Movie Diary 4/27/2015

Tell England (Anthony Asquith, Geoffrey Barkas, 1931). Two upper-class British soldiers go off to join the Great War; they are sent to the Eastern front in Gallipoli. Despite some early-sound-era rough edges, this is a remarkably ambitious and inventive picture, full of expressive modern touches. As a soldier’s worried mother (Fay Compton) listens to a society friend prattle on, she stares into the middle distance and the soundtrack is replaced by military music, the camera holding on her face for an unusual amount of time. Startling transitions from scene to scene and machine-gun editing in battle scenes indicate an avant-garde tendency. The storming of the beach by ANZAC soldiers (shot on Malta) anticipates Saving Private Ryan by almost 70 years, and fades out on the image of a dead soldier’s head moving side-to-side as the surf comes gently in and out. Even the comedy is barbed: One letter-writing private turns to a friend and asks, “How d’you spell massacre?” He is assured the word has “only one k.” (Screened as part of a WWI series at Edinburgh Filmhouse.)

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