Tuesday, November 01, 2016

War in Both Directions

I was watching the news the other day, looking at the latest footage of tanks trundling through the desert as buildings burn and people flee their homes, when it occurred to me that, back in the day, some enterprising exploitation movie producer would have seen the current conflict in Iraq and Syria as a fantastic opportunity to shoot a World War Two movie.  I mean, all you'd have to do would be to paint swastikas on the tanks and film them running in one direction, then paint Union Jacks or the Stars and Stripes on them and film them running in the opposite direction.  That and get all the accompanying soldiers to swap their modern helmets for coal scuttle helmets and tin hats as appropriate and, with a bit of editing, you've got a battle scene.  Let's face it, that's how most of those Italian war movies they shot in Egypt during the sixties and seventies were made.  In fact, for all I know, they might have been shot during heated battles between Egypt and Israel.  Actually, there is one Italian war movie I've seen, The Battle of Sinai, which was shot in the early seventies, that looks as if it actually was filmed against the background of an Israeli military mobilisation.  Certainly, some of the footage of Israeli Centurion tanks knocking out Egyptian T-55s seemed to have been shot during a live-firing exercise where captured Egyptian tanks were being expended as targets.

But it isn't just Italian war movies which use the trick of filming the same tanks, with different markings, running in opposite directions, to give the impression of a battle.  Most notoriously, the B-movie Armored Command has the same M48 tanks masquerading as both American and German tanks, cutting between footage of them running in one direction, the the other, down the same street at its climax to simulate armoured combat.  (It also uses the same footage of a German soldier breaking from cover and being shot over and over again - you'd have thought that he'd have learned the first time not to run into the open like that).  Anzio pulls a similar stunt, (although, to be fair it is a US-Italian co-production, so we shouldn't be surprised), although the tanks don't run in opposite directions according to their colour schemes.  But the German and US tanks are, quite clearly, exactly the same tanks, just painted differently.  One minute they are grey with German crosses on, the next they are green with Allied stars on their turrets.  When they are German panzers, there is also some attempt to disguise them by covering them in camouflage.  Nevertheless, they are still clearly the same tanks seen landing on the beach in US colours earlier in the film.  The directional technique for differentiating military forces isn't confined to feature films, it is also used in documentaries.  The sixties BBC series about World War One for instance, always has the allies moving from, I think, left to right on the screen in archive footage, while the Germans move the opposite way.  This required reversing the film sometimes, but simplified things for viewers.  It works surprisingly well.  Psychologically, it just seems more natural that armies should always be advancing in the same direction.



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