30 250 andrew crampton and marcus power much debate

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250 Andrew Crampton and Marcus Power Much debate about SPR ’s authenticity centred on scenes of the Omaha beach landings that opened the film in a 25-minute avalanche of gruesome mayhem, disorientation and death. Spielberg shot these scenes with a hand- held camera with overexposed film stock where the frames jitter about in imitation of actual WWII footage and with blood splattered on to the lens the audience is made to feel the cameraman’s fear of being caught in the crossfire. The intention was to draw the audience into the film, to take them to Omaha Beach, and let them experience warfare from a soldier’s perspec- tive. In filming these scenes Spielberg claims he ‘decided to play the role of combat cameraman more than a director’ and was ‘trying to get as close as I could to the experience of what a combat soldier at Omaha Beach might experience’. 31 The result is certainly disorientation for the viewer and the casualness and randomness of death is heightened by the fact that audi- ences had not yet been introduced to a single character and lack an ‘anchor’ through which to view the unfolding carnage. 32 The sense of claustrophobia created here and the frenzied praying, vomiting and shaking (amongst the soldiers on the beach) further underline this impression. With assistance from cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, Spielberg desaturated the colours of the film in order to emphasize the pale greens of the uniforms and landscapes, the blue-grays of the water and skies and the flesh tones of the characters, whilst the red of blood leaps out of this con- text for stark contrast. Interestingly the audience’s own visual memories of events relating to WWII will have been largely drawn from newsreel foot- age of the times and so Spielberg finds his ‘authenticity’ by re-animating that footage in new ‘modern’ ways resulting in a kind of ‘ersatz documentary’ style. 33 Spielberg has also said that he took inspiration from Robert Capa’s photos of Omaha beach: There was terror in each frame … Each frame was blurry, shaky and messed up, chaotic. They’re frightening to look at, horrifically kinetic, and each photograph told the entire story of what it was like to be in combat. I thought, Well, if I could do something like that at twenty-four frames a second, that would be interesting. 34 As combat photos and archive newsreel footage have become the iconic symbol of the D-Day landings since the end of the war, Spielberg conforms the images of his film to fit our visual knowledge of those events and our own frames of reference, which come to audiences partly through newsreel and documentary footage. The effect of this strategy in the film is powerful as the movie seeks to touch and align itself with the patriotic col- lective imagination.

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