Cass McCombs’ ode to Bradley Manning, the young soldier arrested for distributing classified military documents to WikiLeaks, has received a home movie treatment in a video from director Bradley Beesley.
In the tradition of protest song, “Bradley Manning” is a disarmingly direct back-story to a controversial figure. Over an electric folk strum, McCombs tells of Manning’s desire for an education, his struggles with bullying in the military and an emotional outburst in a storage room where he carved “I want” into a vinyl chair. The language is stark and plain — this is probably the only song you’ve heard that fits the word “hacktivist” into a rhyming couplet.
Appropriately, the song’s video is simple and honest — two boys wandering around a small American town on Independence Day. Beesley’s choice of setting is significant — in an interview with NPR, he says, “I wanted to create small town American imagery to reflect the environment I imagine Bradley Manning came from.” This nostalgic view is reinforced with aging film stock that brings 1970s home movies to mind.
Juxtaposed with the lyrics of “Bradley Manning”, the boys’ meanderings through the July 4th festivities take on an ominous twist. It’s hard to look past the militaristic overtones of the patriotic pageantry — toy guns and tanks on casual display, murals of battle scenes adorning public walls, and celebratory flags as symbols of conquest. The final shots of the boys setting off firecrackers in the twilight bring to mind the nighttime pyrotechnics of the classified “Collateral Murder” footage that brought WikiLeaks to prominence in the first place. It’s a thought-provoking song, now with a thought-provoking clip.