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Documentary about Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense in the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations, who subsequently became president of the World Bank. The documentary combines an interview with Mr. McNamara discussing some of the tragedies and glories of the 20th Century, archival footage, documents, and an original score by Philip Glass. Written by
McNamara originally agreed to an hour-long interview for the Errol Morris PBS series, First Person (2000). The interview lasted eight hours and McNamara stayed for a second day of interviewing. He also returned months later, for two more days of interviews. Morris found himself with more than enough material for a feature-length documentary. See more »
[Per contact at the Errol Morris Foundation, the date is 8/5/1964, and the clip is from Press Conference on The Gulf of Tonkin Incident, National Archives #111-LC-48220]
[archival footage from the press conference on the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, 5 August 1964]
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mostly McNamara, but just enough Morris to make it a masterpiece
People who watch Errol Morris' Fog of War will be left with a lot to think about. There are a number of parallels to be drawn between what Americans faced during the Vietnam War era and what Americans face now with middle-east conflicts. Morris has directed several controversial documentaries, but Fog of War is very different. He allows the subject of the documentary, Robert McNamara, to remain the focus of the film from beginning to end. Fog of War is very stylish but the artistic features don't take away from the social and political commentary. Instead, they add to it and make the film more enjoyable. This is an important film and while McNamara deserves most the credit for its success, Morris presented the content of this film in a way that made it both provocative and entertaining.
When Morris had an opportunity to interview Robert McNamara, he had no idea what was about to happen. Morris was making a film about Vietnam, not McNamara specifically. However, what was intended to be a 20 minute interview turned into a several hour candid conversation. This interview turned conversation became the backbone of Fog of War. It is obvious that something like guilt has been bugging McNamara and for whatever reason, Morris brought it out.
As a former secretary of defense for John F. Kennedy and then Lyndon Johnson, McNamara was one of the most important figures from the Vietnam War, in charge of things like bombing campaigns and overall military strategy. Before that, McNamara was a brain behind figuring out how to kill lots of people in World War II. At one point, McNamara says directly to the camera, ' we were behaving as war criminals. What makes it moral if you win but immoral if you lose?' He's making a point about the way the U.S. and allied forces bombed the hell out of Japan, sending hundreds of thousands to fiery graves, mostly civilians.
Morris uses what he calls the 'Interrotron', a device which allows the subject, here it's McNamara, to look directly into the camera and see the interviewer, here that's Morris. To the audience, it seems like McNamara is looking right at us, which makes it seem even more confessional than it already is. At certain times in Fog of War, McNamara seems so happy that he has an opportunity to talk about his experiences, but at other times, he seems like he's so defensive about his reputation. All of that seems to have something to do with the way Errol Morris asks questions. Morris is friendly but asks pointed questions that McNamara has a tough time avoiding.
Probably the most important moment of Fog of War is when McNamara talks about mankind and its inability to learn from history. He seems very pessimistic but has moments where he seems to think people can learn from the past. It's easy to think about Donald Rumsfeld and wonder what sort of conversations he might have with McNamara. Another great moment in Fog of War is when McNamara gets to meet a general from the Vietnamese army, one of McNamara's adversaries from 30 years ago. It's then where we see that McNamara still doesn't accept much responsibility for what he did during the Vietnam War. He thinks of himself as just being an employee working for the president.
Fog of War makes people think about a lot, but that's because of Robert McNamara more than Errol Morris. This was McNamara's film and Morris just happened to hold the camera in place when he probably felt like cringing or even laughing at times. During his famous acceptance speech for Fog of War, which won an Academy Award for Best Documentary, Morris reminded the worldwide audience to be careful, because the United States seems to be making the same mistakes it made during the Vietnam War. That's up to the audience to decide, but Fog of War definitely makes everybody think about that.
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