Film Friday Classic: Oh! What a Lovely War

This week we ran the classic satirical war movie, where world war one is set in a Brighton fairground. It uses song and dance, satire and poignancy, to revisit the horrors of the 1914-1918 war. In one scene the Smith family say goodbye to their son Bertie as he heads off to war.

The routine is a typical music hall number, a jolly song and dance routine, contrasting with the true meaning of the scene as another father, son and brother says goodbye to go and fight, and possibly not return. We only catch a glimpse of the real sadness towards the end when we see a close up of Bertie’s mother, and the truth seems to dawn on her.

In another scene a group of Belgian soldiers climb onto their horses which then become a merry-go-round, and they ride gaily round singing Belgium Put the Kibosh on the Kaiser until a burst of gunfire interrupts them and we see they have suddenly become a grizzled mess of broken wooden soldiers, shot to pieces on the fairground ride. This scene reminded me of some of the work of the artist Banksy, not least his latest Dismaland bemusement park, where he takes the colour and wonder of Disneyland and flips the concept to consider darker issues.

The biblical prophets used these kind of tricks sometimes. Amos begins his writing with a song about the destruction of various nations surrounding Israel and Judah. (Amos 1 & 2) No doubt to a happy tune which may even have had a dance routine. But just as his audience is happily tapping along the song switches, and it is Judah and Israel who are in trouble, precisely because they have been critical of these other nations, rather than showing them compassion and thereby drawing them towards God. The original plan was that other nations would look at Israel and want to be like them. But that had not transpired. I guess there is a timeless and arresting message in Amos’s song, something about not turning our fear of others into judgement of them.

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