Historical documentaries are entering their golden era thanks to modern technology

Inside Film: Following in the path of ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’ and ‘Apollo 11’, ‘The Cold Blue’ is the latest film to give surprising new life to old archive material

Geoffrey Macnab@TheIndyFilm
Thursday 04 July 2019 14:28
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‘The Cold Blue’ celebrates the everyday bravery of its subjects, while also exposing viewers to the apocalyptic violence they endured
‘The Cold Blue’ celebrates the everyday bravery of its subjects, while also exposing viewers to the apocalyptic violence they endured

Eggs have seldom had such a sinister connotation. Generally, the US air force crew members whose stories are told in new feature documentary The Cold Blue were given powdered food for breakfast. But on the mornings of especially dangerous bombing missions over Germany, fresh eggs were served up. The young Americans came to see them as the harbingers of doom. They wolfed them down like condemned men eating their final meal. One crew member remembers the vexed and apprehensive feelings that the eggs stirred up: “We don’t want fresh eggs but we want fresh eggs.”

The Cold Blue is an entirely new film edited together largely from 15 hours of 16mm footage courtesy of legendary Hollywood director William Wyler. He and his team shot B-17 bomber crews during their missions over Germany for his 40-minute film Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress (1944). The rest of the footage had lain neglected in the national archives in Washington for 75 years.

Directed by Erik Nelson, the producer of Werner Herzog films Grizzly Man (2005) and Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010), this is one of a number of recent films which have used digital technology to give surprising new life to old archive material. Peter Jackson’s First World War film They Shall Not Grow Old, and the recently released Apollo 11, also make historical footage look as if it was shot yesterday.

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