A Soldier’s Heart: Let There Be Light

A Soldier’s Heart: Let There Be Light

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the invisible wound that scars war veterans, and some individuals are so afflicted that they die physically or psychologically from this traumatic wound through suicide, homicide or incurable psychosis. In 2012, this disorder is recognized and understood in ways it never was before, making it more possible for traumatized men and women to get the help they need. However, war-related PTSD certainly isn’t new, and when the 20th century and its technological might ushered in massively brutal, worldwide conflicts that buried forever idea of a “gentleman’s war,” it also drastically increased the psychological pressures on combat troops. Motion pictures have been used to document the many aspects of war. Over the years, the United States government has commissioned a number of documentaries that look at soldiers returning from theaters of war, as they attempt to reintegrate into the society they left behind.

Perhaps the most famous documentary about returning soldiers is the 1946 film Let There Be Light by the acclaimed filmmaker John Huston, who considered the film to be one of his best movies. However, its fame derives mainly from being kept hidden for 35 years after it was made, by a War Department uncomfortable with the notion that there is any lasting downside to war for the returning veteran. The War Department was so uneasy about this documentary that it had the film remade as Shades of Gray, a propaganda docudrama based on Let There Be Light, which not only eliminated African-American soldiers from the cast, but also suggested that only soldiers who were disturbed before they went to war broke down upon their return.

Film history isn’t the only context in which to appreciate Huston’s hour-long documentary, his third and final film for the Army Signal Corps. Let There Be Light is also one of the earliest commercial depictions of psychotherapy, in this case the military’s use of it to treat what we now call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The U.S. military now offers a wide array of pre- and post-battle therapies to help soldiers recover from traumatic experiences. In contrast, Let There Be Light’s gruff doctors, who inject sodium amytal and conduct religious group therapy sessions, look prehistoric by comparison.

Nevertheless, Let There Be Light, like its routinely under-appreciated 1946 fictional counterpart, The Best Years of Our Lives, remains essential viewing. Each of the films conveys a sense of compassion toward soldiers; the soldiers presented in these films don’t ask to be called heroes, they only want normalcy. Today’s returning soldiers surely feel the same, and yet their experiences on the battlefield are increasingly abnormal, even unknown, to most people they encounter upon returning.

Seven months after the War Department forcibly prevented Let There Be Light from premiering at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, a disabled Army veteran named Harold Russell became the only man to win two Oscars for the same performance. Russell received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and an Honorary Award for Nonprofessional aActing for his role as a returned soldier in The Best Years of Our Lives. William Wyler’s 168-minute drama concerns the homecomings of three soldiers, and it was showered with awards throughout the winter and spring of 1947, including a Best Picture Oscar and multiple Golden Globes and New York Film Critics Circle citations.

The Best Years of Our Lives and Let There Be Light aren’t cynical or judgmental of American society, but are quietly brave and emotionally devastating. Let There Be Light attempts to shield us with its preentation of hospital interiors that are clean, orderly and positively overstaffed. Nonetheless, the men and their stories are unforgettable. You finish watching the film feeling emotionally drained and deeply grateful that they won’t have to fight again.

To commemorate this past Memorial Day, the National Film Preservation Foundation premiered the film on its website and will run the film through the end of August.

A Soldier’s Heart: Let There Be Light

The Best Years of Our Lives

Read more about Let There Be Light in The Morning News here.

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Paths of Hate: The Destructive Fury of War

Paths of Hate: The Destructive Fury of War

Paths of Hate is an animated ten-minute short film directed by Damian Nenow at Platige Image, which is in the running for a 2012 Oscar for animated short films. The film was named on a list of 10 films that was released last week by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; three to five nominees for the Oscar will be chosen from this list.

Paths of Hate contains stunning visuals that recreate a WWII-era aerial dogfight and presents a dynamic tale about the hatred that seems to be an indispensable element of human nature. Damien Nenow, a recent graduate of Poland’s Lodz Film School, has created a film of great visual power, which brilliantly shows the demons that slumber deep within the human soul and have the power to push people into the abyss of blind hate, fury and rage. The finale of the film introduces a surreal turn of events, which stands as the director’s bitter comment on the bloody destructive fury of war.

Paths of Hate: The Destructive Fury of War

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The Hiroshima Photographs: Ground Zero 1945

The Nuclear Weapon “Little Boy” Exploding on Hiroshima, August 6, 1945

Rooftop View of Atomic Destruction, Hiroshima, October 31, 1945

The Landscape of Hiroshima, Looking Northeast, October 27, 1945

Ruins of the Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition Hall , October 24, 1945

Distorted Steel-Frame Structure of Odamasa Store, Hiroshima, November 20, 1945

Ruins of Chugoku Coal Distribution Company or Hiroshima Gas Company, November 8, 1945

The Hiroshima Photographs: Ground Zero 1945

Hiroshima: Ground Zero 1945 is a new exhibition of once-classified images of atomic destruction at Hiroshima presently on display at New York City’s International Center of Photography. The collection of photographs both repels and fascinates the viewer, with its powerfully ugly portraits of an unpeopled and obliterated city. The photographs were originally part of a governmental analysis of the atomic bomb’s effect on concrete, wood and steel, and this catalog of devastation was meant to be seen only by postwar architects and engineers tasked with erecting the “bombproof” cities of the future.

The Hiroshima photos have a strange and contorted history. In the mid-1990s, the owner of a diner in Watertown, Massachusetts, was walking his dog when he spotted a beat-up suitcase sitting in a pile of trash. It turned out that the photographs inside had once belonged to Robert L. Corsbie, an engineer and expert on the effects of the bomb. Just how those photos wound up in his possession remains unclear. Corsbie belonged to a cadre of ordnance experts, engineers, photographers and draftsmen who were sent by President Truman to analyze the nuclear devastation.

The Hiroshima photographs are fundamentally different from the more familiar World War II pictures of European cities, such as Cologne, where the stones of the cathedral rise from the debris, and blown-out buildings loom like hollow-eyed zombies. Those ruins have a perverse but palpable grandeur, a gothic desolation that is missing from the scenes of Japan’s ravaged emptiness. In hauntingly stark contrast to the images of European destruction, the Hiroshima photographs are eerily mute. There are no people, only twisted metal, blistered walls and miles of rubble. Except for a few skeletal structures poking out of flattened wreckage, the city simply vanished. Hiroshima didn’t look like a bombed city; it looked instead as though a monstrous steamroller had passed over it and just squashed it out of existence. The Japanese city centers, constructed mostly of wood, simply went up in smoke when bombed.

Wary of the conquered people’s anger and grief, the US government imposed strict censorship in September 1945, confiscating pictures and ordering that no image be printed which might, directly or by inference, disturb public tranquility. It was not until 1952 that Life Magazine published a handful of photographs taken in the first days after the attack. Even now, such images are rarely displayed. That is why this cache of photographs is so important. Once part of a classified archive, then buried in a basement, thrown away and resurrected, it counteracts the universal tendency to aestheticise violence. There is nothing awe-inspiring here, or even poignant, just plain devastating facts.

Hiroshima: Ground Zero 1945

Grave of the Fireflies: A Japanese Anime Masterpiece

Grave of the Fireflies is an acclaimed Japanese anime masterpiece, a dramatic animated film written and directed by Isao Takahata. The film tells the story of two children from Japan’s port city of Kobe, who have been made homeless by the WWII American firebombing of the city. The film is based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Nosaka Akiyuki, who was a boy at the time of the firebombs, whose sister died of hunger and whose life has been shadowed by guilt. Roger Ebert considers Grave of the Fireflies to be one of the most powerful anti-war movies ever made, describing the film as “the most profoundly human animated film I’ve ever seen.”

Grave of the Fireflies: A Japanese Anime Masterpiece

Photo-Gallery: Hiroshima, Ground Zero 1945

(Please Click Image to View Photo-Gallery)

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Peace on Earth: A Post-Apocalyptic World

Peace on Earth: A Post-Apocalyptic World

Peace on Earth is the widely acclaimed classic Christmastime animated short film, which was the masterwork creation of Hugh Harman released during the holiday season of 1939.  Peace on Earth was nominated for the 1939 Academy Award for Short Subjects (Cartoons) and was reported to have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize as well.

The animated short was given its widespread public showings immediately after the outbreak of World War II in Europe, and it was viewed as a serious work that dealt with the idea of what a post-apocalyptic world would be like.  In the film, two young squirrels ask their grandfather on Christmas Eve who the “men” are in the lyric Peace on Earth, good will to men.  The grandfather squirrel then tells them a rotoscoped history of the human race, focusing on the never-ending wars men waged.  Ultimately the wars did end, but with the deaths of the last men on Earth, two soldiers shooting each other.   Afterward, the surviving animals were inspired to rebuild a society that was dedicated to peace and nonviolence.

Peace on Earth: A Post-Apocalyptic World

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Grave of the Fireflies: A Japanese Anime Masterpiece

Grave of the Fireflies: A Japanese Anime Masterpiece

Grave of the Fireflies is a Japanese anime masterpiece, an animated drama film written and directed by Isao Takahata, with animation production work provided by Studio Ghibli.  Grave of the Fireflies tells the story of two children from Japan’s port city of Kobe, who have been made homeless by the WWII American firebombing of the city.  The film is based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Nosaka Akiyuki, who was a boy at the time of the firebombs, whose sister did die of hunger and whose life has been shadowed by guilt.

Roger Ebert considers Grave of the Fireflies to be one of the most powerful anti-war movies ever made and has described the film as “an emotional experience so powerful that it forces a rethinking of animation….Grave of the Fireflies” is a powerful dramatic film that happens to be animated, and I know what the critic Ernest Rister means when he compares it to “Schindler’s List” and says, “It is the most profoundly human animated film I’ve ever seen.”

The film tells a simple story of survival. The boy and his sister must find a place to stay and food to eat.  But in wartime their relatives are neither kind nor generous, and and the boy soon is left to fend for both himself and his young sister.  He has some money and can buy food, but soon there is no food to buy.  His sister grows weaker and weaker.  Their story is told not as melodrama, but rather in the simple and  direct manner of the neo-realist tradition.  And there is time for silence in it.  One of the film’s greatest gifts is its patience; shots are held so that we can think about them; characters are glimpsed in their private moments; atmosphere and nature are given time to establish themselves.

Grave of the Fireflies: A Japanese Anime Masterpiece

Roger Ebert on Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

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Porcelain Unicorn: The Healing Power of the Human Spirit

Porcelain Unicorn: The Healing Power of the Human Spirit

Porcelain Unicorn is a sensitively inspiring short film directed by Keegan Wilcox, which was named Best Short Film in the 2010 Philips Global Parallel-Lines Film-Making Contest.  The film was chosen from more than 600 entries from around the world, which were submitted by aspiring filmmakers who created original short films using the same brief six-line dialogue.  This year’s dialogue was: “What is that?  It’s a unicorn.  I’ve never seen one up close before.  Beautiful.  Get away, Get away.  I’m sorry.”

Porcelain Unicorn is a historical drama, which begins with an elderly man who is struggling with memories of 1943 Germany, a time when he was a member of the Hitler Youth Organization.  As a 12 year-old boy, he had broken into an abandoned Jewish shop and discovered a frightened young Jewish girl trying to hide from the Nazi storm troopers.  Their brief encounter in the situation of life-threatening danger led to a shared moment of tenderness, which forged a special relationship between the two children living in war-torn Europe.

The sense of mutuality in that critical experience provided a foundation for an enduring hope in the possibility for emotional healing.  The film invokes a message that conveys a strong conviction in the power of the human spirit to triumph over the trauma of catastrophic events.

Porcelain Unicorn: The Healing Power of the Human Spirit

(Best Viewed in HD Full-Screen Mode)

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Articles of War: An Epic Animated Short Film

Articles of War: An Epic Animated Short Film

Articles of War is a heroic animated short film about the tragedies of war created by Daniel Kanemoto, one of the most epic short films ever animated entirely by a single person. The film tells the story of a young American pilot fighting in 1944, who writes what may be the final letter of his life, bearing his soul to the man who inspired him to enlist: his father, a stoic veteran of World War I.  Watching this film may well be the most worthwhile 12-minutes that you’ll spend online today.

Articles of War: An Epic Animated Short Film

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