Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Taxi to the Dark Side

The Oscar winning 2007 documentary Taxi to the Dark Side is now in general release. David Denby, in a brief New Yorker review, writes that "the movie produces an uncanny impression of a disastrous logic at work in the interrogation process: the Army and C.I.A. interrogators, under great pressure to produce information, assume that the prisoners under their control must be guilty of something. If not, what are they all doing there? Cut off from any possible counsel, harassed, stripped, hooded, bound, and, in many cases, threatened with dogs or abused physically, the prisoners were locked into a system of punishment before any guilt was established. Sickening, but essential." (David Denby, "Taxi to the Dark Side," The New Yorker, March 31, 2008)

The film reports on the death during interrogation of Dilawar, an Afghan taxi driver, by American soldiers, then widens to an investigation of the torture regime of the Bush administration.

A. O. Scott, in his New York Times review of the film, writes that "If recent American history is ever going to be discussed with the necessary clarity and ethical rigor, this film will be essential." (A. O. Scott, "Taking a Long, Bumpy Road to Systematic Brutality," New York Times, January 18, 2008). See also Adam Liptak, "The Power of Authority, A Dark Tale," New York Times, December 30, 2007.

(poster from Rotten Tomatoes)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Political Box Office

Box Office Mojo has published an on-line list of the top grossing political documentaries. According to Mojo, Fahrenheit 9/11 is far ahead of all others.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Fred Wiseman's documentaries now on DVD

For years it has been difficult to acquire legitimate copies of Frederick Wiseman's distinguished series of documentaries on tape. Now at long last they are available on DVD. The prices are fairly high for institutions on licenses that include public exhibition rights (typically $400) but the films are available to individuals for $29.95.

I have long worried that Wiseman's films had fallen out of our collective memory because of the difficulties of access. At long last most of the films are accessible. It's a great opportunity for anyone who cares about documentary, and it makes studying the films systematically or teaching a course on Wiseman's films much more reasonable than it has been for decades.

Beginning with Titicut Follies (1967), Wiseman has chronicled American life and institutions in a brilliant series of long-form observational documentaries inflected with his own personal vision.

This is a special treat for me -- in 1989 Carolyn Anderson and I published Reality Fictions: The Films of Frederick Wiseman (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press), which was succeeded by a second edition in 2002.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

What's inside

Here is the table of contents for The Rhetoric of the New Political Documentary.

New Political Documentary: Rhetoric, Propaganda, and the Civic Prospect
Thomas W. Benson and Brian J. Snee

Fahrenheit 9/11—Virtual Realism and the Limits of Commodified Dissent
Shawn J. Parry-Giles & Trevor Parry-Giles

Documentary Dialectics or Dogmatism? Fahrenhype 9/11, Celsius 41.11, and the New Politics of Documentary Film
Jennifer L. Borda

Vietnam Flashbacks
Roger Stahl

Theology, Politics, and the Evangelical Base: George W. Bush: Faith in the White House
Martin J. Medhurst

Unprecedented: Mimesis and Miscarriage
Robert E. Terrill

Talking Heads Rock the House: Robert Greenwald’s Uncovered: The War on Iraq
Susan Mackey-Kallis

Outfoxing the Myth of the Liberal Media
Ronald V. Bettig and Jeanne Lynn Hall

More at Southern Illinois University Press and at Amazon

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Welcome to Political Documentary.

We -- Brian Snee and Tom Benson -- are the editors of The Rhetoric of the New Political Documentary, a collection of original critical and historical essays on political documentaries produced for the 2004 election season. We have started this blog as a place to discuss some of the issues raised in the book, and to extend the discussion started there on the politics and rhetoric of documentary.

The Rhetoric of the New Political Documentary at Southern Illinois University Press and at Amazon.com

Tom Benson is Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Rhetoric at Penn State University.

Brian Snee is assistant professor of Communication at SUNY Potsdam.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors, and not necessarily those of our universities.