World War I, a CBS News production. Narration written by Arthur Kloch, narrated by Robert Ryan. Originally aired 1964-1965.
The historical narrative in this documentary series is much simplified compared to most books on WWI I’ve read, and also the episodes are by topic rather than strictly chronological; so, watching this, it helps to already know what events were all happening at the same time. They don’t give you a timeline. The show focuses on Big Names of History, or people who will become Even Bigger Names later on, like Herbert Hoover and Winston Churchill, as well as on major battles. There was little to no information about the various home fronts, which is fine since I’ve researched that very heavily. The very best thing about this series is that both sides are shown and described in equally neutral language and with almost equal depth.
However, I wanted this series for the film footage, and that I got in spades. It’s not as organized as I would like. There are some shots they reuse whenever called for, for example a shot of shells exploding. Generalized footage of soldiers on the march, etc., was used where it made sense in the episode, not where/when it might actually have been filmed. But I don’t mind so much; I wanted the look of the thing. Somehow, photographs give you something words, even primary source words, can’t, and film footage even more so. You can see faces, and you can see their expressions change. You can see their body language. Sometimes, in watching the people, I barely hear the narration.
One interesting thing that I learned was how closely all the royal families of Europe were related at that time. It’s one thing to know that, another entirely to have it laid out that Kaiser Wilhelm II was Queen Victoria’s oldest grandson and cousin to both King George V of England and Czar Nicholas II of Russia.
The footage of the documentary is in black and white, and sometimes shaky. Watching on my small television, my eyes grow tired after a while. Sometimes it’s difficult to watch, when thinking of nameless soldiers seen in closeup, “I wonder how he died? Or if he survived the war?” That, too, is why I think watching this is very useful as research. Not for the facts it gives me, but for the speculations it engenders.
Tune in tomorrow for a guest post by Morag McKendrick Pippin about researching and writing romance set during World War Two.
The Research Book Dilemma.