Soundtrack to War

Music extracted from the madness of war in Iraq.

Soundtrack to war showcases spontaneous music performances by a striking cast of the battle weary – performances made without rehearsal, under the blaring Iraqi sun, with the backdrop of a destroyed city, grit and dust and the distraction of gunfire and bursting mortar shells.

American culture came into Iraq, wired into its tanks and helicopters – a live soundtrack to war, with lyrics such as Let the bodies hit the floorRound out the tank and Bombs over Baghdad being memorised by every soldier and forever linked to the violent events they accompanied. As the war extended into its second year, many started writing and performing their own songs. It was rock, rap and roll.

War is Heavy Metal – lyrics in Metal and Gore tell us what it’s like on this hell-fire ride; rap battles in the bullring say it like it is – it’s a Baghdad thing!

Rhythm and Blues for lovers and longing, Country letters home, Ballads to flags and fallen friends, Gospel calling on the Almighty and Baghdad’s Bee Gee’s digging underground…

This film takes us on the whole emotional roller coaster ride of the young and talented who have found themselves in the hell of war, and who want to stay alive.

Soundtrack to war is not unlike the Iraqi conflict itself: beginning with optimistic ideas and broad ambitions, fast becoming unwieldy, losing focus, having its dramatic ups and downs and devolving into a messy quagmire.

When the United States of America spearheaded its current incursion into the Middle East, it was taken for granted (or not considered at all) that it would bring its culture along with its guts and guns. Musical culture is represented by hip-hop, gangsta rap, grunge, heavy metal, and various other contemporary sounds that are well suited to kill and be killed by. (Spare us the obvious dig about American pop culture; do you expect twenty-something virgin soldiers to be listening Dylan, Bernstein or the great American songbook? They barely know Madonna.) Director George Gittoes is primarily a visual artist whose major focus has admirably been the horrors of war. His fine website features some interesting, if not obviously derivative, works. He is a relatively naïve filmmaker; I am guessing that Coppola’s magical use of The ride of the Valkyries in Apocalypse now is prime inspiration here but his narrative is unpleasantly devoid of drama.

Music is wired into the systems of the tanks and other armoured vehicles as the US Army blasts its way around Iraq. We meet many soldiers, linked seemingly only by the “cause” they fight for and their pitiful state, discoursing, singing, rapping, carousing – you name it – about their music. One tank soldier describes his music as the “ultimate rush” and displays his CD folio, chockers with grunge. There is a lot of intent here: how music effects the lives of a broad demographic of soldiers, how emotionally barren (or downright violent and misogynistic) much of rap is, the invisible force of the music industry, and the ignorance and misunderstandings of all sides in this absurd war.

When Gittoes takes the camera off those inexorable tracks and focuses on the sounds that the soldiers themselves make, there is actual poignancy; watch for the impromptu gospel circle and the blonde waif songstress. Also look out for the Iraqi-does-Bee Gees act; is something not saddening about three 50-ish Iraqis doing a perfectly acceptable rendition ofNew York mining disaster, right down the Brothers Gibb’s heavily accented diction, in the shadow of Abu Grahib prison? Less amusing is the Iraqi thrasher band that expresses their newly found freedom through their music; it makes good background for some of Saddam’s worst atrocities.

If you must see this flick, imagine it is the actual war: hold down the fast forward button and be ready to lower the sound.


  • Audio: AC-3 stereo
  • Languages: English
  • Picture: Widescreen 16:9
  • Special features:
    • Trailers: Upcoming releases

MA 15+ (High level coarse language, graphic war footage, adult themes) 95 minutes (1:35 hours)