I have a post weighing in on the controversy surrounding Brian DePalma’s Redacted, a fictional film about the rape and murder of an Iraqi girl by a group of American soldiers, over at MediaCommons. I lost about half the post in a Googling accident, so it feels a little incomplete, but basically, DePalma has been forced to remove several documentary photographs from a montage at the end of the film, substantially altering the effect of that montage and potentially weakening DePalma’s critique of the representational lenses through which we see the war in Iraq.
Update: Jim Emerson has a really interesting take on the Redacted controversy on his Scanners blog. And while I share Emerson’s take that DePalma’s position is likely untenable legally and that his NY Film Fest press conference was a bit of a publicity stunt, I remain interested in the boundaries between fiction and documentary that DePalma is playing with here. But Emerson goes on to ask some interesting questions about the role of the Internet in re-mediating representations of war and speculates about how the ease with which images now circulate on the web shapes the use of war images. And he’s absolutely right that the controversy over Redacted’s images is now “part of the movie” itself, part of the lens through which it will be seen and discussed.
Update 2: Emerson also has an entry discussing the circulation and “ownership” of Eddie Adams’ famous Vietnam War photograph, “General Nguyen Ngoc Loan Executing a Viet Cong Prisoner in Saigon,” an image that we’ve discussed in some detail in my “Documenting Injustice” seminar this semester, in part in terms of these slippery questions of ownership and circulation. Emerson raises some important questions that are worth quoting:
The Bush administration has tried to prevent the press from photographing even the coffins of unidentified US military casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. Do government censorship efforts change our view of war images? Are the legal or ethical standards for showing victims of accidents or natural disasters different from those for showing casualties of war? [...] Does the passage of time change how journalistic images are used in fictional contexts? Would you rather not think about this? I don’t have definitive answers to these questions. Do you?
Like him, I’m not sure I have any definitive answers to these difficult questions, although I think his point about the passage of time may be an important one, at least in terms of how these images are received. I do think that the issues of “government censorship” are complicated by the fact that so many other “uncensored” representations, taken by Iraqi citizens or independent reporters, have become available. That doesn’t excuse the censorship, but it shows how documentary images can continue to circulate despite these efforts to control them.
Update 3 (October 14): I see that the Self-Styled Siren wrote about this topic over a month ago. Sheez, I’m behind on everything these days.
Update 4 (October 19): Just wanted to acknowledge that I misspoke slightly in my original description of the Redacted controversy. For a clarification, see the comments by A below.