the ethics of shock and incomprehension


From two hundred yards, a handheld digital camera tracks a Humvee down a desolate road. Voices, in Arabic: “Keep the camera on it!” “Allahu akbar.” Most of the audience at last year’s MoMA screening of Mauro Andrizzi’s documentary Iraqi Short Films was probably thinking what I was. It was hardly surprising that many of them got up to leave before the conclusion of the film. I am going to watch these American soldiers die. The Humvee and the soldiers trundle along, perfectly in the center of the crosshairs of the camera. Then, unceremoniously, the Humvee explodes into a ball of flame. There is an audible gasp from the person sitting behind me. A few seconds later—and here is where many in the audience got up to leave—a second vehicle inches its way, in excruciating real time, to the crash site before also bursting into flame. Those who stayed until the end of the film witnessed a collage of sorts, a barrage of short clips of increasingly and astonishingly bloody footage. Soldiers and insurgents filming themselves firing machine guns at each other, tanks crushing cars and reducing buildings to rubble, graphic close-ups of dead and dying civilians, snipers on both sides recording their hits (“I got him, I got him” translates remarkably well from Arabic, as does “Shoot the motherfucker!”), KBR trucks ambushed, helicopters shot down, bombs dropping from the sky freeze-framed the moment before impact (“See you in fucking hell, dude,” one U.S. soldier offers in voiceover), masked insurgents and American soldiers alike mugging before the camera, British soldiers making amateur dance videos, alleged spies executed on the street by handgun, dead children, and many, many car bombs, IEDs, and people bursting into flame.

more from Nicholas Sautin at Guernica here.