Daily Archives: August 7, 2010

Put That in Restrepo

I assume you’re familiar with the phrase “put that in writing” ?  Given how infrequently people hand-write now, couldn’t, shouldn’t one say “put that in Trade Gothic size 10” instead? (or whatever font and size one prefers).


I enjoy fiction and non-fiction narratives about war and combat, though I’m not sure why.  Novel, photographic essay, memoirs, historical tributes, journalism, mixed media text, film, documentary–no matter the form, I’m there.  Even when the quality of storytelling could be improved, the content of the text tends to maintain my attention.  I do not come from a family of (American) military personnel.  My paternal grandfather served in Taiwan’s air force.  I suppose I don’t need a reason to like the stories, nonetheless, I can explain my tastes in parts of cultural capital.  For instance, I like giallo and slasher films because women die beautifully, sometimes hyperbolically, on screen.  I like Chinese pop music because the sad songs are very sad; the sappy songs can be both happy and sad (at the same time) as well as happy or sad.

A fledgling hypothesis I have formulated to account for my affinity for war narratives would also be my fledgling hypothesis for why as a child I had recurring dreams about Japanese soldiers on a TV screen that I could not shut off no matter what I did.  It was a “one shot” dream.  Set against a white background that extended as far as the eye could see, a lone television set played a loop of two Japanese soldiers in medium close-up looking off-screen left.  Their rifles at the ready.  The soldiers themselves didn’t frighten me; my inability to turn off the TV disturbed me.  Even unplugging it didn’t accomplish anything.


My hypothesis?  I used to say that I was probably a Korean man in a past life; what if I fought against the Japanese in World War II in the same past life?* Sure, my reasoning would be bolstered if I dreamed in Korean or were able to learn the language much faster than at my current pace or if I despised Japanese men (rather than just get very angry and sad when reading about Japanese militaristic exploits across Asia in the last couple of centuries).  Even so.  I had those dreams when I was in elementary school and the only cinematic images available to my unconsciousness were James Bond films, Hollywood Musicals, and CBS soap operas.  I didn’t wander into the family room one late night and watch a war film on TBS.  If that were the case, it would have implanted an image mine-able for subsequent REM sleep.

Now, for the main subject of this entry.  Tim Hetherington and Sebastien Junger’s documentary Restrepo (2010) has opened in my fair city.  I had seen a couple of previews for it during previous film excursions to the Tara on Cheshire Bridge.  Given the subject matter and the entities involved, Restrepo was added on my to-watch list.  The official site summarizes it as being “an entirely experiential film” where the “only goal is to make the viewers feel as if they have just been through a 90-minute deployment.”  The documentary is a culmination, contemplation of the filmmakers’ time with the Battle Company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade’s 2nd platoon unit from May 2007 to July 2008.

There are unavoidable comparisons to Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker but only because her film was theatrically released earlier.  Among the things that struck me when I was watching Restrepo was a comment Amy Taubin made about The Hurt Locker in an article for Film Comment:  It is “a totally immersive, off-the-charts high-anxiety experience from beginning to end.”  Verbatim, it could and does also apply to Restrepo, however, the manifestation of the suspense and anxiety is much more substantial in Hetherington and Junger’s film.

True, when real, factual people are shooting at other real, factual people, and when there are real, factual casualties, the chaotic or nervous energy surrounding the people involved is necessarily more intense.  What I observed, though, transcends this technicality.  When watching a sequence from a horror, action, or war film and you know or suspect that someone is about to die, there are visual and auditory cues that create suspense.  In a documentary, unless the editing resembles narrative cinema more than non-narrative cinema, you don’t experience the ascending “someone’s going to die.”  Might there be an assumption that because it’s documentary footage, the people you see are going to be all right until voice-overs or title cards suggest otherwise?

My favorite scene in Restrepo was the conversation about a ranch and if there are cows on it.  Fanta and Otis Spunkmeyer cookies were among the branded products that I could discern.


Find close-up images of the soldiers featured in the doc here.  The graphics remind me of the matching game I created for an entry on Black Hawk Down.

Read the press notes for more information on the production.

*In the same breath, I could’ve been a Japanese soldier and vehemently against what I was ordered to do.  Hence, the inability to turn off the TV.

Pic creds: Letters From Iwo Jima, here, and google image search.