Monday, July 15, 2013

Left Field Cinema -- Documentary Milestone: The Fog of War – Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara

Documentary Milestone: The Fog of War – Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara
Left Field Cinema

The Fog of War is Directed by Errol Morris perhaps the most celebrated American documentarian, if not as well known as Michael Moore by the public, Morris is certainly a critical darling. Roger Ebert considers Morris’s first film Gates of Heaven, a documentary about pet cemeteries, as one of his top ten films of all time. Gates of Heaven also provides an entertaining anecdote, in which Werner Herzog promised if Morris ever finished the film he would eat his shoe. Herzog’s insanity can be seen in the short film Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe. Morris’s third feature remains his best known. Thin Blue Line, which followed Vernon, Florida, remains one of the most powerful artistic statements by any filmmaker. Thin Blue Line lead to the subject of the film to have his death row sentence changed to life in prison, then subsequently the initial verdict was over turned. Morris’s documentary directly contributed to this result. The style of the film relies on interviews and re-creations. This emphasis on non-fiction as a documentary style would become Morris’s calling card. Morris went to direct a series of further documentaries including 2008’s War on Terror documentary Standard Operating Procedure. Although Standard Operating Procedure has not been received as well as the earlier documentary Taxi to the Darkside by Alex Gibney which was also released last year it remains an interesting piece of work which focuses on Morris’s typical themes of the deceptive nature of what is considered to be “true”. Morris’s friendship with Werner Herzog makes a great deal of thematic sense, both men search for the ecstatic truth within their respective subjects often at the expense of what could be considered the conventional approach.

The Fog of War presents Morris on top form, a self-proclaimed detective director (which suits him well as he previously worked as a private eye) Morris constructs The Fog of War in such a simplistic manner that it baffles the mind to witness how compelling it is. The entire film is essentially a one-hundred and five minute interview with its subject. The subject being Robert Strange McNamara the Secretary of Defense for John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, and previously an analyst for the Japanese bombings in World War Two and briefly the first President of Ford motors to not belong to the Ford family. He is a man who’s life begins at the end of the first World War, indeed he is adamant that his first memory was that of the victory parades, the celebrations at the end of the “War to end all Wars” following this we witness the part he played in World War II, the Cold war, and the Cuban Missile Crisis, then finally the Vietnam War. McNamara is a man who’s been surrounded by war all of his life. His contribution to the global politics over the 20th Century is a matter for speculation, by that I mean what real effect he had on events, of which McNamara himself is often uncertain. But as a witness to some of the pivotal events in recent history, you’ll be hard pressed to find a man alive who’s seen so much, witnessed such extremes of human behaviour, or gained such a vast understanding of the moral, amoral, and immoral tapestry that is war. McNamara has amazing recall for a man aged eighty-five casting his mind back more than forty years. He is charismatic figure, who sense of irony and wit cannot be denied. However, the man remains even now the consummate politician.

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