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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, May 2003

By Tom White

Dear Readers:

Music fuels a documentary—it punctuates and primes the story, it underscores the emotional current, it dramatizes, it manipulates time. In this issue, we look at two of the most vital elements when it comes to music for documentaries: choosing and working with a composer, from veteran documentary composer Miriam Cutler; and clearances and rights, in a primer offered by David Powell, whose company, The Music Bridge, is all about that very subject. We also look at three music documentaries—DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus'  Only the Strong Survive and Paul Justman and Allan Slutsky's Standing in the Shadows of Motown, as reported by Elizabeth Blozan, and Mel Stuart's Wattstax, as reported by Tomm Carroll. Finally, there's also the music compilation documentary. Producer Malcom Leo talks to Nat Segaloff about his many decades making this particular brand of music documentary.

Now, to segue from music to war might be wildly improbable, but given the fact that Clear Channel—whose carnivorous appetite for radio stations across the country has served to homogenize the airwaves-has all but banned anti-war songs from its playlists, maybe its not such a stretch after all. This war has its theme music, along with such catchy phrases as "shock and awe"...and "embedded journalists."

Now, the worlds of Gulf War I and Gulf War II are vastly different. The Internet and satellite telecommunications were hardly ubiquitous media in 1991. But in today's post-Telecommunications Act of 1996 world, the independent, non-embedded reporters are hardly ubiquitous, either. Instead, former US generals are coming out of retirement—not to rally the troops, but to jockey for lucrative commentator positions in the press. And most of the media are marching in lock-step, in a sort of media-military-industrial complex, with the Bush administration.

One exception to that rule is CameraPlanet President Steve Rosenbaum, who has several non-embedded journalists covering the war. Indeed, he originally hired celebrated GWI reporter Peter Arnett, who was subsequently hired by NBC, and later fired for, well, offering analysis—albeit on Iraqi TV. Rosenbaum devotes his "Reality Check" column to intrepid filmmaker-cum-journalist Jon Alpert, who last year traveled to Baghdad to film a satellite hook-up dialogue between six Iraqi college students and their six American counterparts. A noble endeavor—and a frustrating one: He spent nearly a year shopping his Bridges to Baghdad around; he finally found a venue in WordLink TV.

Embeddedness might have its advantages—i.e. relative safety, access to the front lines—but a non-embedded perspective ought not be stigmatized as less broadcast-worthy, nor its reporter less worthy of protection. Over a century ago, media tycoon William Randolph Hearst famously quipped about the Spanish-American War, "You furnish the pictures, I'll furnish the war." At least Hearst conceded the pictures.


Yours in actuality...and peace,

Thomas White