To be honest, I was a little disappointed in Standard Operating Procedure…but the fault is my own, not the film’s. My expectation was that the film would start with the photos of Abu Ghraib & misdeeds of the lower ranking soldiers and then move up the chain of command, both militarily and thematically speaking, to explore the issues of truth in photography and culpability. To Morris’ credit, he didn’t do that. It’s too easy these days to attempt arguments about Iraq or the Bush Administration that connect too many dots with too little evidence…essentially propaganda that sings to the choir.
SOP has a surprisingly small depth of field; it’s the story of those infamous photos, the people who took & appeared in them, and what they have to say about the photos & the actions they purport to show. And in that, the movie succeeds. Morris leaves plenty of negative space into which the audience can insert their own questions about what the photographs ultimately depict and who’s responsible in the end.
Incidentally, Morris generated a bit of controversy recently when he admitted that he’d paid some of the interviewees in SOP. The criticism of this practice is that “the credibility of interviewees diminishes when money changes hands and that these people will provide the answers they think are desired rather than the truth”. That is a concern but no more so than every other reason for being untruthful, including not telling the truth out of spite for lack of payment. People have so many better reasons to lie than money.
Honestly I was getting a little burned out on Errol Morris. I’ve been reading his Times blog, reading and listening to interviews with him about Standard Operating Procedure, and went to see him at the Apple Store last night. (I was most intrigued by his observation that photographs both reveal and conceal at the same time.) But this (relatively) short interview with him on the AV Club site is worth reading and got me unburned out. One of the many choice quotes:
I wish they’d just get it over with and make [Iraq] the 51st state, because I think it’s the perfect red state: religious fundamentalists, lots of weaponry. How could you go wrong? We’re already spending a significant fraction of our gross national product on the infrastructure; such as it is, on Iraq. Make it the 51st state and get it over with.
The interviewer, Scott Tobias, makes an interesting observation toward the end.
It seems like there’s been plenty of instances in which big guys [i.e. Bush, Cheney, etc.] could have and should have been held accountable. Yet it’s not as if they’ve slipped a noose. It’s as if they deny that there’s even a noose to be slipped.
And Morris replies:
That’s what’s so bizarre. You know, there are smoking guns everywhere, and people are being constantly hit over the head with smoking guns, and people simply don’t act on them.
For me, this is the central mystery of the Bush administration. There has been demonstrable legal wrongdoing on the part of this administration and through some magical process, they’ve charmed the country and managed to sidestep not only legal action (including impeachment) but even the threat of legal action and — this is the best part — get fucking reelected in the process. With Bush’s disapproval rating at an all-time high (for any President since Gallup began polling), it’s not like people aren’t aware and the 2006 elections clearly show the country’s disapproval with Bush et al. Maddening and fascinating at the same time.
Long rumination on the use of slo-mo in movies, particularly in Standard Operating Procedure. Being a slo-mo fan myself (especially when wielded by Wes Anderson or by NBC Sports during football games), I enjoyed this description of it:
Slo-mo can be a mesmerizing revelation of the grace inherent in the ordinary.
Slo-mo was invented and patented in 1904 by an Austrian priest-turned-physicist named August Musger. And who was working in the patent office in Austria in 1904?
My fantasy now is that Albert Einstein — working in the Swiss patent office in Bern in 1904, when Musger patented slo-mo in (relatively) nearby Austria — might have become aware of Musger’s slow-motion patent (perhaps it even crossed his desk?) and that contemplation of slo-mo might have influenced Einstein’s thinking about the nonabsoluteness, the relativity, of time.
Two other sort-of-related bits of Errol Morris news: 1) part 2 of his short series on re-enactments is now online, and 2) Morris will be talking about his new movie at the Apple Store in Soho on April 23 at 6:30pm. Prepare to wait in a long line. (thx, findemnflee)
The web site for Errol Morris’ new movie, Standard Operating Procedure, is up. Looks like it supplements the movie with interviews, photos, etc.
Interview with Errol Morris in the Columbia Journalism Review about Standard Operating Procedure.
Somebody comes up to you and says, “I’m a postmodernist; I don’t care about truth; it’s subjective.” My answer is, “So it doesn’t matter who pulled the trigger? It doesn’t matter whether someone committed murder, or whether someone in jail is innocent or not?” I believe that it does matter. What happens in the world matters a great deal.
Morris also says that there will be a web site that accompanies the film where you can view all the Abu Ghraib photos in the order that they were taken.
You can click on a photograph and an iris opens up — you go into the photograph, and inside of the photograph is context. Take, just for example, the Gilligan photograph, the one on the box, with the wires. I rubber-band that photograph with the other ones taken at the same time, so that it becomes a group of related photographs. There’s software that allows you to reconstruct the room from the different angles of the photographs. Then I have biographies that you can click on for all the people who were in the room, and their own accounts. Plus you can see stuff that I recorded for this movie. In other words, you can really enter the world of the photograph.
The Believer has a transcript of a conversation between film directors Werner Herzog and Errol Morris.
WH: And you have a great sense for the afterthought. The interview is finished, it’s over, and Errol is still sitting and expecting something. Then all of a sudden there comes an afterthought, and that’s the best of all.
EM: Yes, often.
WH: Very often, yes. And I have learned that, in a way, from you. Wait for the afterthought. Be patient. Don’t say, “Cut.” Just let them do it.
I don’t get out to the theater much these days, but I’m going to make an exception for Morris’ upcoming Standard Operating Procedure.
Video of Errol Morris talking with Philip Gourevitch about Abu Ghraib and Standard Operating Procedure at the 2007 New Yorker Festival. This was painful to watch at times — Morris speaks very deliberately — but worth leaving the audio on in the background. They showed a clip of the movie at the festival but it got cut from the video…rights issues, I imagine.