Thursday, June 12, 2008


Directed By Errol Morris
* * * (Three Stars)

I snuck into the local art house theater to catch Errol Morris' new documentary on its last day in said theater. The 4pm showing. There were 3 people in attendance.

Morris is one of the reasons I got into documentary film. I saw The Thin Blue Line eight years ago and it blew my mind. Since then, I've seen his influence creep into my own films. For example, I have my interviewee stare right at the camera. This gives the feeling that they are speaking right to the audience.

Standard Operating Procedure is an emotional masterpiece that brilliantly, yet strangely objectively, hits you in the gut. There is no archive news footage, no CSPAN, no newspaper headlines, no George Bush, etc. Only three things make up this film: The interviews, the pictures and letters, and jaw-dropping re-enactments. This stripped-bare motif might come across as quite a snoozer in the hands of an amateur director, but Morris paces and edits this film well. At one point, I was literally on the edge of my seat, my hand on my mouth.

Morris, in typical form, lights and shoots his interviews amazingly well. He adjusts the camera as to frame their heads to switch from left to center to right of the screen. This makes for great edit jumpcuts. Also, as usual, he lets his interviewees talk and talk in a surprisingly candid manner.

But, the main character in this film are the pictures. The thousands of pictures taken at Abu Gharib. "A picture speaks a thousand words" and Morris has the words to tell the stories behind almost every photo. We all remember the photos, right? The girl soldier holding a dog leash around a naked prisoner's neck? She's on the main interviews. You hate her, then you understand her, then you feel bad for her. You feel bad for all of them. All except Graner, with whom the military denied Morris an interview. But all of these soldiers were poor, stupid scape goats.

One soldier was jailed for only having his back shown in a short series of photos. He was there for only five minutes. And he was helping one of the prisoners to his feet and loosening his handcuffs, which were cutting off circulation. The pictures and video proves this. But he's in jail. No one above Sergeant Major was punished for Abu Gharib despite proven direct influence from Generals, Corporals, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

"The pictures that you saw from Abu Gharib was not torture. That was exaggerated humiliation. The real torture was not photographed. Dozens of tortures ending in death." This is one of the soldiers interviewed who was incarcerated by the military for 3 years for throwing a nerf football at a prisoner's head. He, and others, testify of the presence of CIA, FBI, and DIA agents who would beat, pummel, and often kill their prisoners. Often times these prisoners were innocent taxi drivers, bakers, and even school children. One of the victims of CIA torture was actually photographed post-mordem. Seen here:

I won't lay out all the details, but Morris' interviews go into detail about how this man died.

By the way, the woman who took this photo was put in jail, and is still there. The people who actually killed the man have disappeared into the woodwork.

And Karpinski's interview was amazing. I was 100% sure after listening to her that the Abu Gharib aftermath was nothing more than a cover up. A U.S. Government approved coverup.

One slight critique: Morris' editorial technique is to cut to a black screen and then introduce the next interviewee's audio and then cut to their image. During the third act, which meanders a bit, this gave the impression of about 12 possible endings.

That said, everyone should see this film. Everyone. Seriously. But they won't. They never want to. And that explains a lot about the last 8 years.

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