Erase and Forget

 

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An unsatisfactory examination of the man who inspired the creation of John Rambo.

 

Erase and Forget

 

In his own country James 'Bo' Gritz, a man much decorated during a military career lasting some twenty-two years during which time he became an officer in the US Army Special Forces, is a famous name. He is noted not only for his military achievements but for being a decidedly controversial figure. I must confess that when I approached Andrea Luka Zimmerman's documentary about him I did so as one ready to learn about a man previously unknown to me. Viewing Erase and Forget soon made it apparent that this complex individual born in 1939 has all the qualifications needed to be the subject of a biographical film. But, sadly and unexpectedly, the ten years that Zimmerman has devoted to this project have yielded a movie totally lacking in focus.

 

When we first see Gritz, he comes across as an ardent militarist who had followed in his father's footsteps and     is shown inspiring youths drawn to his example as a former Green Beret who claims to have killed some 400 people. It is also apparent that Gritz relished being part of a guerrilla force allowed to indulge in 'unconventional warfare', a term which he was free to define however he wished. But, after retiring in 1979, he undertook visits to South East Asia leading to claims that prisoners of the Vietnam war were still alive there and to assertions that American authorities were involved in drug trafficking. Thereafter he became a right-winger opposed to the government but keen to instruct citizens on how to protect themselves with advice extending to the preparation and use of explosives.

 

Given this history one quite understands why he is regarded as controversial, quite apart from certain questions having arisen over the validity of some of the military decorations bestowed on him. If ever a figure needed to be studied in the round, it is surely Gritz. Yet Zimmerman's film has no commentary and simply allows Gritz to tell his own story on his own terms. Only once is the Gritz version challenged and that is when we are shown photographic evidence contradicting his assertions that an accusation of his having given a Nazi salute was unjustified.

 

Furthermore, the history that emerges here is not at all easy to disentangle. Ted Kotcheff, director of the initial Rambo film, First Blood, is present to acknowledge that Gritz was the model for John Rambo as first conceived but points out that the subsequent Rambo films altered the character substantially. Nevertheless, clips from these later films are inserted here taking up time. That time would have been better spent on such matters as Gritz's involvement with the Populist Party when he hoped to become the next President of the United States (that was in 1992 but for that information you need to turn to Wikipedia). Relatively little emerges about the man's four wives or about his film appearances as an actor (we merely glimpse a film from 1990 entitled Rescue Force in which Gritz had a role).

 

There is a striking moment close to the end of Erase and Forget when we see a discarded ending to First Blood which seems to predict Gritz's own later suicide bid, but the film offers no clear time scale which adds immeasurably to the confusion (again it is on Google that one learns that Gritz attempted to take his own life as long ago as 1998 life although this incident is mentioned undated in the last few minutes of Zimmerman's film). Erase and Forget may send us in quest of information about Gritz, but its own contribution to our understanding of an alarming and extraordinary man is tantalisingly incomplete.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Bo Gritz, Ted Kotcheff, Tudor Gates, Gazik, Jo McNeal, Jack Mercer.

 

Dir Andrea Luka Zimmerman, Pro Andrea Luka Zimmerman and Ameenah Ayub Allen, Screenplay Taina Galis and Andrea Luka Zimmerman, with the collaboration of others, Ph Andrea Luka Zimmerman, Taina Galis and Adam Philp, Ed Taina Galis, Music Adam Paroussos.

 

Fugitive Images/Bright Wire Films-Erase and Forget Films Limited.
88 mins. UK/Denmark. 2017. Rel: 2 March 2018. Cert. 18.