Hipster filmmakers go to Baghdad
Two new docs about Iraq are out in the States: Gunner Palace and Occupation:Dreamland. I haven't seen either (and, given that all foreign films that come to the Benelux have to be subtitled in both French and Dutch and thus take on average eleven years after their original release to get here, I probably won't be seeing them for a while), but I was frittering away some moments at work watching movie trailers on the Grand Distractometre and came across them.
Both look like quite good day-in-the-life-type stories about 'average' American soldiers, with Gunner Palace in particular edited and soundtracked in the style characteristic of the post-MTV generation of documentary filmmakers. Fine, fine, fine. I don't get as hopped up as some do about ADD filmmaking (More so than MTV, the kinetic editing of Sesame Street, did you know, is responsible for much of the contemporary diminishment of contemporary attention spans? So says my mum, a psychologist. So she should know. Don't let her catch you drinking straight out of the milk jug either), although I do also appreciate a nice, sedate, meandering film that really challenges one's attention span (cf. Gus Van Sant's Gerry). No, the aspect that bothers me here is the worrying development of a cynicaller-than-thou [Do not let me get away with that egregious neologism. I await your appellatory condescension in my comments box] sort of attitude regarding the war creeping into the worldview of the inhabitants of hipsterdom, of which some of the marketing bumf for the two films are typical.
From the blurb about Occupation: Dreamland in the Rotterdam International Film Festival (Great festival; crap city, FYI):
'The soldiers operated from their camp that was christened Dreamland; they regularly went into Falluja in order to maintain order, even if they had no idea of the city, its inhabitants, the language, culture or religion. They may not be the smartest, but they are ordinary guys. They played in a band, but didn't become famous or were too impatient to finish school. Or they had a boring job in a shoe store, and the army recruiting office just happened to be next door. They have received little training and have often never set foot outside America before. Now they are in the sandpit around Falluja twiddling their thumbs. And spewing their gall to the camera. No, it's not a propaganda film. And Occupation: Dreamland does not have the tiresome message of many anti-war films. It provides a sober picture of the situation and that turns out to be effective.'Then we have an interview with the directors of the two films in the Village Voice, which starts off seemingly critical of the corporate media:
'The filmmakers were also aware of how previous embeds had packaged the war for viewers back home. Tucker stresses that he never wanted "to end up in these kind of clusterfucks where there's like 10 cameras all fighting for the same shot. A lot of what you see on the news, that's what's happening. When they pool people and whatever, they're kind of all shooting the same thing."'But which then takes a hipster swipe at the Fahrenheit/Outfoxed/Hunting of the President/Super Size Me/Fog of War/Daily Show/Air America liberal media zeitgeist of 2004:
'[I]f the filmmakers wanted to avoid the pitfalls of mainstream news media, they were also equally uninterested in crafting 2004-style docu-screeds. "I was completely opposed to the invasion of Iraq," [Garrett] Scott [the co-director of Occupation: Dreamland] states bluntly. "But I wasn't interested in bringing what I thought to something that didn't have anything to do with me. I was much more interested in what was actually happening there." [Ian] Olds [the film's other director] says they aimed for "something that we would have wanted to see about Vietnam or Korea or any of those wars. Not topical or activist, but something that would sustain itself as a historical document."The trailers also make a point of how 'non-political' the movies are.
'Similarly, Michael Tucker [the co-director of Gunner Palace] sought to restore the emotional punch that images of war have lost. "I'm kind of beyond rights and wrongs, at this point. I'm really more like, we're two years into a war, and it's a very painful thing. And that people need to pay attention to what's happening to these soldiers and their families. I think people have seen the war so politically, when they should see it emotionally, because emotions are good for action. Politics are a very dry thing."'
It's beyond politics, man. This is real.
Certainly we do need to see images of war that go beyond the hyper-patriotic sanitisation of Iraq that Fox, CNN and even the BBC and the Guardian offer. As one soldier in Occupation Dreamland puts it: 'People want that steak, but they don't want to know how that cow gets butchered.' But in posing this 'truth about war' to be in opposition to both the White House and Michael Moore, as if both are equally distorting what is going on in Iraq, is akin to the pox-on-both-your-houses, six-of-one-half-a-dozen-of-the-other, Oprah-fied, factually ignorant morality that asks 'Why can't Israelis and Palestinians just get along?'
Undoubtedly, such attitudes are at least partially a result of the failure of Moore and Co. to defeat George Bush. There is always a retreat from - even a backlash to - ideology and partisanship in the wake of such setbacks.
But impartiality at such times can only result in lending support to barbarism.
Let's transpose the words of these hipster moral eunuchs from being about the current Arabian imbroglio to concerning something some magnitude more diabolical. From a WW2-era edition of Time Out Munich [Reductio ad absurdum? You knows it]:
Grrr. Hipster ninnies. It's almost enough to make me to rip up my membership in the International Brotherhood of Hipsters, Local 1977.
'But if the filmmakers wanted to avoid the pitfalls of mainstream news media, they were also equally uninterested in crafting 1942-style docu-screeds. "I was completely opposed to the systematic murder of millions of Jews, Gypsies and homos," [Garrett] Scott [the co-director of Smells Like Birkenau] states bluntly. "But I wasn't interested in bringing what I thought to something that didn't have anything to do with me. I was much more interested in what was actually happening at the death camps." [Ian] Olds [the film's other director] says they aimed for "something that we would have wanted to see about Ypres or Gallipoli or any of that shit. Not topical or activist, but something that would sustain itself as a historical document. Those White Rose dudes, they're waaaay not objective, beyotch!"
'Similarly, Michael Tucker [the co-director of Lost in Treblinka] sought to restore the emotional punch that images of the Holocaust have lost. "I'm kind of beyond rights and wrongs, at this point. I'm really more like, we're a few years into a genocide, and it's a very painful thing. And that people need to pay attention to what's happening to these SS officers and their families. I think people have seen the gassings and labour camps so politically, when they should see them emotionally, because emotions are good for action. Politics are a very dry thing."'