NEW YORK, NY.-
Opening on the 100th anniversary of the day World War I began, The Museum of Modern Art
s The Great War: A Cinematic Legacy runs from August 4 through September 21, 2014, highlighting 60 feature-length films and thematic programs that attempt to provide a comprehensive view of the war as portrayed in film. The various films focus on prewar activities; espionage; the battlefields in the trenches, in the air, and on and beneath the sea; actualités; and the various homefronts before, during, and after the war. Familiar films, such as A Farewell to Arms (1932) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962), along with several lesser-known works from as far away as New Zealandincluding Chunuk Bair (1992)reflect the universality of a war that reshaped the prevailing values of what passed for civilization. In August, the program is predominately drawn from the early years, either during the war or in the succeeding decades, and includes several silent films. The program in September will concentrate mainly on later, more contemporary films up to, and including, Steven Spielbergs War Horse (2011). The Great War is organized by Charles Silver, Curator, with Dave Kehr, Adjunct Curator, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art.
Many of the films in the series deal with the entrenched stalemate in France, including Verdun, Vision dHistoire (Verdun, Vision of History) (1928) directed by Leon Poirier. The film, largely pacifist in nature, is based on the great 1916 battle and integrates actual footage with realistic restaged material using many actors who had been soldiers in the war. Similarly, Les Croix de bois (Wooden Crosses) (1932), directed by Raymond Bernard, forms something of a pacifist trench-based trio with Lewis Milestones All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and G. W. Pabsts Westfront 1918 (1930). The Oscar-winning All Quiet on the Western Front, adapted from the novel by Erich Maria Remarque, depicts the disillusionment of German youth after experiencing the realities of war.
Another series of films highlights the importance of aviation in the war. William Wellmans Wings (1927) was the first film to win the Oscar for Best Picture. The romantic action-war film, which effectively launched Gary Coopers career, features the story of a pair of American pilots fighting over Europe. The film was praised for its spectacular aerial sequences, which have an added air of authenticity because Wellman was himself an ace pilot with the Lafayette Escadrille and winner of the Croix de Guerre. Hells Angels (1930), directed by Howard Hughes, includes lavishly produced scenes of aerial warfare and Zeppelin bombing. Howard Hawkss Dawn Patrol (1930) emphasizes the tension of a commander sending men on suicidal aerial missions in flying crates. Lilac Time (1928), from George Fitzmaurice, stars Cooper as a British aviator in a squadron based in France, who falls in love with a farmers daughter.
Several of the newer films in the exhibition exemplify how the horrors of the war have had a lasting effect on civilization. Steven Spielbergs War Horse (2011), an adaptation of Michael Morpurgos childrens novel about a thoroughbred in France, reminds us that war, and particularly World War I, is also a horror for non-human creatures. In My Boy Jack (2007), directed by Brian Kirk, Rudyard Kipling pulls strings to get his son John sent to France early in the war. Based on a play by David Haig, the film ends tragically at the Battle of Loos. Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas) (2005), directed by Christian Carion, is a moving re-creation of a Christmas truce on the 1914 battlefield in France, as German, British, and French soldiers fraternize and exchange gifts.