Inecom World War I Documentaries
Blood and Oil: The Middle East in
World War I
Picture: B- Sound: B Extras: B- Main Program: B+
World War 1: American Legacy
Picture: B Sound: B+ Extras: D Main Program: A
Entertainment Company has been quietly carving out a substantial place for
itself in the home video documentary market.
With titles like "Johnstown
Flood," narrated by Richard Dreyfuss, and "Expo: Magic Of The White City," narrated by Gene Wilder (both
reviewed elsewhere on this site), the upstart documentary-on-DVD company based
in Pittsburgh has been releasing quality programming, all with excellent
production values, that give PBS and WGBH programs a run for their money.
Inecom's latest releases, "World
War 1: American Legacy" and "Blood
and Oil: The Middle East in World War I," continue that tradition. Both WWI documentaries expertly explore two
fronts of the Great War. The first,
narrated by David Carradine, goes in-depth into the short-but-important
involvement of the United States in the war, while the second, "Blood and Oil," details how
crucial the Middle East was in the war and how the post-war carve-up of the
region is still felt today. Both DVDs
were released last December, are 112-minutes long, and are presented in
high-definition anamorphic widescreen.
two, "Blood and Oil" is a
more straightforward documentary. Using
interviews with historians and experts on the involvement of the Ottoman Empire
in WWI, interspersed with stills, maps, and some motion picture footage, the
documentary gives a full exploration into one of the least understood aspects
of the war. The Ottoman Empire, which
spanned what is now called the Middle East, entered the war on the side of
German and Austria-Hungary. Through
intense combat and deadly action, the empire lost over a hundred lives during
the war, and because of its alignment with the losing Germans, the Allies
showed little mercy after the armistice.
The region was carved into English and French areas of influence, and
nations like Iraq and Iran were formed from the rubble left in the collapse of
the Ottoman Empire.
discussing WWI, most attention is paid to the trench warfare of the Western
Front and the collapse of the Russian Empire, giving way to communism and the
Soviet Union. The impact on the Middle
East is usually glossed over, but in today's wars of ideology and culture that
impact deserves revisiting. Without WWI,
needless as it was, the conflicts in the Persian Gulf region might not exist
quite as extremely as they do today. And
because they do exist, understanding the roots of the conflicts and struggles
is paramount. Thanks to Inecom's efforts,
there is a solid, easily digestible text on the subject that should be a fixture
in classrooms all over the United States.
includes the high-def program in Dolby Digital surround sound and a group of
three "extended commentaries" by authors and historians on the
topic. The commentaries range in length,
from eight minutes to 11, and are extended on-screen interviews with three of
the primary voices in the documentary: Edward Erickson (nine minutes), author
of "Ordered to Die: A History of the
Ottoman Empire in the First World War"; David Fromkin (11 minutes),
author of "A Peace to End All Peace:
The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East";
and David Woodward (eight minutes), author of "Hell in the Holy Land: World War I in the Middle East". These commentaries add depth to various
aspects of the Middle East in WWI and give the DVD, already brimming with
authority, a little extra oomph, making it that much more indispensable.
"Blood and Oil"
documentary is strong and not to be overlooked, the second, recent Inecom DVD,
"World War 1: American Legacy,"
is superb. Narrator Carradine is a
suitable even if sometimes-clumsy guide for viewers through American
involvement in WWI. His gravely voice is
keenly equipped to evoke desolate heartache and weathered celebration, but
occasionally he steps over his words and leaves too long a pause between
statements or thoughts. This becomes an
issue only because his voice doesn't bridge interviews and footage, keeping the
documentary moving. Instead, it's the
only real voice here; it's the mortar cementing together a series of
photographs, paintings, illustrations, letters, magazines, newspapers, and
contemporary music together into a coherent structure. While there are pockets of instability in
that cohesion, it's easy to overlook and forgive them because he's so good in
pastiche approach here is also effective; a moving way of exploring the pivotal
role the United States played in WWI.
Rather than having people from the 21st century talking about the war and the people in it, we
get the people themselves — their faces in photos, their voices in letters and
other writings — as first-person recollectors of the gruesome war. This does lend itself to an overuse of the
"Ken Burns Effect" — the images given a sense of movement — that becomes
a bit distracting. But in the scope of
the documentary, it's a small quibble in an otherwise ambitious presentation of
this evocative approach is the segmentation of the documentary into vignettes
about certain people or groups that were vital to the war effort. There's a section on the New York Fighting
Irish, the Lafayette Escadrille airplane squadron, writers that fought in the
Great War (like e.e. cummings), the Harlem Hell Fighters (the most successful
American unit in the war, and the group primarily responsible for bringing jazz
to France), the Hello Girls, the soldiers that left lives of privilege in
America to fight in the French Foreign Legion (like Alan Seeger), and even Cher
Ami, a hero carrier pigeon.
other segments, of course, and they all tie together into this quilt of
American stories from the Great War that reflect what great sacrifices were
made, as well as how crucial the US was to the global war effort. Like with the involvement of the Middle East
in WWI, American involvement tends to get overlooked because it was so brief
(American soldiers engaged in heavy combat in 1917, and the war ended in
1918). But as this documentary attests,
American contributions were crucial and have been (almost) unfairly
dismissed. "World War 1: American Legacy" likewise belongs in classrooms,
but it also deserves a place on the shelves of history lovers. The documentary is a beautiful account of the
war, and it's a fitting tribute to the sacrifices made during it.
includes the high-def program and three audio options: Dolby Digital 5.1
Surround Sound, DTS 5.1 Surround Sound, and Dolby Digital 2.0. There are no extras to speak of, besides a
collection of Inecom trailers, but that's OK.
The program is outstanding, and along with the presence of a DTS track
(almost unheard of for a documentary) more than makes up for the lack of extra
should be commended for these two wonderful DVDs. They flesh out key aspects of World War I,
and they do so in style.
- Dante A. Ciampaglia