Lies about Truth, Truth about Lies
In such a media saturated RGB (the red, green, blue dots that make up the colours of display screens) modern world, with perpetual pixels of information being light splayed directly into our retina, making foie gras of our brains, it’s understandable that alot of folk effectively chose others to think or garner opinions for them. Relying on TV pundits to sift through the digital silt, or the black boulders of type on newspaper pages, resulting in a malnourished diet of candied cognitive chaff.
We’ve been incessantly told that times are too difficult, stressful, busy for us to be paying attention to the details, we just need to sit back and relax in front of our glowing god in the corner of the room, listen to the words of wisdom from a 42inch LED/Plasma bush.
Increasingly, and thankfully, we have very talented folk out there who are fully invested in breaking the zeitgeist mold of a 2 min sound bite ‘explanation’ of the stories of our times. One such individual who has a sterling record of objective reportage is director Alex Gibney, who has previously dealt with amongst others, paedophilia in the Catholic Church (Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, 2012) or US state sanctioned torture (Taxi to the Dark Side, 2007), so not a man to shirk away from the cold brutal truth.
However, there in lies an inherent problem with his most recent investigation ‘We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks’ 2013. Considering the volume of information that has been produced by pretty much anyone involved with the organisation/collective that is Wikileaks over the years, and it’s subsequent detractors (which indeed sometimes are ex members of the group), it’s difficult to believe it is possible to give a ‘fair’ portrayal of what they represent, or what they are trying to do, it’s far too early. Indeed, even the very title ‘We Steal Secrets’ itself is not actually spoken in reference to Wikileaks in the documentary, but is a reference to what the US Secret Services do on a daily basis. All quite apt with the recent revelations by Edward Snowden on NSA global spying. But it is a very confusing choice of a title, as Wikileaks doesn’t actually steal secrets.
The release (and continuing delivery) of these very NSA documents also has a somewhat aging effect on the Gibney doc, though it is a current and evolving story with Bradley Manning (who is somewhat the main focus of the doc) currently part of a ‘trial’ (in name only) for leaking classified government files, the film still seems immediately dated.
Another unfortunate element to the film is the absence of Julian Assange, as he’s shown only in archive footage. Reasons are discussed for his lack of participation, but by the time this tale comes about, with the best will in the world, the documentary does come across as a smear campaign against him. The moment that tipped it for me was the wholely unnecessary footage where Julian is dancing in a club, and a Lady Gaga track is superimposed. After that, I began to rethink everything I had watched.
That is a pity also, there are some truly stunning moments and a great deal of information I didn’t know about. Seeing the ‘Collateral Murder’ (that Manning leaked) on a big screen is (rightly) deeply upsetting, and subsequent footage of soldiers facilities on the Iraq army base is utterly ridiculous, it’s effectively a holiday camp, where they are entertained by cheer leaders who have been flown in. And there are plenty of very interesting people/journalists involved to keep the mind spinning as the story evolves. Though again, the almost Nike ad flashy graphics used throughout are a bit too much considering the severity of the subject matter, and the empathetic/sinister soundtrack when either Manning/Assange is on screen is almost comical.
Ultimately, the film is about a great deal of very emotionally flawed/damaged individuals, and the effect this has had on their lives. It is presented as reasoning for their behaviour as in the case of Manning, in the very dubious belief that his repressed sexuality directly contributed to him releasing the Secret files. That is quite a base disingenuous belief to encourage. There are numerous other flawed individuals as in Adrian Lamo, who was responsible for turning Manning in to the authorities. Watching him is like watching a mental break down before our eyes. You have to wonder the justification for the amount he is present.
Suffice to say, ‘We Steal Secrets’ ultimately becomes just as flawed and damaged as the individuals it is portraying. There are some great moments in it, and it should be seen, but it’s too early for this story to be told, and it just leaves you feeling that you’ve been chasing an ambulance.
We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks is out now, and released by Universal Pictures (UK) Limited.