Soldier Girls (1981)

“Because I’m not gonna have anybody out there being all emotional and everything – ’cause you’re gonna hurt somebody.”

Synopsis:
A platoon of young women undergo harsh basic training at Fort Gordon, Georgia.

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Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this fascinating, disturbing documentary by Nick Broomfield and Joan Church “should be shown in all high schools before army recruiters start handing out brochures about computer jobs and expenses-paid Hawaiian vacation.” Indeed, basic training is shown to be such bleak torture that it’s hard to imagine anyone choosing a life in the army after watching this film. The most disturbing sequences show certain “uncooperative” recruits being mercilessly hazed by their superiors — though it’s hard to feel sorry for one woman who fakes incompetence in order to get herself kicked out.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The “mini-lesson” on biting off the heads of chickens
  • The female soldiers hanging loose in their barracks together

Must See?
Yes, for its revealing inside look at bootcamp.

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One Response to “Soldier Girls (1981)”

  1. First viewing. A tentative once-must, mostly for those who have an interest in military matters.

    One opening line of literature that I’ve always remembered is the one that opens Carson McCullers’ ‘Reflections in a Golden Eye’: “An army post in peacetime is a dull place.”

    That wouldn’t be true according to Staff Sergeant Abing, who lets us know at the beginning of this doc that soldiers should always – even in peacetime – be preparing or prepared for war. (~mainly because the Russians are, as Abing says.)

    What unravels in this doc is nothing particularly new, and therefore not particularly “disturbing”: bootcamp is not a walk in the park. What is unique about the doc is its focus on young women in training. But, as a documentary, the film feels somewhat incomplete. The most successful documentaries will leave us with an overall understanding of their subjects. But ‘Soldier Girls’ appears selective in its approach and it chooses to zero in on a handful of incidents in which a few girls fail.

    As a result, the film appears to be pointedly anti-war (or, at least. anti-bootcamp). I’m not saying I’m pro-war. (Near the end the doc, Abing himself refreshingly admits that the experience of war has robbed him of his humanity.) But I’m pro-documentary and this doc seems skewed in its POV.

    What about the bulk of the women who *didn’t* fail at bootcamp? At the very end of the film, those who made it through the process are brought together for a group photo – to document successful completion of bootcamp. Yet, we have seen almost nothing of what was done well during training.

    That said, the film is still a valuable source as an inside look into the military.

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