Artist: N/ATitle: Gunner Palace (DVD)Rating: 4 StarsReviewed by: William E. Ketchum
An anchor of both George Bush’s presidential tenure and liberals’ ammunition against it, the war in Iraq is covered on a daily basis in news publications, telecasts, and broadcasts. But aside from the sporadic minimal veteran showcases, there is no clear source for daily life in Iraq. Filmmakers Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein have filled the void with a documentary that chronicles 2/3 Field Artillery, a group of soldiers that set up shop in “Gunner Palace,” the former hot spot of Uday Hussein. Gunner Palace (Palm) hits a home run, capturing the documental qualities of a science report and the entertainment value of Fahrenheit 9/11.
The significance of this film is its combination of authenticity and entertainment value. Gunner Palace skillfully covers all of the prerequisite documentary bases such as video footage of Jeeps rolling down Iraq streets, planning meetings and soldier interviews, but it’s the daily routine of these infantrymen that makes the film engaging. Observances of SPC Stuart Wilf’s humorous antics, a young officer playfully “heeltoeing in Uday’s house,” and a group of soldiers throwing fits over a supposed rat sighting show these enlisters as more than men in uniforms. Occasional freestyle sessions provide endearing intermissions between scenes: while the lyrics coincide with the topic of war, each of the soldiers displays varying rhyming skills as normal people (aside from “Palace Poet” Richmond Shaw, who shows serious potential), not next generation MCs caught in the struggle. One memorable scene depicts soldiers raiding suspected bomb builders and ignoring a self-proclaimed journalist’s cries of innocence. Wilf, Shaw and their comrades aren’t just numbers on a stat sheet: they’re everyday people, doing an unorthodox job.
A welcome facet of the documentary is the noticeable lack of political overtones. Agreement with George Bush’s policies and discontent with the war altogether both show their faces here, but it seems like the filmmakers didn’t search for views from each side—it just turned out that way. Tucker and Epperlein cleverly scatter audio clips from news programs and Bush’s speeches without providing videos of the speakers, capturing both the American lifestyle that lingers in the back of soldiers’ heads and the distance between them and what they’ve known all their lives. Gunner Palace maintains the same focus that the soldiers seem to have: putting biases aside and directing their energies to completing the work at hand.
The statement from troop comedian Stuart Wilf at the end of the film best describes Gunner Palace. “If you see a politician, be sure to let them know while they’re sitting around their dinner tables talking about how hard the war is on them, we’re here under attack nearly 24 hours a day, dodging RPGs and fighting not for a better Iraq, but just to stay alive.” With the news of American deaths in Iraq grazing newspaper broadcasts on a regular basis, a great way of “Supporting Our Troops” may lie in watching this DVD.