Ed Driscoll


THIS MIGHT BE INTERESTING: Robert McNamara is the latest subject of a documentary by Errol Morris. Roger Ebert writes:

When Errol Morris first showed Robert McNamara the Interro-tron, the former defense secretary balked. “What’s THAT?” he asked the famed documentarian. Morris explained that his device linked two video cameras and two video screens so that he and his subjects can look each other in the eye while talking. In most video interviews, the subject is looking to the side of the camera. With the Interrotron, he is looking straight down the barrel–making eye contact with the viewer.

McNamara had agreed to a one-hour interview with Morris, whose subjects over the years have included the metaphysician Stephen Hawking, as well as lion tamers, pet cemetery operators, electric chair inventors, Death Row inmates, wild turkey hunters in Florida, a student of the naked mole rat and an autistic woman who designed most of the cattle chutes in America.

Morris knew within the first five minutes, he says, that he wanted to do a feature film about McNamara. Eventually McNamara grew to accept the Interro-tron, and in Morris’ startling and persuasive new film, “The Fog of War,” he looks us straight in the eye as he re-evaluates his role in the Vietnam War.

It is an extraordinary performance, from a man who at 85 still skis and climbs mountains, and takes no guff from Morris. He talks about his realization that the war was unwinnable, about a private memo to President Lyndon B. Johnson, about whether he resigned or LBJ fired him. “When I raised that question with Kay Graham, publisher of the Washington Post,” he recalls, “she told me, ‘Of course you were fired.’ ”

Morris is one of the most distinctive filmmakers in America, a man who combines documentary subjects with haunting, rhythmic graphics and, in his later films, otherworldly scores by Philip Glass. “A Fog of War” is a presentation of a man’s thoughts, memories and conscience, all woven together into a tapestry of realism and regret.

I don’t know how well an interviewer Morris is, but McNamara would certainly be a fascinating subject. He and Johnson cocked up the Vietnam war so badly, that they tarnished America’s military reputation for decades. It was only with Desert Storm that the American military’s reputation was restored, and only because the American military completely rethought and revised its tactics, not the least of which was insisting that commanders in the field not be second guessed by the White House during a battle, unlike McNamara and Johnson, who were naive enough to believe that as fluid as war as Vietnam could be controlled on a daily basis from 10,000 or so miles away in Washington DC.