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Preparation of Special Briefing Films. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

“Keep ’em Flying!”: Films of the U.S. Army Air Forces First Motion Picture Unit

Saturday, November 10, 2007
8:45 p.m. The Memphis Belle: Story of a Flying Fortress
William Wyler (U.S., 1943)

Introduced by Doug Cunningham

“This film, which is a beautiful synthesis of the visual with voice and musical score . . . is a story every American should know,” raved Bosley Crowther on page one of the New York Times. This FMPU documentary of a B-17 bomber crew’s final mission over Germany retains its power, primarily because of its reverence and respect for its subject matter. Famed director William Wyler, hot from his Oscar-winning Mrs. Miniver (1942), secured a commission as an Army Air Force officer and, once assigned to the Eighth Air Force’s 91st Bomber Group in Bassingbourn, England, shot this film with his fellow combat cameramen during actual combat missions. Its cine-poetics recall the Depression-era work of Pare Lorentz, as well as the wartime shorts of Crown Film Unit members Humphrey Jennings and Harry Watt. The Memphis Belle, however, more than stands on its own as a lyrical and somber testament to the cohesion of men brought together under dangerous circumstances.

—Doug Cunningham

• Written by Jerome Chodorov, Wyler. Photographed by Harold J. Tannenbaum, William H. Clothier, William V. Skall, Wyler. With Robert Morgan, Vince Evans. (45 mins, Color, 35mm, From The Imperial War Museum, United Kingdom)

Preceded by shorts:
Photographic Intelligence in Bombardment Aviation (FMPU, U.S., 1943) New Print! Intelligence officer and very cool customer Alan Ladd reveals the secrets of interpreting aerial photographs in this fascinating procedural. A must for Harun Farocki fans. (28 mins, B&W, 35mm, From NARA)

Preparation of Special Briefing Films (Special Film Project 152X) (FMPU, U.S., 1945) New Print! An enthralling look at the building of a scale model of Japan on a studio floor, which the FMPU used to film simulated bomb runs over enemy targets. (9 mins, B&W, 35mm, From NARA)

• (Total running time: 82 mins)