Scen.: George Stevens Jr. F.: George Stevens (16mm footage), Allen Moore. M.: Catherine Shields. Mus.: Carl Davis, Peter Howell. Int.: George Stevens Jr. (voce narrante), George Stevens, George S. Patton, Charles de Gaulle, Bernard L. Montgomery. Prod.: George Stevens Jr., Gail Schumann per New Liberty Productions. Pro-res.
If the official image of the Second World War was monochrome, semistaged, using a tripod, what we see in this account by George Stevens, shot on lively Kodachrome film stock, is raw, real and without any filter. The 16mm camera became an inseparable part of George Stevens’s life and his visual diary after the filming of Gunga Din in 1939. It was with the same device that some of the most decisive events of WWII were unofficially filmed. ‘Unofficially’ since they were sent as ‘letters back home’, and they stayed in the loft for the next few decades, before Stevens’s son first edited some of the footage into A Filmmaker’s Journey. An extended account of this chapter of Stevens’s life was then given in this made-for-television work, which shares footage and narration with the earlier film but adds an extra half an hour of unseen material. It was in the Columbia Pictures viewing room that Stevens felt the need for direct action, after watching Triumph of the Will (1935). He enlisted and was stationed in London where he shot some material for people including Frank Capra and Carol Reed. In 1944 came the most important assignment of his life, directly from General Eisenhower: putting together a unit of army cameramen to cover the Allied invasion of Europe. His team, nicknamed ‘The Stevens Irregulars’ (including Irwin Shaw, Joseph Biroc, William Saroyan, and William Mellor who later shot A Place in the Sun) filmed the Liberation of Paris, the Battle of the Bulge, the discovery of the underground V-1 bomb factory in Nordhausen, Hitler’s Bavarian residence and the liberation of Dachau. There are moments of fleeting joy when on 25 April 1945 American and Soviet soldiers meet for the first time in Torgau and the film crews compare notes by examining the other unit’s cameras. However, most of the material is, as Stevens once said, like wandering in Dante’s infernal visions – the documentation of rubble horror, rows of ruin, and the unbearable shock of the concentration camp, which left an undeniable mark on Stevens.