Valkyrie

2009-06-18

in Bombs and rockets, Films and movies, Politics

Sasha Ilnyckyj playing the piano

Last night, I watched Valkyrie with my brothers. It was most interesting at the level of historiography (a term I used to despise). It portrays a group of high-level German officers who tried to assassinate Hitler and replace his government. Based on some cursory internet research, it is a fairly accurate portrayal of the July plot. I hadn’t realized that there was such an extensive plan for replacing the German government after Hitler’s planned execution. The officers participating are portrayed as self-sacrificing heroes, basically motivated by their opposition to Hitler’s immoral actions – though the fact that they perceived Germany to be losing the war was obviously important. It is hard to imagine such a film coming out closer in history to the Second World War itself. It really seems to shift the blame for German atrocities to Hitler and the SS specifically, reducing the burden of guilt on the rest of the German armed forces and German society. While it is important to tell the story of resistance, my sense is that a film like this has more value as a partial counterargument than as an integrated whole. This made it somewhat awkward that is was obviously the first WWII film seen by a young cousin of mine, who continued asking questions about the motivations of various characters throughout the showing.

One other distinct oddity was the large number of actors with British accents playing German roles. It left you thinking: “No wonder these men are trying to kill Hitler. They are British soldiers who somehow infiltrated the German army, without anybody noticing!”

On a side note, this was the first film I ever saw on Blu-Ray and a high definition television. The resolution is certainly higher, and the motion more fluid. The latter so much so that the film often looked as though it had been sped up for comic effect. It was disconcerting more than impressive, but I am sure you would get used to it. While there are certainly benefits to working in high resolution digital as a native format for making films, it bears remembering that movies shot on actual film can be re-scanned at later dates into whatever technology becomes available. Those shot at a set digital resolution will never look better than the first format that is capacious enough to include all the original data.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

R.K. June 18, 2009 at 12:06 pm

Is there any historical evidence about how concerned the conspirators were about the Holocaust, compared with how concerned they were about Hilter being a poor military leader?

The July Plot took place after Stalingrad, after all.

Tristan June 18, 2009 at 12:17 pm

I was under the impression you disliked the term ‘historiography’ principally because it had been employed by your professors as simply another word for “history”. In what sense is the film interesting, historiographically?

Why does the film have”more value as a partial counterargument than as an integrated whole.”?

“The officers participating are portrayed as self-sacrificing heroes, basically motivated by their opposition to Hitler’s immoral actions – though the fact that they perceived Germany to be losing the war was obviously important.”

Sure – but cursory internet research shows that Tresckow began organizing resistance in 41, while German was still winning the war. As for joining late – anyone joining the plot knew they were gambling their lives in a wager for a higher rank after a potentially successful coup. It’s hard to imagine they would have been all executed after the plot if they had not gone along with it.

Matt June 18, 2009 at 6:46 pm

While there are certainly benefits to working in high resolution digital as a native format for making films, it bears remembering that movies shot on actual film can be re-scanned at later dates into whatever technology becomes available.

I’ve seen quite a number of High-Def movies, and in my experience the ones that were shot on film (even IMAX films) are noticeably worse than the ones shot digitally. Also, along the same lines, I would say it’s difficult to discern the difference between 720p and 1080p, at least on my 37″ TV. Maybe a larger TV would make the 1080p standout.

Milan June 18, 2009 at 11:29 pm

I was under the impression you disliked the term ‘historiography’ principally because it had been employed by your professors as simply another word for “history”.

I dislike the word (a) because it is often misused (b) because it is very ugly – a nasty bit of academic obscurism.

In what sense is the film interesting, historiographically?

In the sense that it is now culturally acceptable for a mainstream film to present German army officers during the Nazi period as ‘heroes’ of a kind, just because they tried to kill Hitler.

Why does the film have”more value as a partial counterargument than as an integrated whole.”?

I was thinking from the perspective of my young cousin. I think you will agree that this film is a bad introduction for someone totally unfamiliar with WWII.

It’s hard to imagine they would have been all executed after the plot if they had not gone along with it.

Really? Stalin and Hitler both killed plenty of people out of sheer paranoia. “He was executed, therefore he must have been guilty” is a very Stalinist sort of argument.

Milan June 18, 2009 at 11:32 pm

Matt,

It’s possible that digital sensors are now better than the best film available, though I don’t think this has been true historically.

Are DVDs 720p, or lower? On my uncle’s giant television, you can very clearly tell the difference between DVDs and Blu-Ray discs, though the difference isn’t really pleasant upon first viewing.

Tristan June 19, 2009 at 12:11 am

“(b) because it is very ugly – a nasty bit of academic obscurism.”

If it were not for German historians who worked on “Historiography” in the 19th century, the modern discipline of history would not exist in its recognizable form. If not for “historiography” done in the 60s which focused on people stories, modern “social history”, and basically any kind of museaum exhibit which concentrates on individual experience, may never have become popular. If that kind of influential cultural work is obscurantist, then I should be so lucky. Historiography is the questions, “how should we do history?”, “what is history?” – and without work on these questions there simply would be no “history” at all.

“In the sense that it is now culturally acceptable for a mainstream film to present German army officers during the Nazi period as ‘heroes’ of a kind, just because they tried to kill Hitler.”

Rommel was portrayed as a kind of hero in films as early as the 1951, and largely due to his suspected (and exaggerated) connection with the July 20th plot – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Desert_Fox:_The_Story_of_Rommel

“Really? Stalin and Hitler both killed plenty of people out of sheer paranoia. “He was executed, therefore he must have been guilty” is a very Stalinist sort of argument.”

I don’t think you understood me at all. What I meant was if someone was concerned with saving their own skin, staying neutral, or as neutral as possible, looks like the best decision. I.e. the people in the communications office – the man who does not come down on one side until he has to. What I was trying to say is – even though technically not reporting the Plot is treason, its hard to believe that people would not have considered “staying neutral” a safer option than committing to the plot. The actual results are irrelevant to whether selfishness is standing for courage – only personal perceptions of risk matter.

Tristan June 19, 2009 at 12:15 am

“It’s possible that digital sensors are now better than the best film available, though I don’t think this has been true historically.”

Rockwell estimates that a 35mm film exposure is about equivalent to 25 megapixels. So, since film is shot the other way round – it would be 12.5 megapixels. I don’t think any video cameras are anywhere near that level of resolution, but I may be wrong. Also, Rockwell might be very wrong.

Even if they are, film is better than digital because of the way it treats highlights, and because of colour – not because of resolution.

Milan June 19, 2009 at 12:34 am

The practice of historiography may be important and sometimes interesting, but I still dislike the word itself.

Matt June 19, 2009 at 1:27 am

Rockwell estimates that a 35mm film exposure is about equivalent to 25 megapixels.

What ISO of film, though? I was under the impression the physical size of the grains varied with film ISO.

Are DVDs 720p, or lower?
Well, with DVDs just being a data carrying medium, it varies. According to Wikipedia, DVDs are typically 480p (not high def), whereas 720p is considered high def. A lot of DVD players and, again, a lot of CRT TVs can only show interlaced video, so that’s even worse (480i).

As for film versus digital, I have no technical reason to say one is better than the other. Certainly I find analogue formats a lot more interesting than digital, and I even get 100% of my purchased music on vinyl. I enjoy film, and the photographic process, and in highschool avidly shot and hand developed 35mm B&W. Having said that, I’d rather watch a digital movie. In my opinion, they look nicer.

Tristan June 19, 2009 at 8:42 am

“Having said that, I’d rather watch a digital movie. In my opinion, they look nicer.”

What do you mean by a digital movie? In music, a 3 letter system is used to express how “digital” or “analogue” an album is. A vinyl record, recorded and mixed on tape will be AAA, that same record released on CD will be AAD, the music you record on your computer and upload to itunes will be DDD. While all combinations of letters are possible, only AAA, AAD, ADD and DDD are common.

So, if you mean you like watching DVDs these are mostly ADD – recorded on film, edited and released digitally. Few films are actually filmed using digital cameras, although this is common for TV.

Matt June 19, 2009 at 12:52 pm

Well, this isn’t what we’re talking about, but in a theater I would go out of my way to see the digitally projected version of the movie.

Having said that, I haven’t really thought about the system of capture of a movie. I just know that of the IMAX films I’ve seen that have been released in HD for home consumption haven’t been very good. This surprises me because I’d have thought they’d be really good given their source. Modern Hollywood movies I’ve seen have looked the best, and actually animated movies, (Finding Nemo, etc.) which started their lives in a computer, make the one of the biggest impressions on HDTVs.

Aside from that, I’ve noticed compression makes a huge difference on HD quality. Starchoice, who I get TV from, has pretty high compression compared to other HD sources because they have limited capacity on their satellites (they have three, occupying two slots) to carry all the channels they need to. Their ‘HD’ was originally not impressive to me, it looked not much better than a stretched SD picture. They seem to have made changes that have since improved the quality.

Tristan June 19, 2009 at 11:11 pm

“but in a theater I would go out of my way to see the digitally projected version of the movie.”

Of course – because the film version is ADA – ADD will be lossless from the first to 2nd D, and the 2nd A in ADA will not be lossless with respect to the middle D.

However, it’s silly to say that you are watching a “digital” movie just because the projection is digital. It is no more “digital” than the film projection if the editing with the projector film was made from was digital. That’s like saying an album is analogue just because you’ve copied your CD to a tape.

Matt June 20, 2009 at 4:16 pm

Fine, whatever. I don’t claim expertise in film.

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