Tag: fog of war

The Interrotron

In a recent visit to the movies I picked up the FLM [Magazine] (Winter 2004), a product of Landmark Theatres, and found an article by Errol Morris, “13 Questions and Answers on the Filmmaking of Errol Morris“. It contained a bit of drollery about the Interrotron.

In The Fog of War and other Morris’ movies, the interview subjects stare straight into the camera while responding to a voice interviewing them from off screen.

Here is the text lifted without permission from the magazine’s website (http://www.movienet.com/fogofwar.html). I have attempted to maintain the design and layout. I did add the picture of the Interrotron from another source.

Q Is it true that you interview people using a machine?

A Yes, the (patent pending) Interrotron. It’s a machine that uses existing technology in a new and novel way. When I made my first film, Gates of Heaven, I interviewed people by putting my head right up against the lens of the camera. I would be talking to them, and it seemed as though they were looking directly into the lens of the camera, but not really. Almost, but not quite. Of course, they were looking a little bit off to the side.

Q Why? What’s the point?

A To create the first person. When someone watches my films, it is as though the characters are talking directly to them…There is no third party. On television we’re used to seeing people interviewed 60 Minutes style. There is Mike Wallace or Larry King, and the camera is off to the side. Hence, we, the audience, are also off to the side. We’re the fly-on-the-wall, so to speak, watching two people talking. But we’ve lost something.

Q What?

A Direct eye contact.

Q Eye contact?

A Uh huh. We all know when someone makes eye contact with us. It is a moment of drama. Perhaps it’s a serial killer telling us that he’s about to kill us; or a loved one acknowledging a moment of affection. Regardless, it’s a moment with dramatic value. We know when people make eye contact with us, look away and then make eye contact again. It’s an essential part of communication. And yet, it is lost in standard interviews on film. That is, until the Interrotron.

Q I don’t get it.

A I got tired of sitting so close to the camera. (In my early films, my cameraman would grab the back of my head and pull me back because you could see the side of my head in the lens. When he yanked me back, it often hurt.) And I started to wonder, what if I could become one with the camera. What if the camera and myself could become one and the same?

Q You’re losing me.

A Well, not literally. Are you familiar with Teleprompters?

Q Not really.

A Well, Teleprompters are used to project an image on a two-way mirror. Politicians and newscasters use them so that they can read text and look into the lens of the camera at the same time. What interests me is that nobody thought of using them for anything other than to display text: read a speech or read the news and look into the lens of the camera.







(image borrowed without permission from http://www.spin.com)

Q OK.

A  I changed that. I put my face on the Teleprompter or, strictly speaking, my live video image. For the first time, I could be talking to someone, and they could be talking to me and at the same time looking directly into the lens of the camera. Now, there was no looking off slightly to the side. No more faux first person. This was the true first person.

Q It sounds like Buck Rogers. Were people willing to tolerate this?

A I worried at first. Would it frighten people? Would they run out of the studio screaming? Who could say? I used it for the first time in Fast, Cheap & Out of Control. And it worked like a charm. People loved the Interrotron.

Q The Interrotron? Did you make up the name?

A No, it was named by my wife, Julia Sheehan. She liked the name because it combined two important concepts — terror and interview.

Q But doesn’t the device intimidate people?

A Oddly enough, no. It doesn’t. People, if anything, feel more relaxed when talking to a live video image. My production designer, Ted Bafaloukos, said, “The beauty of this thing is that it allows people to do what they do best. Watch television…” We often think of technology as working against the possibility of intimacy. But there are so many counter-examples. The telephone is a good counter-example. There are things we can say to each other on the phone that we would never say if we were in the same room. You know, “Being there is the next best thing to using the phone…” The Interrotron is like that. It creates greater distance and greater intimacy. And it also creates the true first person. Now, when people make eye contact with me, it can be preserved on film.

Q Have you used it much?

A Whenever I need to. I used it in a film that introduced the Academy Awards® in 2002. Gorbachev, Laura Bush, Iggy Pop, Al Sharpton and Walter Cronkite have all been on the Interrotron.

Q Did Robert McNamara like it?

A Well, you have to remember that we are talking about someone who has been interviewed a thousand times. He walked into the studio and said, “What is that?” I smiled and said, “The Interrotron.” He said, “Well, whatever it is, I don’t like it.” But then he sat down, and we proceeded to record over twenty hours of interviews. I guess he came to like it, too.



The Fog of War or A Fog of Ethics?

Through our friend Esther Hanig we attended a showing of Errol Morris’s new documentary, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara. at the Kennedy Library in Dorchester on December 14, 2003. This documentary is an extended adventure into the historico-biography of Robert S. McNamara, most famous as the Secretary of Defense during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. The movie intersperses close up head shots of McNamara (always shown off center) responding to questions posed by the interviewer (never seen, but clearly the director Morris) with historical footage and graphics illustrating events or concepts.

 

 

McNamara today at age 87 McNamara as Sec. of Defense ca 1966. 
Photos appropriated from the New York Times web site  

 

One of the most effective sections reveals McNamara’s role in the planning and execution of bombing campaigns during WWII under the command of Gen. Curtis LeMay. This bombing campaign attacked 67 Japanese cities. Morris uses historical footage of the results and then flashes the names of the Japanese cities with their populations on the screen immediately followed by the names and populations of similar-size American cities. In one night a fire-bombing of Tokyo incinerated 100,000 civilians. In the movie, Mr. McNamara tells Mr. Morris. “Lemay said, `If we’d lost the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminals.’ And I think he’s right. He — and I’d say I — were behaving as war criminals.” He asks, “What makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?” (thanks for this quote to the movie review article “War and Never Having to Say You’re Sorry” by Samantha Power, Published: December 14, 2003 in the New York Times)

Later, covering the Vietnam War, Morris provides audio tapes of both Kennedy and Johnson speaking with McNamara about the war. These add more fuel to the argument that if Kennedy had lived that he would not have enlarged the US involvement. And, on the other hand, Johnson comes across as clearly responsible. No surprise there.

When asked during the post-screening discussion about why he waited for over twenty years to reveal that he had come to think the Vietnam war a mistake even while still Sec. of Defense, McNamara repeated his claim that as a former Sec of Defense he could not say critical things of the war policy because it would have been giving comfort to the enemy and endangering US troops.

This is a cruel bit of logic.

When McNamara left his position roughly 25,000 Americans had died and probably 10 to 20 times that many Vietnamese. By the time the war actually ended seven years later, more than twice that many had died on both sides. It remains a galling outrage that this man, so intimately involved with the development and prosecution of the Vietnam War, could be seeking absolution twenty years later. It is the minimum we human beings owe to each other that, when confronted with obvious wrong doing, we speak up. This obligation is all the more important for those in positions of power and authority. But, one of Morris’s points in his movie is that evil and evil doers are never quite so easily categorized as might be in an old Western movie.

The end of the post-screening discussions with McNamara displayed this point with fresh vigor. After the program was officially closed, McNamara called for a few more moments of the audience’s attention. He wanted to add to his call for work on developing and deploying a real policy on proliferation of nuclear weapons with a call for international standards for behavior by political leaders enforced by international judicial tribunals. Perhaps we might think of him in the dock for his role in the Vietnam War. Just as a small starting point for the prosecution: during the movie McNamara himself pointed out that more munitions were dropped on Vietnam during the war than all that were used in the European theatre of WWII. And, this, in a country that is just about the same land area as our states of Wisconsin and Minnesota and then, as now, one of the poorest countries in the world.

But, then, McNamara seems incapable of connecting the ethical dots in his own life. How can acknowledge that his role in the fire-bombings of Japan might be considered a “war crime”, his policy in Vietnam wrong, and call for international standards of behavior enforced by international courts??

PS: I highly recommend the movie. It is challenging and very well made.

12172003

A Fog of War or a Fog of Ethics?

Through our friend Esther Hanig we attended a showing of Errol Morris’s new documentary, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara. at the Kennedy Library in Dorchester on December 14, 2003. This documentary is an extended adventure into the historico-biography of Robert S. McNamara, most famous as the Secretary of Defense during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. The movie intersperses close up head shots of McNamara (always shown off center) responding to questions posed by the interviewer (never seen, but clearly the director Morris) with historical footage and graphics illustrating events or concepts.



McNamara today at age 87 McNamara as Sec. of Defense ca 1966.
Photos appropriated from the New York Times web site


One of the most effective sections reveals McNamara’s role in the planning and execution of bombing campaigns during WWII under the command of Gen. Curtis LeMay. This bombing campaign attacked 67 Japanese cities. Morris uses historical footage of the results and then flashes the names of the Japanese cities with their populations on the screen immediately followed by the names and populations of similar-size American cities. In one night a fire-bombing of Tokyo incinerated 100,000 civilians. In the movie, Mr. McNamara tells Mr. Morris. “Lemay said, `If we’d lost the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminals.’ And I think he’s right. He — and I’d say I — were behaving as war criminals.” He asks, “What makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?” (thanks for this quote to the movie review article “War and Never Having to Say You’re Sorry” by Samantha Power, Published: December 14, 2003 in the New York Times)

Later, covering the Vietnam War, Morris provides audio tapes of both Kennedy and Johnson speaking with McNamara about the war. These add more fuel to the argument that if Kennedy had lived that he would not have enlarged the US involvement. And, on the other hand, Johnson comes across as clearly responsible. No surprise there.

When asked during the post-screening discussion about why he waited for over twenty years to reveal that he had come to think the Vietnam war a mistake even while still Sec. of Defense, McNamara repeated his claim that as a former Sec of Defense he could not say critical things of the war policy because it would have been giving comfort to the enemy and endangering US troops.

This is a cruel bit of logic.

When McNamara left his position roughly 25,000 Americans had died and probably 10 to 20 times that many Vietnamese. By the time the war actually ended seven years later, more than twice that many had died on both sides. It remains a galling outrage that this man, so intimately involved with the development and prosecution of the Vietnam War, could be seeking absolution twenty years later. It is the minimum we human beings owe to each other that, when confronted with obvious wrong doing, we speak up. This obligation is all the more important for those in positions of power and authority. But, one of Morris’s points in his movie is that evil and evil doers are never quite so easily categorized as might be in an old Western movie.

The end of the post-screening discussions with McNamara displayed this point with fresh vigor. After the program was officially closed, McNamara called for a few more moments of the audience’s attention. He wanted to add to his call for work on developing and deploying a real policy on proliferation of nuclear weapons with a call for international standards for behavior by political leaders enforced by international judicial tribunals. Perhaps we might think of him in the dock for his role in the Vietnam War. Just as a small starting point for the prosecution: during the movie McNamara himself pointed out that more munitions were dropped on Vietnam during the war than all that were used in the European theatre of WWII. And, this, in a country that is just about the same land area as our states of Wisconsin and Minnesota and then, as now, one of the poorest countries in the world.

But, then, McNamara seems incapable of connecting the ethical dots in his own life. How can acknowledge that his role in the fire-bombings of Japan might be considered a “war crime”, his policy in Vietnam wrong, and call for international standards of behavior enforced by international courts??

PS: I highly recommend the movie. It is challenging and very well made.

12172003