Archives of War (1999) – DVD Review

Archives of War DVD Cover

Film:
DVD:

Written and Directed by: Marty Callaghan

Features:

  1. 3-disc set, 2 programs per disc

Released by: MPI Home Video
Region: 1
Rating: NR
Anamorphic: N/A; footage appears in its original 1.33:1 format.

My Advice: Rent it if you’re a big history buff who can speak Russian, Chinese, Italian, Japanese, and Swedish; otherwise Borrow It.

Before CNN, before 60 Minutes, even before the six o’clock network news, if people wanted to see the news they went to the movies and watched the newsreels. One of the first major producers of newsreels was British Pathe. Starting with the bi-weekly newsreel Pathe Gazette in 1910, their archives have over 3,500 hours of history captured on film. These newsreels and ‘cinemagazines’ are the primary source of material for Archives of War. The six programs cover the campaigns of WWI, the leaders and battles of WWII, the events and attitudes during the Cold War, and the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.

There’s over 11 hours of footage on these discs and it’s mostly battle footage, soldiers and sailors fighting the good fight for God, country, and freedom. After seeing an infantryman avoid artillery fire for the umpteenth time though, it all starts to blend together. There are some gems in the mix. One is the silent film The Battle of Ypres. Both sides sent thousands and thousands of their soldiers to be slaughtered all to capture this small French town. Ypres saw the first use of chlorine gas and tanks in battle. This film recreated the battles and stories of heroism from that bloody campaign. Even the difficulties of getting food to the front line are shown.

We also see historical footage in full where before most of us have seen only snippets: President Franklin Roosevelt’s speech to Congress where he declares war against Japan (the ‘a date that will live in infamy’ speech), President Johnson announcing the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that escalated America’s involvement in Vietnam, even the full version of the now-infamous Duck and Cover short film. We also get a different perspective on history. British Pathe filmed various European cities preparing for bombing raids before the start of World War II. They have film of French troops fighting the Vietnamese rebels in a nasty prologue to the Vietnam War, something not usually referred to. They show anti-war demonstrations occurring in other countries: England, Australia, and France, even in Vietnam itself. These films give valuable illumination to the major conflicts of the 20th century.

Archives of war FDR Archives of War riot

It’s a shame that the DVD presentation of this historical imagery is just awful. I wish there was more description of the scenes we are watching. While there are a few text introductions for some pieces, it would help to have more information to put the newsreels in historical perspective. Unbelievably, there is no scene selection for the programs on these discs. If you want to view a specific newsreel item, you have to fast-forward to that point. I thought the whole point of DVDs (well okay, maybe a partial point) was the ability to skip directly to your favorite scene. If I wanted to deal with fast-forwarding, I can just go rent a videotape from Blockbuster.

Also, there are many items from other countries and they are in their native languages (Russian, German, Japanese, etc.). but—there are no subtitles translating what is being said. What the hell is that!? I don’t understand why the people behind this DVD couldn’t provide the basic features you expect from the cheapest discs from the bargain bin. So unless you are an extremely patient, multilingual history enthusiast, I would find another source of historical film than Archives of War.

Click here to buy it from Amazon.

By | 2008-08-03T06:19:51+00:00 October 24th, 2002|DVD, Reviews|0 Comments

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