The battle of Ypres the myth of Langemarck

The battle of Ypres or Langemarck, as the Germans wished to call it (October-November 1914) marked a second tragedy for Germany. In the compilation film, the scene begins with the caption: 'Die neu gebildeten Freiwilligen-Korps wurden Mitte Oktober zum entscheidenden Stoss in Flandern eingesetzt', which is followed by a map of Ypres and its surroundings. Next, we see an interesting sequence of constructed images that mark a significant departure from the rest of the film, especially in terms of editing and lighting. Though the scene lasts only 1 minute and 43 seconds, it obtains an enormous intensity by the quick succession of shots. The images of the fighting itself consist of a total of 59 shots, compressed into 1 minute and 17 seconds. This means that each shot lasts about one and a half seconds, creating a rhythm not unlike that of modern-day commercials. It is not clear what nationality the soldiers who appear in this shot are. Many of them were not wearing any helmets at all, while others wore the German 'Pickelhaube'. The battle at Ypres was fought between the Germans and the British. Some of the images in the last shots refer to the flooded countryside. In a defensive move, the Belgian army had flooded the country by opening the locks at Diksmuiden in October 1914. Langemarck lies a few kilometres from Ypres and some fifteen kilometres south of Diksmuiden and the IJzer river. The Germans probably only included the name Langemarck in their historical annals because of its German-sounding quality.56 Military historians usually speak about the battle at Ypres.

These shots conclude the representation of the fighting, while the complete scene about this battle ends with four shots containing references to death and religion. These shots have been put together in a much slower edit. In the first shot, we see a number of crosses on the banks of a water. One soldier watches as several others walk past the crosses. Next, we see original footage of an official memorial service with salutes being fired. The penultimate shot is a slow

Battle Langemarck
Der Weltkrieg

wipe (and panning camera) to a statue of Saint Christopher with the child Jesus on his arm (against the background of a church in ruins). The scene ends with a soldier placing a small plant beside the two crosses, one which probably bears an English name, the other a German.

Judging from the critical reviews, this scene was also part of the original film in a more extensive version. Just as in the representation of the Marne battle, the original film used allegorical animation to illustrate the intervening caption: 'In Flandern reitet der Tod', a caption that is lacking in the compilation film, as is the animation. The allegorical means of representation referred to the Grim Reaper riding across the Flemish countryside on horseback.57 Both the image and the caption met with disapproval from leftist-liberal critics in particular. The Berliner Börsen-Courier reported:

Man zeigt den Kriegsfreiwilligen bei Ypern. Aber es heisst: Der Tod reitet in Flandern; nicht, dass falsche militärische Massnahmen an diesem tragischen Ende Schuld hatten. Auch der Name des Generals Falkenhayn kommt in diesem Film nicht vor.58

The Berliner Morgenpost critic considered the representation of the battle at Ypres one of the derailments - 'hahnebüchenen Entgleisungen' - in the film and an endorsement of the so-called 'Langemarck-Legende'.59 The Vossische Zeitung also lambasted the representation of this battle60, and Der Bildwart found the use of the Grim Reaper on horseback inappropriate and bordering on kitsch.61 Again, the Lichtbildbühne was a notable exception, remarking that 'die Bearbeiter in den Kämpfen um Ypern dieses grosse Sterben eindrucksvoll (haben) dargestellt'. It thus joined ranks with the admirers of the film, who could mainly be found on the right side of the political spectrum.62

According to Bernd Hüppauf, the creation of a myth around this battle, both during and after the war, marked one of the first successful attempts to transform military defeat into moral victory.63 It is clear from the numbers of casualties, more than 100,000 on the German side alone, that the battle was in fact a total disaster.64 In addition, no strategic goal was achieved, not even the capture of Langemarck. Because of General Von Falkenhayn's failure, the battle was also called 'der Kindermord von Ypern'.65 The Langemarck Myth was especially applauded and supported by conservatives and nationalists, and it would play an important role in National Socialist propaganda and myth; a twenty-five year old Adolf Hitler had fought in the battle as a volunteer. According to Hüppauf, the myth appealed to all age groups, despite the fact that it mainly emphasized the youth of the soldiers concerned.66 At the core of the myth was the idea that young war volunteers fought to the death for their country and died with patriotic songs such as 'Deutschland, Deutschland über alles' on their lips. George Mosse believed that the soldiers were not so much singing out of enthusiasm or fighting spirit, but to prevent being killed by friendly fire in the utter chaos of the battle.67

Hüppauf writes that the Langemarck myth was kept alive during the Weimar period through literature, mass media, education and memorial days. The myth served as the 'herausragende Symbol nationaler Einigkeit: das Opfer des Lebens, der Nation von ihrer Jugend unter Gesang dargebracht, wurde als ein metaphysischer Bund interpretiert, dessen Macht alle politischen, sozialen und militäristischen Kräfte übertraf.'68 The Weltkrieg film contributed to the continuation of the myth in its own way. Though the youth-fulness of the soldiers is not so striking in the film images, the grimness in the attacking soldiers' faces is very clear in the scenes described above. Since the premiere featured a choir, it is not improbable that fragments of the 'Deutschlandlied' were sung during this scene.69 The fast editing, the plumes of smoke and the many impacts of shells did, however, reflect the chaos on the battlefield and the disorientation of those involved. In addition, the images at the end of this scene were a direct reference to the rituals commemorating the battle.

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