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:: Soundtrack To War

Soundtrack to War is a very interesting documentary by Australian artist and filmmaker George Gittoes, who has been kicking around in war zones for decades at this point. It was shot in Iraq, and is largely concerned with the role music plays in the life of US troops based there.

Anyone who saw Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 would probably remember the clip, taken from Soundtrack to War, where the US soldier talks about how they like to play The Bloodhound Gang’s “the roof is on fire” to get themselves hyped up for combat. Given that Michael Moore’s film style is about as Fair and Balanced as Fox News, it was not a large surprise to find that the scene is properly viewed in the context of Gittoes’ film, and not as part of Moore’s blast of contradictory anti-Bush propaganda.

This is a fascinating film, it appears to have been made by Gittoes just meeting US troops and asking them about music and how it relates to their life serving in Iraq. The musical tastes and styles of the soldiers are as diverse as the US population from which they are drawn. We see the soldiers talking about their tastes in music are, how they hook cd players up to the vehicles intercom and play rock and roll, heavy metal or rap (depending on taste) to get worked up for combat. In at least some cases, the use of music to get in the mood for contact is officially sanctioned.

But there is more to this story than just soldiers listening to music to get their blood pumping before they start shooting people. The soldiers in Iraq are not just passive receivers, some of them are also creating music that reflects their experience of life there. From the tattooed soldier with his enthusiasm for ‘gore metal’, to patriotic country songs, to a wide variety of rap, to a gospel group singing on a rooftop as shots ring out in the distance, the soldiers use music as a way to cope and express their feelings about the situation in Iraq. Some are patriotic, and some seem far from it. Some are more talented musicians than others, and some have the skills to make a musical career. Regardless of their musical merits though, this is an interesting side of the situation in Iraq, and one that has not really been examined in this way before.

Through these interviews, the soldiers view on the war come out and they open up in a way they may not have done if asked for their opinions directly. At times it seems there is a bit of self-censorship going on, at other times the soldiers seem to be simply patriotic, at other times they seem baffled about why some Iraqis are fighting them when, as they see it, they are just there to help the Iraqi people. The many shots of destroyed buildings, exploded vehicles and ruined cities may go some way toward explaining the less than enthusiastic way some Iraqis have reacted to the presence of the US and other foreign-occupying forces. The mentions of US soldiers shooting anything that moves, particularly in the early days of the war, may have something to do with it as well.

The Iraqi people themselves are not well represented in this film, it almost exclusively deals with the US forces in Iraq. There are only a couple of segments dealing with Iraqi musicians, and the odd shot of traumatised civilians. It would have been good to see a bit more of the Iraqi reaction to these foreign troops who have invaded and occupied their country, and whose tanks, humvees and roadblocks are the most obvious signs of the fact Iraq is not a sovereign nation. They deposed Saddam’s brutal regime, but at a great cost to Iraq and its people. Gittoes has restricted himself to a certain subject matter, and for the most part he covers it well.

For what it is, a look at a tiny part of the situation in Iraq, this is a novel and interesting documentary, and is definitely worth a look.

DVD Extras

Director's Commentary
Plus over 98 minutes of more music and interviews including: “They Made It Out”
Featurette “Hagos/Hunter”
Interviews in Germany
Soldiers Spike and Corkins discuss Heavy Metal music in depth
“In Case You Were Wondering” Featurette
“The Pink Flamingo” - Uday's former private night club.