No flags wave in Charles Guggenheim's film, "D-Day," for PBS' "The American Experience." No crowds cheer, no bands erupt with jaunty marching songs. No eyewitnesses boast about their exploits during the unprecedented Allied armada that invaded Nazi-held France on June 6, 1944.
The mission seemed to have been carried out with a gloomy determination, which in a kind of filmmaking miracle, Guggenheim precisely conveys in this spare, minimalist, deliberately unromantic film on D-day's 50th anniversary.
There's a sobering hold this potentially suicidal mass invasion has on the collective historical memory. Even when Hollywood tried to pump up D-day into a John Wayne-style Crusades with "The Longest Day," it was shot in black and white. A big reason is the extraordinary vault of gritty, cinema-verite-type military-made footage shot at the scene, which Guggenheim assembles into a narrative with astonishing skill.
He has done something more: Running alongside often beautifully composed and preserved images is a sound montage of servicemen's recollections. It makes for a resounding TV time machine, for while we see what was there, we hear what was recalled.
* "The American Experience: D-Day" airs at 9 tonight on KCET-TV Channel 28 and KPBS-TV Channel 15, and at 8 p.m. on KVCR-TV Channel 24.