Iraq War Movie Fatigue, Part 2

While I was sorting through my reviews of Full Battle Rattle and Bulletproof Salesman the other day, I wrote a quick post addressing the widespread belief that audiences are experiencing something akin to Iraq War movie fatigue. At the time, I expressed some skepticism about the assumptions underlying the explanations for the poor box office of a number of well-intentioned but often overly-serious (or self-righteous) Iraq War sagas, such as Stop-Loss and In the Valley of Elah. And I’m still convinced that the poor box office of some of these movies cannot be blamed on an unwillingness to engage with the issues , to name the usual complaint. Instead, I pointed to interest in a couple of PBS docs as examples that audiences were engaged but that Hollywood films were offering prepackaged interpretations of the war that weren’t terribly satisfying. I didn’t quite say it at the time, but for many of these war films, I often feel as if I’ve already seen the movie well before it hits theaters, and I’d imagine that others feel the same way. In short, many of these films fail because they don’t seem to be saying anything new about the war (at least from their promotion in trailers and other advertising).

For this reason, I found Anthony Kaufman’s recent Village Voice article on a new round of films that “defy the clichés of the post-9/11 Iraq War cinema” especially interesting. Kaufman highlights a number of upcoming films–most notably Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay and Morgan Spurlock’s Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden?,–that defy many of the tired conventions of the standard well-meaning anti-war film, and while it is impossible to predict how these films will be received by audiences, I think that Michael Tucker, quoted in Kaufman’s article, is correct to argue that the sobriety of the standard Iraq film has been largely ineffective: “Trying to be earnest about something—it does nothing to explain it….That’s why the fiction films have largely failed—because people are already in that emotional place.”

The attempt to find a new way of depicting the war–or one small slice of it–is what I liked most about Tucker’s Bulletproof Salesman (co-directed with Petra Epperlein) and Jesse Moss and Tony Gerber’s Full Battle Rattle. Both films avoid imposing easy interpretations of their subjects–an armored car salesman and a fake Iraqi village in the Mojave desert, respectively–and provide their audiences with a degree of trust that seems missing in many of the high-profile Hollywood films. At any rate, Kaufman provides a nice overview of some of the films coming down the pipeline that might be treating the war from a slightly different perspective, including several (Harold and Kumar, in particular) that I’ve been looking forward to for some time.

Update: No time for a full post, but James Rocchi has an interesting related post on bad box office for Iraq War films at The Huffington Post.

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