• Post category:Movies
  • Post last modified:December 12, 2018

Gallipoli: The Falling Soldiers

FROM A PLACE YOU NEVER HEARD OF‚Ķ A STORY YOU’LL NEVER FORGET.

gallipoliIn 1976, Australian filmmaker Peter Weir visited Gallipoli, the Turkish peninsula where one of the most famous battles of World War I took place. It’s not difficult for any tourist to still find traces from the campaign, which has gone down in history as a legendary failure for the Allies, so much so that it’s been said that Winston Churchill didn’t want to OK Britain’s participation in the 1944 D Day landings in Normandy out of fear that it would turn into another Gallipoli.

On the beach, Weir found an Eno bottle, a direct connection to the men who died there in 1915. He came up with the story for this film, ran into financial troubles but found a savior in media mogul Rupert Murdoch, whose father Keith was a journalist during World War I and a harsh critic of British military leadership during the war. This last part would be obvious in the film ‚Äď and subject to controversy.

In 1915, 18-year-old Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee) has been trained by his uncle Jack (Bill Kerr) into a superior sprinter. He dreams of joining the Australian Imperial Force and fight the Germans in Europe “before they come here”. At an athletics carnival, Archy competes against Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson), a former railway laborer, and defeats him. Even though there’s tension between them at first, they decide to go to Perth together to enlist, Archy a bit more enthusiastic about it than Frank who questions why Australia needs to be dragged into this war. After enlisting, the two sprinters are separated but reunite in Cairo during a training exercise near the Pyramids. They are bound for the trenches at the Gallipoli peninsula‚Ķ

Celebrating rural Australia
The Gallipoli campaign has been described as a baptism of fire for both Australia and New Zealand. Just as he did in Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), Weir celebrates rural Australia vividly in the first part of the film, showing a vast, often desolate, sunbaked landscape where some people don’t even know that their country is at war. Cinematographer Russell Boyd’s contribution is key ‚Äď and remains so, along with Weir’s direction of the complex and very busy trenches and battleground of Gallipoli, later in the movie. The film highlighted an important part of Australian history to the world, but it also faced heavy criticism from the British. In the film, the Battle of the Nek (depicted near the end) and its outrageously foolish execution on the Allied side is blamed on the British when in fact incompetent Australian leaders are responsible for the suicidal mission.

Regardless of historical inaccuracies, Gallipoli is a very powerful film and the art of running turns into a symbol of life itself. A similar theme can be found in the same year’s Chariots of Fire, which used Vangelis’s electronic music to great effect; here, the running is accompanied by cues from Jean-Michel Jarre’s album “Oxygene”. A more traditional choice, Remo Giazotto’s “Adagio in G minor”, stirs up emotions during the Gallipoli scenes.

Good cast, with a fresh-faced Gibson shortly before his international breakthrough, headlines this moving film whose themes are universal ‚Äď comradeship, the view among young men of war as an exciting adventure, disillusion on the front lines as death awaits.

The Battle of the Nek scenes are deeply upsetting and the final image unforgettable, reminiscent of Robert Capa’s classic photograph “The Falling Soldier”. Considering the quality of this film, it’s easy to accept the truth-bending as a typical (perhaps even necessary) result of a classic conflict between a former colony and the nation that created it.

Gallipoli 1981-Australia. 110 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Patricia Lovell, Robert Stigwood. Directed by Peter Weir. Screenplay: David Williamson. Cinematography: Russell Boyd. Cast: Mark Lee (Archy Hamilton), Mel Gibson (Frank Dunne), Bill Kerr (Jack Hamilton), Robert Grubb, David Argue, Tim McKenzie. 

Last word: “At one point we’d planned to intercut the early outback scenes of Archie with scenes of Frank and his group working in Perth, contrasting city life with the country. But part of the process of stripping it down, refining it, was getting Frank out into that setting. I wanted to give the film that more abstract start ‚Ästit was an interesting way to approach a great European war. It also seemed more truthful, given the importance of the men from the country in the AIF so I tried to free it from a period feeling to increase that abstract quality. I kept the costumes to things like khaki shirts, avoided scenes of city life with cars, horses and carts and so on. In a sense the ‘three acts’ of the film took place in three deserts: the Australian desert, the Egyptian desert, then the desert of Gallipoli ‚Ästand over each was that clear blue sky.” (Weir, interview with Sue Mathews)

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