JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

Notes

1. See, for instance, Andrew Hall’s satirical post “Afghanistan Loves Ken Burns’ Vietnam War Documentary” on Patheos.com and an interview with Ken Burns and Lynn Novick in Mother Jones by Iraq War veteran Phil Klay, “Ken Burns Never Knew How Wrong He Was About the Vietnam War,” where Burns himself addressed the question about lessons learned, the obligations of storytelling, and possible parallels to draw about wars without endings. “Our job is just to tell the story, not to put up big neon signs saying, ‘Hey, isn’t this kind of like the present?’ But we know historical narratives cannot help but be informed by our own fears and desires. The tactics the Viet Cong and also the North Vietnamese Army employed, as well as the Taliban and Al Qaeda and now ISIS, suggest an infinite war—and that’s why you hope that lessons of Vietnam can be distilled.” 
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2. Central to observational recording methods is the idea that the cameraperson should mostly disappear as a body so as to focus energy and attention on events to which they are present. It is a strategy for storing up “being there” for a future audience to experience, a point I discuss at length below.

3. I would like to acknowledge Stella Bruzzi’s New Documentary (2006) here for introducing Judith Butler’s concept of the performative to the field through an analysis of first person documentary films that follow a character playing a part, like Nick Broomfield’s scandal hunter persona. She also considers films by Nicholas Barker and Molly Dineen. [return to page 2]

4. Peirce wrote incisively about this phenomenon of perception in relation to a scientist working in a lab. Anticipating by seventy years Steve Woolgar and Bruno Latour’s argument in Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts (1979) about the tacit cultural entanglements embedded within the processes of producing “scientific” knowledge, Pierce observed that the scientist “has had his mind moulded by his life in the laboratory to a degree that is little suspected. The experimentalist himself can hardly be fully aware of it, for the reason that the men whose intellects he really knows about are much like himself in this respect” (251).

5. Significant works about reenactment include: Jay Anderson, Time Machines: The World of Living History (Nashville, Tenn.: American Association for State and Local History, 1984); Richard Handler and William Saxton, “Dyssimulation: Reflexivity, Narrative, and the Quest for Authenticity in ‘Living History’,” Cultural Anthropology 3, no. 3 (1988): 242-260; Jim Cullen, The Civil War in Popular Culture: A Reusable Past (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995); Janet Walker, Trauma Cinema (Berkeley (Calif.); London: University of California press, 2005); Adam Blatner, “Morenean Approaches: Recognizing Psychodrama's Many Facets,” Journal of Group Psychotherapy, Psychodrama & Sociometry 59, no. 4 (2007): 159; Scott Magelssen, Living History Museums: Undoing History through Performance (Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2007); S. Magelssen, “Rehearsing the ‘Warrior Ethos’: ‘Theatre Immersion’ and the Simulation of Theatres of War,” The Drama Review: TDR. 53, no. 1 (2009): 47-72; Jonathan Kahana, “Introduction: What Now? Presenting Reenactment,” Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media 50, no. 1-2 (2009): 46-60; Iain McCalman and Paul A. Pickering, Historical Reenactment: From Realism to the Affective Turn (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); Rebecca Schneider, Performing Remains: Art and War in Times of Theatrical Reenactment (Ney York: Routledge, 2011); Amelia Jones and Adrian Heathfield, Perform, Repeat, Record: Live Art in History (Bristol; Chicago: Intellect, 2012).

6. Maysles discussed the advantages of the flip out screen of the video camera over the eyepiece of the film camera in terms of his capacity to make eye contact with subjects and better empathize with them in sensitive social situations. He praised the fact that he could shoot more footage much more cheaply, thereby increasing his chances of recording moments that would represent his subjects spontaneously and compassionately. He said he could take more chances experimenting with the aesthetic form of his work, and was no longer beholden in the same way to institutional financing to make it. While his assertions that the observational style allows him “to get closer to the truth rather than distant from it” open up the can of worms that led to so many incisive critiques of the direct cinema ethos in the 1970s-1990s (whose truth? To who’s advantage? To what end? When and where is it true and why there?), it is worth noting that this avowedly empirical documentarian characterized the transformation to digital video in terms of empathy, proximity, and liveness rather than sobriety, scientific authority, and post-production manipulation (Stubbs, 2002, p. 5, 11).

Key recent studies on computer graphics and visual effects in the digital cinema industry include Stephen Prince, Digital Visual Effects in Cinema: The Seduction of Reality (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2014); Kristen Whissel, Spectacular Digital Effects: CGI and Contemporary Cinema (Durham: Duke U. Press, 2014).

7. I was surprised at how far the visage of Redcoat soldiers travelled in the three years after 9/11. The group of reenactors I joined and documented also appeared in a PBS American Experience documentary about Revolutionary War reenacting called Patriots Day (2004), the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, and a permanent, $16 million exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington DC titled “The Price of Freedom: Americans at War.” Commissioned shortly after September 11, 2001 during a time of heightened jingoistic sentiment nationally, the exhibit covers every major war or conflict that involved U.S. soldiers between the mid 1700s and 2003. The Smithsonian paid groups of Redcoat reenactors—including the one I had joined—to stage the massacre of Lexington colonists for their film cameras, recording the event from perspectives simulated to be those of Minutemen on April 19, 1775. The edited video loop now serves as the centerpiece for the first area of the exhibit. When visitors standing between wax sculptures of two Lexington minutemen press a button labeled “Push here to start,” a video of Redcoat reenactors appears on a screen facing the museum goer. The Redcoats on screen launch into a one minute frontal attack, complete with the bayoneting of the camera lens-turned-viewer-perspective. The visceral experience is meant to represent the start of the U.S. Revolutionary War for museum visitors of all ages, and it plays almost continuously everyday while the museum is open. My feelings about briefly appearing on screen in it remain conflicted.

8. Articulated in Michel Foucault’s 1975-6 lecture series “Society Must Be Defended,” biopolitics referred to a set of impersonal mechanisms of state control set upon subjects, who then became their front-line enforcers. These included categories of illness and perversion, sexual inclinations, liberal economics, and juridical professions, amongst many others.

9. Following Aretha Franklin’s use of the term as an emblem of black female empowerment in her 1967 song “Respect,” “Sock It To Me” became the famous tagline of a recurring misogynist motif on the TV variety comedy show Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In (1968-73). At the end of the show, a dancing, bikini or miniskirt clad woman (usually Judy Carne or Goldie Hawn) would sensually declare that it was “sock it to me time.” An unidentified party off screen would then douse her with water, open a trap door beneath her feet, or visit her with some other indignity. U.S. soldiers in Vietnam wrote variations of the term on their helmets as an expression of longings for sex, and as a dubious metaphor for their unenviable (and possibly feminized) position on the ground in Vietnam. The phrase was also reappropriated in the film Fight Club (1999) when the unleashed id character Tyler Durden (played by Brad Pitt) wears the slogan on a white T-shirt, replicas of which consumers may still procure from dozens of online outlets.
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10. In addition to a hefty monograph on “the Cambridge turn” in ethnographic film and personal documentary by Scott MacDonald (2013), the flagship journal Visual Anthropology Review dedicated a full volume of scholarly essays to Leviathan. Editors Lisa Stevenson and Eduardo Kohn characterized the film as “groundbreaking. By decoupling voice from any stable narrative perspective, it allows the viewer to be made over by a world beyond the human. It is, we argue, a form of dreaming—a modality of attention that can open us to the beings with whom we share this fragile planet. As such, Leviathan gestures to a sort of ontological poetics and politics for the so-called Anthropocene” (49). 

11. Other notable films associated with this group include Sweetgrass (2008), Terrace of the Sea (2009), Foreign Parts (2010), Manakamana (2013), The Iron Ministry (2014), Into the Hinterlands (2015), and Linefork (2017).

12. Note that I am only referring to In Country in this example. Other Vietnam films including Lynn Novak and Ken Burns’ series The Vietnam War (2017) feature interviews with individuals who we see pictured as younger selves in archival footage. In In Country, alternatively, we see several of the Vietnam War reenactors in their own archival footage taken during the Iraq War.

Works cited

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