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November 01, 2005


Michael C.

While I have not seen JARHEAD, so cannot comment on it, I found GUNNER PALACE to be one of those documentaries that was affecting but missed the mark regarding its merits as a film. I thought there were two flaws in particular in the film. The first being director Michael Tucker's disaffected narration, which, while I understand his desire to keep emotion out of his narration, I don't think worked well. The second being that perplexing scene in the middle of the film where Tucker returns home. I felt it pulled the filmmaker too strongly and awkwardly into the film. A more skilled director could have handled that transitional moment more gracefully and to greater effect. Still, despite these flaws, and a lack of coherence (again possibly intentional… I'm nog too sure) I was affected by this film's subject matter. Still, I don't think it will be on my list of candidates for Best Documentary of the year.


I've not seen gunner's palace yet but the trailers for Jarhead definately seem pretty interesting.

Definately looking forward to seeing it.

Joe Swanberg

I'm no fan of GUNNER PALACE, and I would be really disappointed if it received any awards for documentary filmmaking. I think it's a pretty good example of why digital video is the best and worst thing that has ever happened to documentary film. IMHO, great subjects, great access, and an overall great topic, but weak photography and sloppy filmmaking. This shows up again and again. THE DEVILS MINER is another great example of a film that seems impossible to screw up with those subjects and that kind of access, but somehow they managed to make what I consider a weak film. The ability for the filmmaker to go in with a tiny crew and minimal lights and sound equipment has led to unbelievable access to situations that would have been nearly impossible with film, but I feel it's also led to a really sloppy attitude toward photography, and such a heap of footage that the editing often ends up muddled and bland. The tendancy to shoot everything and figure it out in the editing room I think causes doc filmmakers especially to not think enough about what they're shooting while they're shooting it.


I saw Gunner Palace right after I returned from Iraq. I found it boring and wished that there was more there.

I have also viewed a documentary called "A Company of Soldiers" which was shown on PBS, this film followed a company from the 1st CAV Division around Baghdad. I found this production to be a much better, more well rounded product than GP.

Another interesting documentary was "They went to war" which is showing on the Discovery/NY Times Channel...it follows the AR National Guard as they go through their train-up deployment and some fighting in Iraq. Either one of these would be well worth your time if you are interested in the subject.

If GP garners accolades I am happy for all involved. I can appreciate that people would find it interesting and informative but it didn't do much for me personally.


It will be interesting to see if the Academy takes notice. I saw Gunner Palace at Telluride in 2004 and I think it captured the raw inconclusiveness of this war for a public hungry for perspective.

As for the quality of the filmmaking, I found that it communicated the essence of the place and time--which I think was the intent. It's not a Frontline doc--in fact, it's not conventional in any sense. It's a scrapbook that will be valuable to look back down.

As for DV vs. film, I think DV has afforded fillmakers tremendous immediacy. The real shame here is studios that spend untold millions on productions that fail to deliver anything.

Joe Swanberg

I will be curious to see if GP becomes more or less interesting as time passes. I somehow feel like sloppy filmmaking will always be sloppy filmmaking, but the footage alone might become a fascinating time capsule that's enough to keep the film relevant.

Joe Swanberg

Oh, and I also saw the film at Telluride in 2004, where I overheard someone nicely sum it up afterward with...

"They spent a year in Iraq and that's the best footage they got?"

That's kind of what I was thinking too.


I don't think the filmmakers spent a year in Iraq, but I also don't know what you expect.

It seemed to present the soldiers reality as it was, rather than as we expect it to be.

What would be the point of conforming to our expectations?

I also didn't read it as "sloppy", rather as deliberate--as messy as the subject matter.

Have a look at "My War" and "The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell"--both are soldier memoirs from 2003-2004 that reinforce what was depicted in Gunner Palace.


I will go no farther then to say all documentaries of whatever the the source may be never do justice to the "life and death" surroundings of war. It does no justice to the smells nor the sounds and not even the sights. Take all your "documentaries" or "Been there, done that" movies and put them away for your own memories. Because the, shall I say "world civilians"? Will never get the true in your face picture of the triumphs and tribulations of war. How do you make someone literally feel what it's like to hug a child in a war zone?.The moviemakers but not neccessarily documentaries are in in it for the money. Remember that. Those who have been there know the difference right down to the last man. Just a Marine...

AJ Schnack

I don't think that those of us in the US, whatever our feelings on the war, have much of an understanding of life on the ground, so I thought Gunner Palace was both informative and refreshing for its lack of subtle or overt political message. I don't think that the networks have done a particularly good job giving us this story (without wrapping it in whatever other story they want to tell - progress in Iraq or lack of armor or whatever). As for the camerawork, I'm not bothered by it that much - I got the sense that Michael Tucker was not a professional videographer, and that was OK.

Jarhead, meanwhile, is getting some of the strangest criticism that I've seen in a while. It's being chastised for having boot camp scenes that are reminiscent of R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket, which seems strange if that's a true representation. Then it's knocked for being "about nothing", and compared unfavorably to The Thin Red Line, another meditation about war that critics loved. Not having seen Jarhead, I wonder if there isn't some backlash against Sam Mendes and the expectation that if he's involved the film should be Oscar-bait.

It will be interesting to see the critical consensus come Friday.

American Soldier


Drop me an email. mysoldierlife@gmail.com


I'm a former Marine and have both seen the movie and read the book Jarhead. The book came off as decent (not great) and something many critics miss (usually military types) is that the book is a "literary memoir" and Swofford definitely injects events into the book for affect that aren't necessarily true. Not a criticism, but you have to take some of it with a grain of salt.

I had waiting for the movie to come out for several months and was really disappointed with it. I had hoped for a Thin Red Line like "meditation" on the Corps (yeah, I actually like Thin Red Line - great book too), but instead it seemed very B movie'ish - a Full Metal Jacket/Three Kings rip-off with the quality of a made for TV Sunday night movie.


I stumbled across your blog while I was doing some online research. As an amateur film enthusiast, I found this an absolutely fascinating discussion.

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