the future of documentary

Michael Moore can suck it.

I was kind of a fan back in the days when he was pulling silly stunts in front of GM’s corporate headquarters, and I think Bowling For Columbine is a fantastic exploration of the problem of gun violence, mostly because Moore goes outside of established liberal dogma and argues that the problem isn’t gun ownership, but paranoia. (Canada, he points out, has almost as many guns as we do, per capita.)

But when he (rightly) became exercised over the invasion of Iraq, I think he lost his goddamned mind, and he also became a pretty lousy filmmaker.

Maybe you’re not in the armed forces. Maybe you don’t know anyone in the armed forces. But even the most insulated Berkley peacenik ought to have had some sense of embarrassment at the way Moore, in Fahrenheit 9/11, first posited that the people who join the military are those too dumb to know better, and then shamelessly exploited the families of fallen soldiers to score cheap political points.

So here’s a little revenge. It’s not news, and everybody’s seen these sorts of clips before. But I’m staying with a friend right now, and he’s in the Army and loves collecting YouTube videos made by soldiers. One of his playlists is here. And here’s a video:

This isn’t the best thing I’ve ever seen, but watch it again — look at the number of individual shots, the number of edits, the physical discipline it took to do the stop-motion rifle drill sequence, the excellence of the lip-syncing…. These guys aren’t aspiring filmmakers in graduate school at AFI — they’re guys running missions in Iraq. But after the missions, they take time out to create really complex, nearly-professional work.

Here’s another one:

I like this one even better because, although it’s mostly guys goofing around, there’s actually political commentary here, as when the image of kids running behind the Stryker is paired with the line “Deep in my heart I’m a warrior/Can’t get food for them kids,” or when images of dozens of detained Iraqis play over “Who is to blame in what country?/Never can get to the one.” That’s sophisticated satire, at least at the level of your better Saturday Night Live shorts, and again this was made by amateurs, guys just doing it for a lark.

I think this is probably the next wave in filmmaking. In the same way that blogging represents a kind of brave new world for journalism and milblogs have given us a far more interesting and insightful picture of the war than much of the work of embedded “legit” journalists, these videos, which reveal war to be funny and fascinating and sometimes boring as well as horrific and awful, present a rounder, more complete picture of reality than films like Fahrenheit or Stop-Loss. I don’t know if it’s these videos in particular, but somewhere out there on YouTube or somebody’s hard drive is my generation’s great war story, our Goodbye To All That or The Things They Carried. And the people who tell patronizing stories about ignorant rednecks who joined the Army or went to war because they were suckered into it by the Big Bad Bush Administration… they can all suck it.

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3 Responses to the future of documentary

  1. Grambear says:

    What about the ones who tell stories about glory and heroismand redemption? Is that the old old lie,gloria pro patria mori?Iis there a true war story?

  2. Dean says:

    Seth,I am starting to rely on you for just such balanced views. This is a commodity lacking in the commercial press. Keep it up!

  3. The Camel says:

    @ Grambear — I guess I’m saying that they’re all true. That if somebody has a war experience in which war turns out to be glorious and redemptive and "a thing that gives us meaning," then that’s a legitimate thing to express through art. It wasn’t my experience, but I’m more open to that than I am to people who’ve never been there presenting an imagined version of things from propaganda purposes. (And I mean that for both sides, war boosters as well as war critics.) Wilfred Owen’s poem earns the right to be bitter and cynical with its specific details about a specific event in a soldier’s life, but I have no doubt that there was a flying ace somewhere in the same war who thought that war was FANTASTIC because he got to be a hero.@ Dean — Thanks! I can only speak from my own experience, of course.

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