Posts Tagged ‘Ben Affleck’

benaffmaher_360

Maher continues to defame/slander the entire Muslim religion. Has a sidekick.

Argo: Time to Grow Up and Get Angry?

by Kieran Kelley

 

The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off” – Gloria Steinem.

There have been a number of critical condemnations of the film Argo. The most thoroughgoing that I have read is this one. What seems to me to be missing is any critique that successfully conveys the utter ludicrousness of expecting something other than lying propaganda to come out of a Hollywood film about the CIA in 1979. It is like expecting the Soviets to have made an accurate and unbiased account of KGB activities during the Prague Spring. I saw the preview before the film’s release, and after about 5 or 10 seconds of suspense it became apparent that it was a load of crap – the usual Orientalist stuff, straight out of the Reel Bad Arabs playbook, except with Persians instead of Arabs. The film mirrors the preview – at first it seems possible that one might be about to see a balanced and thoughtful movie, and then… not. Decidedly not.

Let me begin with some historical context. The CIA’s first coup in Iran, considered at the time “its greatest single triumph”,1 brought the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi to a position of supreme power. The CIA “wove itself into Iran’s political culture”.2 They created SAVAK, a notorious “intelligence” agency, trained in torture by the CIA3 and supported by the CIA and DIA in a domestic and international dissident assassination programme.4 Repression was at its peak between 1970 and 1976 resulting in 10,000 deaths.5 By 1976 Amnesty International’s secretary general commented that Iran had “the highest rate of death penalties in the world, no valid system of civilian courts and a history of torture that is beyond belief. No country in the world has a worse record of human rights than Iran.”6

Nafeez Ahmed cites the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) who detail an extensive police state of intense surveillance and informant networks and torture “passed on to it” by US, UK and Israeli intelligence. Ahmed quotes the FAS on methods including “electric shock, whipping, beating, inserting broken glass and pouring boiling water into the rectum, tying weights to the testicles, and the extraction of teeth and nails.”7 Racism allows commentators such as Tim Weiner to blithely exculpate the CIA of fundamental guilt: “The CIA wanted SAVAK to serve as its eyes and ears against the Soviets. The shah wanted a secret police to protect his power.”8 After all, what could civilised Westerners teach Orientals about torture? But something of the real US attitude to such repression can be seen in the official reaction to the unrest developing in the late 1970s. Aside from US officials consistently urging and praising military responses to protest action, including inevitable massacres,9 the US ambassador objected strongly to a reduction in repression. In June 1978 he reported his finding that, “the Shah’s new directives to his security forces, such as instructions to desist from torture… are disorienting.”10 The funny thing about this was that it occurred after the US had forced the Shah into the liberalisation that set loose the forces that were to rip his régime apart.11 This may seem puzzling, but it made more sense for the US to push Iran into the easily vilified “enemy” hands of an Islamic theocracy than to try to maintain control over a Shah who, however repressive, was determined to develop his populous oil-rich country independently.

That is the key point that you will almost never hear about: the US was sick of the Shah. He had become too nationalistic and developmentally inclined, and they didn’t want him any more. They may not have really wanted a revolution in Iran, but they weren’t going to shed tears over the Shah’s departure. Their main fear was the strength of the secular revolutionary left, which had more popular power than the Islamists (despite SAVAK’s repression) so the US helped nurture the Islamist factions.

The CIA were far from unaware of the impending fall of the Shah’s régime, here is a quote in the film which is an instance of absolute barefaced deception: “Iran is 100% not in a pre-revolutionary state. CIA brief, November first, 1979.” Let’s not be stupid here – it is one thing to claim not to know of an impending revolution, but the film is claiming that the CIA were unaware of a revolution that had already happened. Of course some people in the CIA knew that revolution was brewing and the actual CIA brief was from August 1978 and was plainly dishonest even then. By that stage even the State Department was planning for a post-Shah Iran.12 The revolution had actually happened nearly a year before Argo claims that the CIA believed it wasn’t going to happen (the Shah fled Iran in January, Khomeini returned from exile on February 1). But Argo makers really, really, really want you to “know” that the CIA were caught flat-footed and are willing to go to considerable lengths to make you believe this lie.

There is another deception in the film which indicates a conscious systematic attempt to indoctrinate the audience. Some describe Argo as “well-intentioned but fatally flawed”, but these “good intentions” cannot possibly be reconciled with the disgusting propaganda treatment of the issue of the shredded documents put together by Iran. The documents seized by radicals in the embassy takeover were the Wikileaks of their time. Most seized documents were not shredded and they exposed massive systematic illegality and wrongdoing by US personnel, especially the CIA. They were extremely historically significant. Iran spent years piecing together the shreds and the reconstruction was a major intelligence and propaganda coup. In the film, however, we see a very different narrative played out, and we are shown a set of very different images.

In the film, for some inexplicable reason, there were xeroxed photographic images of the staff who had escaped from the embassy when it was seized by radicals. Could this simply be a cinematic plot device for generating suspense? Not really. Any number of other devices might have been used – such as a dragnet, or informants, or surveillance (mobile or static), signals interception and cryptography. You name it, if you are willing to make stuff up, then there is quite a lot you could make up that would be potentially more suspenseful and, unlike this particular conceit, wouldn’t run such a risk of the audience losing their suspension of disbelief because of such an obvious unrealism.

“Realism”, I should add, is a very import aspect of this film. It is not done in a documentary style, but is presented as a dramatisation of historical events. Let me illustrate with a quote at length from Wide Asleep in America:

[Salon’s Andrew] O’Hehir perfectly articulates the film’s true crime, its deliberate exploitation of “its basis in history and its mode of detailed realism to create something that is entirely mythological.” Not only is it “a trite cavalcade of action-movie clichés and expository dialogue,” but “[i]t’s also a propaganda movie in the truest sense, one that claims to be innocent of all ideology.”

Such an assessment is confirmed by Ben Affleck’s own comments about the film. In describing “Argo” to Bill O’Reilly, Affleck boasted, “You know, it was such a great story. For one thing, it’s a thriller. It’s actually comedy with the Hollywood satire. It’s a complicated CIA movie, it’s a political movie. And it’s all true.” He told Rolling Stone that, when conceiving his directorial approach, he knew he “absolutely had to preserve the central integrity and truth of the story.”

“It’s OK to embellish, it’s OK to compress, as long as you don’t fundamentally change the nature of the story and of what happened,” Affleck has remarked, even going so far as to tell reporters at Argo’s BFI London Film Festival premier, “This movie is about this story that took place, and it’s true, and I go to pains to contextualize it and to try to be even-handed in a way that just means we’re taking a cold, hard look at the facts.”

In an interview with The Huffington Post, Affleck went so far as to say, “I tried to make a movie that is absolutely just factual. And that’s another reason why I tried to be as true to the story as possible — because I didn’t want it to be used by either side. I didn’t want it to be politicized internationally or domestically in a partisan way. I just wanted to tell a story that was about the facts as I understood them.”

To emphasise this point, the initial part of the end credits juxtaposes images from the film with real documentary images. They show how much the actors look like the people they portray. The show how they had faithfully recreated scenes from the revolution. And they show the teeny tiny hands a the poor slave children forced to piece together shredded CIA documents. Wait a second though… don’t the hands in the real photo, despite severe cropping, look more like a woman’s hands? And why would young children be used to piece together valuable and vulnerable documents written in a language that they could not possibly understand?

For some reason the film makers took it upon themselves to invent a whole bunch of “sweatshop kids” putting together these documents. There is no conceivable reason to do so that does not involve conscious deceptive propaganda. In this case, the intent is to make deliberate emotive subliminal association. What do I mean by subliminal? As Joe Giambrone explains:

The father of modern propaganda, Edward Bernays, wrote in the late 1920s:

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.” (Bernays 1928)

Bernays noted the “unconscious” character of much film propaganda. It was not necessary to directly state messages, but to let the scenarios and the story world carry the messages in the background. Once immersed in the foreground story — whatever it was — the “unconscious” background elements were passed to the audience without critical interference and often without the viewer’s knowledge.

This subliminal quality is praised by Bernays as a positive thing, in his view. This is hardly surprising as Bernays’ concept of propaganda is broad in scope encompassing every medium and method of communication that exists. Bernays’ seminal book Propaganda begins:

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized.” (Bernays 1928)”

Subliminality doesn’t mean that images are flashed too quickly to be noticed, rather that associations are made without conscious thought. It is true that you can find a great number of deliberately concealed images in advertising, but the claim that this is all that constitutes subliminal advertising is itself a deception. Advertising, in particular television advertising, is dominated by subliminal messaging, and it is not about tricky concealment. It uses repetition more than anything else, to make associations between advertised products and services with other desires – particularly, but not exclusively, sexual. If you want to sell a car, you don’t generally use brake horsepower or fuel consumption statistics. You associate it with a lifestyle, with attractive people, with status, with sex, with success, with normalcy, with excitement, with fine wine and food, and so forth. That is subliminal.

Obviously when film makers are unconsciously disseminating their own internalised propaganda they convey such messages subliminally. Subliminal means below the threshold, meaning, in this case, below the threshold of consciousness. This is a very, very significant manner in which an orthodox ideology, such as chauvinist US exceptionalism, is deepened and perpetuated. However the deliberate use of techniques designed to manipulate people by subliminal means can be far more powerful still. As an apposite example, let us examine Michelle Obama’s Oscar night appearance. Some have pointed out that Obama being flanked by military personnel as “props” suggests a desire to subliminally associate the First Lady and the presidency with military virtues. That may well be the case, but think how common it is to see faces arrayed behind political speakers in our times. Every time it is possible to do so nowadays, major US politicians will have a bunch of people in uniform behind them when they speak. But it is not strictly about the association with uniforms. Press conferences often pose colleagues behind the speaker – including military briefings almost as a matter of course – and when politicians speak to political rallies or party conferences, they are framed by a sea of supporters’ faces behind them.

You see, we automatically respond to other people’s facial expressions. In fact eliciting an emotional response is as much a component of facial expression as conveying emotion is, and this occurs subliminally. Now think again of Giambrone’s description: “… the ‘unconscious’ background elements were passed to the audience without critical interference and often without the viewer’s knowledge….” The people behind the speaker are being used as a way of evoking an emotional reaction like some science fiction mind control ray. Fortunately, people are fickle creatures and often their reaction to watching the back of a speaker’s head, no matter how eloquent, is to look bored or embarrassed. But clearly the technique is being perfected, and the people chosen are those who can be relied upon to convey the right emotions, hence the predilection for military personnel and partisan enthusiasts.

Similarly, subliminal messaging in advertising and film is often also aimed at a gut level. They are not conveying particular ideas, but emotions. The victim (I mean viewer) can rationalise these emotions any way they might later choose, and the brilliance of the system is that it enlists every victim’s own inventiveness tailored in response to each specific circumstance that might challenge or belie the conditioned sentimental sense of reality. So where does this leave us with regards to Argo‘s mythical “sweatshop kids”? We have precisely four references to them. The first is in our hero’s initial briefing: “The bastards are using these [pause and do gesture to indicate need to
convey novel concept] mmm sweatshop kids.” Nearly an hour later, we are shown about 5 seconds of the “sweatshop”. It actually looks very stupid if you pay attention to it, but it is over too quickly to register (more subliminality similar to that used in The Hurt Locker). What it actually shows, when the camera pulls back to reveal the scene for around one second, is dozens of children aged about five to eight sitting amidst piles of paper shreds. There is an unnatural hush, redolent with a sense of fear. Half of them are just staring into space, and there is no conceivable way that any of them could actually be doing any useful work. Accompanying the scene is one of the 16 tracks on the official soundtrack. It is called “Sweatshop” and here it is:

Note the image chosen for the album cover.

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Oscar Prints the Legend:
Argo’s Academy Award and the Failure of Truth

by Nima Shirazi

Originally at Wide Asleep in America

One year ago, after his breathtakingly beautiful Iranian drama, “A Separation,” won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, writer/director Asghar Farhadi delivered the best acceptance speech of the night.

“[A]t the time when talk of war, intimidation, and aggression is exchanged between politicians,” he said, Iran was finally being honored for “her glorious culture, a rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics.” Farhadi dedicated the Oscar “to the people of my country, a people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment.”

Such grace and eloquence will surely not be on display this Sunday, when Ben Affleck, flanked by his co-producers George Clooney and Grant Heslov, takes home the evening’s top prize, the Best Picture Oscar, for his critically-acclaimed and heavily decorated paean to the CIA and American innocence, “Argo.”

Over the past 12 months, rarely a week – let alone month – went by without new predictions of an ever-imminent Iranian nuclear weapon and ever-looming threats of an American or Israeli military attack. Come October 2012, into the fray marched “Argo,” a decontextualized, ahistorical “true story” of Orientalist proportion, subjecting audiences to two hours of American victimization and bearded barbarians, culminating in popped champagne corks and rippling stars-and-stripes celebrating our heroism and triumph and their frustration and defeat.  Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir aptly described the film as “a propaganda fable,” explaining as others have that essentially none of its edge-of-your-seat thrills or most memorable moments ever happened.  O’Hehir sums up:

The Americans never resisted the idea of playing a film crew, which is the source of much agitation in the movie. (In fact, the “house guests” chose that cover story themselves, from a group of three options the CIA had prepared.) They were not almost lynched by a mob of crazy Iranians in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, because they never went there. There was no last-minute cancellation, and then un-cancellation, of the group’s tickets by the Carter administration. (The wife of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor had personally gone to the airport and purchased tickets ahead of time, for three different outbound flights.) The group underwent no interrogation at the airport about their imaginary movie, nor were they detained at the gate while a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard telephoned their phony office back in Burbank. There was no last-second chase on the runway of Mehrabad Airport, with wild-eyed, bearded militants with Kalashnikovs trying to shoot out the tires of a Swissair jet.

One of the actual diplomats, Mark Lijek, noted that the CIA’s fake movie “cover story was never tested and in some ways proved irrelevant to the escape.” The departure of the six Americans from Tehran was actually mundane and uneventful.  “If asked, we were going to say we were leaving Iran to return when it was safer,” Lijek recalled, “But no one ever asked!…The truth is the immigration officers barely looked at us and we were processed out in the regular way. We got on the flight to Zurich and then we were taken to the US ambassador’s residence in Berne. It was that straightforward.”

Furthermore, Jimmy Carter has even acknowledged that “90% of the contributions to the ideas and the consummation of the plan was Canadian [while] the movie gives almost full credit to the American CIA…Ben Affleck’s character in the film was only in Tehran a day and a half and the real hero in my opinion was Ken Taylor, who was the Canadian ambassador who orchestrated the entire process.”

Taylor himself recently remarked that “Argo” provides a myopic representation of both Iranians and their revolution, ignoring their “more hospitable side and an intent that they were looking for some degree of justice and hope and that it all wasn’t just a violent demonstration for nothing.”

“The amusing side, Taylor said, “is the script writer in Hollywood had no idea what he’s talking about.”

O’Hehir perfectly articulates the film’s true crime, its deliberate exploitation of “its basis in history and its mode of detailed realism to create something that is entirely mythological.” Not only is it “a trite cavalcade of action-movie clichés and expository dialogue,” but “[i]t’s also a propaganda movie in the truest sense, one that claims to be innocent of all ideology.”

Such an assessment is confirmed by Ben Affleck’s own comments about the film.  In describing “Argo” to Bill O’Reilly, Affleck boasted, “You know, it was such a great story. For one thing, it’s a thriller. It’s actually comedy with the Hollywood satire. It’s a complicated CIA movie, it’s a political movie. And it’s all true.”  He told Rolling Stone that, when conceiving his directorial approach, he knew he “absolutely had to preserve the central integrity and truth of the story.”

“It’s OK to embellish, it’s OK to compress, as long as you don’t fundamentally change the nature of the story and of what happened,” Affleck has remarked, even going so far as to tell reporters at Argo’s BFI London Film Festival premier, “This movie is about this story that took place, and it’s true, and I go to pains to contextualize it and to try to be even-handed in a way that just means we’re taking a cold, hard look at the facts.”

In an interview with The Huffington Post, Affleck went so far as to say, “I tried to make a movie that is absolutely just factual. And that’s another reason why I tried to be as true to the story as possible — because I didn’t want it to be used by either side. I didn’t want it to be politicized internationally or domestically in a partisan way. I just wanted to tell a story that was about the facts as I understood them.”

For Affleck, these facts apparently don’t include understanding why the American Embassy in Tehran was overrun and occupied on November 4, 1979.  “There was no rhyme or reason to this action,” Affleck has insisted, claiming that the takeover “wasn’t about us,” that is, the American government (despite the fact that his own film is introduced by a fleeting – though frequently inaccurate1 – review of American complicity in the Shah’s dictatorship).

Wrong, Ben.  One reason was the fear of another CIA-engineered coup d’etat like the one perpetrated in 1953 from the very same Embassy. Another reason was the admission of the deposed Shah into the United States for medical treatment and asylum rather than extradition to Iran to face charge and trial for his quarter century of crimes against the Iranian people, bankrolled and supported by the U.S. government.  One doesn’t have to agree with the reasons, of course, but they certainly existed.

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Can Argo’s Best Picture Win Stop War with Iran?

by Ruth Hull

On February 24, 2013, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has thrown down the Gauntlet to Congress, the President, the corporate oil vultures and the Military Industrial Complex by presenting the Best Picture Award to Argo, a movie showing that peace is the way to save lives in response to an act of war.


 

On November 4, 1979, Iranian students stormed the American Embassy in Tehran and took Americans hostage. This was a violation of U.S. Sovereignty. America was attacked where it was supposed to be secure under international law. But Jimmy Carter refused to take up the sword. Instead, he took up the dove and got everyone home, alive and safe.

The takeover of the American Embassy was effectively an act of war – unlike any current actions of Iran involving the United States or its citizens. Iran has not taken over any of our embassies since 1979. It has committed no acts of war against the United States. Its peaceful nuclear energy plan (albeit an unhealthy and unsafe energy plan) is peaceful.  In fact, if asked their opinion, most Americans living near nuclear power plants would gladly encourage the U.S Government to dig up and ship all 104 of our operational nuclear reactors to Iran as a belated Christmas present. I live near San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) and Californians have been trying to get rid of that plant for decades as it is the most unsafe reactor in America.

In 2013, Congress has been besieged with lies about Iran by hawks, eager to attack the country with the fourth largest oil reserves in the world, after “Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Canada.”  Congressional warmongers are eager for war.

In the face of all this genocidal drive towards another future wasteland of dead babies and innocent civilians as a ritual sacrifice to the U.S. Military Industrial Complex, the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences has boldly stood up and reminded the blood-thirsty Congressional and Executive Branch hawks of the success of Jimmy Carter’s path towards peace.

As shown in Argo, while peace saved lives in 1979 and 1980, it did not save Jimmy Carter’s Presidency. Heroically, he put the lives of others before his own career. He could have taken credit for the rescue of six American from the Canadian Ambassador’s home instead of letting the Canadians have the credit. However, that would have risked Canadian lives in Iran. Carter was not about to risk lives to save his Presidency.

Also clear from the movie was the attempted undermining of Carter’s peace plan by a shadow government with ties to the Pentagon. Movie goers see that Tony Mendez, the CIA rescuer who conceived and carried out the plan for the Argo rescue, actually had to go against CIA superiors in order for the plan to succeed. If he had listened to his CIA bosses, the six Americans would have been captured and they and the Canadian diplomats could have been killed. This betrayal by the intelligence community is no surprise as a helicopter rescue plan was sabotaged by people in the Military Industrial Complex working against Carter and the hostages. The helicopter rescue idea was ridiculous, given the terrain and weather conditions in Iran. The military advisors had to know the helicopter plan would fail and embarrass the President even as they were working to sell the plan as a likely success scenario. Going against his bosses, Argo’s Mendez proved that he was one CIA officer who cared more about saving lives than about bringing down a President.

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Imperial Propaganda: Our Highest Achievement

Joe Giambrone

Hollywood likes to pretend that things aren’t political when they are.  It’s that bi-partisan nationalist myth that if both corporate parties agree to cheer for the empire, then everyone cheers for the empire.  It’s gotten so bad now that races like the Oscars and the Writer’s Guild screenwriting award are tight contests between one CIA propaganda film and another CIA propaganda film.  The first one helps to demonize Iranians and set up the next World War scenario, while the second film fraudulently promotes the effectiveness of state-sanctioned torture crimes.

If there ever was a time for loud disgust and rejection of the Hollywood / Military-Industrial-Complex, this would seem to be it (contact@oscars.org).  Naomi Wolf made a comparison of Zero Dark Thirtys creators Bigelow and Boal to Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl (Triumph of the Will).  That, to me, seems inappropriately offensive to Leni Riefenstahl.  The good German filmmaker never promoted torture through deception.  Nor was Triumph a call to war.  The film was simply an expression of German patriotism and strength, rebirth from the ashes of World War I.  The current insidious crop of propaganda, as in the CIA’s leaking of fictional scenes about locating Osama Bin Laden through torture extraction, are arguably more damaging and less defensible than Riefenstahl’s upfront and blatant homage to Hitler’s leadership.

The Zero Dark Thirty scandal should be common knowledge by now, but here is what the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence wrote to Sony Pictures about it:

“We believe the film is grossly inaccurate and misleading in its suggestion that torture resulted in information that led to the location of Usama bin Laden…  Instead, the CIA learned of the existence of the courier, his true name and location through means unrelated to the CIA detention and interrogation program.”

The filmmakers had every opportunity to explore the issue more fully, instead of relying on the “firsthand accounts” of the torturers themselves, and/or their allies within the Central Intelligence Agency.  Notably, torturers are felons and war criminals.  Those who know about their crimes and help cover them up are guilty of conspiracy to torture.  Thus, these self-serving fairy tales that illegal torture led to the desired results (bin Laden) are tangled up with the motivation to protect war criminals from prosecution.  Not only does this claim of successful torture help insulate the guilty from legal prosecution, it also helps to promote further criminal acts of torture in the future.

Once this red flag issue was raised by the Senate, the filmmakers could have taken a second look at what they had put up on screens and reassessed the veracity of their material and the way it was being sold to the world.  Instead they doubled down.  Bigelow and Boal want it both ways, extraordinary access to CIA storytellers for a documentary-like “factual” telling of the bin Laden execution, but they also want license to claim that it’s just a movie and can therefore take all the liberties they please.

Jessica Chastain, who plays a state-employed torturer/murderer, who also allegedly located Osama bin Laden, said:

“I’m afraid to get called in front of a Senate committee… In my opinion, this is a very accurate film… I think it’s important to note the film is not a documentary.”

In a nutshell, that’s the Zero Dark Thirty defense.  It’s a highly sourced “very accurate film,” but we can take all the liberties we like because it’s not a documentary, and so if we made up a case for torture based on the lies of professional liars in the CIA, then oops.

Mark Boal went so far as to mock the Senate Intelligence Committee, at the NY Film Critic’s Circle:

“In case anyone is asking, we stand by the film… Apparently, the French government will be investigating Les Mis.”

Any controversy over the picture seems to help its box office, as more uninformed people hear about it.  The filmmakers themselves suffer no penalty as a result of misleading a large number of people on torture, to accept torture, to accept a secretive criminal state that tortures with impunity.

Kathryn Bigelow’s wrapped-in-the-flag defense of the film:

“Bin Laden… was defeated by ordinary Americans who fought bravely even as they sometimes crossed moral lines, who labored greatly and intently, who gave all of themselves in both victory and defeat, in life and in death, for the defense of this nation.” (emphasis in original)

Nice propaganda trick at the end equating those who “gave all of themselves” and “death” with the individuals who “sometimes crossed moral lines.”  Everyone’s dirty; you see.  All heroes are torturers; so it’s okay.

Bigelow’s half-assed response to getting called out by the Senate for putting false torture results into her film, is to say:

“Torture was, however, as we all know, employed in the early years of the hunt. That doesn’t mean it was the key to finding Bin Laden. It means it is a part of the story we couldn’t ignore. War, obviously, isn’t pretty, and we were not interested in portraying this military action as free of moral consequences.” (emphasis added)

Ignore?  By her reasoning, because the Central Intelligence Agency tortured people, she was required to fit it into the plot somehow, whether it was relevant to the investigation or not.  That’s her excuse.  No matter that the scenes are fabrications, and the actual clues about bin Laden’s courier came from elsewhere (electronic surveillance, human intelligence, foreign services).

Bigelow told Charlie Rose, when asked the same question about the torture: “Well I think it’s important to tell a true story.”  Unfortunately, when confronted with the Senate investigation, truth quickly takes a back seat.

The truth Bigelow now clings to is that, “Experts disagree sharply on the facts and particulars of the intelligence hunt, and doubtlessly that debate will continue.”  To Kathryn Bigelow, the fact that the so-called “experts” she has sided with are torturer criminals with a vested interest in her portrayal of their crimes never occurs to her.  She can dismiss the entire matter as a “debate.”  Perhaps she no longer finds it “important to tell a true story?”

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Iran, Politics, and Film: “Argo” or “A Separation”?

by Jennifer Epps

On the spectrum of recent U.S. films about intense life-and-death conflicts between Persians and “our guys’, the most propagandistic, militaristic, and reactionary position is occupied by the reprehensible live-action cartoon 300. You could call this the “Kill Them All” position. On the opposite end of that spectrum, the most humanistic, egalitarian, and psychologically insightful position is occupied by the exquisite drama The House of Sand and Fog — a chamber piece that shows how misunderstandings can spiral tragically out of control. You might call this the “Human Decency” position.

Somewhere in the middle of those two extremes lies the new movie Argo,  directed by Ben Affleck for Smokehouse Pictures, the production company owned by George Clooney and Grant Heslov. Argo  is about the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979, and how the CIA came up with an unlikely rescue plan for six of the Americans hiding outside of the embassy: they would pretend to make a sci-fi movie. The premise has enormous potential, and it’s easy to see why it would be attractive to Hollywood. Unfortunately, the finished product is nowhere near the “Human Decency” end of the spectrum. I think its liberal makers would be surprised and actually ashamed if they realized how much more it leans towards 300.

There is no doubt that Argo is a very ambitious film. It wants to be life-and-death serious, funny, and exciting all at once, and to join historical accuracy with breathless pacing, jokey put-downs of Hollywood, and an absurdist scheme at the story’s core. As Affleck confided in an interview, it is also ambitious in its delicate tonal balance. It aims to be a taut suspense thriller that also provides some history of the strained relations between the U.S. and Iran, and it tries to re-create the 1970’s vibe without being too cheesy or campy. All the while, of course, it is designed to be commercial, with a budget of $44 million — the L.A.Times  alleges that this makes it “one of the season’s more daring gambles, the kind of movie most studios stopped making in the last decade.”

At the same time, it seems to want to leave us with the takeaway that even in a nightmarish scenario, bitter differences can be resolved without bombing anyone. (At the premiere, the audience applauded President Carter’s voiceover explaining that in the end we got all the hostages out, and we did it peacefully). The movie does show that deciding against a bloodbath can take courage and foresight. And perhaps this is what Affleck, Clooney, and Heslov believe made the movie the right thing to do right now — even at the risk of stoking the fires of warmongers here at home in 2012, by raising the spectre of Americans imperiled by Iran.

Well, it achieves all those goals in spades, and I applaud its ambitions and its aplomb. But I wish it was considerably more ambitious.

Argo catapults between, as Affleck put it to the L.A. Times, “three different themes and three different worlds: the CIA, Hollywood, and the Iran tensions.” Affleck’s quote is informative: the third theme or world that he organized the film around was “Iran tensions’, not Iran itself. Not even the Iranian revolution. The subject is the threat to Americans. Argo is about the plight of 6 Americans hiding out in Tehran after the embassy is seized, and it cuts away only to strategic debates at CIA headquarters as agent Tony Mendez (Affleck) struggles against bureaucratic inertia, or to comic relief scenes in Hollywood between John Goodman and Alan Arkin. No matter where our wheels touch down, it’s Americans who matter. This is a movie that views Iran in the 1970s from the living-room where the 6 are hiding — and the blinds are closed.

The cover story being used to try to smuggle the 6 hideaways out of Tehran is that they are location-scouting for a movie, so the day before they are to escape, they go out in public to make their aliases more believable. Do we, on the pretend location scout, finally see some of Tehran’s cultural landmarks? Do we get a sense of an ancient civilization and a sophisticated culture? Do we have any panoramas of people going about their business in the complexity of a metropolitan city? No, because the Americans’ expedition is just as claustrophobic as the scenes in their lair — Affleck crowds them into a van, squeezes the van in a vice as they are swarmed by furious protesters, and then jostles them around in a packed bazaar that turns hostile. Of course, he’s doing this deliberately for the tension it creates in them and in us. But throughout the film, the Iran we see in the news clips and the Iran we see dramatized are all on the same superficial level: incomprehensible, out-of-control hordes with nary an individual or rational thought expressed.

After a brief (albeit important) animated storyboard introduction that contextualizes the events of 1979 with some history, it is the storming of the American embassy which begins both the film proper and our exposure to the Iranian revolution. You wouldn’t know from this film that, despite years of persecution during Iran’s westernized government, the communist Tudeh Party was also out organizing workers’ strikes during the turmoil of the Shah Pahlavi’s overthrow. The movie does stress that the U.S. helped overthrow the democratically-elected prime minister Mohammad Mossaddeq in 1953 because he dared to nationalize Iran’s oil, and then backed the Shah and his use of the notorious SAVAK secret police to kidnap and torture the Shah’s opponents. These are obviously excellent points to make. But Argo glosses over the diversity of opinion in Iran and the intellectual ferment before the theocratic lockdown, making the culture look exactly the way an insular American public has come to believe all Islamic countries look. 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 — though if the Argo  creative team had ever seen the award-winning 1992 tribute film Once Upon a Time, Cinema  they would have seen clips from old Iranian movies dating all the way back to the silent era. By the time Argo is set, a number of Iranian film festivals had been in existence several years, including the Tehran International Film Festival ‘to promote the art of Cinema that expresses humanitarian values and promotes understanding and exchange of ideas between nations’. And there were already several film and television schools in Iran, including a decade-old  government-financed School of Television and Cinema which students attended for free. 480 feature films were made in Iran between 1966 and 1973; filmmakers, like other Iranian artists and intellectuals, had plenty to call attention to under the Shah’s oppressive regime. In fact, the Iranian New Wave, which launched in 1969, should have been known to Argo ‘s Foreign Service professionals who had spent their leisure time in Tehran; with filmmakers as respected as Dariush Mehrjui and Abbas Kiarostami already active. By the late seventies, movies were already the key form of mass entertainment in the country. Yet Affleck has the Revolutionary Guards gawking and giggling over the storyboards and poster for the fake Hollywood movie like awe-struck children.

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There are films that simply should not be made, and this is clearly one of them. The historical context in which a work of mass communication is created and distributed should be taken into account by morally responsible artists. It rarely is.

 

Bryan Cranston. and Affleck (as Mendez).

by Patrice Greanville

Ben Affleck’s latest actioner using the Iran hostage crisis as a backdrop may hit the mark as a thriller but misses the target big time by serving as a propaganda vehicle for US war in that region.

Synopsis

Already hailed as one of the year’s best, Argo is a 2012 American political thriller film directed by Ben Affleck (and co-produced by George Clooney, whose fascination with shady intel ops and Middle East intrigue is rather notable). The film is loosely based on a true story, CIA “exfiltration expert” Tony Mendez’s account of the rescue of six U.S. diplomats from Tehran, Iran at the height of the 1979 “Iran hostage crisis”. The film stars Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and John Goodman. The film is scheduled for release in the United States on October 12, 2012.

What’s so bloody wrong with this film

TIMING

Appearing in late 2012, prior to the US presidential election, and in the midst of an all-out propaganda campaign to demonize Iran and take America to war against that long-victimized country (a stealthy dirty war of sabotage and assassination has been waged against Iran for quite some time now by NATO assets and the Mossad, with probably ample support from the Gulf royal mafia), the film can only add fuel–what else–to the flames. This film, under the guise of a thriller, can only exacerbate anti-Iranian feeling in America and elsewhere, and, in passing, perhaps as an unwitting bonus, give the sinister CIA a cuddly wink of approval. Which is exactly what you’d expect from nincompoop liberals like Affleck and Clooney.

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