VICTORY IN EUROPE
D-Day To VE Day
Over PBS on May 8, the 40th anniversary of V-E Day, Americans accustomed to seeing WW II in black-and-white will have their first look at "virtually the only color films of the war in Western Europe": taken by Hollywood director George Stevens, head of a special Signal Corps unit, for his own, unofficial record. In this album, along with stills from those films--not so much scenes of combat as shots of soldiers and civilians--is a succinct and expert chronicle of events, from D-Day through the German surrender and its aftermath, by British military historian Hastings (Bomber Command. Overlord). The two elements don't fuse: we see General Leclerc and his French troops entering Paris, for instance, ten pages or so before Eisenhower makes the decision to let Leclerc take the city--probably because Stevens took a lot of footage of that dramatic event. It's a fair guess, in any case, that most readers will first look at the pictures, and only then (if ever) take in the text, with its focus on salient engagements--Normandy, the bridge at Arnhem, the Ardennes--and its battle maps. The stills are bound to mean more, too, after the PBS film showing. With a few exceptions, these are not powerful images on a par with the WW II photos of Capa and Mydans and Bourke-White and many an anonymous, black-and-white still photographer: there are lots of grinning German prisoners, cheerful French civilians, and "friendly" looking Russian soldiers (though, says the caption, they "inflicted a terrible revenge upon the German people"). Did Stevens' little movie camera perhaps elicit smiles? There is something to seeing Eisenhower and Bradley and Montgomery in living color, and the rubble of Caen and Aachen in monochrome. But visually the book has no tenor or direction, no intrinsic message: too much of it, indeed, is like souvenir photos of victory. Nonetheless the text is authoritative, and the program will be an event.