Maybe the media circus surrounding Brian De Palma’s Redacted (see Pat Graham’s recent post) will spark the kind of water cooler chat that gets people into theaters, but the saber rattling has overshadowed any discussion of the director’s artistic intentions. When I first saw the movie in September, at the Toronto International Film Festival, I was struck by how stylistically different it is from his previous works; De Palma met the challenge of shooting a high-definition video feature on a $5 million budget by radically reinventing his approach to storytelling. Much as Barry Levinson recharged his creative batteries with the low-budget satire Wag the Dog, De Palma regains the vigor of some of his best 70s and 80s work using mock Web sites, blog posts, camcorder footage, and surveillance tapes to present a fictionalized version of the 2006 killings of a Mahmudiyah family by U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
At the Q & A following the first Toronto public screening, De Palma said he was inspired by a movie he’d seen at the festival the previous year, Bruno Dumont’s Flanders, about the rape of a Middle Eastern woman by French soldiers and her revenge. (Thematically, Redacted also harks back to De Palma’s 1989 Vietnam drama Casualties of War.) When a man in the audience asked why Americans aren’t protesting the war in Iraq on the same scale as they did the Vietnam war, De Palma replied this was because images of the carnage aren’t being seen as frequently in TV and print news.
The next morning at a press breakfast he expounded on that comment: “Well, all this stuff is out there; it’s either on the Internet, or they’ve made videos or DVDs. I looked at Iraq in Fragments—there’s a whole bunch of them, I looked at them all. We’re talking about [alternative media showing] the actual conditions of what’s going on over there, as opposed to the sanitized infomercials we get from the embedded reporters. I found it, and I found the form in which it was presented; that’s what dictated the structure of the movie. All this stuff we basically copied from what was out there, and we had to change or redact because we couldn’t get the rights to use this, or [the producers] worried about some lawsuit from somebody.”
I asked him if the growing retreat of media consumers to outlets tailored to specific demographics might have something to do with the lack of broad-based protest. “I don’t know the statistics,” he responded, “but as the Internet becomes more commercial I’m sure then that news [there] will start to be corrupted too. The day news started to make money, that’s when everybody was in trouble. It wasn’t supposed to make money. You weren’t supposed to have talk shows and book deals and commercials and be hanging out with all the powers that be to get them on your talk show. You can’t really insult the vice president and expect him to come on your talk show.”