Ambush in Waco (1993)

Ambush in Waco (1993)

KNOW YOUR PROPAGANDA
 

The scene right before the final raid sequence is a revelation - it follows so swiftly and naturally, I'm having trouble telling if it's the product of the writer's intent, perhaps some mechanism at work in his subconscious (if not intended), or of my own projection: the whole of the Branch Davidians sit around a large television, screen-light flickering, as the sound of gun-shots and screaming fills the room; their eyes are glossy, they stare fixated, eating pop-corn casually, the score's a menacing drone as the camera pushes closer into the crowd; the message is a clear one: here sit the crazies, indoctrinated.

This should be no surprise, this is the same message building throughout the film, as David Koresh and his followers are depicted as trigger-happy fundamentalist wackos lacking total social cohesion and control. The strongest device affirming this is in the sect's consistent placement as the thing being looked upon – who's unified point-of-view of the film, albeit in the form of several characters, is either mocking, skeptical, or status-quo.

The Davidians are placed on the outside; one is made to feel as if violent action against the sect is not only justified, but should occur. What is so fascinating about the scene with the television is that after it fades to black, the final sequence of the film begins: a failed law enforcement raid on the denomination's compound: all gun-fire, blood, and screaming. The hidden formal code through out the film has suggested for us to smirk quietly at the loonies; this presentation is made so strong one is almost compelled to reach out to all the confused, misguided people and cry, "If you could see what I see!"

Yet, it's impossible not to make the connection between the image of the Davidians gazing at the violence on television, and what the average (prime-time and record-breaking) NBC audience household must have looked like: the family gathered on the couch, television glowing, eating popcorn, docile, in a state of expectancy, with the sound of screaming and gun fire from the raid sequence filling the room — it's as if asking: On which side do the crazies sit?

By the time ‘In the Line of Duty: Ambush in Waco’ aired on NBC in May, 1993, the siege of Mt. Carmel had ended in fire and Koresh and most of the Davidians were dead or in jail. Seeing Mt. Carmel go up in flames, I wept for those who died — I felt like I knew many of them personally. Meanwhile, the movie won the ratings war and was widely praised for its artistry and craft, especially my portrait of Koresh and Tim Daly’s performance as the “cult leader.” For me, such praise was a bitter reward... In our lust for money and fame, I believed that we had missed the opportunity to tell that larger, more important story. Sadly, in the end, I’d accomplished what I’d set out to do — written a movie that was both fast and good. But what did “good” mean? I had used my talent to create a drama so effective it convinced millions of people that the lies they saw on the screen were true...

One woman at the end of the table spoke up. Her family had seen ‘Ambush in Waco’ and, taking it as truth, blamed her for introducing several relatives to Koresh’s “cult,” an involvement that had led to their deaths in the fire. Ever since the movie aired, her family had shunned her. “I do forgive you,” she told me. “But I want you to know that your movie destroyed my life.”

Ars longa, vita brevis – art endures, life is short.
— Phil Penningroth, "RIGHTING WACO: CONFESSIONS OF A HOLLYWOOD PROPAGANDIST"
ambush in waco (1993)

ambush in waco (1993)

the broadway melody (1929)