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directed by Joshua Oppenheimer
USA/Indonesia 2003


The stylistic origins and ideological concerns of filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer's feature-length experimental documentaries on the legacy of the Indonesian death squads THE ACT OF KILLING and THE LOOK OF SILENCE are revealed in Second Run's compilation of twelve of his earlier short and long-short films JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: EARLY WORKS. After the innocuous Light Test (1995) and Camera Test (1995) - which pretty much are what the titles state apart from a couple unnerving shots in the former that bring to mind THE LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET - Hugh (1996) seems at first with its prominent live synchronized sound to be Sound Test but this naturalistic depiction of a patriotic and religious carpenter who reveals himself with very little prompting to be a bigot who feels that homosexuality runs against the natural order (and that science contributes nothing to an understanding of that order). The Challenge of Manufacturing (1996) is one of his early collages of archival - from industrial films and science fiction - and original footage which draws parallels between a radio talk show call-in description of alien abduction to the experiences of a chicken as it is "processed" (culminating with the image of a tarred and feathered human being). The half-hour These Places We've Learned to Call Home (1996) prowls desolate rural and industrial landscapes - including a derelict restroom turned art space as a gas-masked man in a dress scrawls upon the walls with an Acetylene torch - over which phone interviews with militia members illuminate the dark spaces of America the Beautiful.

The most accomplished yet is The Entire History of the Louisiania Purchase (1997), which at first takes an observational approach to the "story" of Mary-Anne Ward, a mentally-disturbed woman who murdered her infant daughter with a microwave, as various experts and whackos - among them a self-proclaimed "Antichrist" who lives in a Las Vegas trailer with his doting mother - weigh in on the case. Some believe her claims that God impregnated her and her son was killed (or hidden away like Moses) and a girl substituted in his place while others believe what she saw as God was an alien and that murdered the alien spawn. The brief Land of Enchantment (2000) reveals that the New Mexico Tourism Hotline operates out of the state's women's prison. Most informative is the hour-plus The Globalisation Tapes (2002), made in concert with Indonesian palm oil workers in order to convince others like them to demand a greater say in globalisation. Employed by the Belgian concern Socfin, palm fruit pickers pick enough fruit for a tonne of palm oil (roughly thirty dollars worth) for roughly a dollar per day. They have no health care and have been scared into silence - by the legacy of the 1965 Indonesian death squad killings of union members labeled communist sympathizers - over the deaths of pesticide poisoning deaths of the women hired to spray it. After working eight hour shifts, the workers then collaborated with Oppenheimer in discussions, screenings, and filming as constructed, "directed", and performed by the workers. Market Update (2002) A Brief History of Paradise as Told by the Cockroaches (2002) are jokey short pieces while the disturbing Muzak: A Tool of Management (2002) anticipates THE ACT OF KILLING as a former death squad soldier happily recalls his daily routine of murdering communists in graphic detail in the presence of his young daughter or granddaughter (the camera freezing on her jaded reaction). Postcard from Sun City, Arizona (2003) is a short that returns stateside contrasting Arizona tourism imagery with a call-in from a women's chain gang as an inmate is "interviewed" by notoriously racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio about how his style of rehabilitation (making her dig graves) has positively affected her.

Eric Cotenas

Theatrical Release:

DVD Reviews


DVD Review: Second Run DVD - Region 0 - PAL

Big thanks to Eric Cotenas for the Review!

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Second Run DVD

Region 0 - PAL

Runtime 2:56:08 (4% PAL speedup)

1.33:1/1.78:1 Original Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: 5.8 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

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


Audio English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
Subtitles none
Features Release Information:
Studio: Second Run DVD

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 1.33:1/1.78:1

Edition Details:
� 'Light Test' (1995, 4:3; 0:56)
� 'Camera Test' (1995, 4:3; 1:16)
� 'Hugh' (1996, 4:3; 9:28)
� 'The Challenge of Manufacturing' (1996, 4:3; 6:59)
� 'These Places We've Learned to Call Home' (1996, 4:3; 30:21)
� 'The Entire History of the Louisiania Purchase' (1997, 4:3; 46:59)
� 'Land of Enchantment' (2000, 16:9; 1:04)
� 'The Globalisation Tapes' (2002, 4:3; 1:08:10)
� 'Market Update' (2002, 4:3; 1:00)
� 'A Brief History of Paradise as Told by the Cockroaches' (2002, 4:3; 2:49)
� 'Muzak: A Tool of Management' (2002, 4:3; 3:33)
� 'Postcard from Sun City, Arizona' (2003 4:3; 3:33)
� Interview with Joshua Oppenheimer (4:3; 23:07)
� Essay Booklet by Gareth Evans

DVD Release Date: June 27th, 2016

Chapters n/a





Transferred from a variety of video and film sources - some with deliberate film damage and video distortion - the transfers of twelve films on Second Run's dual-layer disc are nevertheless director-approved and probably look as good as intended (especially since they were finished in SD); the same applies for the audio quality. There are no subtitle options for the English mono audio, but the layering of interview audio and archival audio would be difficult to convey at times in text. Oppenheimer appears in an interview in which he discusses how how his coming out as a gay man at the time of the rise of the religious right and militias lead to an interest in how such people perceived the world. He also discusses his collaborations with producer Christine Cynn and the Indonesian workers on "The Globalisation Tapes". While Second Run's booklets are usually quite informative, Gareth Evans' contribution is a rather off-putting and self-indulgent essayer that touches upon Oppenheimer's themes and interests amidst much free association (composed to the accompaniment of Eleni Karaindrou's soundtracks for Theo Angelopoulos' THE WEEPING MEADOW and ETERNITY AND A DAY on the day Donald Trump secured the Republican Party nomination "and Oppenheimer's films on this disc suddenly became altogether more naturalistic than they might at first appear...").

  - Eric Cotenas


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