Gallipoli at Norton Street Cinema

I was not as moved by Gallipoli as Margaret Pomerantz clearly was, but I nevertheless thought it was a very powerful documentary. I think the technique of using voiceover readings from actual letters is perhaps the strongest method of conveying what things were really like. The visuals used to complement this were also very successful – the still images and contemporary film footage were supplemented very effectively with modern re-creations. I think much of the modern footage may have had the colour pulled back, to blend in more subtly with the archival material, and I also liked the way the modern stuff never focused on the faces of the actors (and, more often than not, didn’t actually use actors – just scenery, guns, trenches and flies on food).

The letters from the two Australian brothers were certainly the most poignant. However, the character I found most gripping was Guy Nightingale (British officer). His letters were written in an almost Boys Own Adventure style: describing truly horrific events in a completely matter-of-fact and impersonal – even jokey – manner. It hardly seems possible that he could be so completely untouched by what was happening – and some of the later letters begin to suggest that he wasn’t – but if that was the case, how could he write about them in such a way? Or, if he was trying to protect his family, why even mention some of the things he did? I just couldn’t get my head around what he must have been thinking and feeling. Right at the end, when it said that he survived the war, I heard someone sitting near me whisper “bastard” to her friend. But then it went on to say how he ultimately killed himself. There must have been huge amounts of stuff happening with him underneath, that simply didn’t show in the letters. It was really thought-provoking.

It was interesting that there was a huge amount of criticism of the decisions made by the Allied high command, but almost nothing about policy decisions made on the Turkish side. Maybe their leaders weren’t so culpable, or maybe there are fewer decisions made when you are defending rather than attacking, or maybe there just isn’t as much information available. But it still felt just a bit unbalanced. For instance, there was a night when the Turks just attacked and attacked, and were shot down in their thousands – but nothing about why this attack was ordered, and what kind of intelligence it was based on, and whether the decision makers had actually referred to the recommendations of the intelligence officers. But with the original Allied landings, and at least one of their attacks, quite a lot of time was spent on the assumptions made by the decision makers, and the intelligence reports that they simply appeared to ignore.

There was a mix of Australian and UK historians, but, oddly enough, only one Turkish expert. There was also a much greater range of letters from Allied soldiers (though that is probably explained by the fact that there was only about 5% literacy within the Turkish army). But this all seemed to come down to giving a greater emphasis to the Allied perspective (which most Australians would already be at least somewhat familiar with), and less than I had expected showing the other side of the story.

A powerful film, and an important one. But for some reason, although it moved me, it somehow wasn’t quite as distressing as it should have been.

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