War, Just a Click Away

By Robert MacMillan
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 10, 2005; 9:27 AM

"Apocalypse Now" rearranged my head when I was 16 or so.

After hearing my breathless review, my father remarked that the film was as far from a realistic depiction of war as you're likely to get. I suspected at the time that he might be wrong.

Now I know it for sure.

The proof lies in the video clips posted on ifilm.com's new section, "Warzone." For those who aren't yet hooked on Web video, ifilm.com is a site where people post video of everything you can think of from movie previews to cows wearing lingerie to the famous CNN Crossfire flap between Tucker Carlson and the Daily Show's Jon Stewart.

Warzone, which debuted last week, contains video purportedly shot, edited and submitted by U.S. and other coalition troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. And to prove the "Internet as melting pot" analogy, the site includes video filmed by (but probably not submitted by) various insurgent or paramilitary groups, including the Shiite Mahdi army.

The videos on iFilm.com are not the first "home movies" to come out of a war zone, but they show you what you can do with one good recording device, cheap editing software and the Internet as a free, worldwide distribution platform.

They also show that Francis Coppola's nightmarish dreamscape of the Vietnam war influenced a whole generation of amateur directors for whom, though they are on the ground, cinema verite apparently is not enough. The people who submitted their footage to Warzone did what no Hollywood director could get away with -- at least not yet: They turned real death into entertainment, just for us. And it is compelling.

Some of the videos, such as this one of a British "private security company" in Iraq taking a hit from a roadside bomb, are straight-ahead documentaries. There is neither narration nor explanation; the shouting you hear from the men off-camera provides sufficient commentary.

Others prove what we already knew: War is hell, but it's even more like hell if you don't have a good soundtrack. The napalm strike in the opening of Coppola's movie wouldn't be half as good if the Doors weren't playing the X-rated version of "The End" on top. Likewise, the helicopter attack scene would have been useless without Richard Wagner's most famous musical passage.

In one Warzone clip, titled "Thunderstruck in Iraq," choppers bomb the hell out of all sorts of enemy hardware, choreographed nicely to the song "Thunderstruck" by AC/DC. And whoever shot this video for the Mahdi army knew that a sobbing aria would be just the ticket to persuade more young men to sacrifice themselves in the hopes of booting the United States out of Iraq.

The two most disturbing submissions to Warzone are complete opposites in style. The first is a bit of night-vision voyeurism. A U.S. helicopter patrol takes a little time off to capture on videotape a sexual encounter between -- well, that never is quite clear, but it takes place in a convertible. Despite the grainy image, there is little doubt about what's going on. Instead of music, you get the laughter of the troops, as one crewmember deadpans on the communications system:

"We're taping it... We'll get copies for everyone."

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