Shooting the Somme...


... How an Iconic Film was Faked, from Pen & Sword



Title: Shooting the Somme

Author: Bob Carruthers

Publisher: Pen & Sword

ISBN: 978-1-47386-868-7

This new book takes on a topic which does make for some interesting reading. It is actually in two halves, as the first examines the story behind the film and the controversy while the second half is the book written by one of the film-makers who was directly involved in the actual filming.

The film was released as an 'official' film in 1916, illustrating the events of the opening of the Battle of the Somme. It was a bit different in that unlike official films up to that point which lasted just 10 minutes, this one lasted for 70 minutes. It attracted huge audiences in the UK, quoted at around 20 million and showed them the battle, including the conditions which the troops faced, and images of real dead soldiers, both British and German. It examines the different views of the film, and whether graphic images of war should be shown to the public. It also considers a section of the film which was 'faked'. How the cameraman found a particular scene, one that became one of the iconic element of the film, had been re-shot to get some close-up images of British troops going 'over the top'. It opens up some discussion points about the content of propaganda films, and indeed, when shooting a real battle (with the fairly basic equipment available at the time), a cameraman could hardly ask them to stop and do it again.

The second half of the book is an account of the work by one of the two cameramen involved, Lieut, Geoffery H. Malins. He doesn't admit to 'faking' and element of their film, and doesn't really acknowledge the contribution of the other cameraman, John McDowell. Some of the scenes he shot, which really did capture the actual events of the Battle of the Somme, and many of which have become so regularly used to illustrate the historic events of a battle which impacted pretty much every community in the UK as the huge number of casualties mounted.  There is a section of archive stills within the book to illustrate the wider story and an interesting take on things and just how much, or how little, of the film was actually 'faked'.

Thanks to Pen and Sword for my copy.