An Unlikely Weapon: The Eddie Adams Story

An Unlikely Weapon remembers Eddie Adams as a pioneer, genius, and troublemaker, sharing his truths and challenging ours.

An Unlikely Weapon: The Eddie Adams Story

Director: Susan Morgan Cooper
Cast: Eddie Adams, Bill Eppridge, Tom Brokaw, Sam Garcia, Peter Jennings, General Nygoc Loan, Gordon Parks, Bob Schieffer, Kiefer Sutherland (narrator)
MPAA rating: N/A
Studio: Morgan Cooper Productions
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2009-04-10 (Limited release)
My life and death got mixed up with their lives and deaths, doing the Survivor Shuffle between the two, feeling the pull of each and not wanting either very much.

-- Michael Herr, Dispatches

I become the person I am photographing.

-- Eddie Adams 2002

"Eddie was not your thoughtful, reflective photographer," smiles Morley Safer. "He was a grunt. He went out and he did his job. And he looked for trouble on and off the job." Safer's memory of Eddie Adams is typical, at once forceful and glamorous. The artist looms here, rowdy and magnificent, whether he was riding out into dark wet jungles with U.S. troops or slamming down shots in a Saigon strip bar. But Eddie Adams was also not that guy. He was, in fact, remarkably reflective, an artist who pondered what his pictures could mean, how they might shape or reshape lives, how they might become history.

Adams had good reason to ponder. His best known image -- the 1968 execution of a Vietcong guerrilla by the chief of police of Saigon, General Nguyen Ngoc Loan -- was almost instantly notorious. Circulating via the AP, Adams' employer, the photo appeared on front pages all over the world, coming to represent what was wrong with this and every war, the betrayals and brutalities, the hypocrisies and the horrors. While some observers blamed the photo -- at least in part -- for the decline of public support for the war, others credited it with bringing to light U.S. error and initiating the war's end, which would come a long seven and a half years later, when Saigon fell.

Adams' toughness, his work and especially his self-reflection are at the center of An Unlikely Weapon. Susan Morgan Cooper's self-distributed documentary is basic in form (interviews, photos, more interviews), and provides some expected background on the artist, stories told by his colleagues and friends, his son August and his wife Alyssa. What makes it special are Adams' own thoughts on what he and other journalists were doing, the effects of their pictures, how representations of truth might become other sorts of truth, undulating and beyond control.

Adams and his fellow wartime journalists -- and he covered some 13 wars during his career -- all saw friends die, whether those friends were brand new or had been known for long weeks or years. They recorded atrocities and acts of valor, moments strikingly unique moments and utterly mundane. Like the soldiers they followed, they rotated home or never found their way back to The World. They were frustrated and sickened, heartened and transformed. When he returned Stateside in 1966, he says, he was "bitter." "I go to the AP office," he remembers, "And it's all these little fat guys sitting around at their typewriters and nobody cares. And then I got bothered so much that I wanted to go back. I didn't belong here with rest of these people."

During his next tour in Vietnam, beginning in 1967, Adams made his Pulitzer prize-winning photo, the one attributed with changing the course of what the Vietnamese called the American war. He was acutely aware of his relationships with his many subjects. They helped to define him, his professional reputation and personal integrity. "You became part of them," he says of the men he followed in Southeast Asia. "As they're crawling through the bushes and you go up ahead of them, forward of them so you can get a picture of them coming towards the camera, they respected you for that." The risk of such romance, of course, is that you begin to imagine yourself aligned with causes and beliefs.

The trick is that photos are not precisely truth, frames of instants then frozen forever. "Pictures are very important because people believe photographs," says Adams. "That's the eyewitness, so that'll confirm a person's belief in the story. And the picture could be a lie." Still, he sighs, "We'll look at that and it becomes a real thing." Adams daily negotiated a self-preserving distance from his work -- at least until he became forever attached to the image of the execution. He was haunted by that one, he says, bothered by its effects on its subjects (including General Loan) as much as by the benefits it conveyed on its taker. Gordon Parks here describes the special pain of photographing death. "You are trying to catch the last breath of a person dying, their last gasp... To realize that the person realizes that I was there to record their last breath. You almost want to say I'm sorry for being here. You do what you have to do."

In the case of Adams' photo, the effects were even more far-reaching. Safer recalls that it became a symbol of the war's failure. "The fruitlessness of it," he says, "The pointlessness of it, the who are the good guys and who are the bad guys of it. One cannot help but make comparisons with Iraq now." The photo inspired imitations and anti-war demonstrations, and Adams' life was changed -- he gained a new kind of freedom to travel and work, he was recognized and celebrated. Still, he was bothered by it -- the photo, the war, his success as a function of both. He went on to do other, brilliant work, including photos of impoverished children, Vietnamese refugees ("The Boat of No Smiles"), peace workers throughout the world (Speak Truth to Power, made with Kerry Kennedy), Penthouse spreads, and celebrity portraits.

Adams maintained his independence in these joint projects, some crass and commercial and some overtly "noble" (he challenges the title of the Kennedy book/performance/organization: "What does that mean?", he asks, before he offers his own, more straightforward version, "Soldiers Without Guns"). And he also pursued his art, his expanding sense of what pictures do. "The most powerful weapon in the world," he wrote in his journal, "has been and can be a photograph." As they show experience, they also become experience -- subjective, inherently compassionate, and ever shifting. An Unlikely Weapon remembers Adams, who died in 2004 of ALS, as a pioneer, genius, and troublemaker, sharing his truths and challenging ours.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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