Since I started this blog rather late in the semester, I’m going to go back and post a few things that pertain to my reactions and thoughts to the earlier films in the course. We began by watching a lot of films to do with war, and discussed militarism, compassion fatigue, the notion of the “war hero” and the role of the media in the “war event”.
Of the films we watched, I thought No Man’s Land (2001) encapsulated these themes particularly excellently, deftly revealing the futility of war, the ridiculousness of bureaucracy in situations where human lives are at stake, and the ways a camera can both help and hinder — capture, and completely miss — the real issue.
My thoughts returned to these themes again when I read about Brian De Palma’s Redacted (2007), which mixes fiction and documentary to retell the real-life rape and killing of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl by American soldiers. The film used the soldiers’ home-made war videos, blogs, and YouTube footage with fictionalised material to form a mosaic that reflects the real event.
De Palma, who made the somewhat similar Casualties of War (1989) about the Vietnam war, says that Redacted is, “an attempt to bring the reality of what is happening in Iraq to the American people”. These images exist, he says, but “not in the major media … The media is now really part of the corporate establishment.”
De Palma at New York Film Festival Conference.
But De Palma’s endeavour to present to the wider public what has been redacted has not been an easy one. In the video above he talks about how the cut of the picture montage at the end of the film was “violated”: “Redacted [itself] is in fact redacted”. De Palma then goes on to accuse producer Mark Cuban for making the changes since they “disturbed him”. At this, Eamonn Bowles (from Magnolia Pictures) speaks out from the back of the theatre, proclaiming, “that’s not true!”
When Bowles stresses the legal barricades that surround using the pictures, De Palma dubs them “specious”. Undeterred, Bowles ripostes that there would “be no legal recourse” to using the pictures, and further suggests, “the photos are extremely disturbing … I think, thematically, [the new cut] works even better”. “That”, quips De Palma, “is not your judgment to make.”
At the end of the conference, co-producer Jason Kliot spoke to clarify the issue as one involving Fair Use laws, which, he says, have “set it up so we cannot use images of our own culture to tell the truth about our own culture.”
A lot of questions arise out of the Redacted debate. Has the media really become part of the “corporate establishment”, and if so, why? Is it because of our compassion fatigue, which has meant that such images no longer have the impact to be newsworthy? Is it because of propaganda, as De Palma suggests (“being a film director, you’re very sensitive to the way — how should I say? — propaganda is presented”)? Is it a natural result of new avenues for free speech, like online news blogs and YouTube (these are, of course, only as available as people have internet access in a country where such sites are unblocked)?
I think there’s also something really interesting in the way Redacted seems to use the filmic gaze to capture what documentary film is unable to. This odd spinning together of fiction and reality is, essentially, a way to re-create reality the only way it can exist. Have we reached a time when “fiction” is truer than news (truth)?
I suppose that, for those of us sitting comfortably in our first-world living rooms, on a comfort-zone diet of advertising, reality television, and the Hollywood blockbuster, the only reality of wars in far-off places have for us, is through the images we consume from the media. Just as No Man’s Land suggests, the media has the ability to construct realities, but it is also able to question them.
The horrors of war are often all-encompassing, and likely there is no way to truly represent them through any physical medium (Jean-Luc Godard’s Notre Musique poses this question), but that does not mean that war, and all that comes with it, is not a part of the world we live in. Surely, if film can be used to shake up our generation’s myopia that gives more import to trashy celebrity gossip than to the realities of war, if it is able to thrust into our vision some of the truths we seek to ignore — surely, surely, that can only be a good thing.
[ Redacted stuns Venice | Redacting Redacted ]
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