A Year in Shorts Day 301: "Kokoda Front Line!"
There are many things I will miss about A Year in Shorts, but I can assure you that reviewing World War II propaganda will not be one of them. Oh sure, some of them can be fun to talk about, especially the animated ones, but I’m afraid I never really quite cracked the code on how to properly gauge these things. And while Kokoda Front Line will not be the last propaganda film we’ll be discussing this year, it is, at the very least, the last of the live action ones. And as far as those sorts of shorts go, I feel comfortable saying it’s better than most.
As I stated just a few days ago, the 15th Academy Awards were all about propaganda. And nowhere was this more important than with the newly created category of Best Documentary. Kokoda Front Line! is not only one of the four films to be among the first winners in that category, it is also the first Australian film to win an Oscar. Directed by Ken G. Hall, the film is edited together from footage taken by Australian war photographer Damien Parer in New Guinea. Like all propaganda shorts, Kokoda Front Line! is more valuable as a piece of history than it is as a film. Still, considering the fact that the part the Australians played in the war has largely been ignored by the rest of the world at large, it's good to have some documentation on it. The film even makes a point to highlight the contribution of the Aboriginal people in New Guinea, even if it goes about in a way that's shockingly offensive, even for a 40s short. (The film also has some casual racism against the Japanese, although I suppose that's less shocking. In interest of fairness, Parer does open the short by also commending the Japanese for their bravery, which is better than you'd get in most American propaganda films.) But now that it's place in history is established, what's it like as a movie?
Look, at this point I've run out of ways to explain that shorts like these are incredibly hard for me to review. Kokoda Front Line! is at its heart a glorified newsreel, concerned more with informing the public and stirring up support for the war effort than it is being entertaining. And yet, as a piece of entertainment, it's not terrible. The film contains a lot of battle footage and is edited together skillfully, complete with exciting music to increase the tension. You could argue as to whether or not that's in good taste, but it's undeniably effective. And besides, you do have to take the educational value into account somewhat. So while Kokoda Front Line! is not a great short, or a particularly interesting one to write about, at least it's interesting enough to watch. And in any case, thank God I don't have to cover a short like this until we do ANOTHER Year in Shorts!
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