Friday, May 30, 2008

The War in Color

By David Luhrssen
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To our eyes the past is black and white. From photographs of the Civil War through early footage of the Civil Rights Movement, the catalog of historical images is drawn mostly from black and white still and motion pictures. Even the existence of color film before the 1960s is startling because of its rarity.

The documentary They Filmed the War in Color puts World War II in a different light. French director Rene-Jean Bouyer assembled two DVDs of fascinating color footage from the war era, one disc devoted to the European theater and the other to the Pacific. The material comes from various sources, from amateur camera buffs to officially sanctioned crews, and depicts life just before the war and at its outbreak, the war at home and on the frontlines, and the fear and bravery of those who fought. Most of it has only recently been discovered in private collections and public archives and has seldom been shown.

On both discs, Bouyer edits the material with an English language voiceover commentary into an accurate, insightful chronicle of the war’s major events. Some of the most harrowing scenes were shot by U.S. troops in the Pacific under orders to produce material giving audiences at home a realistic sense of the experience of war—just not too realistic. Left out of the newsreels shown in American cinemas were the mountains of helmets left by dead G.I.s, the wounded in agony and mind-boggling sights such as the Japanese woman on the island of Saipan, hurling herself into the Pacific from a cliff rather than surrender.

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