Wednesday again! To misquote Douglas Adams, I never quite got the hand of Wednesdays. The hours always seem to creep up on me. Meh, oh well, onward and upward, right? Have y’all been keeping out of mischief while I’ve been hiding out in my treetop castle here in the deep, dark jungles of Appalachia? For myself, I’ve been cooking. Vegan cooking!
Yeah, I know, right: vegans in Appalachia? No such creature! Don’t look at me; as a rule I like dead animal. However I was playing around in the kitchen and stumbled into this bizarre combination of Jewish latke, Korean pajeon, and British bubble & squeak, and because I had no milk or eggs in the house, the thing became vegan by default. Who says food can’t be multi-cultural, right? 😀 It tasted really good, so I played around with it a little and then sent the recipe to my son. He and his wife are Russian Orthodox; their church takes its fasting seriously (and I mean seriously) and they’re always looking for Lent-friendly (ie meatless, dairy-less, egg-less) recipes.
But enough about my adventures in cookery! Time to move on to Clarksonpunk business! On Monday, we talked about nonfiction sources of information on World War II. As I recall, I also promised that today we would talk about fictionalized accounts of real people/places/events in the war. And so we shall. As I said on Monday, i don’t want to get into actual pieces of proper fiction about the War (such as Saving Private Ryan). We talk about proper fiction all the time, and, only rare does a piece of fiction become a Foundation media.
For that matter, it’s not so much that Monday’s contributions or today’s necessarily qualify as Foundation media in and of themselves. But World War II was such a watershed event in history that it can’t be ignored as a shaper of our attitudes. The war quite literally changed the world, for the good, for the bad, every which way, but always profoundly and permanently. We can’t ignore that, not in our fiction. For those of us born after the war (and that’s practically everybody I can hope to have as a reader, now my mother has passed away), it’s difficult to even try to imagine a WWII-less world.
Of course, that’s part of the fun of Dieselpunk, isn’t it?
Anyway, onward and upward! Okay, I may have implied that I was gonna cover more than one nonfiction source today. And so I had planned it. But the fact is, I have a lot of things to say. So I’m going to break it up into pieces. There’ll be more to be had on Monday, I promise. Now, as you can tell by the post title, we’re going to be starting with Band of Brothers. Here’s a trailer to remind you, if you’ve forgotten (though I would find that hard to fathom)
This 2001 HBO production was a 10-part miniseries following the progress of a genuine paratrooper company (E “Easy” Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division) from their beginnings at jump school, through D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge, and other battles, right through to the U.S. capture of Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest at Berchtesgarten. The miniseries, produced by Stephen Spielberg and actor Tom Hanks, is based on the 1992 non-fiction account of the same subject by author and historian Stephen Ambrose. Some of you may recall that, when this was originally released, it was huge. Everybody was watching it, everybody was talking about it. Well, at least until 9/11, which happened a week after the first episode; people weren’t quite as excited about it after that, having other things to discuss and think about. HOWEVER, it was very well received, overall, and received Emmies, Golden Globes and a Peabody Award.
The ensemble cast is full of solid, reliable character actors, but nobody who jumps out at you as hugely famous, with the possible exception of Donnie Wahlberg from the Saw movies (and from New Kids on the Block, if you’re an old fogey like me and remember annoying ’80’s boy bands). However, the cast does a really, really good job. A funny note on the cast: I don’t have HBO, and I seldom watch TV, so I didn’t actually see this series for the first time until just a few months ago. When I did, the actors who caught my eye were not the leads, but rather the walk-on performances by Shaun of the Dead‘s Simon Pegg (as an American grunt carrying messages back and forth) and Scottish hearthrob James McAvoy (as a young reinforcement soldier assigned to Easy Company) before they were famous.
As I said, I did not see this series until back in the fall. But! I have read some of Stephen Ambrose’s work, like Citizen Soldiers and the Victors. He does a good job describing the daily lives of soldiers, and more importantly, putting them into the context of the war at large. It’s much easier to understand why a person makes a decision when you understand what he is experiencing, what information he may or may not have, etc. I find his books a compelling read, putting human faces to larger-than-life events.
With that said, however, it should be pointed out that Stephen Ambrose has come under no small amount of criticism. Apparently he has been accused of plagiarizing his fellow historians, of making sloppy errors in his research, and of misrepresenting people and events in his work. Not quite cricket for a nonfiction writer and alleged expert. Are those accusations accurate? Good Lord, I don’t know; my historian credentials involve the phrase, “enthusiastic amateur and full-time book gourmand.” For our purposes, the lovers of Dieselpunk and New Pulp, the controversy isn’t that important; we’re here to get a flavor, a zeitgeist and mid-20th century paradigm, not to spot check one author’s research (yes, I know, there are those among us who do take that stuff seriously, and all props to you for it. I can be quite the stickler myself in my fields of expertise. But most of us are not that invested).
The truth is, don’t go to Band of Brothers, either the miniseries or the book, to get an in-depth view of the causes of the Battle of the Bulge, or the political and military impact of D-Day. You’re not gonna get it. What you ARE gonna get is an intense insight into what it was like for a soldier taking part in these big events. Your average grunt (or platoon commander, or company commander, even) doesn’t know the Big Picture; it’s not part of his job. He sees the battle, and the war, from a very tight, very vivid perspective.
That’s what is brilliant about the book and the miniseries: it gives a face and a heart to battles and events that we’ve all read about, but were born too late (and too lucky) to experience. It is INTENSE. Sometimes too intense; there were times I had to turn the show off and catch my breath, because it was just too much for me to bear. One that jumps out to my memory is in the second episode. The paratroopers are flying over the French coast, getting ready to jump into Normandy and start the D-Day invasion. The men are crammed into flying sardine cans, flying death traps as the anti-aircraft start shooting. I had nightmares after seeing this ep, dreams of being trapped in a tiny room as fire engulfs me and mine.
Here, take a look. The part that was too much for me starts right around 2:00.
Or try this: the liberation of a concentration camp.
Like I said, intense. But that’s not to say the series is unrelenting heartache. There are some really funny scenes in it (the kid imitating their commanding officer to get their company commander in trouble? I ran it back and replayed that scene half a dozen times and laughed my butt off every time!). There are some sweet scenes. Sad scenes. Scenes where you want to cheer and jump and up and down. It’s a roller coaster ride.
And it’s all TRUE! It all happened. One of the coolest, most touching things about the miniseries is that, at the beginning of each episode, they show a series of old men talking about the real events. Turns out these old men are the real guys, the members of Easy Company being depicted in the episode. Moreover, the DVD set has a documentary just about and of these men, talking about their experiences in the war and talking about the making of the series.
Yes, Stephen King is right: making the truth into a movie turns it into a fiction, after a fashion; no matter how good or accurate the movie is, it’s never going to be the absolute truth. But sometimes that’s the best way to depict the truth, in a way that lets the audience connect to it and internalize it. And I’m telling you, check out this series if you’ve never seen it. If you have seen it, go look at it again. It’s worth it.
Okay, two quick announcements. First, for those of you who may have come to Clarksonpunk via the audio drama community, I am sooooo sorry about the delays in releasing new episodes of Blackburn Gaslight Adventures or Fortuna. See earlier blog posts about my being ill. But I’ve been working my little fingers off, and, assuming nothing blows up between now and Monday, I’ll be turning in finished mixes to my producer starting early next week. Yay!
Second, I have been asked by readers when I might be getting back to Fiction Monday. I’ve been pondering that myself and I think it’s gonna start back right after Easter, how’s that sound? I don’t know if I’ll be finishing the Fortuna short story, however; I feel I’ve lost the plot on it, and i”m not sure I can get it back. However, I have a new Richmond and Waite story ready to roll, and I have a few other options that might be fun. Give me a shout, tell me what sort of stories you might like to see! I’m open to most anything.
And here’s a third announcement. If you have a short story in the Steampunk, Dieselpunk and/or New Pulp vein, and you would be interested in sharing it, I would be happy to post it here. I can’t pay you anything. But the upside is that you keep all copyrights and you’ll get some exposure. It’s a thought, right?
Aaaaaaaand…. yep, that’s it for me. Next up: Fun Friday, and I haven’t a clue what’s going to go up there. Ain’t winging it fun? In the meantime, you know the drill: share, tweet, comment, email. If you have a question or a contribution for Fun Friday, my email is ajwriter-at-ajclarkson-dot-net. Give me a shout, I’m always delighted to hear from you. Now, go, be good, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!