This browser is supported only in Windows 10 and above.

DID YOU READ

Errol Morris on “Standard Operating Procedure”

Posted by on

04222008_errolmorris.jpgBy Nick Schager

Since his masterful 1980 debut “Gates of Heaven” — and, more specifically, after 1988’s “The Thin Blue Line” — documentarian Errol Morris has boldly expanded the notion of documentary filmmaking, pushing the boundaries set by his cinema vérité forefathers in an effort to discover, if not kindred spirit (and admirer) Werner Herzog’s “ecstatic truth,” then at least an essential truth. Whether examining the life of Stephen Hawking, the ruminations of Robert S. McNamara, or the study of eccentrics like those featured in his “Fast, Cheap & Out of Control,” Morris has sought to explore fundamental questions about life through a combination of traditional nonfiction interviews and fictionalized reenactments. That hybridized aesthetic design is at the forefront of his latest, “Standard Operating Procedure,” an in-depth look into the infamous photos taken by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib in which, amidst stylized reenactments of the controversial pics, the director affords a platform for the thoughts of the soldiers-turned-amateur-photographers at the heart of the story. Meticulously crafted and methodically argued, it’s an inquiry into what actually happened at the prison, but also into the nature of images, both topics that Morris took time to discuss with me.

“Standard Operating Procedure” is a film about images — how they’re constructed, and what they tell us. As your film is itself a collection of still and moving images, did it require a more conscious or careful approach?

I’m always conscious about how I’m making the film. This time around, more or less, I don’t think so. I’m well aware of the fact that I’m making a movie about photographs, and there’s something inherently different about doing that, than anything I’ve really done before. But careful? You want to put it together in a way that makes sense, that conveys some sort of idea of what you’re trying to say. I was interested in how pictures can often mislead us, they can reveal things and also conceal things at the same time. And that irony is something which I believe is the heart of the movie.

How did you decide upon the style used for the reenactments, given their stark aesthetic dissimilarity from the photos themselves?

The photographs are always clearly identified as photographs. You see white borders on them, and they’re all presented without zooming in or zooming out. Occasionally, I think there are one or two repositions when I’m calling attention to the fact that something has been cropped or reframed, or I’m identifying a character in the frame or trying, as in the case of Roman Krol, to match his point of view as he’s looking into the prompter at himself in a photograph. But it’s the do-nothing approach, it’s the anti-Ken Burns approach to photographs. There’s very little movement on them, and the reenactments are really quite different. I mean, they’re different in so many, many, many, many ways. It’s the first film that I’ve shot in scope, 2.40:1, and the photographs are, if anything, much closer to square-shaped. They’re very different in aspect ratio from the frame. And they’re still images. The reenactments, no matter how much slo-mo I use, it’s still motion picture film. It’s not a still, although at places, it may approach still photography.

04222008_standardoperatingprocedure1.jpgWhy create such a heightened contrast — glossy and professional vs. grimy and amateurish — between the photos and reenactments?

I wanted a contrast. I think it is heightened contrast. It’s deliberate, and they look completely different. They’re not meant to blend together in the same kind of thing. It’s a different ingredient, if you like. Think, for a minute, of the ingredients of the movie. The movie has these retrospective interviews and people reenacting, in words, things that occurred in the years previously. Then there are photographs, which are the real pieces of evidence from Abu Ghraib. They’re digital photographs, I didn’t alter them in any way — I didn’t frame them, crop them. Those are the photographs themselves. And there are the reenacted elements, which are designed to set up a scene around the photograph. They are designed to take you into that moment that the photograph was taken. Often, I’ll design a reenactment around a phrase, someone will say something and I’ll think of an image. So you add all those ingredients.

Just to go back, I was talking about Roman Krol looking into the prompter at himself. He tells you this story about how he was just throwing this Nerf ball, and how he was really, really angry, and they [the soldiers] were doing this because they wanted to show the people in the cells, the prisoners, their disapproval regarding the inmates possibly raping a young boy (and, in fact, they were found innocent). I have the hands coming through the bars, and it’s a way to bring the audience into the moment that those photographs were taken, and into what he’s saying. The idea that they [the soldiers] are creating these scenes [i.e. throwing the Nerf ball] for people watching in the cells. I think all of that is really, really interesting.

Why, out of all the stories and images from Iraq, did you choose this story and these images?

That was not the intention. The thing is, I made a movie about photographs. Actually, some of the most famous, or if you prefer, infamous photographs taken in the last 10 years. They happen to be perhaps the central photographs of the Iraq war, and photographs that we know little or nothing about, heavily politicized, people with lots and lots of opinions about them, but very few people having asked any questions about them at all.

04222008_standardoperatingprocedure2.jpgLike all of your work, the film is quite journalistic in nature. Was “Standard Operating Procedure” an attempt at providing a corrective to the mainstream media’s coverage of the photos?

I would say not correction, in the sense that I knew what the correction was supposed to be. It was curiosity, that people talked about the photographs as though they knew the circumstances under which they were taken, or they knew who had taken them, or why they were taken. It seemed to me they knew very little. No one had bothered to talk to these people about the pictures, no one had bothered to find out why they were taken, what they thought they were doing, what actually was depicted in the photographs. It seems that they just preferred to theorize about them rather than actually investigate them.

Why not choose to investigate — and attempt to uncover the identities of — the higher-ups whom the film argues are the real culprits of the Abu Ghraib crimes?

People think there’s only one thing to say about the Iraq war, and that’s that Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush did it. What I find so very odd about this war — you would hear, while I was making the movie, “Have you found the smoking gun?” The smoking gun is very easy to see. People prefer not to see it. They just released the full document of John Yoo’s OLC [Office of Legal Counsel] torture memo. It’s not substantially different from anything that we knew already. We knew that the administration had relaxed rules and regulations governing the treatment of prisoners and torture. This can’t really come as a surprise to anybody. There isn’t one story to be told about Iraq, about the war, about America, about these pictures, about Abu Ghraib. There’s a myriad of stories, and I chose to tell a story which I believed, and I still believe, is important. If people want to read some kind of screed against Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, they’re easily available, and I’m sure they can find many of them in order to satisfy themselves.

[Photos: Errol Morris; “Standard Operating Procedure,” Sony Pictures Classics, 2008]

“Standard Operating Procedure” opens in limited release on April 25th.

IFC_Portlandia-S8_best-of-skits_subaru-blog

Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

Posted by on

The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

IFC_Portlandia-S8_pick-a-lane_subaru-blog

Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

Posted by on

Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

Uncle-Buck

Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

Posted by on
GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…