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"Full Battle Rattle" Brings Iraq Back, Absurdly

by Anthony Kaufman
July 10, 2008 11:58 AM
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If the Iraq war no longer makes front page news, it's not because the death and destruction has relented: 34 people were killed on Tuesday, plus one U.S. soldier died, another 39 on Monday and 30 more bodies were found on Sunday, according to Iraqbodycount.net. Unfortunately, no amount of corpses will convince the American people that the invasion of Iraq was one of the worst foreign policy atrocities in recent world history. But maybe a nifty, little satirical piece of nonfiction can show people the way.

"Full Battle Rattle," whose directors Tony Gerber and Jesse Moss I spoke with for this Village Voice article a while back, have conceived one of the more absurdist and ultimately telling documentary portraits of America's mislaid plans in the Middle East. As I wrote in the Utne Reader this month, the film -- currently playing at the Film Forum -- is set in the U.S. Army’s war simulations in California’s Mojave Desert, and by following an Army combat brigade’s naive attempts to reconstruct and pacify a fake Iraqi village (complete with Iraqi Americans “acting” as Iraqi citizens), Gerber and Moss "play a skillful hand: evoking the war’s horrors and humiliations through the absurdity of stagecraft. The bloody, eviscerated limbs of mannequin props, for example, powerfully suggest the wounded bodies that are banned from the network news."

For Gerber, the film "is technically not an Iraq war film," he told me. "That's the subtext, of course. But it enabled us to get by the censors... I do strongly feel that there is a cultural self-censorship. That's what this Iraq fatigue is about: There's a projection of what works and what doesn't work among the people in power that has begun to self-censor what messages get out there. I met with a top producer from ABC News and he told me everytime they decided to lead with something in Iraq, they did it gruglingly, because they knew they'd take a huge ratings hit. With that sort of consideration determing what stories are on the nightly news, we are living in an age of censorship. The marketplace is the censor."

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