â?�A GI told me where to find sympathy: in the dictionary between 'shit' and 'syphilis.'â?� These words, spoken by a soldier in Stuart Cooper's Overlord, also serve as an apt mission statement for this uncompromising, bitterly realistic account of a young warrior's lead-up to D-Day. There's no room for Hollywood hero mythology and sympathetic glorification in this one-of-a-kind anti-war docudrama. That doesn't mean Overlord isn't stunning to look at. It's anchored by a feeling of poetic pessimism, showing us the horrific details of war in a beautifully evocative way. The story is a simple one: Tom (Brian Stirner) leaves his family and beloved cocker spaniel to enlist in the army, where he goes through rigorous training procedures before being foisted into the front lines of the Normandy invasion, all the while prophesizing his early death. A montage maestro, Cooper constructed a marvel of low-budget pastiche filmmaking, seamlessly intercutting his own narrative footage with archive shots borrowed from the Imperial War Museum in London. With much of the footage shot by war correspondents in the training camps and the fray of battle, this interweaving gives the dramatic portion of the film an unparalleled air of realism and provides the documentary footage with the suspense of a poignant story.
With the film clocking in at just less than 90 minutes, Criterion pads the disc with oodles of extras to contextualize it; this is a dream package for a World War II buff. In the featurette Mining the Archive, archivists from the Imperial War Museum detail the project's origin and provide background analysis of the footage Cooper used in Overlord. Cooper was inspired by texts he and his co-screenwriter read at the museum as well, and the disc includes audio excerpts from two D-Day soldiers as read by Stirner. The photo essay 'Capa Influences Cooperâ?� shows several of war photographer Robert Capa's legendary shots of the beach-storming, with some of his on-site notes dictated by Cooper. The only bland, albeit thematically appropriate, supplement is the 1943 newsreel Cameramen at War.
The most significant supplement is Cooper's experimental 1969 short A Test of Violence, a creative riff on the paintings of Spanish artist Juan Genoves. Using filmed footage, animation, colorization, iris shots, intertitles, superimpositions and audio trickery, he makes Genoves' work leap off the canvas and onto the screen, as perfect a cinematic translation as one can imagine.