….. Complete with guest appearance of Queen Victoria.

We live in an environment where there are moving images constantly around us. But way back in 1897, this was startling and new and completely revolutionary.

Quite simply, it was a different way of looking at the world.

Fast-forward to 1939 and MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) acquired a treasure of thirty-six reels of 68mm nitrate prints and negatives having been developed in cinematography’s first years. Everything that survived from the Biograph film company lives on those reels, including a rare bit of moving image footage of Queen Victoria.

Curator Dave Kehr helps us look at the early film with the same awe-inspired, expanded view of the world of its first audiences…

Then there’s the miracle of the Peter Jackson film, They Shall Not Grow Old.

Movie perfectionists deprecate colorization of B&W films, especially the crude jobs Ted Turner’s outfit did back in the 1980’s, through TNT, but in making his film Jackson not only colorized the original material, but also corrected the old films in it for speed which yielded a naturalness not present in the choppy originals. Jackson also engaged lip-readers so that dialogue visibly spoken but not audible in those old films was spoken by actors and looped onto the originals.

Jackson artfully has the opening sequences in the film, (ie the recruitment and training of Brits for the Army), pass by in black and white. Only at the arrival of these men on the Western Front in Belgium and northern France does the footage spring into color – and, with a painstaking attention to detail, the colors are exactly the washed-out gray-greens and mud browns of the Belgian front, with every square of British khaki, and, occasionally, German gray, lovingly recreated.

The miracle achievement of Jackson’s production team is simply marvelous to behold. Take a look at this trailer…

‘They Shall Not Grow Old’ punches hard, and for an avid historian it presents the war in a fairly organized manner from the viewpoint of the trenches. World War One was epic-big, and we see and taste only 1% of 1% when we are fed pop history regarding it.

Many are the memories when I was an infant growing up in Britain for example, where my Uncle Frank would sit me on his knee to tell me about ‘his war’.

It began as a maneuver war, yet there were gargantuan portions that were fought in the east that are long-forgotten to time and history. There is hardly any scholarship in detail for instance, on the epic reaming that the Russians received in the early part of the war.

To all intents and purposes, Germany and her allies essentially wiped Russia off the face of the Earth, the consequence of which of course, eventually resulted in Russia morphing into one of the most Satanic empires ever to grace the planet.

The enormous “Wow!” that Jackson’s documentary produces in the viewer is met by the miracle pause. Yet the tug of his astounding technical achievement remains, and is one reason, for some of us, “They Shall Not Grow Old” will remain the most memorable film of the past year.

Wars definitely have consequences. Yet not so much as history in the miracle preservation of times long gone by.


H/T Museum of Modern Art

Gerard Vanderleun and his American Digest

Don’t miss The New Yorker and: The Authenticity of They Shall Not Grow Old


Face of Jesus by Richard Hook

Soli Deo Gloria!