Memories of elections gone by
Leaving Ford for Waugh

Gallipoli: Putting 1917 to shame

Having watched the disappointing 1917, I noticed that Gallipoli was free to view on Amazon, so I took a gander.

I'd seen it long ago on video, and one of my hobbies these days is re-watching old war movies in light of my own military service and the changing times.

It's held up rather well, and goes through the traditional storyline of introducing characters before they begin military service and then chronicling the way military life changes them.

This is an early Mel Gibson movie, when he was still playing Australians (so much so that I thought he was one for many years). 

While the plot meanders, that works because the narrative is based on capturing the feel of adventure the ANZACs experienced when they went off to war for the Mother Country.  They were literally going to the other side of the world.

I cannot overlook that the movie shows its typical anti-British bias, something that would later become a Gibson trope.  No matter how or why, he has to slur the English in the most crude ways possible.  I wasn't at all surprised that man who can nurse such an irrational, all-consuming hate for one ethnic group, would also have it in for the Jews. 

The core tension of the film is ironically the same as that in 1917: a doomed attack is about to start and only a timely message passed by runner can stop it.  Unlike in 1917, the setup is at least plausible: the setting is the beach head at Gallipoli, where Allies forces clung tenaciously to exposed positions.

Trench warfare was new, the soil was rocky, the Turks held the high ground and tangled communications are therefore a lot more likely here than in the well-dug, well-maintained trenches shown in 1917, which positively bristle with telephone lines.

The weakest point is that Gallipoli embraces the standard trope that World War I troops mindlessly stood up and got shot again and again, even though they knew it was certain death.

In fact, people back then weren't any more stupid or suicidal than they are today.  Faced with crippling fire, they'd simply refuse to move.  This might cause a "flap" but so be it.

The reason why battles like the Somme had such horrific losses was that troops were caught out in the open with nowhere to go.  Both sides figured out that trick early on - you let the enemy advance almost to the wire and then pin them in a lethal crossfire.  If your trench is being covered by fire, you try to suppress it with fire of your own from elsewhere.

To put it another way: officers cared about their troops.  The generals pushed forward attacks based on faulty information, and in every case believed that while they were being bled white, the enemy was getting it far worse.

In any event, Gallipoli works as a war movie and while it has some tropes, it's much better than 1917,


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