According to official sources, 20 million tickets for this film were sold (in the UK) in the first 6 weeks. That would equal about half the population of Britain at the time (43 million). It has been said that this record was not broken until the release of Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope more than 60 years later. See more »
In the "over the top" sequence one of the "dead" soldiers turns his head towards the camera and then shifts his leg into a more comfortable position showing that the scene was staged/re-enacted. See more »
Last night I went to the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank to watch a screening of the digitally restored print of this silent film, accompanied by the Philharmonia Orchestra, playing music written by Laura Rossi. I was nervous about the application of music to a silent film, as I am about the application of music to any film, but more so. Whilst there can be no doubt about the power of music to augment the impact of a scene, this manipulation of our emotions can also be crass, offensive, or a complete failure. There were times during this film when the music was the perfect partner - the rendering of the wind over the battlefield was incredible and terrifying. But the accompaniment of drum-bursts for the firing of artillery pieces was less-than-impressive. And there were moments when i wished the film would be left to speak for itself, such as the filming of the first charges; some men slid back down the muddy faces of the trenches, one thought initially because they had lost their footing, but it was soon clear that they had been killed before they had even set foot in no-man's land. For me, this moment would have been made powerful by silence, because there are no words or sounds for the sadness and futility of such things. Finally, on the music, the accompaniment of cheerful marching tunes when the lads marched back from "a successful attack", left me with a sour taste, but i think this says more about the film than the music. Laura Rossi could hardly provide sarcastic or barbed rejoinders (in the manner of Kipling or Sassoon's poetry) to these moments of propaganda. This is where the film falls down (but is still fascinating and valuable) in that, for the most part, it is content to talk up the British Army, the power of bombardment, and the success of its attacks. Even the images of dead men and horses are tempered by the smiling faces of 'jolly tommys' and the jaunty, cheery tone of the titles boards. What this unique visual record of the battle needs is to be seen in context, against the terrible losses of battalions such as the Accrington Pals, and the pitiful gains of this style of warfare. I never fail to be impressed, however, by the efforts of the institutions on the South Bank to bring amazing documents like this out of obscurity. Well done to them, and to Laura Rossi for her attempts to soundtrack this one-off film.
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