Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Fog of War

I have a strange habit of being a creature of my pop culture, yet entirely unbidden by its usual demanding timelines. Most of my movie consumption, then, is done solitary, at home, and years after-any-given-fact. This sometimes leads to my never sampling some pretty fundamental pieces of the world as "most" people know it (see also: anything remotely connected to Harry Potter, my total miss on ever seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark, and cross-reference "contrarian streak" for further explanation). Sometimes, this is the result of stubbornness, every time it is the result of taste, and occasionally, it's mostly an accident.


Another recent Netflick was Errol Morris' The Fog of War.

One of the drawbacks of waiting to experience the larger currents of events is that buildup gets in the way. I wouldn't say precisely that this was a problem with FoW - however, I would say that, even in smaller proportions, expectations can mislead one going in.

FoW doesn't hold a major place in the landscape of major consciousness, but its reputation is strong, its impact was surprising at the time, and its content, to be sure, was pungent stuff. Robert McNamara has always been a divisive figure, and even I would be hard put to have no opinion about him.

Unfortunately, my central opinion about his film (if we look at it that way; and I tend to - as with NYD below) is about its making, which to my mind adulterated its subject for the sake of style. I suppose many felt that the editing was not interference, but I watched the dozens upon dozens of tiny jump-cuts, camera angle shifts, and quick elisions of mere moments, and raged at the intrusion. McNamara's honesty I don't question, but Morris's really got on my ... ah, chest, as the kids would decidedly not say. The shifts were 100% unnecessary. There's no other reason they NEED to be condemned than that - but there are others. The angle and time jumps were incredibly distracting. They altered, for me, the impact of McNamara's confessional interviews - a man's cadence, and an unbroken "look" at those - an unwavering camera, merely receiving (and transmitting) this series of stunning talking-heads and voiceovers, would have been stunningly effective. Why all the "style" then? Was this a documentary lacking so in substance that anything needed to be embellished - at all? Did Morris not trust the incredible scoop he had gained here, and feel it needed "impact" or assistance in any way at all?

It sure watched like he did. And that was an insfufferable adulteration of what should have been a pure, if not uplifting, viewing experience.

I have no requirement for the camera - or the editing or pace - to tell me how to feel about McNamara. The man himself didn't necessarily seem to want to manipulate me (though his astonishing jocularity at times didn't jibe at ALL with my understanding, going in, of this film's "harrowing" truthfulness; I found him exceedingly disingenuous, more so than probingly testimonial) - why then did the director?

If Whiteley's "Killer" Kane documentary was edited for maximum impact and relevance, FoW was edited for minimalIST (though maximally, to do so) "effect". The result being, it had far less - for me - than its reputation had led me to expect of it.

I was far more impressed, and even somewhat emotionally affected, by a documentary about a dainty-brained bass player called "Killer". The unprecedented truth-telling by a man who directed the military fate of the most powerful nation on Earth ... left me frustrated (not for the obvious political reasons) and far, far too aware of the film's making, over its contents.

Call me a crackpot. But I'm a crackpot who would still be interested to see the UN-edited version of FoW's interviews, to hear what they more fully, completely - honestly - had to say.

The bells and whistles (and bamboo shots) detracted. Put back in what was taken away. I would have thought we - and McNamara's attempted honesty - deserved that.

No comments: