After weeks of sandals and plumes, it’s time for boots and, er, plumes as we plunge ourselves into the grand pageantry of Sergei Bondarchuk’s 1970 epic Waterloo, which has a fuck of a lot of horses in it and also like one or two characters. As always, you can follow along with me if you like. I hope you like splosions.
So what’s interesting about this movie for me is that it’s actually pretty slow, and a lot of the scenes are sort of … placeholders. Bonsai. Especially the bits with Blucher, which are very much “Mein name ist Blucher! Ich bin ein Prussian general!”
It’s like … I think obvious comparison is a pageant. You can almost imagine it as some kind of performance given not long after the battle.
FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY
A Faithful and Accurate Recreation of
THE VICTORY AT
15,000 Soldiers! 2,000 Horses!
The Costliest Such Recreation EVER PRESENTED.
With many splendid reenactments of battle scenes.
Featuring a special performance by
Mr. Christopher PLUMMER
as the Duke of Wellington.
Yeah, I can believe it.
And in short, it’s good at what such pageants are good at. Observe:
Those parts of it look absolutely spectacular. Somehow, when you had to get 15,000 Red Army soldiers and make them all march around, you made sure to get lots of lovely shots of them. Modern films seem to create huge CGI armies with painstaking detail and then blend them into a murky brown mass such that they needn’t have bothered.
However, one of the cinematic techniques is a bit daft, namely that of putting an actor on a little rocking horse in front of the camera and then having the cavalry thundering away in the background, looks completely stupid. I took a picture, but you have to see it in motion, really:
It looks OK in the photo, but believe me, when it’s moving it looks ridiculous.
… I dunno. It gives a good sense of the scale and the mayhem, which is nice in a war film. It speeds up the end of the battle, having the Prussians just appear and then SHAZAM it’s all over, which is not quite right. It doesn’t give us much of the fighting around the farms, which is a shame, because I would say those are quite cinematic moments. But in general it’s not bad, and the fact that the battle proper doesn’t start until about an hour in does build a little tension.
I don’t think I learned anything, but it was nice to see the scale and … sloppiness? … of the old style. I don’t think there’s a comparable modern Napoleonic film, but it’s not really my field, so I’m prepared to be corrected.
Also, for some reason Orson Welles.