When he made Dr. Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick found that actual quotes from military personnel were much funnier and more absurd than anything he could have possibly made up himself; so he often stuck the verbatim dialogue in the mouths of his characters. It’s either comforting or disturbing that things haven’t changed much in almost twenty years; according to a very funny (and sometimes harrowing, and touching) new documentary called Soldier Girls, the Army is still the place to be for such incredible doubletalk as a sergeant’s argument with a young woman who shows reluctance on the firing range: “This gun isn’t going to hurt you! This gun never hurt anybody!”
The movie – directed by Nicholas Broomfield and Joan Churchill – follows a handful of girls going through basic training and watches their responses to the weird other world of Army life (the issue of whether or not their responses are altered by the presence of a camera is very valid – though mostly people behave, sometimes, amazingly, as though they were quite unobserved). It is, among other things, an irresistibly quotable film; one of the most bizarre scenes involves a lecture on the proper reaction to a nuclear attack: When you see the bright light of a nuclear explosion, immediately turn away. Sound advice, I’d say, but don’t turn away from Soldier Girls, which is opening soon at the Harvard Exit. Just remember, you can use your canteen to wash off the radioactive dust.
First published in The Informer, March 1983
This was in the early phases of the careers of Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill, married but now divorced. He has since been a sometimes controversial figure, a sort of documentary Oliver Stone, and puts himself in his movies, which include Kurt & Courtney and Spalding Gray’s Monster in a Box. The serial killer Aileen Wuornos looms in their history, too.