Overlord (Criterion Collection)
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Restored high-definition digital transfer, supervised and approved by director Stuart Cooper, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack. Audio commentary featuring Cooper and actor Brian Stirner. Mining the Archive, a 2007 video piece featuring archivists from London’s Imperial War Museum detailing the footage used in the film Capa Influences Cooper, a 2007 photo essay featuring Cooper on photographer Robert Capa Cameramen at War, the British Ministry of Information’s 1943 film tribute to newsreel and service film unit cameramen. A Test of Violence, Cooper’s 1969 short film about the Spanish artist Juan Genovés Germany Calling, a 1941 Ministry of Information propaganda film, clips of which appear in Overlord. Excerpts from the journals of two D-day soldiers, read by Stirner, Trailer, PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Kent Jones, a short history of the Imperial War Museum, and excerpts from the Overlord novelization by Cooper and Christopher Hudson. --This text refers to the Blu-ray edition.
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Being a small component of a massive device is the central idea behind Stuart Cooper's "Overlord," an odd, hazy, child's-fever-dream of a movie that uses staged black-and-white scenes interspersed with actual archival footage from World War II.
We follow Tom (Brian Stirner) through a drab, dispiriting round of basic training; his experiences are interspersed with separate scenes of battle, of invasion and aftermath to illustrate events going on "meanwhile" all around him, events leading up to Normandy.
The movie is a truly unique visual experience. John Alcott shot the storyline scenes (just before he began work on "Barry Lyndon") and the movie has a look not unlike "The Elephant Man," or its thematic brother, "Johnny Got His Gun."
Though the incorporation of actual footage is very smooth, I never had any trouble distinguishing what came from the 40s and what was shot in the 70s. That didn't ruin the experience for me: Look at the hauntingly beautiful scenes involving bombers flying above the cloudline at night, or a harrowing training sequence in which a rowboat ditches its passengers onto rocks (Cooper reveals in his commentary that one or two men actually died during the exercise).
With its short, spare narrative and its stark conclusion, "Overlord" almost feels like a short story of a movie, but that doesn't downplay its impact or importance. This is a little-known movie worth reviving and it gets a fine Criterion presentation here. The commentary with Copper and Sterner is particularly good; it's worth listening to to hear how they did it even if you don't particularly connect with the film.
Wonderfully evocative on every level. The photography is extraordinary. Powerful images shimmer next to the sublime. The very human dilemma of how to make sense of life and war has never been told better. A great film.
Fast forward to the '70s and a new war taking place in Vietnam, needless to say that people were growing sick of the war and while previous war films were successful as propaganda films, in 1975, a film directed by Stuart Cooper would feature a young soldier named Tom Beddows who was called up to join the military and fight in the war but would have images of him being killed in battle.
Unlike any war film seen ever in cinema at that time, Cooper who was to work on a documentary about soldier embroidery did a lot of research and in the process was able to find archived footage kept at the Imperial War Museum and instead, wanted to male a film about a young soldier's journey and outlook on life as a young man who is called up to join the military, his life in boot camp and his life and thoughts as he and his fellow soldiers are being whisked to the beaches to fight in the war. But what made "Overlord" so much different from war films is that it effectively combined archived newsreel and fictional war footage captured by various sources and successfully creating a war film in 1975. But also, the main character was influenced by the letters of several D-day soldiers.
But because the film came out years after the Vietnam War and months after Nixon's resignation, people were wanting to get away from anything political let alone war-related and thus this UK brilliant film failed to get US theatrical distribution and although shown at some screenings and on television, especially winning the Silver Bear at the 1975 Berlin Film Festival, unfortunately "Overlord" was a film that was more or less forgotten.
Fast forward to 2007, over 30-years later after the film's screening, the film was finally released in the US courtesy of The Criterion Collection.
"Overlord - THE CRITERION COLLECTION #382' is presented in 1:66:1 black and white. According to THE CRITERION COLLECTION, the DVD release was supervised by director Stuart Cooper and the new high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35mm fine-grain master positive. The MTI Digital Restoration System was used to remove thousands of instances of dirt, debris and scratches. Apple Shake software was utilized to reduce film jitter. To maintain optimal image quality through the compression process, the picture on this dual-layer DVD-9 was encoded at the highest-possible bit rate for the quantity of material included.
"Overlord" looks appropriate with its black and white footage and wonderful cinematography by John Alcott ("A Clockwork Orange", "The Beastmaster", "No Way Out") in capturing the feel of World War II and using the correct lens and getting the right shots to blend in with the archival footage from various sources. The way the footage and the film came together was extraordinarily well done. Very well-done cuts by Stuart Cooper and for the most part, a fantastic job!
According to THE CRITERION COLLECTION, the soundtrack was mastered at 24-bit from the 35mm magnetic stems and audio restoration tools were used to reduce clicks, pops, hiss and crackle. The film is Dolby Digital 1.0 and thus is center channel-driven. I chose to set my receiver to stereo on all channels for a more immersive soundtrack.
Subtitles are in English.
"Overlord - THE CRITERION COLLECTION #382" comes with the following special features:
* Audio Commentary - Audio commentary by director Stuart Cooper and actor Brian Stirner.
* Theatrical Trailer - (2:51) The original 1975 theatrical trailer.
* Mining the Archive - (23:23) Imperial War Museum film archivists Roger Smither and Anne Fleming discuss Stuart Cooper's use of archival war footage for the film and also additional footage shot on D-day by service cameramen.
* Soldiers' Journals - Featuring a text-based feature which include journals from D-Day soldiers, Sergeant Edward Robert McCosh and Sergeant Finlay Campbell. Excerpts from the letters are read by actor Brian Stirner (who plays the character of Tom in "Overlord"). Also, included is an introduction by filmmaker Stuart Cooper.
* Capa Influences Cooper - (8:00) A featurette on legendary war photographer Robert Capa shot 105 images on Omaha Beach (where may of the soldiers were killed during D-day) and director Stuart Cooper talks about how he was influenced by Capa's work.
* Germany Calling - (2:06) The complete short film of "Germany Calling" from 1941 (that ridicules Hitler and the Nazis to the 1937 tune "The Lambeth Walk" and used during the cinema scene of the film) is included on this DVD.
* Cameramen at War - (14:42) A short film produced by the British Ministry of Information in 1943 and a tribute to newsreel and service film unit cameramen.
* A Test of Violence - (14:15) A short film created by Stuart Cooper from back in 1969 about the Spanish artist Juan Genoves, who painted the horror of oppressions and brutality. The film is a winner of several film festival prizes.
"Overlord - THE CRITERION COLLECTION #382" comes with a 30-page booklet which includes the essay "Man Versus Machine" by Kent Jones, an excerpt by Roger Smither head of the Imperial War Museum Film and Photograph Archive and an excerpt from "Overlord: The Novel" by Christopher Hudson and Stuart Cooper.
"Overlord"... Possibly one of the top war films ever created that people never saw, let alone a film that possibly many people have never heard of. A wonderful UK film that received critical praise but yet has been forgotten. A film that didn't follow the banality of war films, a film so fantastic, wonderfully filmed and well-acted but yet, is not a well-known film possibly due to the timing of the film's release and America's current state post-war and post-Whitewater, the film never received theatrical distribution until 30 years later courtesy of Janus Films and a DVD release from THE CRITERION COLLECTION.
Effectively bringing together newsreel and fictional war footage from World War II and creating this harmonic tie-in with Stuart Cooper's film is quite amazing. It was definitely seamless in how the film goes from regular film to war footage and to think that this film was created over 30-years after World War II and over 30-years it took for this film to receive any kind of distribution here in the United States.
And through the efforts of long research and for Stuart Cooper and those at the Imperial War Museum to select the right video cuts that would surprise the audience who probably are unfamiliar with this World War II footage. May it be the night runs as bombs are dropped all over a city to the day run and more bombing and the city and to see the tragedy unfold with the various cities destroyed and to see also see many people dead. As disturbing these images are, they were carefully selected and made part of the film. In fact, it took Stuart Cooper years of hunting through these national archives for images and footage for the film.
The cinematography by John Alcott (a cinematographer who had worked with Stanley Kubrick a good a number of times) is fantastic and to think that they had a limited budget with limited resources to create this film is amazing. Where today's films need to use CG to effectively show many soldiers at war and incredible devastation. But this was not the case back then in 1975, it all came down to the support of the museum, years of thorough research and a supportive military and most of all, having a wonderful cinematographer who was able to capture this amazing footage and through editing, making everything seem seamless and for the most part, the combined war footage worked. And with Alcott's involvement, it makes you wonder how much of this film inspired Stanley Kubrick in his war film "Full Metal Jacket".
Despite utilizing unknown talent, Brian Stirner along with Davyd Harries, Nicholas Ball and Julie Neesam were quite effective in their roles and because these talents were unknown, in some way or other, it made the film have a realistic feel to it. The fact is that a soldier's life during a World War was uncertain. This film was unlike many other war films out there. What we do see is actual war footage which becomes the movie's own personal action sequence but also showing us the ugliness and devastation of war, while the movie portion which is through one young man's eye, it is a war film not about surviving but a war about a young guy who loves to read, drafted into the military and being trained to go into war and the protagonist feeling that the outcome in his life is death.
Having grown up with a father in the military as with my grandfather, the whole concept of being drafted was so scary to me. I was young at the time but I can remember hearing on television about the draft and of course, the threat of a nuclear attack from Russia was always looming as the threat of World War III was always talked about in the news, featured on television and movies. Needless to say, at a young age, I was always in constant fear that I may be drafted and because of the films I was watching at the time, always had these nightmares of being a soldier and killed in battle.
So, for me, watching "Overlord" was quite an interesting experience to see how the soldiers had their take on being drafted and just seeing them talk about their fears. Granted, the demeanor of the main character Tom, who is perhaps your "good boy" type of character, I suppose having a life that one never really had to worry about danger and then being called up to serve in the military to fight a war, it was interesting to see if this young man would be phased by all this rough training and seeing if his friends and their worries would start to have an affect on him. And once he starts having those recurring nightmares, although he may seem calm and collected, it's really interesting of how his character develops throughout the film, especially when he meets a woman that he likes at a dance hall or even watching a movie with a woman.
In many ways, I saw this film and enjoyed of how it seemed quite poetic. May it be due to director Stuart Cooper's handling of wartime footage and newsreel footage from World War II and effectively interweaving it with his film and if anything, I see "Overlord" as wonderful filmmaking for its time and its lack of a significant budget. If anything, Cooper's film is quite inspirational for filmmakers as it shows the budding filmmaker of how an effective war film can be done without spending millions of dollars. Granted, the film was created back in 1975 but still, you can't help but watch "Overlord" and be impressed of what was accomplished.
As for THE CRITERION COLLECTION DVD release of"Overlord"...I felt it was fantastic. From several lengthy and informative featurettes and interviews, especially to hear the staff from the Imperial War Museum to the reading of D-day soldier letters, tribute to service unit cameramen, audio commentary and a essay booklet from film critic Kent James, this DVD is a well-rounded release and is simply is deserving of my recommendation of a must-own Criterion Collection DVD, especially for those who are war cinema aficionados.
Overall, "Overlord" is a unique and effective war film that is remarkably moving and visually impressive. Definitely recommended!