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Severe Clear – Must See

May 13, 2010
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Severe Clear is a movie made up almost entirely of raw footage that a Marine artillery officer (CAPT Mike Scotti) shot as his unit invaded Iraq. It follows his journey from home, on an aircraft carrier to Kuwait, and then pushing North all the way to Baghdad. The movie concludes with a few of his thoughts once back home.

Severe Clear the movie

To be perfectly honest, walking into it I didn’t think Severe Clear was going to be a good movie by filmmaking standards. I sat down in the theater expecting to be underwhelmed by amateur camera work, and pained by the lack of narrative. I was there primarily because I wanted to get my mind blown, I wanted to see how I’d react to mostly uncensored images of war.

It did completely blow my mind. Better yet, I found I had completely underestimated the talents of Kristian Fraga, director (I owe him a beer!). The filmmakers, who I now respect as more than recorders and documentarians (is that a word?), did a fantastic job of supplying an arc. This storyline, aided by sound bytes (which almost comically juxtapose what we civilians understood of the invasion with what Marines like Scotti saw), journal entries, and Scotti’s own comments help give the viewer a coherent basis to watch the striking images Scotti has captured.

I found this narrative as a great eye-opener technically, because it draws attention to the fact that men and women in the war don’t have the luxury of a neat timeline. Everything is chaos, which the viewer finds in the images that accompany Colin Powell’s UN speech, Bush’s announcement of the struggles ahead, and news reports we all heard back home. Severe Clear doesn’t rely on cheaply shocking content alone, but uses clever and somewhat experimental filmmaking tactics to draw us in that Fraga and the rest of Sirk Productions deserve fair credit for.

The raw footage itself is very cinematic at some points, and brutally honest at others. For me, the most defining scenes were not the ones with dead bodies, or big explosions – although those were incredibly useful as measures of my own personal character and moral spectrum. Rather, I found the most exciting and frightening scenes were the ones with no discernable images. Some firefights were conveyed by nothing but the sound of gunfire and Marines yelling with dizzying camera work. One skirmish at night leaves the viewer confused and feeling isolated with nothing visible except the seemingly spinning flashes of weapons fire.

Severe Clear also acts as an interesting time capsule, containing the uncensored thoughts of one Marine. The commentary Scotti makes throughout the movie provides invaluable insight into one moment of consciousness. Without giving anything away, I’ll cut off my point by saying that the change in Scotti’s tone over the course of the story make for an intriguing study of the Marine, the military, and the nation.

There’s no way to truly capture the feelings and experiences of war, and I don’t claim to know exactly how well Severe Clear captures it, but I’d like to think that it’s very close.

For me, Severe Clear just brought up more questions about the war itself, and how men and women on the frontlines manage to do a job well done and psychologically handle what exactly that means. However, the film also prompted me to ask a few questions of myself.

I was strangely comfortable with the images (bodies ripped to pieces, clothes literally blown off corpses, sprayed brain matter, etc) I saw on the screen, and found myself just as detached from the death caused by artillery as the featured Marines were (perhaps Call of Duty is to blame). It was the rage that affected me. The anger Scotti expressed once back home, the anger I’ve felt since I protested against the invasion in early 2003.

It was that raw emotion, not the raw violence or danger that (I’ll admit) made my eyes water a little. This exploration of self, I think, is where Severe Clear’s greatest value lies.

Severe Clear blog

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