Monday 24 June 2024

Imperial War Museums - How the Second World War changed cinema


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Cameraman of the Army Film and Photographic Unit in North West Europe, June 1945
War films are the closest that many people will get to experiencing conflict. 
Since the invention of the moving image, war has been depicted on film. Cinematic representations of war range from documentaries capturing action near the front lines to dramatic reconstructions made years after a conflict has ended. 

Filmmaking, and the many cinematic styles that have emerged throughout history, have often directly reflected world events of the time. The Second World War caused perhaps the most significant shift in storytelling in the history of cinema.

The influence of filmmakers whose work is shaped by the war can still be seen reflected in films today. The careers of two legendary Hollywood directors, active before, during and after the war, provide an insight into its effect on the industry. 

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Blavatnik Art, Film and Photography Galleries
IWM London's new Blavatnik Art, Film and Photography Galleries provide a vivid account of modern warThese galleries feature the Screening Space and Art Box.

The Screening Space shows feature length films and documentaries from IWM’s historical collection. The Art Box features contemporary moving-image artwork by artists including Omer Fast and Coco Fusco.
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Having started in silent films, William Wyler transitioned to "talkies" and displayed a talent for a range of genres from romantic comedy to westerns. By the late 1930s, Wyler was a respected and commercially successful director.

Before the USA entered the war, Wyler directed Mrs. Miniver. The story of a middle-class English family adjusting to life during the London Blitz, the film won 6 Oscars, including Best Director. 

Determined to document the real events of the war, Wyler volunteered for the US Air Force. In this time, he made two documentaries - Thunderbolt!, following a P-47 squadron in Northern Italy and The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress.

Wyler won his second directing Oscar in 1946 for The Best Years of Our Lives. Directly drawing on his own experiences, the film is about three veterans returning home after the war, and their struggles with adjusting back into civilian life.

It’s hard to judge the exact effect the war had on Wyler's filmmaking. Yet it’s evident that his wartime experiences were a catalyst for a thematic shift towards a more mature and introspective form of storytelling. 

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Storyteller: Photography by Tim Hetherington
IWM London until 29 September 2024

A celebrated photojournalist and filmmaker, Tim Hetherington often returned to locations over time to develop better connections with those whose stories he told. 

As part of the Storyteller exhibition, immerse yourself in his films Sleeping Soldiers and Liberian Graffiti shown across three screens.
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John Ford emerged as a major force in Hollywood before the Second World War. By the late 1930s, he was a household name. His pre-war westerns, such as the classic Stagecoach, were often romanticized with clear heroes and villains. 

During the war, Ford led the photographic unit for the Office of Strategic Services. While largely focused on intelligence gathering, he also directed propaganda films. The Battle of Midway, which featured real battle footage, won four Oscars in 1942.

Sources differ on whether Ford was actually on present Omaha Beach on D-Day, or if he arrived a few days after the landings. Yet it was under his direction that much of the famous D-Day footage was captured. 

After the war, Ford returned to Hollywood. The differences from his pre-war work are visible in The Searchers, considered one of the greatest westerns of all time. The film explores the violence inherent in conquering the American west.

Ford's westerns were at the fore of a shift towards moral complexity in Hollywood. While he never explicitly stated it, Ford’s wartime experiences likely prompted him to question simplistic narratives and confront the darker aspects of history.

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Film Screenings at IWM
To commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem, we are screening Brian Desmond Hurst’s unique 1946 war film Theirs is the Glory at IWM Duxford on 21 September 2024.  

Previous film screenings across our branches have included The Dam Busters and The Longest Day. Stay tuned to eNews for updates about further film screenings coming up later in the year. 
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Sunday 23 June 2024

the Design Museum - Now open: Solar display 🌞