Whicker’s War.

Alan Whicker, that mustachioed gentleman traveller, the original dapper vagabond. It was in the last great daring crusade that he honed his craft as the director of cameramen of the Army Film and Photo Unit (AFPU), or the “Army Film and Punishment Unit”. This two-part documentary is cracking. We seldom get the filmmakers as subject matter, the images of war taken for granted (our YouTube pleasures). Their sole purpose was to document. It’s our record of that struggle, the spearhead evidence offered to new generations. Their weapons were film reel.

Whicker talks of the danger of seeking that ‘perfect shot’. You may get it, but that entails being up close. And then you’re dead. Only Oliver Stone’s Salvador (1986) comes to mind here, *the* photojournalism masterwork.

N.B. More than half of Whicker’s team were killed or wounded.

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5 thoughts on “Whicker’s War.

  1. GP Cox says:

    I have a blogger friend I HAVE to send this to!!

  2. weggieboy says:

    Yes, GP, I found this very interesting. I watched many archived films taken by US Army motion picture photographers between TDY when I was a mopic photographer stationed at the 69th Signal Company (Photo) in Kaiserslautern, Germany.

    They were the raw review prints we got back from the Pentagon, with a critique. All of the shooting errors, mechanical mess ups, etc. were preserved in those films, as well as the drama of actual WWII battles covered by these men.

    From time to time, the scene would end with a camera landing on its side, still running. Sometimes it was the last thing the mopic guy filmed. We were armed with .45 caliber handguns, as were the guys in war, but the joke was we should wait till the enemy was on us and just throw the darn gun at them because it was difficult to shoot film and be a soldier at the same time.

    It was staggering and humbling to realize I followed in the footsteps of these incredibly brave men. As noted, many died in the process of documenting the war. I, on the other hand, was spared the dangers of filming under fire because the Vietnam war was coming to an end as far as US involvement was concerned. Several of my teammates, however, were career soldiers who’d been still or mopic photographers in Cambodia and Vietnam.

    • Ben Gould says:

      Wow, thanks for this info. War footage/photography these days appears to be by bodycam – a digital device strapped to the soldier. It’s of course safer but aesthetically nothing can compete with the mind-blowing footage from 39-45. I recommend this five-part documentary for its astonishing archive footage. http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x126vvt_apocalypse-the-second-world-war-ep-1-the-aggression_shortfilms

      • weggieboy says:

        Thank you for the follow, Ben! I’m following your blogs now as well.

        You might be interested in reading a bit about the four cameras US Army – and, presumably, other military branches – used during WWII up through my time and probably later. I can vouch for up to 1972!

        en.wikipedia.org/wiki/eyemo WWII a bit later

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filmo I believe they brought this one in in the 50s, and it was the primary camera I trained on at Ft. Monmouth, NJ.

        http://artsites.ucsc.edu/faculty/gustafson/FILM%20200C/Arri_S.pdf Much, much more than you might want to know, but the one I used was the S model. The S/B model has some advanced features (an automatic “clapstick” marker being the most interesting on to me because the camera I used didn’t have the capability of sound. There was another model we used with a sound-deadening “blimp” (a casing you put it in) we used for that.

        Maybe this link is a bit less daunting: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arri

        What made the Arri superior to the Eyemo or Filmo was its unique shutter, a reflex mirror technology that “…employs a rotating mirror that allows a continuous motor to operate the camera while providing parallax-free reflex viewing to the operator,[10] and the ability to focus the image by eye through the viewfinder, much like an SLR camera for still photography…,” as the Wikipedia article notes. It was fantastic! I still love the camera and what it was capable of doing. We used both 100 ft. reels of film that fit inside the camera and the external “Mickey Mouse ears” add-on that held 400 ft. of film, our usual practice since most jobs required lots of film.

        As for the bodycam videos modern soldiers make (not mopic guys trained to do films) they have the immediacy that was possible with the hand-held cameras but leave soldiering to soldiers while still getting combat operations not only on video, but broadcast in real time to commanders and the White House if needed. Different times, different needs, different capabilities, different technologies!

        We barely had video cameras in my time, and I went on exactly one job where we used a Sony video camera that the civilian psychiatrist doing a study on racial strife in the US Army in Germany brought with him from America.

        I know the 69th Signal Company (Photo) no longer exists, but I don’t know about combat photographers and mopic guys. Incidentally, the still photographers were still using Speed Graphic cameras when I was in the army, but they were starting to bring in SLR 35 mm cameras on a limited basis.

      • Ben Gould says:

        Invaluable stuff here! Thanks again. There is a doc about the Vietnam War called Hearts and Minds. You’ve probably seen it. I haven’t in years but I might give it another watch next week 🙂

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