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Posted on Apr 15, 2008 in Stuff We Like

John Huston’s war documentaries to air April 21

Gerald D. Swick

They proved so disturbing that the U.S. government banned them.


"The Battle of San Pietro" blazes across the screen again in all its uncensored intensity. "Let There Be Light" is no longer condemned to darkness.

"The Battle of San Pietro" records the 143rd Infantry Regiment of the 36th Division during operations in Italy’s Liri Valley in 1943. It is described as "a terrifying fly-on-the-wall depiction" of World War II combat.

"Let There Be Light" was filmed over the course of three months in 1946 in an intensive therapeutic treatment program at a New York hospital. American soldiers there were being treated for "psychoneurotic" illness, today known as Post Traumatic Stress DisordeR (PTSD).


Both documentaries, created by the late, legendary director John Huston, were commissioned by the U.S. Army Signal Corps in World War II, but they proved so disturbing that the U.S. government banned them from public performance. A heavily edited version of "San Pietro" was released for public viewing in 1945, after the original was endorsed by Gen. George Marshall. "Light," on the other hand, remained on the banned list until 1980.

Both remain controversial. There is considerable debate over how much of "San Pietro" was filmed during the battle and how much was recreated afterward.

On April 21, the Documentary Channel (DOC) will air both films beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET/PT as part of its "Primetime Premieres." The films that will air were transferred from new prints made by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Film Archive. Another of Huston’s documentaries, "Report from the Aleutians," is also being restored.

Following the two documentaries is an epilogue entitled "John Huston: War Stories" at 9 p.m. "War Stories" was shot by maverick documentary film maker Midge Mackenzie in 1988 and features a one-on-one conversation with Huston about these films.

Preceding the Huston films, at 7:00 p.m., "Primetime Premieres" will examine three documentaries about the present war in Iraq: "The War Tapes;" "No End in Sight;" and "Body of War."