Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

They Shall Not Grow Old

Peter Jackson's documentary about the Great War- shown for the first time on BBC 2 last night.

The pace is no longer lickety-split, the missing frames have been restored, sound and colour have been added and the people are people again.

I've watched a lot of this footage before. In its raw state. And it didn't leave me untouched. But this was the first time I was seeing how they grinned and japed and how bad their teeth were and how they were clowning for the camera. They were no longer shadows but chaps, blokes, cards, kids- whom their mothers would have recognised- bearing up, giving it their best, rising to the occasion, getting through their day as best they could.

How cheery they were. The high art of the Great War tends to miss out the cheeriness. Not a lot of laughs in Wilfred Owen. Not a lot of anything human in the warscapes of Paul Nash. But the cheeriness was a big part of the whole experience. Not just cheeriness but decency too. As one of the disembodied voices remarked, there was a lot of kindness at the front. It's there in the cartoons of Bruce Bairnsfather and in the songs the men made up for themselves. Peter Jackson's film shows us the mud and the smashed up corpses but it also shows us the singalong with the clown in the front row who is strumming his beer bottle like a uke.

Yes, sure, the dead are glorious and honoured and never to be forgotten and all that guff- but what funny faces they had.
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