Harry Birrell: Films of Love and War BLU RAY REVIEW

A documentary about World War 2. You will have seen hundreds of those. If you work as a film and TV reviewer, I suspect that number goes into the thousands. Some deal with the effects of war. Others a particular moment or a particular event. Yet others examine the lives which transverse this great international event. Harry Birrell life did just that. He travelled the length of India and Burma during the war as a surveyor. He also spend time as a amateur filmmaker. Harry was given his first cine-camera as a boy and spent the rest of his life in love with recording what he saw. From all things great and dramas so small. There are simple ways to position this kind of film in the lexicon of war documentaries. Now I would argue they are both absurd and redundant here.

His over 400 films, diaries and photographs are used to knit together a life. Harry Birrell was an ordinary surveyor to start with. He used a cine camera to capture some truly outstanding things. He was drawn into the war and sent to India. Commanded a battalion of Gurkhas in India, lead dangerous sorties deep behind enemy lines in Burma and then journeyed to Nepal. Criss crossed the land of magic and death. He went on secret missions and saw those he fought with as brothers. All these experiences made him a man of great humility and humanity. All these events made it on to film stock from the camera in his hand and then into hulking crates for replay in another age. Our age.

Matt Pinder’s documentary stands at a distance in the life of Birrell. It shows the vast survey of Birrell’s life, he was a surveyor and saved everything in a quantifiable way. Sometimes his home movies illustrate a world he lived in or his family. These are often playful and scored, framed and played such. Other times he is recording war and death. The hurry up and wait of it all. All this is magical, magnetic. All that. But the problem is that the film only idolises and never asks questions. The pieces that set historical scenes, are heavy and cold. Not emotional as the rest is. The film then fails to mine the rich inter relation of family and feeling toward the father. This only surfaces in the interviews (which are all excellent). Finally though it is in Birrells films themselves, four are featured here, that you might really see a man and his vision of the world, come to life.

SPECIAL FEATURES
[] Theatrical Trailer
[] Interview with Johnny Birrell
[] Interview with Anne Birrell
[] Interview with Judy Birrell
[] London Diary (1939)
[] Officer Cadet Training Camp (1940)
[] Around Tamu (1944)
[] When We Are Young (1959)

 

 

From the overly assertive position of

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