The Longest Day (1962)
Director: Ken Annakin (British and French exteriors), Andrew Marton (American exteriors), Bernhard Wicki (German episodes)
Writer: Cornelius Ryan, Romain Gary, James Jones, David Pursall, and Jack Seddon
Cinematographer: Jean Bourgoin and Walter Wottitz
by Tory Maddox
The further along in life I go, and therefore my love of film, the more I regard the 90s as one of the greatest decades of cinema. For awhile I believed it was the classic syndrome of thinking today’s films are comparably worse to the ones I grew up with, just as Woody Allen said the same about the 30s and 40s, and Ebert and most baby boomer filmmakers feel about the 70s. Beyond the vast amount of transformative Cinema that occurred during the period, I’m nostalgic for the popular fair - Little Giants, Armageddon, Independence Day, and Saving Private Ryan - which either doesn't exist anymore, or are so overwhelmingly dominated by CGI that the stories feel more like knock offs than additions to their respective genres.
I hadn’t seen or known much about Saving Private Ryan when it arrived in theaters. It was one of the few movies that my parents took me to. I wasn’t yet in love with film, but I will never forget the day we went for as long as I live. I had heard about the righteous fight against Nazis during WW2, in which my grandfather flew B52 Bombers. It wasn’t until I saw SPR and its jaw-dropping opening scene that I truly grasped the horrors of war.
My indie film-loving cousin use to bash Stephen Spielberg’s ‘largeness’, assuming it was more art by committee than individual. Having failed to discover another filmmaker who uses cinema with the same level ‘show don’t tell’ erudition, I now have to balk at anyone assuming Spielberg is in any way a pop filmmaker. He’s is one of the greatest of all time, with the rare gift of being able to secure massive budgets to actualize his imagination that reflects the epitome of filmmaking. The closest any modern filmmaker comes to this is Christopher Nolan, though this is like comparing a High School Varsity Baseball Player to Nolan Ryan, which isn’t to say Christopher Nolan has the talent of a high schooler as much as no one has come even close to Spielberg’s mastery. They are truly works of the finest art; the type of craft that’s only appreciable after studying film for a long enough time and seeing how ingenious his language is. After watching The Longest Day, I now realize how inspired Saving Private Ryan was by these films (and others - Guns of Navarone, A Bridge Too Far, The Dirty Dozen, etc.); the type of films that use practical effects, sets, and vehicles in ways that leaves you gaping.
The Longest Day was made for $10 million, which even when adjusted for inflation, only equals about $80 million, and if you think that’s a lot money, keep in mind that this is about the same budget as David Fincher’s Zodiac. The Longest Day has one of the most incredible casts you’ll ever find in a film with everyone from John Wayne to Robert Mitchum, following the Allied land attack and German response as D-Day commences. It is shot in cinemascope, opening up each scene to fully realize the extent of machinery that was included in the picture. It’s the type of movie that looks and feels expensive, from the length of three hours to the cast to the amount of ships, tanks, and extras that were hired. In two distinct aerial long takes, we follow what seems like at least fifty and maybe a hundred soldiers on the attack, both on Normandy beach, and another through a small German town. Just when you think it’ll cut it continues to follow the Americans running along the river, the image keeps on going and we drift past a giant mansion where the German’s are stationed up top on the roof, to a road on the left where dozens of German reinforcements come rushing down.
4,500 people died during the D-Day Invasion out of 160,000 Allied troops. I imagine receiving the probability that 5% of soldiers would be killed; that no matter the preparation some will die. For instance, as the Allies overshot their drop zone and landed in a German town, hanging from the telephone poles or church steeples, like fish in a barrel for the German’s to shoot down - there was nothing to do. To know that you as an individual have just as much of a chance for a mortar to strike near you, or a bullet to catch you as any other soldier is an idea that can overwhelm the mind. I’ve said it before, I am in absolute awe that anyone had the courage to jump out of the plane or exit the boat.
If they were to try and make this movie today it’d be dominated by CGI. There is just no way that, with even $80 million, they could come remotely close to replicating this film. You can just feel how determined they were to get it accurate, accomplished practically, in order to capture the battle’s scope and respect this infamous day in history. The problem today is CGI wants to add more to the image than might have existed - capturing more how the situation might have felt than how it actually was. This film shows you how it use to be done, and as mentioned in thoughts on Enemy at the Gates, it’s understanding that it wasn’t designed on a computer or in a dark room, but required the work of thousands of people, building, performing, enhancing. You can feel it each scene.
BELOW: An aerial long take that rivals any Scorsese/Cuaron/PTA steadicam
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