I recently re-read the Chuck Klosterman book Eating the Dinosaur. I did this because I was looking for what he said about Garth Brooks, but then I just kept reading until I’d finished it again. I’m not sure if I can count this a second time on my Sitzbook book-a-week project, but that’s beside the point. The reason I’m writing this post is because when I re-read the book, I noticed that it mentioned a few documentaries that sounded interesting. So, I watched them and I thought I’d mention them briefly here on the blog.
Documentary 1: Grizzly Man
This Werner Herzog-directed documentary was 20% interesting, 80% frustrating and strange. Briefly, it’s about a guy named Timothy Treadwell, who followed and was eventually killed and eaten by grizzly bears in Alaska. Herzog’s voice in the narration can account for a lot of that larger percentage, and the protagonist’s personality can account for the rest. The “duh” factor is high in this documentary. In other words, you constantly think, “Well, of course he was killed by the grizzly bears. They’re grizzly bears.”
This documentary was interesting but disturbing. In Klosterman’s book, he mentioned the 1993 raid of the Branch Davidian compound and connected it to Nirvana’s album In Utero (The connection is much too complicated to summarize here; you’ll have to read the book if you want to understand it better). In any case, I realized that although I remembered hearing about the raid in Waco from the backseat of my neighbor’s car on the way to junior high, I never really understood what happened that day. Now that I have a better understanding, I sort of wish I didn’t, because the implications are a bit too disturbing to fully realize.
Klosterman mentioned this documentary when he was talking about why people answer interview questions. That section of the book is quite interesting, and it piqued my interest enough to check out this movie. I admittedly knew very little about McNamara, but I learned quite a bit about him by watching this. The format is basically McNamara answering questions and talking about his life, including his service in World War II, his role in the Cuban Missile Crisis, and his tenure as the Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War. There were two parts of this documentary that I found very interesting.
The first interesting part was when McNamara was recalling his role in World War II. His superiors had authorized the firebombing of Tokyo and attacks which resulted in 50-90% destruction of over 60 other Japanese cities. The “lesson” in this section is that in war one must think proportionally; on the screen we see statistics of cities in Japan, along with the percentage that each city was destroyed. McNamara’s voice-over compares a few of them, such as comparing Tokyo to New York. Then for each subsequent city, it shows the name of a Japanese city, along with the percentage of destruction in that city. Then the Japanese city’s name disappears and the name of a similarly-sized American city shows up. It’s a pretty dramatic point in the film, and the fact that it’s McNamara himself coming to terms with the destruction makes it even more powerful.
The second part that caught my attention was when McNamara was talking about America’s role in the Vietnam War. He says:
“We are the strongest nation in the world today. I do not believe we should ever apply that economic, political, and military power unilaterally. If we had followed that rule in Vietnam, we wouldn’t have been there. None of our allies supported us. Not Japan, not Germany, not Britain nor France. If we can’t persuade nations with comparable values of the merit of our cause, we’d better re-examine our reason.”
Coming from a former Secretary of Defense, especially one who seems to be associated with being the “architect” of the Vietnam War, those were powerful words. Oh yeah, and the documentary’s score was by Philip Glass, which is always a good thing for a documentary
This documentary is about Ralph Nader. I can’t quite remember, but I believe the reason Klosterman mentioned Nader was because he claimed that Nader was one of the least-ironic people ever. The movie opens up with this quote from George Bernard Shaw:
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
Once that had caught my attention, it maintained it basically until the end. I knew a little about Ralph Nader, and that he’d written the book Unsafe At Any Speed, which gave him a reputation as a defender of consumer rights. However, I hadn’t realized that he’d had such a prominent influence in Washington over the decades.
I know that these days, Nader has many detractors, among both Republicans and Democrats (for supposedly “making” Al Gore lose the election in 2000). The documentary examines that part of his life, of course, and convincingly demonstrates that Al Gore did just fine losing the election by himself, without Nader’s help (or to paraphrase Nader, Al Gore made Nader lose the election). In any case, I definitely came away from this film with a heightened respect and admiration for Nader. Even if you don’t like his convictions, he does seem to stand by them consistently, and he seems to have always been concerned about the general welfare of his fellow Americans. Of the four documentaries I talked about here, I’d recommend this one the most.
So, thanks for reading, and have a good day!
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