Apocalypse Right Now
March 6, 2005 9:56 AM   Subscribe

Gunner Palace. See the war we keep talking about. The making of Gunner Palace. The diary of the filmmaker Michael Tucker. Rottentomato reviews.
posted by srboisvert (25 comments total)
Perhaps a bit Pepsi Blue but we all vent so much hot air over this topic that maybe we should actually see what it is like over there. (Anbody here actually been to Iraq?)
posted by srboisvert at 9:59 AM on March 6, 2005

the other day I've read AO Scott's review (NYT link) which is very good.
posted by matteo at 10:17 AM on March 6, 2005

I'm one of the few people on Rotten Tomatoes who didn't care for it. It's not really a movie, it's a bunch of footage--footage that's worth seeing, but I expect more of a documentary than inconclusive, disconnected images without a point or argument. Certainly, we ought to see more of this kind of stuff; it ought to be on TV every night, leaving room elsewhere for analysis and a sense of the bigger picture. AO Scott makes the point that "this confusion [...] is its own form of understanding" -- which sounds good, but what does it really mean?
posted by muckster at 10:32 AM on March 6, 2005

Certainly, we ought to see more of this kind of stuff; it ought to be on TV every night, leaving room elsewhere for analysis and a sense of the bigger picture.

I totally agree. I suppose it doesn't increase shareholder value sufficiently.
posted by nofundy at 10:47 AM on March 6, 2005

NPR's Jennifer Ludden speaks with the filmmaker, Michael Tucker ("All Things Considered" audio link on this page).
posted by spock at 10:50 AM on March 6, 2005

Interesting review, muckster. However, you say that the movie doesn't have a terribly deep view of the war. It doesn't discuss politics or the reasons of the war, but merely shows the soldiers viewpoint in the war. I don't know if that could qualify as a criticism of the movie. The film seems to be about the soldier's perspective, but if the soldiers don't care to take a strong analysis of their situation, then the movie should show that. Roger Ebert always stated that he bases his reviews on "how the movie is about, as opposed to what the movie is about". That said, if the movie doesn't have a compelling narrative, is redundant, or simply the work of a hack, that would be qualifications for being deemed a bad movie.

Perhaps the film's desire for pure objectivity in avoiding the politics of the situation will allow it to be viewed by audiences as a "here is raw footage, make up your own mind" type of movie that can be seen by audiences on all sides of the political spectrum.

I am eternally jealous that you get paid for write reviews.
posted by Arch Stanton at 10:56 AM on March 6, 2005

On postview: 'writing reviews'. gah.
posted by Arch Stanton at 10:56 AM on March 6, 2005

Muckster, are you sure it's a problem when a documentary just document a series of real events? Do you think it would be "more of a documentary" if they picked and chose what to include so as to advance a particular "point or argument"?

There is so much bias and artificiality all over the media that when people see real journalism it seems incomplete, and their reaction is "but what am I supposed to conclude from this series of images?"
posted by newton at 11:13 AM on March 6, 2005

Thanks, Arch Stanton. I hear what you're saying about not blaming a movie for failing to be the movie you'd rather have seen, but I feel that the rules change slightly for documentaries. Wondering how else the material could have been presented should be fair game. Gunner Palace doesn't have much of a shape or narrative structure at all, and it feels like it's about to end several times, making it seem much longer than it really is. Maybe I'm imagining things, but it almost seemed like the filmmakers were disappointed that none of their major characters got killed so that they could have a nice narrative arc. And I didn't get the sense that they were working under a strict code of objectivity either--they try a little commentary here and there, but like I said, it never adds up. I was disappointed with the result.

Newton, I doubt you can simply "document a series of real events." Putting up a camera always implies a point of view. Gunner Palace is edited, so they already picked and chose what to include--I'm just questioning the purpose of their particular choices. To my mind, real journalism, in the context of a documentary film, ought to include some kind of point or argument, some kind of reason why we're being shown this particular series of images. In this case, I'm not sure what that reason was.
posted by muckster at 11:38 AM on March 6, 2005

inconclusive, disconnected images without a point or argument

ought to include some kind of point or argument, some kind of reason why we're being shown this particular series of images

Obviously I haven't seen the film yet, muckster, but is it possible this was the filmmaker's point? Because this sounds like the kind of war-as-pure-meaningless-chaos point of view that chroniclers of war have been trying to communicate since at least Tolstoy. Which actually makes me even more interested in seeing it than I was when this was first mentioned on MeFi last year.
posted by gompa at 11:42 AM on March 6, 2005

You may be right, gompa. The most fascinating thing to me was how little the troops cared about the reasons they were in Iraq. After posting my review, I got an email from a soldier who said that in a warzone, you simply cannot afford to think about the bigger picture because when you think, you die. These points are all very well taken. Still, a movie about confusion and shortsightedness doesn't have to be confused and shortsighted. I was looking for clues that the filmmakers were aware that they confined themselves to a very limited point of view, but instead, they simply accepted the soldiers' attitudes without ever commenting on them. It's interesting that the people who fight the war can't or won't worry about the reasons for it, but unless you're going to expand on this point, it seems a little thin for a feature film.
posted by muckster at 12:17 PM on March 6, 2005

srboisver, maybe we should actually see what it is like over there. (Anybody here actually been to Iraq?)

Yes I have Last time, and from what I see in a lot of the clips on news and the internet, I see a less professional less prepared less guided army, who is repeating vietnam. exactly the opposite of or effort in Desert Storm.

I DS we didn't hate the iraqis, we fought we won and we LEFT! as it should be.... we did not stay to occupy for exactly the reason why this war is a FUBAR.

I was a Bradley Gunner 11M in 7th corps 4/7 Inf... (just to get the prove its out of the way) and we treated prisoners of war BETTER than I see the troops today treat the known civilians... with no threats or fear, WHY because we were PROFESSIONALS!. A couple of things that differ just to bolster my point, We did not spray bullets into car, we stopped then with a Bradley in the way and CLEARLY MARKED SIGNS IN ARABIC saying STOP!. We did not shoot injured Enemy! We apprehended ant treated, shooting wounded is BARBARIC! and beneath contempt and a war crime. we did not TORTURE enemy! frankly MI found money and kindly respectful behavior was rewarded, WHY .................................BECAUSE WE WERE PROFESSIONALS!................................. We knew way we were there, agree or disagree, and why the enemy fought. it was a JOB a Task and not personal. We have lost that focus in this war and this is a different war, a personal vengeance war, a vendetta war... at its best, at its worse it is a repeat of the Spanish-American war in Cuba... (A Sugar plantation land grab under the Guise of a misconceived vendetta war) Read up on it you'll see amazing parallels

End rant....
posted by Elim at 12:53 PM on March 6, 2005

I've often pondered the comparison of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq to the Spanish-American war, but that's the first time I've seen anybody else make it...and made on MeFi by somebody who's been there and done that, to boot. Interesting.
posted by alumshubby at 1:52 PM on March 6, 2005

I've thought of the comparison once between the Spanish-American war and the current one. It was when Ted Turner spoke about how Rupert Murdoch helped mold the media in getting a pro-war message out and how it was eerily reminicent of William Randolph Hearst. That's as far as it went in my mind.

Muckster, thanks for being so polite to our comments! Obviously, I haven't seen the movie yet or I'd have something more constructive to write, but I think your point is interesting that perhaps the filmmakers went over to Iraq with such a mindset of objectivity and 'filming it as it is' that the ability to construct any type of narrative was impossible. Perhaps if the filmmakers dove into the minds of the soldiers more and asked some probing questions about why they feel the way they do and had some overarching drama, then they might have a more compelling documentary to show as opposed to what you describe as a series of pieces of footage that can be seen on Frontline.
posted by Arch Stanton at 2:01 PM on March 6, 2005

Willard: "They told me that you had gone totally insane and that your methods were unsound."
Kurtz: "Are my methods unsound?"
Willard: "I don't see any method at all, sir."
posted by runkelfinker at 2:22 PM on March 6, 2005

does that little preview make the war seem really fun to anyone else? is that what the whole thing's like?
posted by blendor at 4:19 PM on March 6, 2005

Trust Me Blendor, War is like Prison where everyone has guns... and anyone who thinks that is fun is a sociopath, Hollywood not withstanding
posted by Elim at 4:22 PM on March 6, 2005

I saw it last night, and I must say, I agree completely with muckster. It's not that I was hoping for the film to take sides, but the entire thing felt like a series of compelling, but disorganized footage. I enjoyed it, and I'd watch more of it, but it'd be a bit hard to recommend it as anything other than war footage.
posted by SAC at 4:33 PM on March 6, 2005

is that what the whole thing's like?
I didn't think so. It seemed more like everyone was so bored and constantly on edge that most of their time was spent trying to entertain themselves and take their mind off the explosions and gunfire.
posted by SAC at 4:42 PM on March 6, 2005

Worth watching is A Company of Soldiers, a Frontline episode available for viewing online at PBS's website.
posted by disgruntled at 4:44 PM on March 6, 2005

A Company of Soldiers [Frontline/WGBH - Boston.]
posted by ericb at 5:08 PM on March 6, 2005

Also - The Soldier's Heart [Frontline/WGBH - Boston].
posted by ericb at 5:09 PM on March 6, 2005

I have also seen the movie (in a film class) and got a chance to have a Q & A with the director and one of the soldiers from the film. The movie itself was somewhat underwhelming in my opinion and, like muckster pointed out, it seemed like it was going to end several times. It was interesting to see how things "actually are" over there, but the movie failed to have any real discernable message.

The director had 400 hours of footage to cull from (that he shot all himself), but somehow failed to capture anything truly captivating on film. He did address this fact in the Q & A, saying that although people wanted to see the violence, if he was ever close enough to capture that on film, chances are he would be dead or wounded. Many of the soldiers he did film at points did die over the course of filming though. The most interesting thing he talked about was the ratings battle they went through with the MPAA, where they originally received an 'R' rating for language (the word 'fuck' is used quite often, along with a pot reference), but he was able to petition the ratings board for a lower rating based on the context of the film, which apparently never happens in the movie world. He also stated that the military was very open about what they let him film and say, and he was not censored in any way.

The most powerful scenes were watching the soldiers talk about how every piece of garbage on the side of the road could be an IED (improvised explosive device, I believe), and that you eventually just learn to deal with playing russian roulette every time you drive down the street. There's a scene in the film where the American troops stop traffic on a busy street for a half hour for a wayward plastic bag on the side of the street because they have to check every one to make sure they aren't bombs. Some of the house raids on suspected terrorists were interesting at times, but they just keep happening and happening to the point where they lose their impact. A scene that didn't make the final cut of the film included pulling unexploded mortars out of their pool at the palace, which is rather powerful in the context of the film.

So overall, a decent film, but nothing that made me come out of the theater deeply impacted. It did what it set out to do, namely, tell the story of day-to-day life in Iraq for troops, no more no less.
posted by rooftop secrets at 5:32 PM on March 6, 2005

Sounds like a poorer version of Soundtrack to War.
posted by Onanist at 6:43 PM on March 6, 2005

I see a lot of commentary from former military people at different levels of command and they echo (and have echoed) your commentary for years. unfortunately nothing is done about it. This phenomenon of an 'unprofessional military' was documented well in the movie 'Buffalo Soldiers' with Joachin Phoenix. Basically it was a movie about drug-dealing on-base in Germany. It was a comedy, but it did a good job in portraying the military back then. Basically, a lot of recruits then were faced with a choice: prison or military service. Just as the poor and disenfranchised now are faced with a choice: Life on the streets or life in the military and perhaps some hope for advancement.
I've watched footage of how the troops operate in Iraq and how well-trained troops have operated in other countries and watching the clumsy fumbling that goes on from the lower ranks to the highest is not only sad and pathetic, but worthy of convictions for war crimes. The same thing seems to be happening with the British troops too.
I've read that force levels are so bad now that the army is taking it's people who do training here in the U.S. and putting them into combat, leaving the job of training recruits to retired 'private contractors'. Just what this country needs: armchair generals training recruits in the lessons of war. . .
posted by mk1gti at 7:28 AM on March 7, 2005

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