“1917” is an intense World War I film, which follows the journey of two soldiers.
It is the eighth film directed by Sam Mendes. The film was written by Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns, produced by Mendes, Pippa Harris, Jayne-Ann Tenggren, Callum McDougall and Brian Oliver. It stars George MacKay as Lance Cpl. William Schofield and Dean-Charles Chapman as Lance Cpl. Tom Blake.
These two young British soldiers, Schofield and Blake have received orders from the general of the British army Erinmore, played by Colin Firth, to deliver orders to Col. Mackenzie, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, to stop an attack by the British on the Germans that would put 1,600 lives in danger, including Blake’s older brother, Lt. Joseph Blake.
The camera work was a crucial element of the film. “The acclaim is really based in the blocking, in other words how the characters move within the scenes,” Michael White, WSC assistant professor of electronic media, said.
“These are done with a master shot, which means the camera starts out at one designated place, following a plot as it moves, as the actors and the props are moving all the time.”
White said this type of camera movement offers the viewer a first-person experience into the movements of the characters within the film. The camera work in this film was done by Roger Deakins who White believes is “probably the greatest cinematographer in history.”
“With any cinematography, it is whether the cinematography helps facilitate the story…in a case like this when you’re looking at a film that’s really about what it means to be in war, that first-person experience is really important,” White said.
As good as the film was, it doesn’t take away from the fact that stories of World War I, especially from an American or a British perspective, have been told multiple times. This was the mindset of junior Abigail Ruda who was disappointed that the filmmakers told this story in the perspective that it did. “I would’ve focused on anything other than trench warfare on the Western Front in World War I. It’s a story that’s been told over and over and over again, and no matter how well it is told it is repetitive,” Ruda also said she’s tired of war narratives in which the focus of the film is who’s shooting at whom.
Ruda also called the film “stale” in terms of the story it told. She looks for more diversification in film. “Even in WWI narratives, there is so much opportunity for diversification of cast…it’s called World War I for a reason, it was literally all over the world,” she said. “You had altercations occurring in Africa, in Asia…there is literally so much room for expansion even within the confines of World War I, that to tell the same story of European warfare on the Western Front in the trenches, it’s kind of lazy and it’s not probing beyond the surface of what everyone already knows about the first World War.”.
I firmly believe Ruda has a valid point. In every war movie that I can think of, the heroes are white Americans or British and the villains are foreigners, most likely German as they were the main antagonists of World War I. I would like to see a film about how this war got started, an altercation between Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and Serbian mercenaries. I would also like to see the perspective of a Bulgarian citizen; Bulgaria was thrust into World War I, and I would like to see how their citizens reacted to this news.
Unfortunately, these premises probably won’t happen because American audiences only care about the allies(America, Britain, France), in World War I because we were the definite “good guys” and the Germans and the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) were the definite “bad guy’s” I believe this is most definitely a shame as we could get some interesting films out of premises like this.
Regardless of opinion, this film should still be seen. Ruda would like anyone who’s interested in history to watch this film. She also cautioned viewers because she wished to see more diversifications in the types of stories being told and who we tell those stories about.
In other words, she wished that Americans wouldn’t pander to films that are “written by the winners,” again going back to my wish of a possible Austrian-Hungarian and Serbian perspective, and also a Bulgarian perspective. White said he would recommend that students interested in cinematography watch the film to learn from a great cinematographer like Roger Deakins.