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American Women's Club of Hamburg

The Unknown Known

USA 2013
Starts July 3, 2014

Directed by: Errol Morris    
Writing credits: Errol Morris
Cast: Documentary: Donald Rumsfeld, Errol Morris - Interviewer (voice)
Length: 102 minutes

The Unknown Known Whether your topic of choice is history, politics, psychology, humanitarian or curiosity, this film will leave you satiated. Donald Rumsfeld (DR) says there are only three things he knew he wanted in life: to be a Marine, go into politics, and marry. He forgets to mention the fourth – see if you can spot it. A savvy career politician, businessman, and a wordsmith extraordinaire, for 102-minutes we listen to a smiling, succinct DR who served under three U.S. Presidents in positions ranging from White House Chief of Staff to U.S. Ambassador to NATO. He is most remembered as the Secretary of Defense under George W. Bush during the Iraq invasion: the circumstances, the choices, the consequences. Archival footage matches pertinent dialogue throughout; subtleties abound in the film.

Errol Morris (Vernon, Florida 1981, The Thin Blue Line 1988, A Brief History of Time 1991) is a good match for DR: an intelligent documentary filmmaker known for tackling tough topics impartially. He gained well-deserved recognition in 2003 with The Fog of War that examines former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and the U.S. war in Vietnam. Fascinated by DR’s 2011 autobiography, Known and Unknown: A Memoir, Morris structured the film around 20,000 memos—“snowflakes”—written during DR’s last six years at the Pentagon. The title is based on DR’s quote we hear throughout the film that in fact is based on the four stages of competence theory developed by a U.S. international training company in the 1970s and implemented in training courses (communication, business, personal development) and psychotherapy. Which DR appropriates, interprets, and mangles with each recitation.

Mr. Rumsfeld is personable, persuasive—it is easy to understand being swept along by his matchless verbiage; there are 2-3 questions Morris asks that tightens or erases his smile. One must pay close attention to catch contradictions in DR's statements illustrated by footage. Production values are first-rate: Danny Elfman’s music, Robert Chappell’s cinematography, and Steven Hathaway’s editing. The Unknown Known is worth seeing: the semantics are so nuanced and the visuals so versatile that a justly essence can be relished. When asked why he is talking to Morris, his reply, “That is a vicious question…” says a lot. ()

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