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May 21, 2005
Blogs, War, Movies, and MoreBy Greyhawk
(Note: The film Gunner Palace will be available on DVD from Amazon on June 28th. Part of the profits will be donated to the Fisher House, an organization dedicated to helping families of wounded troops. To mark the event - and perhaps introduce this movie to newer readers - here's my interview with the man who made the film, conducted at the time of the theatrical release.)
Filmmaker Michael Tucker visits Mudville to talk about Iraq, the blogosphere, and his movie Gunner Palace, opening in theaters this weekend.
A late January day in Iraq, typical of any day of that sort. Except eight million of the locals got up, got dressed, and made their way to the polls to vote on their futures and the future of the world. A few died for the effort, the vast majority did not. And the rest of the world got images; purple fingers, dancing, smiles, and perhaps bit of renewed faith and hope for mankind. I was there, in Baghdad on that day, and that very afternoon, success still in the air, I read this in the NY Times:
Watching "Gunner Palace" - the title refers to the 2-3 Field Artillery's headquarters, the gutted former Uday Hussein palace in Baghdad - you realize the American mission is probably doomed even as you admire the men and women who volunteered to execute it.
Of course Frank Rich wrote that review pre-election, and no doubt expected it to resonate in the atmosphere of failure he anticipated for that day. But what did that mean as far as the movie was concerned? Had he actually seen it? Was it really one that would elicit such a response, or was the reviewer just forcing a square peg into his own pre-drilled round hole, viewing it through his personal filter of defeat?
Because here's what bothered me, reading those rather despairing words on an otherwise fine, fine day. I knew that movie. Mike Tucker, the man who made it, had emailed me a couple of times over the past few months, most recently regarding difficulties with the rating, and...
Hmmm, perhaps it would be best if we did this via flashback. (Now you imagine a wavy appearance to everything as the screen fades to black.... then fades in on...)
A much younger Greyhawk makes his internet rounds, his limber mouse finger clicking swiftly as he moves through the MilBlogs Ring and stops on this post at CPT Patti, a blog (since closed) run by fellow American-in-Germany named Tim, a retired Army Colonel and husband of Cpt Patti, in which Tim wrote:
I have an e-friend named Mike. He makes his living making films (there may be a more specific way to say that...I'm not certain.)
"Hey..." I thought, immediately dropping into my role as one of the stewards of the blogosphere, "I wonder if I could help bring attention to this - and if the blogosphere could make something happen here?" After all, in the first few months of existance Mudville had already helped thwart the evil machinations of the William Morris Agency. So who knows what a blog post might accomplish?
So I did two things. First I posted a link to Tim's post, and then I emailed Glenn Reynolds, a fellow steward of the blogosphere who's always on the lookout for interesting links. He linked too, and together we sent thousands of readers over that way. ;)
Would it matter? Prayer is a powerful thing, but if everyone in the industry had the same attitude as is expressed in this German media quote from David Kaspar you'd think that's exactly what they didn't have:
All German TV networks and stations rejected tucker's documentary. Not all of them rejected the film because they considered it unstructured or thought, as was written in one rejection notice, that "given the current state of the public discussion of torture and Iraq's future it will be difficult to find a station willing to broadcast [the film]." Even those broadcasters who thought Tucker's film was the most vivid available portrait of the American soldiers in Iraq were afraid their viewers wouldn't understand. It's true. Tucker's Gunner Palace presents a completely different portrait of American troops than does Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. Tucker has no agenda and no enemy - and therefore, perhaps, also no friends in Germany
Tucker was undaunted; he had a tale to tell, and it was important to him. Up against formable barriers and needing a way to develop a groundswell of support he tapped something known to relatively few people at the time; the Power of Blogs.
I received my first email from Tucker shortly thereafter, introducing me to the blog he started about the film. I linked it, and by this point in time a few other blogs were linking to him as well, but I was actually getting ready to deploy to Baghdad myself and didn't have time to follow any developments in the story.
So now fade back in on today. What happened in those intervening months to make a film about "our Soldiers and Marines, [who] imperfect as they may be, on the whole are good Americans doing good things" and presenting "a completely different portrait of American troops than does Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11" into something now referred to as "A companion piece of sorts to Fahrenheit 9/11". Could Mike really have called his own movie a "Trojan horse" to get the average, support-our-troops American to think realistically about the war as he was quoted?
Once again - blogs fill the knowledge gap. This review by Armed Liberal at Winds of Change seemed fair:
My reaction to the movie while I was watching it was complicated - up, down, sideways, and back again. And when it was over, I was ready to sit back down and see it again, which is a strong vote that you go see it as well.
MilBlogger Phil Carter got to see the screening too.
To call the movie "powerful" would be an oversimplification. It was that, but it was so much more too. "Gunner Palace" does what no book, no news article, and no blog can do - it makes the soldiers of 2-3 FA come alive for those experiencing the movie, in a way they could only do if they were in person. The movie shows little of the war as we see it on CNN or in DOD press conferences; you don't learn about grand strategy or tactics, or the push/pull of victory and defeat. Instead, what you hear are soldiers' stories - from the privates to the sergeants to the captains to battalion commander LTC Bill Rabena, a colleague of mine from Fort Hood.
Lefty blogger Kevin Drum linked Carter's review, and his post prompted the following comments from his readers, perhaps giving insight to how some on the left will receive the film:
I'm sorry, but this business about what "heroes" "our troops" are is growing more than a bit old, a bit thin, and a bit stale.
Others speculate that it's Tucker and co-director Petra Epperlein who are spitting on the troops. Ken Tucker (no relation to Mike), in New York Magazine:
Watching Gunner Palace, I initially wondered whether the filmmakers, Michael Tucker (no relation) and Petra Epperlein, were like the people who used to spit on Vietnam veterans when they returned home. Their anger -iin this case, about America?s invasion and subsequent "rebuilding" of Iraq - seemed gravely misplaced. Instead of criticizing the Bush-administration policies their film so clearly detests, Tucker and Epperlein train their cameras on the people involved in this engagement who have the least power. These are, of course, the soldiers, who are made to look, most of the time, like irresponsible fools.
For the record, Tucker is from a military family, he's not spitting on the troops.
(Side note: don't worry - no one's spitting on the returning troops. That didn't even happen during Vietnam, as James Wolcott explains in his discussion of the film - for those who need the deranged moonbat point-of-view).
All of this leaves me eager to see the film and decide for myself - something I didn't feel a need for with Fahrenheit 9/11. But I won't be able to until it opens in Germany, either in AAFES theaters on base or in the Kinos outside the gates. But I didn't have to wait to find answers to some of my questions - because I had Michael Tucker's e-mail. He's been stateside this past week and obviously busy doing the pre-debut media blitz associated with any premier. But I contacted him and on the eve of opening day he graciously took time from his schedule to respond.
Without further ado - my conversation with Mike on blogs, war, and Gunner Palace.
Greyhawk: Congratulations on the opening of Gunner Palace. I know it was a long haul, and there were a few blogs 'with you all the way'. You've even got a blog roll of sorts on the movie site. Did blogs help move the project forward?
Michael Tucker: Blogs helped during production to hear a diversity of perspectives on the war. Favorites in the Mil sector include Trying to Grok, CPT Patti's Husband and Blackfive. It was useful to read these people to know what military families were experiencing and to hear from people on the ground. While I have my own experiences, it is often useful to compare notes--to take the pulse of America.
When we first released clips from the film, bloggers were the ones who responded. That interest helped spark festival interest--an internet footprint can be measured and provides instant feedback to distributors.
GH: How did the project get started? How did you get to Iraq?
MT: I went to Iraq the first time in May 2003 with a German armored car salesman to make a film about the security business. That led to another trip in June/July 2003. While we were running around Baghdad we got to know many soldiers--most from 1/36 Infantry. They traded us food for phone calls. During that summer you could see the "war" falling off the front pages, while kids were dying every week. I went out on a few patrols and decided that there was a film in it. I returned in September 2003 and heard about 2/3 FA, their pool (it was hot) and their palace.
GH: Are you still in touch with the guys - what do they think of the finished product?
MT: Most of the soldiers in the film have seen it and are pleased with the results. They are the toughest critics, so I showed it to them first in Giessen, Germany in July and later in September. We just were on tour for six weeks which brought us to 15 cities where many Gunners as well as soldiers from other units screened it. The response from OIF Vets, especially from that time period, has been amazing. I think the film captures the essence of place as well as some of the character of today's Army. In Fayetteville, it screened through the roof which made me happy. Again, tough critics.
GH: How many theaters is it opening in? Is this big, nationwide? (It should be!)
MT: We open tonight in NYC, DC, LA and SF. On the 11th we had 15 more cities. On the 18th we should be in the top 40. These first weeks are critical.
GH: You've called the movie non-political, said it's about nothing more than the story of the guys in the film. But more than a few major-media columnists/reviewers are labeling it an anti-war classic. What would you say to them to set them straight?
MT: I left my politics at the palace gate. You do see some contrast between what war planners are saying and what war fighters are doing. Iraq has become very personal for me. I don't see it through a political lens anymore, rather an emotional one. I've made many friends, and lost a few. Iraq is also a place that is not black and white. It is one big gray area. I've tried my best to show reality--good and bad.
As for antiwar? I don't think it is possible to make a film during a time when young Americans and Iraqis are dying every day that is not antiwar. However, I think the film is more complicated than that. Rather, it challenges what many of us think of the war from afar. Up close and personal, it feels different. When you are in the middle of it, again, it becomes personal.
GH: No one is more anti-war than the soldier. Speaking of soldiers, who's that picture of - in the advertising? It looks like a young kid in a helmet.
MT: That is SPC Tom Susdorf. Age 20 when the pic was taken by me. He had just come off an escort. I love the pic 'cause he looks (and is) so young. He was one of my room-mates--great kid with about a month left in the army. He's going to college, so he'll be the only freshman with his face on a poster (freckles and all).
Back to the antiwar theme, anti-war demonstrations generally draw large crowds - or did a few months back before the success of our efforts in Iraq became more obvious. A few groups are doing 'counter demonstrations' - Protest Warrior, etc. But generally they attract relatively few people. We could speculate endlessly on why that is, but the fact is, that's the way it is. Regardless of real numbers of each camp, the 'anti' side is the one that brings people out. Does that factor in to the marketing of the film?
MT: No. I think both camps can learn from these soldiers and they are. Look at the review in Salon today. Amazing. I feel like I was successful in telling the story of these soldiers in a way that humanizes them- so people care what happens to them and the Iraqi people. It feels great that people are taking the war more personally when they view this film--connecting with a few faces so they have a reason to care.
Obviously the movie is not without controversy - that should surprise no one. The bottom line is if you made a movie about the war in Iraq that wasn't controversial then you somehow failed to capture the essence of the war. Based on the comments and reviews Tucker and Epperlein captured that essence quite well. I'm looking forward to seeing the film. For those of us in Germany, Mike also mentioned he's trying to get a special print for the 1st Armored Division.
For those of you who responded to Tim's original request - you're prayers have been answered. See Gunner Palace tonight in New York City, DC, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Fifteen more cities on the 11th and nationwide by the 18th. Contact your local theaters and see when Baghdad will come to your town.
21 May Update: via email, Michael Tucker:
The DVD comes out on June 28th. Presales on Amazon now
Posted by Greyhawk / May 21, 2005 12:20 PM | Permalink
If you live anywhere near New York City, DC, Los Angeles or San Francisco, please go see Gunner Palace. I need you to make it a hit so that it can come here to AAFES so I can see it.... Read More
I was otherwise kind of blocked on what to write about today, tired of the same old shit, so here is something ALWAYS worth writing about--supporting the troops: ... Read More
Michael Tucker filmed the documentary in his time with the 2/3 in Baghdad, where he lived with the troops, in none other than a palace of the late Uday Hussein. The story he tells isn't really a story, a depiction at all. Structured around a loose ch... Read More
If you don't know what Gunners Palace is yet, drop on by Mudville and read this. After you're done, read a review by Andrew Watkins, a D.C. resident and "military guy." Everyone, and I mean everyone should see this movie.... Read More
The Nose On Your Face would like to thank our Top Referrers from the past week. IMAO The Mudville Gazette Comonwealth Conservative The Conservative Cat Outside the Beltway Riehl World View Brainster Cranky Neocon Be sure to visit the Fourth Read More
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
Furthermore, I will occasionally use satire or parody herein. The bottom line: it's my house.
I like having visitors to my house. I hope you are entertained. I fight for your right to free speech, and am thrilled when you exercise said rights here. Comments and e-mails are welcome, but all such communication is to be assumed to be 1)the original work of any who initiate said communication and 2)the property of the Mudville Gazette, with free use granted thereto for publication in electronic or written form. If you do NOT wish to have your message posted, write "CONFIDENTIAL" in the subject line of your email.
Original content copyright © 2003 - 2011 by Greyhawk. Fair, not-for-profit use of said material by others is encouraged, as long as acknowledgement and credit is given, to include the url of the original source post. Other arrangements can be made as needed.
Contact: greyhawk at mudvillegazette dot com