Saturday, January 26, 2013

Siege (1940)

1 Nomination, 0 Wins

Nomination: Best Short Subject, One Reel - RKO Radio

I love Pete Smith shorts more than most, but the fact that "Siege" lost out on the Academy Award for Best Short Subject, One-Reel to "Quicker'n a Wink" is one of the more egregious oversights in the history of the Academy Awards.

"Siege" is a remarkable short film made all the more impressive based on the circumstances under which it was filmed. Journalist Julien Bryan had traveled through Europe during much of the 1930's, both writing and filming the activities that would help lead to World War II.  Bryan arrived in Warsaw just as Germany was invading Poland, and most journalists were fleeing the country.  Bryan bravely worked with city government to spend two weeks traveling around Warsaw filming the events of the invasion, starting with the early forced labor of Warsaw's citizens and culminating in the bombing unleashed by German airplanes.

"Siege" is a remarkable document of the German siege of Poland, both at a macro and a micro level.  On the macro side, Bryan assembled stunning footage of Germany planes, bombed out buildings, and other footage that could only have been obtained through his bravery in staying Warsaw during the attack.  As amazing as this footage is, the more personal footage of the people of Warsaw is even more haunting.  The film ends with shots of the faces of the people of Warsaw, a perfect coda to the destruction we have witnessed.  Bryan also offers restrained but forceful narration that avoids the hyperbolic jingoism that is present in so many of the war-time shorts.

"Siege" is a remarkable film that is every bit as powerful and not at all dated 73 years after it was released, a film far ahead of its time.  It was inexplicably overlooked by the Academy, but Bryan produced one of the finest one-reels of the era, and "Siege" has well stood the test of time.

"Siege" has been preserved by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive.  The film is available for viewing on the Museum's website.

Much of the historical information in this post comes from Smithsonian Magazine.

Remaining: 3173 films, 871 Oscars, 5448 nominations

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