Revolution #111, December 9, 2007

Movie Review:

Redacted...and Banned

We received the following from a reader:

I wrote this review a few days after the film Redacted opened in the city where I live. After its first week it was gone from the city. By the time you read this it may be totally gone from theaters, killed through lack of promotion, vitriolic attacks, and the sometimes open, sometimes veiled and more refined, but always Machiavellian workings of the American cultural/propaganda machine. Redacted will likely continue to be available on HDNet cable TV and surely on DVD. Look for the film though—it might still be showing in a theater where you live.


Redacted from director Brian De Palma is a must see. This film is a work of conviction which boldly and angrily exposes the carnage and misery that has been the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq—the reality behind the mass media lies, talking points, and sanitizing of the U.S. destruction of Iraq and its people. Concentrating on the actions of one unit of soldiers, it gives a focused glimpse of what the U.S. military machine has brought down on the people of Iraq, the indescribable crimes it continues to commit, and the mentality that the troops are inculcated with and that many become steeped in. It presents a devastating portrait that stands as a much larger metaphor—a challenge to those who want to turn away and hide their eyes from these atrocities.

Redacted. I cannot recall a movie that is so aptly named. Fascists like Bill O’Reilly and Michael Medved, along with a number of mainstream critics and opinion makers (employing somewhat more subtle tactics), have sought to redact the film and its message and delete its images from the American psyche before they can even be seen. The film opened in very few theaters in a handful of cities despite a great deal of furor and controversy and despite the fact that it is the work of a major director.

Redacted is centered around a true story. In March 2006, a 14-year-old Iraqi girl, Abeer Qasim Hamza al-Janabi, was raped, shot in the face, and burned along with other members of her family by U.S. soldiers. Speaking after the film won the Silver Lion award for best director at the Venice Film Festival, De Palma said, “The movie is an attempt to bring the reality of what is happening in Iraq to the American people. The pictures are what will stop the war… In Vietnam we saw the images and the sorrow of the people we were traumatizing and killing, we saw soldiers wounded and brought back in body bags. We see none of that in this war. It’s all out there on the internet, you can find it if you look for it, but it’s not in the major media.”

The Struggle to Get the Film Made

It was a big struggle to get this film made. Through his efforts and fortunate coincidence, De Palma was able to find a company to finance it and make it on a shoestring budget of $5 million. He had to fight and maneuver throughout the making of the film in order that important parts of its content not be redacted. Because the film’s backers (HDNet/Magnolia Pictures) supposedly feared legal problems, De Palma was forced to change the names and many other details about actual events and had to make a “fictional” film done as a documentary about actual events. An interviewer from Sky News asked him, “We know all the details, so how does putting the existing true story into a factual narrative form make it any worse?” De Palma answered, “Sometimes capitalism does not enable free creativity, or speech for that matter, my dear.” He told Reuters, “Everything that is in the movie is based on something I found that actually happened. But once I had put it in the script I would get a note from a lawyer saying you can’t use that because it’s real and we may get sued. So I was forced to fictionalize things that were actually real.”

The film consists entirely of ostensibly “found” footage, which was scripted and shot by the filmmakers. It’s a collage of clips made to simulate soldiers’ personal videos (using the device that one of the soldiers in the fictional unit is making a video to help him get into film school), helmet and surveillance cam footage, a French documentary film, an Al Jazeera-like TV station, internet sites, webcams, etc. Through this method, events leading up to, during, and after the rape in Mahmoudiya are portrayed and the film’s story told.

This construction and the way De Palma, the actors, and the other filmmakers have executed it have drawn both praise and a great deal of “artistic” criticism from a number of critics who have either been enraged or made queasy and uncomfortable by the content of the film and the directness of its presentation. There has been more than a little dishonest and disingenuous film criticism leveled at the way De Palma tells his story, often accompanied with hollow nods of seeming approval for his intentions and message. We’ve seen THIS movie before. With the agenda of discouraging anyone from actually seeing the film for themselves, the knowing critic dismisses it on the ostensible basis that it is bad art. Redacted, like any work of art, has strengths and weaknesses and is open to honest artistic criticism. But tawdry hatchet jobs need to be seen for what they are. And in my opinion this film IS good art. This is a creatively done film, and some of the critics seem to have completely missed what De Palma was trying to do. (Or have they?) Film critic Roger Ebert, among others, has favorably reviewed the film, including its style and method.

What De Palma did in the situation he was faced with in making this film was actually genius. Instead of giving in to obstacles, he took that very adversity and turned it to an advantage by weaving in the theme of redaction—the attempts at erasure of officially sanctioned savagery—as an intrinsic part of the story. Hand in hand with the commission of war crimes are the cover-ups, the lies, the destruction and suppression of evidence. The truth of horrors such as the rape of Abeer Qasim Hamza al-Janabi and the larger truth it is part of MUST be kept from the masses of people in order to lay the basis for further and greater crimes.

The end of the film is its most powerful moment. (If you don’t like spoilers, skip the next sentence. I hate spoilers too, but I knew all about the end of the film before I saw it and it still had a very powerful effect.) The film ends with graphic pictures of Iraqi people of all ages slaughtered by American troops, with the caption “Collateral Damage.” This moment, too, has been partially redacted. The last shot was supposed to be a photo of the corpse of Abeer Qasim Hamza al-Janabi, but De Palma was forced to substitute a staged version. And shortly before the film was released, the film’s financial backers, Magnolia Pictures, had black bars put over the faces of the people. A furious De Palma denounced the last-minute redactions at a stormy press conference during the New York Film Festival.

Attacks from the Fascist Noise Machine

Right before the film opened the fascist noise machine went ballistic, attacking the film, De Palma, and the film’s backers. Calling for a boycott of the film, Bill O’Reilly said, “[Redacted] will incite young Muslim men…to act on their hatred. If just one of those men straps on a bomb vest and murders people, that is on Brian De Palma.” Michael Medved was beside himself: “It could be the worst movie I’ve ever seen. I mean, the out and out worst, most disgusting, most hateful, most incompetent, most revolting, most loathsome, most reprehensible cinematic work I’ve ever encountered… It is a slander on the United States of America. It is a slander on the Marine Corps. It is a slander on our troops… Will it inspire future terrorists? Of course it will!”

These comments are essentially fascist fatwas meant to rally the storm troops to go after the film and those behind it, to intimidate people from seeing the film, and to broadly threaten opposition to what the regime is doing with charges of “aiding the terrorists” and in essence crying “treason.” Mark Cuban, the main financial backer of the film, who has also been targeted by O’Reilly and others, addressed O’Reilly in his Blog Maverick internet blog: “The people who take you literally took it upon themselves to call my businesses with bomb threats, threaten employees, myself and others with physical harm and wish every manor of death, injury and illness on us all.”

In an interview before the film’s release De Palma said, “I feel like one of the characters in my film, who goes along with the rape in spite of his moral objection to it. In real life, I feel helpless to stop these horrible things that are happening, this horrible war that I am financing as an American citizen. I couldn’t stop G.W. Bush from dropping all those bombs on Iraq. I can’t physically stop him from doing so again, all I can do is work within my genre and its limitations.” Redacted is a call and a challenge to those who need to get off the fence, stare the truth in the face, and stop being complicit. It’s high time and way past time to put a stop to the wars, the torture, everything this government is doing right in front of our faces, with much more and much worse up ahead if we do not act.

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