It Happened Here
Milestone Film Series

dir. Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo
Plays Fri Dec 8-Thurs Dec 14 at the Varsity.

JEAN-LUC GODARD once lamented his failure "to prevent Mr. Spielberg from reconstructing Auschwitz." His comment points to one of the larger failings of the American cinema: a failure to take itself seriously. Paradoxically, this failure is often masked by a seeming self-seriousness at the heart of the Hollywood machine--certainly, Spielberg was never more serious (or, more self-important) than when he was slathering Schindler's List all over the media. Yet for all his earnestness, Spielberg somehow lacked the basic tools to see his opus for what it truly was: a fantasy.

Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo's 1966 black-and-white WWII whimsy, It Happened Here, is almost the inverse of Spielberg's war film. A brilliant rewrite of history, It Happened Here takes place in a Great Britain occupied by German forces following a successful invasion in 1940. The filmmakers take tremendous pains to create a realistic simulacrum: no stock footage is employed; every shot in the film is original.

Moreover, quite unlike Spielberg, Brownlow and Mollo understand the basic seriousness of film enough to know that a black comedy cuts more deeply than a melodrama. The shots of Germans marching the streets of London, faux Occupation forces on the steps of the Royal Albert Hall, and children mocking them with goose-steps are darkly hilarious.

The film does have its problems. The acting is flat, the drama a bit simplistic, and the newsreel style, while conceptually brilliant (a propagandist newsreel within the film, presenting the "long history of friendship between Germany and Britain," is particularly effective), ultimately clashes with the dramatic weight of the story. But overall, It Happened Here is a unique testament to cinema's transfixing political power. Godard, I'm sure, would sing its praises.

It Happened Here kicks off a week-long retrospective of the films in the Milestone film catalogue, a stunning collection that includes numerous high-profile restorations as well as a few excellent contemporary films. Check Movie Times for details.