The Lies Screenwriters Tell Themselves

Posted: November 17, 2012 in Joe Giambrone
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I’m not posting this video here. It’s a discussion of some highly-paid word jockeys, some of whom penned notable political films, including Argo and Zero Dark Thirty.

I stopped watching after the Argonaut tried to pretend that he wrote a balanced portrayal of Iranians, when the most glaring complaint about the film is the exact opposite interpretation:

The film offers only scant insight into how the Islamists came to win over a country that had previously been quite secular and sophisticated.

Very, very few Iranian characters are individualized in Argo, and most of the time when we see Iranians on-screen, their words are not translated for us. Take Farshad Farahat’s character. He is an officer in the Revolutionary Guards, one of the final terrifying obstacles the escaping protagonists must face at the airport. Farahat tries not to play stupid or cartoonish like so many ethnic villains in Hollywood movies, but most of the little he has been given to say is un-translated, so Farahat has to do almost all of the work with his eyes. The movie apparently never intended much more for him: his character’s name is merely “Azzizi Checkpoint #3″.

Another Persian, Reza (Omid Abtahi), makes an appearance in the marketplace in Tehran. His defining characteristic is whether the Americans can trust him. When he is friendly, his words are translated. When an altercation breaks out, there are no subtitles.

And even the point of the jokey snippet of dialogue that is translated seems to be to mock his idea of a Hollywood movie even more than Argo sends up the fake sci-fi B-movie. This dialogue emphasizes his cultural Other-ness, making him sound as sexist and out-of-touch as a Sacha Baron Cohen creation.

Nowhere, in a caper that exists in part to celebrate movie magic, is it mentioned that Iran has its own cinematic tradition…
Iran, Politics, and Film: “Argo” or “A Separation”?, by Jennifer Epps

“The movie is packed with rioting American-hating Iranians with guns, yet the film has no tension whatsoever. Other than a brief history lesson in the beginning of the film and one scene in a public market when an outraged Iranian insists that the diplomats give him a Polaroid photo they shot and mentions that the Shah killed his son, the movie completely neglects to provide the Iranian’s side of the story. The film is a sanitized version of the events. It minimally alludes to the back story of the Iranian revolution but then turns the Iranians into window dressing. They are simply a backdrop that allows the film to tell its patriotic story of the American Hollywood-CIA heroic and covert operation to rescue the diplomats.” –“Argo, Fuck Yourself”, by by KIM NICOLINI

The other Big Lie I’ve heard from screenwriters since time immemorial is that “it’s just entertainment,” as opposed to art. The implication being that films don’t affect the viewer and alter their perceptions of the world. Obviously this is a false view. The father of modern propaganda said it in 1928:

“The American motion picture is the greatest unconscious carrier of propaganda in the world to-day. It is a great distributor for ideas and opinions. The motion picture can standardize the ideas and habits of a nation.” (Propagnada, Edward Bernays, 1928) more

I included the above link to the screenwriter’s discussion mostly because Michael Haneke makes some interesting points about the responsibility to history, and the exploitation of historical situations by the movie business.

  1. David Louis Backmann says:

    An excellent and much needed page with terrifically useful material. Well done.

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