Thursday, November 20, 2014

War Chocolate

We know why the First World War was fought. It was fought for the same reason as the Second World War…and the Napoleonic Wars and all the revolutions in Prussia. Many people protest and say it was complicated…they don’t understand; young men died for no reason. They were charging out of trenches every five minutes, only to be mown down by machine-gun fire.
The reason why the war was being fought is pretty simple: A couple of countries were trying to take over the world, a few other countries didn’t like this idea and were trying to stop them. It’s no more complicated than that; after all, it’s a story that has repeated over and over again through history. Was it worth fighting? Well…it depends on whether you prefer English to German, I suppose.
Horses had gas-masks, too

I recently came across an advertisement done by Sainsbury's; it’s a beautiful ad, artfully done with film-class cinematography and acting. No corners were cut in the making of it. Trench warfare was just plain boring. Most of the First World War was spent doing absolutely nothing and the troops got ancy. The advertisement takes place during the Christmas Truce of 1914, when both sides came out of the trenches and ‘fraternized’ for some time before their commanding officers ordered them back. The officers were so concerned that on the French side a cat seen fraternizing with the enemy was convicted and shot for its crimes. Despite it all, the message was clear: even in the darkest of times, even when things are at their worst, the spirit of Christmas still shines.
Comparison of soldiers' height from the late 1800s
It hadn't changed by World War One
I remember how the Christmas Truce was described in The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy, when across the black and silent trenches and twisted wire of No Man’s Land, candles glittered on both sides as enemies sang ‘Silent Night’ in harmony. The advertisement somehow manages to capture this episode in three minutes without feeling too short or too cramped. The chocolate bar featured in the ad is for sale in stores, with all profits going to the British veterans and their families.
But there are a lot of people who don’t like it. They’re up in arms, digging in and holding their ground. They don’t think ads like this should be allowed; Sainsbury is trying to line their pockets, they say. Instead of showing the war as it was…full of trenchfoot and frostbite and who knows what else, it advertises chocolate. It’s disrespectful, it’s crude, it sugar-coats the First World War. It stamps the Christmas Truce of 1914 with the word ‘Sainsbury's’.
A still from War Horse
All I can say to them is this: wasn’t Steven Spielberg lining his pockets when he made War Horse? Instead of making a three minute ad and sticking their name at the end, Disney made a two and a half hour one and stuck their name at the beginning. They even ran shorter ads in movie theatres and on television and called them trailers…what’s the difference? It all has the same end. Sainsbury's wants you to buy chocolate, and Disney wants you to buy theatre tickets and DVDs and whatever other paraphernalia they can come up with.
In the end, Sainsbury’s three minutes were more worthwhile than Disney’s two and a half hours. War Horse was surgery, soppy, and historically inaccurate. It didn’t even come close to showing what the war was really like for the various animals that were involved in it. If I was a rabid animal lover I could report them for horse abuse. Nobody in that movie knew how to ride; they were flopping about like sacks of potatoes. Their seats were appalling. 
So I’ll leave you with this…would Disney have bothered making War Horse if they hadn’t expected to make money off of it? Of course not. They marked it with their stamp and raked in $177.6 million dollars in the box office alone. Sainsbury's won’t make anywhere near that much off their commercial.
Go watch Gallipoli, or the Lost Battalion; both fall short of the mark, but they’re far better than War Horse…and neither comes anywhere near the Sainsbury's commercial. 

And, just for a laugh, here's a spoof on War Horse the BBC did recently. For the record, glow worms were actually used quite extensively in the war for reading maps in war zones. Apologies ahead for the profanity. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Fact or Fiction?

Charles Dickens is probably more notorious than Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s plays can each
Charlie in youth
be read in two hours. Dickens takes weeks.
Dickens’ work is a tumultuous gathering of characters; of darkness and despair, of love, of humour…half satire, half reality. Ebenezer Scrooge is a miser of misers; the likes of Miss Havisham, or Mrs Clennam seem too bizarre to be real. Old, old people locked up in houses tottering on unsteady foundations…wedding cakes cloaked in cobwebs, things never changing, only growing older and dustier in a changing world.
But, Dickens was writing for all of us. The things that happen in his books happened to us, sometimes not in our memories, but sometimes in the hand-built past of our ancestors.
Miss Havisham and Pip
I know a house that came straight out of Dickens. It was even built during his time. At first glance it seems ordinary, even boring, with chipping lead paint and old glinting windows. There’s a musty smell when the door is opened, the stink of a gas stove. In the darkened living room, scattered with things so old they were made before your grandmother was born, sit my grandparents…old, grey, with hearts locked away, never to be picked.
The Dickens characters may seem bordering on impossible, but I’m confident that he met every one of them, because I have. The Dickens’ plots may seem too elaborate, too bizarre, but sometimes my family’s past was even weirder.
Scrooge meeting the ghost of Christmas Present
Under the layer of dust that coats everything in that house lay secrets, secrets straight out of a Dickens’ novel: murder, tragic deaths, love, happiness, selfishness. They are the ordinary sorts of people, the people who sapped off others, the people only thought of themselves, who neglected their children and impounded selfishness and ignorance. They were mad eccentrics who made brilliant things, but never cared about their families; they were social climbers and various kinds of murderer. They may be dead now, but there are faded photographs, old newspapers blackened with obituaries, handwritten letters more than a hundred years old that tell their stories.
Sometimes it’s depressing to read about them; after all, most of them are like that…these are the people Dickens met in the dark London streets, or in the blacking factory he worked in as a boy…but fortunately they weren’t the only people he wrote about, nor the only people my family can claim. In my grandparents’ house there are the few records of people who gave their own lives to save others, of two uncles who gave their fortunes away to other people without so much as a thanks or a kind word in reply. These characters are hardest to find in real life, the truly kind and good ones, people like Arthur Clennam, and Pip’s brother-in-law, Joe Gargery, and of course, Bob Cratchit.
And sometimes when my life does intersect with someone like that, I feel like the tiny woman who treasured a shadow, in the story Amy Dorrit told Maggie, because no one so kind or good as the man who had cast it had ever, or would ever, pass that way again.

apologize for not writing blog posts more often. Because of my illness, posts will probably peter off during the winter and return in strength in the summer. Each post takes some time to write and research and often times I don't have enough energy to do either. I hope you will bare with me and continue to visit anyway. Thank you! ~Psyche