The Oscars and History

Posted January 14, 2013 on 4:51 pm | In the category Afghanistan, Canada, Iran, McCain, U.S. Foreign Policy, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

So no less than four films being considered for Best Film at the Oscara supposedly portray US history. One of them is relatively harmless. “Lincoln” is probably going to win everything because it does not, as far as any layman can tell, falsify history in any kind of serious way and features enough bearded men to make old testament prophets feel jealous. And it has a very Lincoln-looking British actor, no doubt thanks to terrific makeup help, who has the wrong accent but is as good at portraying a decent common man who acted well under pressure (Bob Newhart called this “The humble bit”), as were Raymond Massey – also a foreigner – Henry Fonda and others who have portrayed Honest Abe in the past. So we can give this a pass on the honest history front, although Spielberg once again demonstrates his fascination with brutal hand to hand combat and dead soldiers, though not at the level of “Saving Private Ryan”.
But what should we make of “Zero Dark Thirty” , supposedly a factual presentation of the CIA’s role in the assassination of bin Laden, or Ben Affleck’s “Argo”, another alleged representation of actual CIA operations.  And there is no doubt that “Argo” is an exciting film, especially in the opening scenes depicting the attack on the US embassy in Teheran.    But what’s going on?  Since when do films get such serious consideration that are made with government support and obvious comic-book plots  – a CIA female warrior  in one, and  a devil of a fearless handsome CIA agent in the other carry out awesomely dangerous missions for good old Uncle Sam – and against all odds succeed.  If they didn’t do that, there would certainly not be a film.  The first  has been attacked on the US Senate floor, by senators who actually personally know how torture functions, since the film seems to suggest that torture by US agents actually led to the discovery of the whereabouts of bin Laden.  From all accounts this is not true, and the very suggestion that it is  acceptable for the US  to gather information in this way, is more than offensive for those who suffered under such methods.

And “Argo” is “so full of bullshit it might as well have been a Charlie’s Angels episode” to quote Steve Burgess. The heroic people who really risked their lives and  those of their families in rescuing those US diplomats who managed to escape the chaos in the attack on the US embassy in Teheran , were of course the ambassador and the attache of Canada, who died last week.  They did what the diplomats of no other country – including some of the US’ supposed closest allies like the UK – were unwilling to do: risk their own lives to save those of US colleagues.   In real life the US citizens were hidden in two different Canadian diplomatic residences for a lengthy period before they were smuggled out, perhaps even with some input from the CIA operative who is made the hero of “Argo”: Affleck directing Affleck in the role.   One of these Canadian  diplomats, the  Ambassador, actually appears fleetingly in the film, but does not seem very important; the other  is never mentioned.    A postscript was added to the film, after howls of protest about an obvious insulting falsification of reality,  which  threw  a few crumbs  to the ambassador but never mentioned the attache, not to mention the Canadian prime minster, who allowed this mission to take place. It was all too reminiscent of how President Bush managed to  thank half the countries of the world for having helped during the 9/11 attack, but forgot Canada, the only one that had really done anything.

And then there is the fourth film”Beasts of the Southern Wild” a tale of the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrine on the  Louisiana coast, which features an  amazing performance by an 8-year old girl who amazingly is also up for best actress, as is the director.  None of the above will win, because they don’t present a phoney version of history, that ranges on propaganda, but rather offer a mythic story of outsiders who have no desire to return to the society from which they have been cut off by the inundations.  This is the film of the year.  Go see it, and skip cartoon history



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