For his debut film, co-director Michael Tucker was faced with the potentially grave task of filming American soldiers in Iraq. His doc, Gunner Palace, is named after Uday Hussein’s shelled-out château that becomes a U.S. Army home base. Not only does Tucker capture hardened grunts rapping about the horrors they’ve seen while hanging out by Hussein’s pool, he also trails the poorly equipped GIs as they raid the homes of suspected insurgents who may well face incarceration at Abu Ghraib. We spoke with Tucker to see how he survived life during wartime.
What’s the biggest misconception about the war in Iraq?
People project other wars on this one. It’s not Vietnam. It’s not Saving Private Ryan. It’s a surreal mix of mind-numbing boredom and total terror.
“THERE ARE ENDLESS ODES TO PARIS HILTON. IF YOU ASKED WHO THEY’D WANT ON THEIR SQUAD, THEY’D CHOOSE HER.” —MICHAEL TUCKER
What footage did you omit?
There was a lot of Jackass-like humor going on. The soldiers had an electronic muscle stimulator, and they’d challenge each other to put it on “10,” to the point of muscle fatigue. And mortars were falling a few hundred meters away.
Did they ever seem scared?
Most of them are eighteen- and nineteen-year-olds who can’t deal with the psychological stress of being there so long and surviving against all odds. Many have been hit by anywhere between eight and a dozen improvised explosive devices.
Do the soldiers have a pinup girl?
There were endless odes to Paris Hilton. If you asked who they’d want on their squad, they’d choose her. And SpongeBob is a hero.