This Marine’s New War Documentary Is So Real The Corps Doesn’t Want You To See It
A new documentary film, shot and edited by a Marine, is causing some trouble for the image of the Corps and the Navy. “Combat Obscura” isn’t your typical war documentary. The man who filmed the footage was an active duty Marine. After leaving the Corps, he edited the footage to reflect his experience in Afghanistan, and that isn’t sitting well with some of the brass.
The film is currently showing at some film festivals, but hasn’t been scheduled for a wider release. Here’s how the film’s promotional materials are describing the documentary:
“For years, Miles Lagoze served in Afghanistan as a Combat Camera, shooting footage and editing videos for Marine Corps recruiting purposes. In this devastating film, Lagoze assembles his own footage and that of his fellow combat cameramen into a never-before-seen look at the daily life of Marines from the ultimate insider’s point of view. More than a mere compilation of violence, the edit ingeniously repurposes the original footage to reveal the intensity and paradoxes of war in an age of ubiquitous cameras, when all soldiers can record themselves with helmet-cams and cellphones. Combat Obscura revels in the chasm separating civilian from military life and questions the psychological toll war exacts on all that it touches.”
In other words, this isn’t the sanitized news-reel footage the War Department disseminated in the 1940s. This is something different. And the footage was all shot when Lagoze was a Marine. That means it belongs to the Corps. Yet they’ve not had an editorial hand in the creation of the film, or what it shows. And what it shows is intense.
“In one moment,” Task & Purpose notes, “we see young grunts engaged in heavy combat, carrying wounded comrades to casevac choppers as rounds clap overhead. In the next, they smoke pot from an empty Pringles can that they’ve MacGyvered into a bong.”
“When I got back, I didn’t really know what to do with it,” Lagoze, told Task & Purpose. “I had this footage on my computer, sort of like a weird diary, with a lot of fucked up shit — dead civilians, wounded Marines — that never got released.”
When he returned to civilian life, Lagoze enrolled in Columbia University’s film school. He went back to the raw footage and began to see things differently. “He spent two years putting it all together, and the result is Combat Obscura,” T&P writes. “The hour-long documentary is raw, visceral and candid — offering a rare glimpse of what deployed life was actually like for the Marines and sailors of 1/6. It’s pieced together without a clear narrative arc or voice-over explanation that might tell viewers how to feel about what they’re seeing. It offers no judgments, raises many questions, and provides few outright answers.”
“Who are these kids, where do they come from, what is their moral compass at times?” Lagoze asks. “I mean, there’s some rough boys in the Marine Corps, so being able to give people this insider’s perspective is really important to moving forward in understanding this conflict, and what these young kids are out there doing, and what that experience is like.”
The footage is obviously confidential. Some feel like he shouldn’t have exposed some of what his film shows. The Navy, though, is taking it further. They’re conducting an investigation into the criminal activity shown in the film. The Corps, for its part, is looking into copyright violations, as they didn’t grant permission for their footage to be used.
All of this is to say that if you want to see it, now’s the time.
Lagoze wants you to know that his film isn’t about “painting these guys as heroes or victims” or “painting this war as an ultimately good thing in the long run.” He says it is about “showing an honest to God depiction that doesn’t cater to either side of the political spectrum, and humanizing these guys and showing, ultimately, the futility of this whole experience.”
Finding access to it, though, may be complicated. There are plenty of Lagoze’s other videos out there, the ones that show the message he was ordered to produce.