Review: Shooting the Truth–The Rise of American Political Documentaries

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5.0 out of 5 stars Both a Tour of Substance, and an Eye Opener for Book People

July 29, 2010

James McEnteer

This is a 6 Star and Beyond book and is so categorized at Phi Beta Iota, the Public Intelligence Blog, where one can browse all 1600+ of my non-fiction reviews sorted into 98 categories and easily found with keywords–I’ve tried for years to get Amazon to give us this functionality and finally created it for my own work.

I was so impressed, so engaged, so absolutely educated by this author that I spent no less than four hours, and it might be as much as six, creating a table of all 120 films that he mentioned, with the directors, the year of release, and hot links. The complete list with hot links is at Phi Beta Iota, and should have been an appendix–I certainly give the list to the author should he wish to post it anywhere.

A few highlights, followed by the complete table of 120 films:


1) VHS players are still relevant for the non-fiction crowd, but DVD conversions are around 85%.

2) Amazon is doing extremely well, better than I expected, in carrying all these titles. Only a handful had to be linked outside of Amazon.

3) Although the broadcasting networks stomped down hard on anything remotely resembling intelligent and truthful issue discussion in 1950’s, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) killed the truth once and for all in 1984 by ending public service as an element of spectrum allocation, what this book really did for me is open my eyes to the wealth of offerings from both the four specific directors whose work the book showcases, and the many others.

4) My time spent creating the list of 120 films, adding the links, is an example of social production such as Yochai Benkler discusses in The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom and also an example of the importance of collaborative ethics such as are discussed in The Hidden Wealth of Nations.

As the top reviewer for non-fiction books here at Amazon (32 and 279 or whatever are over-all, including software, movies, and fiction), what this book really drove home to me:

1) There are some amazingly talented directors out there, every bit as important, as creative, and as inspiring as the best of the non-fiction authors, and people like me simply don’t “get it” (yet). I am going to pay more attention from this point on to non-fiction DVDs and the minds behind them.

2) Amazon’s provision of the ranking information really got my attention in relation to DVDs. It is now possible to browse the top 10 or top 100 on anything, e.g. on Viet-Nam, on Iraq, on Civil Rights, and I now appreciate even more the one author that took the trouble to list films after he finished listing books, at the end of each chapter, this was Revolutions and Revolutionary Movements.

3) Pentagon budget for selling the Pentagon is over 200 million dollars; at the same time, all US broadcasting about serious issues has gone “from lenses with attitude to political theater.”

QUOTE xii: Why the sudden prominence of nonfiction films? There exists in America a great hunger to understand what’s really going on. These films help feed that need. Much of that hunger has to do with the concentrated ownership of news media; the corporatization and trivialization of the news, and the decreasing spectrum of information. Instead of innovation and investigation, we get repetition and imitation.”

QUOTE xii: Now what passes for “new” includes massive doses of celebrity gossip, leaving many more important events unreported. Mass media shy away from stories of complexity, as reflected by the speed of news delivery, in rapid-fire sound bites; the shortening lengths of stories; and the glitzing up and dumbing down of news reports to hold the viewer’s attention. Reporters tend to accept government versions of events. And any stories that might offend the corporate owners of media, their clients, or their friends–all of whom together represent a significant portion of American economic power–have also become off limits.

I learn that the Carlyle Group has bought 400 Lowe’s theaters, and I shudder.

I learn that the murder rate is down in the US, but fear of murder if up because of “news” hyping of the fewer murders that do occur.

QUOTE (24-25): Entrenched corporate and government powers resist an openness that may challenge their preeminence. They use their political and financial clout to restrict the content of American television. Murrow’s 1958 admonition that television should be enlisted in the “great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance, and indifference” seems wildly idealistic today, as television exists to trumpet majoritarian values, kill time, and hawk material wares. It’s not a marketplace of ideas, just a marketplace. New technologies have made television more seductive, but not more substantive.”

Shees. He is unwittingly talking about the US secret intelligence community at the same time. And so much for what George Will calls Statecraft as Soulcraft, or what Will and Ariel Durant discuss in The Lessons of History.

This book’s relevance to all of us today comes out strongly as the author discusses the lessons not learned, the most important of which is that the real enemy of us all is war itself, and that we are failing to grasp the emotional and cultural complications that must be grasped in preventing war.

To the answer of “why” do we use the nuclear bomb, or chemical weapons, or [I would add] rendition and torture, the author, honoring the various directors and films that he lines up in this magnificent utterly stellar panorama of multi-media thought, answers: because we can. “Because the bureaucratic apparatus exist(s) to do it.”

The author offers extraordinary political relevance when he addresses the irrelevance of the left and right divisions. He says:

QUOTE (48): In fact, categories like liberal and conservative are irrelevant and misleading. The real division is between those who protect and serve the bureaucratic apparatus that perpetuates crimes against humanity–like career politicians Orrin Hatch and Joe Biden, and FBI thugs Jeff Jamar and Larry Potts–and those like journalist Dick Eavis and Davidian lawyer Dick De Guerin, who seek accountability from individuals and institutions nested with the faceless machinery of death.

This is a hugely important book, not least because it is a bridge for people who value non-fiction books and have not learned to value non-fiction films. At the age of 57, there is absolutely no question but that I can learn a great deal from this author and critic, and were he teaching or speaking in my area, he would be on my “must do” list.

The author continues to offer, today, valid social commentary, to include how we must take responsibility for the crimes against humanity of the Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama era (no differences at all among them in terms of their toxic impact on humanity and especially the US middle class and blue collar class), or we share their guilt.

Visit Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog to exploit the list of 120 films mentioned by the author, all hot linked for easy review of their descriptive substance.

In passing, in his commentary on the Nobel Peace Prize being given to war criminal and ubber-impeachable Henry Kissinger, the author has inspired me to make a list of stupid Nobel Peace Prizes–Kissinger is one, Gore is another, Obama a third. The world–including the Nobel Peace Prize committee (politicians) has lost its mind. The films discussed by this book and this author are a critical bridge to getting our mind back.

My own two recent publications from Earth Intelligence Network, the 501c3 I funded before the crash took everything, both free online so don’t think I am pimping their purchase:

Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace
INTELLIGENCE for EARTH: Clarity, Diversity, Integrity, & Sustainaabilty

Vote on Review

Link up with the author at his South African web site (self-imposed exile?).

Below with hot links, see list of 120 documentary films and their directored sorted into the following categories: 9-11, Big Ideas, Capitalism, Civil Rights, Culture, Iraq, JFK, Labor, Lies, Pentagon, Politics, Viet-Nam.

** are the handful that seem to be at top of the heap.

BOLD means a review is available and link leads to it.

9-1120029/11 (THE 9/11 film, ground zero with firefighters)Naudet
9-112003Aftermath: Unanswered Questions from 9/11Guerrilla News Network
9-112004Hijacking Catastrophe: 9/11, Fear & the Selling of American EmpireEarp & Jhally
9-112004Is War the Answer?  New Yorkers Respond to 9/11
Big Ideas1992A Brief History of Time (Stephen Hawking)Morris
Big Ideas2001Waking Life (in and out of dreams)Linklater & Sabiston
Big Ideas2004What the Bleep Do We Know?Arntz, Chasse, Vincente
Capitalism1989Roger & MeMoore
Capitalism1997Fast, Cheap, & Out of Control (Four crafts)Morris)
Capitalism2003The Fourth World War (Globalization 101)Big Noise Rowley
Capitalism2004Supersize MeSpurlock
Capitalism2004The Yes Men (World Trade Organization dark side)Smith, Price, Ollman
Capitalism2007Crooked  E: The Unshredded Truth About EnronGreenwald & Spheeris
Civil Rights1998Defending Our Daughters (human rights)Kopple
Civil Rights2004Unconstitutional (Bush, 9/11, End of Civil Rights)Greenwald
Civil Rights2005Mighty Times: The Children’s March (civil rights)Hudson & Houston
Culture1951See It Now (first and last real issues show)Murrow
Culture1965Don’t Look Back (Rock & Roll)Pennebaker
Culture1968Monterey PopPennebaker
Culture1968UndergroundDe Antonio
Culture1970Gimme Shelter (Rolling Stones and Hells Angels)Maysles 2, Kopple
Culture1977Pumping Iron (made Arnold Schwarzenegger)Butler
Culture1978Gates of Heaven (Pet Cemeteries)Morris
Culture1982In the King of Prussia (Plowshares Eight Trial)De Antonio
Culture1983Seeing Red (communist party members speak)Klein & Reichert
Culture1984The Good Fight (1936 volunteers in Spain)Dore, Buckner, & Sills
Culture1985Pumping Iron II (female body builders)Butler
Culture1990Berkeley in the Sixties
Culture1993Fallen Champ: The Untold Story of Mike TysonKopple
Culture1997TV Nation Vol One; TV Nation Vol TwoMoore
Culture1998Wild Man Blues (Woody Allen & Soon Yi Previn)Kopple
Culture1998Woodstock ‘94Kopple
Culture2000My Generation: The Sixties LiveKopple
Culture2000Rebels with a CauseGarvey
Culture2000Steal this Movie (Abbie Hoffman)Greenwald
Culture2000The Eyes of Tammy FayeBailey & Barbato
Culture2000This Is What Democracy Looks LikeFriedberg & Rowley
Culture2002Bowling for ColumbineMoore
Culture2002Friends for Life: Living with AidsKopple
Culture2002Once Upon a Time in the HamptonsKopple
Culture2002Weather UndergroundGarvey
Culture2004Assisted LivingGreenebaum
Culture2004Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty HearstGarvey
Culture2004Open WaterKentis & Lau
Culture2004The Passion of the ChristMel Gibson
Iraq**1991Nowhere to Hide (2000 mile journey within Iraq)Clark & Alpert
Iraq2003Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq WarGreenwald
Iraq2004About BaghdadAntoon
Iraq2004Bearing Witness (female journalists in Iraq)Kopple, Wotton, Eisenhardt
Iraq2004Last Letters Home: Voices of the American Troops from the Battlefields of IraqCouturie
Iraq2004Voices of IraqManes, Kunert, Drury
JFK1967Plot to Kill JFK: Rush to Judgment (Slams Warren Commission with its own witnesses)De Antonio
JFK1993Beyond “JFK”: The Question of ConspiracyKopple
Labor1976Harlan County, USA (Coal strike)Kopple
Labor1976Union MaidsKlein & Reichert
Labor1991American Dream (meat packers’ strike)Kopple
Labor1999ZapatistaBig Noise Eichert, Rowley, Sandberg
Labor**2001Life & DebtBlack
Labor2002American Standoff (Teamsters strike)Kopple
Lies1963Point of Order (Army-McCarthy hearings)De Antonio
Lies**1982The Atomic Café (government & news misinformation)Reafferty 2 & Loader
Lies1982The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam DeceptionCBS
Lies1983Dark Circle (Nuclear safety)Irving & Beaver
Lies1988Cover-Up: Behind the Iran-Contra AffairTrent
Lies1988The Thin Blue Line (Death Row False Conviction)Morris
Lies**1992Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the MediaAchbar & Wintonick
Lies1993The Panama Deception (to retake the Canal)Trent
Lies1997Waco: The Rules of EngagementGazecki
Lies1998The Big One (Tour with Book Downsize This!:  Random Threats from an Unarmed AmericanMoore
Lies1998Wag the DogLevinson
Lies1999Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. (Psychatrist testifying for death penalty)Morris
Lies2001Hidden Wars of Desert StormBrophy & Ungerman
Lies2002Ammo for the Info WarriorGuerrilla News Network
Lies2002Operation Enduring Freedom: America Fights BackUS Government
Lies2002The Trials of Henry KissingerJarecki and Gibney
Lies2003Control Room (CENTCOM versus Al Jazeera)Noujaim
Lies2003The Awful TruthMoore
Lies2004Bush Family Fortunes: The Best Democracy Money Can BuyPalast
Lies2004Fahrenheit 9/11Moore
Lies2004Heir to an Execution (Rosenbergs)Meeropol
Lies**2004Outfoxed: Robert Murdoch’s War on JournalismGreenwald
Lies2004WMD: Weapons of Mass DeceptionSchechter, Kopple
Lies2005Orwell Rolls in His GravePappas
Pentagon1971The Selling of the PentagonDavis
Pentagon1979The War at HomeEstevez
Pentagon1980The Day After Trinity (Profile of Oppenheimer & Bomb)Else
Pentagon1987Radio Bikini (US take-over & testing, GIs illness)Stone
Pentagon1990Letter to the Next GenerationKlein
Pentagon1998Regret to Inform (Widows seeking closure)Sonneborn
Pentagon2002Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert McNamaraMorris
Pentagon2005Soldier’s Pay (Enlisted looting in Iraq)Russell & Carlos
Pentagon2005Why We FightJarecki
Politics FahrenHype 9/11: Unraveling the Truth About Fahrenheit 9/11 and Michael MoorePeterson
Politics1960Primary (Kennedy Going Door to Door)Drew
Politics1992Four More Years (Political Convention)TVTV Rucker
Politics1992The War Room (Carville and Stephanopoulos)Pennebaker & Hegedus
Politics1994The Clinton ChroniclesFalwell
Politics1995Canadian Bacon (political propaganda slam)Moore
Politics1996The Perfect Candidate (Charles Robb, Oliver North)Taylor & Cutler
Politics2002Horns and Halos (Story of Fortunate Son)Hawley & Galinsky
Politics**2002Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election (Stolen)Greenwald, Perez & Sekler
Politics2004Brothers in Arms (John Kerry Swift boats)
Politics2004Buried in the Sand: The Deception of AmericaTaylor/USG?
Politics2004Bush’s Brain (Karl Rove)Shoob & Mealey
Politics2004Celsius 41.11: The Temperature at Which the Brain Beings to Die (anti Michael Moore)“Citizens United”
Politics2004G. W. Bush: Faith in the White HouseBalsiger
Politics2004Going Upriver:  The Long War of John KerryButler
Politics2004Journeys with George (Bush in 2000)Pelosi
Politics2004Michael Moore Hates AmericaWilson & Leffler
Politics2004The Hunting of the President (Clinton)Thomason & Perry
Politics2004The Road to the Presidency (Clinton-centered)Jacobs
Politics2005This Revolution (Media at Political Convention)Marshall
Viet-Nam1965Why Vietnam?USG & DoD
Viet-Nam**1968Vietnam: In the Year of the PigDe Antonio
Viet-Nam1970Interviews with My Lai VeteransStrick
Viet-Nam1972Winter Soldier (Vietnam veterans)Kopple
Viet-Nam1974Hearts and Minds (Vietnam)Davis
Viet-Nam1988Dear America: Letters Home from VietnamCuturie
Viet-Nam2002Daughter from DanangDolgin and Franco
Viet-Nam2004Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never HealSherwood

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