Sunday, November 06, 2005

The sky is always the sky

Had a brief tiff with Best Beloved this morning, so to cool off I went to see a movie about a REAl tiff: Gallipoli, directed by Tolga Ornek. You know how it is, it's always good to know there's someone worse off than you.

Seriously though, this movie is worth seeing. It's a tad too long, and can be a bit overwhelming with details, but it's a thorough and poignant look at a situation that really shouldn't have happened. The campaign is explored from both the Allied side and the Turkish side, and special effects are used to make the situation feel real. I enjoyed the way old photographs were manipulated to give them depth; we'd start with one small detail and then the camera would pull back out and the foreground details would shift in front of the background in such a way as to make it all feel 3D.

I've never been able to watch or think about the Gallipoli campaign without getting upset. This is partly because it was obviously a frustrating series of mistakes -- something not just seen in comfy historical retrospect, but felt quite clearly by the soldiers involved. But my blood boils when I think of how much of the fault lies with the politicians and generals in power at the time. They were given clear intelligence beforehand that it would be a long, difficult and fruitless tactic to invade the Dardenelles. They chose not take this advice seriously, and paid for it in thousands of young lives. Does this ring any bells? They thought that they could send in a small show of Imperial power (the British and French naval fleet) and the Turks would be so impressed and awed that they would surrender their country en masse. They thought they could land the troops in a challenging terrain and have them in and out in a month or so. Sound familiar?

I can't understand how a group of classically-educated men like the British War Council of WWI could imagine that the Dardenelles would be an easy conquest. For millenia Istanbul/Constantinople has been acknowledged as a strategic strongpoint. Classical -- and modern -- history has many tales of battles that raged around this area. Look at Troy! It may have fallen, but it took a long time to do so, and it was such a huge power in the area because it had geographical advantages. The sheer fact that the Turks were fighting on their homeground seemed not to matter much to the Council. They just assumed that these people were barbarians and would yield to an obviously superior civilization. More fool them. I just wish it was their lives they'd gambled with.

The link I've provided for the film is the Director's Statement. He talks about not wanting to focus on the blunders of the politicians, instead focussing on the ordinary and remarkable tales of the men involved. I saw him on tv recently, and he said that he thought that this was one of the most honourable battles of the 20th century. There were no atrocities, no ill-will, but two sides of men who did what they were told, both with clear-cut ideals. The Commonwealth allies wanted to fight for England, the Turks wanted to defend their homeland. There were times when both sides talked, gained respect for each other, then went back to fighting the next day.

I found myself feeling a bit overwhelmed about 3/4 of the way through the film. I had to stop looking at the bodies and the faces of the generals, and found myself focussing on the sky. Ornek uses the sky a lot, showing the moon, sunrises, sunsets, lots of fluffy white clouds against blue. I kept thinking "the sky is always the sky... the sky is always the sky". It feels like a quote, but I can't quite place it. Anyone else know?

I'd like to say here to finish up that I despise the way John Howard has milked the bravery of the men who fought for their ideal of 'Australia'. I'd like to think that a movie like this would make politicians squirm in their seats, but I'm more realistic than that. I know they'd just see it as fodder for their horrid nationalistic agenda. After all, they haven't learned from mistakes like Gallipoli, they're too bent on making their own mistakes in Iraq and other such areas.

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