This week marks the 74th anniversary of the Siege at Bastogne, a pivotal confrontation in Battle of the Bulge, which saw the Allied forces assert their most courageous and bloody defense against the last big push by Nazi forces in WWII.
The Bastogne episode of Band of Brothers was arguably the most emotionally intense and beautifully filmed of the series. It was like watching a dream sequence through a filter of constant snow, a bitter cold that you could almost feel in your bones as you’re watching. Like an opera of bodies, bent over, running for cover, crouching near trees, or frozen solid to the ground. You could watch all the action without sound and still feel it viscerally.
Did anyone see the new Star Wars this weekend? The sight of the salt planet with the blood red soil under the thin layer of salt brought immediately to this viewer’s mind the red against white of the smoke grenades the soldiers in Band of Brothers set off to obscure their positions from the Germans. Such a visually poignant and memorable cinematic effect.
Because the attack came as a surprise to the exhausted and unarmored forces holding the line in the Belgian forest, Bastogne was grisly and slow and cold. The Allied forces were surrounded by a bulging front line of German forces on all sides.
Instead of miring us in an indulgent tale of gore, the Bastogne episode of Band of Brothers used the violence brilliantly as punctuation in the steps taken by a lone medic, Eugene Roe, trying to gather supplies: a dose of morphine here, a bandage there, scissors. The camera follows the medic and you see the action through his eyes and consequently feel the draw of those in his line of work must feel, to rush as quickly as he could to wherever he’s needed the most.
In this episode, Damian Lewis as Dick Winters figured as the calm still center trying desperately to get his men the support they needed to hold the line. Really, any course on leadership should, by all rights, feature a unit on how Dick Winters stood by his men. One for the books.
Something about a man shaving his face in the middle of bitter cold too: on the one hand it’s as if these men were automatons driven by the very basic impulse to survive. And on the other, they shaved and told each other to wear dry socks for pete’s sake, and used (or didn’t use) nicknames with each other, and talked deeply with each other and felt it all deeply, if not at the moment in battle, then certainly afterwards in their memories of it. I read somewhere that a lot of the men fighting in the Battle of the Bulge let their beards grow to stave off the cold. Not Dick Winters apparently.
Bastogne was also one of the few episodes in the series that featured a female character. Who can ever forget the Belgian nurse with the cornflower blue scarf who gave the New Orlean Eugene Roe an opportunity to hear and practice his French? True to the documentarian style of Band of Brothers, the nurse may have been modeled after a real-life Belgian nurse who served in Bastogne, Renee Lemaire…more here about the “Angel of Bastogne.”
What more can I say, really. Let’s let some beautifully rendered pictures of this episode speak for themselves. Thanks go to radleys for this set.
The blue scarf makes a reappearance at episode’s end…Just as we are told that even though history tells us that Patton’s army eventually rescued these men from the sure annihilation promised by the Nazi commander, “no member of the 101st has ever agreed the division needed to be rescued.”