War Documentaries and the FCC

Just read on Yahoo about an upcoming Frontline feature, A Company of Soldiers. The documentary focuses on the U.S. Army’s 8th Cavalry Regiment stationed in Baghdad, following their day-to-day activities in the weeks following the U.S. presidential election in November. This approach sounds similar to the approach taken in Michael Tucker’s Gunner Palace, so I’ll be interested to see how Frontline shapes this material. Tucker, as I argue, offers what might best be described as a “politically ambivalent” approach, using teh discourses of “reality” to simultaneously support both pro- and anti-war readings. This isn’t political neutrality or documentary objectivity, but something else entirely. The subjective identification with the soldiers works against critical distance, and instead we find ourselves immersed in the images of war, but that identification is far from simple politically, as my original review suggests.

The Yahoo article focuses primarily on PBS’s decision to present a mildly sanitized version of the Frontline episode, editing out 13 expletives that might have exposed PBS to fines by the FCC (Tucker’s film has faced a similar problem, with the film’s use of profanity earning it an R rating that may limit the audience). In both cases, the discussion of ratings seems to shift the discourse in some problematic ways. By focusing on the soldiers’ use of profanity in the films, these artciles ignore any discussion of the violence (or lack of violence) portrayed in the films. At any rate, I’ll be interested to see how the PBS doc portrays the everyday life of the soldier.

By the way, while digging around the Gunner Palace website, I came across Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker’s Baghdad Diary. It’s clear from the earliest days of the diary that Tucker is thinking about his project in terms of how the war becomes mediated by previous war films, TV shows, and novels. In one early entry, “Jackass Goes to War,” he compares SPC Wilf to Youssarian of Catch-22. In another entry the war is described as the ultimate (pop) “culture clash,” in which we learn about the soldier’s Internet surfing habits.

4 Comments »

  1. Chris Martin Said,

    February 20, 2005 @ 8:21 pm

    I’d like to see Gunner Palace fairly soon. I really wish there would be more movies by Iraqis about Iraqis though. I did hear about a project in which many Iraqis were given video cameras to make their own short films, and these were combined into a film. It was called Voices of Iraq and I don’t think it played in Atlanta, although I could be wrong. It’s seems like the only film to focus on Iraqis rather than Americans.

  2. chuck Said,

    February 20, 2005 @ 8:25 pm

    There’s another, similar project called “About Baghdad,” which apparently more critical than “Voices of Iraq.” But, yes, I’d certainly like to see both films and hope to watch “Gunner Palace” again when it hits Atlanta sometime in March.

  3. Chris Martin Said,

    February 20, 2005 @ 8:36 pm

    I did some research and found that Voices of Iraq was produced and edited by Americans, so it isn’t precisely a completely Iraqi film either. I’m not implying that there can be one definitive Iraqi film made exclusively by Iraqis, but it would be nice if we could see some films made without foreign involvement.

  4. Chuck Said,

    February 20, 2005 @ 8:48 pm

    Right, I’d absolutely agree. I think About Baghdad may be closer to what you’re describing, although it’s not clear from the article I’ve linked whether Antoon is current living in Iraq (or whether that would matter here). I’ve been ssupicious of “Voices” for some time because of the American editorial control. Salam Pax has also apparently made a few short films, and a few other Iraqi films apparently played the Rotterdam film festival (my original link to that article is broken, but here’s my blog entry on the topic).

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