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Green Zone

This film is a very entertaining thriller.  It simplifies the reasons for the second American invasion of Iraq so that even I can understand them.  It fastens a jittery window of heroic clarity on Matt Damon as the leader of a squad of soldiers explicitly charged with the search for weapons of mass destruction.

They don’t find them.

What I found in looking through this window was a ridiculously-complicated vision of two corrupt regimes in conflict.  That conflict would have been neatly resolved if (as a last resort) caches of WMD had been planted and detonated by the Bush administration appointees, who evidently were not True (enough) Believers fanatically-dedicated to preserving the illusion that the administration wasn’t pathetically incompetent.  If the immediate objective was to justify war and to inspire allied confidence in W, then releasing weaponized “Iraqi” biotoxins was THE means.  How’d they miss that?  The perspective from this window doesn’t shed new light on the intelligence failures leading up to the terrorist attacks on 911, but it contextualizes them a little more distressingly.  (I’d also have liked seeing Osama bin Laden captured alive and remanded to Saudi custody for criminal prosecution under international law, along with the entire B’ushist network.  I’ll strike that notion off my wishlist and toss it into my Hurt Locker.  “War is a drug.”  Fuck you!)

Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke details the Bush administration’s failure to manage the New Orleans emergency catalyzed by Hurricane Katrina.  The documentary goes instructively out of its way to indicate that several corrupt political administrations (since 1965 &/or 1927) have been responsible for catastrophic conservation/meteorology-based disasters visited on that city/region/nation.  It also casts multiple shadows of primal doubt on the practical efficacy of the experiment of American democracy, and shamefully-hypocritical national will.  It’s a film that tastes like scathing honesty.

Green Zone plops a popular actor into the role of crusading protagonist at the head of a body of Americans cast specifically for the legitimate, authoritative authenticity of their real-life combat experience.  In the commentary, Damon frequently remarks on the intimidating challenge of fitting himself into the part as leader a group of guys who actually are the real deal.  Other people compliment Damon for rising to that challenge.  I can’t help noticing that the Hollywood treatment of the Sgt. Roy Miller profile is reminiscent of the cockeyed theatrical conceits that made W president.  Mission Accomplished! — not exactly.  And not unlike the movie, the target of the mission kept moving through subtle redefinitions:  Osama/vengeance-for-theoretical-complicity/WMD/victory!/democracy/stability/exit.  The movie simplifies all of that stuff to WMD/book/al Rawi/Truth/wtf!/curtain.  The more often I sit through this film, the more it seems movie-like, which means it doesn’t stand up to repeated visits, unlike Casablanca, which never gets old or less complicated, no matter how often I watch it (and which, I think, was a story retold [with a happier ending] as Sabrina, and could easily have been a remake of The Philadelphia Story, had Grant [swapping Hepburns] not been replaced by Bogart shortly, before commencement of principle photography).

I think this movie really should have been shot from the point of view of Freddy the translator, who, throughout the film, is one step behind Damon, intimately involved in every conversation, and pivotal in the ultimate resolution of a thrilling, suspenseful potboiler conventionally shot in Greengrass-style, which looks an awful lot like the so-called “innovative” (find-the-action) dynamic manner attributed to Friday Night Lights, NYPD Blue and good old Leslie Dektor.  The actor who portrays the crucial role of high-ranking Ba’athist General Muhamed al Rawi is said to have made the interesting point that Power can’t be convincingly acted, it has to be implied by the deference shown it by the actors surrounding Power.  Camera technology has come a very long way since 1947 and the failed experiment of The Lady in the Lake.  Some films seem to me to demand that the camera be cast as an emotionally-reactive, rational, realtime, participating member of the performing company, an actor; not exclusively as a jittering, magical, semi-omniscient, invisible non-presence.  Let the camera act!  Enough already with this jiggle, jitter, zoom-in, zoom-out, wobble, short cameraman, tall cameraman, editeditedit moron-convention bullshit!  These conceits perpetuate storytelling cheats.  Show me…the story.

The identity of the camera-as-Freddy would have been infinitely more informative (for the audience) if cast-subordinate, unAmerican Freddy were ideologically-incapable of gazing boldly into the commanding eye of al Rawi’s obvious Power, when, eventually, they meet, both times. The POV thing I harp upon would have made loads of “necessary” scenes simply impossible, like the first 24 minutes of the film, Kinnear and Gleason’s policy spat, al Rawi’s early (expository, badly-subtitled) meetings with his staff, where Freddy (Farid Youssef Abdul Rahman) wasn’t present, and Miller’s acceptance of the redefined mission proposed in a confidential meeting with CIA… but the situational complexity of Freddy’s point of view, I think, would have been significantly beneficial to the viewer’s understanding of events as they unfolded before a one-legged, bilingual, Iraqi national “on the ground”, surrounded by dangerous American innocents and criminal incompetents versus his Iraqi “peers” and the real, traditional, culturally-contextual personal Power of al Rawi.  Maybe that’ll happen in the sequel or the remake.  And maybe war movies are the sincerest form of sarcasm.

“Calm down.”  “Get your fuckin’ game face on.”  “Don’t be naive.”  Hamza’s dying word was, “Jordan.”  Michael?  Thrillers play fast&loose with key bits of information.  Movies and (corrupt) governments do the same thing with truth.

–A note from 11JUN2011– In a special feature of The Studio One Anthology, E.G. Marshall makes an interesting comparison, that Worthington Miner, producer of Studio One on CBS and Fred Coe (Playhouse 90) on NBC had differing perceptions of the proper role of the television camera.  Coe’s preference was for a static POV in which scenes were blocked to move action and speech toward an objective, immobile spectator.  Miner’s cameramen, conversely, were instructed to “find the action” by moving their cameras like subjective enquirers noticing things on the set (like a mysterious letter placed beside an entry door in The Storm) as the actors discover them, for example.  Miner (more than Coe) wanted the camera operator to be an independant, silent participant in the telling of the story.  Marshall used the same literal expression, “find the action”, about teleplay presentations broadcast in 1949 that was re-coined and re-invented by the producers of Friday Night Lights sixty years later.  I think the best place to stand when re-inventing the wheel is on the shoulders of giants, and that the lessons taught in The Golden Age of Televison desperately need revisiting by audiences criminally deprived of access to valuable pieces of the jigsaw puzzle of media literacy:  Crimes against culture in the interests of commerce, ignorance and bliss aren’t victimless.

Ask the Amazon search engine about “Rod Serling”.  You’ll get more than 30 pages of Twilight Zone references and almost nothing about the three Emmy-winning teleplays he wrote (Patterns, Requiem for a Heavyweight, The Comedian) before resorting, exhausted, to science-fiction/fantasy in 1959 to successfully slip 95 of 156 of his own incisve, socially-relevant, morally-challenging efforts at storytelling past the censors, sponsors, advertising agency representatives, networks and rednecks.  Nobody in 1965 anticipated the kind of popularity, syndication and marathons The Twilight Zone has enjoyed for a half-century, least of all, Rod Serling, or he’d have died one hell of a lot wealthier.   And the teleplays written or refined by Reginald Rose include 132 unavailable episodes of The Defenders from the early/middle 60s, along with long-forgotten Studio One presentations of The Remarkable Incident at Carson Corners, The Death and Life of Larry Benson, An Almanac of Liberty and Dino.  This stuff ain’t just television.  It ain’t just HBO.  It’s primitive, powerful, moving, inspiring, sorely-missed and probably necessary.  Next stop, The Paley Center, one station after Willoughby.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Stop_at_Willoughby

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22 May 11 - Posted by | Uncategorized

4 Comments »

  1. Hey Scott, interesting post.

    I’m wondering what the fascination is with Lady in the Lake? You’ve mentioned it a few times. I thought it was an all right movie, though the ‘innovative’ camera technique didn’t age all that well. Orson Welles was thinking of using the same thing to make Heart of Darkness, as I’m sure you know.

    I don’t think you could find a weirder set of adaptations than those of Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe novels. They range from the classic (Big Sleep, Murder My Sweet) to the entertaining (Farwell My Lovely) to the polarizing (Long Goodbye) to the…weird (like Lady in the Lake and the peculiar James Garner adaptation Marlowe, which features an inexplicable scene where Bruce Lee trashes Marlowe’s office).

    I don’t know if you’re an academic or a film scholar, but there’s an interesting article there.

    Best of luck,

    Sam

    Comment by Sam | 22 May 11 | Reply

    • Hi Sam,
      I’ve been thinking about the successes and failures of that 1947 film for at least a couple of years, and wrote about it kind of obsessively back here: https://scottellington.wordpress.com/2009/04/20/ontogenic-storytelling/

      “Ontogenic storytelling” was my attempt to reinvent the wheel. It’s an awkward expression that leads nowhere useful, but neither does anything else I’ve read. The best example of the alternative camera technique I’ve tried to explore is clearly illustrated in With the Angels, a series of webisodes at the StrikeTV link in the blogrool over there on the right of this page. The camera isn’t a manipulated, magical entity that presents information in accordance with the needs of the storyteller.
      I think Montgomery forgot that the power of Chandler’s story resides in the thoughts that pass through Marlowe’s head. The cinematic medium is so different from the novel that the value of Chandler’s dialogue is both compromised by the script and completely inadequate compared to the print version of this tale.
      I think the peculiarities of the adaptation point to failures in transmedia narrative that I’m also not finding articulated by anybody — and far from being a scholar of any kind, I’m just a guy looking for answers to questions I suspect are related to a pervasive perceptual pathology.
      Thanks for asking!

      Comment by Scott Ellington | 22 May 11 | Reply

      • Well said. I’ll check out the link.

        Comment by Sam | 23 May 11

  2. […] Green Zone […]

    Pingback by My Oldest Posts « Scott Ellington's Blog | 10 Aug 14 | Reply


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