Produced under the auspices of the Imperial War Museum, Stuart Cooper’s unusual film tells the story of a young private (Brian Stirner) undergoing basic training and experiencing premonitions of his death in the days and weeks leading up to the D-Day invasion. This narrative is intercut with extensive archival war footage.
In the “Mining the Archive” featurette, the remark is made that the film is an excellent showcase for the museum’s collection. This is very true, and is both the…film’s strength and fault. The footage is undeniably striking, and Cooper’s careful choice of materials and editing often creates startling, sometimes surreal or horribly beautiful images. But the effect also is of the narrative as serving as not much more than an excuse precisely to show off that collection.
This being a Criterion release, one should expect a rigorous purity with regards to the sound, and that is the case here. Once-channel mono is the only option here – no dubious remixes in sight. The sound quality is excellent. The mono is warm and perfectly clean, with no unwanted noise. Trust me, you won’t miss the absence of stereo.
The print is in pristine condition. A couple of times, the black-and-white tones shifted slightly in the middle of a shot, but otherwise, the image is well nigh perfect. One might almost (almost, I say) wish it weren’t, as the difference between the dramatic and archival footage is more noticeable, but this is merely a sign of the quality of the transfer. The tones are gorgeous, and there is no grain or flicker (except, of course, when present in the source material).
A typically thoughtful Criterion assemblage here. The commentary is by Cooper and Stirner (recorded separately) and is rich in background. “Mining the Archive,” mentioned above, highlights the role of the Imperial War Museum in the making of the film. “Capa Influences Cooper” is a photo essay, narrated by Cooper, showing the photographs of Robert Capa that are consciously echoed by Cooper in the film. “A Test of Violence” is Cooper’s short film that brought him to the attention of the War Museum. It’s a wordless presentation of artist Juan Genovés’ paintings juxtaposed with live-action re-enactments of same. “Cameramen at War” is a self-explanatory propaganda short, and “Germany Calling” is another such short, from 1941, which consists in clips of the Nazis marching but humorously re-edited to the Lambeth Waltz. Finally, Stirner reads from two soldiers’ journals, and there’s the theatrical trailer. All of this is on the disc. The accompanying booklet has a detailed essay by critic Kent Jones about the film, a history of the War Museum, and excerpts from the novelization of the film (by Cooper and Christopher Hudson).
A most curious film. Well worth watching, if not entirely successful. Nice presentation.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary
- “Mining the Archives” Featurette
- “Capa Influences Cooper” Photo Essay
- “A Test of Violence” Short
- “Cameramen at War” Short
- “German Calling” Short
- Audio Journals
- Theatrical Trailer
- Essays, Novelization Excerpts