Reviews of Frontline (1983) and related work

Frontline (1983Moving picture)

Review refers to scattered episodes.

PBS documentary series.

moving picture non-fiction series

“The Merchants of Cool” (2001Moving picture, 55 minutes)

References here: Freddy Got Fingered (2001).

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“Growing Up Online” (2008Moving picture, 57 minutes)

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“Top Secret America: 9/11 to the Boston Bombings” (2013Moving picture, 60 minutes)

Seen in 2017.

Black-budget US institutional responses and growth following 9/11, creating a “terrorism industrial complex”.

Based on the series of investigative articles in The Washington Post in July 2010, by Dana Priest and William Arkin. It’s got the generic ominous background “music”, but its a pretty good introduction to the theme, if not actually a factual overview of the various companies and other organizations. The level of opacity is suggestive for a contemporary Delta Green.

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United States of Secrets (2014Moving picture, 114 minutes)

Seen in 2016.

The reaction to 9/11 in US SIGINT circles, projects THINTHREAD, PRISM etc., the consequences for phone and IT companies, instances of questioning the legality of these programs, and finally Snowden’s whistleblowing.

Overly dramatic and somewhat poorly filmed, including the dreaded “data beep” sound effect to superimposed captions, meaningless footage of some helpful technician running traceroute etc. There is little attempt to explain the technical nuances, but the human aspects of the story are well told.

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“Gunned Down: The Power of the NRA” (2015Moving picture, 54 minutes)

Seen in 2015.

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Divided States of America – Part 1 (2017Moving picture, 113 minutes)

Seen in 2017.

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Divided States of America – Part 2 (2017Moving picture, 113 minutes)

Seen in 2017.

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Bitter Rivals: Iran and Saudi Arabia (2018Moving picture, 3.0 hours)

Seen in 2018.

This seems to have been two hour-long episodes of Frontline (the second having IMDb ID 8070416), whereas I saw three hour-long episodes on SVT. Where SVT got the extra hour I don’t know.

The shared recent history of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other countries pulled into their religious conflict: Iraq, Syria, and, in 2018, Yemen.

This paints the broad picture well, but prefer Bitter Lake (2015) for background.

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“United States of Conspiracy” (2020Moving picture, 53 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Seen with Swedish-language narration on SVT.

Alex Jones’s career as a symptom of conspiratorial authoritarianism rising from the 1990s.

The most interesting interviews are with Jones’s former co-workers and Jon Ronson, the documentary filmmaker who profiled Jones in The Secret Rulers of the World (2001); he says Jones’s narcissistic personality disorder might have something to do with his behaviour.

Despite a lack of hard facts about Jones’s economy and legal battles, the program is a good overview, enough to support Charles Stross’s 2020-09-21 argument that “conspiracy theory as a world-view in fiction” was made unfunny and therefore unwritable by the popularization of grand conspiracies on Facebook, a factor mentioned only briefly in this documentary. There are a few brief cuts where Jones sounds funny in the grip of his greed and mental illness, but the tragedy of it all is a lot more powerful.

References here: Faktafel på SVT Play.

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America After 9/11 (2021Moving picture, 116 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Basic causal relationships in US politics through 20 years, as a result of the attacks of September 11, 2001.

The emphasis is on Dick Cheney’s policy of ceding the moral high ground at Guantánamo.

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