directed by Deborah Scranton
USA 2006

 

The proliferation of cheap digital cameras over the past decade or so created a burgeoning supply of aspiring documentary filmmakers desperate for a war of their own to cover. In 2003, George W. Bush and his imaginary weapons of mass destruction obliged, though judging from the constant stream of Iraq war documentaries (sometimes it seems like I get a new one in my mailbox every week) America could easily launch another two or three major wars before exhausting its national reserve of documentarians.

It’s easy to get bored, if not downright jaded, by one Bush-bashing, Halliburton-hating tirade after another, but sometimes a special film comes along. “The War Tapes” may well be the best Iraq war documentary I have yet seen, with “My Country, My Country” a close second. “The War Tapes” offers a little bit of Bush-bashing and more than a little Halliburton-hating, but here the politics are strictly personal. In 2004, Director Deborah Scranton and crew handed out cameras to several members of Charlie Company of the New Hampshire National Guard, asking them to film their training and their tour of duty in Iraq. The film uses the video diaries of three of these soldiers: Steve Pink, a 24-yr old carpenter, Michael Moriarty, a 34-yr old forklift operator, and Zach Bazzi, a 24-yr old college student.

Pink’s material shows evidence of a man with a caustic sense of humor: when offered a picture of a naked woman by an Iraqi street vendor, he asks in a deadpan voice, “You got anything with farm animals?” Moriarty, the only family man of the three, vacillates between bravado and fear, summed up quite succinctly when he observes: “You almost have to have a false sense of security to do this business.” Bazzi, a Lebanese-American who moved to the States when he was 10, speaks Arabic, often putting him in a difficult position when he is called on to relay bad news to the locals. At one point, he simply refuses to tell a man that he can’t bring his sick child to the military hospital.

In her criminally underrated survey of post-9/11 America “Parallel Lines”, Nina Davenport’s warned against stereotyping all “red staters” as conservative Bible-thumpers. Even through the perspective of just three soldiers, “The War Tapes” is a reminder that the soldiers are just as diverse in their opinions about the war and the administration as are Americans back home. Even more interesting is the way that a soldier like Bazzi, who can’t stand Bush and thinks the war is idiotic, can still be gung ho about each mission, almost craving confrontation with the enemy just so he can get the job done. Pink is more enthusiastic about the war (at least at first), but is unable to understand why he and his fellow soldiers spend so much of their time guarding KBR trucks (that’s Kellogg Brown Root, a subdivision of Halliburton). For him, the war is more about guarding cheese supplies than liberating Iraqis.

Scranton and her team sorted through thousands of hours of material (including some from soldiers whose work didn’t make the final cut) to come up with this sleek and startling 97-minute film. The camera keep rolling even when the soldiers return home, and though we get only a few glimpses of their post-war life, we also realize that the struggle is just beginning for some of them.

The War Tapes” is a remarkable film, and though it’s hardly a film without an agenda, it stands head and shoulders above its peers that rely on sound-bite left-wing rhetoric to score points with the choir. Don’t miss this one.

Christopher Long

Poster

Theatrical Release: Oct 13, 2006

Reviews    More Reviews  DVD Reviews

DVD Review: New Video - Region 1 - NTSC

Big thanks to Christopher Long for the Review!

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Distribution

New Video

Region 1 - NTSC

Runtime 97
Video

1.78:1 Original Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: 5.25 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate

Audio Dolby Digital Stereo
Subtitles none
Features Release Information:
Studio: New Video

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 1.78:1

Edition Details:
• Interviews (28 min.)
• Extended Footage (80 min.)

DVD Release Date: May 15, 2007
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Chapters 12

 

 

Comments:

So many Iraq documentaries (and most other recent political docs) look like they were shot with a muddy lens, and subpar cheapo transfers only exacerbate the problems. Here, the image quality is surprisingly good, esp. considering that the soldiers served as cinematographers for the majority of the footage. The transfer is clean and sharp. Image quality varies to some degree because of the different source material, but even the night-time footage looks pretty good with that creepy green aura limning the proceedings.

The extras are quite absorbing as well, esp. the 28 minutes of interviews with Pink, Moriarty, and Bazzi who share their opinions about the film, the war, and the military in general. There’s no filler material here; this is all great stuff. The disc also includes 80 minutes of extra footage, which varies in interest and quality. It’s also just the smallest glimpse at how difficult the editing decisions on this film must have been. With so much material from so many soldiers, Scranton and co. could easily have transformed this into a bloated, rambling TV series; I’m glad we got this sharp, refined feature instead.

Once again, I want to give my strongest recommendation to “The War Tapes,” possibly the best Iraq war documentary I have seen.

 - Christopher Long

 



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