Second, the volume of the information resources available for memory consideration has been comparatively limited to the extent that there have been opportunities for institutions to let the passage of time factor into the notion of memory value; or there has been time to undertake granular investigations of their potential utility according to taxonomies of subjective and ostensibly objective criteria; or else there has been time to research and analyze creator contexts and corresponding information production and to ruminate upon, and arrive at, acquisition conclusions.
Alternatively, some memory institutions have decided not to make any decisions about the memory value of information resources by simply engaging in comprehensive collecting within specified domains, or by announcing their institutional intention to do so as an organizational declaration of public memory default. This kind of nondiscriminatory approach to acquisition has been considered entirely feasible within the analog environment. The identification, appraisal, selection, and declaration of analog information resources as civic goods of public memory — in the broadest sense — have essentially been conducted within a long documentary moment of decision making largely because of their relative endurability and limited volume.
These activities have mostly taken place within an anachronistic time and space, in some instances, four or more evolutionary stages away from the first contexts of their human agency or intention i. Addressing these questions and issues has been exacerbated by the fact that there is no universally accepted archival appraisal theory to frame these challenges, only local domain theory and practice.
This is not so surprising. Not only has the documentary moment become very long in memory institutions owing to its largely interpretive and cultural context of operation, but the perception of the intervention as something entirely monumental and fundamentally complex has necessarily positioned institutional decision making around the constitution of public memory within rigorously detailed examinations of memory residue through selection and other processes.
Whether or not these long, contemplative approaches to the documentary moment and its related strategies and methodologies have served public memory well in the past is not at issue here, and opinions would vary on this point in certain instances of application. More immediately important from our perspective is that the arrival of the digital age has completely transformed the contextual phenomena previously associated with the documentary moment, contracted or reshaped its contemplative time-space, and brought many new factors forward into our decision making around memory value.
In the process, the digital age has effectively undermined many of our assumptions and approaches around the construction and constitution of public memory. In other words, the circumstances and the environment of the documentary moment have substantially changed to the extent that some of our former value propositions and acquisition outcomes are no longer appropriate. This would include the option of simply collecting information resources. For example, initial attempts to apply analog collecting strategies to cyberspace — typically in the form of web-harvesting — are already being called into question for a variety of reasons; memory institutions are now beginning to recognize the enormously complex scope and scale of the paradigm shift represented by the transition from analog to digital communication.
Indeed, the first institutional encounters and attempts to grapple with the Internet as a very large series of publications — because the information involved was ostensibly in the public domain, and websites were initially considered to be published manifestations of information resource — both fundamentally misread and misunderstood the communications ethos of the Web as a completely new information environment and social dimension, and could not relate and adapt a memory collecting mind-set to its almost constant state of evolution and metamorphosis.
Alternatively, Web 1. The evolution of the Web in the space-time context of memory is highly complex and enormously challenging. When and where will archivists and institutions intervene in the interests of continuing memory preservation? Are such memory interventions by archivists or others actually required? If yes, what kind of interventions? None of these questions are especially new, but we must now address them in practical terms.
Let us have a very brief look at some of the other elements and factors redefining and reshaping the space and time of the documentary moment in the digital age, and how these will potentially impact and influence the composition and preservation of the civic goods constituting public memory in the future. Social Transformation First, a broad merger of technology, economics, information, organizations, and people is leading to social transformation and fundamental changes in the perception and utilities of information and knowledge.
The economic and social dimensions of this convergence are clearly of a systemic nature, with information and communications technology as the common economic denominator and social enabler. In effect we are witnessing the transactions of human activity in all of their variable forms transitioning from a physical to a non-physical dimension of social communication within networks. This new information resource environment is both redistributing and complicating the development of public memory far beyond the confines and semantics of analog information resource intelligence and learning experience.
It is shifting the context of information resource and memory development from relatively formal, controlled, and ordered relationships to the informal, uncontrolled, disordered, experiences and unlimited communications relativity of cyberspace. And it has effectively ended the public memory monopoly once exercised by archives, libraries, museums, and others. Part of this new complexity is linked to the nature and dimensions of information itself, insofar as the innovation of digital media and networks is also transforming information.
In some limited circumstances, older, traditional forms remain constant and intact, but most of our familiar modes and means of information and communication are undergoing a metamorphosis, and assuming new capacities and utilities. We are also witnessing the genesis and proliferation of wholly new forms of information production and media with no foreseeable innovation end in sight. To put it simply, there are really no precedents or antecedent reference points for memory value within the digital context of social media.
At the same time, archives are beginning to recognize that: 1 the world of information and communication has almost entirely transitioned into the transactional marketspace of the Internet; and 2 the public memory of contemporary society is also in the process of vacating traditional media to now largely reside in its immediate and corresponding cyberspace. If — given the volume and ubiquitous nature of digital information — selecting, or collecting, or other analog memory strategies are not viable or feasible within cyberspace, how will institutions adapt and continue to evolve their public memory interventions?
Information Creators and Sources We are also experiencing fundamental change in the relationships between people and information. One of the most significant changes concerns the number of creators actually creating, producing, and distributing information both as a commodity and as a resource, and the impact this is having upon the evolution of public memory. In information resource development terms, in less than twenty years we have moved from a monopoly of information production and mediation to a virtual oligarchy first generation Internet information service providers, such as Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, Google, Amazon, etc.
We have also moved simultaneously into machine-generated information sources and resources through self-directed and artificially intuitive tagging and linking utilities within networks, both not only creating new, but also manufacturing and repurposing, ubiquitous information as information resource derivatives. Transformation is also occurring within the confines of the traditional and familiar relationships between people and information long established in the intrinsic nature of analog media, and the modality of our interactions with them as basic sources and filters of information, mediation, and meaning.
Advances in information and communications technologies are fundamentally altering the way people think about, understand, interpret, assign meaning to, create, use, produce, exchange, receive, store, and provide information. Individuals are also re-adapting — both disconnecting and reconnecting — the way they gain access to each other and to an enormous variety of information, services, and technologies offered by business, government, and communities through networks. In other words, the value, utility, and mediation of information resources transcend the status, medium, or mode of their creation.
For memory institutions, part of the conundrum is that the diversity and multiplicity of contemporary information generators, producers, sources, and containers provide unprecedented access to sources and voices either previously untapped or heretofore unheard of or unacknowledged, and permit the development of more representative and inclusive public memory across all social sectors.
At the same time, the choices are practically unlimited, and the choosing becomes incrementally far more difficult and complicated than it was in the pre-digital era, especially within the epistemological sense of memory context. Two of the great leavening or democratizing impacts of the digital age will certainly have to be addressed. First, it is no longer a given assumption that the source, status, and medium of information constituted in the form and format of its container e.
How do we approach the notion of collective memory within interactive media, and how do we accommodate its increasingly participatory nature? Coincidentally, the provenance of information resources has also become highly problematic, insofar as it is the contexts established within particular digital domains and networks that invariably provide information with associative qualification and ambience as public knowledge and memory.
Clearly, new value propositions for information resources will need to be developed in relation to the contextual relationships established around information resource development within networks. Information Volume The development of new relationships between people and information has also led to some largely unanticipated consequences.
Among the most important incidental results of digital innovation is a world of superabundant and largely unstructured and undifferentiated information sources and resources. The increase in the volume of information is both symptomatic and catalytic of a looming information value crisis. In any instance of explanation or analogy, the productivity is prodigious and continuously accelerating, and there are very few recognized socio-economic or other determinants generally in place to permit information resource differentiation for the purposes of deciding its continuing persistence, preservation, or disposal based on criteria of value.
One of the great myths of contemporary information technology is the notion that society possesses unlimited information storage. In fact, the production of digital information has already outstripped global server capacity by an estimated factor of four or five. A related myth concerns the costs of information storage. Typically, the issue of storage is viewed in terms of physical capacity, and it is true that continuing advances in microchip engineering are reducing information storage space to a virtual status approaching the atomic level, and that digital storage containers are becoming far less expensive than they once were.
The real cost of information preservation, however, lies not in the physical storage of data, but in the administration, management, and accessibility of the information objects inside the storage containers — regardless of how big or small — over time, the costs of which are rapidly escalating out of sight. Essentially, it is the temporary and medium- to long-term preservation or persistence of digital information objects in accessible form, which represent the real challenge in terms of information resource development and corresponding socio-economic utility.
The simply framed interviews are compelling because the people talking are articulate and lively characters with a murder mystery to tell. In principle, however, we can see a good factual cop story on television any day. What distinguishes this film from investigative television is the skilful storytelling and the juxtaposition of interview, reconstruction and other diverse visual illustration. The key images in the film revolve around the scene of crime itself.
As the story progresses, the point of view of the camera changes as different witnesses discuss what they claim actually happened. The murder of the policeman is shown over and over again, but each time it is filmed from a different angle and each time the audience is being given new, usually contra- dictory, information. Errol says, 'It is a re-enactment of lies. Not reality. It is unreality, falsehood. Based on the point of view of the witnesses, you are treated to the spectacle of imagery which you are told shows you something of the real world but which is untrue. Tlien tine picture cuts back to a simply shot interviewee and we realize that it is indeed a factual account we are hearing.
But which of the people in this film are lying and who is telling the truth? Sometimes the visual material is used in an almost satirical way, debunking what an interviewee has said, or is about to say. At one point, the lawyers for the defence explain that the judge at Adams's trial would not let them introduce evidence about a crime spree that David Harris had been on. One of them says that she felt that the reason why the judge was determined to put Randall Adams on trial and not David Harris was because Adams was 28 and could be given the death sentence, while Harris was only 16 and could not.
An artist's impression of a scene in the courtroom shows a picture of the trial judge. So we recognize him when he appears as the next interviewee, talking about how he learned to respect the law from his father, who was an FBI man in Chicago in the s. As he speaks, the picture cuts to an old black and white movie showing a man in s clothes shooting a rifle. The judge is still talking when a classic movie episode, in which John Dillinger is assassinated, is shown.
He says his father was there when it happened and tells with glee how, as a child, he had been told about the people who dipped their handker- chiefs in Dillinger's blood for souvenirs. On the picture, guns are blazing, there is absolute mayhem on screen but no soundtrack, only the voice-over interview with the judge and Philip Glass's music. The sequence is vintage Errol Morris, acutely perceived and wittily executed.
It is also a very effective way of underlining the casual attitude to the death penalty that prevails in the state of Texas, a penalty that could be handed down to the unfortunate Randall Adams. Adams was convicted in May , on the basis of evidence given by David Harris and two other key witnesses who came forward very late in the day and perjured themselves.
He was still in jail in December , when Errol interviewed David Harris about the murder, for the last time, on sound only. The final shots in this richly cinematic film are of a cassette recorder, filling the frame and filmed from every conceivable angle. The starkness of the image makes the content of the interview even more shocking.
DH: Did you ask him? EM: Well he has always said he is innocent. DH: There you go. Didn't believe him huh? Criminals always lie. EM: Well what do you think about whether or not he's innocent? DH: I'm sure he is. EM: How can you be sure? DH: Because I'm the one who knows.
EM: Were you surprised that the police blamed him? DH: They didn't blame him. I did. A scared year-old kid. Sure would like to get out of it if you can. The interview ends with Harris asserting that Adams is probably only in jail because he would not give Harris a place to sleep for the night after he had helped him when he ran out of gas. A final caption reveals that Adams has been in jail for 1 1 years. David Harris is on death row in Huntsville, Texas for a murder he committed in The wit- nesses who lied were proved to be perjurers and Randall Adams was finally set free.
Mr Death is another film which caused a great deal of controversy. Leuchter Jr. The opening credit sequence owes something to the Hammer House of Horror genre of movie making. The music, composed by Caleb Sampson, is pure Ealing Studios, circa A series of images, intercut with black flash frames, show what looks like a mad scientist's laboratory lit up by the lightning that comes with an electric storm.
It is obviously a set, elaborately dressed and lit. Almost subliminally, we see a man is sitting there. This must be Mr Death. You get the feeling that Errol and his regular collabor- ator, production designer Ted Bafaloukos, had a lot of fun putting this elaborate pastiche together.
In the last shot in the sequence, a light shines directly on the man and we see him more clearly, albeit briefly. The picture cuts to black for a full five seconds. Then, we see a man's eyes reflected in the mirror of a moving car. He is wearing glasses. It is the man we just saw in the laboratory. Cut to a hand on the driving wheel. These two shots are in black and white. He says, 'I became involved in the manufacture of execution equip- ment because I was concerned with the deplorable condition of the hardware that's in most of the state's prisons, which generally results in torture, prior to death.
He carries on talking. I was surprised at the condition of the equipment and I indicated to them what changes should be made to bring the equipment up to the point of doing a humane execution. Who is this man and what sort of a world is Errol Morris inviting us to join him in? When I spoke to him, Errol asked the questions himself: What is going on in Leuctiter's tiead?
He is in love with the death penalty. I think that is the best way to describe it. He loves execution devices. Loves them. And he has become a Holocaust denier One question I have, is he for real? Is this just some whacky joke or has he really invested in these beliefs? Is he an anti- Semite or a Nazi, who is this man?
And is it possible to hold a set of utterly wrong, ridiculous, pernicious beliefs and still imagine oneself to be a good guy? He says: It is an endlessly interesting story to me because people, after all, do generally believe in their own rectitude, do not think of themselves as bad people or evil agents. They see themselves as acting from the best of all possible motives.
Leuchter sees himself as having a collection of genuine heroic traits. He is the Florence Nightingale of Death Row. He is Galileo besieged by the forces of repression and ignor- ance. A true scientist. People said that they were appalled by my suggestion that Leuchter could be an example of Everyman. I loved the idea. He talks directly to camera, in the style Errol Morris has made his own. He talks about his research, his experiments and his quest to perfect the art of killing prisoners humanely.
While the to-camera interviews are always static, the camera roams around him in other scenes, often tilting at an extreme angle, suggesting the off-centre view of the world that Leuchter holds. In one truly bizarre sequence, he talks about his health routine. It starts with him addressing the audience directly, 'I have often been asked, generally by some kind of adverse party, whether I sleep at night, or how well I sleep at night.
My answer is always the same. I sleep very well at night and I sleep with a comforting thought, knowing that those persons who are being executed with my equipment have a better chance of having a painless, more humane and dignified execution. The next shot is a close-up of a spoonful of coffee. So, maybe it was the lever on a coffee machine we saw, not an execution after all. Turn the sound down and you are looking at a slick, beautifully produced cinema advertisement. The sound is something else. Leuchter, in voice-over, is saying he loves coffee and it does not bother his ulcer. He tells the story about how he went to see his doctor years ago and was asked how much coffee he drank a day.
He said 40 cups. The doctor repeated the question, thinking he was joking. He was not. The doctor then asked how many cigarettes he smoked in a day.
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He said six packs. The doctor told him he should be dead. Now Fred is sitting at a counter in a cafe; he is talking about a woman who came into his life. She was a waitress and he was a good tipper. The woman's voice takes over. She says he came into the cafe on his way to the gun club. He taught her to shoot. This is the woman who married him. They had only been married a month when he took her to Poland, the only honeymoon she had.
They stayed at the Auschwitz Hotel, once the headquarters of the German officers who ran the infamous wartime concentration camp. A man called Ernst Zundel had invited Fred to carry out some research for him. His every move was recorded by a Canadian video cameraman. His wife of one month, Carol, was given the job of lookout, standing in the doorway in the freezing cold. Fred did not want to get caught violating these internationally sensitive historic sites. Leuchter made detailed drawings of the buildings and kept notes also. These, together with the video footage, were produced in evidence at the trial of Zundel.
Fred sent his samples, chiselled from the walls of the Auschwitz gas chambers, to a laboratory for testing for traces of cyanide gas. The lab found no traces, not surprisingly, because, as one of the laboratory experts explains 10 Errol Morris: American iconoclast CHAPTER 1 later in the film, tine samples were taken from too deep into tine wall faces.
Fred stood by his findings and for a time became inter- nationally notorious, the expert witness defending the Holocaust deniers. It is in this section of the film that it seems to depart from the integrated style and form that it had at the beginning. Understand- ably, use is made of the roughly shot video footage showing Fred at work in Auschwitz, which was produced in court. This is necessary because it had been exhibited as evidence, but it jars slightly because it is visually less stylish and imaginative than the camerawork in the early parts of the film.
More surprisingly, however, this clever and elegant film now makes an unlikely gear shift and becomes, just for a while, something else. A historian, Robert Jan van Pelt, appears, talking to camera, saying how important it was for him to follow in the footsteps of Leuchter and to check his every result, his every move.
This is a standard device, familiar to news or current affairs televison audiences. The expert witness, the voice of reason, is there to provide the other point of view, what we used to call 'balance'. He makes an effi- cient job of proving that the physical and documentary evidence for the truth of the historical claims about the murder of millions during the Nazi Holocaust are verifiably and demonstrably true.
The sequences with him are skilfully conceived and edited, but for a while Leuchter is no longer the dominant voice in the movie. The film now introduces a number of voices. As we learn that the Canadian court has brought in a verdict of guilty, other witnesses, for and against the line that Fred has espoused, appear. While his own star seems to be on the rise, he is invited to attend meetings of extreme right parties in other parts of the world; other voices condemn and dismiss him. This part of the film combines inter- views, archive film and simple graphics.
For Errol Morris, this is close to conventional documentary television in its approach, but he clearly finds it necessary to make the point and clarify the storyline. When Fred does return to dominate the film again, the glorious sense of surreality combines with a sad, almost tragic, sense of pity for a man who got it so wrong that he wrecked his own life.
In a moment of almost unbelievable dislocation from the attitudes of normal people, Fred explains that because prison authorities would no longer employ him, he was reduced to putting an unfinished device, a lethal injection machine, up for sale in the Want Advertiser. After a lot of negative publicity, he says that the Attorney General had to announce that it was not illegal to sell such a machine.
So Fred, still talking to camera, says that if any of us, the audience, would like to buy half a lethal injection machine, we should contact him. At the end of the film Fred is in California, having gone there with the offer of a job which did not materialize. His wife has left him, he is totally broke, has had his rental cars taken away from him, his hotel room has been locked up with all his belongings in it.
He is wandering along the side of a busy motorway when the voice of British Holocaust denier, David Irving, is heard. Irving says of Leuchter's research at Auschwitz, 'It was an act of criminal simplicity. He had no idea of what he was blundering into. Surely every halfway conscious human being on this earth knows all about the Holocaust and only a tiny bunch of weirdos doubt that it happened?
He explained. Before the film was finished, he showed it to students at Harvard. This was before the 'balance' material had been included. He says that some of the students asked why Leuchter had not found trace cyanide and wondered if he could be right. I wanted people to think about Fred's self-deception, the nature of his delusion.
If people didn't see it clearly, the whole purpose of the movie would be lost. So the clarification, if you like, was re-proving something that had been proved many times before. He says, 'The question was legitimate, so I examined it. I am a Jew. I am terribly sorry but no, I have not. Yet I put this movie together about this man who doubted the Holocaust and some people thought I was endorsing his view. It was inevitable that this man and his philosophy would interest Errol, with his scientific background and his fascination with what he describes as a character's internal space, their mental landscape.
Hawking contracted motor neuron disease as a young man and has been confined to a wheelchair for many years. He gradually lost the use of his voice and now communicates to the world through a computer. The movie is based on Hawking's best-selling book of the same name.
Errol read the book on the plane, flying over to meet Hawking at his home in England. He was delighted by the book, which he says is not really a pedagogical work, it is a romance novel about Hawking's life and work. He says that he does not like psycho- analytical biography, where you provide some reductionist explan- ation of why people are the way they are. However, he was fascinated by the way Hawking made those connections himself.
In the book. Hawking writes about his now famous scientific theory about the black hole. The film opens with a starry night sky. Hawking's voice, an almost sci-fi delivery because it is communicated through a computer, asks, 'Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Did the universe have a beginning and, if so, what happened before then? Where did the universe come from and where is it going? The film has hardly got going and Morris is already playing.
Documentary in the Digital Age [Book]
We now see Stephen for the first time. Only his eyes, wearing spectacles, an impossibly young-looking man. He is clicking on a mouse, staring at a computer screen, which is responding to his instructions. The next sequence features Hawking's mother, an admirably sto- ical woman with a striking resemblance to her son. She too has one of those 'forever young' faces. She is saying how lucky the family have been; everybody has disasters but they have survived.
She goes on to tell how she bought a book at Blackwells in Oxford while waiting for Stephen to be born. It was an astronomical atlas. How prophetic, a sister-in-law said later. She talks about the beauty of the night sky when she was able to ride in a train across one of the London bridges when the bombing had stopped - this was in the middle of the Second World War. She describes lying on the ground at home, looking through a telescope at the night sky.
She says, 'Stephen always had a strong sense of wonder and I could see how the stars would draw him - and further than the stars. Stephen's voice runs over these classic family album shots. Will it ever come to an end? Where does the difference between the past and the future come from?
Why do we remember the past but not the future? In my view, it is the decision to foreground the mother which makes this film not only intel- lectually stimulating - which it was bound to be with a hero like Hawking - but also really accessible to a popular audience. It is not a pure science film, it is also a film about the heroic struggle against terrible odds of a very courageous man.
Somehow, it is the philosophical acceptance of his fate and the pride in his achieve- ment by his mother that makes the whole story more moving and altogether more human. Why shouldn't you think about the unthinkable? He's a searcher. This is partly because of the logistical problems, but also because it seems to suit the spirit of scientific challenge that pervades the film. Errol says that when he was discussing the movie with his team before they started he said, 'What if we made a documentary without a single "real" image?
The first decision was how to film Stephen, described by Errol as the first non-talking talking head. It seemed obvious that the task of interviewing him would not be the same as the task of filming him. A very unusual challenge. Errol decided that they needed to create a 'dictionary' of Stephen Hawking shots with different lighting and different angles. The other chal- lenge was writing the text with Stephen for the voice-over. They put together a script from things he had written and interviews Errol had done with him.
They already had his voice recorded on a computer in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Errol lives and works. Hawking refers to this town as the pseudo-Cambridge, a typically British joke at the expense of the arriviste American universities. Hawking is an alumnus of Cambridge, England, having graduated originally from Oxford, of course. They recreated Hawking's office in the studio, copying accurately his real space, including the Marilyn Monroe poster, which sur- prised me.
All the other interviews are conducted in sets, made up and built by designers. All the houses, all the offices are studio built. When I heard this it came as rather a relief, because my recollection of scientists' offices is that they look nothing like that. The men are shot in sharp focus with the background visible but not obtrusive.
The eye concentrates on the person speaking; just as well since most of the time they are asking for a lot of concen- tration, at least from the non-scientists in the audience. Morris plays with imagery, as he always said he would. There are recurring ideas, used metaphorically, to emphasize a point. The map of the solar system, where stars are represented by tiny pearls, first appears in Stephen's mother's introduction and is reprised again at the end.
Time itself is repre- sented by a flying wristwatch, which turns and turns and floats through space. Naturally, it is a Rolex. The production designer is once again Ted Bafaloukos and the music by Philip Glass. At the end of the film, echoing the beginning. Hawking takes the floor. He says: If we do understand a complete theory of the universe, that should, in time, in broad principle, be understandable by every- one, not just a few scientists, then we should all, philoso- phers, scientists and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of why it is that we and the universe exist.
If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason. For then we would know the mind of God. It consists of a long interview with Robert S. Kennedy and Lyndon B. The interview is interspersed with archive film. McNamara had never given an interview before and now, in his old age, he talked frankly and revealingly about some of the major events in recent American history and the pivotal position he held in the US government.
As pure history, it is fascinating but, as always with Errol Morris, it is much more complex than that. Through the story of McNamara, Morris is exploring themes that have always fascinated him, big themes, like the nature of good and evil and mankind's endless capacity for self-deception. Of course, the film was controversial. Morris was taken to task for only interviewing McNamara.
He says, 'I always wanted to make a movie with just one person. You're not supposed to make a movie with just one person. In The Fog of War, he achieved that ambition. He tells, with some amusement, about one of the challenges he received after The Fog of lA'ar was premiered. I was aware of that. He says of the McNamara film, 'It's not balanced. Not balanced, by choice. In fact, I'm not even sure that I believe in balance. I'm pretty sure I don't. I'm not sure what it means. Is it a way of avoiding controversy, of showing you're open-minded?
A way of actually saying nothing, under the guise of saying something? Looking back 'in tranquility', at the age of 85, he talks with great candour about the eventful times he lived through and questions his own role in some of the most momentous events in contemporary history. Like the fire bomb- ing of Tokyo by US forces towards the end of World War II, which killed more people than the atomic bombs dropped later by the western allies.
Finally, the Vietnam War, with its carnage on both sides and the chemical warfare practised by the United States with the use of napalm and Agent Orange. Errol rarely asks questions on camera in his films, but in this one we hear his voice quite often. The voice has the quality almost of a heckler at a political meeting.
Documentary in the digital age
Unlike the modulated delivery of the average television journalist, neck-miked and conversational in tone, he sounds as if he is interrupting the flow and being slightly provocative. He says that this was deliberate but a difficult decision to make editorially - how much of his voice to put in.
Eventually, the rationale was mostly to do with clarification. He points out that not everybody is familiar with recent American political history. So, when McNamara is talking about the time when the Soviet Union, under Khrushchev, put missiles on Cuban soil, 90 miles from the Florida coast, Errol felt he had to interrupt and ask him, 'But didn't we try to invade Cuba?
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He has even invented a system which he calls the Interrotron, a way in which the interviewee can look directly at the camera while also seeing the image of the person conducting the interview. This has the effect of having the interviewee apparently addressing the audi- ence directly, while the traditional technique appears to exclude the audience in some way from a conversation on which it is merely eavesdropping. At the same time, the Interrotron allows the director to maintain eye contact with the interviewee, and this was particularly important in the conversation with Robert McNamara, a man who appeared, perhaps for the first time, to be examining his conscience and his life's work.
In another significant way, this film is different stylistically than some of the other movies. While in earlier films he often used fades to black - often long enough, I am sure, to cause moments of panic in transmission control rooms when they are shown on television - in this film he regularly uses the jump cut. It is as if he is drawing attention to the form he has chosen, in a sense deliberately interrogating the form itself. Right at the beginning, in the pre-title sequence, McNamara is asking, 'Is this map at the right height, is that alright for the television people? He says he knows 'the sentence' can be cut to explain what he means to say.
We don't know what he is talking about and we never find out. He asks is that OK. Errol's voice off camera says, 'Go ahead. At other times there is more space on the left or right of frame, giving a sense of imbalance to the picture. These are all deliberate editorial decisions to do the things you are not allowed to do. Some people questioned Errol's non-judgemental attitude in his interviewing of McNamara and said that he should have been more aggressive.
McNamara is a brilliant man and highly defended emotionally. Errol's technique paid off. He explains what actually happened, 'Out of nowhere, McNamara makes connec- tions. Self-serving as this may sound, I do not believe these connections would have been made if I had not adopted a non- adversarial point of view. One of the most shocking episodes in the film, for me and the friends with whom I first saw it, was the description of the fire bombing of Tokyo in , at the end of the Second World War.
People of my generation, the baby boomers, who grew up after the war into what was hoped would be a permanent peace, are reasonably familiar with the moral arguments about the Vietnam War. Many of us were active at the time, demonstrating, lobbying, helping draft dodgers to escape from the USA. So I am still moved by the powerful emotional punch of hearing the presiden- tial tapes from Johnson's Oval Office, recently declassified, with McNamara trying to be diplomatic in his disagreements with an increasingly bellicose LBJ.
Or the fascinating discussions about the escalation of the war, justified by accounts of attacks on US forces, like the events in the Gulf of Tonkin, some of which later turned out to be false. The details of the Vietnam War continue to shock but for me, personally, there is something even more terri- ble about hearing McNamara's account of what he calls 'The War with Japan'.
McNamara was a soldier, working under the command of General LeMay. The Second World War was nearly over when this incident happened. McNamara says, '1 was on the Island of Guam in March and in a single night we burned to death , Japanese civilians, men women and children, in Tokyo. The General in charge decided to use the B29, bring it down low, where it would be more accurate, and fire bomb Tokyo.
After the bombing, he attended the debriefing. A pilot complained about the low flying and the loss of his wingman. McNamara describes the General's answer. This was a man of few words. As he describes what the General says, he begins to show emotion. It almost seems as if he will cry. The General said, 'I sent him there. This hurts me as much as it hurts you. But we destroyed Tokyo. We just burned it. A feature of the film is the chapter headings, which contain the lessons McNamara has learned from life.
This one says, 'Proportionality should be a guideline in war. McNamara says that 67 cities were bombed; each time per cent of the population was killed. This was before the nuclear bombs were dropped on Japan. He goes on to speculate about war crimes. He says you are only a criminal if you lose.
This is a moment of extraordinary honesty, coming from a man who some people do believe to be a war criminal. In many ways the visual elements in this film are fairly standard. None of the impish humour from some of the earlier films is evident here, rightly, given the seriousness of the subject. But as usual with Morris, it is the editing and the graphic work which raises it out of the realm of conventional history films. In the Japanese bombing section, great use is made of contemporary handwritten documents. When McNamara talks about efficiency, close-ups of statistics, lists of meaningless numbers are featured, algebraic calculations, none of them in context, just numbers.
Over and over we see archive film of the terrible destruction, the exact place never specified; this is simply edited to increase the emotion level. It is intercut with colour footage from the Japanese campaign of clean-cut American soldiers, pointing at maps of the region and politely chatting to their General. At the end of the chapter, a symbolic sequence, repeated through the film, of dominoes collapsing in tidy lines across a map of Asia 20 Errol Morris: American iconoclast CHAPTER 1 reminds members of the audience wlno are old or educated enough of one of the most pernicious doctrines of the US anti- communist zealots, the 'domino effect'.
Another telling moment in the film is the story of Norman Morrison, a Quaker who burned himself to death under McNamara's window at the Pentagon. This was a terrible moment for America and especially for McNamara. The story of Norman Morrison, who sacrificed his life as a protest against the war, is deeply moving and McNamara tells it with some feeling. Morrison was holding a baby and he doused himself with petrol. Bystanders begged him to save the child and at the last moment he threw the baby into the crowd and she was saved.
His wife issued a statement, McNamara explains. She said that human beings must stop killing each other. Then he says something really surprising. He says he agrees with her. He says, 'How much evil must we do in order to do good? They both felt that war was cruel. But LeMay was trying to save the nation and was prepared to do whatever killing was necessary.
Morrison was one of those. I think I was. Morrison was a pacifist who died in a protest against war, McNamara was running the war from his office at the Pentagon, how could they possibly be alike? But he says he asked himself, 'How can McNamara even say such a thing? Then another thought came. What if he really is like Morrison? What if he really was operating with the best of intentions, in some kind of inner agony?
What does that mean? It raises a whole lot of deep ques- tions about the nature of character, about free will, and ethics, ideas at the centre of this story. That is why it engages me in a really powerful way. His interviews are different. The Fog of War is a good example of this. Every previous interview was on film, but he shot McNamara on frame, high-def. He says there is a difference: Now an interview tiiat used to be 11 minutes, a foot roll of 35 mm runs 1 1 minutes, then you have to take the mag off unload it. Put another roll in. Now interviews can go on forever. I have actually interviewed for 1 1 hours in one day.
The length of the cassette is close to two hours. Although that makes very little difference because you can eject it and put in another one in a matter of seconds, you don't need slates or any of the old apparatus of shooting on film. Also the frame, high-def Sony system is quite beautiful. He also says his films have changed as a result of digital editing. His movie Fast, Cheap and Out of Control tells the parallel stories of a lion tamer, a wildlife expert in search of the African mole rat, a gardener who specializes in topiary and works for a rich and eccentric old lady, and a scientist who designs robots.
It is a film which is itself fast, although certainly not cheap, and the central theme for me is the need to control or be controlled. It is a highly entertaining film which nonetheless raises serious questions. It includes many elements pictorially. There is SuperS and standard 8 mm, 16 mm. Super 16, 35 mm. There is material transferred to film from old video cassettes of old movies, also 35 mm filmed off television.
It would have been quite impossible to make without digital editing. In The Thin Blue Line, before he used digital editing, he shot the bulk of the film on 16 mm and the reconstructions on 35 mm. There was not a lot of money so, for the edit, they had to do basic reduction onto 16 mm and it looked terrible. It made editing difficult because they were not sure about the quality of the picture. When they saw the final print back on 35 mm, it looked terrific, so it worked out but obviously it was a worrying process.
Errol says: The digital editing system gives every form of media an equal vote. You can see them as a kind of artist's palette. I don't believe we will move to all digital, although films will be edited digitally and delivered digitally. You can shoot on SuperS and use it as a kind of texture in a whole range of styles and shapes and forms.
It hasn't destroyed film, it has changed the nature of how we use film and film itself has become part of a wider universe of possibilities. In that one, he worked, as he puts it, as 'a director for hire' and, although he is proud of the film, he would not want to work that way again. Now he makes commercials in between his major film projects and this helps him to maintain his independence and creative control.
This he can do, because he is one of the great stylists of the American cinema and is always in demand. Maintaining creative control is a major issue for all of the film-makers in this book and they have found different ways of dealing with the problem. It can be a real problem, particularly for younger film-makers who do not yet have the status in the industry to help them fight their own corner. Most of the directors interviewed here have discussed the issue and I hope that it will be at least a comfort to rising stars to know that everybody has to find their own way.
One way or the other, it will be possible. Vernon, Florida The film was originally meant to tell the story of people in a small Florida town who cut off their own limbs for insurance money, 'becoming a fraction of themselves to become whole financially' as Errol put it. He had to rethink the project when his life was threatened.
The illuminating film he then made reveals the lives of the eccentric residents of a southern swamp town, Vernon, Florida. The Thin Blue Line Probably his most controversial film, it was billed as 'the first movie mystery to actually solve a murder'. It is credited with over- turning the conviction of Randall Dale Adams for the murder of a Dallas police officer, Robert Wood.
It was voted the best film of in a Washington Posf survey of over critics. Premier Magazine, in a survey of films of the s, described it as one of the most important and influential films of the decade. A Brief History of Time A film about the life and work of the brilliant physicist Stephen Hawking, who has spent much of his life in a wheelchair, com- municating with the world via a computer.
Errol's interviews for the film were published in a book, A Reader's Companion, which accompanied the film. It was also selected as part of the Biennial at the Whitney Museum. Stairway to Heaven The story of Temple Grandin, an autistic woman who designs humane animal slaughterhouses. Leuchter Jr The film focuses on Fred A.
Leuchter Jr, an engineer from Maiden, Massachusetts, who decided to be the 'Florence Nightingale of Death Row' - a humanist whose mission was to design and repair gas chambers, electric chairs, lethal injection systems and gal- lows. His career and life are ruined after he becomes involved in the world of Holocaust denial. The film includes recently declassified material from the White House, rare archive footage, reconstructions and a score by the Oscar-nominated composer Philip Glass.
It has been described as 'a disquietening and power- ful essay on war, rationality and human nature'. It won the American Academy Award, , for best documentary feature. He thinks that a lot of things simply happen by chance. He might have gone to film school but, in the days when he was moving into higher education, the emphasis in film school entrance in France was on science subjects and that was not his preferred field. So he went to university, where he studied Philosophy and at the same time started dabbling with film.
He worked as an assistant director after graduating, with distinguished directors like Rene Allio, Alain Tanner and Claude Goretta. He says: What I like about making documentaries is tliat I can invent the film, day by day. With a mix of fragility and freedom. My point of view is not to teach the viewers something they need to know. I don't want to deliver 'a message'. I want to learn myself, without prejudging. I approach a subject with a certain inno- cence, naivety. His first film was co-directed with Gerard Mordillet. Called His Master's Voice , a feature-length film shot in black and white, it includes interviews with 12 chief executives of large companies.
They talk about the issues that matter to them, like power and self-discipline, the nature of hierarchy and also, of course, this being France, the trade unions and industrial action. This film was shown in the cinemas with no problem but his next project, three hour-long films made for television, got him into trouble. The series was created from material gathered for His Master's Voice. The title of the series was Bosses and the individual programme titles reveal the nature of the content.
Bosses, too controversial for the contemporary climate, was banned from French state television but, a few weeks after the ban, Philibert got cinema distribution for it. This must have annoyed the 'powers that be'. Thirteen years later, when he had firmly established himself as a major figure in the documentary world, it was finally transmitted on television in France. But in the meantime, he faced a long period - six years - when he did not work in the industry.
He says, 'In that period I had many projects. I wrote a book.
I wrote a fiction film. The movie started as comedy but gradually descended into tragedy. The producer's advice was that he should rewrite the whole thing and make it a complete comedy. This he did. It was all terribly urgent, like most requests from the film industry. He sent in the new script and for three months heard nothing. After four months, he finally saw the producer.
Why is he riding a bicycle? Philibert still believes that his first draft was the best. But he says he also learned a lot of important lessons from that period. I learned the importance of just being yourself. Stand by your own convictions. Be sincere about what you want to do. Those who want to be cineastes must find their own path. For the next couple of years, he made films about brave exploits on the mountains, particularly with the great and intrepid climber Christophe Profit. These were beautiful and stirring films, with subtexts dealing with themes like humanity under duress, sheer courage and the extraordinary power of the will.
They were popular with the public and won many prizes, but Philibert did not feel that he was fulfilling his potential. Then, in , came one of those chances that he so believes in. He was asked to direct one day's filming at the great Paris museum, the Louvre. The curators wanted to move some huge paintings out of storage to an exhibi- tion room.
The paintings, by Charles le Brun, were so big that it took a precise operation involving a number of men. The paintings were wrapped around cylinders and had to be rolled along the corridors, then a special construction had to be built to get them up the stairs. Philibert wanted to know what happened next.
He says, 'So I came the next day and the next. I was fascinated. Behind the scenes at the museum I discovered a universe I didn't imagine. Hundreds of people work there and we never see them. Every- body was busy, beginning the transformation of the Louvre. He continued to film for three weeks and nobody stopped him.
After three weeks, he put together some scenes, went to see the director of the museum and confessed that he had been filming all this time. He asked for permission to continue and the director 'with a lot of class', says Nicolas, agreed. He had been able to show what he had already shot and he says, 'It was not like writing a proposal and asking for permission. The film begins slightly mysteriously. The light from a torch is flashing in the dark. Now and then it picks up some detail; it is not obvious what we are looking at. Footsteps echo in an empty corridor. There is the sound of a key, a big, heavy-sounding key, turning a lock.
The opening credits begin, intercut with the torch pictures. Now it is obvious that we are seeing fragments of classical statues, eventually detail of a painting, still picked up in the dark. Classical music, violin music, plays on the soundtrack. The music has a vaguely sinister tone, enhancing the drama. Who is holding the torch? Is it a thief? Then, after the title, La Ville Louvre, the mystery is solved.
Two weary-looking workmen are tramping down a long corridor in the dark, shining their torches to light the way for them. It is dawn and people are starting work at the Louvre museum. The first scene establishes where the interest of the film will lie. A heavy vehicle is driving into a courtyard at the museum.
Workmen are winching up a huge painting, shouting instruc- tions at each other like workmen the world over. The sky is beginning to brighten. The film cuts to an interior shot. A man on roller skates is whizzing down long, empty basement corri- dors and the camera is chasing behind. There is something surreal about this whole opening few minutes.
This theme, the spooky empty corridor with a lone person hurrying down it, recurs from time to time in the film. An evocative image. Corridors have their own place in the history of art and the art of psychoanalysis. Like all effective documentaries, this one is multi-layered. In one sense, the film could be considered as what used to be called 'a process film', the type of film which follows, for example, a manu- facturing process. We see in some detail the wrapping up and transporting of the large canvases, the number of people involved in the whole procedure, including picture restorers and curators.
However, the film is more than that. It has some wonderful human moments and is often very funny. In one scene, a man is trying on a jacket. He is talking to somebody whose voice is off camera. Tine voice off says, 'Wliat do you mean. It's Yves St Laurent. He is told, 'We don't want people to think that the staff at the Louvre are badly dressed. One of them says she must have lost her trousers, somebody has taken them. The scene is cleverly placed, juxtaposed between more weighty matters as it is. These moments of intimacy con- stantly bring the film back to the humanity that dwells within the walls of a cultural icon.
Sometimes, the pressure on the staff becomes so obvious that it even seems to descend into something close to farce. Women workers are taken through a fire drill and learn how to use a fire extinguisher, with much laughter and understandable incompe- tence on display. In another scene, a curator and colleague are labelling and checking exhibits in a vault. This wonderful conversa- tion results.
She says, 'Haven't you found the Rondini? The Ttian by Bridan? It must be there. The label says Leonardo da Vinci by Moitte. Brought back from Fontainbleau. There seems to be rather a lot of them. Philibert explains that some of the men decided to go round and emerge on the left a second time, knowing that the right side of the picture was out of frame so their little joke would not be spotted, just to test his sense of humour - a test he passed with no problem. They never used lights and this gave them a great advantage. So they were mobile and free to go anywhere.
I asked Nicolas how he managed to shoot such a good-looking film without lights. He says that they used sensitive film stock and the aperture was often wide open. But perhaps more important, they spent such a long time making the film and got to know the museum very well. He says, 'Little by little you learn. This room has sun in the afternoon but don't shoot there in the morning, it will look ugly. They always have lights and a lot of equipment.
So they will be accompanied by a curator and guards, in case there is accidental damage to a painting. So they are not so free. He had the freedom to roam at will. The film took five months to edit. He cut each scene and kept them separate until he had 25, perhaps 30, scenes. Then he assembled the film. He started to shift the scenes around, changing the order. He says it was a bit like working on a puzzle.
It seems that the Louvre is best known to those people with only a vague interest in art for three special pieces. In the latter part of the film, a curator, addressing a crowd of sceptical-looking visitors, explains: 'But the Louvre is like a giant book that you consult more than once, so it is better to have a menu with a wide selec- tion and to come back several times.
People would be delighted it would be much less of an effort but I think we should show the collections. If any film ever made the case for making the effort, this is it. La Ville Louvre ends with quick shots of the painting collection and at the end of this sequence we see busts arranged in ranks in a gallery.
Then the film cuts to real people, head and shoulders only, the people who have appeared in the film, the staff of the Louvre. They all look into the camera, without expression, like the historic artefacts we have just been looking at, clear-eyed, serious, intelligent faces. End captions explain the number of people who work there and the tasks they carry out.