In Errol Morris’s Standard Operating Procedure , a picture is worth a thousand words
After 11 days on the road promoting Standard Operating Procedure, his film about the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal, Errol Morris is back in his Cambridge office. His interrogators from the media have hit him with the same difficult questions over and over. They haven’t broken him yet, but he admits he’s getting a little “punchy.” Now he sits at his desk, on which rests a laptop and a mummified chimpanzee head. A mounted horse’s head hangs on the wall behind him, and in the corner stands a stuffed stork. It’s surprisingly tall.
More from Peter Keough's interview with Errol Morris
Morris has made films about loaded subjects before: the death penalty (Mr. Death: the Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.), Vietnam (The Fog of War), the mysteries of the universe (A Brief History of Time). But never as loaded as the shock and awe spread by the 2004 release of photos of sexually humiliated and physically tortured naked Iraqi prisoners taken by the MPs guarding them. The woman with the leash; the human pyramid; the smile and the thumbs-up next to a ravaged, dead face. Images we’d like to forget — and, apparently, have. None of the presidential candidates has had much to say about the subject, and none of the major media outlets paid much attention when our president acknowledged that, yes, he authorized such behavior. So probably the toughest question of all is — who’s going to care?
Frank Rich wrote in his column that Iraq movies are like garlic to vampires. Do you think this one is going to suffer the fate of all the others?
I like Frank Rich a lot. I know him. I like the whole editorial. I am not eager to have an obituary written for my film before the film appears in theaters. Can I say in good conscience it’s not an Iraq movie? I cannot. But I think it is a different kind of an Iraq movie. I wanted to avoid doing the same thing that other people were doing. I did it because I was genuinely interested in the photographs and the guys who took the photographs. It’s a different movie from what you expect. I think people all expect the other type of movie, and this is a movie that I think will be around long after the Iraq War. It’s telling a much bigger story, and it’s a story that does involve photography and people. I’ve heard from a number of people who watched the movie twice, even three times, that it changes for them. Each time, they see it differently.
That’s what I experienced.
Well . . . what happened in your case?
I had some frustrations the first time, and some of them were resolved the second time I saw it, but they were replaced with new frustrations . . . .
Well, this is something I’d love to hear about. Can I ask some questions? Can I flip this around? What were your frustrations the first time?
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