Movie Review: 1917

Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement

Drama comes from giving somebody a task then putting obstacles in his/her way. This fundamental aspect of storytelling is understood in ‘1917’ a new movie about the experiences of a soldier in World War 1.

Its April of that year and in a reversal of Saving Private Ryan, a single soldier is sent to rescue a group. A disastrous attack is being planned and the chosen Tommy must cross no-mans-land to deliver a message calling it off. The added incentive, in this case, being that his own brother is among the battalion in danger. He takes another soldier with him and they set out on the mission together. That’s the story.

There is no character development as you might get in other Ur-quest narratives. Here the growth is not internal, it’s simply a matter of geography. In case that is seen as shallow, Director Sam Mendes employs a few techniques to help us empathise. The most obvious one is a pseudo-single take that repeatedly places the camera behind the protagonists at either waist level or shoulder height to give us the feeling of being along with them for the ride. This also works by using the standard horror movie approach of not showing us what the imminent danger is immediately but visually drip-feeding us until we get the big reveal. Likewise, the overbearing soundtrack that shouts out how we are meant to feel, instead of letting us work that out. Another is tracking shots to give an additional sense of propulsion. It is manipulative but only in the sense that any constructed artwork is a manipulation. Since it is well executed, it works to overcome the inherent weaknesses of the scenario.

Mendes has a strong visual sense both in terms of compositions and pallete. He is capable of finding a strange lyricism in the every day (remember the plastic bag in American Beauty?). Here he takes the two leads and pushes them through an abandoned dugout. They overcome literal obstacles following an explosion and come out from the actual underworld and cross over into a figurative styx -like underworld. The obvious and traditional way (the classic example being All Quiet on the Western Front) to go at this point would be to throw a one-sided array of World War1 signifiers at us (rats, mud, rotting corpses, barbed wire, rain) to let us know war is hell. All of those feature but Mendes reaches deeper to a less obvious set of imagery. Without wishing to spoil anything, this includes languid views of cherry blossoms in a desserted farmhouse and later a river, an airplane crash, the blood draining from a soldiers face, a severly bombed-out village at night, a fire, and a soldier singing a gospel song. All of these are exquisitely framed and look beautiful yet the collective result is one that adds a kind of morbid creepiness to the feel of proceedings. The metaphysical implications of the protagonists crossing the suggestively named no-mans-land and then being placed in an often dream-like environment is admittedly hard to quantify but it is there, and is far more effective than the simplistic techniques already mentioned.

The story rolls along to its conclusion with the audience still largely onboard. That being the intention, the mission of the film-makers is successful. It is technically well made and acted and to the extent this can be said to honour the memories of those who died, it is also successful. However, you may not necessarily learn much about World War 1 from this movie or why so many workers in uniform went out to kill other workers on behalf of King and Country. Perhaps by keeping the subject of this war in the limelight by existing at all, ‘1917’ might cause a few viewers to take sufficient interest in the topic to use it as a springboard to do just that. Hope so.

Fundraiser for Newcastle Ewan Brown Anarchist Bookfair

Can you help our comrades in the North East?

www.gofundme.com/f/NewcastleAnarchistBookfair


We are raising money for the Newcastle Ewan Brown Anarchist Bookfair which is taking place on the 9th of May 2020. Ewan was a comrade to many across the North East and even across the globe. We are hoping to have a great bookfair that Ewan would have been proud of… Let’s make it a good one. We are hoping to raise money to cover the costs of the bookfair. Anarchist Bookfairs sadly cost a lot, so anything anyone can contribute would be a huge help. The funds will be going towards accessibility, printing, travel, food, signage, and any other hidden costs that we will inevitably run into.

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Unquiet Graves Uncovering Britain’s Secret War in Ireland

2nd December in Bristol

Wessex Solidarity

Bristol Radical History Group

Unquiet Graves Poster

Between 1972 and 1978 more than 120 innocent civilians in Northern Ireland were murdered. Documentary director Sean Murray set out to investigate and found disturbing evidence of collusion between the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Ulster Defence Regiment and loyalist death squads. Sean Murray will present the documentary.

“…outstanding documentary film-making combining in-depth research and personal testimony to expose the undeniable truth of state collusion and its fatal consequences.” Phil Scraton, author “Hillsborough: The Truth”.

More information:

Tickets here:

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Fellow Worker : Barry Pateman reviews Cole, Struthers, and Zimmer, Wobblies of the World

libcom

Formed in June 1905 at a Chicago conference, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) immediately set out to break up the existing American labour landscape.

In his opening address to the conference William D. ‘Big Bill’ Haywood of the Western Federation of Miners stated that ‘We are here to confederate the workers of this country into a working class movement that shall have as its purpose the emancipation of the working class from the slave bondage of capitalism’. The Preamble to the IWW made it clear that ‘The working class and the employing class have nothing in common’. As well as taking aim at American capitalism the conference also attacked what delegates saw as the inadequacy of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), the principal American labour organization of the period. As a craft-based organisation, the AFL, by design or default, excluded the majority of American workers from its ranks – women, those who were unskilled, migrant workers, and, of course, recent immigrants. The IWW saw its mission as to go out and recruit those workers into the struggle against capitalism and to avoid all forms of conciliation with their employers. In essence this meant organising in areas that had never been organised and often working with ethnic groups in whom the AFL appeared to have no interest and whose presence in America some of its membership actively opposed.[1]

After a stuttering start the IWW grew into an impressive and, it might be argued, rather prescient organisation. It soon showed itself capable of remarkable creativity in its use of tactics. Banned from speaking at street corners in a city it would create a battle over free speech. Every time an IWW member was arrested for speaking, another would take their place with the aim of flooding jails and jamming the legal system. It employed the use of song and cartoons to rouse members and mock opposition. It practiced sabotage in all its aspects while encouraging and supporting strike action whether organised

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