Lynn Jenner

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The Day Before the Battle of the Somme

The General’s compliments and would Lieutenant Malins require any assistance with his moving picture camera? If the lieutenant would care to inspect this map of the Parade Ground...
The General would be on horseback. He would enter the square here, and address the men for twenty minutes, keeping his horse between this mark and this mark. There were tall trees at the South End, here.
The sun would be directly overhead.
In the afternoon
Malins sets up his camera in a corner where three communication trenches meet. Lines of men in single file pass by. A corporal touches each man on the shoulder.
A forensic lip reader who reviewed the film, said that each time the corporal touched a man he would say
And you.
When the last man passes, the corporal says
That’s it. That’s them all.
One man says
I hope we’re not in the wrong fuckin’ place again, cos next time I’m fuckin’ going.
Cigarette smoke rises across the shot.
In the long summer evening
Malins takes the camera and the tripod past the Danger Tree, along a white road, up a small hill and onto a ridge.
After walking up and down the ridge several times to find the site with the best view, he sets up the tripod, braces the legs with stones, puts a thousand feet of film into the camera, and lifts the camera onto the tripod.
As the sun comes up
Malins cranks the handle at a steady two revolutions per second, while lines of men run across the hill, falling to the ground as they pass a certain tree.
This is either the first infantry advance on the first morning of the Battle of the Somme, or the first time men are filmed in the act of fighting and dying.
For the home audience
The General arranges for more lines of men to be filmed, running across a different hill, and not falling to the ground.

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