Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Movies vs History 3: The Quickening

Alternative title - Mel Gibson would stamp on an English baby until it was nothing more than paste

Gallipoli is one of the few modern war movies (that is, critical and with themes, not the old ones where everyone had a moustache and the germans would wander in speaking english with a german accent and start shooting puppies) that depicts WW1. Plus one of Australia's better movies, up there with those other movies they made... mad max and... err.... crocodile dundee.

Its about the young idealistic Archy (who joined to do his bit and for the adventure, the stereotype of the time) and the more morally amibigous Frank (who joins for money and to follow his mates, a more identifiable motivation these days) and hes the one played by Mel Gibson. In case you were wonderering who you are meant to hate. That anti-English bastard.

I'm not exactly sure, but it was the German's fault.

-Archy on what caused the war.

Anyway, the first third of the movie is the decision to join. This is actually really well done, it examines the multitude of reasons to join, the sense of nobility and duty (perhaps removed from the realities of war, the definitive notion of war as an awful thing came from this war after all) through Archy, with the more grimly realistic Frank and his more practical reasoning. There is a nice little scene of them discussing the terrible things the "hun" are doing, a nice little piece of propaganda just fitting into normal discussion undoubted.

So far, so good.

Then we get to them training and early stationing. You see the boredom of trench warfare, how you spent most of your time eating crappy rations and waiting. All historically accurate'ish so far, good good. Trench warfare was pretty horrible, but in countries that are ungodly hot and without much in the way of civilisation, especially so. Lots of dysentry, food poisoning and generally gross stuff. And trench foot, dude, dont ever google image search Trench Foot. (Do it, I dare you.)

Then we get to the titular battle, for the Australian forces anyway. You see the true horrors of war, the idea of certain death being something you just had to deal with. Truly shocking. But the problem is, it tries to encapsulate every problem with WW1 into one battle... The notion of lions being led by donkeys, as the phrasing goes. You see the chain of command being totally incompetent, the British commanding officer misunderstands whats going on and needlessly wastes the lives of his troops. You see the British officers sipping tea as the noble Australians die for a distraction of their attack, which ultimately fails anyway. What a needless waste of life and how horrible these noble Aussies die for the terrible British, eh? All over Constantinople, which isnt even a real sounding place.

Istanbul was Constantinople

Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople

Been a long time gone, Constantinople

Now it's Turkish delight on a moonlit night

Every gal in Constantinople

Lives in Istanbul, not Constantinople

So if you've a date in Constantinople

She'll be waiting in Istanbul

-Some classic WW1 poetry

Well, as a theme for the war, thats probably not far from the truth. Lots of people died needlessly, it was a time when strategy wasnt as far ahead as weaponry, leading to the needless stalemate and massive deathrate on both sides. But in this particular battle, this makes no sense.

The villain of the movie, the guy with the distinct English accent who cares not for the death of his Australian men... he was actually Australian. Apparently the director was going for "the sort of anglo-australian accent that were common at the time" and we werent meant to think he was English, despite being the only guy with this "anglo-australian accent" IN THE WHOLE DAMN MOVIE. The Australians werent actually a diversion for English forces, they were a diversion for New Zealand forces. But obviously a bunch of Peter Jackson looking guys having tea on the beach while Aussies die didnt have the same impact.

Major Barton: What your telling me sir and correct me if I'm wrong, is that the infantry attack on Lone Pine, and our Light Horse attack on the Nek are diversions.

Col. Robinson: Oh not just diversions Major, vital important diversions. Tonight, 25,000 British troops will land here at Suvla Bay. Our attacks are to draw the Turks down on us so the British can get ashore. Sorry I didn't tell you this before, secrecy is vital.

Major Barton: But sir, the Nek is a fortress. Protected by at least five machine guns at point-blank range.

Col. Robinson: Yeah, we've considered that Barton. We're gonna hit their trenches with the heaviest barrage of the campaign just before your men go over the top.

Artillery Officer: By the time we've finished, there won't be a Turk within miles.

Col. Robinson: The Turks can keep us pinned down at ANZAC forever. This new British landing is our only hope. We must do what we can to make it succeed. Because of it does succeed, we'll have Constantinople with a week, and knock Turkey out of the war.

- This is nonsense.

The film shows a (fictional) general trying to call the attack off. This didnt happen, the attack petered out when big chunks of the line charged without orders messing up the whole tactics of the battle.

And what actually went wrong at the battle, was it really an English orchestrated blood bath of the Aussies?

Well, in the words of Australian historian Les Carlyon

"The scale of the tragedy of the Nek was mostly the work of two Australian incompetents, Hughes and Antill."

Well, yeah. Sadly "it was the australian officers who messed up" just doesnt have the same impact as "it was the EVIL ENGLISH officers who messed up, while drinking tea and laughing, they called you a fag as well dude."

And two companies of a British regiment, the Royal Welsh Fusiliers (I think), in fact suffered very heavy losses trying to support the Australian attack at the Nek once it was realized that the offensive was in trouble. What did they get for there troubles? Not even a movie name check.

Basically, Australia are revisionist wankers.

Cool movie though, AS FAST AS A LEOPARD!


Sloth said...

Man, you know how you're meant to be coming down for my wedding? I think you'd better take this shit down, or when you get to customs here they'll pull you out of the check in line and Mel Gibson's thugs are will beat shit out of you.

I mean, being english is a serious enough crime. but being english and talking shit about Gallipoli? Man that's just not on.

Disco Stu said...


Seriously though, I'd love to see someone do a Gallipoli film now, with all that we now know about the monumental fuckup that was the Dardenelles camapign. Hell, I'd love to see a modern WW1 movie period. Everything has been WW2 Americans fight Nazis in the last decade or so. Don't get me wrong, I loves me some Nazi fighting. It's just, trench warfare was a living hell. A WW1 film could be one of the most wrenching, brutal thing ever filmed, up there with what people felt when they saw the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan for the first time.

You could follow a group of friends as they join up, and then 30 minutes in every single one of them is killed in 30 seconds in a machine gun charge. Really drive home how insane that war was.

Hollywood, you can totally steal this idea. I know you're watching.

Mr. Gale said...

The lack of a big budget WW1 movie is a bit weird. I mean, like you said, the whole tragedy against impossible odds thing is the defining scene we all remember in saving private ryan... and WW1 was all that. I mean, I guess its a more morally ambigous than WW2, but we have approached WW2 in that fashion a load of times and its worked. Its time.

All we really have is Gallipoli and the last episode of Blackadder.

Also, Hollywood, I would like a buffy the vampire slayer movie. Either/Or really.

Sloth said...

Also, you putting all this commentary about Mel Gibson movies in one place has lead me to a stunning realisation;

Mel Gibson is George Washington.

He'll save children, but not the British children.

Seresecros said...

They should rename this "Run, Aussie, Run".

Those darned Australian traitors, making films that lie. England are the heroes of the world, and you know it! We are always fighting for the goodies. Always. YOU BELONG TO US, Australia. Don't make us invade you again.

And now I must pop off for a late-lunch and pot of tea, with scones and macaroons. Gosh!