Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Olive Films - LET THERE BE LIGHT: JOHN HUSTON'S WARTIME DOCUMENTARIES on Blu-ray ""

Monday, January 18, 2016


LET THERE BE LIGHT: John Huston's Wartime Documentaries
Apparently censored for 35 years, LET THERE BE LIGHT illustrates (in a very sobering way) the real effects of post traumatic stress disorder. It deals with a group of soldiers and their experiences at a psychiatric hospital after they have returned from duty in World War II. John Huston's father (the great actor Walter Huston) does the voice over for the film and it's a bit Werner Herzog-y, but it also makes it clear that the subject matter of this film means something to the director. There's a disclaimer at the front that says that none of the scenes were staged and that is something that really is not only readily apparent, but also makes the whole thing incredibly powerful and moving. As we watch these soldiers talk to psychiatrists, it seems pretty evident from the way that they speak, the way that they display uneasiness, or get emotional that they are not actors but real men who have really been through something. There's a lengthy sequence where a man with amnesia is put under hypnosis and he is made to remember his trauma and eventual who he is. It's intense and emotional. The War Department banned the film and barred its release based on the notion that it would be a violations of the rights of the soldiers shown in it. It's easy to see that it would have done little to make the War Department or the Army look very good. It is a truly powerful and compelling document especially because it is from the period and we just don't see a lot of footage like this from that time. It's clear that these men are overwhelmed with their traumatic experiences and may never be the same as they were before they went to war. It is not exploitative though, it is honest and gives a sympathetic picture of both the soldiers and the doctors who helped them. This documentary is an acknowledge influence on P.T. Anderson's THE MASTER and after watching it, that totally makes sense. When you see frames from both films juxtaposed as below, it's pretty clear how much Anderson was a fan:
(Image taken from A BitterSweet Life tumblr page)
John Huston made several documentaries for the War Department during World War II and though LET THERE BE LIGHT was the last, this Olive Films Blu-ray includes several others:
-WINNING YOUR WINGS (1942)(18 mins) This is an inspirational short designed to encourage recruitment in the U.S. Army Air Corp. James Stewart stars in this one.-REPORT FROM THE ALEUTIANS (1943) (45 mins) Depicts the experiences and apparent banality of duty for soldiers in Alaska and the Aleutian Island of Adak.
-SAN PIETRO (1945) (32 mins) This short deals with the battle of San Pietro in Italy during WWII. 1,100 men were lost during this nine month battle and this film shows the dead soldiers and how their bodies were dealt with and buried. It definitely reflects a darker, less patriotic tone and despite much of the battle sequences having been re-enacted, it is still a very potent wartime doc. The disc also has some Raw Camera Footage (32 mins) from the doc which shows some of the battle scenes being set up.
-Also included is a 26 minute introduction which gives a nice summary and context for all the documentaries.
-Lastly, the disc also has a film called SHADES OF GRAY from 1948. Similarly to LET THERE BE LIGHT, this 65 minute feature depicts "shell shock", but instead of using real soldiers, it uses actors. It's not nearly as effective, but it is interesting nonetheless.

This is a nice little set as far as all the films that are on the disc. It was put out in conjuction with the National Archives and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.It feels like something Criterion or Flicker Alley might put out. Very important and interesting documentaries from an important director.

This Blu-ray can be purchased here:

No comments: