Brian DePalma got into quite the public yelling match at the New York Film Festival this week. You see, the producers of Brian’s new film Redacted edited it against his will. Specifically, they put black bars over the eyes of folks in some very central, very real photographs presented therein, claiming the victims’ relatives could sue. DePalma accused them of being tools of the man. And that opened up the whole can of worms regarding use of war photography, stretching back to My Lai and beyond.
On The Media has a fascinating back-and-forth on the subject with legal scholar James Boyle. Discussion of the suppression of the JFK autopsy images and the Challenger space shuttle audio lead to the following exchange:
OTM: These were huge news stories. Why were they protected?
Boyle: Well, I think the argument was that hearing the pain and confusion and fear of people who were about to die adds nothing to the political debate.
OTM: But isn’t that the point of these photographs in DePalma’s case? Misery, fear, mayhem, horror — the very things that have been censored about this war. How can you on the one hand prevent that stuff on that basis and then permit it on the very same basis?
Boyle: If the whole NPR thing doesn’t work out, Brooke, you have a career as a lawyer. I would say that the answer there is that we knew the astronauts on the space shuttle, we knew that they died and it was an awful set of moments. I think that the answer here is that the pain of the Iraqis has not been making it to our screens, has not been making it to our newspapers. I think the claim here is Mr. DePalma is saying this is a necessary political comment.
Of course the question then becomes: what is relevant to the debate and what is just morbid curiosity and, well, what is just there for its entertainment value. Does DePalma’s film have more in common with JFK’s elaborate mythmaking or United 93’s meticulous fact checking? It seems the early critics are coming in right down the middle. Either way, it looks like Hollywood is going to take more than one high-profile stab at the Wag the Dog nightmare in Iraq. Surely we can all hope there is some way to honor the memories of those lost even as popular culture uses their images to raise awareness but, if the Redacted mess makes anything clear, it’s that balance sure ain’t easy.