Berlinale Blog – „Erase and Forget“: The Real-Life Inspiration of Rambo and A-Team

     |    Monday, der 13. February 2017

By Andrew Horn

The title of Andrea Luka Zimmerman’s documentary “Erase And Forget” (UK 2017) seemed like it should be an expression that I somehow knew from somewhere, but I couldn’t really place it. So I tried googling it, and found an description of a book on South Africa called “Commemorating and Forgetting”. It said, “When the past is painful, as riddled with violence and injustice as it is in post-apartheid South Africa, remembrance presents a problem at once practical and ethical: how much of the past to preserve and recollect and how much to erase and forget?”

If one replaced South Africa with the name of film’s main character, Lt. Col. James Gordon ‘Bo‘ Gritz, it should already give you an idea of what to expect. In the film Bo Gritz is introduced as the modern archetype of the „the American Soldier“. As a Special Forces hero and one of the most decorated men in US history, he was the inspiration behind Colonel John ‚Hannibal‘ Smith from “The A Team”, Stallone’s “Rambo”, as well as Brando’s Colonel Kurtz from “Apocalypse Now”. He has also performed himself in patriotic videos, mercenary training films as well as cheesy action exploitation films such as “Jungle Warlord” and “Rescue Force”. He has run for President, and run “deniable missions” for black ops. He created a homeland community in the Idaho Wilderness and trained both Mujahideen, and Americans in strategies of counter-insurgency against the incursions of their own government.

James Gordon ‘Bo’ Gritz (front row, second from left)

The film allows us insight into the world he lives in, that very grey space between “black” and “white”, between “Mr Heisenberg” and “Captain America”. “American has no idea what Special Forces really does,” he tells us. “There is a parallel government – like the conscious mind and the sub-conscious mind. There’s what the public is told and what we see. We are there to fight our own war [which includes] espionage, sabotage, and propaganda. If you asked my superiors, they didn’t know what I was doing. And that’s the way I liked it.”

Out of financial and logistic necessity, the film took over ten years to make. As frustrating as that might be (and it is!), the good thing is that you can use the time to really think through what you’re doing and what you have to say, and do it with as much care and inspiration as you can muster. And it can also happen that during that time, the story itself can develop more fully than you ever originally thought.

There is a saying, “you cannot go through fire and not get scorched” and what’s interesting about “Erase And Forget”, is the opportunity to experience a personal evolution of Bo Gritz, though I leave you to judge the results. But if the man we see at the end is rather different from the subject Zimmerman first started out with, clearly the 10 years were worth it.

For your amusement, check out the user reviews of Bo Gritz as Lt. Colonel Steel in “Rescue Force”