Soldier Girls (1981) Poster


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Excellent direct cinema documentary
djtet26 December 2004
I can't believe the low score this has here. Must be the chicken sympathy vote. This is a 'direct cinema' documentary, slice of life, all shot fly-on-the-wall as it happens, without interviews or voice-overs. As such it is quite different from Nick Broomfield's later 'solo' films, which feature sensational subjects, Broomfield's on-camera interactions, and discussions of his difficulties in making the films. 'Soldeir Girls', similar in form to the Maysles 'Salesman' follows a group of female recruits through basic training, and eventually focuses in on the one who can't keep up. But where Paul emerges as a failure in Salesman, Pvt. Johnson may be the winner in resisting the Army's attempts to break her spirit. With militarism seemingly on the American agenda for the foreseeable future, this remains a timely film, and it's a shame it's not in video distribution here in the US. As the other comment notes, this would be a good film for anyone considering enlisting, but I would say its also useful for anyone who a relative, friend, or countryman who might wind up in the military. In short, there are things on view here we should all be aware of. The film is very well made. Joan Churchill is an amazing camera person, and she gets right inside the action with incredible close-up shots. Churchill and Broomfield had amazing access. They seem to have had cues from the DIs and the recruits about what was about to happen, and the camera often anticipates the events, giving the film much of the coherence and drama of fiction. I doubt the Army is going to let any independent filmmakers get this close again, even in non-combat situations like this, the PR machine has the clamps tightened down now. Not that this film is necessarily negative to the Army -- it's actually very sympathetic to the tough as nails drill sergeant -- but its realistic enough to show more warts than the Pentagon wants to show. Highly recommended.
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Everyone who has not been in combat should see this movie
johnp23426 January 2008
The only reason I don't give this documentary 10 stars is its poor production quality. The film's video and audio are not up to even the standards of 1981. That said, the focus on Basic Training of (female) Army recruits is presented unvarnished in all its cruel reality. (I underwent Basic in 1970, and it was pretty much the same).

Without explaining it in middle school terminology, the way so many modern movies and TV shows do, filmmaker Nick Broomfield lets the principals do the explaining with their actions and their own words. Many times, the hazing of the girls may seem excessive. It's not. The mission is to prepare these future soldiers to survive life and death confrontations, by learning to follow the orders of their superiors instantly and without question. Those who can't or won't are "encouraged" to leave, and they leave. This weeding out is necessary, to save them and their comrades in arms. It ain't beanbag, it's war they're being prepared for!

Finally, the last 2 minutes of this movie are an elegy for Sergeant Hill, the tough male drill instructor. A recruit asks him what effect the (Vietnam) war had on him, and in his plainspoken eloquence, he gives the lie to the glory of battle so exalted in speeches like Shakespeare's Henry V (the famous "Band of Brothers" monologue before Agincourt). His mourning for the death of his soul in the jungles of Vietnam is a moving as anything I've ever heard, and I've often wondered what became of him. And pay attention to the cadence the girls repeat over the closing credits. The hairs will stand up on your neck.
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Barracks Broomfield
thefinalcredits31 August 2016
Warning: Spoilers
"We didn't lose that sucker. Politicians may have lost it...we didn't. We could have took Vietnam any damn time we wanted it." Sgt. Gregory Abing

Winner of the 'Flaherty Documentary Award' at the 1982 BAFTAs, and the Grand Jury Prize at that year's Sundance Festival, this was, overall, a relatively satisfying viewing experience. Yet, the very fact that the US military were prepared to allow Broomfield and Churchill such unfettered access to their training techniques at Fort Gordon, Georgia, also makes this enthralling to watch. The audience enter the arena of Sergeant Gregory Abing, who from the outset indoctrinates the soldiers as to the philosophy of General Patton, that 'in peace we should train for war.' Such training involves the crushing of any form of individualism. There is something unnerving about the 'cadence calls' which the unit uses to punctuate its military drills in order to both promote unstinting loyalty to the collective view and to dehumanise the enemy. So palpable is that in this case - 'I wanna be an Air Force Ranger/I wanna live a life of danger/I wanna go to Iran/I wanna kill an Iranian/ Blood/Guts/Kill/Hardcore' - that Bono used it to accentuate the fear of military excess in U2's song 'Seconds' from the 1983 album 'War'. The content of the training veers from the extremely distasteful decapitation of a chicken with bare teeth to the sublimely ridiculous advice on what protective measures to take in the event of a nuclear strike - lying prone away from the blast and subsequently just washing off radioactive dust with water from the canteen. The feature focuses on the female recruits to Charlie Company undertaking their basic training, and in particular on the merciless psychological attempts to 'break' under-performing Privates Johnson and Alves. The former is incapable of acculturating herself to the stony-faced acquiescence of her fellow recruits in the face of the discipline required, while the latter reveals her ineptitude forms part of a deliberate attempt to be ejected from this career choice not of her making. Such dehumanisation as practised here may pale in comparison to the brutality inflicted by Sgt. Hartman in 'Full Metal Jacket', and, given the much more commonplace appearance of women in the ranks of the military, appear far less shocking to today's audiences. However, on its release this insight into such harsh treatment of women, albeit in the ranks of the infantry, would have been much more alarming. Where the film lacks is in providing enough of a counter-weight to this aspect by focusing more on the likes of Private Hall who ends up volunteering for active duty. This is unfortunate because the undoubted best scene centres on her questioning of Aping on how active service has affected him personally. In a heartfelt confession he reveals how he has been left emotionally scarred by losing his sense of humanity and not having sufficient sentiment and empathy to enter a marriage or support his dying mother. This early outing for Broomfield only received funding upon completion, and pre-dates what was to become his much more personalised trademark style.
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Good to see before one decides to join.
yenlo11 June 2002
An interesting documentary about women going through Army Basic Training. A few of the girls from a particular company are highlighted as they go through `Bootcamp' As usual there are the typical types i.e. The gung ho, the I don't like it here and want to go home, the I didn't really know I was joining the Army so I'm here illegally, and so on. I'm sure one won't find this video in an Army recruiting office. However before one (particularly a young woman) decides to join the Army this would be a very good film to watch.
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Army Life
copenhagen1091 March 2008
The Documentary Channel has shown this movie a few times. It does show a different side of what the older style of BCT was. Yes it does show a hard side of training, but it is an important lesson. Most recruits don't understand what the Army is about. They see it as a way to receive money for college now days. Some of the women shown in the movie were clearly not ready, or prepared for what they encountered. Others it showed were able to adjust to the training, and see the importance in the methods of the Sergent's attitudes. The methods of training in todays military is completely different, and continues to change each year. The methods shown in this movie are outdated, and no longer accepted.

I would be interested to see what has happened to most of the women highlighted in this 20+ yr. old documentary. To find out how big of an impact that joining or quiting the Army had on their life.
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