Streaming now: ‘Five Came Back’

 Documentary profiles five Hollywood film directors who were changed by experiences during World War II

By Rick Romancito
For the Taos News
Posted 6/27/20

A three-part documentary series titled “Five Came Back,” now streaming on Netflix, was first released in 2017, but if you’ve been watching the news lately it offers a few viewpoints that seem pointedly relevant today. 

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Streaming now: ‘Five Came Back’

 Documentary profiles five Hollywood film directors who were changed by experiences during World War II

Posted
 
A three-part documentary series titled “Five Came Back,” now streaming on Netflix, was first released in 2017, but if you’ve been watching the news lately it offers a few viewpoints that seem pointedly relevant today. 
 
The series directed by Laurent Bouzereau takes a look at the work of five esteemed Hollywood film directors — George Stevens, Frank Capra, John Huston, John Ford and William Wyler — who followed their sense of patriotic duty when World War II broke out. It is narrated by Meryl Streep.
 
As detailed in interviews with modern directors Steven Spieberg, Guillermo del Toro, Paul Greengrass, Lawrence Kazdan and Francis Ford Coppola, who each have drawn upon their work for inspiration, we find that the experience led to a greater understanding of things they had, until then, envisioned on the screen in fictional terms. Now, they were able to come face-to-face with them in the most violent and graphic ways possible. Needless to say, for some, it changed them forever.
 
The modern viewer may gain some insight into how these men were engaged by military brass to produce work it could use to persuade recruits and present a positive image of the war effort to the American public. In so doing, it helped create the modern and highly refined propaganda industry, seen today in terms of advertising, promotion and most pointedly in political campaigns. 
 
We find this in two disturbing segments, one involving the military’s effort to increase recruitment among the “Negro population” and the other on how to treat depictions of the enemy: The Japanese and the German Nazis. 
 
In the former, Wyler is assigned to do a film encouraging young black men to enlist in the service, but discovers how blatantly racist were the underlying motives. 
 
One has to understand that, at the time, the government was actively involved in portraying these enemies as graphic stereotypes in order to give the viewer a clear symbol of evil to fight. But, as seen in the latter segment, racism was also at the core of this effort as well. 
 
The military, for instance, had no problem showing Germans as villains, but stopped short of giving them an outright image to blindly hate because after the war they might have to become friends with them again, namely through trade and foreign relations. The rationale was that it was the Nazi command they were against, not the people themselves.
 
The Japanese were different. It was to them the military gave a broad visual symbol to loathe with deep hostility. No one would imagine rounding up thousands of German-American citizens to put in concentration camps in the United States, mostly because they looked indistinguishable from most white people, but the Japanese were a different story. The imagery used in animated films and propaganda movies was, in modern terms, horrifyingly racist. This made it easier for the government to engage in its internment program with little public resistance. 
 
Even with the military pushing the propaganda message, many of these directors were able to shoot some remarkable documentaries during the war, the most memorable of which was “The Memphis Belle” by Wyler, which followed a Flying Fortress bomber crew on their 25th and last mission. Shot as it happened, this was a remarkable effort. In 1994, this story was made into a feature film starring Matthew Modine, Eric Stolz and D.B. Sweeney.
 
The series also touches upon the horror of D-Day, when allies stormed the beaches of Normandy to attack the Nazis and bring about a pivotal chapter toward ending the war. The violence and carnage rocked Ford to his core and resulted in him going on a three-day drunken bender after which he was summarily sent back home. Following the Americans and allies into Germany as the war closed also proved life changing for Stevens. It was he and his film crew that were among the first to witness what the Nazis had kept hidden from the world: the concentration camps where thousands upon thousands of Jews and other “undesireables” were systematically exterminated. Stevens instructed his crew to stop shooting for a movie and instead begin using film as evidence of war crimes. This portion gives a chilling reminder of the origins of today’s white supremacy groups and their acceptance by some people in power.
This is a remarkable series that will bring tears, create some outrage, and certainly give a clearer picture of how some things came to be in our world.
 
“Five Came Back” is rated TV-14 for disturbing and graphic war images, thematic material, language and brief nudity.
 
Tempo grade: A. 
 
This film is streaming now on Netflix. 
 
Also showing in the Taos Center for the Arts’ Big Screen @ Home series
 
16 Bars
Music documentary
Not rated.
Ticket $4.99
Available starting Friday (June 26) through Big Screen TCA @ Home via tcataos.org.
 
This documentary film directed by Sam Bathrick is an intimate look at the lives of four inmates at the city jail in Richmond, Virginia, who are a part of a unique rehabilitation effort that involves writing and recording original music. 
 
The film follows their personal and artistic development as they produce and record with with Grammy- winning recording artist, Todd 'Speech' Thomas, from the hip-hop group Arrested Development. As the creative process unfurls and a chance at freedom draws near, each of these men must unearth painful elements of their pasts, which hold the key to a new chapter in their lives. 
 
The story is set in Richmond Virginia, the former seat of the confederacy, where the legacy of systemic racism, a spiraling opioid crisis, generational poverty, and a lack of mental health services have entrapped many of its citizens in a cycle of incarceration- which makes the city itself a unique case study for rising recidivism rates in the U.S. at large. With the U.S. locking up more of its citizens per capita than any other nation on the planet, the music of the film serves as rare testimony to the raw and messy truth behind the criminal justice system's revolving door.
 
This film will be available to view through July 10, 2020.
 
The TCA is planning an online Film Fans discussion of this film via Zoom Sunday (June 28) at 4 p.m. This film will be available to view now through June 26, 2020. The Zoom discussion is free. Log in at https://tcataos.org/big-screen/#event=39286681.
 
How does Big Screen TCA @ HOME work? 
  • Go to tcataos.org/calendar/ and click on the movie you want to watch.
  • Then, click on the WATCH MOVIE link. After that, it’s easy! You will “buy a ticket,” and be able to view the film. 
  • Watch on your computer, smartphone, tablet. Or, depending on the film, cast to your Apple TV, Google Chromecast or Roku. 
  • Instructions for how to watch on smart TVs are available at ticket purchase.
 
Why do movies cost up to $12? These offerings are new releases and/or not widely available films. If you were going to see this on a big screen, a single entry at the Taos Community Auditorium costs between $7-$8.50. If there are 2 or more of you, it’s a deal! And even though TCA does not set the ticket price (the digital distributors do), we receive 50 percent of the ticket sales.
 
Why are time frames for viewing upon purchasing a ticket different? Virtual cinema platforms differ depending on the film’s distributor. The entire film industry is working fast to pivot during this time when social gatherings are prohibited. So, for now, there is no industry standard and different organizations have different ideas for how to “present” films digitally. 
 
 
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres in Taos remains closed for the time being in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Until it reopens we will focus on movie reviews available online and through the TCA’s Big Screen @ Home series.
The TCA is planning an online Film Fans discussion of this film via Zoom Sunday (June 21) at 4 p.m. This film will be available to view now through June 26, 2020. The Zoom discussion is free. Log in at tcataos.org/big-screen/#event=39286603.
 
How does Big Screen TCA @ HOME work? 
  • Go to tcataos.org/calendar/ and click on the movie you want to watch.
  • Then, click on the WATCH MOVIE link. After that, it’s easy! You will “buy a ticket,” and be able to view the film. 
  • Watch on your computer, smartphone, tablet. Or, depending on the film, cast to your Apple TV, Google Chromecast or Roku. 
  • Instructions for how to watch on smart TVs are available at ticket purchase.
 
Why do movies cost up to $12? These offerings are new releases and/or not widely available films. If you were going to see this on a big screen, a single entry at the Taos Community Auditorium costs between $7-$8.50. If there are 2 or more of you, it’s a deal! And even though TCA does not set the ticket price (the digital distributors do), we receive 50 percent of the ticket sales.
 
Why are time frames for viewing upon purchasing a ticket different? Virtual cinema platforms differ depending on the film’s distributor. The entire film industry is working fast to pivot during this time when social gatherings are prohibited. So, for now, there is no industry standard and different organizations have different ideas for how to “present” films digitally. 
 
 
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres in Taos remains closed for the time being in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Until it reopens we will focus on movie reviews available online and through the TCA’s Big Screen @ Home series. 
 
 

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