Overlord is a black and white film made in 1975 by Stuart Cooper. It blends live action with documentary footage sourced from thousands of hours of film in the Imperial War Museum archives. The story begins in the final years of WWII, in England, and follows the fortunes of Tom, from his call-up and training to his D-Day arrival on the Normandy beaches.
Although the movie won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, it received only a very limited release and has only recently been re-mastered onto DVD and gained the distribution and recognition it undoubtedly deserves.
I watched it a few days ago and the story and its characters have clung to me since then. It seems to me that the seamless union of documentary footage and transparent performance has produced a tender tragedy that reveals moments of truth about the human condition. The uncertainty of conflict accelerates both process and outcomes. Intimacies are exchanged within hours of an acquaintance being made. Profound realisations are made because fate is only the pull of a trigger away.
Tom is a decent young man. He is accepting of his harsh induction into Army life and soon befriends Arthur, a street-wise cockney and a (unnamed) young woman he meets at a dance. He shares with them his premonitions of death in the coming invasion. Yet he also writes to his parents about his pet spaniel’s delivery of a litter. There is a disarming knowingness about Tom – a sweet gravitas that is neither morbid nor cloying. It is what drives this story makes it compelling and ensures that its artlessness grants this production a good measure of truth.
Instrumental in achieving this work of art, are director, Stuart Cooper and cinematographer, John Alcott. Alcott, who was a frequent collaborator with Stanley Kubrick, was able to find and use some vintage, untreated German lenses and old Kodak stock so that his live footage resembled more closely the archival material. The resulting fusion is brilliantly achieved and creates an elliptical history in which the young leads, Brian Stimer (Tom) and Nicholas Ball (Arthur) exist both before the film starts and after it has concluded.
I recommend this fine movie to you without reservation.