Now that I finished my 2nd book manuscript in 3 months, I have time for a vacation. About 50 minutes in fact before I get to the 4000 things that must be done yesterday. So I spent it watching John Ford’s 1951 film This is Korea. This is the Korean War version of the World War II documentaries the military commissioned from leading film directions. While I don’t know if it quite matches the artistic glory of John Huston’s The Battle of San Pietro, This is Korea is probably the best war documentary Ford made.
Ford pushed this project hard, convincing the government to allow him to make it. And he had to put together the editing, narration, voice work, sound, and concept. But the real heroes here are the war photographers, filming this absolutely jaw-dropping footage. I can’t easily find a number of U.S. military photographers who died in the war, but no doubt the number was significantly above zero, especially given that these guys were right on the front lines. Amazing.
Now, Ford does slightly simplify Korean history for American audiences. The film starts with him painting a Korea at rustic peace before the evil commies arrived. I mean, sure, there’s those 40 years of brutal Japanese occupation, but hey, let’s not let history get in the way of a pat narrative. And Ford never was too much into subtle imagery or messaging in his feature films, never mind a documentary made to get Americans on the home front to sacrifice for the cause–give blood or send care packages at the very least. But he was pretty bloody convincing to me in doing that. His soldiers’ lives are brutal. Terribly cold weather, dug in enemies, hills, a lack of clear progress. Throughout it all, the soldiers are brave. Not heroic. But just regular guys doing a job and doing it well and dying at it.
Well worth a viewing.