Sometimes it is hard to remember what I enjoy about visual media. I consume a lot of it on a weekly basis in different forms: films, television, and whatever I can dredge up online. More often than not I like what I watch, but I think that it takes something to shake me up and make me really remember what is so great about the visual medium.
Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing is a film that shows what the visual medium is really for. It is a dangerous and dizzying film. Deep in Indonesia, a Oppenheimer challenges former death squad members to re-enact the executions that killed more than 2.5 million ‘communist’ during the mid-1960s. It is something that we so rarely applied to film. Normally, we would see similar content in the form of a social justice documentary that forget that the point of entertainment is to be entertaining or in retrospective with people reminiscing while black and white photos pan & scan across the screen filling time before the inevitable Noam Chomsky interview.
As per usual this time of year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has swooped in to fellate films that have already made too much money with accolades they do not really need. Ten films for ‘Best Picture’ in 2009 was already a boondoggle. The Blind Side? Inglourious Basterds? Up in the Air? According to someone, this was trulysome of the best cinema America had to offer in the year 2009.
2011? Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
2012? Les Miserables.
& 2013 has a whole swath of films that no one really cares about.
If we are going to celebrate an achievement in motion pictures, lets look beyond the narratives. The best films and filmmakers of the year may not be making films based on true events but perhaps showing you those events actually happening.
Killing links both the horrible time in the 1960′s with the rather terrible political situation the country is in today. How terrible? Most of the cast and crew are simply credited as ‘Anonymous’ presumably because once someone from the film eventually watches it in its entirety, they are not going to be happy and want to take it out on the crew.
When I think about one word that can best describe the film, it’s ‘eccentric’. Killing takes a chance and asks something more of its subjects so that better understanding can be achieved by the filmmaker, audience, and even the subject. Not many filmmakers venture this far into the fringe, not many other than Werner Herzog and Errol Morris. The two make some of the most involved and provocative documentaries in the last quart century and it makes sense that they would some how be involved with this. Herzog’s love of the surreal and the ‘ecstatic truth’ surrounds the film and Morris’ sly interrogation style of interviewing and patience is how Oppenheimer catches some of the most amazing moments not just of this year but any year.
There is a category for best documentary, but until it is acknowledged that docs might be the best film to come out that year, the AMPAS will still be behind the times.