The Bayley Film Club: Errol Morris

We are closing the the 20th round! Errol Morris, who is our director for this week is famous for his documentaries and as usual we picked two:

The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara

Tabloid

The Fog of War

Author: AED
Anticipation: 2
Enjoyment: 5
Retrospect: 5
Score: 12

I didn’t know whether to expect much when I read that Errol Morris is famous for his great documentaries. Since documentaries aren’t really my forte. Yes, I have seen some in the past, and I considered them interesting and informative pictures but hardly a source of entertainment. 

“The Fog of War” is different, Errol Morris does not only present the topic in a knowledgeable way. If we want to know all the raw facts, we should refer to the literature and history books. What Errol Morris does, and does it brilliantly is provide the human factor of difficult events. Surprising circumstances, tragedies and situations without an ‘EXIT’ sign – how we react to them and how they affect us are elements that mould character and make us who we are.

Interview with Robert Strange McNamara, former U.S. Secretary of Defence consist of eleven lessons of his observations on war and military. The lessons and stories that accompany them are interesting, entertaining and well told. My feelings towards McNamara himself varied throughout the film though – at first I saw him a very nice and wise old man (almost a grandpa figure) but the further we went into less and less comfortable topics for him the more I grew to dislike him. Still, the film provides the viewer with a fascinating story and even though presents a one man’s tale – leaves room for interpretation and judgment of the events in question. 

Tabloid

Author: AED
Anticipation: 2
Enjoyment: 4
Retrospect: 3
Score: 9

The day after we watched “Tabloid” we both went to work as usual. During one of my team meetings I mentioned the film, only to fail miserably when trying to explain what the film was about or did I like it. In the evening when NAT came home, he shared with me that he had the exact same problem when approached the topic with one of his colleagues. When reflecting upon it now – I think there are too many sides of this story to successfully and briefly answer the question – what is “Tabloid” about?

Is it about Joyce McKinney’s pursuit of love?
Is it about Joyce McKinney’s being a victim of ruthless British tabloids?
Is it about Joyce McKinney’s brilliant madness?
Is it about Mormons?

Or is it about Joyce McKinney.

It seems like all the facts speak against McKinney’s side of the story. Nevertheless, Joyce is so talented,   charismatic and convincing that you will believe her version if you’re not careful. For as it looks to me, Joyce McKinney made the most of her circumstances at any point of her life. She is very egocentric and enjoys being in the centre of attention. If getting involved in international abduction of a Mormon missionary is the best way to get famous, you can decide for yourselves, but you have to admit that it was quite effective. 

This review is chaotic. But so is “Tabloid” and Joyce McKinney herself, what I can say about it all at the close is only: “THIS IS MADNESS!”. There, I warned you – but see for yourselves!  

The Fog of War

Author: NAT
Anticipation: 3
Enjoyment: 5
Retrospect: 5
Score: 13

Often attributed to Carl von Clausewitz, “the fog of war” is a term used by military personnel to refer to one’s own capability, together with the enemy’s capability and intent during a military campaign.

Errol Morris’ illuminating documentary directly interviews Robert McNamara to draw on his years of experience as a former United States Secretary of Defense during the Cold War.

After serving in the Second World War, McNamara took part in the Ford Motor Company’s Whizz Kids program. Following a brief stint as the company’s president, he took on his most memorable role.

Morris uses previously off-limits archival footage during the Cold War in 1960s, including candid telephone calls between McNamara and former presidents Kennedy and Johnson, which provides a platform for McNamara to consider the lessons learnt from his experience of being involved in a major modern war and ultimately, attempting to seek clarity through the fog of war.

McNamara provides the audience with an interpretation for the reasons why military conflicts take place, however in conclusion it disturbingly highlights the general uncertainty under which major decisions are made at the very top level.

In summary, “The Fog of War” is an important documentary which provides a worrying insight into the consequences of blindly responding to the complex unpredictability of human nature.  

Tabloid

Author: NAT
Anticipation: 2
Enjoyment: 4
Retrospect: 4
Score: 10

“Tabloid” is a documentary film recalling the bizarre life of Joyce McKinney. The film comprises interviews with Joyce herself, former Daily Express and Mirror hacks and an array of other characters caught up the absolutely mental events of the 1970s “Mormon sex in chains” case.

Basically, Joyce McKinney, who may or may not have had an IQ of over 150; may or may not have kidnapped a Mormon at gun point in Surrey; and may or may not have persuaded the devout Mormon to engage in a bit of S&M, ends up on the wrong side of the old bill, which fuels a tabloid war between two British newspapers. 

After watching “Tabloid”, I tried to explain the documentary to a colleague, but he just looked at me weirdly and carried on with his work. This made me realise that this story is just too mind-bending to explain, and I won’t try it here. It really has to been seen to believe.

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