JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

copyright 2018, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut
, No. 58, winter, 2017-2018

Being there again: reenacting camerawork in In Country (2014)

by Andy Rice

Recurring evidence of the Vietnam War

Though now fifty years in the past, the Vietnam War remains vivid in U.S. collective memory. Most recently, stories in Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s eighteen hour PBS series The Vietnam War (2017) have elicited critics’ parallels to ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and renewed nationalist hubris.[1] [open endnotes in new window] As with Novick and Burns’ previous war films, The Vietnam War draws its storyline and affective power from combining personal interviews, photographs from family albums, revelatory “behind the scenes” recordings of key figures in presidential administrations, and archival film materials and still photographs recorded by journalists who were there in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s. Jamie Baron’s theory of the “archive effect” aptly describes the popular reception of the various kinds of media in Burns’ work, as well as many other historical documentaries. Materials that viewers experience as “found” in The Vietnam War produce a “temporal disparity” between present day interview and historical footage (Baron, 2012, p. 106). This experiential dynamic carries with it the authorizing power of the state institutions that once maintained archives, regardless of whether or not Novick and Burns gathered their materials in such places. However, “found footage” in a film about the Vietnam War must not inevitably be read as “of” the past in this way.

In contrast to The Vietnam War, In Country (2014), a documentary about men from Oregon who reenact battles from the Vietnam War, situates the war very much in the here and now of performance. What Barron calls the “proliferation of indexical documents outside of official archives” into spaces like YouTube here seems to have been internalized by this film’s reenactor subjects—who have watched numerous documentaries, YouTube clips, and Hollywood films about the Vietnam War (102). During the reenactment, they project something of these viewing experiences onto the world and each other for reasons that vary by person.

How then are we to make sense of this internalization of the indexical and the filmmakers’ efforts in turn to document those somewhat unobservable experiences of the past on film? The complexities of representing the subject of reenactment, first through camerawork and then through the peculiar integration of archival footage in this film, are the topics at the heart of this article. I aim to show that rather than imbuing the film with the authority of “being there” and the stamp of official history, observational and found footage in In Country suggests contours of the collective psyche in the present. The logic of time in the film is recursive rather than linear—a symptom more broadly of the sensible structure of time in the digital age. It demands a different way of thinking about evidence.

Specifically, the article considers the place of the reenactor body and camerawork in documentary theory. I aim to tease out an argument about temporality and the experience of evidence. Though In Country employs a conventional documentary blend of observational recording, interview, and archival footage, reenactment both in front of and behind the camera catalyzes constructions of the documentary real in the film in an unusual way. Centrally at stake in producing the film was a tension between the subject, a war reenactment performance of past events with stakes, and the filmmakers’ initial instincts to make the film about the reenactment using observational cinema methods like those once employed by journalists in Vietnam. Such cinematography emphasizes “being there” with a camera so as to attend to events in the present believed to have stakes.[2]

I focus on this tension to revisit documentary theory about the core concept of indexicality, usually understood in film and media studies to refer to the existential connection between a photographic image and an event that once occurred in front of the lens. I use the film In Country to argue for theorizing indexicality through the embodied experience of “touch” with the past rather than through technologies of inscription per se. Touch is intersubjective here, as it is constituted in the space between performers who depend on one another to display cues of the past, as well as upon camerapersons, editors, and viewers who make sense of the past as they experience the present. The appeal of reenactment as productive of a complex indexical touch, I argue, reflects a social context shaped by the virtualization of image, camera, and distribution platforms. Internalized cinematic conventions shape how the reenactors see.

The reenactors’ seeing, in turn, quite literally shaped how the filmmakers’ “observational” camerawork could be done in In Country. Vietnam War reenacting is a subculture deeply invested in collective, embodied mimesis as a route to authentic feeling and discovery. For this reason, the thirteen or so reenactors featured in the film very much wanted to find a way for the filmmakers to contribute to the aesthetic realism of their immersive scenario. Unlike some other units of reenactors, the subjects of In Country perform only for one another and not for general audiences or outside observers. Not included in the diegesis of the film is the fact that Attie and O’Hara were dressed as Vietnam era war correspondents, which was the reenactors’ condition for the filmmakers’ access to make the documentary.

In other words, the filmmakers had to reenact in order to “be there.”

“Being there” with a camera so as to avoid the need for staging and reenactment was the explicit goal of 1960s direct cinema and observational cinema. How might we to make sense of this apparent paradox? Below, I start by considering camerawork as a live performance practice. I argue that the cameraperson’s decisions at the moment of recording are indexical gestures touching camerawork of the past. Perhaps for inextricable connections to recording, the live act of camerawork has not been considered as a kind of performance through the lens of performance theory, but this body of theory offers analytical tools that may be brought to bear in new ways on questions that have long been central to film studies and documentary studies about the indexicality of the image. I also draw from Vivian Sobchack’s work on the phenomenology of film viewing experience to tease out the relations between past time and personal knowledge somewhat blurred together by repeated reenactment events. History played over and over again by reenactors starts to become as personal as a home movie.

Last, my analysis draws from an insight central to the work of cinema historian Anne Friedberg (1991), who framed the emergence of the cinema outside of camera and screen technologies. Friedberg argued that it was walking past the tantalizing window displays of shopping malls that primed late 19th century consumers for the cinema. Realism attributed to the mechanical nature of the camera had less to do with cinema’s growth, in her account, than did the chance for an emerging group of consumers—especially middle-class white women in cities—to experience a new kind of empowerment outside the home. I argue here for the inverse in the context of digital culture, where images are ubiquitous and cameras are themselves virtual—increasingly part of “my phone” rather than professional tools for recording watershed events. As the reenactors walk together through foliage in Oregon, for example, theyproject desires for “touch” with the Vietnam War as understood from a mélange of Hollywood movies, training manuals, documentaries, and personal experiences of war. Starting with reenactment instead of the image requires thinking differently about the concept of indexicality. Derived from the concept of the index in the tripartite semiotic system of late 19th century U.S. philosopher Charles Saunders Peirce, descriptions of indexicality in his writing refer more broadly to the relation between the perceiving body and phenomena in the world that conjure past events—what I regard as the experience of reenactment.

I develop this argument in four major sections. First, I revisit writing in documentary studies on the concept of indexicality to then excavate qualities of subjective perception in Peirce’s 1895 writing on this particular category of sign. Second, I reflect on my own experience as a documentary cameraperson who made a film about participating in Revolutionary War reenactments. I tease out reservations about the limitations of reenactment as a documentary method with an eye toward a reading of In Country. Third, I summarize In Country for readers who may not have seen the film. Fourth, I draw from interviews with the filmmakers and close analysis of three scenes to deconstruct the process of making the film. I question the invocation of “being there” as the de facto gold standard of documentary value, which turned out to be inadequate for the filmmakers of In Country to tell the story of the reenactment. And I re-interpret the use of archival footage in the film through the concept of reenactment.I conclude by offering the term “intersubjective indexicality” as a contribution to theorizing documentary experience moving forward.

Meditations on a rolling gait: a return to indexicality

Many documentary theorists worried that the rise of digital imagery starting in the early 1990s posed a crisis for the field. Assuming the materiality of the image was central to arguments about the ethics of documentary work. The image of actual injustice, dignity, or struggle could lead viewers to greater awareness, reflection, critical thinking, and capacities for action to redress perceived wrongs. If the digital image is made up of zeroes and ones that are materially indistinguishable from software programs used to manipulate them, this line of theory contends, then the image itself can no longer serve as a reliable index of events in the world. Digital images did not touch the world in the same way.

Brian Winston, Gail Vanstone, and Wang Chi recently reopened this debate in their take on “digital’s loosening of the referential bond” and implications for a film’s claims to represent reality on technical grounds (Winston, Vanstone, and Chi, 2017). While these authors still focus on screen materials (and especially on computer graphics that fool viewers) instead of bodies per se, they emphasize that it is not the camera or the screen that determines “documentary value” in the 21st century documentary. As they write, the

“weakening of photographic image integrity now gives [reenactment and reconstruction techniques] a legitimacy which [they] previously lacked.”

My aim in looking at camerawork and embodied reenactment here is to build on this line of argument, but in doing so to decouple documentary ontology from its traditional object, the finished film, without also giving up on the concept of indexicality and the ethical claims it brings in tow.

The term indexicality entered the lexicon of film studies with Peter Wollen’s Signs and Meaning in the Cinema (1972), which adapted the semiotic system of late 19th century U.S. philosopher Charles Saunders Peirce for the field. Wollen mapped Peirce’s semiotics onto ideas about the power of the photographic image and the cinema expressed by 1950s French film theorist André Bazin. In “The Ontology of the Photographic Image,” (1960), Bazin claimed that the medium of film was particularly well suited to realist representation because a photograph, while resembling objects before the lens, “actually contributes something to the order of natural creation instead of providing a substitute for it” (18).

Read through Peirce’s semiotic system, Wollen argued, Bazin was describing the cinema as primarily indexical. As opposed to iconic signs, which bore a resemblance to referents, and symbolic signs, which signified meaning within cultural systems like language rather than perceptual similarity or proximity to referents, indexical signs were physically, materially constituted of their referents, like the weather vane to the wind, the footprint to the foot, or, in this case, the photograph to the camera. It is worth noting that Wollen was making an argument about the nature of film rather than the situatedness of understanding time. In one passage oft quoted in film and media studies, Peirce characterized the photographic process as indexical:

“Photographs, especially instantaneous photographs, are very instructive, because we know that they are in certain respects exactly like the objects they represent. But this resemblance is due to the photographs having been produced under such circumstances that they were physically forced to correspond point by point to nature. In that aspect, then, they belong to the second class of signs, those by physical connection” (106).

Peirce understood the process of composite photography, in which multiple negatives were seamlessly spliced together to make one image, but downplaying the subjective, expressive dimensions of photography was in keeping with the spirit of late 19th century intellectual life, a moment in which social science disciplines staked claims in the academy as inheritors of the natural sciences (Winston and Tsang). This understanding of the term indexicality was taken up in film studies, where it still refers predominantly to the technological processes of mechanical reproduction, “physically forced” connection between photograph and world, and evidentiary inscription.

Authors including Mary Anne Doane (2007a and b), Bill Nichols (1991), and David Rodowick (2007) have found the concept of indexicality useful for emphasizing the materiality of the image and the ethical obligations of spectators who understand existential connections between events in the world and images of such events. Each has warned that the referential, evidentiary quality of film compared to other plastic arts erodes with the turn from analog film to digital media. Doane (2007b) even called “digital media” a contradiction in terms, as digital creations aim toward the erasure of medium specificity rather than establishing physical, material limits for exploration through a particular art practice. Digital photographs and moving images, such theorists argued, were essentially made of code, of nothing. Software programs like Photoshop were made of the same immaterial stuff, and could alter digital images without detection.

This line of thinking threw the status of media indexicality and the field of documentary studies into question. To take one prominent example, leading documentary theorist Jane Gaines referred in her introduction to Collecting Visible Evidence (1999) to what Bill Nichols called the “indexical whammy” that analog documentary film enjoyed over fiction to ask the question that simulation technologies seemed to pose to a field grounded in the evidentiary status of film: “If it can no longer be said that documentary has reality on its side, what can be said of it?” While acknowledging that “much is at stake” in “giving up the rhetorical clout that comes with the claim of ‘evidence’ of the real,” Gaines suggested moving documentary theory forward through the concept of resemblance, or iconicity, and leaving behind “the impossible claim to indexicality” (6). She argued that most viewers did not distinguish between analog and digital imagery, and intimated that critical obsession over the difference between the two was misplaced. Theorizing the relation between image and the real, she suggested, should thus take more seriously a variety of cultural products considered out of bounds by previous generations of documentary scholars, including simulation programs and video games, animations, and reality television shows. Vivian Sobchack’s (1999) contribution to this volume offered the insightful point that “documentary is less a thing than an experience” and proposed parsing out ways of viewing into fictional, home movie, and documentary “modes of consciousness” that had more to do with the meeting point of cultural conventions and the personal experiences of the viewer than the image itself (241). Subsequent articles on reenactment in documentary film by Nichols (2008), Jonathan Kahana (2009), Deirdre Boyle (2009), and Rowena Santos-Aquino (2012), as well as works by filmmakers like Rithy Panh, Josh Oppenheimer, and Errol Morris that employed reenactment techniques in innovative (and controversial) ways further moved the field of documentary studies from its grounding in the concept of indexicality as understood in its narrowly technological sense. This has proven to be an influential direction.

Yet consensus on what it is that grounds documentary theory if not indexicality, a weighty connection between image perceived and the real, remains elusive. Niels Niessen proposed a noteworthy turn on the concept in his 2011 publication in Screen, arguing that the index always embedded within it the dynamic between the film and the spectator’s way of seeing. The index, in his telling, emerges at the meeting point between the historical context of the sign’s creation, and the spectator’s subjective apprehension of this moment in their own space and time, laden as that moment is with iconic and symbolic contextual factors that facilitate indexical recognition. Writing in 2017, with nearly two decades more perspective on digital filmmaking than the authors featured in Gaines and Michael Renov’s Collecting Visible Evidence (1999), Winston, Vanstone, and Chi revisited the position of the spectator unmoored from analog indexicality, and now more at the mercy of convincing digital fabrications of, for instance, mythical sea beasts like the Megalodon pedaled somewhat successfully as documentary fare by the Discovery Channel. More broadly, the authors claimed that the manipulability of digital imagery had indeed radically transformed documentary practice and cultural perceptions of what counted as historical evidence, even if not all filmmakers treated their moving images as endlessly malleable digital canvases. They pointed to Peirce’s writing on composite photography and icons, which he wrote “so completely substituted for their objects as hardly to be distinguished from them,” to suggest that Peirce’s theory accounted for the dual nature of photographs. They argued that photographs mediate between maker and viewer much like paintings, sculpture, and other forms of art imagery. “That is to say they are iconic as they are indexical,” the authors conclude.
             
Here I want to revisit Peirce’s writing on the index, which offers a broader definition of the term than the one typically used in film studies. And in excavating the implications of his other examples for my analysis of In Country, I intend to center indexicality in the experiencing body over the image. This is not to dismiss image-making practices culturally marked as documentary, which might be grouped by their shared intention towards conjuring “touch” with the past in a variety of ways. Indeed, the ubiquity of images in our everyday lives forces us to internalize contents, cultural conventions of spectatorship, and practices of image making, and so cannot be ignored. But I do make the claim that documentary experience need not—indeed cannot—start in the image, photographic or otherwise. While the makers of In Country shot in an observational style and did not manipulate their footage in post, the records of reenactors in the woods were not the focal point of evidence that registered as such for the filmmakers. Rather, they found “touch” with the past unexpectedly, more like in Peirce’s offhand example of a man with a rolling gait than in his more often quoted characterization of the photograph.

In his taxonomy of the index, Peirce included examples of indexical signs that had less to do with scientific instruments than with the subjective sensation of being startled by particular perceptions. In one instance, he considered his perception of a man’s “rolling gait” as an indexical sign: “I see a man with a rolling gait. This is a probable indication that he is a sailor” (108). Between the two sentences, “I see…” and “This is a probable…,” there is a tacit personal question: why did this man’s walk strike me as notable? It compels Peirce to offer an explanation. It also arises from an observation of performative behavior, in Judith Butler’s sense of the term—that is, the repeated activities, gestures, or ways of thinking that produce, reinforce, and reify identity over time.[3] The performative utterance or gesture brings a state of affairs into being rather than describing a thing that already exists, and so constitute a politics.

Peirce refers to the reiterative labor process—working as a sailor—that might have caused the rolling gait in the late 1800s. But the grounds for the indexical sign to emerge at a moment in Peirce’s mind did not develop quickly for the man who walked this way. If indeed the gait was the occupational byproduct that Peirce deduced, then the rolling gait indexed a life at sea. The gait perceived in an instant by Peirce “touches” the accumulation of past time. There was likely nothing startling about the style of walk for the man doing the walking, and it was not obvious that the “rolling gait” should register as a sign in a different context, perhaps closer to the docks, where it might simply be the way “we” walk.[4] It is a striking way of moving to Peirce and then perhaps to us as readers aiming to be in synchrony with his description. When he marks this man’s walk as a “rolling gait,” we readers can understand the startling aspect of what Peirce calls indexical signs, even if we cannot exactly envisage the reiterative walk cycle of Peirce’s probable sailor of a now bygone era.

Peirce’s example suggests a theory of thought centered on the psychic experience of reenactment. Here is the startling experience of perceiving difference that one can then explain only through imaginative speculation and further research or thinking. The walk is evidence, but that to which it points beyond the fact of difference remains unclear. It catalyzes further consideration of this particular man, and the set of life conditions that led him to walk this way. Touch with the sign “rolling gait” is compelled and affective. It is a surge without codified meaning, generated intersubjectively and leaving the affected perceiver with work yet to do.

The process of perception, affect, and thought entailed in this example is the starting point for documentary work. Unexpected, contingent details emerge in the field of perception, beckoning further exploration and attempts at discovery. It is worth noting that the pleasure of viewing and re-viewing (or reenacting) direct cinema and cinéma vérité style documentary also depends upon the process that Pierce describes here. The rolling gait is a sign for Peirce that registers in a moment, but suggests a lifetime and a life world. Like Roland Barthes’ concept of the punctum as “that accident [in the photograph] which pricks me,” Pierce experiences a startling sensation at the moment of observing the rolling gait (Barthes, 26). This moment, the index, remains at the heart of documentary film practice, though it has little to do with technology per se. Peirce expands at greater length on the startling, ephemeral nature of the indexical sign:

“A rap on the door is an index. Anything which focuses the attention is an index. Anything which startles us is an index, in so far as it marks the junction between two portions of experience. Thus a tremendous thunderbolt indicates that something considerable happened, though we may not know precisely what the event was. But it may be expected to connect itself with some other experience” (108).

“Anything which focuses the attention” must mark its difference from other things for the subject doing the perceiving of it. There is a suddenness to these indexical signs—the rap at the door, the thunderbolt—that compels the perceiver to attend to it. Shifting to the domain of camerawork (and by extension film viewing experience), a cameraperson waits amid subjects before the lens for the emergence of something as striking as the rap on the door. It is perhaps a detail that others present or subsequent viewers might not notice, or might notice differently. And why this something as opposed to that something demands attention is a matter as difficult for filmmakers to articulate in the moment as reenactors who try to explain the appeal of what they do. In both cases, without the perceiving subject to experience this something, this indexical sign will not emerge.

This something opens possibilities for thinking about the interplay of various subjectivities and a situated theory of the index. Within this framework, we may theorize an indexical relation inhering in a felt, bodily sensation mediated through a photograph, weathervane, plumb bob, bullet mold. . . or embodied performance. The perceiving subject momentarily senses the past activities of another being, beings, or ecosystem in an intersubjective engagement. We may also consider the possibility that the presence of moving images, however horrific or sensational their contents, may not in themselves produce the sensation of their indexicality in a particular viewer. That which startles into rumination on history is contextual and contingent. It has no necessary relationship with a photograph. Neither should documentary theory.

Reenactment and camerawork: a personal take

Reenactment reopens the question about the relation between the trace and the body. Participants in a reenactment do not directly experience a traumatic past, but in performing a simulation of it, they become the carriers of its felt traces. These traces register through people’s embodied reenactment in the midst of performance rather than on filmic material. Reenactment routinely serves as a method of inquiry in performance art, media archeology, living history, ritual commemoration, documentary filmmaking, television dramatization, and psychodrama therapy. Simulation training in fire, police, and military applications also makes use of precedent events, and function in practice much like war reenactments. Motivations for participating in reenactment events include working through personally traumatic experiences, producing a collective identity around the shared interpretation of an historical moment, or learning about embodied historical experience by simulating archaic material and technological constraints in the present.[5]

Film practitioners have generally viewed the transition from analog to digital media differently from theorists. Documentary filmmakers who saw inexpensive cameras, nonlinear editing software, and socially networked distribution platforms as material advantages for crafting empathic stories about their subjects largely ignored the crisis identified in documentary theory. For instance, when the occasionally dubbed “father of direct cinema” Albert Maysles was asked in 2002 for his thoughts on digital recording processes, he enumerated twenty-seven ways that shooting on digital video could “serve all the purposes that I’ve always had much, much better” than film, including the flip out screen, low cost, and more flexible shooting ratios.[6]

As a nonfiction filmmaker who learned on 16 mm film and then started working with DV in the early 2000s, I relished the advantages of digital media formats for making intimate, long-form documentaries free from intimidating needs for institutional funding and equipment. The small camera that could record an hour of tape at the cost of $4 increased my chances of “capturing” unexpected, idiosyncratic, contingent events that would infuse my films with a sense of life. The virtualization and ubiquity of video production tools have posed other epistemological dilemmas, however. Always having a camera at the ready, and always thinking about how the present moment might be mined for a future time and different sort of recognition changed my process of perception. I looked for everyday life events that already seemed to have built in what people working in the film industry would call “high production values.”

Between 2002 and 2005, I conducted a reverse participant ethnography and filmed with a group of New Englanders who reenacted battles from the U.S. Revolutionary War as 18th century British soldiers, commonly referred to as “the Redcoats.” My documentary, titled About Face!: Reenacting in a Time of War (2010), explored how discourses on the then contemporaneous war in Iraq circulated through the bodies of those who played the part of America’s “first enemy” in reenactment performances.[7] It was a documentary about something like what Michel Foucault called “biopolitics,”[8] about how state power is reproduced and enforced at the level of the subject body. But in hindsight, my twenty-two year-old self was also drawn to the subject because of the way the reenactment projected onto the world the contours of cinematic drama—lavish costumes, events that gestured at life and death stakes, complex points of identification, possibilities for humor, and clear timelines. The reenactments, in other words, were designed to attract cameras, and I fell for the lure. I dressed as a Redcoat and played the role of an 18th century infantryman in battle reenactments and training sessions to make the film. The experience led me to places that I did not expect, and at times into positions in which I was uncomfortable. My body projected a set of narratives about national identity with which I had significant and growing qualms.

And there is a similar tension in the In Country filmmakers’ claim to have made a film about “understanding” this group of Vietnam War reenactors. Cultural historians Brenda Boyle and Jeehyun Lee argued that at least some of the reenactors in the film have structured their performances of individual personhood and trauma to prevent engaging with “the complexities of military and foreign policies, the history of Viet Nam’s anticolonial struggles, or the ethics of the whole affair.” That Joel Kinney, the founder of the Vietnam War reenacting group featured in the film, described in the In Country Bonus Features his first experience seeing the film as “kind of like a father seeing his child portrayed in a positive manner” does little to dispel Boyle and Lee’s critique (Attie and O’Hara, 2014b).

In my case, reenactment posed other practical challenges to filming.  To maintain the appearance of an 18th century soldier, I was not permitted to film while playing a role. I would videotape at events where I was not required to appear in uniform, and during one particularly large reenactment, my group permitted me to wear a well-concealed spy camera. But I usually had to rely on other camerapersons to film those events. As a participant, I was able to experience and speak at length with many reenactors about their strategies for thinking deeply about the struggles and everyday lives of 18th century people. These perspectives were at odds with most media reports about the reenactments, which typically rehashed narratives about “morally just” violence from the past to rationalize U.S. imperial ventures in the present. But they also did not address so well the question about why participants reenact. Verbalized answers to this question are too pat in many cases, or grounded in feelings not easily translated into words. The film historicized the rise of U.S. reenactment in the 1960s and 1970s amid white male anxieties about feminism, the Civil Rights Movement, and the turn from political to social history, which threatened the stability of celebratory stories about national origins.

Much of the film about the Revolutionary War reenactment focused on a reenactor with Native American ancestry who had served as a sniper in Vietnam and Desert Storm, and communicated about his experiences to me through references to popular films like Apocalypse Now (1979), Rambo (1982), and Enemy at the Gates (2001). His experiences as a soldier seemed to give him unusual affective tools through which to understand battles of the past. When we once stood together on what seemed to me yet another empty historic battlefield, for instance, he told me that just being there “made the hairs stand up on the back of [his] neck.” While I learned a great deal from this particular reenactor, recording such sentiments using mostly observational shooting methods was difficult. I leaned heavily on conversational filming and voiceover to communicate, sometimes speculatively, about that which could not be seen. The filmmakers of In Country dealt with a similar problem in a different way.

Reenacting and filming reenactment did open for me a way for thinking about documentary as a form of experience rather than a genre of film. Reenactment experience generates something like what Sobchack (1999) called “a documentary mode of consciousness,” here applied to the performed world rather than the screen (246). Sobchack wrote about documentary consciousness as being like the mentality of the apprentice, searching the screen for cues to learn things of cultural importance. Similarly, reenactors who roleplay as Redcoats in their leisure time are learning from the same manual as their 18th century referents. The sensations that reenactors feel in doing so—of the body as mechanical part, the camaraderie of common purpose, the unity of action, humanity as machine—seem to comingle text and body, the indexical connection to the past created as these contemporary people collectively follow old directions. Reenactors often describe experiencing the strong and yet puzzling sensation of what performance scholars call “dual consciousness” as they perform, part here and now and part in an imagined body of the past. In the terms of performance scholar Rebecca Scchneider (2009), “times touch” through the body’s performative citations. For me, such moments provoked abiding questions about the nature of connection, discovery, and the ethics of historical understanding—core concerns of documentary theory—rather than answers about what past lives were like. While the rest of this article is not about my own experience as a reenactor, I inevitably draw upon those insights and experiences in analyzing the filming and reenacting of the Vietnam War in In Country.

To touch back on the theoretical argument sketched above, the production process behind In Country exposed a shortcoming in a notion of indexicality rooted so firmly in technology and the image. While filmmakers Attie and O’Hara used digital technologies to record images and sounds of the reenactment, they somewhat unconsciously followed 1960s and 1970s analog documentary tenets grounded in faith that the image could represent events. The directors never considered manipulating frames or shots in post-production beyond basic editing and color correction. Yet the subject of the film itself is already a step removed from representation, already an image of war shorn of fear and death and built to feel cinematic.

The material connection between the image with stakes and its subject, in other words, was “degraded” before Attie even turned his digital camera on. The purported loss of indexicality has nothing to do with the digital or analog image itself. However, the U.S. men featured in the film—like the Redcoat reenactors with whom I participated—do aim for indexical “touch” with the past through their documentary method of choice, shared reenactment performance.

Synopsis of In Country

In Country follows the story of a group of men from Oregon who reenact battles from the Vietnam War, but the opening five minutes of the film do not foreshadow the unfolding of this story. We are instead led to believe that we are watching an observational film about soldiers five years into the Vietnam War itself who are about to undertake a deadly mission. A somewhat insecure and informally dressed officer under a tent rallies a group of ten or so U.S. soldiers, and then a unit leader debriefs his men on the plan to destroy weapons caches in a lightly patrolled “VC area.” High strings in the background cue us to potential dangers as we see the men wade across the river in water up to their thighs, step through the brush with weapons drawn, and spot an enemy encampment through the leaves by the river. “We came upon their Viet Cong camp,” whispers one soldier into a radio. There is a straight cut to a shot of other U.S. soldiers hiding by a nearby road, who copy the message.

One whispers to the camera that he’s relatively old at twenty-four and doing his second tour with “no end in sight.”  The eerie soundscape fades out, and the film tips its hat as being of reenactment and anachronism rather than Vietnam. The soldier we just heard waves at a large, modern red truck with a dog in the flatbed as it rolls by their position. An ironic, 60s slide-show-style title-card reading “IN COUNTRY” comes on screen set to the opening of Count Five’s classic 1966 rock track “Psychotic Reaction.” The ensuing music montage juxtaposes archival footage of army basic training in the late 1960s with shots of the reenactors preparing their props and food for the reenactment. This dynamic introduces a key mechanism for advancing the narrative through the rest of the film, which employs archival footage as markers of the past that remain in the present. But the moment for affectively dropping film viewers into the world of Vietnam has now passed. All subsequent footage of these characters dressed in 1960s army garb reads as documenting performance rather than events of war. In some respects, this opening “fiction” is the only moment in the film in which the viewer sees the environment as the reenactors attempt to experience it through their roleplay.

As the film unfolds, the ensemble of reenactors reveals more intimate details about their lives and histories with war outside of the reenactment. We tour the home of Joel Kinney, a Vietnam War memorabilia collector fascinated by the affective powers of the aroma of “bug juice,” slang for the plastic bottles of DDT-laced insect repellant issued to U.S. soldiers during the war, to compel veterans’ psychic returns to tours in Vietnam. We see Iraq War army veteran Charles “Tuna” Ford playing soldier with his small children in the grass of a fenced suburban backyard. In an interview, he recalls wanting to join the army as a high schooler for “carrying a gun, having authority, and doing the cool guy stuff,” and the film then cuts to footage he recorded on a body camera while raiding a house in Iraq. We also see footage of him detonating a bomb in the Iraqi desert from the driver’s seat of a Humvee, an experience of power he characterizes as “fucking tight” and then “indescribable” to his comrade behind the camera. We hear the reflections of South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) reenactor named Vinh Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American who fought for the ARVN with the U.S. military in the 1960s and then immigrated to Oregon after the war. He says that he reenacts to “revisit the image of what I was in the past.” We meet a participant named Hayden “Bummy” Baumgartner who fought in Vietnam as a young man in 1970-1 and reenacts “to go back” and serve as an advisor to the group on uniform authenticity. A reenactor named Lucien “Doc” Darensburg served as a medic during the Iraq War, and talks on camera about soldierly camaraderie and the difficulties of transitioning back to civilian life and coping with PTSD. Matt Kinney, the manager of a Portland brewery who has no affiliation with the contemporary military, reenacts to live out “that childhood love of playing war in the woods.” And a high school student named David “Cricket” Safina-Massey speaks on camera about how he has enlisted to join the Marines once he turns eighteen. M. Kinney and Cricket serve as foils to reenactors with past military experience and soldiers pictured in archival footage in Vietnam.

Performative citations of 1960s songs, Vietnam War movies, historical footage, and training manual details recur in interactions among these men as they prepare their uniforms and gear and then perform in the reenactment itself. When Nguyen arrives at the encampment, for example, he and Joel Kinney exchange bear hugs and the exuberant salutation “Good morning, Vietnam!” a joking reference to Nguyen’s ethnicity as well as the eponymous 1987 movie starring Robin Williams as a comedic, irreverent Armed Forces radio host during the Vietnam War. Other soldiers decorate their helmets with designs, flowers, and slogans reminiscent of the conflicted characters in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987), a dystopian farce about the inadequacy of military training to aid a doomed unit of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam. One reenactor wrote “Sock It To Me” in bubble letters on the back of his helmet, a term with such a convoluted history in popular culture that it is difficult to pin down the referent here for what seems to be a self-reflexive critique of the war and the soldier’s reluctant, enforced place in executing it.[9] J. Kinney teaches unsettling Vietnam era slang to the other reenactors through occasional references to fiction films. He encourages fellow reenactors to use the terms “zapped” for killed, “Dink” for Vietnamese, “peckerwood” for white man, “nape” for napalm, and “titi, which you’ve seen in Full Metal Jacket,” for “very little.” [Figure 22] The first night under the tent, the group screens Easy Rider (1969) together while smoking cigarettes.

On the second day, the reenactors patrol the woods and participate in brief gunfights with the VC, played by several men dressed in black sweatsuits. [Figure 23] The patrol, gunfights, and simulated death segue to deeper vignettes with the reenactors. Tuna describes difficulties reconnecting with his wife and children after returning from Iraq, and discloses that he will soon deploy to Afghanistan for a year. The unit of reenactors sees him off. Doc reflects on nightmares and the dead bodies he saw in Iraq as he carries a reenactor “Killed In Action” to a checkpoint, a scene I will analyze in greater detail below. [Figure 24 and 25] The combining of footage from Vietnam, Iraq, and the reenactment proceeds more seamlessly and efficiently at this point in the film. When Nguyen captures two reenactors playing the Vietcong, for instance, a close up on his face cuts to a brief montage of armed ARVN soldiers standing uncertainly over presumed communist enemies in Vietnamese villages. The return to Nguyen’s close up in the reenactment leads the shots to read as something like a sequence of unbidden memories. [Figures 26, 27, 28, and 29] When it starts to rain at the reenactment by the evening of the second day, Nguyen’s subtitled voiceover in Vietnamese validates this interpretation. The sound of raindrops on a poncho reminds Nguyen of a moment of acute vulnerability during the Vietnam War, and he confesses to crying at the reenactment because he is overwhelmed by the rush of memories. Portland brewer M. Kinney, by contrast, revels in the rush of mock killing, blisters on his feet, and mild delirium induced by his lack of sleep. Bummy and Doc reflect on the impossibility of forgetting the things they’ve seen at war and discuss limitations they face in developing deep interpersonal relationships as civilians. The reenactment weekend concludes in the rain with the reenactors sharing a beer together back at the camp. The film ends with Tuna’s return home from Afghanistan to his family, and the unit of reenactors marching together in a small-town parade as a small boy in camouflage fatigues looks on. [Figure 30]

When simulating “being there” falls flat: the process of making In Country

The makers of In Country began production in a way recognizable to practitioners of observational and participatory cinema forms.  Once they secured access to subjects, Attie and O’Hara went to film them up close, waiting with camera and sound rolling to be surprised by unexpected contingencies or moments of surprising revelation.  They would occasionally ask their subjects questions, but not so as to disrupt the flow of ongoing activity.  From this material, they would distill moments in which stakes, motives, and human spirit shone through, and then structure the film for these hard-won discoveries to lead the audience to an enriched understanding of the subculture of war reenactment.

In practice, this entailed much literal and metaphorical walking in the woods—a fact reflected in the finished film.  In Country dedicates a good deal of screen time to shots of the reenactors toting replica (or perhaps actual) M-16s loaded with blanks and patrolling the Oregon foliage, a routine that seems to offer little in the way of filmable stakes until the interruption of a mock gun battle.  Attie filmed these patrols in anticipation of such a cinematic conflict, and the reenactment obliged.  I look at this moment here because the aesthetics of the scene reveal peculiar tensions entailed in “being there” to document the reenactment of events like those once filmed. 

The scene occurs about an hour into the documentary, when the filmmakers and their subjects are “ambushed” by several other reenactors playing the Vietcong. At the sound of gunshots—an unscripted event that cameraman Attie was nonetheless hoping and expecting to happen—the image on screen seems to lose its mooring to the cameraperson’s eye. The moment in the performance and the record of this moment that we film viewers see here touch precedent events in complex ways. Perhaps the reenactors on screen suddenly imagine being in a firefight Vietnam, or perhaps audience members watching the finished film think back to viewing “embedded reporting” of battles in Iraq or the fictionalized helter-skelter camerawork employed in the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan (1998). Perhaps it’s some of both. We viewers see the camerawork here transition from a handheld, but controlled following shot of subjects in front of the lens to the movement record of the cameraperson himself ducking into the weeds by the side of the road, not visibly focused, momentarily, on anything in particular in front of the lens. The referent for the camerawork is unstable, a “severed index,” in Schneider’s terms, like the prosthetic index finger in the grass pointing nowhere in particular that she stumbled upon with a surge of horror and then delight at a Civil War reenactment.  She then photographed the faux-finger for the cover of her book.

Attie, the observational cameraperson diving into the weeds, knew that he was not in real danger. This is perhaps an obvious point, but it is nonetheless a significant one. Shooting amid the grass was one choice among many at Attie’s disposal. He could have rushed into the trees to catch a few shots of the opposing army, or moved around to the front of his subjects so as to record their faces instead of settling for plants and backs. We might think of the camerawork as a kind of “unprivileged camera style,” to use ethnographic filmmaker David MacDougall’s (1998) phrase for a camera that attempts to mimic the perceptual and cultural sensibility of the subjects (200). Attie’s rationale for the choice he made indeed seemed to express something like this logic. As he put it,

“When you’re shooting, you want to be respectful of the event and also to some extent playing along, and that’s the part of the war correspondent. You know you want to keep cover, you want to lay low because I think it would ruin it for them if I was standing up getting the ideal angle of the firefight” (Attie).

Perhaps in diving down into the grass, Attie was being a good reenactor, a way of being that direct cinema and observational cinema practitioners have long resisted, if not reviled as anathema to the serendipitous, immediate, spontaneous phenomena that the skillfully wielded camera could reveal when rolling amidst everyday life. Direct cinema pioneer Ricky Leacock famously compared the cameraperson recording everyday life to the voltmeter measuring electrical current: “you design your voltmeter so that very little goes through it,” he said. Leacock’s ideal cameraperson was co-present with subjects but barely there as a being, concentrating on framing, exposure, focus, and reacting with camera-body to live events in their unfolding. He said of this,

“We say we are filmmakers, but in a funny sort of way we are the audience. We do not have the burden of a director” (Blue, 409).

Since Attie and O’Hara, paradoxically, had to act in order to shoot the reenactment according to observational tenets (proximity to subjects, following rather than directing activities, and accepting everyday activities as events to record), their bodily orientations are at odds with Leacock’s theory of the observational cameraperson as audience member. “During the event, we were totally immersed in their fantasy world,” O’Hara and Attie wrote in an online article about the process of making the film for The Daily Beast.

“At certain moments they even talked to us as if we were actually reporters from the 1970s. When we were outside in the field, we didn’t ask them about their real lives. We reserved questions about their home life and experiences in Iraq for after the reenactment was finished in order to stay in character and fully inhabit their fantasy.”

The direct cinema goal of simulating “being there” is nonetheless the first that the In Country filmmakers have claimed in interviews with me and with others about what they hoped to do with the film. Stated O’Hara, echoing Leacock and more recent proponents of sensory documentary styles:

“I think we tried to give people watching the film the experience we had being there, as best we could, and used all these cinematic techniques that try to give people that feeling” (O’Hara).

I do not think this self-assessment accurately describes how Attie and O’Hara ended up making the film in practice, but paying homage to the value of “being there” has a long history in documentary filmmaking. The rhetoric of “being there” is connected to ideas about camerawork and the significance of direct, physically proximate access to subjects doing things. “Being there” has meant filming in such a way that the viewers of the footage would feel as though in the presence of events that unfold on screen, experiencing them from the perspective of the cameraperson who once recorded these shots live and co-present amid film subjects. The camera’s mechanical, indexical nature, in this line of thinking, would allow the unplanned footage to store up and then re-present surprising and organic details about the actual world that was once in front of the lens, revealing clues about the textures of landscapes and subjects’ lives for viewers to discover and consider on their own. Viewers are taken to be partners in thinking rather than passive recipients of cinematic messaging. And so attendant to this way of approaching documentary is the idea that the film should follow subjects whither they go, even into the weeds of everyday minutiae, while downplaying the political views of the filmmakers themselves. Attie and O’Hara say they share an affinity with this epistemological orientation. In an interview with me, O’Hara recounted one of their “founding myths as film collaborators” in these terms:

“It’s not that either one of us don’t care about films that could change the world, obviously, but I said to [Mike], I was like, you’re so clearly not in this camp of people trying to make lasting change through a film, and he was like, yeah, well, I don’t feel like I know the answer.”

The problem with this notion of “being there” with its presumption of humility and neutrality, as Trinh T. Minh ha (1993), Brian Winston (1993), Michael Renov (2004), Fatimah Tobing-Rony (1996), Jill Godmilow (2002) and many others have pointed out, is that it occludes choices and socio-historical forces: the choice to focus on a war reenactment instead of a more urgent subject—or even those reenactors who play the Vietcong. There was the need for two young filmmakers seeking academic jobs in a tough market to produce a cinematic feature documentary quickly and cheaply, and the fact that the reenactment offered ready-made production value, aesthetics of the outdoors, the hot-button theme of masculine vulnerability, and the “sexiness of the Vietnam War,” in O’Hara’s terms (O’Hara). A key tenet of critical race and gender theory holds that claims to neutrality often rationalize the norms of power in practice, like the tacit (and sometimes explicit) racism, sexism, and nationalism that creeps into war reenactments under the banner of historical realism. To follow and record such subjects as a means to understand them teeters close to simply projecting their values when the records find their way into a finished, edited film.

Such forces and others further trouble Leacock’s voltmeter analogy, and the attendant discourse about allowing the audience to “be there” to think about this and not that for themselves. Furthermore, there are limitations with observational filmmaking methods that practitioner-theorists acknowledge. Observational camerawork cannot reveal much about the psyche or intimate activities. Theorist-filmmakers in anthropology like Lucien Castaing-Taylor (1998) and Anna Grimshaw and Amanda Ravetz (2009) have simply argued that neither reenactment nor autobiography are as trustworthy as voltmeterish observation of everyday life in its unfolding. These filmmakers have claimed that sensory nonfiction films offer up significant, underexplored ways to create research about everyday life, cognition, time, and affect within the disciplines of anthropology and art. But the films produced by this school—to much critical acclaim and influence in their corner of academia[10]—have thus far generally embraced noninterventionist and realist traditions of camerawork, rooted in observational or gently participatory methods. Experiments with wearable and miniature camera aesthetics like Leviathan (2012), an austere feature pieced together from footage recorded by cameras ensconced on the bodies, masts, walls, and ropes of a New England fishing boat and crew amid a sea voyage, expand on observational cinema commitments to nonintervention, long takes, and the rejection of music, voiceover, and interview even though the camera’s view is not aligned directly with the cameraperson’s viewing eye. It is not a film that addresses critiques about power dynamics leveled at the observational mode and its fascination with staying in the weeds.

For the filmmakers of In Country who recorded reenactors, however, observation alone was not permitted, and they found that their approximation of observational camerawork “felt pretty flat” in their first assembly screening, in Attie’s terms. Somehow, he reflected, “you never really had a sense about what Vietnam was” (Attie). Reenacting the Vietnam War in the Oregon woods may offer cinematic capital in the form of outdoor aesthetics, controversy, and eccentricity, but the stakes of reenacting are in many cases internal to individual reenactors, or invisibly and intersubjectively present in the space between performers who share desires for connection with a lived past and commit themselves to discover something ineffable. The observational camera can’t see these spaces. And there is no organic “crisis structure” to follow that might allow a documentary to graft off this trope of Hollywood narrative structure, as in the direct cinema films of Robert Drew.[11] At the end of their shooting and first major round of editing, Attie and O’Hara worried that they had instead fallen for the illusion of reenactment, or the allure of simulation. They had a film about costumed men with replica guns walking in the woods, who then returned to their regular jobs. Notions of indexicality as mechanically reproduced photographic image inscribed on film or chip had led their documentary to a dead end.

But reenacting “being there” as Vietnam era journalists offered an unusual indexical possibility to the makers of In Country. It was almost as if by accident and through the coincidence of a shared ethic of camerawork with 1970s filmers of war—a shared “rolling gait,” if not exactly the same analog film rolling through the same kind of gate—their footage bore the potential to touch something of the past lingering in the present. This was touch not by the cameraperson’s image, but by the cameraperson’s unconsciously reenacted practices of recording.

Internalizing the archive: the real of reenacted camerawork

Several years into producing the film, Attie and O’Hara realized that they could cut relatively easily between their own footage of the reenactment and archival footage recorded in Vietnam. A scene early on in the film demonstrated the potential power of this technique for recasting their “flat” reenactment footage. The reenactors are on patrol, and no firefight has yet happened. There is a sequence of shots of walking and waiting in the woods of Oregon. One reenactor, echoing 1968, places a daisy in his helmet. We, with the reenactors, are waiting, passing time in private spaces for reflection on and performance of a pastiche of history, popular culture, and escape from workplace routines. The montage ends with a profile close up of a soldier smoking a cigarette, subtly different from the previous shots in the sequence. The foliage in the background is different, the colors are softer, and the image is grainier. Then comes an aerial shot, more or less following the logic and rhythm of the spatial montage as though we are seeing the terrain in the same area at the same time only now from above. But the texture of the footage feels as though from another world. It is no longer the crisp HD video, and we quickly see that the verdant rice fields below are not the Oregon woods. We are looking at archival footage of rural Vietnam, shot from a helicopter, we presume, sometime during the Vietnam War. The disjuncture between the observational recording and editing style, and the self-conscious temporal rupture across this cut infuses the sequence with weight, difference, and stakes. This is Vietnam. The being there of these shots is that of the war correspondents of the 1960s or 1970s, re-appropriated in the editing room by contemporary filmmakers who had roleplayed as those correspondents and found their own footage of reenactors lacking. But because our entry point to the archival footage is through the contemporary reenactors behind and in front of the camera, we are primed to understand both their performance activities and the shots we are about to see as nodes along an ongoing continuum of time, a continuum we now enter as spectators of the film.

Beneath several further aerial shots of mountains, fields, and helicopters, we hear a soldier read a letter home about arriving in Vietnam amid a lightning storm. The helicopter lands, and we find ourselves with soldiers on the ground. We see an edited sequence of various U.S. soldiers walking through the landscape, finding a skull on a wooden post, and hacking through the bush, accompanied by audio recordings of U.S. soldiers talking or reading for the camera. Two soldiers carry a shirtless man between them who appears to have fainted. “I can’t walk through that kind of stuff all day,” says a voice. The image cuts to a ¾ shot of a different man lying on the ground, awake but dazed, and the cameraperson zooms in to an extreme close up of his face as a cold, off-screen male voice, presumably the journalist, asks, “What does it do to you?” The soldier responds, “Well, try to name something it doesn’t do to you. . . . Just can’t hack that stuff all day.” Another soldier voice reads a litany of uncomfortable sensations, “the heat, the stench of the air, the sick feeling in your stomach day after day, the smell of body odor and the choking dust in your throat,” as the montage on screen illustrates still more everyday difficulties. Soldiers walk through the bush and past the camera, each shot taken at a different time in a different place and featuring a different face. A wide shot shows a soldier in the middle of a stream, water up to his neck, holding his rifle above his head as he crosses—a point of reference for an early shot in the film of the reenactors wading across a river. A soldier waits as the sound of gunshots drones faintly in the distance, off screen. Then there is an interview with a soldier featured in the 1970 CBS television documentary, The World of Charlie Company. “It’s like pure hell,” he starts.

“I mean, like a lot of guys they hunted back in the world before they come over here. They come over here, they stay out anywhere from eighteen [days] to a month. Bugs biting on us, crawling all over us. You sleep on the ground, and you know, you’re humping all day long. A lot of guys, you know, they change opinion about being out in the woods. A lot of guys say if they go back to the world they won’t go out in the woods for anything, hunting or any other reason.”

As the soldier speaks, we see a montage that loosely illustrates what he is saying, soldiers slapping bugs, lying on the ground, hiking, and rustling in bushes as the talking ends. It appears that the soldiers are setting up an M 18 claymore anti-personnel mine that reads “FRONT TOWARD ENEMY.” We see a close up of the mine on the ground, wires protruding in several directions from its top. Then there is a straight cut to a claymore mine in the hand of a reenactor in Oregon, close to identical to the one featured in the previous shot but crisper in the HD footage, and sans wiring. If we miss this detail, we still quickly catch on that we’re back in Oregon. The reenactors are going about activities of their own in the woods, digging foxholes and relaxing in hammocks. But we as the audience understand what they are doing differently now. We have been transported elsewhen and elsewhere by the footage of Vietnam, where the proximity of death is palpable and the circumstances are grave.

We might read into the reenactors’ activity here something like the “virtual gaze” in reverse, to adapt Friedberg’s term for the early cinema viewer. Friedberg argued that cinema spectatorship developed to meet the emergent structures of desire of the flaneur and the flaneuse, urbanites who strolled through shopping districts as a form of ocular pleasure. Walking through a city and taking in new window displays of far-flung, mass-produced commodities led urbanites to develop over time a growing desire for novel, pleasurable leisure experiences and an appetite for visual display. The cinema, for Friedberg, was more an extension of the “mobile gaze” of shopping than the realism of renaissance painting or the objectivity of scientific instruments. The “virtual gaze” they brought to bear on cinematic records of exotic locales, close ups, and movement allowed spectators to read the world as a window display offering novel affective delights and tools for the imagination.

We might imagine the filmmakers of In Country—and perhaps of filmmakers who employ observational methods more broadly—taking up the set of sensibilities that Friedberg lays out to turn everyday life into a palette of visual delights. With In Country, the archive expands in time and scope immeasurably, with instant access to footage taken over 50 years ago through online video platforms like YouTube. The virtual gaze is also virtually mobile, traversing time and space. With over 120 years of film and video footage available for reuse, the exercise of editing across different times is easier now than in times past, albeit incredibly labor intensive. And the reenactors themselves undertake the activity of media-informed walking as a pleasurable cinematic experience, a way to get at the experience of Vietnam. Friedberg’s shopping mall reimagined as the woods of Oregon offer up a host of grisly surprises, startling echoes of horrific events of the past that charge the present in complicated ways, as with the scene unfolding in Oregon.

As the high schooler Cricket finishes his foxhole, the offscreen voice of O’Hara says, “You told me yesterday that this was one of the better experiences of your life. Do you still feel that way?” He responds, “Yeah, for sure,” as a lower third identifies him as “David ‘Cricket’ Safina-Massey, High School Student.” O’Hara asks him to explain what he likes about it.

“I don’t know. It’s real. You have to work to get it done. It’s not like Boy Scouts where everything’s like, oh, you know. This is how it would be if it were actually real. Stuff actually happens. But yeah. This is perfect.”

He then discloses that he has enlisted in the Marines, which he will join after graduating from high school the next spring.

Cricket in this moment in the context of the film embodies the figure of the naïve young man who envisions military service as the route to authentic masculinity, only tested thus far in the sensory real of reenactment. Variations of this coming-of-age theme have played out in many U.S. cultural narratives from novels like The Red Badge of Courage (1895) to policy documents like The Moynihan Report of the 1960s to films like The Hurt Locker (2008) in the midst of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. There is a great deal of symbolic poignancy in the reenactment of this theme here, primed as we are by the archival snippets of soldier experiences from Vietnam. There is a scary reality to contemplate about the effects of simulation in Cricket’s underexplored conviction of reality in reenactment—at least compared to the Boy Scouts—and in his future trajectory as a Marine, where we imagine him if unlucky finding his own way to a “pure hell” that might make these Oregon woods anathema should he return. At his luckiest, he has still signed up to be an executor of U.S. imperialism.

Little of this scene, to return to the central argument about indexicality in documentary, stands on the observational footage alone. Cricket only speaks once O’Hara asks him a question, her dual roles as filmmaker of reenactment and reenactor of 1960s journalist converging. And the significance of Cricket’s understanding the real as a combination of moderate physical labor, imagination, and camaraderie with other reenactors stands out mostly because of the carefully crafted accumulation of archived sensory details from the Vietnam footage that preceded it. Vietnam plays in those thick instances as its mythology rather than through the particularity of a unit’s experiences. The anonymous soldiers on screen stand in for the quagmire of Vietnam, and the existential crisis the war posed to prevailing ideas about the virtues of loyalty and patriotism. In the re-appropriation of the archival footage, Attie and O’Hara frame the Vietnam War as historical and mythic. Their editing breaks up the close-to-the-ground reportage of 1960s journalists in order to emphasize affect, fragmentation, and lyricism in the soldiers’ brushes with death. In this way, In Country’s treatment of the unit of reenactors with names and individual personalities is at odds with the film’s use of archival footage from Vietnam, in which social types and tropes rather than individuals emerge. [12] The shots from the archival footage accumulate in density, but do not progress. The Vietnam-era soldiers grope for meaning and purpose amid the physical discomforts of their everyday lives. They stand in stark contrast to Cricket and the account he offers about pursuing the real. It is a juxtaposition that allows this moment of the film to communicate an anti-war politics that might rather have read as farce without the context provided by the archival footage from Vietnam.

I want to speculate a bit more on Cricket’s sense of the real here and its relevance for theorizing documentary. It is important to take such strongly felt and expressed ideas about the real seriously, even or especially when they appear to be dangerous. Cricket is away from home for the reenactment, spending time with a number of men who have actually served in the armed forces. These veterans have complex views of their war experiences, but in general express pride in their service and the ethos it represents. At moments, they seem to use their time reenacting to work through difficult memories of war together.

They all encourage Cricket to pursue his own adventure in the military, and treat him as “one of the guys” during their reenactments. Cricket compares the real of reenactment to the real of the Boy Scouts, where, presumably, someone else dug the holes and pitched the tents. At least in reenacting, he seems to say, he is responsible for his own space and gear the way an actual soldier (or adult) would be. The real for Cricket seems to be an arena of experience in which he can test his own masculinity relative to his own prior experiences, and imagine connections to other men whom have survived difficulty and killed for country. There is a satisfying wholeness, he seems to imply, to the immersion in the performance of war, a kind of documentary connection felt as he follows the scripts and routines of Vietnam era soldiers who also performed these duties in different circumstances. The actions and the props catalyze feeling and thinking about the reality of historical war experience that cannot be known, a sublime sensation of doubleness in the body. The reenactor is simultaneously an imagined warrior of the past and the self in the present playing the role. The feeling of real connection to the particular but unknowable past that Cricket plays further melds to his own future identity as a Marine. In a very real sense, by taking responsibility for making his body the echo of a Vietnam era soldier through details gleaned from training manuals, war materiel, documentary films, history books, and Hollywood Vietnam films alike, Cricket becomes a living document of the Vietnam War for the long duration, cinematic documentary he “observes” in his head as he and the other reenactors play out their scenario over the weekend. But for audiences of the documentary In Country, there is not much of this to see, and many viewers will not have the level of investment in the Vietnam War that could suffuse shots of the reenactment itself with the aura of the real.

Attie and O’Hara did not anticipate using archival footage to make their film, but they found the observational material of just the reenactment unsatisfying. O’Hara said “We thought the reenactment would be a little more self-sufficient than it was, if you could take [viewers] there you’d see all the layers that we were seeing” (O’Hara). It was only after making a full cut of their observational film that they thought to enfold archival footage into select reenactment scenes. Found details like the two M18 claymore mines that abut each other in the editing serve to stitch together the asynchronous times with familiar editing conventions to denote continuity, while also calling attention to differences between the present and the past. Attie and O’Hara struggled to find the language to describe this editing structure and its effects, settling on the term “double helix.” I want to suggest two ways to read the layers of time co-present in In Country.

One way to read the scene is through Baron’s writing on the “archive effect,” and the reception-centered notion of the archival object. The documentary draws its authority, in this reading, from appropriating the archived filmic traces of a past war for different ends. The testimonies of soldiers carry the power of immediacy rediscovered in the present, tacitly drawing social authority from the institutions that have deemed these artifacts and not others worthy of preservation. The film then expresses, in Baron’s take, the “authority that adheres to the archival document as evidence.” In the scene described above, the afterimage of Vietnam on film serves as a grounding reference point as we hear Cricket talk about the reality of simulated war and his enlistment.

In returning to the notions of reenactment and touch, I want to offer a second layer to this reading of archival footage. If we are capable of internalizing the content and form of media through viewing experiences, as Sobchack (1992) suggested, then we might read the footage itself as a kind of psychic trace of the reenactors within the “film body.” They have all seen these archival films, too, after all, and drawn from the evidence they can glean there to craft their reenactment. The lived practice of reenactment starts with the visual evidence of Vietnam, and then translates the films and photographs into a sensory domain in which their bodies serve as documentary media for practices they once saw or read about to become felt. The reenactors, in many respects, occupy the position of spectators to documentaries that aim to present “being there.” It is in part the labor of finding these artifacts, of internalizing documentaries and popular fiction films about Vietnam, which enables the reenactment to carry affective, auratic meaning for the reenactors like Cricket. The archival clips of past wars charge the walking and waiting in the Oregon woods with an aura that neither archival footage nor shots of reenactment could have singly. It is the intersubjective interplay across times and bodies that comes to index something in the present of the screening, an otherwise invisible structure of time. O’Hara’s reflections on their use of archival footage corroborate this concern. She explained to me,

“We decided to make a film that only existed in the present tense. We did think a lot about how it was a way in which to say all this history exists in the present moment, like each of these moments has all of those moments kind of built into them.”

Imaging so many historical events layered into the present corresponds to the structure of the psyche after traumatic events. For example, Attie and O’Hara edited selected moments from reenactors’ Iraq “home movie” clips into a scene featuring “Doc” tending to a reenactor who pretends to have been killed. Shots of Doc bandaging the wounded in Iraq, recording out the window of a Humvee bouncing down the highway, and just hanging out with his unit in the barracks, come to constitute a third temporality in the film, juxtaposed with reenactment shots and loosely parallel events depicted in archival footage from Vietnam. Conjoined with the footage of Iraq, echoes of personally experienced traumatic events emerge as faintly present in particular sections of reenactment footage.

The scene that reuses Doc’s footage from Iraq starts with a wide shot of a reenactor lying face down in the Oregon grass, playing dead after a firefight. According to Attie and O’Hara, Doc sprang into action to evacuate the reenactor’s body from the “battlefield,” radioing in to a nearby “medevac” for a pickup, dragging the reenactor down a long hill, and carrying him over his shoulder to the agreed upon evacuation point. The filmmakers both remembered the moment of recording this scene as notable, and thought of it as a potential core sequence in their film, though they were not thinking of Doc as a character at the time (Attie, O’Hara). It was his first reenactment, O’Hara recalled, and he was somewhat at a loss as to how reenactors typically processed their “dead.” So he followed the protocols he had practiced as a medic in Iraq. The process of dragging the living reenactor out of the woods was strenuous and time consuming. It removed him from the action after a long day of hiking through the woods. And when Doc finally rested the body on a gurney affixed to the ATV “medevac,” the “dead” reenactor was immediately allowed to come back to life and rejoin his unit. The pure expenditure of energy in his performance moved Attie and O’Hara, like the echo of a traumatic symptom, to return to this moment time and again as a centerpiece of the film. Later, the filmmakers interviewed Doc for two hours about his experience coming home from the war and coping with PTSD. In the finished scene, we hear his words, carefully edited and languorously paced, as we see shots from Vietnam, the Oregon woods, and Iraq essentially conjoined. It is as if the density of media consumed, experiences remembered, and actions performed that all coexist in Doc’s psyche all the time are here delineated, separated out, and transformed into a duration of cinematic time.

 “PTSD is like a weird thing,” Doc says in the voiceover in the midst of the final edited scene. “Some dreams come and go. They come and then they stay for a while and then they go away.” There is a straight cut to a highway in Iraq, recorded handheld from the back of a truck in a convoy. The air is so thick and foggy that only the immediate foreground of the truck and road are visible, evoking in the context of the voice the murkiness of remembered dreams. Doc continues. “I just spark up and have like four nightmares in five days.” There is a cut to a second shot in the same truck in Iraq, dusk now.

“And I’ve had nightmares of all kinds of stuff, where I was dead, dying, shot to pieces, burned, and, like, I can’t do anything. Like, medically, can’t do anything. You know, it’s like, I have my medic bag opened up and there’s nothing in it.”

There is a straight cut to a shot that Doc is recording, a grainy video selfie as he lies down in a cot at night inside barracks. His interview voiceover returns as the video whip-pans from Doc’s face in close up to a wide shot of the room with other soldiers milling about and lying down.

“I’m waking up like covered in sweat, heart beating fast, I don’t even want to go back to sleep. Just in case I was to dream that dream again.”

As the low notes of the score fade in, there is a straight cut back to the reenactment. Doc has begun to drag the body of the reenactor down a hill in the middle of the woods. The camera is at the bottom of the hill looking up toward a bright, circular opening in the trees, and Doc and a second reenactor face away from the camera as they focus on the body. The film allows this event to play at length, with synch sound of rustling bushes and low tones. Doc’s voiceover concludes with a question that the shot of the reenactment seems to offer as an answer. “What can you do about a dream?” For the next minute of the film, Doc strains to pull the body down the hill as Attie and his camera maneuver in the small space so as not to get in his way, zooming in on faces and actions to follow the rhythm of Doc’s effort. It is as though this exertion is the thing that Doc can do about the bad dreams, the reenactment event an opportunity to work through actual traumatic experiences at a close slant to the scenario that he and the other reenactors have constructed for one another.

The logic of the psyche here commandeers the sensory direction of the observational footage and the archival material for its own purposes. And we enter a space where the reenactment event on film can have stakes. The stakes have to do with rituals of martial masculinity in U.S. culture, and with survival in an age of biopolitics. The psyche here does not belong to one person. It is an intersubjective entity, perhaps reducible to the psyche of the film body itself. It is the meeting point between the subjects and their years of reflecting on painful lived experiences, the filmmakers centralizing and distilling the poignant thoughts they offer through a production process, and a viewer who connects their own affective responses to these images and sounds to a human source.

Conclusion

In Country is a limit case for thinking about camerawork as a kind of reenactment performance. It’s rare that a film literally has camerapersons reenacting as they shoot footage (though pushing such a position explicitly offers an intriguing potential avenue for practitioners). But I want to argue that 1960s style direct cinema and observational camerawork more broadly in digital culture constitutes a reenactment practice. This is not the way that practitioners working within the sensory turn have characterized what they do. Trying to be a “voltmeter,” even one who sticks a hand in the frame on occasion, asks the infrequent question, or drops in a line of voiceover about the troubled look of a subject so as to more appropriately disappear, expresses something about a strain of stoicism in 1960s masculinity rather than neutrality. The long takes in observational cinema are in the contemporary moment the antithesis of voltmeter-ish at the point of reception. They tend to shock or disturb viewers, and I think often in a good way, for forcing them to attend to everyday life imagery in a timescale out of synch with the fast-paced editing typical of digital commercial fare. In this way, watching such a film is like participating in a reenactment. It is long, slow, focused on thick details of lived experience, and it disavows an explicit politics. That kind of camerawork, whose practitioners still tend to see performance, reenactment, and simulation as problems to avoid, produces reenactment effects now. Long takes of pastoral life as received by urban viewers who have no first-hand experience of farming or animal husbandry, such as the forty-five second close up of a sheep chewing its cud at the start of Sweetgrass (2008), are performative prior to representational. Like a reenactment, these observational shots conjure temporalities already lost and offer a method to ruminate on details about what such life-worlds might have been like.

In certain screening settings during certain durations of particular films, for particular viewers, the aura of a prior and unfamiliar thought, event, or way of being catalyzes empathy for past human activities and awareness of the structures of power that produce them. These affective jolts occur in the present, not before language and social structure as a whole, but before the individual viewer who feels them can describe the sensation in words. The jolt is an event, in psychoanalytic terms, a rupture in time marked in the psyche by the sensation of the sublime, of being overwhelmed rather than being there. It is the kind of experience that reenactors tend to seek through their performances. It is also the objective of many camerapersons who observe ostensibly mundane events in the present with their cameras, hoping for a jolt of contingency, intimacy, or unpredictability that may equally move the viewers of many future times and places. Indeed, one of the joys of re-screening cinema vérité films resides in these surprising moments. When we see them on screen in the present, we play the part of reenactors who do not move.

When Attie and O’Hara tried to make a film about reenactment by being there to observe it, however, this strategy of 1960s documentarians failed. Their failure suggests that a society increasingly shaped and suffused by simulations does not reveal itself so well to the observing camera. Rather, in trying to make sense of simulations that nonetheless constitute our world, documentary work seems to demand staging and intervention. As with the Vietnam War reenactment, simulations often already include cinematic imagery and anticipate the presence of the camera. The camera can be enfolded into events that recur—literally in the case of Attie and O’Hara’s roles in the reenactment. The lure of the simulation is visual as well as economic. Attie and O’Hara chose their subject at least in part for time considerations (they committed to shoot a weekend long reenactment and possibly a series of interviews relatively close to home) and their desires to work in academia as nonfiction filmmakers and professors, a life trajectory that demands the production of films.

But the failure of the observational footage to reveal much either about the psychic experiences that drive reenactors or the Vietnam War led them to other strategies. They scoured archival footage and fiction films much like the reenactors themselves who put in work to craft their roles and build up their receptivity to the affective power of performing together. Ironically, then, the archival footage Attie and O’Hara incorporated says less about the past than the collective psyche of the present. The archival footage recasts comments and gestures in the records of the reenactment, as with Nguyen’s capture of the Vietcong reenactors or Doc’s unusual effort to extract the reenactor “killed in action,” that viewers of the film otherwise might not have noticed. As they use the reenactment to work through personal traumas of the past, we viewers to the film are invited to imagine coping with experiences of war otherwise difficult to share and impossible to see.

This sensation of the documentary real arises out of what I describe as an intersubjective indexicality; it plays out as the materiality of the real that startles. It flashes up at moments in perception and then fades away, but leads the experiencing subject to a sense of connection with the activities of others whom have come before that is deep, driving, and situated. It is limited by the bounds of the thinkable. And these are situated boundaries that we must take seriously as material constraints in digital culture.

Temporality in a reenactment points forward and backward simultaneously. It is not hard to imagine Cricket deployed to serve a current neocolonial war in Afghanistan, Syria, Sudan, Lebanon, Iran, or somewhere else yet to be identified as requiring brutal U.S. civilization. Cricket the reenactor gestures back to other young U.S. men who enlisted to fight in Vietnam, like veteran John Musgrave, a key character in Novick and Burns The Vietnam War. He joined the Marines at about the same age as Cricket, and by his own account, did so with about the same level of introspection and expectation. He spoke in the film about wanting adventure, hardship, and patriotic duty. But later in the series, Musgrave delivered a hard-won reflection on the nature of youth, confusion, and racism in war in an elaboration on the formation of his hatred for the enemy:

“I saw a Marine step on a bouncing betty mine, and that’s when I made my deal with the devil. And I said I will never kill another human being as long as I’m in Vietnam. However, I will waste as many gooks as I can find. I’ll wax as many dinks as I can find. I’ll smoke as many zips as I can find. But I ain’t gonna kill anybody. Turn a subject into an object. Racism 101. It turns out to be a very necessary tool when you have children fighting your wars. For them to stay sane doing their work.”

Musgrave’s confession about his linguistic strategy for turning subject into object bears ominously upon Joel Kinney’s eerie presentation of period correct language to use in the reenactment. This is the language of oppression, and is a flaw of the reenactment and the film about it to fail a harder interrogation of such moments. We are left to wonder whether Cricket in his likely current deployment will find himself reenacting this particular lesson, the deepest and darkest motif in the repertoire of collective U.S. memory.

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.”  [return to text]

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.

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.

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.

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