catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 12 :: 2008.06.13 — 2008.06.27


Grant’s recommendations 6.13.08

FILM: The Ground Truth

This documentary reveals the ongoing, and often hidden, tragedy of the War in Iraq from the perspective of U.S. soldiers who have returned home.  The film shows how all involved have become victimized by the horrors of war.  It begins with first-hand accounts of young men and women who were enticed by slick advertisements and the lies of recruiters to enter the military.  The documentary also offers a glimpse into military training practices where prospective soldiers are taught to over-ride their conscience in order to kill other human beings.  In a particularly chilling scene, one U.S. soldier recites a song he was taught that encourages U.S. trainees to kill schoolchildren.  The point is that in order to be effective the military must harden the hearts of humans so they can become expert killing machines.  The tension this creates in the psyches of soldiers is well-documented with several personal narratives throughout the film.  The film also documents the difficulties soldiers face when they return home to a society that directly contradicts the training they received in the military.  The Ground Truth is one of the early indicators of the severe challenge America faces as more and more soldiers return from Iraq.


FILM: Jazz—A Film by Ken Burns

This documentary series aired on PBS in 2001.  I only caught segments of it at the time, but I recently have given it the full attention it deserves.  Having seen too many documentaries that are merely academic treatises set to film, this is truly a cinematic treatment of jazz.  Interviews with writers and musicians flow musically in and out of the narrative alongside images that often give fitting affect to what’s being told.  Though some critics complained about the angle Burns took which meant less attention to certain forms of jazz, the basic premise of the film is a good one.  Burns wants to use jazz as a medium to express the story of race in America.  It makes sense that a man who explored the Civil War in such great detail would also be drawn to the story of jazz music.  In Ken Burns’ eyes, jazz is America’s historical sequel to the Civil War.  The discord and harmony of whites and blacks, north and south, can be found throughout jazz music, which Burns suggest is the very stage where race relations is played out in the first half of the 20th Century.  From the minstrel shows to the acceptance of jazz in white concert halls and academic circles in America’s major cities, jazz encapsulates the complex relationship of whites and blacks in America.  In Burns’ view, the improvisation and innovation of jazz is the American way.  Without a long history to draw from (or hold them back), Americans just make it up as they go along.  This is what freedom means for Americans.  In the wake of our most recent project of freedom in Iraq and the first black nominee for president, this film has renewed significance as a riff on some of America’s most common themes.

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