BFI Recommends: Forgotten Men: The War as It Was

Are these the first ever filmed interviews? asks Patrick Russell of our latest viewing recommendation: a moving record of First World War servicemen, made when memories were still fresh.

30 April 2020

By Patrick Russell

Forgotten Men: The War as It Was (1934)

Forgotten Men is a largely forgotten film that deserves to be remembered – and demands to be seen. Entirely unlike any other film of its time, it’s also a vitally important historical document, both precious and moving. For technical reasons, it merits a place in film history. Textbooks would have us believe that it was the influential Documentary Movement film Housing Problems (1935) that brought a groundbreaking new technique to the screen: the filmed interview. Yet here, a year earlier, and coming out of the commercial film industry, is a movie stuffed full of interviews, filmed in a style eerily close to that of documentary television – a remarkable quarter of a century earlier.

That the film is of far more than academic interest, however, is because of who its interviewees are: the forgotten men. Ex-servicemen – German as well as British – recount their experiences of the First World War, expertly illustrated by acres of well-chosen and sometimes unflinchingly stark archive footage, informatively presented by John Hammerton, a pioneering and popular war historian. To see and hear the Great War personally recalled, less than 20 years later, by still relatively young, if forgotten, men is an indelible experience not to be missed.

Patrick Russell
Senior Curator Film and TV (Non Fiction)