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« THE SOUL CONDUCTOR | Main | SUSPIRIA »
Monday
Oct222018

SPITFIRE

It is arguably the greatest flying machine in aviation history; an instantly recognizable form that changed the course and ultimately the outcome of the greatest conflict in human history. The development, impact and legacy of the iconic British fighter plane is explored in Spitfire, a documentary by David Fairhead and Ant Palmer that will screen at the 2018 Veterans Film Festival on November 3 ahead of an Australian release on November 15 via Rialto Distribution. Guest columnist ADAM LUNNEY is the author of the new book Ready to Strike, a detailed account of the 453 RAAF Squadron, the Australians who flew Spitfires over the Normandy battlefront. SCREEN-SPACE invited him to cast an expert’s eye over the documentary for an informed perspective…

Spitfire: it’s more than just a word. The feature documentary Spitfire goes a long way towards illustrating why.

It opens with clouds and a blue sky, the English countryside – you’re flying, but are you in the Spitfire, or is it out there somewhere, hunting you? Soon enough the answer comes, as a Spitfire appears from the right. There is no sound but the whisper of air. What comes next is what people sometimes travel the world for. Thousands of people at airshows wait in total silence when they know a Spitfire is coming because a Spitfire is not just a word or a plane – it’s also a sound. Low and distant to start, but then growing, as if the pilot’s accelerating towards you. The combined roar and whine of the Merlin engine is loud and beautiful, then it passes. When the silence returns, you know that was worth waiting for.

The first words spoken in the documentary are from well-known Battle of Britain Spitfire pilot (and author) Geoffrey Wellum: “You can’t fly a Spitfire and forget about it. Stays with you forever.” Through the narrative and wonderful aerial shots blending wartime and contemporary footage, Spitfire doesn’t just tell you about the plane, it shows you.

The soundtrack is gentle. As much as a rousing Battle of Britain orchestral piece can get the blood pumping, these veterans are more contemplative, so the music is soft throughout, while the Merlin (or Griffon) engine is often the main accompaniment.

Lest everyone become too misty-eyed and romantic we are also reminded that, “You are aware that the purpose of this plane was to shoot and kill. It’s a killing machine.” There is, of course, no point being a fighter pilot if you can’t hit anything. These are just the first few minutes of the documentary, and like a pilot experiencing their first skyward ascent in a Spitfire – you’ll be hooked.

The documentary covers the development of the Spitfire and has the only remaining recording of the man responsible for it: Reginald Mitchell. There is footage from the seaplane races that led to its creation and we’re taken through the war and the evolution of the Spitfire. The story lingers almost a bit too long on the Battle of Britain, before moving on to Malta and Normandy. Here there is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment for Australian viewers. The aircraft having the famous black and white ‘invasion’ or ‘D-Day’ stripes is from our own 453 Squadron, and at least two of the pilots at the scene of the briefing which follows are from the same squadron.  

Throughout, footage is blended from wartime manufacturing and modern assembly of virtually the same equipment – a reminder that they live on, as should the memories of those who built, maintained and flew them. There is something here for young and old, the pedantic and patriotic.

The legend of the Spitfire is said to be a post-war creation. It’s perhaps a way of saying thank you. Already, three of the veterans featured in this documentary have passed away. Marvel at their deeds and words.  How can so many feelings and memories be encompassed in a word? Spitfire.

Adam Lunney holds a Master of Arts (Military History) from U.N.S.W. College at the Australian Defence Force Academy, is a Friend of the Australian War Memorial and a member of the Spitfire Association (Australia). Ready to Strike, his first book, will have its Official Launch in conjunction with the Veterans Film Festival screening of Spitfire at the Capitol Theatre in Manuka, A.C.T. on November 3

Veterans Film Festival ticket and session details are available here; Ready to Strike can be ordered here.

©Content may be re-used in part or full with an accompanying acknowledgement crediting 'author Adam Lunney' and original source 'Screen-Space'.

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