Archive for the ‘Danny Schechter’ Category

movies-idris-elba-mandela

 

By Danny Schechter

New York, New York: The whole world recognized and paid tribute to South African icon Nelson Mandela when he died at age 95. 91 Heads of State attended his funeral. The UN General Assembly organized a special tribute. His legacy is secure in official circles, and in the hearts of South Africans, but will there be recognition in the place that seems to matter to the media even more: Hollywood?

The Oscar nominations are due any day, and early on, it seemed, as if the epic movie about the world’s most revered icon was a sure thing for Oscar consideration. Most of the main big newspaper reviewers loved it and, and its American distributor Harvey Weinstein has a history of influencing Academy decisions.

But of late, Mandela the movie lost its buzz, and is appears buried by the hype machine, almost treated as an also ran. The entertainment media no long seems to take it seriously. All the focus is on other films and the big US stars.

The producers of the movie, made in South Africa, albeit with a British director, Judson Chadwick, and Oscar celebrated screenwriter William Nicholson, were earlier hopeful that they had a good chance of winning at least one of the statuettes that quickly translate into a place in cinema history and more bang at the box-office.

For them, making this film was always far more than  a commercial endeavor. In my book, Madiba AtoZ: The Many Faces of Nelson Mandela, producer Anant Singh shares his passion for the subject and explains that it took 16 years and as many as 50 versions of script to put together the money and the cast. He was making it, he wrote,  not only to honor Mandela but also tell the story of his country’s liberation. His company worked as independents with no major studio behind them.

They were also very commercial in their calculations, doing what they felt they had to do to get it made and get it out, conscious of deferring to Hollywood formula, by focusing on the love story between Nelson and Winnie and, in effect, depoliticizing the story of a very political figure once known for saying, “The Struggle Is My Life.”

On the left, there was disappointment as the review in Britain’s Counterfire expressed: “This absence of ideological perspective is probably to be expected but the concluding effect of the film is to produce a sanitized and depoliticized Mandela that does not help us comprehend his massive impact. The apolitical Mandela in the film is the one neoliberal warmongers like Blair, Bush and Obama are happy to eulogize.”

I am sure if the filmmakers had tried to please ideologues on all sides, the movie probably wouldn’t have even been made, much less released, with the small fortune in production and marketing monies required to be considered competitive.

That said, it did make news with lots of star-studded attention grabbing premieres and some media write-ups, especially, after Mandela died while a Royal screening was underway in England.

The movie itself got less attention that its stars and connection with a well-known leader.

Some say that’s because of the movie format, as in this review by Wamuwi Mbao in South Africa,  “The biopic genre further restricts the possible creative directions the narrative can take, and the result is a movie that tries to do a lot but ultimately does not succeed in rising above the textbook facts to give us the story of this larger-than-life man. At every point, the discerning audience member feels dissatisfied, goaded by annoying inaccuracies, and manhandled by soaring strings doing their frenetic best to convince us that this is the story as it should be told. It isn’t.”

Most of the South African reviews were positive as the film  set box office records but this reviewer found the film not South African enough, apparently unhappy that it was made for a global audience.

Other critics were even less enamored, putting it down as too conventional.

Writes reviewer John Beifuss,  “a no-show in best-of-2013 year-end critics’ polls, “Mandela” is not vivid, daring or passionate enough to exploit, for better or worse, the unexpected current-events context of its arrival. It is not an adequate tribute to South Africa’s first black president nor is it a disgrace to his memory. It is a rather conventional and pious movie biography that misses the opportunity to be more — to use art and imagination to bring insight to a life history that otherwise might be better served with a straight documentary.”

That was a comment that raised my eyebrows because I made six documentaries about Mandela, and had been documenting the making and meaning of the movie.  Dramas and documentaries can rarely be fused and docs face major distribution challenges. Terms like “might be better served” are vague and often pretentious.

What these critics rarely do is to get specific and say what they wanted to see, or how they felt the story could have been handled differently. Perhaps that’s not their job but vague prescriptions are often a cop-out. There is often no substance in their calls for more substance.

Also, the Academy voters are hardly hostile or naive.

Mandela was a big hit when he visited Los Angeles on his national trip in 1990.  A reception drew every major black star in town including Muhammad Ali, along with many pols and liberal luminaries. He received the key to the city and a rally packed the old LA Coliseum. The Artists for a Free South Africa has been based there and kept some public attention focused on the “beloved country’s’ artists and needs.

Years ago, one of my Mandela documentaries was passed over for Oscar consideration, but the Academy, out of interest I am sure, hosted a screening in LA under their auspices. I was pleased to be there and got lots of positive comments from the audience. That was the closest I got to the Oscar people.

So, yes, there is sympathy in Tinsel Town, but, perhaps, not much more because commerce, grosses and celebrities, not newsy issues, are always topic #1 in the industry city.

Movies about the great and the good have an uphill battle in challenging Hollywood product that, this year again, seems more mesmerized by big time crime dramas like American Hustle and the Wolf of Wall Street that make con men appear cool and groovy. Their only morality is amorality.

Those movies feature better-known stars and more made in the USA storylines, aided and abetted by even bigger and more recent advertising budgets. Mandela Long Walk To Freedom didn’t have the deep pockets to compete with the blitz of new ads when the film went into “wide release” on Christmas Day. By then, it was already considered old.

The Golden Globes did give Mandela three nominations—one to Idris Elba, the male lead, and two for music—one to the Irish hand U2 for the hardly political up-beat end song. Getting the band to the awards ceremony will enhance that show’s appeal, but everyone knows the Globes reflect the picks of many self-styled foreign correspondents, not died in the wool movie industry Americanos.

The NAACP image awards also honored Elba as one of their own. In Britain, their film academy nominated Mandela for the best British film of the year, even though it was primarily made by Videovision, a South African company, although the director, screenwriter and a producer hail from England.

I had a sense that the producers preferred to work with UK professionals that would be less arrogant and controlling than Hollywood heavies.

Curiously, the nationalism and racial identity embedded in those awards represented the very values that the real Mandela rejected.

“12 Years a Slave’ is the “black” movie expected to win, if any does. In that drama, a white man played by superstar Brad Pitt freed the slave, not a people’s revolt. Its appeal may have had more to due with the legacy  of inattention paid to slavery in the land of slavery—but, the guilt the movie plays to, as well as its pervasive violence gives it box office appeal. Recall black activist H. Rap Brown once observing ‘violence is as American as cherry pie.”

Americans are more familiar with the apolitical themes of subjugation and victimization as opposed to liberation.

Mandela Long Walk to Freedom features violence too—but oppressive state violence, more than individual bad guys that you can hate.

Apartheid may be a more recent crime than slavery but the latter is part of a U.S history that some Americans—not all, for sure—are ashamed of. We know more about it than what happened in far away Africa albeit with US support. (Apartheid was modeled partially on our brutal system of relocating Indians to reservations.)

Slavery as a subject is also presented only as American, while Mandela dramatizes a freedom struggle in Africa that has not been front and center much lately in a news system that routinely treats Africa as a backward continent of wars, massacres and coups.

Mandela was one of the few African leaders even reported here and the fact that his death occasioned considerable coverage may have reinforced the idea that his story has been over exposed. Why see a movie version when the real man was on TV etc.etc?

That’s a perception that certainly cut into the film’s ticket sales.

If Mandela Long Walk To Freedom is not on the Oscar list, it will be gone from theaters quickly, probably to return on TV movie channels and video. See it while you still can. You will be glad you did!

Danny Schechter made documentaries about the making and meaning of the movie Mandela Long Walk to Freedom. He also wrote the book, Madiba AtoZ: the Many Faces of Nelson Mandela (Madibabook.com) Comments to dissector@mediachannel.org

 

Read Part One: We Steal Secrets (2013) 

Jemima-Khan

Jemima Khan, The Unlikely Activist?

Above: “Jemima Khan in the sitting room of her Fulham house, which she decorated herself.” (Photo by Eva Vermandel. Photo and description, New York Times)

By Danny Schechter

In case you missed my last dissection, “New WikiLeaks Movie Infuriates WikiLeaks,“ when I was watching the movie, I was put off by the inordinate attention paid to Julian Assange’s “house arrest” stay at the home of British millionaire who put him and some of the bond money up. It made Assange, who wanted to be seen as a man of the people, look like an aristocrat living in luxury.

As it now turns out, one of Executive Producers on the film is an aristocrat who lived like that all the time and like others backed Assange, before betraying him. Her story, with an over the top photo plush spread gets a fawning tabloid treatment in the new New York Times’ SYTLE Magazine. Check this out:

“Jemima Khan may live the grand life of an English aristocrat, but behind the famous boyfriends and the important hair is a serious political journalist and a budding documentary film producer. Her latest project? Taking on WikiLeaks…

(Where else but the NYTimes, which loves the British aristocracy, do we find a term like “important hair”?)

“I haven’t done any interviews for quite a while,” Khan said. “I am naturally quite an open person, and I always end up saying too much.”


Khan

Photo and description via the New York Times: Khan and Grant: Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage; Khan and Janklow: Dave M. Benett/Getty Images; Khan and Imran: Mian Khursheed/Reuters/Corbis.
Clockwise, from top left: Jemima, with her brothers Zac and Ben and her mother, Lady Annabel Goldsmith, at Ormeley Lodge, their London home, in 1983; with Hugh Grant in 2007; with Luke Janklow in 2010; at the beach as a young girl with her father, Jimmy Goldsmith, brother Zac and her mother; with her former husband Imran Khan in 2002.

But she has made an exception in the service of “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks,” a film about the online anti-secrecy group and its founder, Julian Assange, that was directed by Alex Gibney (“Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer“) and of which Khan is an executive producer. Khan has been involved with Assange’s case since he was arrested in December 2010, and she helped post bail for him, but the movie examines him and his work with a cool dispassion. (SIC!)

As she talks about her own work, Khan realizes there is a bit of a perception problem, a slight disconnect — her charmed upbringing and potentially frivolous existence at odds with, as becomes increasingly clear, the serious-minded, hyper-busy reality of her working life.

The tabloids persist in calling her “socialite Jemima Khan,” as if that were an official title, like “doctor,” and Khan, 39, has indeed appeared often in the party-photos sections of glossy magazines and Web sites. Her father was the late financier Sir Jimmy Goldsmith; her mother is Lady Annabel Goldsmith, a legendarily charming hostess whose first husband, Mark Birley, named Annabel’s nightclub after her. The two had 10 children between them; Jimmy Goldsmith was an inveterate keeper of mistresses (in fact, Annabel was his mistress before she became his wife) who fathered children with four different women. Life around the dinner table was complicated, noisy and filled with vociferous debate about the issues of the day.”

This NYT article celebrates Ms. Kahn as an “unlikely activist.


Khan-in-livingroom

Photo and caption from NYT: Khan at her writing desk in the house’s sitting room. Photo by Eva Vermandel.

“We Steal Secrets,” which was released last month, examines the complicated case of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. It also examines in fascinating detail the equally complicated and possibly more interesting, because it is so shocking, case of Bradley Manning, the troubled, sexually confused Army intelligence analyst whose leaking of secret American diplomatic and policy documents allegedly to WikiLeaks led to his arrest three years ago. (He is currently awaiting trial.) As for Assange, the movie dissects all his contradictions, examining him as hero and villain, as an advocate of openness and transparency who is also a deeply secretive, possibly paranoid control freak — an ultimately unknowable person.

Khan’s connection to the movie came because she was an admirer from afar of WikiLeaks and, for a time, a high-profile supporter of Assange’s in Britain. “There was a lot of stuff coming out about Pakistan, which confirmed suspicions I had about the sort of double-dealing of the government,” she said of the WikiLeaks material. And more simply, “I don’t like lies,” she explained. “WikiLeaks exposed the most dangerous lies of all, which are those that are told to us by elected governments.”

She was drawn into Assange’s odd, charismatic orbit after the British authorities placed him in solitary confinement while he fought extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted on charges of sexually assaulting two former WikiLeaks volunteers. Along with other sympathizers, Khan helped post his bail, which ran to the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But then several things happened. Working with Gibney on his WikiLeaks documentary, Khan served as his liaison to Assange and was sucked further and further into the morass of Assange’s suspicious, conspiracy-theory-suffused mind. Assange at first seemed amenable to an interview on camera, but became increasingly, maddeningly obstructive, finally heaping so many conditions and demands that negotiations over the terms completely broke down.

Then Assange suddenly jumped bail — Khan and the other supporters lost their money — and dramatically sought political asylum in the Ecuadorean embassy, around the corner from Harrods, where he has remained, confined to a small studio, since last June.

You can read the rest, including the fact that she lost money when Assange jumped bail….. So, she felt betrayed and then soon betrayed him in a film that is as much a hit job as a profile.

And now we have the “back story” of yet another member of the film’s bizarre team who loved Assange until they turned on him. The story of the movie is now becoming as fascinating as the story the sleazy movie posing as a serious documentary purports to tell.

 

News Dissector Danny Schechter edits Mediachannel.org, blogs at news dissector.net, and has an NYT eXaminer column. Danny is also an independent filmmaker. Comments to dissector@mediachannel.org.

By Danny Schechter:

We-Steal-Secrets

Every documentary filmmaker begins with deciding on the story to be told, and, then, how to sustain audience interest.

If your goal is to inform the public or take a stand on an important issue by explaining its origins and exposing wrong doers then you go one way. If your goal is to entertain and shroud your motives by exploring murky personality contradictions, you go another.

We Steal Secrets, Alex Gibney’s latest documentary (or is it a docudrama?), skillfully made with the backing of major media company tries to do both.

Ironically, that company, Comcast-Universal, owners of NBC, is at the same time having a major success with another movie, Fast and Furious 6, glamorizing a criminal gang that relies on speedy cars.

You could say that WikiLeaks, the subject of We Steal Secrets also began with a fury – a fury against war and secrecy, and was moving as fast as it could to challenge media complacency in the digital realm.

Now, it is being ganged up on by a media that invariably builds you up before tearing you down.

The docu-tract uses slick graphics to creatively report on the origins and impact of WikiLeaks, the online whistleblower collective, but then, for “balance” and perhaps to pre-empt any criticisms of any bias, especially too much ideological sympathy, opened the tap on endless criticisms by Wiki-dissidents who have turned on founder Julian Assange, as well as the pathetic patriot hacker turned informant, Adrian Lamo, who ratted out Manning.

The movie revels in all the negatives that surround him, and his chief and gutsy leaker, Private First Class Bradley Manning who is on the eve of a trial that could land him behind bars for life under the 1917 Espionage Act.

On June 1st, Manning supporters will rally at the Virginia base at which he is being held. ABC News reports, “ABC News reports: “A large crowd is expected at Fort Meade this weekend for a mass demonstration in support of Army Private First Class Bradley Manning.” His trial begins June 3.

Says Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights: “The Manning trial is occurring in the context of perhaps the most repressive atmosphere for free press in recent memory. It was bad enough that the Obama administration prosecuted twice the number of whistleblowers than all prior administrations combined. Then it went after logs and records of journalists and publishers…”

Manning’s recent and widely unreported statement in Court explaining his reasons for making the secret documents public is not in the film.

The film mentions, but does not explore, Manning’s claim that he offered his data first to mainstream newspapers including the New York Times and Washington Post which showed no interest.

Their failure to publish the story was one of the reasons the soldier turned to WikiLeaks. And, also, one of the reasons that validates WikiLeaks claim of having a journalistic mission.

So, the stakes are high, and its surprising that the film’s very title, “We Steal Secrets,” an idea that many might be taken as a Wiki-boast, was really an admission by former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden about what the U.S. government, not WikiLeaks, is all about. Balancing his espionage boosterism is a former Republican Justice Department hack.

It is very rare for an Indy filmmaker to land interviews with top intelligence honchos. Who had the juice to get this “get” as major interviews are called in the news world.

Supporters of Assange like civil libertarians, media freedom groups. Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, or critics like Noam Chomsky, are conspicuously absent.

As a result, We Steal Secrets seems more like a case for the prosecution than the defense, at least in the Court of Public opinion.

The film has had a big promotional push and is already playing in three theaters in New York, a success that masks some of its editorial failings including its in your face attempt at “fairness and balance,” the pretext the one-siders at FOX use as their claim to credibility.

The promotional hype for the film initially made it seem like an endorsement of Assange until you read it closely.

“Filmed with the startling immediacy of unfolding history, Academy Award®-winning director Alex Gibney’s We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks details the creation of Julian Assange’s controversial website, which facilitated the largest security breach in U.S. history. Hailed by some as a free-speech hero and others as a traitor and terrorist, …”

So, there you are, the movie’s real question: is Assange a good guy or not? And what about Manning? Why did he do what he did? So, at the outset, Gibney leaves the political plane for a psychological, or even, a psychiatric one. He is out to personalize and in the process depoliticize a very political issue for what’s known in the news-biz as “character-based story telling.”

The mantra; stick with people, not their passions, individuals not ideas.

Yes, there’s lots of information about the goals and methods of WikiLeaks, but, that becomes in this movie a subtext to a more Shakespearean tragedy: the rise and fall of idealists who turn into their opposites, or are using politics to work out their twisted personal issues.

Out goes more film time devoted to war crimes and information concealment; and, in comes juicy stories about sex without condoms, cross-dressing, and gender conflicts to soften the brew.

The “worthy” appearance of investigation quickly turns into the nasty reality of exploitation with the focus on their subject’s flaws, not their bravery, a theme I am sure played well in the conservative board room at Comcast.

  • The Village Voice asks in its review, “is a strong point of view really such a bad thing? The movie leaves you feeling lost and confused. Fix. Please.”
  • The Washington Post seemed to celebrate its expose, not of government secrets—but of secret-hunter Assange, writing, “At best, Assange comes across as something of a noble jerk, a man who doesn’t care about embarrassing public figures who have done wrong. At worst, he comes across as a callous sociopath, someone who wouldn’t hesitate to publish unredacted details of military operations that might actually get people killed, only to lie about it after the fact by claiming that WikiLeaks had “systems” in place to prevent potentially harmful disclosures. There weren’t, according to several seemingly knowledgeable individuals, including Assange’s former WikiLeaks colleagues.” (Doesn’t this reality show how bogus the oft-repeated fears of many in the media and government were?)
  • The New York Times was also a bit perturbed—not too much, given the paper’s frequent trashing of Assange, (after milking the secrets he gave them)—describing it as a “tale of absolutist ideals that seemed somehow to curdle and of private torment in search of an outlet with drastic results.” Again, the theme is the personal more than the political.

The message: You can’t trust anyone, much less anyone challenging power.

No wonder that Assange—who was not interviewed for this movie, perhaps sensing a hit job—has turned against the movie. WikiLeaks even got its hands on a script before the film’s release and annotated it to challenge its veracity. You can read it on their website at WikiLeaks.org.

WikiLeaks says, “The film portrays Manning’s alleged acts as failure of character rather than a triumph of conscience. The portrayal of Manning’s alleged relationship to WikiLeaks and to Assange is grossly irresponsible and suggests – erroneously and when evidence is to the contrary – that Assange may be guilty of conspiring with Bradley Manning to commit espionage or similar offences. The film buys into the current US government position that journalists and publishers can be prosecuted as co-conspirators alongside their alleged sources.

This is a dangerous proposition for all journalists and media organizations — not just WikiLeaks. In the context of the US government’s attempts to prosecute journalists who communicate with confidential sources, Gibney’s film could have been an important and timely project. The film barely touches on the US investigation against WikiLeaks, never mentions the words “grand jury”, and trivializes the larger issues, perhaps because the film-maker could not secure an interview with Julian Assange?

The film reports that Assange demanded millions for an interview (this was also reported erroneously by the New York Times but then corrected). If true, this is Assange’s way, no doubt, of mocking the big bucks behind the production. He knew they wanted the big confrontational Q&A and wouldn’t give it to them!

He says there are two more Wikleaks films on the way that he has cooperated with.

I have been impressed with Alex Gibney’s work. He is a talented pro, and this film is worth seeing (and dissecting). I also admire the daring of Manning and Assange who are faulted for being paranoid, but, given the propaganda and legal broadsides launched against them, you can understand why.

Remember when the US government sent thugs to break into Vietnam whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office looking for ways to discredit him? Making your whistleblowers appear weird and crazy is an old technique used by the powerful against those who question power.

Kafka couldn’t of come up with a more byzantine legal process than the one that Manning faces. (Military justice is said to be for justice what military bands are for music.) There are, for example, no official transcripts of the legal proceedings available. Prominent journalists are calling for more access and transparency.

And while having Assange taking refuge in London’s Ecuador Embassy seems absurd, it is also a sign that there are people worldwide who respect and admire the work that WikiLeaks does!

We Steal Secrets is now a high profile part of the media war that WikiLeaks is fighting, a war that has often put whistleblower groups at odds with the press whose freedom it champions. That press insists their way is the only way and is in the business of marginalizing dissidents.

So, first, there were the newspapers, who initially rejected the secrets of government abuse, and then used WikiLeaks, before repudiating Assange as not a “real journalist,” as they apparently believe themselves to be. Then, collectively and arrogantly turned on him in masse.

Now, documentaries have become part of this contested terrain.

Read Part Two: We Steal Secrets (Follow Up)

News Dissector Danny Schechter edits Mediachannel.org, blogs at news dissector.net, and has an NYT eXaminer column. Danny is also an independent filmmaker. Comments to dissector@mediachannel.org.

Argo: Hollywood’s New Hostage Thriller Could Inflame Tensions
by Danny Schechter

Earlier this year, I was in Tehran for a conference on Hollywood’s power and impact. It was called “Hollywoodism,” featuring many scholars and critics of the values and political ideologies featured in many major movies with a focus on the way Israel (aka “the Zionists”) are continually portrayed as if they do no wrong.

What we didn’t know then while we were debating these issues was that some of Hollywood’s biggest stars were at that very moment making a movie that will certainly be perceived as hostile to Iran, if not part of the undeclared war that Israel and the United States are waging with crippling economic sanctions and malicious cyber viruses.

The movie is Argo, and the hype for it has already begun. In a business driven by formula, a “hostage thriller” must have been irresistible to an industry always more consumed by itself and its own frames of reference than anything happening in the real world. An NBC entertainment site explains:

At the height of the Iran Hostage Crisis, the CIA smuggled six Americans out of Tehran in a plot that was a movie maker’s dream. So naturally, Hollywood’s gonna make a movie out of it.

Ben Affleck is in talks to direct “Argo,” a film being produced by George Clooney, about former CIA Master of Disguise Tony Mendez and his most daring operation, reported Variety. Mendez smuggled six American’s out of Tehran in 1979 by concocting a fake movie production, called “Argo.”

Predictably, the background and context of these events is conspicuous by its absence, as are the reasons for the Iranian revolution and the role played by the United States in working with the British in the overthrow of the Mossadegh government and support for the despotic Shah.

“It’s not political,” a movie industry insider told me.

A film set in the Iranian revolution, that most political of events of an era, “not political”?

That’s Hollywood for you!

Hollywood movies want to be seen only as exercises in dramatic storytelling, so their focus is always on characters and action.

As Wired Magazine described what happened in a 2007 story based on the book that led to the film:

“November 4, 1979, began like any other day at the US embassy in Tehran. The staff filtered in under gray skies, the marines manned their posts, and the daily crush of anti-American protestors massed outside the gate chanting, ‘Allahu akbar! Marg bar Amrika!'”

Mark and Cora Lijek, a young couple serving in their first foreign service post, knew the slogans — “God is great! Death to America!” — and had learned to ignore the din as they went about their duties. But today, the protest sounded louder than usual. And when some of the local employees came in and said there was “a problem at the gate,” they knew this morning would be different.

The larger confrontation also served as the basis for a long running TV news series, ABC’s America Held Hostage, treating those Americans as victims of a crime, but never Iran as the scene of a larger crime, a country held hostage for years by a U.S.-backed secret police and military that crushed freedom of expression, repressed religion, and enabled the CIA to manipulate Iran’s politics while U.S. companies plundered Iran’s resources.

One-sided news programming was far more effective than Hollywood movie making as a tool for mobilizing Americans against Iran. The coverage was was always unbalanced. I called it “A.A.U.” — All About Us!

Now, this new movie will likely add to the propaganda even as many Americans are speaking out against a war on Iran while Washington is clearly planning one.

It will bring back all the old anti-Iranian feelings and stereotypes while progressive U.S. actors glamorize a CIA agent, even though the actual movie makes the events seem absurd and at times reportedly even makes fun of the U.S. government in 1970s movie-making style.

I haven’t seen the film but judging from the slick trailer I saw in my neighborhood theater, it’s about clever Americans outsmarting Iranians who look robotic.

Here’s the context as Wired reports:

The Iran hostage crisis, which would go on for 444 days, shaking America’s confidence and sinking President Jimmy Carter’s reelection campaign, had begun. … Everyone remembers the 52 Americans trapped at the embassy and the failed rescue attempt a few months later that ended with a disastrous Army helicopter crash in the Iranian desert. But not many know the long- classified details of the CIA’s involvement in the escape of the other group — thrust into a hostile city in the throes of revolution.

In the “not many know” department, there is no reference here either about how the Reagan campaign secretly negotiated to hold back the hostages until Carter was out of office, or the illegal Iran-Contra arms deals that followed.

This is not a “new” story — it was told years ago in books and magazines — but Argo is retelling as if it is new. It is, as you would expect, all about our brilliance and their stupidity, our good guys against their bad guys — all classic Made in the USA commercial movie formula.

Will this thriller contribute to a deeper understanding between our two countries?

Will it help us find a way of resolving our differences?

I doubt it.

As it happens, when I was in Tehran, I visited the former U.S. Embassy and wrote about my impressions in a new book, Blogothon. It is now a museum with a well-preserved group of offices, safeguarding the equipment used by the CIA for surveillance and espionage.

The Iranians had denounced the building as a “spy nest” well before the students took it over but even they didn’t know how right they were or its real covert action focus until they saw it for themselves.

U.S. Embassy security tried to destroy all its secret documents by shredding them, but the students, over months, patiently sewed the bits and pieces together and published them, exposing their nefarious tactics in books that U.S. customs would not allow Americans to see. (Friends of mine had their copies seized when they returned from a reporting trip to Iran in that period.) There is a reference to the recovery of some of this information in Argo, but not much about what was in those documents. This was all before the age of Wikileaks.

But never mind the facts or their selective retelling: In Hollywood, only story matters. You can just hear the actors telling their agents “how cool this film is” — especially because movie-making is the movie’s sub-plot, the glory of the story, so to speak, at the core of what is, in the end, sanitized drama.

Once again, mindlessness leads to malice in a search not for truth but box office revenues. Of course, I will see it when it’s out in the fall.

News Dissector Danny Schechter blogs at newsdissector.net. His two latest books are Blogothon and Occupy: Dissecting Occupy Wall Street. He also hosts a program on Progressive Radio Network.com. This article first appeared on Press TV in Iran. I wonder how they will respond. Comments to dissector –at– mediachannel.org.  Follow Danny Schechter on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Dissectorevents