For a variety of reasons, I was unable to see THE WAR TAPES when it
premiered in New York City at the
2006 Tribeca Film Festival where it was awarded
the prize for Best Documentary. Fortunately, the movie is receiving a theatrical
release and I would encourage you to seek it out when it comes to your town,
whatever your views on American involvement in Iraq.
  
  Filmmaker Deborah Scranton was given the opportunity to be embedded with
troops in Iraq. Undoubtedly, if she had accepted that position, she might have turned
out a film similar to last year's
GUNNER PALACE. Instead, she hit upon the novel
idea of arming several soldiers from the Charlie Company, 3rd of the 172nd Infantry
Regiment with digital video cameras. Thanks to the Internet, Scranton was able
to take the footage shot by the men in Iraq and edit it. She augmented their
sequences with interviews with family members in New Hampshire and
Massachusetts. Somehow, with the help of editors Leslie Simmer and producer
Steve James (who is best known for his own documentaries like
HOOP DREAMS
and STEVIE), they assembled footage that runs a mere 97 minutes but which fully
encapsulates the one-year tour of duty for these soldiers.

  Three men emerge as main characters. Specialist Mike Moriarty is the oldest,
a married father in his mid-30s, he served as a direct response to the events of
September 11, 2001. Sergeant Steve Pink is an aspiring writer who enlisted in
part to pay for his education. He sometimes quotes from his journal in which he
displays his intelligence and creative abilities. Some of his writing borders on black
comedy, such as describing an argument over whether severed limbs resemble
ground hamburger or pot roast. The third is the most intriguing: Lebanese-born
Sergeant Zaher "Zack" Bazzi who had already seen action in Bosnia and Kosovo.

  The footage shot by the soldiers ranges from the mundane (escorting caravans
of trucks carrying everything from cheese to waste) to being thrust in the heat of battle
with bullets flying and bombs exploding. The men detail the frustrations, fears and
humor of serving in the military. While they feel they have a duty and their presence in
Iraq is for a good cause, they are cynical enough to realize that someone is getting
rich off the war.

  THE WAR TAPES is an important document of the American participation of
in Iraq. I came of age during the Vietnam conflict when television played an important
role is bringing that war into the living rooms of American homes. Despite the
presence of embedded journalists, the fighting in Iraq isn't presented to us in the
same manner. Instead of finding stories like these on the small screen, it has fallen
to motion pictures to take up the slack. With the advances in technology that have
allowed soldiers to carry cameras in their helmets and mounted on the dashboards
of their tanks and humvees, documentaries like this film are the "new journalism."

  Whatever one's feelings about the war,
THE WAR TAPES makes clear that
the men and women who are serving in the armed forces deserve our respect
and appreciation. Scranton has included a postscript to the men's service wherein
they try to adjust to civilian life. Moriarty finds that people's initial curiosity about his
service gives way to ennui. He also suffers from physical problems like carpel tunnel
syndrome that has an effect on his job performance. (He sands and paints airplanes.)
Bazzi doesn't really share his experiences with his mother -- a woman who survived
her homeland's civil war and brought her family to the United  States in the hopes of
a better life. Pink appears to be the most affected by his service -- he has refused
to get treatment for what was diagnosed as post-traumatic stress. From his journal
entries, it's clear he has the talent to create a darkly comic novel; one can hope.


                             Rating:                        A -
                             MPAA Rating:            NONE
                             Running time:             97 mins.

                                     Viewed at Magno Review One
The War Tapes
©  2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.