Passchendaele film notes for Paul Gross (major spoilers)

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Passchendaele film notes for Paul Gross (major spoilers)

Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

October 20th, 2008, 9:57 pm #1


<A href="http://www.network54.com/Forum/28173/me ... n+theatres>" target=_new>http://www.network54.com/Forum/28173/me ... heatres</A< a>>

&nbsp;

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0pt"><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">Thought I'd start a new thread to discuss the film since we have several other threads on the film. Just saw this today and my take is mainly positive, though my criticisms may be serious enough to not recommend the film for certain purposes, however, that is up to the individual viewer. Major spoilers contained throughout.</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">Incidentally, I first heard a major negative review on Corus radio on Sunday when returning from a field exercise, from a Regular Force member of the Canadian Forces who emailed in to say how disgusted he was with the film and how he thought it downplayed the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I don't see this film doing anything of the kind. His call to arms to soldiers of the CF, asking them to boycott the film is equally silly, though I can understand why strong passions would be aroused.</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">The plot</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">I think the plot of the story is absolutely fine. I was surprised that there weren't more battle scenes, but for what the film sets out to do, it is believable. I think we forget how big a deal it was to be a "shirker" in 1917 <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /><st1:country-region w:st="on">Canada</st1:country-region>, or how much hatred there was for the Germans - they renamed <st1:City w:st="on">Berlin</st1:City>, <st1:State w:st="on">Ontario</st1:State> to become <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Kitchener</st1:place></st1:City>, which generations later many probably have even forgotten. It's well to remember closed-mindedness - it was brought to mind on my weekend exercise when we were given "Hajji costumes" to wear as enemy force soldiers in a simulated <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Afghanistan</st1:place></st1:country-region> village. New war, new slurs, new ways to dehumanize others. This was a theme prevalent in the film, and in that sense some it was timely, if subtle. Was it contrived for the nurse to end up so close to her sergeant? Probably, but it worked for me, and it didn't stretch credulity the way the Russian woman in, say, 1993's "Stalingrad" did, showing up time and again. Sometimes, fate is on your side, and sometimes, you give fate a hand.</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">The Machine Gun</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">It's unfortunate that script writers have no idea what the machine gun is for. It is an important asset on the battlefield, and the movie guys have yet to understand what it does or why the Army guys keep them around. It is not something you stick in a corner of the battlefield and wait for a heroic band of 4 or 8 guys to blunder into. It's something you set up to guard something. That can be an open flank, sure. Or it can be an approach route, or a gap in your barbed wire. It can be a supply route or withdrawal lane, and you can set them up to fire indirectly (never see that in a movie). You set them up best when they fire at great distances - one of their advantages, to, say, a pistol or a rifle, and in interlocking arcs of fire, using a high rate of fire, they can mow down a great number of men. Hollywood films like Legends of the Fall, Saving Private Ryan, and now Passchendaele think that machine guns are simply dropped off at random with 3 or 4 man gun crews, in isolation, and left there to hunt single men or other groups of men - and by "hunt" I mean sit there stupidly with an 80 pound water-cooled gun and sledge or tripod and metal cans of ammo and wait to be found, sitting behind uncamouflaged sandbags. This was one of only a very few scenes I took great exception to in Passchendaele. Perhaps Gross thought it was acceptable because he's seen it in so many other movies - Mr. Gross, those other movies were wrong, and your technical advisor probably told you so. If not, you should sue him!</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">Period set pieces and dialogue</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">Otherwise, the set dressing and costuming was authentic. They used the 'f' word too much, and even Band of Brothers fell into that trap. Society has evolved a lot since 1944 and even more since 1917. However, there were some really good things said by Gross' character, too, about the Canadian Golgotha rumours, for example. I loved that Gross debunked the rumours of Canadians nailed to a barn door, and did it as a war-weary veteran would have. His one-armed friend, who lies about his "war-wounds", says great things about guilt and tells stories about his feelings to go to war, and Gross plays the reactions to it with facial expressions and great seasoning as an actor. I think those kinds of conversations are worth every penny of the admission price I paid, and are far more interesting than a dozen scenes of rats crawling in a trench. The characters were anything but cardboard cutouts and Gross put a great deal of time into shaping the motivations, backstory, and interactions of all the characters. Those impatiently waiting for scenes of Germans being bayoneted through the face and fuming because that was what they thought they paid their money for regrettably didn't get much value from that. </SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">Unnecessary scenes</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">I found only four scenes really objectionable - especially if this is going to be used in schools. Two scenes of sexual content seemed unnecessary and forced into the script. I'm no prude, but it just seemed crass and contributed little. I don't want to compare the film directly to others nor make accusations that there was a deliberate attempt to emulate other films, but the scene from Enemy at the Gates came to mind in the liaison during the artillery barrage. The extremely brief flash of nudity in the earlier scene seemed equally unnecessary, perhaps moreso. The third scene was discussed earlier - the MG scene, though my issues revolve more around the fact the book expands on Dunne's motivations more. The movie does explain he was "deserting" at the time and explains why he was so quick to put up a white flag. The email I mentioned at the start of this post also suggested that Canadians were being done a disservice and that the CEF as the whole was being painted in an unfavourable light. I can see his point to a degree; the movie does poorly at explicitly explaining Dunne's reasoning here for surrendering, something the Canadians did not do meekly. It seems better explained in the book and translated poorly to the screen.</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">The final objectionable scene was the climax of the film, which came after a very well done battle sequence. If one looks at the battalion history GALLANT CANADIANS by Daniel Dancocks, the details here are all correct - the Little Black Devils really did pull a battalion out of the line, and the 10th Battalion really did have to seal the gap with a company. The role of the 10th, believe it or not, is actually understated in the movie, since the Battalion had not been ordered to make a major attack. On their own initiative, the battalion planned for offensive action and their plans were rewarded when the call came down. The movie depicts all this very well. But then it bogs down with a bizarre truce with the Germans, a crucified soldier, and a happy reunion. It was unsubtle, and it could easily have been accomplished two scenes earlier, when David finds his courage and uses his rifle to save Michael's life.</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">The end</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">The final scene of the movie is a bit confusing, showing standard grave markers of men of the 10th stretching off to the horizon, but they are back in <st1:country-region w:st="on">Canada</st1:country-region> in an <st1:State w:st="on">Alberta</st1:State> graveyard rather than in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">France</st1:place></st1:country-region>, but it gives an idea of the cost the battalion suffered. Three title cards talk about the battle at Passchendaele as a whole rather than the 1,313 dead of the 10th alone for 1914-1918.</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">What it does</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">But largely, the film hit the right notes with me. Gross is a likeable on-screen persona. If people want to criticize him for a vanity project (Passchendaele is the most expensive Canadian film ever made), they can, but I think he's earned the right to take chances, given the success he's had in the past. His gambles largely paid off here. War geeks will be disappointed there aren't more rats and eviscera on the screen, stich-Nazis will be incensed that the historical advisors couldn't tell them that when the battalion history reads "Colonel Ormond" it is really shorthand for "Lieutenant Colonel Ormond" or that RSM Watchman's insignia is wrong, or that a Sergeant would never wear a good conduct stripe - and they'd overlook the fact that this may be the first big budget movie ever to accurately show the battle patches on the sleeves, or show a veteran wearing the blue shoulder straps, or the Red Chevron of the 1914 vet.</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">If it missed the boat on talking about how infantry companies really went into battle, or used their Lewis Guns, or that the Canadian Army was the most technologically advanced in the world by 1918, that's unfortunate, but good story telling will always take first seat to history lessons, and one is the hook to getting people interested in the other. The book is in stores now, and I'm happy to report there is even a section on history in the back, with web links and a bibliography.</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial"><BR style="mso-special-character: line-break"><BR style="mso-special-character: line-break"><?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /><o:p></o:p></SPAN>

&nbsp;
Last edited by dorosh on October 21st, 2008, 6:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Michael Dorosh
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Monty
Monty

October 21st, 2008, 12:10 am #2

thank you for your notes. I was unable to see the opening this weekend. Apparently box office reciepts showed it to be #3 this weekend behind #2 Beverly Hills Chihuahua.. that says something for the Cdn movie going public.

I will be going this week, and will keep your observations in mind. I did notice one thing that I would rather they had done. In the trailer there are some artillery pieces firing, with no recoil. Is there not a way to accomplish this?

Still, Im looking forward to the film.

cheers
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Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

October 21st, 2008, 1:07 am #3

There are several ways for artillery to be fired on screen. In days of old, it was common to see on-screen cannon fired simply by using smoke and no recoil. Spike Lee used this method in his "St. Anna" movie apparently. It's an inexpensive way to use a "gate guard" cannon as a movie prop.

For films like "A Bridge Too Far" or "The Dirty Dozen", you sometimes see ceremonial 25-pounders pressed into service; I believe they were firing actual blank charges in order to get the actions to recoil - I stand to be corrected.

The current method of choice is, I think, CGI, either by complete 3-D models, or corrections to those self-same movie props.

I did think that the 18-pounders in the film, however, were actually recoiling, at least, in the scenes I noticed. There was also a shot of a German trench mortar being fired, which I thought was unique in that I don't recall seeing one in a mainstream film before.
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Ed Storey
Ed Storey

October 21st, 2008, 2:52 am #4

<A href="http://www.network54.com/Forum/28173/me ... n+theatres>" target=_new>http://www.network54.com/Forum/28173/me ... heatres</A< a>>

&nbsp;

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0pt"><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">Thought I'd start a new thread to discuss the film since we have several other threads on the film. Just saw this today and my take is mainly positive, though my criticisms may be serious enough to not recommend the film for certain purposes, however, that is up to the individual viewer. Major spoilers contained throughout.</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">Incidentally, I first heard a major negative review on Corus radio on Sunday when returning from a field exercise, from a Regular Force member of the Canadian Forces who emailed in to say how disgusted he was with the film and how he thought it downplayed the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I don't see this film doing anything of the kind. His call to arms to soldiers of the CF, asking them to boycott the film is equally silly, though I can understand why strong passions would be aroused.</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">The plot</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">I think the plot of the story is absolutely fine. I was surprised that there weren't more battle scenes, but for what the film sets out to do, it is believable. I think we forget how big a deal it was to be a "shirker" in 1917 <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /><st1:country-region w:st="on">Canada</st1:country-region>, or how much hatred there was for the Germans - they renamed <st1:City w:st="on">Berlin</st1:City>, <st1:State w:st="on">Ontario</st1:State> to become <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Kitchener</st1:place></st1:City>, which generations later many probably have even forgotten. It's well to remember closed-mindedness - it was brought to mind on my weekend exercise when we were given "Hajji costumes" to wear as enemy force soldiers in a simulated <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Afghanistan</st1:place></st1:country-region> village. New war, new slurs, new ways to dehumanize others. This was a theme prevalent in the film, and in that sense some it was timely, if subtle. Was it contrived for the nurse to end up so close to her sergeant? Probably, but it worked for me, and it didn't stretch credulity the way the Russian woman in, say, 1993's "Stalingrad" did, showing up time and again. Sometimes, fate is on your side, and sometimes, you give fate a hand.</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">The Machine Gun</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">It's unfortunate that script writers have no idea what the machine gun is for. It is an important asset on the battlefield, and the movie guys have yet to understand what it does or why the Army guys keep them around. It is not something you stick in a corner of the battlefield and wait for a heroic band of 4 or 8 guys to blunder into. It's something you set up to guard something. That can be an open flank, sure. Or it can be an approach route, or a gap in your barbed wire. It can be a supply route or withdrawal lane, and you can set them up to fire indirectly (never see that in a movie). You set them up best when they fire at great distances - one of their advantages, to, say, a pistol or a rifle, and in interlocking arcs of fire, using a high rate of fire, they can mow down a great number of men. Hollywood films like Legends of the Fall, Saving Private Ryan, and now Passchendaele think that machine guns are simply dropped off at random with 3 or 4 man gun crews, in isolation, and left there to hunt single men or other groups of men - and by "hunt" I mean sit there stupidly with an 80 pound water-cooled gun and sledge or tripod and metal cans of ammo and wait to be found, sitting behind uncamouflaged sandbags. This was one of only a very few scenes I took great exception to in Passchendaele. Perhaps Gross thought it was acceptable because he's seen it in so many other movies - Mr. Gross, those other movies were wrong, and your technical advisor probably told you so. If not, you should sue him!</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">Period set pieces and dialogue</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">Otherwise, the set dressing and costuming was authentic. They used the 'f' word too much, and even Band of Brothers fell into that trap. Society has evolved a lot since 1944 and even more since 1917. However, there were some really good things said by Gross' character, too, about the Canadian Golgotha rumours, for example. I loved that Gross debunked the rumours of Canadians nailed to a barn door, and did it as a war-weary veteran would have. His one-armed friend, who lies about his "war-wounds", says great things about guilt and tells stories about his feelings to go to war, and Gross plays the reactions to it with facial expressions and great seasoning as an actor. I think those kinds of conversations are worth every penny of the admission price I paid, and are far more interesting than a dozen scenes of rats crawling in a trench. The characters were anything but cardboard cutouts and Gross put a great deal of time into shaping the motivations, backstory, and interactions of all the characters. Those impatiently waiting for scenes of Germans being bayoneted through the face and fuming because that was what they thought they paid their money for regrettably didn't get much value from that. </SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">Unnecessary scenes</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">I found only four scenes really objectionable - especially if this is going to be used in schools. Two scenes of sexual content seemed unnecessary and forced into the script. I'm no prude, but it just seemed crass and contributed little. I don't want to compare the film directly to others nor make accusations that there was a deliberate attempt to emulate other films, but the scene from Enemy at the Gates came to mind in the liaison during the artillery barrage. The extremely brief flash of nudity in the earlier scene seemed equally unnecessary, perhaps moreso. The third scene was discussed earlier - the MG scene, though my issues revolve more around the fact the book expands on Dunne's motivations more. The movie does explain he was "deserting" at the time and explains why he was so quick to put up a white flag. The email I mentioned at the start of this post also suggested that Canadians were being done a disservice and that the CEF as the whole was being painted in an unfavourable light. I can see his point to a degree; the movie does poorly at explicitly explaining Dunne's reasoning here for surrendering, something the Canadians did not do meekly. It seems better explained in the book and translated poorly to the screen.</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">The final objectionable scene was the climax of the film, which came after a very well done battle sequence. If one looks at the battalion history GALLANT CANADIANS by Daniel Dancocks, the details here are all correct - the Little Black Devils really did pull a battalion out of the line, and the 10th Battalion really did have to seal the gap with a company. The role of the 10th, believe it or not, is actually understated in the movie, since the Battalion had not been ordered to make a major attack. On their own initiative, the battalion planned for offensive action and their plans were rewarded when the call came down. The movie depicts all this very well. But then it bogs down with a bizarre truce with the Germans, a crucified soldier, and a happy reunion. It was unsubtle, and it could easily have been accomplished two scenes earlier, when David finds his courage and uses his rifle to save Michael's life.</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">The end</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">The final scene of the movie is a bit confusing, showing standard grave markers of men of the 10th stretching off to the horizon, but they are back in <st1:country-region w:st="on">Canada</st1:country-region> in an <st1:State w:st="on">Alberta</st1:State> graveyard rather than in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">France</st1:place></st1:country-region>, but it gives an idea of the cost the battalion suffered. Three title cards talk about the battle at Passchendaele as a whole rather than the 1,313 dead of the 10th alone for 1914-1918.</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">What it does</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">But largely, the film hit the right notes with me. Gross is a likeable on-screen persona. If people want to criticize him for a vanity project (Passchendaele is the most expensive Canadian film ever made), they can, but I think he's earned the right to take chances, given the success he's had in the past. His gambles largely paid off here. War geeks will be disappointed there aren't more rats and eviscera on the screen, stich-Nazis will be incensed that the historical advisors couldn't tell them that when the battalion history reads "Colonel Ormond" it is really shorthand for "Lieutenant Colonel Ormond" or that RSM Watchman's insignia is wrong, or that a Sergeant would never wear a good conduct stripe - and they'd overlook the fact that this may be the first big budget movie ever to accurately show the battle patches on the sleeves, or show a veteran wearing the blue shoulder straps, or the Red Chevron of the 1914 vet.</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">If it missed the boat on talking about how infantry companies really went into battle, or used their Lewis Guns, or that the Canadian Army was the most technologically advanced in the world by 1918, that's unfortunate, but good story telling will always take first seat to history lessons, and one is the hook to getting people interested in the other. The book is in stores now, and I'm happy to report there is even a section on history in the back, with web links and a bibliography.</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial"><BR style="mso-special-character: line-break"><BR style="mso-special-character: line-break"><?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /><o:p></o:p></SPAN>

&nbsp;
My side of this is that I feel the plotline is nothing more than a glorified soap opera. I think I have hit the main points:

The main character is Michael Dunne, who we meet up with some time after Vimy Ridge. He is a veteran decorated Sgt with the 10th Battalion who is recovering in Calgary from wounds received overseas. He went AWOL and is suffering from neurotic problems. He ends up working in Calgary recruiting for the 10th Battalion. While recovering from his wounds he falls in love with a commissioned Army Nurse with a German background. He eventually re-enlists, under a different name, in the 10th Battalion and returns to Belgium in time for the Third Battle of Ypres.

The secondary character is Sarah Mann, a commissioned Army Nurse stationed in Calgary, she has a German background. She gets cashiered from the Army due to the fact that her Father left Canada in 1915 to join the German Army; he was killed at Vimy Ridge. She is addicted to morphine. She falls in love with a returned Army Sgt with a mental problem. She eventually 'finds employment' with the Army as a Nurse and is sent to Belgium in time for the Third Battle of Ypres. She meets up with Dunne in Belgium.

The linchpin character is David Mann, the younger brother of Sarah. He wants-is forced into joining the Army but initially cannot due to a medical problem. His German background is also causing some problems as he lives at home with his Army nurse sister Sarah. He is in love with the daughter of a prominent member of Calgary society and can prove his worthiness by enlisting in the Army. Eventually, by using his father-in-laws connections he enlists in the 10th Battalion and is sent to Belgium in time for the Third Battle of Ypres. The recruiting issue causes problems between his sister and Dunne.

We also have the stereotypical British-style Army Officer who runs the 10th Battalion recruiting office is meddling in everyone’s business. He manages to get himself sent to Belgium in time for the Third Battle of Ypres. He proves to be a coward and dies a cowardly death.

I believe all of this happens in a six-month period in Canada sometime between April 1917 and October 1917.

I agree with Mike that if this movie (I hope never) gets shown in schools that it is edited as I think the intimacy scenes where a bit forced (no pun intended).
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Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

October 21st, 2008, 3:39 am #5

I have to wonder what the point of showing this in a school would be; there would be little to "learn" from it. You nail the plotline well. The story engaged me; the description as "soap opera" is apt. I happen to like "soap opera" and is not a term I would use, but it is definitely not a "military" movie.

I would be very interested in seeing a movie about the first two years of Mr. Dunne's military career - the formation of the 10th Battalion at Valcartier, the battle at Kitcheners' Wood, how he earned the MM, why they felt the MG episode merited a DCM, etc. I suspect there is no screenplay for that "prequel" nor would it be inexpensive to film - Ross rifles, Canadian pattern uniforms, etc. and no "love story" or "soap opera" element to draw audiences into the theatres. But you would have Sir Sam Hughes, Russ Boyle and a younger Colonel Ormond, then Adjutant, spurring them on at Kitcheners' Wood and St. Julien.

I suspect some of you would be far more interested in that prequel as well. It's a story worth telling, and would be far more suited to the classroom. It's really quite beyond me what this movie would have to offer a student, as it's an incredibly personal movie, and from what I can tell, almost entirely fictionalized. There really was a Michael Dunne, and he really did bayonet a German, but I was led to understand that had happened at 2nd Ypres in April 1915 for some reason - I could be wrong on that - and beyond that, everything else about this story seems to have been invented for the film. Nothing wrong with that, but what lessons would a student "learn"? There seems to be little of import from the very narrow perspectives offered by the characters.

Which doesn't conflict with my enjoyment of the story - I just don't see it offering education to youngsters. It actually sends a lot of pretty lousy messages. In the book, David's fiancee talks about abstinence before marriage; in the movie, she throws it away seemingly on a whim, and we get the obligatory bare breast that one normally associates with HBO. In 1917 Canada, chastity was something less of a rarity than today, and like the use of swear words, there seems to be more of modern values colouring the actions of the characters than contemporary ones. I can make allowances for such things if it is an attempt to "reach" modern audiences, if it is not overpowering, but doing so and then holding the film up as an example to show to children on top of things seems fatuous. The rehabilitation of the drug-addicted nurse seemed to be pretty quick and easy as well, so even if the PTSD issue was not glossed over, hers was. The issue of cowardice was another important issue, and it was dealt with throughout the film I thought in a more thoughtful way. Was Dunne a coward? We're told he was deserting, and it is implied he had seen enough to make him desert at the start of the film. Maybe we do need to see a prequel to understand that. He had good dialogue about the German kid he killed, and some good speeches about duty and nightmares and references to how people really didn't talk about things in 1917 Canada or admit to trauma. I enjoyed that aspect, so that much could be discussed in a classroom - but little else, I don't think.

I forgot to mention that there were some funny scenes; Gross' dry humour did show through - there were a number of references to dry matches which I thought were really funny - laugh out loud funny - both in the lecture, the recruiting office and even later in the trenches. It's a shame there weren't more moments like that, but there were enough of them to break the tension where it needed breaking. He took some gambles and they didn't all pay off. I'm glad he tried. I hope others do as well.
Last edited by dorosh on October 21st, 2008, 3:50 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Michael Dorosh
Michael Dorosh

October 21st, 2008, 3:58 pm #6

When I said "I hope others do as well" I meant to say I hope others take gambles and make (better) movies, not necessarily that I hope others enjoy Gross' gamble.

There was one other thing that I noticed that is worthy of comment off the top of my head - the predilection of directors making "unit" films to trash the reputation of other units in the process. Perhaps it is a necessary by product. If you look at Mark Bando's website on the 101st Airborne, he complains that in the Carentan episode of Band of Brothers, the neighbouring companies are unfairly depicted on screen as pulling out and running full tilt off the battle line during the German counter-attack at the end of the episode. He says that the real action was less dramatic - though on screen, it would probably not translate well, so the reputation of Dog and Fox Companies was maligned to make a cinematic point about the bravery of Easy Company, the heroes of the series.

Gross does the same thing with the Little Black Devils in this film; a Lewis Gunner from the 8th Battalion very eagerly pulls off the firing line when his relief from the 10th Battalion arrives. Technically, the events in general are accurate - as I've stated, a company of the 10th relieved the entire 8th Battalion through a mix-up - but the depiction of the 8th as turning tail and running was up to the director here. It made for great cinema, but does it accurately reflect the reputation of the CEF as solidly professional by 1917?

I thought Ormond's cool, calm demeanor under fire was well played, on the other hand. I am sure the CEF had its share of cowards but it too bad that in this film, it was a guy with a British accent filling that role. The "pompous Brit" is a lingering caricature from those days that historians like Corrigan are trying desperately to demolish with books like Mud, Blood and Poppycock. He was a terrific actor who inherited the character tremendously well, however, and made the most of every line he was given. He didn't seem like a stock character or caricature - and the CEF really was inhabited by transplanted Brits - up to 50% in 1915, slightly less by 1917 when mid-Atlantic and North American accents began to make up the majority.

I don't mean to suggest there was a deliberate effort to trash the Royal Winnipeg Rifles' legacy, but in movieland, there never seems to be such a thing as a dignified relief in place, or a fighting withdrawal, staged withdrawal, planned withdrawal, or anything of the sort. Directors rarely have military training. You can tell the ones that do - Oliver Stone's battle scenes in Platoon made a modicum of military sense because he had been there, and he had Dale Dye to talk him through the stuff he hadn't done himself. And he was willing to listen.

Having an 8th Battalion Lewis Gunner tell a 10th Battalion relief that to stop him from leaving "you'll have to shoot me" seems kind of far from the mark. I'd be interested to know if Gross found a comment like that in a contemporary account or if that too is fiction. I never say "never" when it comes to history - too many strange things happen on battlefields to just say it couldn't have been so - but it seems about as farfetched as the Golgotha stories that Gross as Dunne writes off in those much better scenes set far off from the battlefield, where a battlescarred and world weary survivor talks about the myths of the First World War, rather than destroying them by acting them out badly.
Last edited by dorosh on October 21st, 2008, 4:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Geoff Winnington-Ball
Geoff Winnington-Ball

October 21st, 2008, 7:02 pm #7

<A href="http://www.network54.com/Forum/28173/me ... n+theatres>" target=_new>http://www.network54.com/Forum/28173/me ... heatres</A< a>>

&nbsp;

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0pt"><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">Thought I'd start a new thread to discuss the film since we have several other threads on the film. Just saw this today and my take is mainly positive, though my criticisms may be serious enough to not recommend the film for certain purposes, however, that is up to the individual viewer. Major spoilers contained throughout.</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">Incidentally, I first heard a major negative review on Corus radio on Sunday when returning from a field exercise, from a Regular Force member of the Canadian Forces who emailed in to say how disgusted he was with the film and how he thought it downplayed the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I don't see this film doing anything of the kind. His call to arms to soldiers of the CF, asking them to boycott the film is equally silly, though I can understand why strong passions would be aroused.</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">The plot</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">I think the plot of the story is absolutely fine. I was surprised that there weren't more battle scenes, but for what the film sets out to do, it is believable. I think we forget how big a deal it was to be a "shirker" in 1917 <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /><st1:country-region w:st="on">Canada</st1:country-region>, or how much hatred there was for the Germans - they renamed <st1:City w:st="on">Berlin</st1:City>, <st1:State w:st="on">Ontario</st1:State> to become <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Kitchener</st1:place></st1:City>, which generations later many probably have even forgotten. It's well to remember closed-mindedness - it was brought to mind on my weekend exercise when we were given "Hajji costumes" to wear as enemy force soldiers in a simulated <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Afghanistan</st1:place></st1:country-region> village. New war, new slurs, new ways to dehumanize others. This was a theme prevalent in the film, and in that sense some it was timely, if subtle. Was it contrived for the nurse to end up so close to her sergeant? Probably, but it worked for me, and it didn't stretch credulity the way the Russian woman in, say, 1993's "Stalingrad" did, showing up time and again. Sometimes, fate is on your side, and sometimes, you give fate a hand.</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">The Machine Gun</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">It's unfortunate that script writers have no idea what the machine gun is for. It is an important asset on the battlefield, and the movie guys have yet to understand what it does or why the Army guys keep them around. It is not something you stick in a corner of the battlefield and wait for a heroic band of 4 or 8 guys to blunder into. It's something you set up to guard something. That can be an open flank, sure. Or it can be an approach route, or a gap in your barbed wire. It can be a supply route or withdrawal lane, and you can set them up to fire indirectly (never see that in a movie). You set them up best when they fire at great distances - one of their advantages, to, say, a pistol or a rifle, and in interlocking arcs of fire, using a high rate of fire, they can mow down a great number of men. Hollywood films like Legends of the Fall, Saving Private Ryan, and now Passchendaele think that machine guns are simply dropped off at random with 3 or 4 man gun crews, in isolation, and left there to hunt single men or other groups of men - and by "hunt" I mean sit there stupidly with an 80 pound water-cooled gun and sledge or tripod and metal cans of ammo and wait to be found, sitting behind uncamouflaged sandbags. This was one of only a very few scenes I took great exception to in Passchendaele. Perhaps Gross thought it was acceptable because he's seen it in so many other movies - Mr. Gross, those other movies were wrong, and your technical advisor probably told you so. If not, you should sue him!</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">Period set pieces and dialogue</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">Otherwise, the set dressing and costuming was authentic. They used the 'f' word too much, and even Band of Brothers fell into that trap. Society has evolved a lot since 1944 and even more since 1917. However, there were some really good things said by Gross' character, too, about the Canadian Golgotha rumours, for example. I loved that Gross debunked the rumours of Canadians nailed to a barn door, and did it as a war-weary veteran would have. His one-armed friend, who lies about his "war-wounds", says great things about guilt and tells stories about his feelings to go to war, and Gross plays the reactions to it with facial expressions and great seasoning as an actor. I think those kinds of conversations are worth every penny of the admission price I paid, and are far more interesting than a dozen scenes of rats crawling in a trench. The characters were anything but cardboard cutouts and Gross put a great deal of time into shaping the motivations, backstory, and interactions of all the characters. Those impatiently waiting for scenes of Germans being bayoneted through the face and fuming because that was what they thought they paid their money for regrettably didn't get much value from that. </SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">Unnecessary scenes</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">I found only four scenes really objectionable - especially if this is going to be used in schools. Two scenes of sexual content seemed unnecessary and forced into the script. I'm no prude, but it just seemed crass and contributed little. I don't want to compare the film directly to others nor make accusations that there was a deliberate attempt to emulate other films, but the scene from Enemy at the Gates came to mind in the liaison during the artillery barrage. The extremely brief flash of nudity in the earlier scene seemed equally unnecessary, perhaps moreso. The third scene was discussed earlier - the MG scene, though my issues revolve more around the fact the book expands on Dunne's motivations more. The movie does explain he was "deserting" at the time and explains why he was so quick to put up a white flag. The email I mentioned at the start of this post also suggested that Canadians were being done a disservice and that the CEF as the whole was being painted in an unfavourable light. I can see his point to a degree; the movie does poorly at explicitly explaining Dunne's reasoning here for surrendering, something the Canadians did not do meekly. It seems better explained in the book and translated poorly to the screen.</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">The final objectionable scene was the climax of the film, which came after a very well done battle sequence. If one looks at the battalion history GALLANT CANADIANS by Daniel Dancocks, the details here are all correct - the Little Black Devils really did pull a battalion out of the line, and the 10th Battalion really did have to seal the gap with a company. The role of the 10th, believe it or not, is actually understated in the movie, since the Battalion had not been ordered to make a major attack. On their own initiative, the battalion planned for offensive action and their plans were rewarded when the call came down. The movie depicts all this very well. But then it bogs down with a bizarre truce with the Germans, a crucified soldier, and a happy reunion. It was unsubtle, and it could easily have been accomplished two scenes earlier, when David finds his courage and uses his rifle to save Michael's life.</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">The end</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">The final scene of the movie is a bit confusing, showing standard grave markers of men of the 10th stretching off to the horizon, but they are back in <st1:country-region w:st="on">Canada</st1:country-region> in an <st1:State w:st="on">Alberta</st1:State> graveyard rather than in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">France</st1:place></st1:country-region>, but it gives an idea of the cost the battalion suffered. Three title cards talk about the battle at Passchendaele as a whole rather than the 1,313 dead of the 10th alone for 1914-1918.</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">What it does</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">But largely, the film hit the right notes with me. Gross is a likeable on-screen persona. If people want to criticize him for a vanity project (Passchendaele is the most expensive Canadian film ever made), they can, but I think he's earned the right to take chances, given the success he's had in the past. His gambles largely paid off here. War geeks will be disappointed there aren't more rats and eviscera on the screen, stich-Nazis will be incensed that the historical advisors couldn't tell them that when the battalion history reads "Colonel Ormond" it is really shorthand for "Lieutenant Colonel Ormond" or that RSM Watchman's insignia is wrong, or that a Sergeant would never wear a good conduct stripe - and they'd overlook the fact that this may be the first big budget movie ever to accurately show the battle patches on the sleeves, or show a veteran wearing the blue shoulder straps, or the Red Chevron of the 1914 vet.</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">If it missed the boat on talking about how infantry companies really went into battle, or used their Lewis Guns, or that the Canadian Army was the most technologically advanced in the world by 1918, that's unfortunate, but good story telling will always take first seat to history lessons, and one is the hook to getting people interested in the other. The book is in stores now, and I'm happy to report there is even a section on history in the back, with web links and a bibliography.</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial"><BR style="mso-special-character: line-break"><BR style="mso-special-character: line-break"><?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /><o:p></o:p></SPAN>

&nbsp;
Aside from the quibbles already mentioned, I have to say that overall, I thought this movie was superb. Yes, the soap-opera stuff went on far too long, and yes, there were numerous affectations (although none particularly offensive), but I thought Paul Gross did a magnificent job in portraying the perspective of a WW1 soldier against a truly mind-boggling background set of misery, mud and blood, which few others have managed to capture. Hollywood, for all its power, would have buggered this up totally, but Paul made it happen and for that I am truly proud. Regardless of its weaknesses, Passchendaele is a true work of art, IMHO. I will buy this movie when it comes out on DVD.

So there...

Geoff
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Ed Storey
Ed Storey

October 21st, 2008, 8:44 pm #8

<A href="http://www.network54.com/Forum/28173/me ... n+theatres>" target=_new>http://www.network54.com/Forum/28173/me ... heatres</A< a>>

&nbsp;

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0pt"><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">Thought I'd start a new thread to discuss the film since we have several other threads on the film. Just saw this today and my take is mainly positive, though my criticisms may be serious enough to not recommend the film for certain purposes, however, that is up to the individual viewer. Major spoilers contained throughout.</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">Incidentally, I first heard a major negative review on Corus radio on Sunday when returning from a field exercise, from a Regular Force member of the Canadian Forces who emailed in to say how disgusted he was with the film and how he thought it downplayed the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I don't see this film doing anything of the kind. His call to arms to soldiers of the CF, asking them to boycott the film is equally silly, though I can understand why strong passions would be aroused.</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">The plot</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">I think the plot of the story is absolutely fine. I was surprised that there weren't more battle scenes, but for what the film sets out to do, it is believable. I think we forget how big a deal it was to be a "shirker" in 1917 <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /><st1:country-region w:st="on">Canada</st1:country-region>, or how much hatred there was for the Germans - they renamed <st1:City w:st="on">Berlin</st1:City>, <st1:State w:st="on">Ontario</st1:State> to become <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Kitchener</st1:place></st1:City>, which generations later many probably have even forgotten. It's well to remember closed-mindedness - it was brought to mind on my weekend exercise when we were given "Hajji costumes" to wear as enemy force soldiers in a simulated <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Afghanistan</st1:place></st1:country-region> village. New war, new slurs, new ways to dehumanize others. This was a theme prevalent in the film, and in that sense some it was timely, if subtle. Was it contrived for the nurse to end up so close to her sergeant? Probably, but it worked for me, and it didn't stretch credulity the way the Russian woman in, say, 1993's "Stalingrad" did, showing up time and again. Sometimes, fate is on your side, and sometimes, you give fate a hand.</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">The Machine Gun</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">It's unfortunate that script writers have no idea what the machine gun is for. It is an important asset on the battlefield, and the movie guys have yet to understand what it does or why the Army guys keep them around. It is not something you stick in a corner of the battlefield and wait for a heroic band of 4 or 8 guys to blunder into. It's something you set up to guard something. That can be an open flank, sure. Or it can be an approach route, or a gap in your barbed wire. It can be a supply route or withdrawal lane, and you can set them up to fire indirectly (never see that in a movie). You set them up best when they fire at great distances - one of their advantages, to, say, a pistol or a rifle, and in interlocking arcs of fire, using a high rate of fire, they can mow down a great number of men. Hollywood films like Legends of the Fall, Saving Private Ryan, and now Passchendaele think that machine guns are simply dropped off at random with 3 or 4 man gun crews, in isolation, and left there to hunt single men or other groups of men - and by "hunt" I mean sit there stupidly with an 80 pound water-cooled gun and sledge or tripod and metal cans of ammo and wait to be found, sitting behind uncamouflaged sandbags. This was one of only a very few scenes I took great exception to in Passchendaele. Perhaps Gross thought it was acceptable because he's seen it in so many other movies - Mr. Gross, those other movies were wrong, and your technical advisor probably told you so. If not, you should sue him!</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">Period set pieces and dialogue</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">Otherwise, the set dressing and costuming was authentic. They used the 'f' word too much, and even Band of Brothers fell into that trap. Society has evolved a lot since 1944 and even more since 1917. However, there were some really good things said by Gross' character, too, about the Canadian Golgotha rumours, for example. I loved that Gross debunked the rumours of Canadians nailed to a barn door, and did it as a war-weary veteran would have. His one-armed friend, who lies about his "war-wounds", says great things about guilt and tells stories about his feelings to go to war, and Gross plays the reactions to it with facial expressions and great seasoning as an actor. I think those kinds of conversations are worth every penny of the admission price I paid, and are far more interesting than a dozen scenes of rats crawling in a trench. The characters were anything but cardboard cutouts and Gross put a great deal of time into shaping the motivations, backstory, and interactions of all the characters. Those impatiently waiting for scenes of Germans being bayoneted through the face and fuming because that was what they thought they paid their money for regrettably didn't get much value from that. </SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">Unnecessary scenes</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">I found only four scenes really objectionable - especially if this is going to be used in schools. Two scenes of sexual content seemed unnecessary and forced into the script. I'm no prude, but it just seemed crass and contributed little. I don't want to compare the film directly to others nor make accusations that there was a deliberate attempt to emulate other films, but the scene from Enemy at the Gates came to mind in the liaison during the artillery barrage. The extremely brief flash of nudity in the earlier scene seemed equally unnecessary, perhaps moreso. The third scene was discussed earlier - the MG scene, though my issues revolve more around the fact the book expands on Dunne's motivations more. The movie does explain he was "deserting" at the time and explains why he was so quick to put up a white flag. The email I mentioned at the start of this post also suggested that Canadians were being done a disservice and that the CEF as the whole was being painted in an unfavourable light. I can see his point to a degree; the movie does poorly at explicitly explaining Dunne's reasoning here for surrendering, something the Canadians did not do meekly. It seems better explained in the book and translated poorly to the screen.</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">The final objectionable scene was the climax of the film, which came after a very well done battle sequence. If one looks at the battalion history GALLANT CANADIANS by Daniel Dancocks, the details here are all correct - the Little Black Devils really did pull a battalion out of the line, and the 10th Battalion really did have to seal the gap with a company. The role of the 10th, believe it or not, is actually understated in the movie, since the Battalion had not been ordered to make a major attack. On their own initiative, the battalion planned for offensive action and their plans were rewarded when the call came down. The movie depicts all this very well. But then it bogs down with a bizarre truce with the Germans, a crucified soldier, and a happy reunion. It was unsubtle, and it could easily have been accomplished two scenes earlier, when David finds his courage and uses his rifle to save Michael's life.</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">The end</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">The final scene of the movie is a bit confusing, showing standard grave markers of men of the 10th stretching off to the horizon, but they are back in <st1:country-region w:st="on">Canada</st1:country-region> in an <st1:State w:st="on">Alberta</st1:State> graveyard rather than in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">France</st1:place></st1:country-region>, but it gives an idea of the cost the battalion suffered. Three title cards talk about the battle at Passchendaele as a whole rather than the 1,313 dead of the 10th alone for 1914-1918.</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">What it does</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">But largely, the film hit the right notes with me. Gross is a likeable on-screen persona. If people want to criticize him for a vanity project (Passchendaele is the most expensive Canadian film ever made), they can, but I think he's earned the right to take chances, given the success he's had in the past. His gambles largely paid off here. War geeks will be disappointed there aren't more rats and eviscera on the screen, stich-Nazis will be incensed that the historical advisors couldn't tell them that when the battalion history reads "Colonel Ormond" it is really shorthand for "Lieutenant Colonel Ormond" or that RSM Watchman's insignia is wrong, or that a Sergeant would never wear a good conduct stripe - and they'd overlook the fact that this may be the first big budget movie ever to accurately show the battle patches on the sleeves, or show a veteran wearing the blue shoulder straps, or the Red Chevron of the 1914 vet.</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">

</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">If it missed the boat on talking about how infantry companies really went into battle, or used their Lewis Guns, or that the Canadian Army was the most technologically advanced in the world by 1918, that's unfortunate, but good story telling will always take first seat to history lessons, and one is the hook to getting people interested in the other. The book is in stores now, and I'm happy to report there is even a section on history in the back, with web links and a bibliography.</SPAN><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Arial"><BR style="mso-special-character: line-break"><BR style="mso-special-character: line-break"><?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /><o:p></o:p></SPAN>

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I thought that the 'costumes' were pretty bad, especially the military uniforms. Web Belts worn upsidedown, incorrect badging, incomplete sets of web with especially packs worn incorrectly and empty, Germans running about with no field kit, not a single Respirator to be seen; like I said a special edition book could be written on how bad the uniforms were in this movie.

I have to ask, how many serving soldiers, male or female held onto civilian clothes and wore them on their off hours during the Great War?

Did anyone associated with the movie ever look at early 20th century hairstyles and attempt to reproduce them?
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Ed Storey
Ed Storey

October 21st, 2008, 8:45 pm #9

Aside from the quibbles already mentioned, I have to say that overall, I thought this movie was superb. Yes, the soap-opera stuff went on far too long, and yes, there were numerous affectations (although none particularly offensive), but I thought Paul Gross did a magnificent job in portraying the perspective of a WW1 soldier against a truly mind-boggling background set of misery, mud and blood, which few others have managed to capture. Hollywood, for all its power, would have buggered this up totally, but Paul made it happen and for that I am truly proud. Regardless of its weaknesses, Passchendaele is a true work of art, IMHO. I will buy this movie when it comes out on DVD.

So there...

Geoff
You can take my copy.
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Michael Dorosh
Michael Dorosh

October 21st, 2008, 9:29 pm #10

I thought that the 'costumes' were pretty bad, especially the military uniforms. Web Belts worn upsidedown, incorrect badging, incomplete sets of web with especially packs worn incorrectly and empty, Germans running about with no field kit, not a single Respirator to be seen; like I said a special edition book could be written on how bad the uniforms were in this movie.

I have to ask, how many serving soldiers, male or female held onto civilian clothes and wore them on their off hours during the Great War?

Did anyone associated with the movie ever look at early 20th century hairstyles and attempt to reproduce them?
I did like that the 10th Battalion collar badges for officers were correct. I found the 10th Battalion insignia in Calgary unconvincing. I haven't checked the details in Clive's book - I can understand an overseas veteran wearing his patches in Calgary, but for the clerk in Calgary to wear the 1st Division patch when it is made clear he is unfit for overseas service - plain wrong.

There were two armies in Calgary at that time. The Militia - who was recruiting actively for home service, in this case the 103rd Regiment (Calgary Rifles), and the CEF, which was creating numbered battalions. The 82nd, 137th, etc. came from Calgary, and it is just as likely David Mann would have gone into the 50th Battalion or even the 37th Battalion (both southern Alberta combat units) as the 10th. More likely he would have gone into a draft of a numbered battalion (there were 260 of them all told by war's end) and then sat in England until needed, when his new battalion was broken up for reinforcements or - given his medical condition - possibly turned to labour duties. Of course, that would not have served the story well, but even just leaving the red flashes off the flat-footed near-sighted clerk would have been a start.

Quite possible the advisors on the set told them all that and they were simply ignored; that's standard practice on movie sets, having been through that experience personally.

I noticed Gross' web belt upside down once or twice myself. I've stopped railing against such things on the internet - it's a little bit like complaining that the sun sets every evening.

The Germans did seem to at least have Gewehr 98's - compare to The Blue Max or other 1960s movies in which they carry Lee Enfield No. 4's with short blade bayonets...

The absence of respirators I can forgive, and it was nice to see a Canadian actually wearing a greatcoat - even if the scene where he's told to take it off was too reminiscent of Platoon for some tastes (I'm sure it's a common enough conversation in the real world - it was also in Saving Private Ryan, come to think of it). Actually, I've had it myself - told to ditch the fleece jacket before a patrol a couple years ago; exact words "you won't need that." It happens.

Not trying to "defend" the film - some of the mistakes were glaring and indefensible from a standpoint of - the Internet now exists and so do a lot of really good books and contacts in the military community. Their people camped out at the Calgary Highlanders museum for a long time. They asked really great questions. They had the info at their fingertips. They asked me questions too. I gave freely of my time and I know our museum did. I know others did. They simply did not listen. How hard is it to stuff a haversack with rags to make it look full? How hard is it to stuff a pocket with rags to make it look like there is "stuff" in it?

I thought about that during the film. Most guys carry a lot of "shit" in their pockets. Back then, that "shit" was huge. Wallets were enormous. They carried their paybooks with them. They had field message pads that were giant. They took notes on things. They carried letters from home, and stationery pads. And those darned matches. But a movie extra keeps all his "shit" in his civvie clothes out in the change trailer. I know, I did it on Legends of the Fall for two weeks. Yeah, most people won't know the difference when they look at the screen. Still - it ain't hard to do it right. I saw the "making of" on the History Channel. Watched it twice now. The extras are switched on. I'm friends with a couple of them on Facebook. They seem dedicated and proud of their part. Who gets the "blame"? Not them.

The scene of the fellow firing the Lewis gun, for my tastes, personally, seemed too much like Animal Mother in Full Metal jacket with his M-60, but I suppose we've all seen so many movies that these comparisons start to become inevitable and unfair.

A truly honest depiction of the CEF in battle would be most welcome some day, sans love story. A Band of Brothers treatment would be nice - but extremely unlikely.
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