Friday, March 12, 2010

SEVERE CLEAR: Fraga's editing and soundtrack, atop Scotti's camera-work, bring us the early days of "Iraqi Freedom"

Think a minute: Can you imagine a more depressing activity than reliving the beginnings of our current war in Iraq? Not just the underfunded, nonsensical "operations" (with our troops' non-protected by a cheap and sleazy administration), but the stupidity and presumption of the Rumsfeld team's non-planning (followed by its ridiculous excuses), not to mention the before-and-after lies upon lies of the Bush-Cheney crew? In SEVERE CLEAR we get all of this, plus the camera-work of a certain Marine First Lieutenant named Mike Scotti, who imagines that he is there in Iraq in reprisal for the death of a girl he knew in high school, whose life was lost in the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Scotti (above, left) captures a lot with his little DV mini-cam: the guys in his company, their activities (and thoughts about same) and, unless his voice-over was created much later when he had time to assess some of those aforementioned lies, it sounds as though he was smart enough to know, very early on, that a lot was wrong with what was going on. Scotti's camerawork and narration appear to provide much of what we see in Severe Clear, a first-person documentary account of those early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  So, who then is Kristian Fraga (above, right), the man credited for writing, editing, co-producing and directing this movie?

Though TrustMovies requested a short interview with Scotti, it appears that this is not going to happen, so I must proceed using only what I garnered from the 90-minute movie.  This encompasses some very raw footage of life during that 2003 time of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  The movie has been pronounced by certain journalists and reviewers as apolitical or non-political.  And yet Scotti's footage has been arranged in such a way and has been given from time to time a soundtrack full of British newscasters (from the BBC?) offering up information about what is going on that clearly indicates that this war has been "created" on false pretexts.

Scotti's own narration, whether made at the time of filming or later, makes it plain that our troops were given inadequate protection regarding their vehicles and their "armor."  Yet Scotti maintains that the marines "all love what we fucking do!"  Which prompts one to ask, Why?  All this is hardly a- or non-political. The first thing one wonders while watching all this is, Why only now?  Could this film not have been released a year -- or two or four -- earlier?  I suppose not, given the amount of censorship that exists in our government and society. Scotti himself remarks at one point in the film that all the "journalists" he's seen in Iraq (embedded, of course) are doing PR rather than any real reporting.

Not to worry.  Soon enough a chaplain is anointing the soldiers with oil, as he blesses them for battle.  How biblical!  How co-joined are church and state!  One of the strongest segments has Scotti telling us about (and showing us) the dead bodies, the sewage, and the flies that land on those bodies and then come to rest on the food that our boys are chowing down. They get sick.  No surprise.  We're treated to some not very profound statements such as, "I once read that in war bad things happen.  Ain't that the motherfuckin' truth."  Well, yes it is.  Next?

Eventually, the phrase "I can't wait to get out of this fucking place!" is heard over and over again, and we can't disagree. Then the looting starts,  the priceless treasures of the museum are ransacked, and we hear Rumsfeld complaining... about how disgusting the press is for reporting all this.  And this movie is not political?!  Upon their return to the U.S., Scotti tells us that our boys are "filled with one thing: anger. There were no WMDs,  no imminent threat to our country?"

And yet, at the finale, Scotti insists that, were he called up again, he would go,  "Not for the President.  Nor for our country.  But for the corp.  That's all you can trust."  Which makes him what -- some kind of mercenary?  Forget the fact that your "country" (aka: its leaders) might be dead wrong about what it is doing; if you're willing to go off and kill for no other reason that your buddies are doing it, too, this is... uh, disturbing.  But quite real, I suspect.  And can post-traumatic stress syndrome be far behind?

I wonder what  it might have been like to see Scotti's raw footage with only his own, at-the-time, narration -- and no other bells and whistles attached?  Not that Mr. Fraga has not given us a very interesting, upsetting documentary.  But as is more and more apparent these days, documentaries and "the truth" can reside uneasily in a space every bit as manufactured as that of any narrative film.

Severe Clear opens today, Friday, March 12 at New York City's Angelika Film Center and San Diego’s Gaslamp Stadium

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