The Cold Blue is part documentary part memorial to the men who flew for the 8th Air Force during World War II. The film played a part of AFI Film Festival 2018’s Special Screening Section.
Director Erik Nelson’s The Cold Blue is not your average documentary about war. Less a document to specific battles or to a specific geography, the film is a memorial to the crews of the B-17 bombers that flew suicide missions over Europe and Asia. Using footage Nelson filmed of the 8 living members of the 8th Air Force Squadron, and footage filmed by legendary director William Wyler (that was initially used for his now famed War Doc THE MEMPHIS BELLE: A STORY OF A FLYING FORTRESS). The results are a quiet and powerful meditation on the memory of war and youth.
The documentary rather than taking a narrative approach is divided into small chapters where the different Surviving members of the 8th Air Force discuss snippets of memories. What did you need to do in order to protect yourself from -20 Degree weather? Watching another B-17’s being shot down. The cramped conditions in the Bombers. The fellowship and brotherhood inside the Bombers. The time spent in England. Even an appearance by the Queen herself. As these men describe these moments in fascinating details, all while Wyler and his Cameramen’s Color footage plays out.
Nelson adroitly chooses to keep sound design and score to a minimum. This allows for the real stars of this project, the Veterans of the 8th Air Force to take center stage. These men’s quiet discussion of their time serving their country is only intensified by Nelson’s choice to make the film less bombastic and a more subdue affair. Each word they speak is like a precision bomb, bringing the audience a better understanding of what the tactile experience of being 15,000 feet in the air.
The Cold Blue is a wonderful document of a time and places long gone. Nelson’s use of Wyler and his Cameramen’s color footage strike the right balance giving us a glimpse at a piece of history from an angle that we rarely see. Rarer still The Cold Blue gives these men the chance to discuss their experiences with the details that we oftentimes never hear. The results are a thoughtful, contemplative, and emotional.