[Editor’s Note: This review originally appeared in Barrie’s Precedents column, Timeline 1941.]
In the wake of last week’s momentous events, I wondered what I might write about in this week’s column that would be appropriate. I could of course speak of my own feelings about what happened, but I’m not sure that this is the right vehicle for that, even assuming I could coherently put into words the myriad of thoughts, concerns, anger and sympathy that I have. I’m not sure either that I would have anything new to add to all the viewpoints that we’ve been bombarded with over the past seven days. As a Canadian, all I will say in this space is that I am profoundly saddened by what has occurred and I share the grief of all who have been affected through the loss of friends and family.
Some have already voiced opinion as to how we should memorialize the World Trade Center tragedy. There has been talk of rebuilding as a show of defiance to such acts and I have some sympathy with that viewpoint. Far better, though, it seems to me, is the suggestion of a park encompassing the entire area of New York that was laid waste — one that would provide a very visible contrast to its immediate surroundings of tall buildings and the business of commerce and hopefully a permanent, un-named reminder of the horror visited upon that area’s core. I first saw this suggestion very eloquently expressed in a short column by Roger Ebert entitled “Make It Green.” I recommend it to you highly.
President Bush, Prime Minister Chretien, and other world leaders have urged that there be an effort at returning to normalcy in terms of work and everyday living while the world comes to grips with the response to terrorism that will be mounted over the months and years ahead. We see that already starting to occur as stock markets open, back-ups begin to ease at airports and border crossings, street traffic returns to its normal hectic pace, and professional sports resume. Even as we scan across our favourite internet DVD sites, there is a feeling that people are able to think about other things than last week’s events, if only for a short interlude so far.
In that spirit, then, I’m going to offer you some thoughts on a DVD called “Timeline 1941” that, ironically, I purchased just the week before last week’s events and their subsequent comparisons to the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. “Timeline 1941” is one entry in a series of DVDs released by Whirlwind Media Inc. Each DVD provides a sight and sound profile of a particular year through selected newsreel clips, movie trailers, and recorded speeches and music programs — all of which date from that year. Other years currently available are 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1942, 1943, 1948, 1951, 1952, 1959, 1961, and 1962. The DVDs for 1944 and 1945 are scheduled to be released later this month as well as a boxed set of the seven war years 1939-1945.
The disc is divided into what it calls a video chapter and an audio chapter. The video chapter has two components, the first of which is a selection of newsreel segments from 1941 documenting the key events of the year. There are 35 in all with a total running time of 73 minutes. Individual segments (from Fox Movietone, Universal International, Warner Pathe, and Castle Films) last from under a minute to as long as six minutes and cover events of the war in Europe, sports, fashion, entertainment, the attack on Pearl Harbor, and key speeches by both Roosevelt and Churchill. The source material is in fairly rough condition and there is no indication of any restoration work or digital clean-up. There are numerous scratches and speckles and the image is frequently soft with poor shadow detail. The indoor segments tend to be in better shape than the outdoor ones as might be expected. Rounding out the visual chapter of the disc are five trailers for 1941 films: The Maltese Falcon, The Wolf Man, High Sierra, Citizen Kane, and Shadow of the Thin Man. These fare more poorly than the newsreel segments, being washed-out and fuzzy with fluctuating light levels. The High Sierra and Shadow of the Thin Man trailers look slightly better than the others. Throughout the video material, the sound is workable mono, but there is extensive age-related hiss and crackling.
Turning to the audio chapter, we find some 162 minutes of music, news and entertainment. It begins with a program featuring Harry James and his Music Makers broadcast from The Blue Room in the Hotel Lincoln in New York City on May 22, 1941. The band plays eleven numbers including its theme song “Ciribiribin” twice and four of the numbers have vocals by Dick Haymes. Following this, we get a broadcast from The Café Rouge at the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York dated October 22, 1941 and featuring Glenn Miller and his Orchestra. There are 13 numbers, with Ray Eberle, Tex Beneke and The Modernaires all prominently featured. Many of Miller’s best known numbers are included, such as “Tuxedo Junction,” “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” and “In the Mood.” The audio chapter then switches to a news segment that presents four speeches. There are two by Winston Churchill including his famous “Give us the tools and we will finish the job” speech, as well as one by Charles Lindbergh espousing neutrality and finally Roosevelt’s “Date which will live in infamy” speech following the attack on Pearl Harbor. The audio chapter concludes with the full Lux Radio Theater presentation of “Buck Privates” starring Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, and presented by Cecil B. DeMille. The mono sound on the audio is quite acceptable, particularly during the music segments. There is some background hiss from time to time, but it’s substantially less than during the video chapter and generally not intrusive enough to mar one’s enjoyment of the material.
In addition to all the foregoing material, we get several supplements making up what the disc refers to as an “interactive” chapter. First, there is a sequence of 18 screens (with several screens of introductory text) showing construction progress on the Mount Rushmore presidential carvings over the 15 years from its beginning in 1927 to completion in 1941 (also the year that its carver, Gutzon Borglum, died). A second entry takes you to listings of both the nominees and winners of all the principal Academy Awards for the year (Best Picture: How Green Was My Valley; Best Actor: Gary Cooper for Sergeant York; Best Actress: Joan Fontaine for Suspicion; Best Director: John Ford for How Green Was My Valley). Concluding the interactive chapter are listings of the Nobel Prize winners (none in 1941) and Pulitzer Prize winners in journalism as well as letters and drama. Finally, the DVD case includes a nicely designed eight-page fold-out that gives detailed listings of the disc’s content and a chronological listing of the year’s main events in North America and abroad.
This 1941 entry is a worthy example of the discs in Whirlwind Media’s fine “Timeline” series. No, the condition of the material isn’t what one expects from the best DVDs in terms of either image or sound. It is, however, all quite workable and the value of having such material all together and easily accessible is immense.