Thursday, May 22, 2008

Standard Operating Procedure

STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE (dir. Errol Morris, US, 2008, 118 mins.) It has taken me a few days to digest this. I know there are volumes of criticism and analysis of this film out there, but I can only briefly describe my experience. It is one of the most disturbing films I have ever seen. At one point, I really wanted to get up and leave, but I forced myself to see it to the end. I can compare the experience to the 'finale' of Pasolini's SALO: THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM. Except,of course, these images are real. Director Errol Morris uses his near innovative interviewing technique with the primary participants of the Abu Ghraib 'incident', including Lynndie England, Sabrina Harman, Megan Ambhul Graner, Janis Karpinski, among the dozen or so military personnel. Morris also includes perhaps some of the most riveting "testimony" from Brent Pack, who was the special investigator in charge of analyzing the photographs. The pictures were captured on three digital cameras, from which Pack assembled a timeline of events. In a strange way, his investigation is dramatic relief from the bleak and disturbing commentary provided by the participants in the photos themselves. To discuss any of their interviews here, would only provide spoilers.

As bookends to all of this, are some truly beautiful pieces of title work, with a musical score by Danny Elfman, which suggests themes by long time Morris collaborator, Philip Glass. It is a dizzying opening, and the equally lush underscoring works to suck your attention further into a world that you probably do not want to really know about. What is really sad, is that the Abu Ghraib incident is really only a cover for the real atrocities that occurred in the interrogation rooms, themselves - actions which are only hinted at by the evidence of a dead body in one of the photographs.

This would seem to be a pinnacle in Errol Morris' preoccupation with death. With the exception of BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME and FAST, CHEAP, OUT OF CONTROL, his documentaries focus on death, ritual, war, etc. I don't know if he can get any bleaker than he has here. I am afraid of what his next film might be...

1 comment:

Xanna Don't said...

Important subject matter for sure, but thanks to your warning, I'll wait to see it on the small screen.