Since its release last November, I’ve wanted to see Peter Jackson’s First World War documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old. On Monday I got my chance.
As the film opens, Jackson explains that in 2014, he was invited by the London Imperial War Museum to create a documentary using their 100 hours of archival footage from the Western Front. The only conditions were that he use their film in “unique” ways, and that the project be finished in time for the centennial of the armistice in November, 2018.
After the credits run, Jackson details the incredible effort and technology that transformed the jerky, black and white footage from film making’s infancy, into a movie that offers an intimate glimpse into the lives of the men who fought, suffered, and died because it seemed their patriotic duty, only to come home to signs reading, “No ex-military need apply” when they went to look for civilian jobs.
Out of the many themes they could have chosen, Jackson and his team chose to focus on the everyday lives of the men, and they did so with precise dedication to detail. The voice-overs come from 600 hours of audio recordings, made with the help of 200 veterans in the ’60’s and ’70’s. When the footage showed soldiers talking, they used lip readers to determine what was said, then noted the regimental insignias, and then sought readers from those regions of Britain to voice the words.
Peter Jackson explains that his fascination with WWI began with tales his father told of his grandfather, who served. Seriously wounded multiple times, he became an invalid and died at age 50. Other members of the film team also lost grandparents in the war.
Readers of this blog will know I have a deep and ongoing interest in “the Great War.” It was, perhaps, the greatest loss of innocence that the whole of humanity has ever suffered. We see men who lied about their age to enlist trying to keep that innocence with jokes and horseplay while serving in hell.
I strongly recommend this movie to anyone with an interest in this poignant period of history that continues to reverberate through the world we live in today.