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Viewing activities 1


Both The Fog of War and Capturing the Friedmans, like all but the most impressionistic/experimental documentaries, are concerned with telling stories. They are narratives and alongside the imperative to explain must also seek to intrigue and entertain an audience.

Print out the table (pdf) that sets out the opening minute and a half of The Fog of War. Your task is to consider the expectations it raises and questions it sets up. The task is in two parts. This section should be attempted before you have seen the documentary.Use the right-hand column to record any feelings or questions the individual sequences in this short opening raise in you. Also try to evaluate, on slender evidence admittedly, the impression that you get of McNamara.

Robert Strange McNamara talks

Robert S. McNamaraPhoto © Sony Pictures Classics

1.  What factors contribute most, at this point to your wanting to know more, to your excitement or puzzlement?

2.  What does seeming to see behind the scenes on McNamara, engaged in the preparations before public statements, suggest about the intentions of this documentary lifting the lid on past events?


After viewing the film answer the following questions. You can also refer to the table (pdf) from the pre-viewing exercise.

1. The opening seems to suggest that the Gulf of Tonkin incident needs special attention and will have particular importance in this film. On the basis of what you later learn do you agree that it deserves or receives this particular attention?

2. What do you make of the idea of presenting McNamara in a seemingly unguarded moment with the press? He appears to be eager to please them - bending over backwards to ensure they are fully informed in the way a lecturer would hope to make his subject clear to students. (McNamara was a university professor before commerce and then politics called on his services.)

3. During Lesson #10 McNamara makes the following statement: "Never, never, never say never! Never answer the question that has been asked of you. Answer the question that you wished had been asked of you." How does this alter your view, possibly, of him in the opening moments of The Fog of War?Robert Strange McNamara talks

4. What relationship do you feel the film is trying to suggest between McNamara and the feverish activity associated with a build up to armed conflict? How could the juxtaposition of a press conference and these scenes suggest both McNamara’s power and also his responsibility?