Monday, August 14, 2006

Part 5 - Act 3: The camera runs - Scene 1

It took us a long time to work it out, but the "camera runs" did not start at the wrecked building. They started at the staging area (see satellite image), set down the lane.

But, before the runs could start, the "props" had to be delivered. We can see what might be an example of this from this frame. Initially, we thought that this first shot was the tail end of the Red Cross worker staging detailed in Act 2, Scene 2 but, if you compare the two scenes, they are different. In the earlier of the two, the workers had respectively red and white sleeves, and only one body between them. In this shot, both have white sleeves, and each is carrying a dead body. We cannot be certain, but these could be the bodies used in this Act.

However, interpreting the shots was difficult as, in one instance, Red Cross workers seem to have made their own "run", carrying the bodies of children. Curiously, that event seems to have been little recorded although this might be a photograph of one of the workers making the run - located at the bottom end of "Stretcher Alley". However, that may not be the case as this worker has red sleeves. Others (below left), we see apparently starting out on a run, had white sleeves.

Further confusion prevailed as we had difficulty identifying the precise location of the "staging area". Originally, therefore, we put the location of this frame between the wrecked house and the staging area - thus believing it to be part of a delivery sequence. In reality, this should probably have been placed shortly after it, although we are still not quite sure of the precise location. We think they may be making their own run.

This could be the start of that run, seen on high-definition footage from Aljazeera, showing the route that will eventually lead to "Stretcher Alley". The workers have to turn left just before the houses in the background, going round a tight dogleg, before they descend a steep incline.

Interestingly, to the right of the frame, under the canopy of the staging area, we see a man talking on a two-way radio. Is he notifying people further up the route that the workers have just left?

We do see more of this run, with the workers escorted by the man in the pale green shirt - the same who spent his time in the wrecked basement on the cell phone. For just a "local resident", he seems to have a particularly active role in various aspects of the drama.

Again, we are not precisely sure of the location, although it is probably at the top of the hill. Wherever it might be, after this, we have no record of the journey - neither on still photography nor video footage, so we cannot say what happens to the men or their burdens.

Anyhow, returning to the staging area, we see what appears to be a delivery by Red Cross workers. They could, of course, have continued straight to the ambulances. They are young men and presumably fit. If there was any urgency, surely this would have been the logical thing to do.

But this is clearly not part of the game plan. You see one of the workers depositing a body on a stretcher and by this means do we have delivery of the "props", ready for the start of the "camera runs" by the stars, "Green Helmet" and "White Tee-shirt". They do not, as we first thought, carry the bodies all they way from the wreckage. The props have been conveniently deposited closer to the "set" for them to pick up and strut their stuff.

In the arrangements, the bearded man in the white shirt seems to play a key role. As he did with one of the staged shots in Act 2, he seems to be acting as the "prop master", parcelling out the bodies to the actors. For ease of identification, we shall call the body of the first girl "Blue pants" and the second, "Pink pyjamas".

Intriguingly, the one thing we do not see in these staging area scenes is "Green Helmet". We do see, however, a man with a two-way radio (top right of the frame) and we know that "Green Helmet" has one as well. Is this how the photo-shoots are being co-ordinated?

Anyhow, before even the bodies were parcelled out, they had already been exploited as grisly "props" with a different cast of actors. The first appears to be here (right), where the body of a girl named Zaynab is the central figure in a clip broadcast by Aljazeera television. This is a scene from within the wreckage where we see the body being lifted from the mass of bodies (curiously unburied) recovered in the first phase of the relief effort.

Then there is this one (right). We see the man in the pale green shirt - whom we have also seen sitting in the wrecked building, on top of the debris, conducting a prolonged conversation on his cell phone. He appears in a number of different poses with the dead and now is now posing with the body in the staging area, displaying his grief to the camera.

Not to be outdone, we also have the shadowy figure, the bearded man in the white tee-shirt. Is he Hezbolla?

This frame looks to be showing him in the act of handing over "Pink pyjamas" to "White Tee-shirt" (out of shot to the right) and we see again a display of emotion. Having seen "White Tee-shirt's" expression during his run, it looks eerily familiar. (The photograph was taken by Mohamed Messara for epa/Corbis).

The run starts

This then brings us to the first of the two shots taken as screen grabs from a film sequence shown on BBC television's Newsnight. These mark the start of "Green Helmet's" run. As we noted when we first published the shots, the bodies are not treated with any care or dignity as they are handed out. On the video clip, there is a great deal of shouting going on, and the transfer is conducted very quickly. The video sequence can be seen here (from 0:00-0:25 minutes).

The key frame of this sequence, however, is this one (left), which shows entering from stage-right "Green Helmet", the "star" of the first scene in this Act.

Without any ado, he literally grabs the first of the girl's bodies (Blue pants). There is none of the apparent tenderness that we see in the full glare of the media. In the subsequent frames in the video footage (not shown) he then lifts the body and cradles it to his chest before moving out of shot. He is ready for the media scrum - the first of the "camera runs" up "Stretcher Alley", with "Green Helmet" putting on the performance of his career.

From Al Manar TV, we now have the opening phases of the "run", as "Green Helmet" walks out from the staging area, carrying his "prop". As can be seen from this "grab", he goes directly towards the television cameras (another lens can be seen to the right of the frame), which are stationed across the road, offering them the maximum opportunity for clear shots and a full face view. At this stage, though, he is showing no great emotion.

In this second "grab" of the sequence, "Green Helmet's" strategy becomes clearer. On leaving the staging area, he has to turn immediately to travel towards "Stretcher Alley", but he is delaying this until he is directly in front of the cameras, giving them some close-up shots of himself and his burden. Here, we see how close he is to the cameras before he executes his turn.

The strategy clearly works. As he swings round, he presents his burden to the camera. The operator is ready and focuses on the bundle, showing a scene writ large with emotion and pathos.

To the left of the frame, we can see part of the body of another journalist, the word "press" emblazoned on his flak jacket. This looks to be a still cameraman, in the act of taking a shot.

This, we believe, is the first published still frame (of which we are aware) of "Green Helmet's" run. We had enormous difficulty placing this in any sequence. It is tightly cropped, with no easily recognisable landmark or reference point in the picture. All we get is a backcloth of what we would call dry-stone walling, and a bundle of sticks on a blue, 40-gallon oil drum. There is no wreckage in sight, and no other visual clues that would enable us, from this shot alone, to position "Green Helmet".

To pin down the location, we turn to a shot of "White Tee-shirt" making his camera run. Although shot from a slightly different angle, to the extreme right of the frame (arrowed) is a small section of dry-stone walling and a bundle of sticks on top of a blue, 40-gallon oil drum, although the latter is indistinct. Below the wall is blurred but the colouration is light brown, and above that to the rear, we see some vegetation edging the picture. There is clearly a match.

Now we pick up the man again. He has turned right, around the dogleg and is coming down the hill, alongside the building we originally thought was the staging area. We have marked his location on the satellite image here. Apart from the photographer following up the rear and the one taking the picture, there seems very little media presence at this stage. We certainly have no video footage of this leg of the journey. And, at this stage, "Green Helmet's" expression is very little different from that in the previous shot.

In this frame, taken by AP's Nasser Nasser, "Green Helmet" has now progressed perhaps a hundred yards or so, down the hill and round a left-hand curve (from his orientation). When we first studied this photograph, the buildings in the background were unfamiliar and there was no sign of wreckage. Given the initial confusion - created by the media - about the distance from the wreckage to the ambulances, we thought this must have been posed separately, at a different time from the final "Stretcher Alley" photograph.

We thus had enormous problems pinning down the location. It seemed to stand out on its own, with no continuity or relation to any of the other sequences we had then seen.

To solve the mystery, we were able to relate it to video footage of "White Tee-shirt's" camera run. There, we see him in a similar location, referenced by the same buildings in the background. And, as he walks forwards, all was revealed. The staging area is back behind the left-hand bend in the distance. In this shot. There is a white van in the near background. "Green Helmet" is roughly alongside this van, as he has his photograph taken.

The evidence thus far, therefore, is unequivocal. "Green Helmet", having collected the photogenic corpse of a young girl from the staging area (after it has been delivered there by someone else) has walked down the road approximately 100 yards and round several bends, where photographers were waiting for him. Spontaneous this is not.

Now an Aljazeera video camera picks up the run and we see our actor very close to "Stretcher Corner", shortly to turn right into "Stretcher Alley".

There is very little coverage of him at this stage either. The footage we have seen lasts but a few seconds. And "Green Helmet's" demeanour still seems restrained. His best performance is yet to come.

Round the corner into "Stretcher Alley" itself, and the first photographer that seems to pick up the figure is from AFP. Certainly the corner is in the near background, so it is very early in "Green Helmet's" journey up the rise. He does not seem yet to have got into his full emotional stride which is perhaps why the focus in on the child's body rather than its bearer.

In this frame, though, "Green Helmet" is going up "Stretcher Alley" in full view of the waiting media. Framed against the rubble, with the girl's body in his arms, only now - when the media is assembled in full force - does he display the intensity of emotion that make this a front page picture. This intensity of emotion we have not seen in him before and the combination of this, the child's body and the location makes for the iconic shot which is published throughout the world.

And it is a fake - courtesy of AP's Nasser Nasser.

Out of shot, the route is marked out by Red Cross workers and others, redolent of marshals on a race route. It has the feel of a highly organised film set, which is precisely what it is. In this frame, "Green Helmet" co-ops one worker into the theatre to provide the media with another photo opportunity. The picture itself is ambiguous - the Red Cross worker could be guiding "Green Helmet", but there seems more to it than that.

In this next frame - for which we have no attribution - a hand-over seems to be taking place. The Red Cross worker is actually grasping the arm of the child's body as if to take it. Does the hand-over actually take place? This we do not know. Curiously, although the video cameras work "Stretcher Alley" intensively, we have seen no footage of this part of the run. The outcome of this scene, therefore, remains a mystery. Was it "take one" of a hand-over, or did "Green Helmet" brush past the Red Cross worker and continue on his way? We simply do not know.

What we do know, though, is that "Green Helmet" does not complete the journey to the waiting ambulance. Past the cameras, it now seems as if the body has served it purpose. Certainly, "Green Helmet" has no further use for it. He dumps it on a gurney (litter), leaving it in the care of the worker we have called "the man in black".

The impression is that there are other photo-opportunities in the making and, to "Green Helmet", these are clearly his priority. The pictures we have do suggest that there is some urgency, as "Green Helmet" appears to depart the location with some haste, without even waiting to see the body properly secured. We next see him in the greater drama of Scene 2. But, as we will see from the pictures and narrative we offer in our exposition of that scene, some important inconsistencies emerge.

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