We’re going to go off topic a little here for a while because I’m going to review a documentary, although don’t worry, that’s not going to be a regular thing. This month, the Emmy Nominated Stalingrad, a 165 minute documentary, gets a Blu-Ray release. The series has been floating around on DVD in so-so quality over the years. So now it’s interesting that it gets a remaster by Synapse Films. For some reason, I can’t find this listed for sale anywhere, even though it was released last week. But I have a copy to review here.
I’m not sure why it is that this release is kind of happening in the dead of night, with no listings or promotion. It’s almost reflective of the coverage of Stalingrad itself in the west. It was the single bloodiest battle in the history of humanity, something you’d think would be reserved for something from ancient times, some Mongol rampage or the like. But no, Stalingrad literally happened within living memory, there are veterans of the battle still around. There is footage of it. Is it because Stalingrad trumps the Normandy landings and was the real turning point of the war (I’m open for a Kursk argument on that)? More men were killed in a typical 24 hour window at Stalingrad than the total losses of the Normandy landings. 1.2 million dead, at least, over a 5 month period. Unprecedented savagery doesn’t even begin to describe it.
This could be the best documentary we’ll ever see on this. Chiefly because Broadview Television got the veterans from both sides together to tell their stories and since most of them were old men as you can understand thirteen years ago, that will probably never happen again. Some of the stuff here is invaluable, we have officers who were flown out of the city to give direct briefings to Hitler giving matter-of-fact first hand accounts.
There is also the fact that the footage as presented on this disc is somewhat special. For a couple of reasons, first, pick any random ‘Stalingrad’ documentary from YouTube and you’re likely to be conned with footage from some other theatre, sometimes not even from the Eastern Front at all. But here, all footage is accounted for, it’s the real deal. Secondly, they’ve done the best the can with upscaling and remastering it. Sometimes the footage is superb and you wonder if its not even modern day, other times it’s as poor as could be expected, given the source. Overall it is new anamorphic widescreen [1.78:1].
Besides the original feature there are some extras, but nothing to get too excited about. A half hour chat with director Dr. Guido Knopp, extra words from veterans that were cut and an aerial trek of modern day Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad). This is also the first Blu-Ray I have ever had that has a black case, not blue as depicted in promotional artwork.
My only real issue with this documentary is that it doesn’t seem bothered with the overall strategical value of the city and when it does mention the ‘reason’ for the Battle of Stalingrad, it repeatedly returns to the idea that two maniacs, Stalin and especially Hitler, were obsessed over a city because it contained the former’s name. This is not accurate at all and not a mistake a documentary should be making. The city was of strategical value, being littered with factories, it also had the Volga running through it (a crucial artery for oil transportation). Taking Stalingrad would have sealed off the Caucasus and severely impeded Soviet logistics and their flow of oil and grain. The chances are that the Axis didn’t give a damn what the city was called. There are also other significant areas omitted, such as the role of other Axis participants and the fact that the Sixth Army deployed 50,000 Russians, who made up a staggering 1/4th of Axis front line auxiliaries in the city.
Still, this is a haunting documentary. Men break down in tears as they speak of cannibalism, death, terror, loss and victory. On this subject, there is no other show like it, especially now that you can pick it up (somewhere) in 1080p.