WWI Landscapes

I know we talk a lot about the landscape of WWI – and I don’t know how much of it we really can understand without having been there – but this journal I follow which reviews the public domain just highlighted a bunch of really compelling, stark photographs of the landscape of the Western Front. Definitely worth checking out.

Thoughts from “World Aflame”

Alright, of the two exhibitions, I thought that this one was significantly less compelling – to be completely honest. What I was hoping it would be was an exhibition discussing and showcasing how the First (and Second) World War impacted Fredericksburg, really diving deep into the issues it caused and its continued effect – instead, as is the norm with the Fredericksburg Area Museum (for those familiar), it really provided little insight as to the significance of anything they were showing (which, to be sure, were interesting pieces.) That said, I personally made some interesting observations and connections as a resident of FXBG for over 10 years now.

One of the first things in the exhibit was a flag from the local Baptist church which had embroidered on it 60 (I think? my phone died so I wasn’t able to take a picture) stars, each of which represented a parishioner who went to war. From what I understand, the flag was hung up to remind people that they were there – as if they were easily forgotten. What I thought was interesting about it though, on a personal note, was that above the flag was a list of all the people who the stars represented – one of whom was Alexander Fitzhugh, one of the original people who lived in the house I grew up in! I also recognized last names from classmates that I went to high school with, so it was interesting to see that some of the families who were in Fredericksburg then, are still here now.

On a different/totally unrelated note, upstairs in the museum they had an interesting exhibition of WWII propaganda posters and I was really interested in the similarity between that imagery in the U.S. and the soviet realist movement. I dunno – maybe I’m off-base there.

Thoughts from the ‘Museum of Valor’

Does anyone else here ever come to the grim realization whenever they’re in a war museum looking at real uniforms and equipment that the display they’re looking at is something that was actually worn or used by a person – often a person who died wearing or using those items? Well, I came around to that really rather stark reality while visiting the Museum of Valor exhibit today – the first war exhibition I’ve been to since High School, probably for this reason. It’s really strange, to me, to be looking at a dead soldier’s uniform in an exhibit; a strangeness which was compounded by the accompanying stories about each item’s former owner. Several of these were interesting, but for brevity’s sake I’ll just talk about a couple little blurbs.

The first one which struck me was something sort of positive – Martha Perkins’ post-war escapade seemed a little fishy to me. For a nurse to just go off with another woman after the war, touring Europe seems like something totally unheard of for the time. It made me think that perhaps she (and her ‘friend’) were maybe lesbians who met in the close quarters of the first world war. Maybe it’s the bias speaking here, but that was my immediate thought after reading the plaque. (All of the nurses uniforms also gave me a better idea of what to imagine characters from Not So Quiet… as looking like.)

There was also a really interesting piece up about African American soldiers in WWI which was very much in line with my understanding of their experience at the time from other classes. It talked about how they were reassigned to aid French units and in doing so were subject to less prejudice and were able to get more adequate supplies. (There was also a funny paragraph talking about how American soldiers who joined French units not being used to wine rations and drinking them all at once, leading to the wine rations being decreased.) From my understanding, these experiences fighting alongside the white, French soldiers as equals was one of the catalyzing forces behind a lot of the civil rights movements which followed in the mid 1900’s.

In any case, I thought it was all very interesting.

Forbidden Ground, a film review and a disappointment

(Formal post title: Alex R’s review of Forbidden Ground)

For all the literature and art spurned by the First World War, no matter how belated, Forbidden Ground (the movie from 2013), must be some of the worst. All this movie amounts to is essentially a cliché of a poorly written plot, which was then subjected to messy camerawork, CGI, and awkward editing to make the whole thing even more convoluted. The movie even showcased blatant inaccuracies about the war, which made me question the research which went into its production.

For starters we should talk about the plot. Forbidden Ground centers around a small cadre of English soldiers who survive their compatriots after they are sent on an obviously vindictive and ill-planned mission to charge across no-man’s land and attack the German trenches. Somehow, the movie inspired no sympathy for the characters – in fact I’m sitting here ten minutes after watching it for a second time and I can’t remember their individual names (the only character’s name who I can think of is the protagonist’s wife, Grace.) The French commanding officer is a caricature of gay-coded “bad guy” tropes, and the German commanding officer is clearly just supposed to be evil because he looks evil as a result of a massive scar on his face; neither of these characters are convincing in any way, and neither makes me sympathize with the protagonist. On top of that, the only reason we are given to like the main character is that he has a wife at home who he misses, and the only way we know this is because he writes to her twice in the movie and carries a picture of her in his notebook. While this maybe would have worked better in a different context, it’s overdramatized here – it feels forced in its execution. Similarly, neither he nor his companions change at all over the course of the movie, they are all flat characters from beginning to end. The only person I feel anything for in the whole movie is Grace, the wife, s̵h̵e̵’̵s̵ ̵m̵a̵r̵r̵i̵e̵d̵ ̵t̵o̵ ̵s̵u̵c̵h̵ ̵a̵ ̵b̵o̵r̵i̵n̵g̵ ̵g̵u̵y̵(pretend that’s formatted with a real strikethrough) because she’s trying to get an abortion and is turned away. This is much more compelling than the primary plot of the movie, although it’s also overdramatized – the dialogue is all forced and hackneyed together. On top of all this, the resolution is unrealistic: there’s supposed to be a parallelism or an inversion of tropes in that she dies and he doesn’t, but it feels emotionless, partially because of the lack of reaction on the husband’s part: he just walks up to her grave in a little voiceover, drops a letter there, and strolls away. Not very emotional or consistant; if she was truly his reason to survive the war, I’d expect a different response.

On top of the poor writing, the production itself was really not great. There were clearly lots of CGI people, weapons, and blood splatters which really took me out of the story – it was hard not to laugh at some points. Also, whenever the characters were in a trench it was hard to tell where exactly they were; there was a weird lack of geographical understanding which made the whole movie hard to follow. This also goes for the no-man’s land; it was hard to tell the distance between the two lines of trenches because there was never any aerial shot (or anything at all) which helped to decode the landscape. Then there are the voiceovers, another element which made it hard to take Forbidden Land seriously. At a lot of points, it’s clear that the actors either didn’t say their lines correctly, or that they changed the lines in post production, so they just dubbed over the original sound with the new script, making it hard to tell who’s talking and taking the words out of sync with the actors’ mouths. All of these issues just really took me out of the content the film was trying to convey.

Perhaps worst of all though are the glaring historical inconsistencies. While there were smaller ones, like the young soldier having an bleach blond-to-ombre undercut, the big one was that the attitude on the homefront seemed totally different that what I’ve understood it to be. At one point the young soldier was talking about how he promised to his mate’s mother that he’d look after him; this promise seems wrong in that his mother would likely have been proud, or even egging her son to go to war. Grace’s attitude also felt inaccurate (along with that of her nurse), her husband was at war and I would have expected her to be more prideful as opposed to mourning. Although maybe these issues have to do more with the fact that I have no idea at what point during the war this movie takes place, not once during the movie do they give you the year – not even during the atrocious epistolary voice over sections.

In sum: Forbidden Land was a mess. It was poorly written, produced, and researched. Maybe these has to do with the fact that it was written, directed, and starred in one guy? Johan Earl, if you’re reading this, please do a better job next time; your extras were better actors than you. This movie was a poor representation of World War 1 and just bad movie as a whole.

(wc: 893)