We attended the afternoon screening of They Shall Not Grow Old at our local suburban multiplex yesterday. The movie is a documentary drawn from 100 hours of archival World War I footage held by the Imperial War Museum and accompanying audio drawn from 600 hours of museum interviews of British soldiers. Peter Jackson is the director of the film; the screening yesterday included a separate half-hour film of Jackson in front of the camera explaining how he came to make the documentary and the techniques he used to create it.
Watching the film on the big screen makes for a harrowing theatrical experience. With little in the way of historical context, it vividly conveys the trench-level experience of the British soldier. Jackson seems to have wrought something like a miracle in doing so.
Not a single person at the showing we attended yesterday left at the conclusion of the documentary. We all stayed for Jackson’s half-hour backgrounder, moving in its own way. Jackson modestly claims the goal of inspiring younger viewers to ask their parents about our grandparents who fought in the war.
That hit home with me. My grandfather Max Rikess emigrated to the United States from Russia around 1916. He was drafted in 1917 and served on the Western front portrayed in the film. He was incredibly proud of his service. I wish I had tried harder to get him to talk to me about it. He was at the Battle of the Argonne Forest when the Armistice was declared.
I should hope that the film inspires viewers to learn more about the war. The average citizen’s knowledge of anything about it must be pitifully small.
The title of the film is drawn from the 1914 poem “For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon: “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old.” In his book on the British literature coming out of World War I, Paul Fussell observed that the poem was “written with uncanny prescience of the appropriate imagery in September, 1914, when the war was a mere seven weeks along.”
The New York Times provided illuminating background on the creation of the film in Mekado Murphy’s excellent weekend feature “How Peter Jackson Made WWI Footage Seem Astonishingly New” (accessible here on Outline without the videos included in the Times feature). Ed Driscoll has more at InstaPundit. I have embedded the trailer below.
Something is happening here. Each showing of the film at the Edina AMC yesterday was sold out. The film is to be shown again on December 27 in theaters playing Fathom Events. Highly recommended.