Saturday, May 31, 2014

The only known color footage of D-Day

I wasn't aware of the World War II work of director George Stevens until I read this report.

When the warship HMS Belfast fired the shot that launched the D-Day landings, it was carrying an unlikely passenger - Hollywood film director George Stevens.

With Allied forces set to storm the Normandy beaches of Nazi-occupied France, Stevens was on-board making a unique 16 millimetre colour film journal.

He had made his name in the 1930s, directing the likes of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in 'Swing Time' (1936) and Cary Grant in 'Gunga Din' (1939).

But in 1942, after seeing Leni Riefenstahl's Nazi propaganda movies, Stevens enlisted.

General Dwight Eisenhower assigned him to head up the combat motion-picture coverage, a unit covering the war in black-and-white 35 millimetre film for newsreels and military archives.

But while documenting the Allied forces' advance towards Berlin, he took with him a 16 millimetre camera and boxes of Kodachrome film on which he would shoot a personal visual diary of the war.

The film canisters of the war were developed back in the US, but Stevens stored them and for decades they went untouched.

That changed when his son, George Stevens Jr, also a filmmaker, decided to make a documentary on his father's life and was amazed to discover what he found.

An emotional Stevens remembers the first time he watched the films, astonished to see his young father heading to France on HMS Belfast.

"This film came on and it was sort of grey-blue skies and barrage balloons, those big things that hung in the sky, and it was on a ship. It turned out (to be) the HMS Belfast, and it was suddenly I realised the morning of the 6th of June, the beginning of the greatest seaborne invasion in history," he said in a recent interview.

"I had this feeling that my eyes were the first eyes that hadn't been there who were seeing this day in colour, and I watched this film unfold and on this ship - and all of these men with their flak jackets and anticipation of this day - and around a corner on the ship comes this man - helmet and jacket - and walks into a close-up, and it's my 37-year-old father. It was so moving."

George Stevens died in 1975.

At some point after his death, his son took the best of his father's colour film and in 1994 produced a documentary entitled "George Stevens: D-Day to Berlin".

There's more at the link.

Intrigued, I looked for the documentary, and found a copy on YouTube.  I recommend watching it in full-screen mode.

I'm very glad to have learned of this film.  It's a real piece of living history.



Will said...

have you seen this series of videos of a SA fighter pilot who flew in No. Africa in WWII? Looks like 14 of him talking about how they did things and some of his activities.
In this one, he talks about the Me-109 against the Hurricane, and he compares how they turn, since he flew one that his group got into flying condition. There are photos of this aircraft being serviced, with British Roundels and his squadron's markings on it:

Chas Clifton said...

"This video is not available in your country."

Given that I suspect most readers are Americans, that's not a fun error message to see.

Sven Weichbrodt said...

Not available in Australia either. Weird.