Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Bike and Brew: Barley Head Brewery

I knew I was taking a few risks with this particular Bike and Brew.

The main concern was that my back tire had been having persistent flats, with each repair revealing a new puncture in the tube. There were three patches on it for this particular journey, but the tire had held air for a few days before I set out. Nevertheless, I was crossing my fingers that I wouldn't find myself marooned far from home in a touristy town that somehow doesn't have a bike shop.

I was also taking a new route into Mystic, and realized that Google Maps could potentially be sending me on an inaccessible route. The app's warning that bike routes are still in beta did little to assuage my worries. But more on that later.

My destination was the Barley Head Brewery, and once again that meant a trip across the horrid Gold Star Bridge. But instead of retracing the recommended route I took to get to Beer'd Brewing Company, I opted to do a bit more of a coastal route. So I've been over the bridge plenty of times, but this might be the first time I rode under it as well.

The bridge has a narrow bike route, but the token friendliness to cyclists ends pretty quickly. The sidewalk brings you to a neighborhood near Outer Light Brewing Company and rather unceremoniously dumps you into an off-ramp from I-95.

The streets are a little kinder after that point, at least until you get to Route 1. There's an option to avoid this road, by taking a longer route that swings past the Groton-New London Airport, but I decided to grit my teeth and hope for the best.

Route 1 has a ridiculously narrow shoulder, at least two lanes of traffic at any time, and far too many curb cuts for smoke shops and shopping plazas and all manner of consumerism. In short, plenty of opportunities to get sideswiped by an inattentive driver or cut off by a some jerk pulling halfway into the road before even looking while leaving McDonald's. It's not a nice road at all for bikers, but thankfully I managed to get to the quieter end of it unharmed.

One odd direction given to bicyclists heading south in this area is to take the Poquonnock Bridge boardwalk. I'm guessing there's been at least one hapless rider who has done so and been chewed out by some angry person who tells them it's a boardwalk, not a boardride.

I was not to be that rider. In fact, I was the only person on this rather lovely route. I slowed down to enjoy the views of the Poquonnock River and the odd rumble of my tires rolling over the boards.

After leaving the boardwalk, one option involved taking the G&S Trolley Trail toward my destination. This is a short rail trail, following a former Groton to Stonington trolley line and ending up near Haley Farm State Park. Instead, I continued to follow the outlined route to Bluff Point State Park.

Bluff Point is an absolutely beautiful state park. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection describes it as "the last remaining significant piece of undeveloped land along the Connecticut coastline." I guess that means the state has at least some insignificant undeveloped lands on the shore.

Coastal real estate has always been in high demand in Connecticut, and Bluff Point wasn't always undeveloped. There was a collection of shorefront cottages there until the Hurricane of 1938 obliterated them, and the peninsula was eventually given over to conservation. Bluff Point is nestled in between two other promontories: Groton Long Point, where million dollar houses are crammed together like sardines, and Mumford Cove, which I'll get to shortly.

It seems like there's always a pretty good crowd at Bluff Point. The state park has good boat access for canoes and kayaks, is popular with mountain bikers, and is a vigorous but not overwhelming walk to the namesake cliffs and a sweeping of Long Island Sound.

This is another place where the Google Maps instructions got a little wonky. Instead of sticking to the roads, it sent me along the unimproved trail that runs along the railroad track and connects Bluff Point with Haley Farm State Park. It was manageable for most of the way, but it does get a little rough. Once it hit a particularly rocky section, I decided it was better to walk the bike to avoid chancing yet another puncture.

And then it came time to see whether the first risk was going to pay off.

Hey, it did!

That's the newly installed security measure at Mumford Cove to separate the subdivision from us dirty plebs who want to quietly walk, run, or bike there. Granted, it's a private neighborhood, and they apparently had to scold people every now and then for parking at the cul-de-sac near this area to access the state parks. Some of the comments on this critical editorial suggest that the barrier was mainly an effort to deter the gangs of idiots who recklessly ride dirt bikes and ATVs. Not that there's anything to stop said idiot gangs from coming into Mumford Cove from its main road, easily bypassing this monstrosity of "No Trespassing" signs and warnings about security cameras.

Thankfully, I'd recently learned that some people in Mumford Cove are just as likely to be opposed to the gate. One even posted the passcode on a Facebook page for Haley Farm State Park, and some residents leave the gate open whenever they walk out to the trails.

The exit from Mumford Cove passes the road into Groton Long Point and crosses an inlet near Esker Point Beach, offering a nice view from a small bridge. From there, it was just a short ride to my first destination: the village of Noank.

Groton is sometimes criticized for its bureaucracy. The city is carved up into a number of distinct communities, some with their own governments and police departments. Noank occupies yet another Groton peninsula, although its services are all part of Groton proper. The area has a rich maritime history, having hosted shipbuilding enterprises and fishermen on the hunt for the village's namesake oyster. It's still a popular place for boaters, with plenty of marinas on the coast.

Today, Noank is a pleasant seaside retreat. It's not as well-known as Mystic, but the village has plenty of historic churches, a few shops, and some popular lobster shacks.

If you head down to the beach off Main Street, you'll spot this modest marker on a former store maintained by the Noank Historical Society. This commemorates the quick, secret wedding ceremony that married famous aviatrix Amelia Earhart to the publisher George P. Putnam. The marker is correct in that they got married in Noank, although not in this exact spot; the ceremony actually took place in Putnam's mother's house, which still stands as a private residence.

And then on into the soft underbelly of Mystic via Route 215, a different approach from what I took during the swing through the town on the way to the Beer'd Brewing Company. Although located a bit outside the main downtown area, the southern part of Mystic is packed with several popular restaurants. Barley Head Brewery is located here as well. But before I stopped in there, I locked up my bike and wandered off to visit the Mystic Sidewalk Art Festival.

The festival is billed as the "oldest of its kind in the Northeast," celebrating 70 years in 2017. Artists reserve booths throughout Mystic, offering paintings, sculptures, artisan's goods, and so on. Main Street gets a little crowded, since vendors are limited to the sidewalks, but a few side roads are completely shut off from traffic.

I'd been meaning to get to the Sidewalk Art Festival for several years, but for one reason or another hadn't been able to do so. I was happy to see that Carrie Jacobson was still coming to this event each year. We were co-workers at the hyperlocal news site Patch, back before it was bought out by one of those "efficiency expert" type of firms whose efficiency expertise boils down to, "Duh, people cost money, let's fire people and save money." Carrie is now a full-time artist, and you can follow her artwork, travels, and dog sightings at her blog "The Accidental Artist."

Before getting to the brewery, I wound up browsing the works of several artists, buying an amusing collection of watercolor Star Wars themed comics from Rhode Island artist Greg Stones and a copy of a Mystic postcard pictorial history co-authored by a friend of mine, and getting some lunch. The Barley Head Brewery wasn't too hard to find, although it was a bit tucked away. You access it by going down a short set of stairs off Water Street, making it seem like a bit of a Cheers-like venue.

The Barley Head Brewery had to get past a few hurdles before it opened up. The owner, Drew Rodgers, tried to open a brewery in Mystic way back in 2015 but was rejected by zoning officials. He also found that his preferred name had a copyright on it, and had to push back the opening day a little further due to the birth of his son.

The venue still seemed a little sparse, although there was comfortable bench seating along one wall. And my past experience with a hangout spot opening with accommodations that were a little sparse was Washington Street Coffee House, which debuted when its tables still smelled like sawdust but has become one of the most popular places in New London, so a modest start isn't really a disadvantage.

Although there are flights available, the brewery was unfortunately down to only one option for pours. I went with it, making my first introduction to Barley Head Brewery their "Saison Du Maison." It's a combination saison and IPA, and it manages to balance the two styles fairly well.

My bike was parked not too far away, and I was happy to find that the back tire still seemed firm. I then headed out for the return journey.

I headed out on Route 1, intending to eventually take a side road to link up with Route 184 and hop back on the Gold Star Bridge. I was soon defeated by this rather persistent hill, having to get off and walk for awhile.

But even after the road flattened out, the journey seemed a little more taxing than expected. I initially chalked it up to the effect of having a beer and meal before this ride, but eventually began to suspect the bike. By the time I got back onto the Gold Star Bridge, I was feeling the bumps in the road far more than I should have. I still managed to complete the journey home, at which point I checked to see just how much air the tire had lost.

Oh that's not good.

Yeah, that's not good at all.

I scheduled a trip to Wayfarer Bicycle, one of New London's bike shops, not too long after this. They informed me that three pieces of glass had managed to worm their way inside the tire at some point, and these were no doubt to blame for the recurring flats. They set me up with a new tube as well as a portable pump for emergencies, so hopefully I won't run into any problems on my next Bike and Brew.

Mileage total: 22.8 miles

Previous Bike and Brew outings:
Outer Light Brewing Company
Beer'd Brewing Company
Fox Farm Brewery
Shelter Island Craft Brewery and Greenport Harbor Brewing Company

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Whatever Happened To: The Cast of "Malcolm in the Middle"

Before it turned into an "Animation Domination" block, Sunday nights on Fox were more open to variety and experimentation. For a long time, the network seemed to be trying to find a good fit for the 8:30 time slot to bridge the gap between The Simpsons and The X-Files. I seem to remember that a good handful of shows tried to accomplish this, only to be quickly canceled or shuffled to some other night.

Malcolm in the Middle debuted in this spot in 2000, right around the time that the network's Sunday formula was readjusting itself. The quality of The Simpsons was starting to plummet, and The X-Files was about to conclude. In the midst of this, a witty show about an incredibly intelligent kid trying to deal with his dysfunctional family and bizarre school was a welcome addition. It ran for seven seasons between 2000 and 2006, and is still a popular choice for syndication.

So what became of the people who were part of this show? Or at least the main characters and select recurring characters I ended up choosing?

Frankie Muniz (Malcolm Wilkerson)

The titular character wasn't quite in the middle until the birth of Hal and Lois' youngest son later in the season, but he was, of course, the main protagonist in the series. Malcolm was something of a straight man throughout the series, having more common sense than his brothers, friends, and often his parents and teachers. The early episodes establish how he is intellectually gifted and follow his reluctant transfer to the brainy "Krelboyne" classes, where he becomes something of a leader. Malcolm also strives to maintain a normal social life, but alienates most of his peers through his condescending and snarky attitude. Although he receives a lucrative job offer to work at a computer software company out of high school, his parents force him to go to college after revealing that they've already plotted a course for him to become President of the United States.

After coming to prominence with Malcolm in the Middle, Frankie Muniz was able to get a few young adult film roles, namely a pair of movies as the young secret agent Cody Banks. He also played Chester Oddbat on The Fairly OddParents, and has since had guest roles on Criminal Minds, Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23, and two Sharknado sequels. He is one of the celebrities set to appear on the next season of Dancing With the Stars. Muniz, now 31, has continued to act but also explore a few other interests, including auto racing and drumming in a few different bands; he now manages a band called Astro Lasso. He was also hospitalized briefly in 2012 after suffering a "mini-stroke," but says he has since recovered.

Jane Kaczmarek (Lois Wilkerson)

Lois had little patience for her sons' shenanigans, could typically see through their schemes and efforts at misdirection, was usually the main source of discipline in the household. She was also something of an overbearing control freak and loath to admit to being wrong, qualities which generally caused the boys to rebel rather than behave. However, she still offers some more heartfelt guidance at times and has a fairly healthy, loving relationship with her husband. Lois works as a  cashier at the drugstore Lucky Aide.

Kaczmarek, now 61, had been acting for about 18 years before Malcolm in the Middle, appearing in TV shows such as Frasier, St. Elsewhere, Party of Five, and Felicity. After the show ended, she was the star of a short-living series called Raising the Bar and has since continued to do TV work, including appearance on The SimpsonsThe Big Bang Theory, and The Middle. She has also done some theatrical work, including a role in Long Day's Journey Into Night.

Bryan Cranston (Hal Wilkerson)

Hal was a timid, flighty father figure who could sometimes be a bit of a disciplinarian but was far more likely to seek enjoyment in life and try to have fun with his boys. He was frequently becoming obsessed with new interests such as speed walking and Dance Dance Revolution, inevitably finding himself to be quite talented at these hobbies. Despite being something of a bumbling father figure, he was actually pretty handy (as seen in this clip where changing a light bulb ultimately leads to major auto repair). Though his job is never specified, Hal is occasionally shown as a generic office drone; in one story arc, he works at a corrupt corporation which unsuccessfully tries to set him up as the fall guy for their malfeasance.

Cranston had his first credited role in 1968. He had a number of roles on TV shows, including a demented dentist on Seinfeld and Buzz Aldrin in the miniseries From the Earth to the Moon, and he appeared in a single scene in Saving Private Ryan. The cast of Malcolm in the Middle sometimes commented that they didn't think Bryan Cranston got enough recognition; he was nominated for several awards, including the Golden Globe and Emmy, but never got a win. However, the experience did earn him plenty of offers for similar "dopey dad" roles in other TV shows.

Wanting to try something different, Cranston gladly accepted the part of antihero Walter White in the critically acclaimed drama Breaking Bad. His performance earned him four Emmys for best lead actor in a drama and made him more of a household name. It also brought about a few callbacks to Malcolm in the Middle, including jokes that Breaking Bad was a prequel to the show and a DVD bonus feature showing that Walter White was just a bad dream of Hal's. Since starting on Breaking Bad, Cranston (now 61) has appeared in films such as Argo, Drive, and Trumbo. He also won a Tony Award for his Broadway performance of LBJ in All the Way.

Christopher Masterson (Francis Wilkerson)

The oldest son of Hal and Reese, Francis had a history of mischief and getting into trouble. Although he is something of a hero to his younger brothers, his parents finally got fed up enough to send Francis to Marlin Academy, a military school, where he remains at the start of the series. Francis continues to rebel against the school's commandant as well as Lois, but also starts to show more signs of work ethic and responsibility. After emancipating himself in order to leave Marlin Academy and work as a lumberjack in Alaska, he lives something of a nomadic life. He gets married, works on the Mannkusser's dude ranch, and ultimately moves closer to home to start working in a data entry job. However, Francis maintains a facade of living a shiftless life so he can continue to irritate Lois.

Christopher Masterson is part of the rather prolific Masterson acting family which includes Danny (Hyde on The 70s Show), Alanna (Tara on The Walking Dead), and Jordan (Ryan on Last Man Standing). Christopher started acting as a child, and some notable early parts included appearances in Touched by an Angel and Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman as well as a role in American History X. He continues to do some sporadic acting, but focuses more on deejaying in clubs around Los Angeles under the handle DJ Chris Kennedy.

Justin Berfield (Reese Wilkerson)

The second oldest child of Hal and Lois, Reese is unabashedly happy with being a feared bully at school. He accepts the fact that he's a bit dumb, and figures that he's unlikely to amount to much in life. Reese has enough of a moral core to declare some kids off limits to bullying (namely his brothers and Stevie), and occasionally shows brief flashes of kindness, empathy, or even clever thinking. Later episodes show that Reese has a talent for cooking, although he ultimately starts working as a janitor at the end of the series.

Justin Berfield got an early start in acting, appearing in several commercials and as the regular character of Ross Malloy on the series Unhappily Ever After. However, he quickly fell out of acting after Malcolm in the Middle, having only one more credit (on a 2010 episode of Sons of Tucson) since the show concluded. He has since gravitated toward production work and is now the chief creative officer at Virgin Produced, which has backed films such as Limitless and Bad Moms. Now 31, Berfield is also active in charitable work and, according to his Twitter page, very much enjoys fishing.

Erik Per Sullivan (Dewey Wilkerson)

The youngest son in the family (until Hal and Lois had a fourth child later in the series), Dewey was sweet and innocent on the surface but also quite calculating and manipulative. He was often able to come up with schemes to fleece unsuspecting people or cause havoc in general. Later in the season, it was found that Dewey was also preternaturally smart like Malcolm.

Dewey's character was a nice subversion of the "cute little kid" trope that constantly shows up in family-themed sitcoms, and Erik Per Sullivan did quite well in the role. He had a few notable film roles as a child, namely Fuzzy in The Cider House Rules, Charlie Sumner in Unfaithful, and the minor voice role of Sheldon in Finding Nemo.

It's a little unclear what Sullivan is up to these days. He continued his education after the show, attending Phillips Exeter Academy and the University of Southern California, and had one last role as Timmy in the 2010 film Twelve. Sullivan, now 26, isn't too active on social media, but has been keeping up an Instagram account, recently posting an appeal to help keep Malcolm in the Middle available on Netflix.

Craig Lamar Traylor (Stevie Kenarban)

Stevie is Malcolm's best friend, with the two of them first bonding over a shared love of comic books.  He is wheelchair-bound and has only one lung, forcing him to take a few deep breaths for every handful of words he says. Stevie is an academically gifted Krelboyne, and occasionally uses his disability to manipulate his parents or get the drop on people who underestimate him. He gets the same offer as Malcolm to get a job right out of high school in computer software, and presumably takes it.

Craig Lamar Traylor, now 28, had a few scattered acting roles before Malcolm in the Middle, namely on an episode of ER and as a kid in a classroom in Matilda. According to his Twitter page, he now focuses mostly on designing jewelry. However, he also gets the occasional acting gig, having appeared in three films since the conclusion of the show. He'll appear as "Wiseguy" in the forthcoming film Forgiven This Gun4hire.

David Anthony Higgins (Craig Feldspar)

One of Lois's co-workers at Lucky Aide, Craig was a kind and affable fellow if a bit of a sad sack. A training video from the store suggests that he was an up-and-coming district manager before somehow getting demoted to cashier. Malcolm and his family generally found him to be a little irritating, although he considered them to be close friends and was surprisingly forgiving after they accidentally burned out his apartment. He was hopelessly infatuated with Lois, who calmly promised to destroy any feelings he had for her after he told he loved her during a robbery where both of them were taken hostage.

Prior to appearing on Malcolm in the Middle, David Anthony Higgins was a regular on Ellen, playing a barista named Joe Farrell in the coffee shop in the title character's bookstore. Higgins, now 55, continues to act and has appeared in a number of TV shows and movies, most notably Big Time Rush and Mike and Molly. He also co-created the paranormal parody TV show International Ghost Investigators: Hollywood Edition.

Emy Coligado (Piama Tananahaakna)

Piama was introduced midway through the show's first season, when Francis introduced her as his wife whom he married in Alaska. Although Piama and Lois despise each other after this first meeting, they eventually grow closer and better acquainted. A woman of Native American descent, she occasionally faces bigotry and also had a difficult childhood; however, she is also shown to be particularly strong-willed, with some hints that Francis has married a woman who shares some aspects of Lois' personality.

By the time she appeared on Malcolm in the Middle, Emy Coligado had already started to appear in a recurring role as a medical examiner named Emmy on Crossing Jordan. She also occasionally appears as a guest star, showing up in TV shows such as Shameless and Fresh Off the Boat. According to her Facebook page, Coligado (who is now 46) spends time between roles working at a casting agency and volunteering with animal shelters.

Gary Anthony Williams (Abe Kenarban)

Stevie's father was upbeat and gregarious, but was also somewhat weak-willed and henpecked. His profession is never named, although in on episode Hal accuses Abe of ganging up on him with his buddies during poker nights because he's not like them; not because he's the only white guy at the table, but because he's the only one without a successful white-collar career. Abe still becomes close friends with Hal, with the two joining the rest of the poker group to form a bluegrass band called The Gentlemen Callers.

Gary Anthony Williams continues to be an active actor and has appeared in TV shows and films such as Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, Weeds, and Boston Legal. He has also done a considerable range of voice work, playing roles not only on children's shows such as Doc McStuffins but also adult fare like Rick and Morty; perhaps most notably, he voiced Uncle Ruckus on The Boondocks. Now 51, Williams also appears regularly on Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Kenneth Mars (Otto Mannkusser)

Along with his wife Gretchen, Otto Mannkusser owned a dude ranch called The Grotto (a portmanteau of the couple's first names). He offers Francis and Piama jobs when their car breaks down nearby following their departure from Alaska. Otto is generally portrayed as being extremely friendly, to the point where his employees take advantage of him and he is willing to forgive any faults or incompetence. Nevertheless, a later episode mentions that he fires Francis after learning that he has been depositing the ranch's checks into a phony ATM.

Otto's thick German accent may have made some viewers recognize Kenneth Mars from his role as the Nazi-loving playwright Franz Liebkind in The Producers. His acting credits also included Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Young Frankenstein. He later transitioned to voice acting roles, most notably Triton in The Little Mermaid. Although he continued to act through 2008, he retired after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Mars died in 2011 at the age of 75.

Daniel von Bargen (Commandant Edwin Spangler)

Commandant Spangler was the strict leader of Marlin Academy. He was missing a number of body parts (most notably an eye and a hand), although these disabilities apparently came about by unfortunate accidents since he never actually served in combat. Spangler seemed to have a certain begrudging respect for Francis, although he later comes to resent him as the one student he wasn't able to reform. After tracking down Francis in Alaska, Francis helps him get a job as a ruthless overseer of activities at a retirement home.

The IMDB page for Daniel von Bargen describes him as showing up in a number of roles as a "cop, military officer and/or tough guy." His credits include film such as Basic Instinct, RoboCop 3, O Brother Where Art Thou?, and Super Troopers. He also played Mr. Kruger in four episodes of Seinfeld and an Air Force general in two episodes of The West Wing.

Unfortunately, von Bargen also suffered quite a bit from diabetes. He hadn't had an acting credit for three years and had already lost a leg to the disease in 2012 when he learned that some of the toes of his remaining foot would need to be taken off. In despair, he shot himself in the head. Though von Bargen survived this suicide attempt, he died of complications from diabetes three years later at the age of 64.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Historical Stories Behind the Set Pieces in Christopher Nolan's "Dunkirk"

When I was about 15 years old, I wrote a screenplay about the Dunkirk evacuation.

I'd first learned about this incident in my ninth grade world history class, and it was essentially my first introduction to how so much history has been a result of pivotal points which easily could have produced a drastically different outcome. Instead of being a humiliating defeat where the bulk of Britain's army was captured on the shores of France, the successful evacuation of hundreds of thousands of soldiers from Dunkirk provided a surprising boost of morale and resolve even as it represented a low point for the Allies in World War II.

I wrote the script because I was surprised to find that there were practically no films that addressed this episode from the war. I haven't looked at this work in years, although I seem to remember that it's packed with cheesy war movie tropes and cliches. At the same time, I tried my best to do a historically accurate portrayal of the evacuation, referencing several major events from the multi-day process.

When I found out Christopher Nolan was directing a movie on the Dunkirk evacuation, I was thrilled. I saw it on opening weekend, and believe it was done exceptionally well. It's been received pretty well by critics and audiences as well, although the Internet age also brings hordes of people who pick apart movies and shout their flaws to the heavens.

Personally, I thought the main drawback to Dunkirk was that it didn't exactly show the scope of the evacuation. Nolan is famously adverse to CGI, so the film is largely reliant on real fighter planes, ships, and thousands of extras. It looks amazing, but it also looks like the British are desperately trying to evacuate a few thousand people with a handful of boats instead of hundreds of thousands with substantially larger flotillas.

Having researched the evacuation and tried my hand at writing a screenplay on this topic, I know it's a really tall order to try to put the incident in its proper context, show the variety of different events occurring at the same time, discuss how the evacuation was organized and carried out, and portray some of the most important events that took place while the Dunkirk beachhead was open. Still, there have already been some other analyses of the historical accuracy of Dunkirk, and it gets pretty good marks.

The Miracle of Dunkirk by Walter Lord and The Sands of Dunkirk by Richard Collier give a good overview of the evacuation, and I wouldn't be surprised if they were some of Nolan's reference material. A few scenes in Dunkirk hint at the larger story, or at individual incidents that actually happened:

Leaflets make good toilet paper

The first scene of Dunkirk shows a group of British soldiers walking through a deserted village as German leaflets demanding surrender drift down. One of the soldiers, Tommy, collects a few of them. We later see him go over to a secluded part of the beach, pull his pants down, and abandon this would-be toilet after noticing another soldier nearby.

The soldiers at Dunkirk faced a number of critical supply shortages, including water and food. Toilet paper was also in scarce supply, so the leaflets were greeted with something less than dread. Lord writes, "In the 58th Field Regiment, most men treated the leaflets as a joke and a useful supply of toilet paper."

The death glare of the French

Under fire from advancing German troops, Tommy is nearly killed by his own allies when he comes upon a defensive line around Dunkirk. The French soldiers at the barricade wave Tommy through, but give him a few withering looks as he enters the beachhead.

One criticism of Dunkirk is that it doesn't show enough of the French actions at the evacuation, but this scene sums it up pretty nicely. The French were instrumental in holding the line around Dunkirk to buy the British enough time to evacuate, but weren't exactly pleased that their allies were leaving the European continent. By the end of May, Lord writes, "Paris was full of rumors and recriminations...mostly to the effect that the British were running home, leaving the French holding the bag."

Thousands of British troops were also involved in the rearguard at Dunkirk, and the evacuation effort also rescued more than 100,000 French soldiers (many of whom weren't able to be redeployed on the Continent before the fall of France). But some 40,000 French troops were captured after the Germans finally took Dunkirk, compared to a relative handful of British soldiers. The evacuation that inspired the "Spirit of Dunkirk" in England also caused some resentment among the French, who had made considerable sacrifices to help the British get home. It didn't help that the British bombarded a French fleet in Algeria about a month after the evacuation in order to prevent the ships from falling into enemy hands.

The "Jericho trumpet"

Soon after Tommy arrives at Dunkirk, a squadron of Stuka dive bombers attacks the men on the beach. There's a standard dive bomber sound effect that's been used in plenty of films, and it was apparently derived from a recording of the Stuka. But instead of using a common sound effect which is also used for falling anvils in cartoons, this scene in Dunkirk is accompanied by a nightmarish shriek as the planes hurtle toward the ground and unleash their bombs.

The Junkers Ju 87 Stuka was able to plunge in a near-vertical dive, allowing the pilot to drop bombs with deadly accuracy. During one upgrade of the bomber's design, someone came up with the idea of incorporating a psychological warfare element into the Stuka. The plane had sirens, driven by propellers, which produced a distinctive terrifying sound during a dive. The demoralizing effect was further enhanced by the simple addition of toy whistles to the bombs, which gave off their own piercing noise as they plummeted toward the earth.

The sirens were nicknamed "Jericho trumpets," and helped ensure that the Stukas were a much-feared aircraft during the early part of the war. However, the sirens also had the effect of reducing the bomber's airspeed, and they became less effective psychologically as soldiers became more accustomed to the sound. It also helped that the Stukas were less suited for the aerial combat of the Battle of Britain; the same plane that had menaced the British at Dunkirk was soon being knocked out of the skies with relative ease.

Not taking it lying down

During the Stuka attack scene, a few soldiers start taking potshots at the dive bombers with their rifles. One soldier shows a bit of stiff upper lip by simply lying on his back and blazing away. The photo above shows how this was a fairly common practice; the troops on the beach had little to attack the Luftwaffe with, but that didn't stop them from shooting back with small arms fire. There were at least some claims by soldiers that they had managed to down a German plane with a lucky rifle or machine gun shot.

In some scenes in Dunkirk, suspiciously silent antiaircraft guns are visible. According to Lord, an order was sent to have the AA gunners and batteries active throughout the evacuation efforts while any wounded were to be sent off. The instructions were muddled, with an officer mistakenly believing that the gunners were to evacuate; rather than leaving the guns to be captured by the enemy, he reasoned, it was better to destroy them. The AA guns joined an enormous collection of abandoned and destroyed Allied war materiel on the beach.

Attack on the mole

Early in Dunkirk, an officer named Commander Bolton desperately tries to keep a hospital ship from sinking next to the harbor's mole. The effort isn't quite successful, and the funnel and masts of the ship are visible poking out of the water in a few subsequent scenes.

First, a quick word on what a mole is. This refers to a pier or causeway used to protect a harbor. Since the harbor at Dunkirk had been rendered useless by enemy bombing, the mole was left as the most useful pier from which troops could embark on larger ships.

It's not to say the mole didn't endure significant attacks during the course of the evacuation. The worst one occurred on May 29, 1940, when German bombers found several ships clustered at the mole and managed to destroy or damage several of them. The  destroyer Grenade had to be towed clear before she exploded, and hundreds of soldiers died when the paddle steamer Crested Eagle was set ablaze.

Two ships, the packet steamer Fenella and trawler Calvi, were sunk at their berths. Collier's description of the Calvi sounds similar to the image of the sunken hospital ship: "Still above the water, her masts and funnel protruding, Calvi's white ensign of battle streamed, a last gesture of defiance." Another packet steamer, the King Orry, sank not far from the mole after being critically damaged by near misses, leaving the following scene:

The "little ships" of Dunkirk have rightfully been praised for their bravery and usefulness in ferrying troops off the beaches, but in truth most of the soldiers were evacuated from the mole. Of the nearly 340,000 who made it to England, some 240,000 boarded ships at the East Mole, which extends about a mile out to sea. Although the May 29 attack caused serious damage and the sunken ships made the mole more difficult to use, soldiers continued to use it until the bitter end; according to Lord, a lifeboat carrying 30 men managed to escape from the end of the mole even as German soldiers began rounding up prisoners from the landward side.


Tommy, along with fellow soldiers Alex and Gibson, have plenty of bad luck in their efforts to get onto an evacuation ship that actually floats long enough to bring them to England. In one of the more harrowing scenes, their destroyer rapidly fills with water after it is torpedoed. Tommy and Alex only survive because Gibson has managed to stay on deck and opens a hatch, allowing some of the men inside the doomed vessel to escape.

This scene seems to reference one of the more disastrous episodes of the entire Dunkirk evacuation. The destroyer Wakeful was returning to England on May 29, 1940, with a full load of troops when she was torpedoed by the S-30, a German torpedo boat. The torpedo blew up the ship's boiler, causing her to break in half and sink within 15 seconds. Only one soldier survived, since he was on deck sneaking a cigarette, while another 639 died.

Unfortunately, the sinking of the Wakeful was only the start of a calamitous evening. Other British vessels came to the site to lend assistance. A German submarine, the U-62, also happened to be in the area and put a torpedo into the destroyer Grafton. After spotting a small boat in the darkness, the British vessels thought the torpedo boat had lingered at the scene and began opening fire on it. The minesweeper Lydd, eager for revenge, bore down on the boat and cut it in half.

It turned out that she had destroyed the Comfort, a friendly vessel which had managed to rescue 16 survivors from the Wakeful. Only five of those on board, including four Wakeful survivors, came out of this ordeal alive. The Grafton, meanwhile, had been damaged badly enough that she was scuttled the next morning.

In response to the heavy losses that accompanied the efforts to rescue those from the Wakeful, a new order was issued by the Royal Navy: ships taking part in the evacuation of Dunkirk were no longer allowed to stop if they encountered other ships in distress.

Piers of trucks

The British arrived at Dunkirk in a variety of tanks, trucks, and other vehicles, and virtually all of this heavy equipment was abandoned on the beaches. Christopher Nolan's film gives some attention to one ingenious method employed to make the junked vehicles useful again: turning them into makeshift jetties.

When the "lorry jetties" first showed up in a scene, I figured it would be an interesting piece in the background. However, this mechanism is actually explained, and the scene showing the arrival of the small ships includes a brief shot of troops being offloaded from the trucks.

These piers were quite an undertaking. The trucks were weighted down with sandbags and had their tires shot out to prevent movement. The trucks were topped with timbers and planking from wrecked ships to create a more walkable surface. Lord credits the lorry jetties with helping to swell the numbers of men offloaded from the beaches, since they allowed the small vessels to directly take on soldiers.

The Clan Macalister

Perhaps this is just a coincidence, but when I saw a large smoldering ship on the beach in the background of one scene later in the movie, my mind immediately went to a brief paragraph in Lord's account. One large vessel, he says, proved useful even after being knocked out of the fight. "She sank upright in the shallow water off the beach, and for the next several days the Luftwaffe would waste tons of bombs on her deserted hulk."

This was the Clan Macalister, a cargo liner and one of the victims of the May 29 aerial attack on Dunkirk. The ship was crippled by bombers, forcing her crew to abandon the vessel. But the Clan MacAlister had not only succeeded in delivering a number of badly needed landing craft to help evacuate troops from the shallow water of the beaches, but also still seemed to be afloat when seen from above. The ship essentially served as a dummy target for several days; German pilots, unaware that the ship had already been destroyed, eagerly continued to bomb the enormous vessel.

"Where were you keeping them?"

One of the three storylines of Dunkirk involves Mr. Dawson and his two sons taking a small boat to Dunkirk to participate in the rescue effort, where they rescue Tommy, Alex, and dozens of survivors from a sinking minesweeper. When they arrive in Dover, an officer at the port jokingly asks where they were keeping all of the soldiers on such a tiny vessel. This line harkens to a connection between the Dunkirk evacuation and the Titanic.

Charles Lightoller, the second officer of the Titanic, was one of the few crew members to survive the liner's 1912 sinking. He went on to command a destroyer during World War I and, while in retirement, participated in the Dunkirk evacuation with his personal yacht, the Sundowner.

Lord's account of Lightoller's participation in the evacuation almost reads like a summary of the portion of Dunkirk labeled "The Sea." Like Mr. Dawson, he agreed to the Royal Navy's request to requisition his vessel but insisted that he and his son (and an 18-year-old Sea Scout) take her to the beaches. Lightoller was able to take on some soldiers who were waiting to board a destroyer, he managed to fit 130 men onto the 58-foot Sundowner. As in the film, one of Lightoller's sons was an airman who had discussed evasion tactics with his father before he was killed in the war, and Lightoller was able to put one of these tactics to use to evade a fighter plane on the return journey.

Upon seeing the vast number of soldiers pile out of the Sundowner after her return to the port of Ramsgate, one bystander exclaimed to Lightoller, "God's truth, mate! Where did you put them?"

Spitfires land on the beach (and fly again decades later)

The section of Dunkirk dubbed "The Air" follows a squadron of Spitfire pilots as they battle German fighters and bombers over the English Channel and Dunkirk, trying to protect the ships and soldiers below. At the end of the film, a pilot named Farrier who has opted to stay beyond the capacity of his plane's fuel tanks makes an emergency landing somewhere on the shores of France, then sets fire to the aircraft shortly before he is taken prisoner.

Both the Allies and the Germans lost plenty of planes as the Royal Air Force tried to keep the Germans from attacking the men and ships involved in the evacuation. Some British planes did indeed wind up crash-landing on the beaches. Squadron commander Geoffrey Dalton Stephenson was forced down near Calais (several miles west of Dunkirk) on May 26, 1940, and spent the rest of the war as a POW. His plane was not seen again until 1986, when it was revealed by shifting tides and recovered. After restoration, it was once again capable of flight.

Similarly, a pilot named Peter Cazenove wound up being captured on the Calais beach after his Spitfire was shot down by a German bomber. The fighter was also rediscovered, in 1980, just a few weeks after Cazenove's death. It too was restored to flying condition.

Both planes are the only surviving Mark 1 examples of the Spitfire, a version of the famous fighter that was operational during the Dunkirk evacuation. Stephenson's plane was donated to the Imperial War Museum, while Cazenove's was auctioned off for 3.1 million pounds. John Romain, director of the Aircraft Restoration Company, not only helped with the restoration of Stephenson's plane but also provided aircraft for Dunkirk and was one of the pilots involved in the dogfight scenes.