TV Show Dec. 7 Pays Tribute to Combat Photographers
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 29, 2000 "Shooting War," a 90-minute documentary about World War II combat photographers, is scheduled to air Dec. 7 on the ABC television network.
"Time" magazine film critic Richard Schickel produced the program for Dreamworks.
Two U.S. officers plant the American flag on Guam eight minutes after U.S. Marines and Army assault troops landed on the Central Pacific island on July 20, 1944. U.S. Marine Corps Photo.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The film includes missing footage shot by Academy Award- winning director John Ford on the beaches of Normandy, France. Melvyn R. Paisley, a World War II aviator and former assistant secretary of the Navy, found the several reels of film in 1998 at the National Archives.
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen saw the film in June during D-Day commemoration ceremonies in New Orleans and again in October as the host of a Pentagon showing. He said America is indebted to the heroism and courage of the men and women armed only with cameras who show what the nation's service members go through and the sacrifices they make.
Cohen said Dreamworks executive and film director Steven Spielberg had asked Schickel not to "pretty it up," and Schickel complied.
"This is not Hollywood," he stressed to his Pentagon audience. "This is real, and you will see scenes that will catch your throat in terms of their emotional impact."
Actor Tom Hanks and historian-author Stephen Ambrose narrate the film. "In their hands, the camera became a weapon more potent than a rifle -- a weapon whose impact resonates even more powerfully now, as memory is transformed into history," Hanks states as the film opens.
Schickel said much of the dramatic, tragic footage was not released in full during the war. "We didn't want to show American losses and American pain," he said. "Now, it's many years later and we can show all of that. I think it is to our advantage to show all of the story of World War II, which includes the pain, the suffering, the losses."
The film shows the wounded, the dying, the dead. It depicts the destruction and devastation of war. A Japanese woman tragically throws her baby and then herself off a cliff rather than surrender. Japanese kamikaze pilots crash into U.S. carriers off Okinawa. It also shows Italian dictator Benito Mussolini after his hanging death in Milan and the Jewish corpses of Dachau.
As he worked with the photographers and their footage, Schickel said he realized they were making "an intimate epic," beginning at Pearl Harbor and ending at Nagasaki. The film embraces every branch of the service and many of the most significant battles of World War II, he said, "but it is told through the eyes of men who were anonymous, for the large part, in gathering this footage."
The documentary highlights more than 20 veteran photographers, who talk about their work recording the realities of war.
"I loved it, because it was dangerous," one combat photographer said.
"I'm a 'fraidy cat,'" admitted another, "but if there was a job to do, I did it."
"No matter how horrible the action was that you were covering," still another explained, "when you looked through that glass, that glass was your filter."
"I got carried away one time and got out in front of the gun firing, and that was a big mistake because the muzzle blast got me and knocked me about 40 feet ass over tea kettle," said another.
"I don't know if these men are part of the 'Greatest Generation,'" Schickel concluded. "But I do know this: In getting to know them to make this film, their dutifulness, their modesty and their common decency impressed me inordinately, and I think it will impress you."