Monday, April 7, 2014
Best Animated Short Make-Up Review: This Changing World Volume I Chapter I (aka How War Came) (1941)
So the longtime readers of my blog (all two of you) have probably heard of me talking about the Missing Seven, the seven Oscar nominated films I haven't seen yet. Of course, it hasn't always been the Missing Seven. It was the Missing Two Hundred when I first started trying to watch all of the nominated films back in 2007. Since then I whittled it down to the Missing Ten by the beginning of 2012. Then I watched The Further Adventures of Uncle Sam on February 27, 2012 and it became the Missing Nine. Then the UPA Jolly Frolics DVD came out in late March 2012 and I was able to watch Trees and Jamaica Daddy on March 22, 2012 and it became the Missing Eight. And finally on May 21, 2012, Steve Moore was finally able to release a copy of his infamous film Redux Riding Hood online and it became the Missing Seven. That was almost two whole years ago. And while I was able to locate two of the Missing Seven, I haven't had a chance to acquire a 16mm projector and make a trip down to Miami to watch Hypothese Beta and The Shepherd. I had no idea where to find the other five films, so I was seriously thinking that I may never be get the Missing Seven down to a smaller number. At least...until today.
I was just going about my business earlier today when I decided to check Facebook on some downtime. That was when I saw that Jerry Beck (who was instrumental in helping me find so many of the hard-to-find Oscar nominated films through his Cartoon Research Garage Sale) made a post on the Cartoon Research Facebook group linking to a post on the website about films in Columbia's "This Changing World" series. That immediately caught my eye, because one of the Missing Seven had been part of this particular series, the film How War Came. Two and a half years ago I had heard that the film was posted online briefly, but was taken down. I bemoaned the fact that I missed it, especially since the film was not listed anywhere on World Catalogue. I thought that my chances of watching it had passed. However, I eventually found out this may not have been the case. I clicked on the post, and there was indeed a copy of How War Came uploaded by Mr. Beck himself, along with the companion piece of the series Broken Treaties and a comedy short by the same creators set on a construction site. The Missing Seven can now become the Missing Six.
Anyways, as far as the film itself goes, the "This Changing World" series was the brain-child of Raymond Gram Swing, a man who is mostly forgotten now, but back in the 1930s and 1940s he was a well known journalist and radio personality. America was mostly mired in isolationist policies, but Swing knew what was brewing in Europe, and he wanted to inform the nation of the crisis going on across the ocean. He wrote up scripts and later contracted Paul Fennell and his Cartoon Films Limited studio to produce short films to be released by Columbia. How War Came was the first film in the series, designed to explore the aggressive behavior of the Axis powers and how appeasement policies by the League of Nationals led to increasingly audacious actions by these countries and led to the global conflict that threatens to engulf the entire world. Japan was first with its forceful takeover of first Manchuria and then the rest of eastern China, justifying their actions with fabricated tale of subterfuge. Italy followed with a similar tactic in taking over Ethiopia. And finally Germany took over eastern Europe inch by inch while Britain and France sat around, until the two allies can no longer remain idle. Can America prepare itself for involvement before it's too late?
How War Came was certainly an interesting glimpse into an important historical time period. It was released on November 7, 1941, which was only a month before the attack on Pearl Harbor that led to American participation in World War II. As I mentioned at the time America maintained a mostly isolationist stance, letting the Europeans and Asians do all the fighting. There were some rumblings of war, with a draft being instituted in 1940 and films about army life hitting the cinemas. But for the average citizen, war was something that did not affect their everyday lives. How War Came was designed to educate the public about the events in Europe, for them to learn something before enjoying their film from Columbia. The content was fairly simplified compared to the complexity of the actual events, of which I'm sure numerous dissertations have been written, but still quite dense. It explores the aggressive policies of Japan, Italy, and Germany in ways that the average moviegoer can possibly understand, with Swing's thesis being that the conflict arose from the invading countries pushing the boundaries of possessing foreign nations under false pretenses further and further. It reinforces the events being described with maps and reenactments of the conflicts as depicted through animation. The film actually begins with a live action introduction by Swing before going into the meat of the film, the animated section. The animation itself is fairly bare. The images are mostly static, as whatever motion are depicted are rather minimal like planes flying, soldiers marching, or flags waving. Still, it is rather clean and easy to understand. When Swing talked about German interest in the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, the map highlights the pertinent area. The film also used a new color processing service called Dunningcolor, although the fact that you haven't heard of it meant it lost to Technicolor. Anyways, I can't really tell the difference as the colors are so muted in the old print that the transfer came from. I don't think it really matters in a film like this. Swing is an effective narrator, although his speaking can be a bit dry, and he has some sort of an accent. It is worth noting that there was a short scene of Hitler speaking, with his voice provided by voice acting legend Mel Blanc. Overall, How War Came was a fairly informative piece of work, very much like the newsreels of the day.
And in fact, as Mr. Beck argues, this may be the most significant thing about How War Came and the "This Changing World" series. Prior to this, animated films have been mostly used to generate some laughs and rarely used for more serious films. The potential for animation to be used in documentaries have been recognized by Tex Avery, although he mostly specialized in mockumentaries like Detouring America. Meanwhile, that same year Rudolf Ising and Hugh Harman used a more serious animation style at MGM in their anti-war parable Peace on Earth. Still, nobody actually relied on animation outside the recreation of maps until "This Changing World," but the series showed how with animation you can help better visualize important concepts such as the growth of Germany's army as well as recreate battle footage. It eventually lead other studios to create animated documentaries such as Disney's The New Spirit and Victory Through Air Power, and Warner Bros.'s So Much for So Little. How War Came was followed up by a sequel titled Broken Treaties, although for some reason that was released first. It tracks Hitler's actions from his invasion of Czechoslovakia at the end of How War Came to his invasion of Poland, the events covered by Donald Cameron Watt in his epic history tome also titled How War Came. Breaking Treaties is interesting in that it has a little bit more dialogue with Mel Blanc as both Hitler and Stalin. I presume that had the series continued it would have gone more into the first two years of the war, but alas Pearl Harbor happened and America entered the war, and Columbia didn't think it was worth continuing with the history of the war, and the series was scrapped at two. Interestingly, How War Came ended with the message "another Raymond Gram Swing historical narrative will be shown in this theater soon." I know it was supposed to be Broken Treaties but that came first. Guess history buffs would never find out what would come afterward.
Anyways, to sum it up, How War Came is an interesting look back at a tumultuous event in the history of the world. It may not be the prettiest documentary, but it is serviceable. As far as where it would rank in the rankings for the years of 1932-1941, I would rank it 23rd, ahead of The Milky Way but behind Educated Fish.
And of course, here is the film in its entirety.
Anyways, much thanks to Mr. Jerry Beck for finding this film. And now we are only down to the Missing Six:
Rippling Romance (1945)
O Misto na Slunci (A Place in the Sun) (1960)
Hypothese Beta (1967)
The Shepherd (1970)
Dedalo (Labyrinth) (1976)