Thursday 29 March 2018

In New Orleans - Rod Bishop happens across a remarkable documentary BEYOND ALL BOUNDARIES (David Briggs, 2009)

National WW2 Museum, New Orleans
In a city of brilliant live music (cheap and often free); unique Creole and Cajun cuisine; a world-famous Mardi Gras; a Jazz Festival that draws 100,000; African-Americans who mask as Indians; high school brass bands who compete for $40,000 (Class Got Brass); and more festivals than a city with a population of 300,000 could reasonably be expected to support, the number one tourist attraction is rather surprisingly the USA’s National World War II museum.

Higgins Boat
Located in New Orleans as a tribute to the Higgins boat, those flat-bottomed D-Day landing craft originally designed for the bayous, the museum is housed in several brutalist buildings and occupies most of a city block. A lot of the exhibits are big and detailed but underwhelm and lack basic coherency.

But there’s one short film, “the 4D experience” Beyond All Boundaries, screening to 250 people a session on a gigantic transparent gauze screen (35 metres by 9 metres) and for production value alone, it’s almost worth the price of admission. Before entering the purpose-built Solomon Victory Theater to view the film (which can only be seen in this location), the 250 audience members are herded into a darkened space by overzealous attendants, the majority forced to stand, tightly pressed against each other. It’s borderline claustrophobic and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one expecting a Nazi gas chamber simulation.

Instead, producer and narrator Tom Hanks appears on multiple small screens to tell us about the USA in the 1930s when it was 18th in the world for military strength, its heavy construction capabilities in poor shape and politically, a country trying to avoid the war in Europe.

Finally allowed inside the Theater to ogle at the luxurious seats, the immense stage and huge screen, Beyond All Boundaries starts with Pearl Harbor and in the next 35 minutes covers all of the USA’s involvement in WWII. After the sinking of the fleet in Hawaii, we end up on Iwo Jima in what seems to be a couple of minutes. The Italian campaign takes but seconds and after the D-Day landing we’re suddenly thrown into the Battle of the Bulge.

B-52 Bomber 
Quick as it is, the production values are often impressive and include all-encompassing special effects; props of a giant radio set, a concentration camp, a watch tower and a warship gun turret emerging from the stage; state-of-the-art sound; seats that shake as bombs explode and tanks that plough over the top of the audience. A piece of a B-52 is lowered from the roof; and during the Victory celebrations, ticker-tape falls from the ceiling.

It’s all Us Against The Mad Men and in the lead-up to the atomic bombs being dropped on Japan, things slow down to an almost glacial pace as Hanks makes sure we all understand the Japanese were trenchant, suicidal and as a nation, simply incapable of surrender.

Perhaps only the Americans would dare create a 35-minute fairground entertainment of the greatest war in history, but they sure have thrown a lot of money at it. Voice-over cast credits include Hanks, Brad Pitt, Elijah Wood, Patricia Clarkson, John Goodman, Tobey McGuire, Wendell Pierce, Kevin Bacon and Jesse Eisenberg.

Tom Hanks, 2014

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