The other night EF took me to see McCullin (trailer), the documentary about Donald McCullin, renowned war photographer. As far as second year anniversary presents it was an odd choice, but as a documentary film, and as a present for me it was spot on. McCullin is an exploration of Don's career as a war photographer, mixing period video footage of the various conflicts with brutally honest interview segments and, as would be expected, his photographs.
As this Guardian review states, these are the stars of the show, somehow reinforced and strengthened by MCullin's reflections on the whys and wherefores of the moments involved. As a record of the brutality and insanity of war, and the sheer inhumanity that we allow and foster in the name of politics and religion, it is uncompromising and yet sensitive. Yet, mixed in amongst these are photographs of London and Britain, many of these tinged with humour, astute observation and honesty, serving a strange and yet powerful counterpoint to the imagery he is known for.
McCullin often describes what he has seen as madness and insanity, and it is a wonder that he has not been more emotionally damaged by the constant display of death and savagery that he has witnessed. He muses on his reasons for being there, on his addiction to war and the devastation that humanity can wreak on its own kind. He is thoughtful, honest and often conflicted by what he has to do. In the end he dwells primarily on the cost and impact of war, which is not just on the soldiers living and fighting it, but on the poor who cannot escape it, and who bear the brunt of it.
It is these photographs, these recollections that hit hardest and most poignantly, and disabuse us of the notion of the glory of war.
As a documentary of a man who takes photographs of conflict this was an excellent film, engrossing, horrifying, touching, and ultimately saddening. As an exploration of the impact of war it is superb, showing us a viewpoint that is now denied to us, opening us up to a wider understanding of the depths humanity can sink to.
McCullin is on at the Watershed this week - more than highly recommended.