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Aug 24, 2007

Alive Day. Cut!


So, I've been working slowly, and looking at a lot of images for my first American Photo piece.  The theme I'm playing with has to do with how contemporary war images don't look like war anymore, so much as they look like the set or the staging for one.

In the middle of this, I get one of those PR emails from HBO touting a new documentary called "Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq."  (If you're not familiar with the term, "alive day" is the day -- sort of like your birthday -- you were almost blown to bits in Iraq, but through the miracle of medical technology, your life was saved ... if minus some of your body parts.)

Anyway, I've had the opening shot of the HBO preview video sitting on my desktop, and -- with my "war versus constructed reality" theme in mind, I can't stop examining it.  You see, James Gandolfini is the host of this program in which he holds intimate conversations on a sound stage with vets who, having been seriously injured, have survived.

What I can't get over, however, is how:

--  A Tony Soprano (as if, here, finally ousting his shrink and commandeering her chair) would have little trouble lending himself to such otherwise unfathomable trauma and violence.

-- The camera operator -- bucking for visual parity with the other two -- seems to cue for "less of a show" feel and more hand-held reality.  (Which only makes for a better show.)

-- The veteran (or veteran/patient), sitting high, holds his body like a little boy.  (And who could have picked that t-shirt?  Seems like the last connection this man would need is to a cartoon monkey.) (Although maybe I don't get the reference.)

-- The camera apparatus looks like a component of the vets artificial legs.

...I'm sure there is plenty more.

(image via HBO Documentary Films and Attaboy Films)



Ops this is the stage on which the boys want to sing for ya
(not on Political Revisionism Getting Out Of Hand)

I fear your dancing days are done,

This is one of the most surreal images I've seen on this blog.
It looks like the result of a photoshop mashup or one of the Sopranos' dream sequences.
Maybe Paulie Walnuts will guest host Meet the Press next week.

The t-shirt looks like a Bush parody shirt - there are several out there - different themes of 'furious george' - the familiar monkey with George's face and a bomb/grenade/'other' in his hand. Or - it could just be a Curious George t-shirt played straight, which would really be much more ironic.

Ultimately, in this country (warped after six years under this administration), reality is theatre - be it HBO theatre or the war theatre.

ohh - i think that camera is one of these:">">

some interesting links @

"What I can't get over, however, is how:-- The veteran (or veteran/patient), sitting high, holds his body like a little boy."

For God's sake, the veteran is wearing legs made out of plastic and metal. Did it ever occur to you that you too might sit a bit differently if your legs weren't the ones you were born with? Excuse me, go back to telling the world how to walk and talk. Excuse me.

arty: Sorry if I wasn't clear. Hand/arm gesture and facial expression, plus t-shirt, makes me think that HBO chose to feature, for their promo, a soldier seemingly more kid-like in appearance -- maybe to lend more relative importance to the "host." Regarding him "sitting high," I was also thinking about his positioning relative to Gandolfini. If HBO wanted to create more equivalence and, especially, respect for the vets -- especially relative to the practical needs and physical requirements of the injured vets (which is what you're reacting to), then why (unless the difference is all camera angle) didn't they find more commensurate seating for Gandalfini to put him on a more equivalent status, height and plane?

I think the dialogue between Arty and The Bag elides an important point: Is this person a "veteran" or a "little boy." And the answer has to be "yes." He is of course a veteran, but he also appears to be somewhat boy like -- and not just appear, he probably is. War we continue to say, drawing upon the 19th century romanticization of war, turns boys into men. Perhaps that's one of the reasons why we underscore the relationship between ">"> sport and war so much. And it is something we need to take into account when we assess the war -- and who does the real work, takes and suffers the real risks. It is a younger generation. We seem to forget that all too much.

arty I am interested in your thoughts about the soldier shown in uniform at the link as found by going to

The t-shirt has a lot to do with the "boyish" impression in question here, and I agree with Anne, it looks like a Furious George graphic from here. Factor in that when this soldier was dressing for the interview, he had to choose a shirt that would go with shorts. WHatever else could have been done with this staging, there's no way they would have created this impression without giving center stage to the high-tech prosthetics.

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. forces have rebranded one of the main insurgent groups in Iraq, the 1920 Revolution Brigade and now use the term concerned local nationals to refer to a group that once claimed responsibility for killing scores of Americans.

if words and phrases were shards and fragments then surely historians will unearth such colourful artifacts as these and piece by piece together the mosaic of an American officer corps more hell-bent on self-delusional wordplay than The Art of War making.

i shudder to think of the few, the proud, the true academics and intellectuals who occupy not IRAQ but our War Colleges, and know : what this means...

...after all, it is not a difficult code to break; It would be comic, were it not so tragic, for their younger brothers and sisters -in- arms who must daily attempt to carry water in these broken vessels, entirely lacking that essential glue, truth ~ an honest verb that would bind together the simple syntax of Subject and Object: We occupy Them.

Call it what you will, call them what you want ~ it does not change who WE are, and what we are doing, Over There, to us and them.

Here's the thing:
Does your analysis assume that a producer costumed the veteran? This is a documentary, not a period piece.


Are you questioning HBO's choice to select this particular photo as one that should be circulated?

I adore the strange juxtaposition that the former Tony Soprano is the concerned citizen here. Career-wise it's a great move for him. And it's a great moment in time for him (and HBO) to show the public that while the Sopranos served as a cultural fulcrum for some time, in the Real World its the vets that matter.

From HBO's perspective they are catching a superstar at the conclusion of a huge run for him and it will draw viwership, so it's a real win-win.

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