"All this happened, more or less…”
So goes the first sentence of Kurt Vonnegut Jnr’s 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death, widely regarded as amongst his best work and one which contains elements of stunning autobiographical detail.
Vonnegut was a US Army Prisoner of War in Dresden at the time of the Allied bombing between 13 and 15 February 1945. He had survived along with other prisoners held deep in the cold store of the abattoir Schlachthof-fünf – as the city above was raised with fatalities currently estimated ranging from 25,000 to 40,000. The figure is 130,000 in the film, based upon the now vastly-discredited historian David Irving’s estimates, but Kurt wasn’t to know what a charlatan that man is. Either way, so much death…
|Prague doubles for the destroyed Dresdon|
|Billy sees the future, past and present|
|Home from home|
The men get captured almost immediately and Weary’s shoes get taken leaving him wearing wooden clogs as they trudge through miles of snow. He walks himself to death and as he dies on the train transporting them like so many cattle, he blames Billy, asking Lazzaro to avenge him on the hapless youngster. For Lazzaro vengeance is all that matters in life – he is the embodiment of the call to violence.
|Comrades in arms: Billy meets Weary and Lazzaro|
Billy loves Valencia (Sharon Gans) and his children, conformist daughter Barbara (Holly Near) and rebel, later Vietnam volunteer Robert (Perry King) but he takes inordinate comfort from his pet dog.
|One man alone with his dog|
Spoilers: In the desolation of Dresden, Billy experiences the pointless death of Derby for picking up a porcelin doll for his wife, the soldiers drag him away far off camera and almost before he can realise the impact of his innocent action the consequences take him away. So it goes.
|A Dresden Doll|
Death is revealed as pointless and all those thousands who were blasted and burned above the prisoners of war in Dresden have their own places in eternal time: that's the best that Vonnegut can offer and that's the most we can hope.
|Billy starts to end again|
Valerie Perrin is superbly warm as Montana who just is, sympathetically radiating on Billy’s wavelength… his dream and his reward for an eternity of suffering.
Interestingly, Michael Sacks is now confused on Wiki and elsewhere with Michael J Sacks a highly-successful business man who is a decade younger - a life of success far greater than Billy’s – how does the time pass for him?
Glenn Gould provides a deceptive score playing selections of Bach piano works that fit the timeless drift of the narrative…
Slaughterhouse 5 is readily available in book and as film – I’d recommend both but perhaps the latter after the former or maybe even all at the same time.