalism and propaganda that influenced documentaries made during and immediately succeeding the War’s conclusion. 

The World at War was profoundly written and constructed. It includes the most comprehensive collection of combat and civilian footage from all theaters of the war ever amassed, and a musical score that sears the language and images into the viewer’s consciousness.  Seconds into any one of its episodes, one knows he is in the hands of a master. 

I have been trying of late, unsuccessfully, to make my teenage daughters watch The World at War – to understand the enormity of what happened, the globe over, not so many years ago.  World War II is virtually unknown by this new generation, just as World War I largely slipped from the memory of mine.  The 1939 bombing of Poland is deeper in the past to someone born today than than the Boxer Rebellion in China (1898-1901) was to us. But still, they should know the Second World War. We live today in its aftermath.

I was therefore thrilled to learn the George Lucas was making “Red Tails,” a film out this week about the  Tuskegee 332nd Fighter Group, the famed African-American fighter group that flew escort missions over Italy, France, and Germany.  The Tuskegee Airmen, called “Red-Tailed Angels” by bomber pilots they protected, flew cover for American troops in Italy, where my father fought with the Tenth Mountain Division.

But one look at the trailer for the film made me cringe. It screams, if you’ll pardon the language, Hollywood bulls***.  Movies like “Red Tails” breed ambivalence in me.  It is great that my daughter’s generation is catching a glimpse of Second World War bravery and sacrifice – especially young black Americans – but is this the best we can do for them? Must Hollywood always despoil and cheapen history this way? Must it be its arbiter for generations to come?

I wish I owned a movie theater today so I could run three minutes of The World at War before welcome, but sophomoric, films like “Red Tails” appear on screen.

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One Comment

  1. Pugs says:

    I’m really afraid that today’s youth (not your kids Bill!)think that because vampires live forever…their lives represent history…and are deserving of never ending mindless fawning and obsession…hot, young sexy vampires are stealing our kids brains…

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