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Capra's coverage of the war...badly dated but entertaining!
Dave | Tennessee United States | 02/11/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"As a child I thought Frank Capra's highly acclaimed "Why We Fight" (made between 1942 and 1944) documentaries were outstanding and totally authentic. However, as I grew up and read many books about World War Two, I realized just how inaccurate these dated propaganda films are. Even so, I still find watching these documentaries very entertaining, and the amazing footage speaks for itself.
The first film in the series, 1942's "Prelude to War", recounts the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, the Italian conquest of Ethiopia, and Germany's massive preperations for war in Eastern Europe. The footage of goose-stepping German and Italian troops in parades is haunting and unforgettable.
The second film, 1942's "The Nazis Strike", chronicles the Nazis' "peaceful" conquests of the Rhineland, Austria, and Czechoslovakia, and the invasion and conquest of Poland. It's obvious from the narration that the filmmakers relied on the German reports to recount the brutal campaign for Poland. For example, the narrator claims that the Polish Air Force was wiped out on the ground by the Luftwaffe. The fact is that the only planes destroyed on the ground were for training, and the Polish fighter planes had been well-hidden prior to the German attack. No mention is made at all of the brave counterattacks made by the Polish ground forces, or of the fact that Russia betrayed Poland while the Allies did nothing to help Poland.
The third film, 1943's "Divide and Conquer", focuses on Hitler's "blitzkrieg" which resulted in the capture of Denmark, Holland, Norway, Belgium, and France. This is one of the very best in the "Why We Fight" series, and the music by famed composer Dmitri Tiomkin adds a lot.
The fourth film, 1943's "The Battle of Britain", recounts the amazing courage of the people of Britain, who endured the merciless bombing from Hitler's Luftwaffe and still refused to surrender. The ariel combat footage is awesome!
The fifth film, 1944's "The Battle of Russia", is a very mixed bag. The combat footage of Barbarossa is very impressive, but the false image of Russia's society and military along with the corny narration makes this hard to sit through at times.
The sixth film, 1944's "The Battle of China", has some of the best combat footage in the whole series, much of it being captured from the Japanese. From the brutal slaughter in Nanking to the creation of the Burma Road, this is one of the most important campaigns of World War Two. I especially enjoyed the content on Claire Chennault's Flying Tigers. However, this documentary, like the one on Russia, is not an accurate depiction of the country it portrays, but remember this series is better viewed as propaganda, not history.
The seventh film, 1944's "War Comes to America", is a corny depiction of how and why the United States entered World War Two. Personally, I think this is one of the weakest in the series, but it's at least watchable.
Well, there you have it. Although there are many documentaries that are far more accurate and exciting, the "Why We Fight" documentaries are still very important, both for studying propaganda of World War Two as well as experiencing a different side of the multi-talented Frank Capra."
firstname.lastname@example.org | Beaumont, tx USA | 01/20/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This four disc set from Frank Capra and the US Armed Forces is an interesting piece of documentary film. The seven films are loaded with historical information as well as propaganda. Some of the things said here, Amazon.com would never let me repeat. But it is a piece of our history--of the war, or our military, of world politics, and of the propoganda machine. It's worth watching, especially with the information we have now. Disc one contains 'Prelude to War' (which covers the initial aggressive acts of Italy, Japan, and the Nazis) and 'The Nazis Strike' (covers the Nazis early conquests); disc two contains 'Divide and Conquer' (mostly the fall of France) and 'The Battle of Britain' (covers the attacks made on England); disc three contains 'The Battle of Russia' (the longest of the seven films, this one runs almost an hour and a half and covers the invasion of Russia and the Nazis retreat--lots of unintentional irony here); and disc four contains 'The Battle of China' (covers the Japanese invasion of China) and 'War Comes to America' (the final documentary just sorts of rehashes the other films and then pumps us up as to why we fought the war and makes excuses for not going into it earlier)."
A riveting series -- alas, unrestored
Erik Smith | Spokane, WA | 09/08/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Frank Capra's "Why We Fight" is one of the finest documentaries of the war period, not to mention one of the most historically significant. Watching these films today, sixty-five years after this series was produced, you find yourself wanting to pick up a machine gun and start hunting Germans and Japanese. The effect on wartime crowds must have been electric.
I suppose we have to deal with the usual criticism -- they aren't documentaries, they're propaganda. And well, so they were. The same can be said of any of the wartime documentaries put out by the Office of War Information, the Army, the Navy and the Marines. It doesn't obscure the fact that some of these films were works of art. Documentaries in that period had a sense of style we don't see much today; they often aimed to persuade and manipulate the emotions -- see Pare Lorenz' "The Plow that Broke the Plains," a depression-era documentary in the same vein, and you'll see what I mean. During the war the government financed dozens of films like these, and many of them are fascinating as pieces of entertainment, not just as compilations of combat footage. Capra's series aside, we might also include "The Battle of San Pietro," "Let There Be Light," "Report from the Aleutians," "The Memphis Belle," and a handful of others.
The main problem I have with this collection -- put out by Goodtimes Video -- is that there seems to have been absolutely nothing done in the way of restoration. The first film of the series, "Prelude to War," suffers considerably -- the film is "jumpy" for the first 20 minutes or so. I wouldn't put the producers to task too much for this: Every copy I've seen of this film, on videotape, has exactly the same problem. But you'd think that a series of this significance warrants some sort of restoration.
Later films in this package vary somewhat in transfer quality. "Divide and Conquer" and "The Nazis Strike" are perfectly adequate, though they use scratchy and well-worn prints. But "The Battle of Britain" is over-brightened, and some of the lighter portions of the picture are completely whited out.
I don't want to be too picky here. Goodtimes did something right: It didn't try to package all these films on one or two disks, and so we don't see any of the compression artifacts we often find in budget-priced public domain material. And I have to say the quality is still well above the awful videotapes that used to be the only source for this material. (Goodtimes used to be one of the worst, using EP mode for its tapes, and this DVD set is a significant improvement on the old standard.) Still, I wish someday that someone would take the next step and give these films the restoration treatment they deserve. Criterion Collection, are you listening?
Best propaganda ever!!
lighten_up_already2 | Kirkland, WA USA | 06/28/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I don't believe "propaganda" is a dirty word. It's depends on what the "propaganda" is out to accomplish and the techniques that are used in furthuring it's agenda. If the propaganda uses purposefully fabricated and deceiving information (lying) then it is bad. If it filters out vital information that would other wise cause the viewer to reach a different conclusion than the one advocated by the propaganda, then it is bad.
However, if the propaganda can use essentially factual information to motivate people to do the right thing, then it is good propaganda. The purpose of this series of films was to explain to the American public why we were fighting the Japanese and the Germans. It's purpose was to get everyone to back that effort using a very blunt and factual approach to showing the viewer the sheer evil that was threatening to engulf the world at that time. If this series really did build the moral of America and help defeat Facism and Japanese Imperialism, then perhaps it was the best propaganda ever.
It's also a very detailed history lesson, and I think the animation techniques were, although "dated", rather cool and fun to watch.
TAKE IT FOR WHAT IT IS, PLEASE
J. Cooper | Cordova, TN USA | 07/23/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Please, this is nothing but 5 star material, it one of the most highly regarded films (set of films) made of this genre (motivational, propaganda); it was a brilliant move by the US government and Army Signal Corps to utilize the incredible Oscar winning talents of Frank Capra . It REALLY puts you in the place of the free world being threatened by three dictatorships and why the US needed to stay motivated to the bitter end of the war. Don't listen to the other reviews that are less than 5 stars, Capra was surprisingly accurate in the facts and timelines (his emphasis) he put in the movies; do what I tell you in the following paragraph and you will see. It is fascinating to see what the US did to motivate the public and fighting men during that era.
OK, let me say something that I have not heard and you might find even more useful. I recommend the "Why We Fight" and then compare notes to the BBC/Thames TV "World At War" series. VERY interesting and you see why Capra was so highly regarded as a filmmaker, he had it NAILED down and my parents VERY much remember those films as teens during the war (they felt motivated to defend the US when seeing these). Ah, now take "Triumph of the Will" and see how Leni Reifenstall used her skills to motivate the German people, amazingly skillful and eerie. Folks, there is some education going on there and if you have kids get them to watch the three together and talk to them about people, war, and why we all need to get along in the world. "