Monday, February 8, 2010

The Blitz on PBS: More is Less

Watching the documentary on the London Blitz on PBS.

One peculiarity: a perverse possible evenhandedness? Although the background discussion began by noting that the German campaign of aggression on the continent yielded the picture of ground troops cutting through cities weakened by air attack, the narration moves directly to a discussion of moral slippage on the part of Britain after it stood alone: Roosevelt had urged both sides not to attack civilians, and both had agreed. Slowly but surely, we are told, the British widened the notion of "military" targets to include communications, economic resources, etc. Then Hitler declares that, if his cities are destroyed, he will destroy the British cities.

No mention of the earlier savage German air attacks on Rotterdam and Warsaw?! Without that context, what are we supposed to understand?

Back to the film as a whole:

It seems in many ways to be an exemplar of the new popular documentary style: lots of individual stories, some told by interviewees in real time, some performed by actors; lots of recreations. Even much of the documentary footage seems to be sexed up: e.g. tinted for greater effect. This may be more engaging for a modern audience, but the film certainly isn't great history or great art. At least in the case of the music video (which began as a somewhat clumsy means of jazzing up an otherwise merely audio performance), a new genre eventually emerged. One wonders what will become of the popular documentary form.

It's striking to turn from this sort of overpriced, underwhelming production to the classic late-twentieth century series, "The World at War," to see how much one could accomplish with so little: file footage and interviews, so simple and powerful. Nowadays, more is indeed less.

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