An irritatingly poor documentary

So, this would seem like a nice evening for me: a pizza, some cola, and a documentary series about WWII.

Wasn’t so.

The series, grandiosely called “March to Victory: Road to Rome: Collector’s Edition” (2008), came in a nice metal box, and promised over nine hours on the war on the Mediterranean.

Got 45 minutes into it and then gave up.

A part of the reason was seeing the same clips of Mussolini posturing repeated four or five times during the first half an hour.

A part was the lack of maps. In the first 45 minutes there were just two, both period animations of the newsreel kind: quick clips with little geography and just four or five names; the minutes before the second dealt heavily with places in Libya I don’t think your average viewer could place without a map. Not that a closely zoomed in map of Eastern Libya with five names on it helped much! The narration was passing good, but tended to include a bit too many (for my taste) details. Do I need to be rattled a list of the villages the English advanced into in Eastern Libya? Especially when I have no damn map to see them in? For feck’s sake, how can you spend half an hour covering the Ethiopian War, the Spanish Civil War and the Fall of France without a single decent new map of them? (The period animation… wait, I’m sensing a trend here… of a black arrow thrusting towards Axum didn’t exactly help. Didn’t the makers of this thing have a permission to include anything made after 1946?)

The final part of my decision to give up was the dawning realization that this series would lose nothing if you only had the audio; the film clips weren’t much connected to anything that was said. If the audio was of Mussolini, those same three or four clips of him posturing; if the audio was about fighting, then a torrent of stock fighting footage, people running around, or a bomber dropping bombs (hey! that’s starting to look familiar!) during a description I’m pretty sure was all land-bound war; if the audio was Italian politics… hey, that gesticulating Fascist looks familiar! And if some historical person was mentioned, there were clips of historical persons… but who of all those in the clip was the person in question was not indicated. And no maps, dang it! Not even a single diagram or helpful graphic; the whole footage seemed like it was cut together from contemporary newsreels with nothing added.

The subtitles and the opening titles of the whole were new though. The problem there was they seemed… well, cheap. Not that I am a specialist, but the pedestrian font choices (“Stencil? What are you, eight?”), the random-seeming red flashes and the background of some red lines connecting some random points on a globe, the painted on explosion colors and the film-clippy quality of the whole just seemed to scream “I just learnt to use Windows Movie Maker!” to me. (Which anyone that has seen fan-made anime music videos on Youtube knows is both a low blow and an exaggeration, but the joy of gut feelings is they don’t need to be justifiable.)

Not that a documentary needs to have a presenter; not that it needs to gallivant over the sites in this present time; not that it needs full-color re-enactments; not that old film clips aren’t nice. But when you (by those first 45 minutes of the over nine hours) have nothing except period clips and cheap-looking title cards, I am not impressed. And personally, if a filmmaker was hung from the closest tree for reusing a film clip, the makers of this product ought to be hung in clown hats and full nudity for using some nine or ten clips twice, thrice, some four or five or six or more times, during no more than 45 minutes.

So —

Plus: If chin-jutting, hand-waving gesticulating-Mussolini footage porn, repeated ad nauseam, is your fetish, you will love this. Also, competent narration. And a nice metal tin!

Minus: All film seems pre-1945. Film not particularly connected to narration. Almost no maps, diagrams or anything else that’s interesting to look at, actually. Expect a black-and-white film experience, excepting the lurid Moviemaker effects of the opening bits. Bombastic music, cheap-looking production.

Verdict: I would be more highly pissed if I hadn’t bought the thing from the discount bin; nine hours or no, this does not appear to be worth more than twenty euros, and I’m glad I paid less. By what I saw, “March to Victory: Road to Rome: Collector’s Edition”, from Creation Films Documentaries — I cannot recommend it. The packaging is shiny and promising; what’s inside would be better as an audiobook, unless one really really has a fetish for the figure of Benito M., doing the same chin-jutting gymnastics over and over again.

What hey, a trailer of the first five minutes is on Youtube. See if you agree — though the Mussolini “I am the king of gesticulation drama!” clip does not make an appearance yet.

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