Irony, circa 1941

The History Channel recently rolled out a 10-part documentary series on the second world war, imaginatively labeled “WWII Lost Films“. It was a product of a two-year global hunt for period footage, presumably involving intrepid producers scouring countless archives seeking money shots over 60 years after the fact.

Sky, which is airing the series in Britain, carried a series of promotional posters on its online TV guide – mostly starkly simple affairs, including a few period propaganda pieces, with the exception of one more intricately crafted effort.

“Freedom Shall Prevail!” – a short, effective tagline conveying grim conviction. Its realist visuals may not be the stuff of Delacroix’s ‘La Liberté guidant le peuple‘, but its message is simple enough. In lucid lithograph, soldiers march in purposeful unison toward a V-for-Victory banner comprising the colours of the various Allied powers. In plain English, the Free World is united and marching inexorably toward final victory over the fascist oppressors.

Peer closer at the fine print, however, and you’ll learn that these brave lot include the likes of Southern Rhodesia, South Africa, India, the Soviet Union and, most paradoxically, the colonial empire. Freedom shall prevail in their name? A most unfunny joke, if that.

Not that it would have raised so much as an eyebrow amongst its intended audience. A quick peek into the poster’s provenance leads us toward London – the metropole of the British empire and nexus of its civilising project. Pax Britannica lingered still in 1941, its dénouement underway yet incomplete.

But old myths die hard. For its winners, the bloodiest conflict in human history is still remembered as ‘the good war’, fought by brave, young and selfless men and women, and won over the foul fascist enemy in the name of human freedoms and democracy. This, in fact, is the premise for “WWII Lost Films” – the story of the ‘Greatest Generation‘ as told through the experiences of twelve Americans and reified in high-definition, colourised period footage.

More on that later.

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~ by spiegel2071 on June 4, 2010.

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