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DF McCleland (Johannesburg, South Africa)

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World War II: Behind Closed Doors [DVD]
World War II: Behind Closed Doors [DVD]
Dvd ~ Laurence Rees
Price: £11.60

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chronicle of the machinations of the highest political leadership in the European theatre of WW2, 3 May 2009
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Most people are familiar with the battles of WW2 to some extent whether they are aware of the outcome, the timing or the combatants involved. But there was another dimension to this war - the political. Only some people are aware of this dimension but it is only subsequent to the collapse of Communism that many new aspects have been uncovered.

This DVD commences with the unexpected & unlikely alliance between Nazi Germany & Soviet Russia which had as its aim not only to dismember Poland but to divide Eastern Europe into various spheres of influence. Despite diametrically opposed ideologies, the Nazis & the Communists found that not only that it was marriage of convenience but that they were like minded due to the similar modus operandi. Little known or recently revealed facts are presented to portray this relationship.

However the bulk of this DVD comprising 6 episodes, deals with the uneasy relationship between the Allies - Stalin, Roosevelt & Churchill. From the outset, this would be a difficult relationship due to the fact that Roosevelt & Churchill instinctively understood that they were dealing with evil incarnate but that in order to defeat another evil viz Nazism, they would have to consort with this devil.

This results in many awkward situations where the Churchill & Roosevelt have to avert their gaze & ignore unpalatable facts. One such case was that of the discovery by the Germans of the Polish officers murdered at the express request of Stalin at Katyn Forest.

As the western leaders had differing views on how to handle Stalin due to their fear - in my view highly unlikely - that the Russians would either be defeated or alternatively pursue peace with the Nazis, they pandered to Stalin. Instead of laying the facts on the line, both leaders pulled their punches instead of speaking truth to power.

Lawrence Rees has again produced an excellent documentary which illuminates the previous hidden aspects of WW2. As such it is without compare.

German Jets And V1 And V2 Flying Bombs [DVD]
German Jets And V1 And V2 Flying Bombs [DVD]

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In depth review of 5 major pieces of equipment, 27 April 2009
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This DVD comprises an in-depth review of 5 pieces of equipment viz the Me163, the Me262, the Arado A234 bomber, the V1 Buzz Bomb & finally the V2.

Most of the other DVDs on the same subject consist of facile descriptions & filler material such as the progress of the war. This DVD has no such waffle & superfluous material. Instead it comprehensively covers the aforementioned 5 weapons systems.

Much of the visuals relate either to the training manuals in the case of the V2 or the test flights in the case of the jets. This provides one with a fair idea of problems experienced with such revolutionary equipment.

One can simultaneously despise the Nazi regime for their barbarous atrocities but one can only but admire the Germans for their technology. Playing the what-if game, one can endlessly speculate the effect on the outcome of the war of the introduction of such technology in 1942 or 1943.

Even with early advent of these items on the battlefield the German's fate was sealed. What it would inevitably have meant is the prolongation of the war but not its ultimate result. A good example is the Me262. Whilst undoubtedly years ahead of its time, what was its nemesis was never Hitler's obstructionism in insisting that it be a bomber & not a fighter nor the Luftwaffe's lack of foresight in producing it sooner, in hindsight it might be added, but rather something more prosaic - the German' slack of vital raw materials, their ultimate Achilles heal. In the Me 262's case it was the lack of nickel, chrome & aluminium. This caused the Germans to resort to spraying aluminium on certain critical components made of steel rather than using the correct material in its construction. This resulted in a service life for Juno jet engine of a miniscule 10 hours. With its 4 30mm cannons or single 50mm cannon, the Me 262 was undoubtedly a true Flying Fortress slayer, if it was not for the styming effect of the aforementioned maladies.

The Me163 Komet, a revolutionary rocket powered plane, which could also tackle the bomber streams with impunity, also had one fatal flaw, the lack of its special fuel. Due to this shortage, they were only employed once resulting in the destruction of four Flying Fortresses. In this case the fuel was available but used by the V2 instead.

The Arado A234 was the world's first jet bomber & would well have adhered to the former & erroneous British 1930's dictum that "the bomber will always get through". This was only achievable due to its vastly superior speed which reached 623 mph. This feat would ensure that no extant Allied fighter was capable of tackling it.

Once the strategic balance tilted in the Allies favour in the latter half of 1942, Hitler increasingly looked to the wonder weapons for his salvation. Prime amongst these were the vengeance weapons, the V1 & V2 rockets. For all their novelty, the dawn of the inter-continental ballistic missile age was not auspicious. The V2, the more terrifying of the two due to its being unseen, resulted in the diversion of scarce resources to a weapon that had no strategic impact on the outcome of the war itself. Rather it was like a "buggeration" factor - no more & no less. On the other hand, the less sophisticated V1 at least resulted in the diversion of resources to tackle the threat. Neither the resultant casualties nor the diversion of resources was sufficient to cause significant dislocation to the Allied cause.

This is an excellent production which does justice to the topic. It is a balanced production in that whilst covering the undoubted superiority of the technology, it covers the facts that the existing military, political & economic conditions were not conducive to their introduction & hence their limited impact at either the strategic or tactical levels.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 15, 2009 6:47 PM GMT

Blind Spot - Hitler's Secretary [DVD] [2004] [NTSC]
Blind Spot - Hitler's Secretary [DVD] [2004] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Othmar Schmiderer
Offered by Bookend-Morpeth
Price: £13.98

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interview with Hitler's Secretary, 27 April 2009
From my perspective history can be viewed with equal interest from 2 divergent perspectives viz the viewpoint of the great & powerful or that of the ordinary person & their experiences. In the latter category one will in most cases learn little if nothing of the issues of great strategic & international importance. In contrast it is the insights into how ordinary people lived their lives coping with the vagaries of life that provides the interest.

From the generally accepted point of view, this documentary should rank as poor. The reason is that it represents Traudl Junge presenting a monologue for 87 minutes. In normal circumstances this would be a recipe for boredom and ultimately the using of the off button.

What rescues the DVD are the very unusual times through which she lived & the extraordinary person with whom she was in daily contact - none other than that of Adolf Hitler himself.

Whilst Tradl was not privy to any of the machinations & intrigues, the picture that she paints of Hitler as an indolent & father-like figure contrasts markedly from the perceived view. Having said that, most tyrants & demagogues are at the same time lovers, fathers & friends to someone. Despite the closeness to the centre of power, she was blissfully unaware of the consequences of National Socialist policy & even the very existence of the Final Solution.

What keeps the attention instead, are the tidbits about such extraordinary times & the ability of Hitler to command respect until the very last days in the so-called Fuehrer Bunker. One wonders what her true emotions were at the time when she became aware that Goebbels had decided to murder all his 6 adorable children, just so that they would not face a world sans National Socialism. Maybe with the imminent collapse of Hitler's 1000 year Reich, it was of little but passing concern.

Despite Tradl's contrition or at least her realization of the truly barbaric nature of not only the Nazi Party but of Hitler himself, it should be born in mind that it took Tradl 50 years to fully appreciate & make the connection to Hitler himself. No doubt part of Tradl's problem is not only her previous admiration for her erstwhile boss, but her initial denial of the complicity, albeit minor, in the events of WW2.

The rating of 3 out of 5 reflects that fact that this was solely a monologue. Whilst compelling in itself, the producers should have made some effort to at least include shots of Tradl as a youngster, or of related topics. This would have added additional poignancy, if not interest.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 15, 2009 7:10 PM GMT

The Battleships [DVD] [2008]
The Battleships [DVD] [2008]
Offered by Decider
Price: £15.99

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The definitive history of the Battleship, 27 April 2009
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This review is from: The Battleships [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
Commencing with the arguably first battleship, the Mary Rose, this 4 part series chronicles the development of the battleship from its very conception to its ultimate demise during WW2. All the major developments are covered from the HMS Victory to the Warrior & the awe inspiring Dreadnought. Like all forms of warfare, developments were often hindered by tradition. It was often the exogenous factors which forced the adoption of new technology. In the case of the battleship this was a particular problem in that such adoption would render the existing fleet obsolete & allow the enemy to be on an equal footing as they would also start production of the new design.

Ironically for such a potent weapon it rarely saw its full potential being unleashed. This arose due to their cost which was exorbitant. Moreover as the sinking of one battleship would result in deleterious consequences for morale, they were rather retained as a threat rather than to be used. This attitude is exemplified by Hitler on hearing of the sinking of the Bismark during WW2.

Commentary is not only by naval experts but by eye witnesses. The overall production is lavish & informative instead of the usual inappropriate stock film footage stuck together.

This DVD is without question, the best one on this subject by a wide margin.

The Secret War
The Secret War
by Brian Johnson
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent exposé of the secret weapons of WW2, 22 April 2009
This review is from: The Secret War (Hardcover)
This book covers the whole gamut of secret weapons from the "Battle of the Beams" to the well documented jets of the Luftwaffe. The style of the book is not only very informative but it also captures the drama & the interpersonal rivalries. An excellent example of the latter is that of the dismissive response of Lord Cherwell to the reports that the Germans had developed rockets. He even went so far as to claim that at the end of the war these would prove to be as non-existent as mare's nests! What is not recorded is what his response eventually was to the discovery that these Vergeltungswaffen actually existed!

In spite of being the best known of German secret weapons, the little known fact that it was not Hitler's insistence that the Me262 be able to function as a bomber but the more prosaic reason of the defective design & lack of vital metals that played a more significant role in its inoperability, the life of the Junker's Juno engine being only 15 hours.

This book places the German supposed technological superiority in context. These included:
* How the British effectively & quickly countered all the German secret weapons as they arose as illustrated by the various types of beams & mines
* The fact that Allied air superiority in reality in a large measure was responsible for the German's inability to manufacture & deploy it's secret weapons
* The fact that the Me163 was too dangerous & unsuitable as an effective weapon

The contextualization of the developments assists in understanding the responses of both sides to the development of technology. In isolation one can call each side short-sighted in a particular response. In reality, there was a broader context placing demands on resources. Hindsight, as they claim, is a perfect science & it applies with equal validity to the development of untested & untried secret weapons. One can equally claim that if the Germans had not halted the development of the He280, they could have overcome the Allied air bombardment but equally a case could be made for the opposite outcome if Frank Whittle had been provided with more copious support for the development of his jet engine.

This is one the best books on this subject.

Cream: Classic Artists- The Fully Authorized Story (Deluxe Edition) [DVD]
Cream: Classic Artists- The Fully Authorized Story (Deluxe Edition) [DVD]
Dvd ~ The Cream
Offered by Mo's Music & Media
Price: £5.74

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mainly extensive interviews with a few songs included, 21 Mar. 2009
Having been brought up during that era & being a huge fan of Cream, I bought this DVD. It mainly comprises extensive interviews not only with the band members but also with various people connected to the band & with other sundry artists. Having been saddened by their short career despite their genius, one is given an insight into the reasons for its lack of longevity. Ginger Baker comes across as a cantankerous & embittered old man & seems to ascribe all manner of problems at the door of the bassist, Jack Bruce. It reminds me of the pointless squabbles that small children indulge in.

So sad! But that will unfortunately also ensure that their 2005 reunion will be a once off affair. Eric Clapton on the other hand remains aloof of these squabbles & still looks surprisingly young whereas the other two are now showing their age.

The interviews do however provide an insight into not only the formation of the band itself but also the milieu which saw the birth of many contemporary musical genres.

On the music side, this DVD only comprises 6 songs including their hit "Sunshine of your Love".

Another small negative comment: The cover states that the DVD has a running time of 200 minutes. With the songs being no longer than 20 minutes that means that the interviews were 180 minutes long which I very much doubt.

Overall the paucity of songs detracts from this DVD but the interviews do provide one with certain insights.

Russia - A Journey With Jonathan Dimbleby : Complete BBC Series [DVD]
Russia - A Journey With Jonathan Dimbleby : Complete BBC Series [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jonathan Dimbleby
Price: £7.70

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Making sense of modern Russia via a travelogue but lacks depth, 21 Feb. 2009
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Jonathan Dimbleby attempts to do the impossible: to get a sense of modern post Communist Russia in five episodes. In true travelogue fashion, he journeys from Murmansk in the far north, south through Petrograd & Moscow to present day Volgograd. Finally he journeys across Siberia through to Vladivostok.

What one gets, is a sense of the vastness & enormity of Russia but what Jonathan Dimbleby is attempting is to obtain a sense of modern Russian attitudes & views of various subjects from democracy to life on a farm.

This methodology often results in banal interviews. Examples include ones with a woman in a sulphur pool & ex-collective workers. These often result in trite comments of no import which do not enlighten much. Nor do they display any intellectual depth but rather fall into the "how's the weather" category.

Others are of greater import both because there are more incisive questions & line of questioning but also that the respondents hold trenchant & worldly wise views themselves. These I found to be quite depressing due to the almost universal denigration of democratic values. With the recent demise of Communism & its attendant evils of lack of habeas corpus, rule of law, arbitrary detentions et al, one would have instead expected a deeply held view opposing these previous actions. What one finds instead is an almost denial of its effects & results. Instead an almost irrational belief that Russia needs to be resurgent again in order to repulse nefarious western powers. All of this is expressed in very Nationalistic tones with an overarching need to protect the Motherland. What is never addressed is "protection from what".

Endemic corruption is easily exposed & apparently tolerated. Previous abuses are hidden by neglect rather than outright denialism. One gains the impression of a country with many other ills such as rampant alcoholism, abused military recruits & neglected rural infrastructure.

Notwithstanding these negative comments, with the dearth of documentaries on Russia, Stalanism or the Gulags, this one comes as a welcome addition. The photography is outstanding & one is provided with a vivid impression of the enormity & utter vastness of Russia.

Should the mineral wealth be harnessed to address these ills & given a reawakened desire to adopt democratic values, Russia must surely arise like the Phoenix to reclaim its place as a major power.

Overall this documentary lacks depth & presents an almost facile view of events & facts. What it lacks in intellectualism, it compensates by unveiling an unknown Russia to non Russian eyes.

John Lennon: The Messenger [DVD]
John Lennon: The Messenger [DVD]
Dvd ~ John Lennon
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £3.96

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Low quality DVD with cobbled together footage with no Lennon music, 25 Dec. 2008
This DVD is very disappointing. The footage seems to be randomly spliced together & seems to represent any random footage that the producers were able to get hold of. There is none of Lennon's music as background music. All in all an amateurish production not worth while watching. I wish that I had read a review before purchasing such rubbish.

Victory At Sea (WW II) 6 DVD Set
Victory At Sea (WW II) 6 DVD Set
Offered by Not2day Media
Price: £5.95

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Style quite dated & often annoying, 13 Sept. 2008
This DVD uses ancient reviews to substantiate its claim to being an excellent video. Whilst it might in its day have been the epitome of excellence, the whole production now seems excessively melodramatic with the accompanying music far too loud & dramatic. This aspect tends to detract from ones viewing pleasure.

I am always wary of productions produced so soon after the war as the emotions were still too raw to allow for a balanced factual account of the events. This video must plead mea culpa to this charge. Certain episodes are more prone to this weakness. The one on the island hopping campaigns comes across as subliminal propaganda & with even a hint of jingoism. It would probably rate one out of ten for objectivity. This is extremely irritating & distracting.

In addition a number of scenes are clearly re-enactments after the fact but the video itself makes no mention of this fact.

On the positive side, there are a number of episodes where fresh views, from this reviewer's perspective, were obtained of events, albeit minor in the greater scheme of events. Despite the tone of the episode on the Leyte Gulf battle being inappropriate, this is the first complete exposition of this climactic sea battle that I am aware of on video. In the battle, the Japanese navy staked all to achieve the destruction of the American fleet. This entailed the convergence of no less than four Nippon battle groups. The Oriental nation's aims were easily thwarted often with a dollop of good luck but the American fleet prevailed. The capture of the Philippine islands meant that their umbilical cord to the oil & other raw material was irrevocably severed. The lack of this vital sustenance would ultimately & ineluctably mean the demise for Japanese military aggression & its political construct, the so-called Greater Japanese Co-Prosperity Sphere.

The time dwelt on each aspect covered bears no relation to its importance in the war but rather, one suspects to either available footage, the producer's proclivities or American bias. Certain actions deserve more focus due to either their importance to the war effort or because of its consequences or lessons learnt. An example which quickly springs to mind is the battle of D-Day which is scantily dealt with. Nowhere does one get a sense of its significance.

This is the most comprehensive account of the naval dimension of WW2. This focus provides a peek into a different component of the war. One gets no sense of the strategic thought processes in this video but one is rather shown a series of unrelated events with no binding central theme apart from its naval dimension. The purchase of this DVD is not recommended unless one is an aficado of naval history. For the rest of you, rather wait for another version which, given the enduring interest in all matters relating to WW2, cannot be long in coming.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 29, 2012 9:58 PM BST

Deep Blue [DVD]
Deep Blue [DVD]
Dvd ~ Alastair Fothergill
Price: £5.75

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Stunning vistas, stirring music but no storyline, 1 July 2008
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This review is from: Deep Blue [DVD] (DVD)
The succinct heading encapsulates the DVD. What is more annoying is that many of the scenes shown are copied directly from its progenitor viz The Blue Planet. In fact anybody remotely aware of its predecessor will have seen these scenes beforehand.

Perhaps the intention of the producers was to show the footage in its entirety without any commentary so that the viewer could be transformed by the spectacle. Instead this reviewer found this approach resulting in mindless if spectacular viewing.
Go ahead. Purchase it. But strictly for the kids. They will be enthralled. For us parents, stick to the Real McCoy - The Blue Planet.

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