Friday, May 2, 2008


I haven't seen Errol Morris' new documentary about the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, Standard Operating Procedure. Not because the material is bound to be gruesome and disturbing, but simply because it hasn't been released in Seattle yet. I'm a fan of Morris, and have a great appreciation for the way his distinctively minimal approach to film making creates uniquely thought-provoking documentaries. As with his last film, The Fog of War, I'm sure the images in the film will leave me sick with frustration. I'm equally sure that it will show me details to challenge my assumptions about this horrible episode, and will affect the way I think about it from now on.

As has been the case with Morris' films since The Thin Blue Line, Standard Operating Procedure has come under attack from critics for its use of re-enactments. This time however, Morris anticipated the reaction, and has written a lengthy philosophical essay on his blog defending the use of re-enacted history in forming clearer ideas about complex realities.

He writes: "Memory is an elastic affair. We remember selectively, just as we perceive selectively. We have to go back over perceived and remembered events, in order to figure out what happened, what really happened. My re-enactments focus our attention on some specific detail or object that helps us look beyond the surface of images to something hidden, something deeper – something that better captures what really happened."

The essay is quite lengthy - the size of a long magazine article - and rather than trying to process all of his insights by scrolling through your computer screen, it's well worth printing out.

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