The War

I spend a big part of last week stretched out in the front-room recliner, a box of Kleenex close at hand, watching the hell out of Netflix as I was trying, and failing, to fight off a head cold. After days of playing with it I ought to be a Netflix expert by now, but I never did figure out why I can’t just search for a movie by title. Their clunky interface makes it looks as though I should be able to, but when I do, I end up with anything but the movie I’m searching for. That’s not really a “search,” is it?

I did somehow end up watching several shows I was interested in, one of them the Ken Burns documentary The War. The introduction said it was supposed to be about people from four different towns – Mobile, Alabama; Sacramento, California; Luverne, Minnesota, and some place in Connecticut I forget right now – and how their lives were affected by World War Two. Several people from each of those towns were featured, speaking to the camera in classic oral-history fashion, but I was a little disappointed that the documentary spent what seemed like an awful lot of time summarizing the events of the war.

Not that it wouldn’t be necessary to recap what was going on at the front once in a while, but the first episode of The War was something like two and a half hours long, quite a lot of that time devoted to who fought what and showing lots of archival footage of bombs going boom. I’ve seen that. I wanted to listen to the people tell their stories.

But as long as I have to watch all this archival footage, I’ll trot out one of my pet peeves and let him take a wee on what could have been a very watchable documentary except for this common slip: If you’re going to all the trouble of putting together a film montage of, for instance, the battle of Midway Island, why would you use film and photos of action that never could have taken place there? If you were explaining how dive bombers saved the day at Midway, why would you show film of any plane but a dive bomber? That makes as much sense as describing a recipe for barbecued spare ribs while showing a film of a guy pan-frying pork chops. Not only does it make your documentary look amateurish, it’s just a little insulting to the people you’re featuring in the interviews. Get the damn details right. It’s not hard.

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