Interview with Errol Morris about his new Steve Bannon Documentary

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/11/13/interview-with-errol-morris-ab.html

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Since this was made, it’s now proven fact that Breitbart / Bannon & Co. targeted the incel mamma’s boy crowd that was properly primed to fall in line to the Nazi / Nationalism / tRumpo, essentially targeting the lowest bearing fruit for Right Wing manipulation. Regardless of the Documentary, Bannon has few peers [living or dead] that can rival his disgustingness subhuman prattle.

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As I recall, Morris also took a lot of flack for supposedly letting McNamara off easy in “Fog of War”. A lot of this perception was due more to Morris’s unique filmmaking techniques (e.g. his use of the “interrotron”) than it was to bias or sympathy on his part toward the subject. With a subject as odious and divisive as Bannon, I can see that happening again, only worse.

That Morris rented out his talents to the notorious grifter Elizabeth Holmes to legitimise Theranos hasn’t helped Morris’s credibility recently, either. I know he does a lot of commercial work to pay the bills, but anyone who staked their money or reputations on Theranos had warning signs that it was a fraud long before he made the documentary.

All that said, Nick Gillespie of the Koch-funded Reason magazine probably has an agenda of his own here: to normalise what he foolishly believes are Libertarians’ far-right populist allies and to insist (on the basis of Freeze Peach) that they deserve a platform to express their “economic anxiety”. That guy is a disingenuous snake.

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All Fascist seek legitimization, even in this Docu. it feels creepy fawning in a not so nice way.

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I’m positive Morris personally finds Bannon’s views as disgusting a we do, just as I’m sure he never bought McNamara’s multitude of excuses about Vietnam. But his technique can make it seem as if he’s neutral, and also sometimes sympathetic to the subject as a human being.

It’s an interesting conundrum, because I don’t think either Bannon or McNamara would have agreed to do the documentaries at all if Morris had taken a more confrontational and in-your-face approach. Whether his approach does more harm than good is an open question for me, one I take on a film-by-film basis.

It worked for me with “Fog of War”, because in the end McNamara exposed his flaws despite himself. I’ll have to see when I watch this one, but the context is very different: not a discussion of a what most agree was dark historical episode, but one about dark current events that are still unfolding.

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I got about halfway through Wormwood and had to shut it off. The subject matter was interesting to me but it felt so overlong. I couldn’t stick with it despite wanting to.

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This comes off way too fanboy ass kissing to/ for the Alt Right.

1] The way it was shot, never showing Bannon in the true light of day, he is a repulsive swine and should be shown as he has made himself, a repugnant swine.

2] The questions, soft balling if I ever saw them, really the last straw having Bannon equate himself with Lucifer, come on that’s Alt Right propaganda at its best.

No thank you, giving voice to these near do well fascists, well I don’t have the time for their BS.

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The Libertarians started out as a fringe faction pretty much entirely outside the GOP, but the camel’s nose got into the proverbial tent, aided a lot by Koch money, and now they are in many cases driving the agenda of a major American political party.

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He does say in the interview that his ads for Theranos were before everyone knew Theranos was a scam. There was a time when it was heralded as groundbreaker tech. I doubt Morris had the medical tech savvy to investigate very deeply into the promise of her product and don’t blame him for doing an ad for someone.

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According to a recent podcast on Theranos, executives at Walgreens and at Chiat Day were raising red flags before Morris was shooting the promotional video for the installations at the pharmacy chain.

If Morris were a run-of-the-mill mercenary commercial filmmaker I wouldn’t blame him much, but he’s a guy who prides himself on doing his homework and has a reputation as a serious documentarian to defend. However you look at this, Morris is going to be facing questions about how he fell for Holmes’s woo for the rest of his career.

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And they duly informed Morris? or should he have talked to Walgreens’ CEO before doing the shoot? What an odd chain of custody for a commercial.

I’m sure there were lots of people who looked at Theranos early on and said it looks like a bunch of crap. But you can find thousands of wall street analysts in the 90s who said Amazon would never fly, it’s burning through cash, has zero profit, whoever advises you to invest in it is being careless with your money.

Hindsight is 20/20 and you can always find a very early signaller and say “look! everyone knew! (or should have known) way back then!”

The late-teen - early 20s college students I saw this with in film class lacked your knowledge/experience of history. Not all of them so readily saw these flaws.

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But you’d think a World renowned film director [Morris] would after Theranos / Holmes, minor debacle or major, depending on who you ask, then wouldn’t you do your homework to quell any chances you’ll be seen as a dupe in the process of spreading propaganda, mis-information, and as kindly as I can put it an ass kisser to subject[s] means to an end. Once would be unfortunate, twice is a pattern worth investigating, the third would be Fog, and I definitely count Fog in there…

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I’ve been a fan of Morris since Fast, Cheap & Out of Control came out. He has a remarkable ability to set his subjects at ease and can humanize anyone.

Movies like Dr. Death and Standard Operating Procedure (and probably American Dharma - haven’t seen it) show people that do terrible things in sympathetic lighting. But I for one appreciate that he shows them as they see themselves and lets the audience look through the bullshit of their self-deceptions.

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If I were an acclaimed documentarian applying my reputation to a commercial job about a medical device that was being installed at Walgreens’ locations, you bet I’d ask around, perhaps the advertising/branding agency that had engaged me or the pharmacy chain where I was going to film. Morris has turned down other commissions from dodgy companies and organisations, but he didn’t do his due diligence here (to be fair, he wasn’t alone).

Here’s a link to the podcast. You’ll see that, by the time Morris got involved, people inside and outside of the company had already been warning other people that this device was a fraud and that the company’s business and lab practises were fishy for at least two years.

And here’s an article on why Morris’s excuses about the Theranos job ring hollow, both in the context of his other commercial work and in his role as respected truth-seeking documentarian:

That’s definitely one of the risks of Morris’s style and technique, which I do admire. He’s always demanded a lot of his audience. It gets even riskier when callow and not fully educated young people are exposed to someone as toxic as Bannon, who sees them as future foot soldiers instead of people to whom he has to justify his decades-past legacy.

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I probably agree, but i was paused by your phrase “should have shown”.

What “should” a documentarian show is the defining question of all documentary style and worth. Most documentarians are not journalists per se. How to tackle a topic is the meat and potatoes of most doc analysis past the immediate actual content.

I cant say that a documentarian should show X or Y about a subject past a general platitude that it should be truthful, or examine layers of how truth is negotiated by a subject trying to control their representation.

I have yet to see dharma, and honestly care so little about the subject i might pass, but how do you react to fascism without hearing its voice? Does not an immune response require a vaccination shot?

Do we not trust each other to hear fascist speech and reply with defiance? What does that tell us about each other?

Im well over the sanitized decorum of marketplace of idea politeness for violent dehumanizing political strains, dont get me wrong, but im not sure Morris fault is in his neutrality which typically allows his subjects to reflect like a mirror how they see themselves, but in approaching this subject with too similar an approach as past subjects. Morris hasnt always done the interrotron thing. It seems ill fitted here. He also has never been a huge face to face rabble rouser, so his naivete seems unfortunate, but alas, genuine.

Idk, disappointing from Morris. Reminds me of Oliver stone phoning in his putin crap.

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Well maybe he did, and he guessed wrong. Or he looked at it as commercial work to fund his real passion of documentary work. I guess he has to take his lumps on his legacy.

But that’s his prerogative. Sometimes a De Niro makes a Dirty Grandpa.

Sometimes we/some further the voice of hate, but if we didn’t know/understand at the time does not give you/us a pass.

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?

So let’s see, everyone who worked with Bill Cosby since about 1975 doesn’t get a pass. They didn’t know or understand, but that’s no excuse.

Thank you so very much for removing all doubt, have a fine evening.

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