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.

11 thoughts on “Put That in Restrepo

  1. illumeateight

    I really enjoy war narratives also – Thin Red Line is a particular favorite of mine. Unlike you I have no past life experience that can justify it. Perhaps the politics, philosophy, and ethical quandaries are what catch my attention. I should say that I like complex war narratives. I’d prefer to be left out of romanticized ones, like Pearl Habor per se. I went through a war narrative phase in high school but haven’t seen any in a while. Though I was watching Objective Burma this afternoon on TCM so that has to count!

  2. Phil

    “……..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………?”

    Est-il possible que tu as un ancêtre qui a combattu contre les Japonais?

    Si cela est vrai, ton rêve de soldats japonais peut être les souvenirs de ton ancêtre qui tu as hérité.

    Lis *cet article.*

  3. jammer5

    After I got back from Vietnam, I couldn’t watch any film about that war. It took years before I ever watched The Deer Hunter or Apocalypse Now. Seeing the effects of real bullets on real humans turned me off to any and all forms of war.

    When I finally came around, if that’s what one can call it, and came to the conclusion man is basically a violent species, and there was little I could do about it, I watched both movies. While both hit home hard, in different ways, I was able to enjoy each for the story line, the directing and the acting. But I’ve never really been able to watch the non-fiction narratives, and maybe that’s why The Hurt Locker bothered me so much; it was too real for my tastes.

    It’s also the reason I’ll skip Restro: I don’t like nightmares.

      1. jammer5

        I don’t know why, but films about the civil war were never my favorites, nor was I much interested in them. I do, however read avidly about it, particularly about the border states of Kansas and Missouri. I used to take side trips to places like Pea Ridge, Carthage, Drywood, Wilson’s creek, etc. . . . all located around the Joplin, MO, area.

        Today’s wars, from Vietnam on, bother me because I was a small part of them on a personal level. You don’t ever really forget that.

        1. sittingpugs Post author

          Today’s wars, from Vietnam on, bother me because I was a small part of them on a personal level. You don’t ever really forget that.

          The role and dissemination of news and media have changed tremendously too since Vietnam. Conflict in a distant land isn’t so distant when images and sounds are sent back days or hours (rather than weeks) later. And today? We’re talking minutes, right? Not even days.

          I know what you mean about the Civil War.

  4. jammer5

    Conflict in a distant land isn’t so distant when images and sounds are sent back days or hours (rather than weeks) later. And today? We’re talking minutes, right? Not even days.

    And makes it seem more like a reality show than an actual war. I find that disturbing, to say the least.

    If you’re interested, one of the best books I’ve read on the civil war is:

    Inside War: The Guerrilla Conflict in Missouri During the American Civil War.
    By Michael Fellman

    It covers a part of the war you won’t read about in mainstream books.


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