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Prolefeed Studios presents
War Is Sell (2004)

"All propaganda strives to be invisible."
- John Stauber

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: January 18, 2006

Stars: Sheldon Rampton, John Stauber, Mary Skinner, Nancy Snow, Rahul Mahajan, Neil Whitehead
Director: Brian Standing

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (brief archival footage of war-related executions)
Run Time: 56m:24s
Release Date: October 15, 2005
UPC: 689076884792
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A+B-B B+

DVD Review

There's a part of me that hopes most Americans analyze the way our news is disseminated and broadcast, and that they can see through the cracks to catch a glimpse of the frequent and blatant manipulation taking place. It's all propaganda, but that's what the enemy uses, right? Good guys call it "public diplomacy" or better yet, "public information." It's like a magic trick, full of forces and misdirection, telling us one thing but meaning another, all the while trying to push an agenda. And once you know the secret of the trick, the magic simply becomes a technique to achieve an end. A slick move or redirect that tries to pull the proverbial wool over the eyes of all those wide-eyed sheep.

With War Is Sell, filmmaker Brian Standing spends just under an hour letting assorted knowledgeable types in propaganda spell out how it happens and why, intercut with some examples from over the last 100 years in the US. It's not like the use of propaganda is something new, it's an age-old technique of spin control, but it's really been perfected in the last century, and used everyday. Standing tosses out a stat that 40% of what passes for news in this country is a combination of government and corporate PR disguised as legitimate news, which means of course that nearly half of what we hear is highly polished crap.

Standing's doc is split into three distinct, almost standalone sections: Tricks of the Trade, Teaching Propaganda and The Culture of War. Hearing the bullet points of how to build a propaganda campaign—dehumazine the enemy, third-party endorsement, branding, tell the big lie, etc.—is kind of creepy, and when seeing specific examples in action (weapons of mass destruction, anyone?) is, like I said, watching a trick you now know the secret of. Yep, it's clever alright, but it's deceitful as well. Fine for a trick. Not so fine when it comes to feeding the masses so-called news. Witness the example of the highly covered toppling of the Saddam statue in Iraq, and during War Is Sell's opening minutes we're shown what actually occurred versus what we were led to believe, and it's just plain manipulative. Again, fine for a magic trick. Not so good for the presentation of news.

There's an old joke that asks, How do you know a politician is lying? Because his lips are moving. I suppose that could apply to the news media, too, in a lot of cases, and the spewing of carefully crafted untruths and doubletalk that goes on everyday is just numbing. War Is Sell, in a straightforward and serious manner, tries to pull the curtain back a little so those who want to can see the inner workings of the big sausage machine. Standing doesn't go into full Michael Moore mode here, but there is a definite tilt to the message, and that tilt says: BEWARE.

And not to jump on a stump and start preaching, but War Is Sell is one of those small, under-the-radar docs that each and every person should see to grasp some of the sneaky tricks that are done in order to put forth an agenda. Then, if you want to poo-poo Standing as a liberal conspirator, that's your business.

I love a good magic trick. Just don't package my news and information that way.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Nothing remarkable about this 1.33:1 full-frame transfer, and for a documentary consisting predominantly of archival footage and talking head interviews the end result falls within acceptable limits. Colors are fairly muted, and image detail appears slightly soft, more noticeable in some of the interview segments.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 stereo track provides clear voice quality and a pleasing depth to the score. There isn't a lot of need here to get particularly showy, and the audio is simple and evenly mixed.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 23 cues and remote access
6 Deleted Scenes
2 Documentaries
6 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Nexpak
Picture Disc
2 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: This two-disc set carries the feature on Disc 1, along with a fascinating set of Archival Materials (aka propaganda) used by the US over the years; this is great stuff, eerie in its redundancy and maybe just a little scary. The shorts include WWI Posters (02m:15s), America Goes to War: US Signal Corps 1918 (16m:11s), WWII Posters (01m:25s), Divide and Conquer: US War Department 1943 (14m:30s), Despotism: Encyclopedia Britannica Films 1946 (09m:46s), Presentation to the U.N.: US State Department 2003 (:40s) and Miscellaneous Iraq War Propaganda (:20s).

Disc 2 houses another cut of the feature, entitled Alternate Remix Version (56m:09s). This version is assembled differently, with some of the segments reordered in sequence, and runs about 20 seconds shorter. A set of six deleted scenes, featuring an assortment of speeches or extended interviews by the likes of Rahul Mahajan, Amy Goodman and Robert Fisk, and it runs just over 35 minutes.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Unless you're a blindly robotic follower of whatever politicians and the news media spews out, then this doc about the power and usage of propaganda will leave you feeling dirty, used, and manipulated. And maybe just a little more cautious about willingly swallowing the next big lie.

Highly recommended.


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