Overlord

A part of this view­ing list: Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion Spine #382: Stu­art Cooper’s Over­lord.

I was con­tact­ed by a NYC mar­ket­ing firm to review Over­lord, which was released on the 17th. So hey, free DVD. This is the sec­ond time that some­one has hap­pened along my movie reviews and asked me to do one for them. I must be doing some­thing right. Inci­den­tal­ly, this film will be shown at the Cleve­land Cin­e­math­eque in Octo­ber. Catch it if you can.

Over­lord has an inter­est­ing cin­e­mat­ic niche. It is com­posed, in sig­nif­i­cant amounts, of World War II stock footage [most­ly from the Impe­r­i­al War Muse­um]. This footage has been seamed togeth­er with plot-ori­ent­ed shots that were delib­er­ate­ly cin­e­matographed to look like stock footage. John Alcott [Kubrick’s reg­u­lar choice for cin­e­matog­ra­ph­er] was in charge of this, so qual­i­ty is expect­ed and deliv­ered. The sto­ry fol­lows a young British man who is duti­ful­ly mak­ing his way toward the war, cul­mi­nat­ing in D-Day. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film that does such a good job putting its main char­ac­ter in con­text with the events in the world around him.

The film has an objec­tiv­i­ty and a sub­jec­tiv­i­ty that rub against each oth­er like flint and tin­der. The objec­tive vec­tor con­cerns the mind-bog­gling­ly vast resources and activ­i­ties asso­ci­at­ed with the war effort; from civil­ians fight­ing fires after air raids to dive bombers going after bat­tle­ships and destroy­ers, to the mus­ter­ing and trans­porta­tion of troops troops troops. It is like an 80 minute ver­sion of a Frank Capra “Why We Fight” minus the forced jovial voice-over and edi­to­r­i­al pro­pa­gan­da. The film is book­end­ed with long, word­less sequences of this action; in the begin­ning it immers­es the view­er, but by the end it has a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent fla­vor.

This whole ele­ment is so dense that with­out the sub­jec­tive angle to bal­ance, a view­er could eas­i­ly become over­whelmed. Tom Bed­dows adds the human ele­ment. He begins the film as a man with regard for the act of defend­ing his coun­try that has like­ly been passed down by Tom Bed­dows, Sr. who fought in the First World War. By the end, this regard has been steadi­ly degrad­ed through dis­gruntle­ment and cyn­i­cism; Bed­dows becomes com­plete­ly nihilis­tic [burn­ing his let­ters to home]—all before he’s left Britain. This cor­re­lates with the inter­cut objec­tive stock footage ele­ments. The dehu­man­ized war machine dehu­man­izes. It is a bit rem­i­nis­cent of Dou­glas Adams’ Total Per­spec­tive Vor­tex, sans humor.

I should clar­i­fy what I mean when I use the word objec­tive. The clips them­selves are doc­u­ments, with only the most ves­ti­gial res­o­nances of pro­pa­gan­da. The way they are used by Coop­er is not objec­tive, they are meant to wind the inter­nal springs of Bed­dows to their break­ing point. Cooper’s moti­va­tion is a prod­uct of the Viet­nam era; look­ing at World War II from this per­spec­tive is quite inter­est­ing. The train­ing sequences, and Bed­dows trans­for­ma­tion into near roboti­cism become a bit sin­is­ter; almost as if some­one of com­plete indif­fer­ence has planned each ele­ment in the dehu­man­iza­tion process. In the end even Tom Bed­dows dreams are tinged with an indif­fer­ent regard to the death he knows is com­ing. It’s not sur­pris­ing that the war gets to him before he gets to it.

Cri­te­ri­on Essay by Kent Jones.
• Cri­te­ri­on Press Release with links to many reviews and oth­er press infor­ma­tion in a .zip file.
• Clips: 1 and 2.