This is not a Review!
This is: Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the series 3.5 stars out of 4, writing, “Arguably the best documentary ever made about Hollywood and wartime, Five Came Back is nirvana for movie lovers and a real eye-opener for anyone new to the subject.”
The 3 part mini series on Netflix, Five Came Back explores the experiences of five U.S. film directors – John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens – and their front-line film work during the Second World War, whilst enlisted into various branches of the US Military in Europe and the Pacific. I watched all 3 episodes in one sitting. The producers have then also paired 5 modern day directors and each modern director discusses the impact and legacies of one of the five earlier directors: Steven Spielberg (Wyler), Francis Ford Coppola (Huston), Guillermo del Toro (Capra), Paul Greengrass (Ford), and Lawrence Kasdan (Stevens).
I found the series fascinating, captivating and an emotional journey. Emotional, as it dragged me back to the recollections and memories, from my own experiences in War and years of work in EMS, and the mental stress and PTSD, that those times inflict on us. What they saw and how it changed them, and the reality that came rushing to meet them, in ways they could have never conceived, impacted on their lives forever. Changing the way they saw the world and notably their creative output post the war.
The director George Stevens who before the war used to make romantic comedies never made one again in his life – and the tone of his movies changed, they were thoughtful and dramatic; Giant and The Diary of Anne Frank are two I remember seeing in the 1970’s with my mom …
But this is not a review…. back to how this series made me think and reflect …
A powerful and thought provoking moment came for me in the opening segment of the final episode (3) when, the narrator Paul Greengrass makes this (for me) very heartfelt observation:
“what is the witness that you’re giving to the world that you see out there”
I am still processing the full extent of what this means in the here and know, and how it impacts my life’s journey. The questions and thoughts I have on this are: what type of world do we see out there (as I am sure its different for many of us) and what is the image that we portray to that world. In this frenetic age of social media, where we can choose to live our entire lives in the public eye, dragging out our 15 min of fame to previously unimaginable lengths! And then how does this impact on the witness we bear and the world which we want to see?
Often we are moulded and haunted by a past, we did not always ask for, and facing an uncertain future and unknown destination. Yet even with that uncertainty staring us in the face we soldier forward. The biggest battle, at times is finding our way home or a home.
The section on PTSD of the soldiers and the 5 directors is thought provoking and raises more questions than answers, and another blog post is brewing on this subject and a short documentary film directed by John Houston. The 1946 film; Let There Be Light and its portrayal of soldiers suffering from post traumatic stress disorder led to Let There Be Light being suppressed by the U.S. government; it was not released until the 1980s.
Let me close out with the powerful optimistic hopeful words from a Capra post WW2 film, which was a flop on its release but later became a classic:
The world is not all evil.
Yes, we do have nightmares, but we also have dreams.
We do have villainy, but we also have great compassion.
There’s good in the world.
And it’s wonderful.
Frank Capra – It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
© 2019 michael d emmerich
© 2019 mikesnexus