Friday, March 18, 2011

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Why We Fight

My first confession: We recently watched the original Soviet "Why We Fight" in 293, but I didn't make it through most of it. Sadly. ALSO, everytime I hear the phrase "Why We Fight" the first thing I can think of is the Regina Spektor song that keeps refraining "This is why we fiiiiiiight" on her album Soviet Kitsch.

Eugene Jarecki's piece is neither Soviet nor a Regina song, but it is great.
"Why We Fight" covers general public sentiments towards war, specific insider political info on the administration of war from Pentagon sources, the industry of the armaments, and the businesses and think-tanks that profit from war, and multiple political perspectives.

I learned a LOT. Just as Brad had explained, Jarecki takes these huge ideas and makes them understandable to the everyday person. I was surprised a LOT. Though I have my own political views, I had never quite considered all the components that go into war-making. And I took notes, that I know I will refer back to. And that I wish I could quote more of and explore more here, but the specific thoughts aren't quite the point of this assignment.

This piece delved into some of those components and specifics, as much as it could with such a huge scope.

It was very well edited. Particularly, I was impressed with the flow and pacing of the piece. In order to get through all of it's material, it had to keep a good pace, and it sure did. It also quite seamlessly, fluidly flowed from topic to topic in an impressive manner.
Jarecki also employed the use of counterpuntal editing quite often through the piece. One specific example is while interviewing fighter pilots who dropped the first bombs in Iraq, discussing how their "smart missiles" were very carefully and very successfully dropped on their target of political leaders, and then showing Iraqi hospitals filled with civilians, and the rubble of homes, who can attest to thet fact that all of the first casualties in this war were civilians. Then, the editing went back to ... I can't remember if it was Bush or Rumsfeld, ensuring the American people that the smart missiles used had been 100% successful. While I believe the counterpuntal editing was used to show multiple perspectives on the same issues at once, I also felt it was being used to show the filmmaker's perspective and bias. He would have someone describe "the inside story," as it were, and then follow up with the familiar sound bytes or images of "what the public was told," but all carried out in a manner that I could tell that Jarecki was excited to show these additional things he had learned and felt a mission to let the world know of them. And it was clear where he sided.

Unlike Brad, I thought this piece had a bit of bias. Not that it wasn't helpful, but I thought the filmmaker's voice was definitely present throughout the piece.
It wasn't antagonistic, it wasn't malicious, it wasn't done with an agenda or a vendetta, just sometimes I thought bias showed through.

I didn't feel the film was manipulative. It had to go off of some opinions and points to lead into tohers for the flow of the piece, which tends to credit and legitimize some ideas more, but overall it wasn't a manipulative piece.

It was well-shot. Interviews were carried out well. I was very impressed at the mass of media he was able to use. I was also very impressed at the connections he was able to make and the continued interviews he was able to get!

All in all, it was extremely well-done. I would recommend it to anyone. It's probably the fairest and most informative doc you can find on the Iraq War, and helps get the general public inside the minds of those that ultimately make war happen.

My Kid Could Paint That

And here's... yet another movie I got sucked into because we watched some of it in class.

Here's what I like:
Amir Bar-Lev makes a really really honest effort at being objective.
(Although I LOVE documentary, and I love the aspect that in the end it has to be someone's "construction," or "interpretation," I had seemingly "gotten over" the fact that it could never be objective. And this piece taught me that you can make a good honest effort at it, and in some cases, it's incredibly important.)
Amir is not totally convinced that Marla can paint. But he's not about to say she doesn't. He doesn't hint at it, he doesn't intimate at it. He reflects his own doubts (without navel-gazing! Instead, this time, it feels like he's asking the questions the audience is asking) and leaves it at that.
I admire the footage he left in the piece. I admire that he left in the part about "what he could get out of it," and about potentially wanting to be known as a great filmmaker, but ultimately feeling sad for the scandal.
I admire the footage that he left in of the Mom saying "this is documentary gold," or of the News lady that attacked him a little. I admire that.
Because it helps legitimize and objectify the whole thing.

I didn't feel manipulated by this piece. Though I usually tend towards taking things in a good light and taking things at face value more often than most around me, (I grew up with a mother telling me, "Jennie, you'd be every marketers dream!") I didn't feel any of the story was manipulated.

It was fascinating watching the relationships in the story -- and how the key players took everything in stride. Whether it was those pushing the business advantages, those pushing for more shows or more publicity, or a dutiful mother with dutiful mother's instinct trying to protect her baby...

Of course, the story does leave you still question what was reality. This doc is supposed to be a little controversial, and is supposed to get you thinking. And what it made me do was google Marla Olmstead, and go to her website, and her wikipedia and start finding out as much as possible to see if any more light had been shed on the situation in recent years and if we knew if she was a scam or a fraud.
For now, I think I'm sticking with the fact that she painted them all herself.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Unknown White Male

I was thrilled by the teaser we watched in class, and when Netflix finally brought it to my mailbox I was a little more disheartened. Mostly, it was just slower than I anticipated.

Overall, I liked the director's storytelling approach. Beginning with the recount of Doug's first amnesiatic moments on the train and in the hospital was captivating. The informative interruptions on how memory functions and types of memory felt a little disruptive in the beginning, however, and I wished we could continue on with the story. (In fact, as a general note overall, I felt we could do with a little less talk on memory. Most of it was helpful, but not all of it was critical to the story and got a little cumbersome).

One of the joys of this piece is to watch Doug's footage. This authentic POV footage is perfect in capturing the emotions he felt as he experienced the world anew--even in his handheld shaky style and his voice-overs describing all the things in his immediate surroundings that still seem to befuddle him. This footage is great.
However, I also think the director had great observational footage. We truly felt the awkwardness of Doug meeting his family at the airport. We truly felt the awkwardness of Doug meeting up with his friends. We were present for a lot of huge events that were very meaningful to the audience.
Of course... it does make me wonder if any of it was reenacted (when did the director meet up with Doug to make the doc? if it was only for the friend segments, then the family stuff was faked).

The interviews were well-conducted, and well placed.
Likewise, the follow-up footage from "x many months later" or "years later" was another crucial part of the story that I'm glad the director told. We needed and wanted as much continuance as he could give us.

One part of the film I felt was distracting was actually the director's need to talk about how hard it was for him. I felt the director himself could have been cut entirely from the film. We could've received all the same sentiment and emotion on how hard it was for the friends and family through the interviews with Pete, Marina, etc -- and didn't need the director's moody shots of himself or narrative. It was an important lesson for me on navel-gazing. That's exactly what I felt like the director was doing. And although his story fit in exactly into the narrative as a whole, and his thoughts were echoed by others in the piece -- it just felt whiny whenever it came from behind the camera.

Overall, I thought the piece was entertaining, informative, and very emotionally connecting. It was well-shot and well-done and well-worth my time -- this one even sucked my husband in, though he wasn't sure he wanted to watch all of it with me!