STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE (Film) 2008
Written and Directed by
Before going into the case study of analysing the above-mentioned documentary film Standard Operating Procedure; it is important to define documentary as a reproduction of events which had openly happened around the globe in a creative form in order to hype the effect of the film on the viewers. It is a consideration between the chosen, shooting and recording of factual product that systematically turns into a creative mode that depends wholeheartedly on the business of documentary. According to Grierson, the documentary is the creative treatment of actuality (Grierson. 1966: 13).
Standard Operating Procedure is a documentary film written and directed by Errol Morris regarding the unpopular notorious Abu Ghraib prison torture photos; crime committed by men and women of U.S military personnel during the Iraq war. In another word, it is a story of soldiers who were supposed to be defending democracy but found themselves doing otherwise. The presentation of images by Errol Morris in Standard Operating Procedure is very powerful to create reality and fact, more than just to describes the events of human right violation in Abu Ghraib prison. Moreover, the photographs made it very easy for the audience to accept the documentary as a fact and believes it is politically motivated.
Director Errol Morris, a documentarian and academy- award winner, known for his ability to investigate images and narrative; re-create a story around them as he did in Standard Operating Procedure, which makes the viewer understand deeper the meaning of photographs, flash-back and the reasons for U.S military police involvement in human right abuses at Abu Ghraib prison. Morris Scrutinises the wonders of witnessing the energy of direct testimony of the interviewees and the circumstances surrounding the flash backs. Like a quote that says “The task of the documentaries is not only to record reality but also to give the recorded material form that allows the resultant film or programme to speak to its audience in a language that can be readily understood (Kilborn and Izod,1997: p. 4)
Morris used the conventions of documentaries to convey to the audience by setting up an investigation of human rights abuse that occurred in Abu Ghraib prison and tried to avoid the political motivations behind the crime but instead concentrates on the photographs personal backgrounds of the interviewees and their reasons for the crime and taking pictures whilst committing the atrocities.
The person responsible for taking those photographs, what was their reason? and what is their representation? Does their actions represent and show Standard Operation Procedure within US forces in Iraq, Morris also used his investigative power to prove much acclaimed and existence of taking pictures at Abu Gharib’s prison creating a records of unusual and everlasting memory of frightening and fact.
Amazingly, the horror part of this situation where violations of the prisoner was gone just for the fun of taking a picture. Meanwhile, the point of Morris’s work is by using photographs as a natural means of making the audience believes something that is not true, even though it is widely believed that photographs is a conventional and objective means of telling the truth without lying. So from the viewers point of view the photographs of the human right abuse that occurs in Abu Ghraib’s prison during the Iraq war in 2003 has not only led the audience to vividly believe Morris’s film Standard Operation Procedure as a true representation and the idea of the reality of American detention centres in Iraq and many other places.
Although, there is no doubt about the photographs being a powerful evidence that brought was brought open to the public the violation but also the fact that it can only show a limited portion of a greater amount of what occurred within the camera frame. The reality was very difficult to understand, that what does the documentary represent to the viewer. In an argument, the viewers pointed out the images covered the torture and murder that occurred outside of the camera; which means the audience has a different interpretation regarding the pictures rather than the reality and true meaning behind the pictures.
Another shocking image from Abu Ghraib prison is that of the prisoner nickname as Gilligan placed on a box in a pointed black poncho – like hoody blanket with electrical cables wired around him with a mock detonation placed in his hand; meanwhile, the electrical current was not real, but could not be verified through photograph that was presented. In Bazin’s sense, documentary can be said, at first sight to bear out the original (if illusory) promise of photography.
This basic characteristic marks it out the feature film. It offers us as Michols says, access to the world while fiction lets us enter a world. (Nichols, 1991: pg. 109 -110).
According to director Morris, he said that he wonders if the billions that watched this documentary actually knows the reason of a temporary change for looking at the real representation of an enormous problem that occurred in prison. For instance, the electric wiring of Gilligan as seen in the picture, does not exist, but very difficult to be seen in the photograph; this idea can not only obstruct the justice of the act but also affect the audience’s sense of thinking. the conventional aspect of a photographs power to expose and uncover scandal and say it as it is behave in such a way to cover more than expected.
some of Morris’ way of engaging the audience is the cinematography aspect simultaneously shifts his talking head to various angles to change viewers point of view in order to avoid boredom ; unlike Robert McNamara in The fog of war where the camera was focused and stayed still. The subjectivity of director Morris lies on fact that he believes his audience will be confused, as he uses his standard operating procedure documentary film to draw viewers closer and not to drive them away. The collaboration of sound effect and music over the stills and video footage really make an impact to draw the audience closer to the documentary rather than creating a distance.
Morris applies documentary techniques such as interviewing the protagonist and also by using voiceovers to narrate over the still images. In this documentary the viewers are not aware of the makers of the documentary and there is no presenter in focus. It goes almost without saying that interviewing lies at the heart of much documentary work. In an argument quoted; It is worth remembering, however, that for every screened interview or talking-head sequence that is featured in the completed work.
there will have been many more informal interviews all of which form part of the trust-building and information-gathering process which is such an essential part of each documentary project.(Kilborn and Izod, 1997: pp. 199). In the post production of standard operating procedure, the editor use of that transition from clip to clip was a way to show the audience the dark moments in American history and the editing is used for continuity to link still images together and video footages to support the argument rendered by the voiceover. The ability of the editor to join together a variety of footage archive materials interviews still images materials in support of the film makers argument, it was done in a conventional mode of documentary, in attempt to persuade the audience regarding a particular point of view in such an appealing form or aesthetic of common sense feedback.
According to( Kilborn and Izod,1997: p. 58), a documentary made in the expository mode will expound on a topic, more often than not with the narrator’s script acting as the main means via which information is selected, shaped and passed on to the viewer. The script is no less than the primary organiser of meaning, and lays out the argument or story which the images themselves sometimes do no more than confirm, like illustrations in a book. Indeed, the images are edited in strict accordance with the dictates of the script.
Seeing the perpetrators in a more complex way, using potential victims as a ‘cover-up’ is improved with a unique technical tool. The Interrotron camera is Morris’ own invention of his documentaries, it is a two-way camera which allows the interviewee to see the interviewers face directly, and can still be recorded at the same time. This really benefits Morris because it then connects the viewers even more emotionally with the soldiers as they look like they are speaking directly to us.
The viewers most likely leaves with a mixed view on the American soldiers as the documentary portrays them as scapegoats and sadists at the same time, it allows the viewers to come away with sympathy for what the American soldiers went through and for the chaotic environment of Abu Ghraib. It also gives them a greater understanding of it.
As a documentary, sometimes the film crosses the line too much between fact and fiction, for example, Abu Ghraib looks to be painted in cartoonish , nightmare hues. Some may say that the prison was horrible enough on its own and that ‘modifying’ it was not needed.
Morris showed different images such as fake blood dripping from a prisoner’s nose and flying bullet casing to try and get his message across, but some might even say that these images may have been too much or unnecessary. Furthermore, the focus on the horror aspects and the repeated images of Iraq men naked (most of them innocent) could make it easy to forget the reality of the human suffering involved. The detainees themselves were absent for most of the story and the fact that Morris kept showing their tortured bodies may leave the viewers feeling that Morris may be using the images to exploit some of these men. Some of the former prisoners that were abused provided testimonies or their mistreatment but they were very brief it was almost as if it was thrown in just to say that it was there.
Morris does not connect the pieces to reveal who was really behind the prisoner abuse, which left a lot of the viewers angry and dissatisfied. Key players in the documentary are barely mentioned. However, Morris’ goal was not to re-tell the whole story of Abu Ghraib but to only shed light on the significance of the time and the complexity of the photograph.
In summary, Standard Operating Procedure would be seen as an important film. It gives the viewers a sense of what the soldiers were feeling when in Abu Ghraib, as it was portrayed as a dark place. Morris gives his audience a full insight of what the American Soldiers went through, and although we cannot fully understand as we did not go through what they went through, it still gives us a sense of understanding and sympathy. The images Morris uses tells the audience a story without words and draws the audience in emotionally and also gives them an emotional connection. Thus, whilst it would be going too far to suggest that viewers are entirely free agents in putting their own interpretation on what they see and hear, there is still considerable scope for variation in measuring how programme are view and what readers make of them. (Kilborn and Izod. 1997: pp. 233).
Kilborn, R; Izod, J. (2013) The documentary film book, Basingstoke: BF1 publishing.
Kilborn. R W. (1997) – An introduction to television documentary: confronting reality, Manchester: Manchester University Press.
P. Govervitch and E. Morris (2008) Standard Operating Procedure: A war story. New York. Penguin Press HC.
Review by Olla Iginla