American Film Footage of World War II


The Importance of Real Footage


Before and at the beginning of the war, Hollywood-produced, studio-based propaganda films were the most popular among moviegoers. However, as the war continued, the allure of actual war footage soon overtook the demand for glorified actors playing war heroes. People sought actual war footage not for its accuracy or its informativeness, but for its stark assurance of reality. Thomas Patrick Doherty writes: "The attraction of the newsreel then was neither timeliness or urgency but verification and coherence. . . . The newsreels made sense of the [war]."[1]

Filming the War


By an instance of chance, American filming of its participation in the war happened as soon as the war itself began with America. A film crew from 20th Century-Fox was in Hawaii filming for a Hollywood movie on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The crew immediately began capturing as much footage as they could.[2]

Although private studios wished to employ their own photographers at the fronts in order to secure their own footage, the military opted instead to provide the studios with stock footage shot by military photographers from the Army Signal Corps and the Navy Photographic Unit so that the footage could be regulated by the military.[3]

Censorship


The military heavily censored what photographers could shoot and what exhibitors could show to the public. Throughout the war, "restrictions on combat footage and postponement of its timely release pitted the newsreels squarely against the newsmakers."[4] Officers would frequently physically force photographers to stop filming, either by detaining the photographers or the cameras. In other instances, photographers would not be allowed on the front, instead filming a staged event provided by the military to replicate the actual battle. Because the military was largely responsible for giving the photographers opportunities to shoot, filmmakers generally surrendered to the whims of the generals.[5] According to a piece by contemporary magazine Variety, most photographers were subordinate to almost any lower officers, and thus could be ordered to stop filming at any moment. "As a result, they beef, they've missed thousands of opportunities for spectacular and historic footage."[6]

Later in the war, the military changed their censorship strategies. Instead of controlling what the photographers could shoot, they decided to control what the exhibitors could show. Irving Smith remembers that in the latter parts of the war, "There were no restrictions on our work. We went everywhere and photographed anything we wanted to." But the military collected the footage shot by all the photographers into a pool, and gave only the desirable footage to the filmmakers to make their newsreels and shorts.[7]

George Stevens


George Stevens was a famed Hollywood director in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s. In World War II, Stevens headed a film
stevens-george.jpg
George Stevens (Alternative Film Guide)
unit - nicknamed "Stevens' Irregulars" - under the command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Stevens' unit shot the only color footage of the American front of the war,[8] and it included footage from the famed D-Day invasion at Normandy Beach in France, the liberation of Paris, and the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau.[9]

Stevens saw his work as a war photographer as very important; he thought of himself as a "liaison between the men who fight and those who serve at home" and was convinced that his duty was to "make the casualties easier to bear for those who have had to suffer bereavement. Construct a celluloid monument to those who have been the ones to go."[10]

In February of 1945, Stevens garned the attention of General Eisenhower, who recognized him for his "outstanding service in connection with the military operations of the Allied Forces."
After the war ended, Stevens stayed in Germany to work on a documentary with Budd Schulberg. Their final product documentary would be used as evidence in the Nuremberg War Crimes trial of many Nazi officials.[11]









External Links



Dailymotion:
Liberation of Dachau in Color

International Movie Database:
Liberation Day: Dachau

References


Doherty, Thomas Patrick (1993). Projections on War, Hollywood, American Culture, and World War II. New York, NY: Columbia UP.

Moss, Marilyn Ann (2004). Giant: George Stevens, a Life on Film. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN: 0-299-20430-8


Notes


  1. ^ Doherty, p. 231
  2. ^ Doherty, Projections of War Hollywood, American Culture, and World War II, p. 231-232
  3. ^ Doherty, p. 233-234
  4. ^ Doherty, 232
  5. ^ Doherty, 233
  6. ^ Doherty, 234
  7. ^ Doherty, 234
  8. ^ Film & History . George Stevens-A Filmmaker's Journey. Retrieved 10/27/09
  9. ^ Wikipedia . George Stevens. Retrieved 10/27/09.
  10. ^ Moss, Giant: George Stevens, a Life on Film, p. 105
  11. ^ Moss, Giant: George Stevens, a Life on Film, p. 118