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DVD Review: Generation Kill

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The First Bit About The Thing That It Is

“What’s that?” says St. Talbot come a-staggerin’ into the room, gesturing to the telly screen in passing. “What’s that shite that’s on that you’re lookin’ at? Some shite, I dare say, is it?”

“No,” says I.

“Well what, then?”

Generation Kill, it’s called.”

“Pfft. Generation Kill. Generation… Generation Balls. Generation Balls would be more like the thing that it is, likely.”

“It’s not balls” I say, scribbling then in the margins of the A5 notepad – “A thing to do would be to start the review with when St Talbot came in for a can out the fridge and said about what was it I was watching and was it shite, probably, was it? Also – dialogue – one marine to the rest – ‘Shit, back home in the news I bet they’re talkin’ about what heroes we all are right now. Reality is, we’re the kids other parents told their kids not to hang out with in High School.’”

“Well it looks it” he says, a can of Harp Lager clutched in punctured paw. “Looks balls. Looks balls to me from here. Load o’ hoors stood actin’ out things in a TV. Load o’ balls.”

“It’s not balls.”

It’s not balls.

Of the many things a man might have justification for sticking on the end of a sentence beginning “What Generation Kill is, is…”, of all those things – disorientating; occasionally confusing; an HBO miniseries similar in tone to Sam Mendes’ Jarhead; based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Evan Wright; full of ridiculously quotable, rapid-fire “fuck” and “cunt” soaked banter; seven and a half hours long; out on Region 2 DVD as of Monday 7th March 2009 (with extras including a bunch of excellent cast & crew commentaries and a couple fairly compelling Making Of’s) – not a one is there to be found that resides anywhere near the township of Balls.

Himself there rolling the eyes, swiping the grog-spill from the chops with the heel of a palm. “Oh it sounds like the great thing, right enough, I must say.”

“It is. It is the great thing.”

“Oh I dare say it is, yes, surely.”

Set in and around the first belches of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Generation Kill follows a group of 1st Recon Battalion marines (and embedded Rolling Stone journalist Evan “Scribe” Wright) as they embark upon a series of missions by turns pointless, dangerous, botched, farcical and mundane. Along the way they shit in buckets, wank into holes in the ground, battle sometimes with “Bad Guys”, sometimes with their consciences, sometimes with each other, mostly with a serious lack of any decent equipment, sleep or food.

It’s a sprawling, demanding, uncompromising piece of work that does not give the Fu of the first flying Fuck about how soon you’d like to know who the hell anyone is or what the hell they might be up to – the central characters (all nine million and sixty-six thousand of them) flit about the screen for days, weeks, before you catch any of their names or learn what their relationship might be with anyone else. All you know up till then is that they’re a bunch of funny bastards, that they like to insinuate that one or the other of their number might be gay, that they’re very concerned about this rumour that J-Lo has died…

Now and then they shoot something or someone or blow something or someone up – great tarantula plumes of red and black and grey erupting about the skyline; buildings toppling; far-away faces exploding – all the while with cameras aloft, all the while scrabbling for the most sensational, CNN-baiting footage.

Making a note of this, and St. Talbot eyeing the screen, scratching at the barbed-wire gash on his chest, saying “It looks like that thing.”

“What thing?”

“That thing. What’s this that you call it…”

“I don’t know.”

“You know rightly. Of course you know, everyone knows. The thing that’s on there sometimes. Ach for fucks sakes what is it is the name of the hoor…”

“I don’t know.”

“You do know.”

“I don’t! I don’t know, damn you, what the thing is that this looks like! I don’t!”

The Bit About The Thing That It Isn’t

For the weight of the Sin, Sir. Jesus, but the weight of the Sin.

That weight so immense, so insufferable, that the curve of my spine swore my spine to flee in protest, that the hole of my arse swore no arse a more to pot, that the tongue in my head decreed no further utt’rance carry till such times as I was rid of it, y’unnerstann, rid of the weight of that Sin lain upon me.

So it is that hunched and hacking and wheezing I fell afore a man of the cloth, and did spill the measure of my Sin o’er the wink of his winklepickers – the all of it, sixty-hundred sins-worth in width and breadth the bastard sprawled – and did say “Father! Father for the love o’ Lucy’s Chuff will you absolve me here now of this Sin, for I cannot eat, Father, and I cannot sleep, and it’d be the rare sight indeed would be the sight of me raising this head here of mine the first inch past my bollocks, and -”

“The bell of the blessed Jerome!” says he, grabbing me by the wrist, bidding me stand upright. “What is it, damn it? Jesus have you cut a man’s face off have you? Have you cut a man’s face off and nailed it to a plough, and ploughed the each of the fields in the land with the poor bastard’s face, have you done?”

“No” I says, “No – God Father what I would give for a sin the class of that to be upon me – twenty dozen sins of such stock would I take over this one Sin now of mine.”

“Well what is it? What is this lamentable Sin that has you twisted and bent there like a dirty tramp?”

“Father…” says I. “Father… I have never seen The Wire.”

He took a step back, eyes wide. “You…”

“I have never seen The Wire.”

“But…”

“I just never got round to it, Father. I just…”

The wind from western ways a-willowin’. The dusk by inches nearing.

“Sufferin’ Noah” he says, fingers kneading the brow. “Sufferin’ Noah bifkin barin' ‘fore them wains. You have never seen The Wire…”

“Never.”

“Well Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ and all of the teeth of Teresa. You have never seen The Wire. You dirty fuckin’ tramp.”

For few are they, indeed – the sins that we cannot make some sort of concession for in this Here and this Now, with all of us as lost and afeared as we are, and as crunched rotten with the credit, and as skint and as jobless and dope-sick and demented.

Few are the sins that we cannot forgive or at least in some way understand.

But that a man or a woman might not have seen The Wire just yet…?

How? How, for the love of the G we’ve long since robbed from the god hung there above the mantle, how can a man have lived one or two days in the years spanning 2000 and something to 2000 and something else and not have seen The Wire? How can a man have heard tell of this astonishing piece of work, this thing that wants to tell seven thousand stories all at once and all of them stories the finest stories anyone’s ever been told since Ovid was runnin’ rings around the olden times gabblin’ on about trees and numbers and horses, how can he have heard tell of this, and have watched on Youtube the bits with Steve Earle in, and not have been struck immediately with the compulsion to see more, to see all, to know, to gorge, to gorge on the hoor and be flush with the thirst then to fart, to fart all of the day and the night the fumes of that feast that is feast without equal, to fart and to be drunk on the thought of them farts, farts of the most complexical and awe-inspiring character, farts so astonishing that the mere rumour of their possibility would be enough to bring Gargantua crashing like a clap of wet shite to the kerbside, wailing with the bitterest envies, tearing the very eye out his great and mighty willy-spongle, cursing his own colossal arse for all of the useless, pathetic hoorbags ever was?

How?

How can a man in 2000 and whatever this is not have seen that thing that is The Wire, that thing that is not Generation Kill but that was created and written for the screen by the self-same shower of marvellous bastards? How?

How, but, boys?

The Second Bit About The Thing That It Is

Tippin’ tappin’ at the keys…

…Difficult to make friends with it may well be, but Generation Kill rewards our perseverance, for the things it says to us, when it finally gets around to saying anything we can begin to make any sense of, are things of the most compelling, thought-provoking class, the most compelling and thought-provoking of all being those things it has to say about Evan “Scribe” Wright, about War Correspondence, about contemporary media / military relations, about…

“Oh God save us all” says St. Talbot, “from arse-warts blatherin’ on about contemporary bastardin’ media / military relations. Holy Jesus Christ Almighty.”

… Specifically, it wants to ask just how sturdy that ol’ “/” right there might be, at all, post-Web 2.0, post-cameraphones and similar dirt-cheap, easy-carried video recording technologies, post-Youtube, post-24 Hour Rolling News on a thousand different stations…

(Scrawl in the notebook reads – Reporter / Soldier. Perpetually the one collapses into the other. Perpetually the face of the former bleeds from the pores of the latter, and vice versa. Parallels with the old undercover cop / criminal conundrum…)

… The reporter and the soldier have become nigh-on impossible to tell apart – perpetually the one collapses into the other. As a consequence, the War Zone takes on the contours of a television studio. So, as in Brain de Palma’s Redacted, as in Deborah Scranton’s troops-with-cameras documentary feature The War Tapes (as, indeed, in George A. Romero’s fucking hideous Iraq allegory Diary Of The Dead), the marines in Generation Kill resemble less the protagonists of, say, Band Of Brothers or Platoon, or even the more contemporary likes of David O. Russell’s Three Kings (although they do, to greater or lesser extent, share the alternating nihilism, cynicism, apathy and greed of that film’s central characters) or Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down, than they do the increasingly clued-in contestants on Big Brother.

They’re In On It. They know How The Game Works, they know what part they’re there to play, they know what rules they’re expected to follow and what ones they can choose, if they wish, to ignore. They’re going through the motions – nonchalant, flippant and callous, shaken only momentarily by intermittent, unexpected twists in the narrative: a sudden eruption of guilt, an “unscripted” confrontation with their own actions – until such times as they’ve fulfilled the contract and are free to return to that other reality, their stories collated and ready to sell to whoever will have them, stories told in the dithering, pixellated tongues of their handheld cameras…

So aye, saying – if the soldiers are as happy to be journalists as the journalists are to be soldiers, then what need is there of the Evan Wright’s of this world? This is the question Generation Kill subtly poses, and answers, of course, by existing.

“Look, fuck that” says St Talbot reading over my shoulder. “Is the Goddamn thing any good or is it not is all that I want to bloody know!”

“It is” I tell him, jabbing at the Save As…, thinking of that grim, handheld Greengrass-aping aesthetic, itself engaged in some sort of dialogue with those cameraphones thrust all roads and directions. Thinking of how astounding those performances were. Thinking of how funny it was, but how wrenching and harrowing also (it’s all in the dead-eyes – that inexplicably eerie sequence involving the shell-shocked soldier wandering aimless about the roadside; that shot of the father carrying his daughter’s bloodied, broken body; the close, those faces turning away from the images on the laptop screen – the power of those moments, of all of them, from the dead-eyes derived every time).

“It is any good. Bloody brilliant is what the damn thing is, matter of fact, if you must know what it is, is bloody brilliant.”

Thanks, folks.

View the Generation Kill trailer.

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About Aaron McMullan

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    ah, a duke by any other name…

    what I found intriguing about the show is how during the fog of war everyone seems to being engaged in a war of their own. sure, there are frequent intersections, but never for too long. the actor who played Capt. America seemed to revel in his character’s unadulterated jackassery.

    now, go rent The Wire

  • http://londoninbrokenc.blogspot.com Aaron McMullan

    Sir Bicho, i have promised to myself if no-one else that i will finally get to The Wire sometime in the next couple months. Also, I’m intrigued no end by – The Corner, is it called? The pre-Wire drug dealer number? But one thing at a time, and any Thing involving Steve Earle is always going to be the priority.

    The private wars – yes, that struck me also, and what it arrived on the back of – the sense of each individual being absoloutely, totally removed from the ernormity of what they were doing – that was often fairly terrifying.

    Few more chilling scenes have I spied in these past whiles, for example, than that in which the Whopper Jr. business was explained.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    The Corner is very good as well, and less of a time commitment. A year on the streets of Baltimore that will no doubt take the wind out of your sails from a devastating gob-smack as the last episode hits the final sequence before the credits.

    re: the removed from the enormity bit. I think what that comes from is how can any training prepare them for what they find. They have to step back to protect themselves rather than risking becoming part of the chaos that surrounds them.

    A scene that sticks with me is when they are in Baghdad and the solider tries to fire a warning shot at the oncoming car. brutal.

  • http://dracutweblog.blogspot.com Mary K. Williams

    Well Duke – your Priest would be all over my — if he knew that I too, have never seen The Wire. Nor Generation Kill for that matter.

    Although your views on the latter are as entertaining as always – hilarious even – I have no inclination to see either project.

    Now, El B – don’t yell at me! : )

  • http://londoninbrokenc.blogspot.com Aaron McMullan

    Sir Bicho – that sequence stuck with me also, although the one that has blazed the fiercest is the encounter with that shell-shocked soldier wandering half-mad about the roadside. An instance of What The Hell Are We Doing puncturing the fugg amidst the fog, to fairly devestatin effect.

    Sir Mary – maybe we could set up a support group of some kind for such lamentable cases as we. On the Facebook – Dammit I Have Never Seen The Wire Just Yet! Who would be brave enough to join us? A rare one indeed.

  • http://www.genericmugwump.com Aaron Fleming

    Excellent, and welcome Aaron McMullan to the world of blogcritics. A young chap such as yourself, with energy such as your own, and a pen razor-sharp and inked with mighty imaginative insight, will fit in quickly and without obstacles to the ways of BC. Always good to discover fellow northern irish writerly folks, especially ones living out their lives in London, contributing to this dear site. We must get together some time to discuss our common neglect of the Wire. Are you familiar with the Salisbury on Green Lanes, perchance?

  • http://londoninbrokenc.blogspot.com Aaron McMullan

    Heh, well thank you Sir Fleming, and do you know this, i HAVE encountered that tavern – many’s the squad o’ holligans – googleigans – i have encountered therein. i dare say we could show them a thing or two about what Sister Act was called in Mexico, them crowd.

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