They Shall Not Grow Old (2019)

They Shall Not Grow Old They Shall Not Grow Old, documentary, dir. Peter Jackson

In the brief epilogue, Peter Jackson claims that he made this film because he wanted people to look into their own family histories, but this is merely a banality, a thin cover story. He did it because he could—because it was pleasurable to indulge in an obsession, and because the effect was startling, uncanny, and even sacrilegious. (In the New York Times Ben Kenigsberg accurately wrote that it was as if Jackson was “having his way with the dead.”) As in the early cinema, in which we are told the audience fled in terror from the Lumières’s image of an oncoming train, we again feel the working of a necromancy in violation of a natural law.

Jackson, like many wildly successful directors (Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott come to mind), is more interested in being effective than in being right, as “rightness” is largely demanded by the public for marketing reasons, and is easily concocted after the fact.

This is why I have nostalgia for the exploitation cinema: it pretends to be nothing other than excitation for effect, to give pleasure to the basest appetites—and in this at least there is honesty.