Truth is more harrowing than fiction on WWII documentary

Thursday December 13, 2012


Narrow Escapes -- There are DVD sets about World War II as a whole. There are series about parts of WW II, such as "Victory at Sea," about famous battles, important people who led and of heroes who fought. In short, there are many angles from which the major subject can be approached. And Athena Learning has come up with a very good one: "Narrow Escapes of World War II."

The four DVDs in the boxed set hold 13 episodes, many of which are about incidents that get little recognition in other video treatments. Some of them involve escapes of only part of the original force or of the prisoners that force was assigned to free. Many of the near failures to save all the men resulted from bad planning, bad weather, unforeseen obstacles and superior enemy actions.

For example, "The Amiens Raid" tells the story of a combined air attack on a German prison to free the prisoners, many of whom were allied agents. When a squadron of planes failed to show up, those that did were forced to improvise and stay around longer than they had expected.

The episodes that follow are "The Doolittle Raid" (the early use of aircraft carriers), "Wingate and the Chindits" (a special force to sabotage the "superior" Japanese), "The Black Battalion" (the siege of Bastogne), "Lucky Laycock’s Escape from Crete" (trying to keep the Germans from fully occupying the island), "Manstein Holds the Line" (a German general’s attempt to show Hitler how to reverse the reversals on the Russian Front), and "The Siege of Kohima" (a small garrison must keep the Japanese from entering India’s interior).

Next we have "Roy Urquhart’s Escape from Arnhem" (the story of the "bridge too far"), "Morshead Holds Tobruk" (keeping Rommel from capturing Tobruk and then the Suez Canal),"Evacuation in the Baltic" (both Germans and civilians have to escape the advancing Russians), "Moore’s March" (the axis’ invasion of Egypt), "Operation Pedestal" (the fight for Malta), and "Breakout Through Hell’s Gate" (more about the Germans trapped by the Russians).

I found almost all of these sequences harrowing (an adjective I hardly ever use). Not knowing ahead of time what the end will be, the viewer will cheer the gallant survivors on (perhaps even the German ones?). There is good use of actual newsreel shots, fleshed out with dramatic sequences, and even some old cinema shots of Gestapo agents breaking down doors. Not for the faint of heart.

The picture is widescreen and there are subtitles.

This is Civilization -- It took Kenneth Clark 670 minutes to show how art reflected its times. In "This is Civilization," Matthew Collings tries the same in 192 minutes. Of course, Collings is considerably more selective, as one can see in the four episodes that make up the Athena Learning set of two DVDs.

"Ye Gods" concentrates on art-- pictorial and architectural -- that portrays the essence of religious belief throughout the ages. "Feelings" deals with Jacques-Louis David and Francisco Goya, both of whom portrayed political themes. "Save Our Souls" is mostly about John Ruskin and the painter Turner; while "Uncertainty" is about today’s breakdown of all the art that had gone before and reassembling it in new ways.

Collings has very good ideas, although many might object to his obvious distaste for the anti-rational basis of organized religions. The picture is in 16:9 widescreen and there are subtitles.

2012 NLCS Game 7 -- A&E is having home run sales with their Major League Baseball Productions series. The latest, titled "World Series 2012," is actually the seventh game of the 2012 National League Championship Series between the San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals.

All of the entries in this series raise a question. Why bother to watch a game when you know the outcome beforehand? Well, why bother to watch a movie you have already seen? It is fun getting a closer look at HOW and WHY things ended as they did. Apparently, this series is a hit for that reason.

The bonus disc is loaded with such features as "Caught Looking" segments of Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt, Buster Posey and Matt Cain; and other looks into the past victories of the Giants.

All in all, a nice stocking stuffer for the avid fan.

Frank Behrens reports on classical and Broadway music as well as recordings of books and plays for the Arts & Entertainment section.


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