Wednesday, July 30, 2008

All Quiet....

A little belatedly, I'll witter on about Film Club's last viewing. The club itself was severely depleted by Dong and Shazzerooneypoos being in far off Pictland provoking the natives with tales of weather that isn't permanently wet (only nearly so), and by Frankenkeith being otherwise unavailable. Ah well, Mrs The Millbrooker and I settled onto the sofa as a comfortable twosome to watch Lewis Milestone's 1930 classic All Quiet On The Western Front.

Checking on the internet movie database at, I see that a remake is already in production with an intended US release date in 2009. I have very few misgivings, it's a film that should probably be remade for every generation, but I urge anyone with an interest in film to watch the 1930 version NOW, before the marketing gets going for the new big budget project. THEN take a peek at the new one once it's released. It'll be an interesting exercise in "compare and contrast".

Mrs The Millbrooker and I both read Eric Remarque's outstanding novel on which the film is based (in translation, of course) a few years back and found it intensely moving. It's a deceptively simple story of normal young men becoming abnormal through their brutalising experiences in world war one.

The novel shows how the young Germans find it impossible to envisage an ordinary life; how it's no longer possible for them to return to their existences before the war as their parents and families no longer have any understanding or even anything in common with them.

To live up to this, the film would have to be something very special indeed. With great directorial skill, using the limited technology of the day, Milestone offers up that something.

The cinematic techniques are surprisingly modern. A favoured trick of Milestone's is to use projected images in the background as a dramatic scene plays out in the foreground. A fine example is early in the film as the camera tracks backwards from a seemingly endless parade of soldiers marching off to war into a classroom where a schoolmaster (seen below) is urging his pupils to join up and protect the fatherland. The parade continues to be in shot throughout the schoolmaster's oratory through the classroom's double fronted windows. Very effective.

Most of the narrative takes place at the front as the boys slowly become less and less like their former selves, and one by one lose their lives to an increasingly pointless cause.

It's a tragedy in the truest sense; the hero(es) do not survive. But, as in Remarque's novel, this seems only right and fitting. They don't belong in a normal world anymore: they couldn't survive the armistice anyway and, if you look deep inside their psyches, you'll find that they don't want to survive into peacetime. Indeed, in the novel, the main protagonist, Paul, dies on the last day of the war, smiling as he hunches forward in death. The film glosses over Paul's death slightly, making it seem more accidental than the sub-conscious suicide of the book, but the viewer is still left with a powerful sense of loss.

The acting techniques on show are an interesting blend of silent movie expressionism and modern day naturalism; the date of the film's release says it all. Some of the actors would have spent the previous umpteen years in silents, whilst the younger ones had maybe only a couple of previous films under their belts and had already discovered a more natural style in which using subtle facial expression conveys more than grand gesture.

The bloody horrors of war are never graphic in this film; early cinematic techniques and the sensibilities of the day would not have allowed it. The true horrors are shown to be the loss of truth, the loss of human feeling, the loss of connection.

Regular readers will know that we often watch foreign films, and I know that many people are put off by the idea of subtitles. This one was made in the US with American actors and they speak English (well, American), so there's no excuse for not getting yourselves a copy.

I do hope that the promised remake will keep the lightness of touch needed to bring out Remarque's subtle message and that whoever directs it will lay off the schmaltz and the overt bloodshed. This story needs neither.

1 comment:

Frankenkeith said...

Well - sorry I missed it. I read the book at school and saw the film years ago and remember how it shows the hopelessness of war. I have just finished reading "A Long Long Way" by Sebastian Barry. The story of Irish soldiers on the Western Front. It follows the same progress to acceptance of the situation as being "normal" "Birdsong" is a similar book but I wonder if we need any more remakes? It has all been said. We don't need another version do we?