Argo Oscar: Oy

The victory of Argo at the Oscars is a major disappointment. The film is not much more than a video game played on the silver screen. It’s Hollywood fast food, pablum served to those who do not want to think much about history, art, or the Middle East. The creators of this film assumed that the audience was ignorant and mindless, and the Academy of Motion Pictures rewarded them for their cynical manipulations.

The film is historical flimflam. So many of the basic, asserted facts in the film are simply untrue: In reality everything went smoothly at the Tehran airport with no problems from Iranian security or customs; there was no airport chase; there was never a cancellation of the mission at the last minute; there was no location scouting in Tehran; the escapees were not in one house, but two; the escapees did in fact have access to the outdoors; there was no film producer played by Alan Arkin; the film vastly overstates the role of the CIA and vastly understates the Canadian component of the effort (which was in fact primary); the British and New Zealand embassies did not turn away the Americans, but helped them in many ways; and Ben Affleck resembles Latino Antonio Mendes about as accurately as Bible paintings that depict the historical Jesus as blond and blue-eyed.

The lack of historical accuracy is galling given that Steven Spielberg made every effort to adhere to veracity when he directed the epic film, Lincoln. Even more important, we are dealing right now with real, live Iranians and Muslims in the Middle East. Producing a film that distorts history and outright lies destroys American credibility and makes us look almost as manipulative and hateful as some of the leaders in the Iranian government. How do we criticize Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadenijad, for denying the Holocaust, when an Oscar-winning American film fabricates historical events in Iran out of thin air?

Iran has an ancient history, a rich culture, and a sophisticated, intelligent population. Yet, the film not only depicts Iranians as cartoonish caricatures, but also creates the impression of Iran as a giant, throbbing blob-like mob of dark, olive-skinned paranoid idiots. It reeks of Islamophobia, indulges in classic stereotypes about the Middle East and Iran, and belittles others whom we do not understand. Not only is this morally wrong, but it also harms our capacity as a society to figure out how to deal with a nation that has enormous influence over our strategic interests and is threatening to obliterate Israel with a nuclear weapon.

The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has done many hideous things: torturing and murdering political dissidents, arresting and humiliating political opponents, suppressing freedom of speech and the press, persecuting and murdering Bahais and gays, discriminating against other minorities, preventing free elections, spying on its own people, imprisoning US diplomats, engaging in global, state-sponsored terrorism, denying the holocaust, and threatening to annihilate Israel with a nuclear weapon. There is plenty to criticize here. Why would a film misstate the facts about the hostage episode and depict most Iranians as stupid, ignorant? Doing so does nothing to help anyone and seriously impairs the credibility of those trying to stop the Iranian government from engaging in nuclear terror.

Yes, Argo is a fun film to watch. It’s exciting, fast-paced, and keeps viewers hooked for every moment of the film.  But the world is not a video game, nor are people stick-figure cutouts. And, no matter what postmodern academic critics (and also apparently Hollywood directors and writers) claim, events really do happen in ways that historians and journalists can often verify. Indeed, while interpretation is enormously multifaceted and complex, we do not live in a world where facts are irrelevant and non-existent.

Maybe the film would not have garnered this kind of attention, but a film that adhered to the basic facts, focused on a story that was nuanced and subtle, and developed characters that felt authentic and genuine would have been moving, transcendent, and actually added something meaningful to our increasingly disintegrating world. Unfortunately, Argo does the opposite.

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Theresienstadt Propaganda Film and the Holocaust

A sad and revealing story about a Jewish director who in 1944 made a propaganda film under Nazi supervision at the Theresienstadt camp in order to fool the International Red Cross. This film was just re-released to remind us not only of the holocaust, but to show us the use of propaganda to propagate a lie:
http://www.jta.org/news/article/2011/04/27/3087086/rare-nazi-propaganda-film-showcases-theresienstadt-as-paradise-for-inmates

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Woody Woodpecker and Modern Art and Film

Shamus Culhane, the Woody Woodpecker animator, hid avant-garde art amidst the frames of this classic cartoon:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/11/arts/design/woody-woodpecker-and-shamus-culhanes-animation.html

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DaVinci Code and Passion of the Christ: Two Peas in a Pod

See Dianne M. Bazell and Laurence H. Kant, “First-Century Christians in the Twenty-First Century:  Does Evidence Matter?”,  in Restoring the First-century Church in the Twenty-first Century: Essays on the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement in Honor of Don Haymes, pp. 355-66.  Edited by Hans Rollman and Warren Lewis.  Eugene, OR:  Wipf and Stock, 2005:  Haymes

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My Film Ratings

For anyone who wants to see my film rates, take a look at the following link:  http://www.imdb.com/mymovies/list?l=7737781 I think that you will have to join IMDB (Internet Movie Data Base), but this is a wonderful website, with full details on almost any film ever made anywhere.

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Close Reading

Close reading does not mean just words, but images and experiences as well.

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Film Review: “Green Zone”

I recommend the film, “Green Zone.” It has flown under the radar for some reason, but Matt Damon does an excellent job, as does the rest of the cast. With the same pacing as the Bourne films (also directed by Paul Greengrass), Green Zone is sometimes hard to follow, but it is always exciting and interesting. It takes the point of view (probably now a consensus) that Iraq had ended the WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction program) in 1991 and that the US knew that, but went into Iraq for other reasons. The main character, Warrant Officer Roy Miller (US Special Forces), commands a squad given the task of locating the WMD’s, but he soon realizes that there are no WMD’s. Much of the plot centers on whether the US should incorporate the Baath (Sadaam Hussein’s party) political and military leaders into the governance of the country.

The film represents a number of different points of view. Baath Sunni General Al Rawi (Yigal Naor) seeks to make a deal with the US; Freddy (Khalid Abdallah), who knows the lay of the land and serves as Miller’s translator, is a Shia Iraq-Iran war veteran who lost a leg and who harbors deep anger toward the Baath leaders; Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) is a state department official who wants to destroy the Baath and kill as many of them as possible in order to install those whom the US favors; Poundstone backs Shia Ahmed Zubadi (Raad Rawi, presumably an allusion to Ahmed Chalabi whom the US probably thought it could install as leader of Iraq), but Zubadi has little support among Iraqis; Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson) is a CIA agent who apparently supported the Iraq war, knew that the US lied about WMD’s, and wants to make a deal with the Baath; and Lawrie Dane (Amy Ryan) is a Wall Street Journal reporter who wrote stories on the Iraqi WMD that lent support to the US invasion of Iraq.

For an action film, there is a lot of subtle commentary, with different points of view presented on whether the US should have allowed the Baath into the governance of the country. Most action films do not show the complexity of real-life contexts, but this does so with flair. General Al Rawi is an intimidating charismatic leader who wants to make a deal. His physical presence in the film oozes suppressed rage and violence that could explode under the right circumstances. Both Freddy and Martin Brown expose the naivete of Miller. Freddy’s wounds and suffering give him credibility and moral force, as encapsulated by his words to Miller: “it’s not for you to decide what happens in Iraq.” Brown was well aware of the US deceit and lies from the outset, but has a realistic understanding of what could work in Iraq. Poundstone is an oily power-grubbing political climber who has no clue about Iraq and only cares about his own advancement. Zubadi is a lackey. Lawrie Dane is a dupe. And Roy Miller is caught in a web which he only begins to understand at the end of the film.

Green Zone’s depiction of the chaos of Iraq and the hellish environment in which soldiers operate attempts to give viewers a picture of events from the point of view of soldiers and Iraqis. Green Zone clearly takes the position that were no WMD’s in Iraq and that the US knew that, but it also leaves open the question as to whether the US should have invaded Iraq and whether it should have incorporated the Baath leaders into the governing structure of the country. The film intimates that, if the US had incorporated the Baath into the new Iraqi political system, one of the goals of the invasion might have come to fruition more quickly: an inclusive, democratic Iraq that could serve as a political model for the Middle East. But obviously there were those with other ideas, including both Americans and Iraqis.

The film does not give easy answers, and that’s what makes it special.

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