Erik Nelson’s documentary film tells the story of the B17 bomber crews during the last two years of World War II. Working from fifteen hours of footage originally shot in 1943 under the guidance of legendary director William Wyler for his propaganda documentary ‘Memphis Belle,’ a moral piece telling the story of the most famous of the American B-17 bombers to see action in World War II.
The footage, which languished for a long time in the archives, has been restored with astonishing results, similar to Peter Jackson’s recent World War I documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old. Cold Blue, rich with colour, spectacle and detail is an evocative reminder of a terrible time in world history, beautiful, tragic, mundane, terrifying and terribly human.
Nelson tells his story using interviews with surviving veterans who flew those planes from England to Germany to drop bombs. These former boy soldiers, now in their nineties remember their day to day routines, what they did and what they suffered as well as remembering albeit in an abstract fashion, the suffering they caused to hundreds of thousands of German civilians. This is powerful filmmaking, it does not pass judgement on anyone, it just quietly unrolls its chapter-filled story structure with reminiscences, powerful imagery and a most beautiful score by Richard Thompson that is full of emotion and absent of melodrama.
Nelson has described the piece as a Koyaanisqatsi-style film about these young men in war, presenting the story rather than commenting on it, leaving judgement for the audience. For anyone truly becoming immersed in the narrative and imagery the film can achieve a great deal. though all might not agree with the results. It is at the very least a way of opening a door to learning more about this terrible time in human history. It should be noted that Nelson’s next film will depict the German perspective, using discovered Nazi propaganda footage that was used to tell the German people their side of the story.
This HBO produced film is screening for one night only in the IFI this Thursday and comes highly recommended.