Saturday, March 2, 2013

Argo, Ergo Reality

The Canadian ambassador, on whom the Oscar-winning film Argo is based, is concerned a new generation will be misinformed about NZ's role in the 1979 Iran hostage crisis.
Former diplomat Ken Taylor helped six US diplomats flee Tehran after their embassy was stormed. The movie Argo, directed by Ben Affleck, portrays this dramatic escape and suggests NZ's Iran embassy refused to offer help to the Yanks! Affleck has previously agreed the film is not fair on NZ, but the controversy's reignited after this film recently won an Oscar.
Ken Taylor emphasises he had "outstanding assistance" from NZ diplomats in Tehran, in particular Ambassador Chris Beeby. He says Beeby and 2nd.Sec.Richard Sewell were "world-class diplomats" and "very much part of the team" that helped in the escape: "They were extraordinary and I'd like NZers to understand that at no time was the NZ Embassy asked to take diplomats in and refused." He says he's concerned Argo could rewrite history for young people: "As long as people realise this isn't the historical record." NZ PM John Key says it's unfortunate NZ's role was not accurately presented.
Affleck said he had to make 'creative choices' for the film: "You try to honour the basic truth of what you're telling. The story is constructed as well as it could possibly be." Hmmm, that's debatable. I felt the film was a US Argo(ego)-stroke, and was quite surprised to read of its Oscar!
At almost every turn, Argo puts the Americans to the front in heroic fashion, while all the Iranian characters are brutal and savage. When the escapees are driving through Tehran, the surrounding populace is seen as the frightening enemy. Iranians are lumped together as scary and barbaric, while the good ol' CIA steps in to save the day...but that's not the worst of it. Argo is riddled with so many inaccuracies, as to make it little more than a gung-ho flag-waving vehicle for Ben Affleck...
From the US president at the time of the incident, Jimmy Carter: "90% of the ideas and the consummation of the plan was Canadian, but the movie gives almost full credit to the CIA. And Affleck's character (Mendez) was only in Tehran a day and a half. The main hero in my opinion was Ken Taylor, the Canadian ambassador who orchestrated the entire process."
But wait, there's more:
+ It was Martin Williams, secretary to the British ambassador to Iran at the time, who found the Americans and sheltered them in his own house at first.
+ In the film, a young female housekeeper confronts a truckload of Iranian Revolutionary Guards at the Canadian ambassador's home. It was actually a male guard, Iskander Khan, who convinced the heavily-armed soldiers that no-one was in when they tried to search the house.
+ Argo shows the diplomats facing suspicious looks from Iranians whenever they go out in public, and appear close to being caught many times on the way to freedom. In reality, the diplomats were never in imminent danger.
+ In the film, while pretending to scout for filming locations at a bazaar, the crew are accosted by a few vendors, who suspect them of being American. In reality, this scouting trip never happened.
+ The crew again encounters suspicion while purchasing plane tickets to Zurich. In reality Taylor's wife bought three sets of plane tickets from three different airlines ahead of time, without any issues.
+ Argo shows a dramatic last-minute mission cancellation by the Carter administration and Mendez declaring he'll proceed with the mission regardless (Damn the torpedoes! God bless America!). Er, nuh. Carter actually delayed authorisation only 30 minutes, and that was before Mendez left for Iran.
+ Again, tension when the crew tries to board their plane, and their identities are nearly discovered. In reality, no such confrontation with security officials at Departures at all.
+ In the film, before the plane takes off, gun-toting Iranian guards (read: brutal savage thugs) try to stop it in a dramatic chase sequence. In reality, guess what: no runway chase.
+ The movie shows the Hollywood sign dilapidated as it had been in the past, but it had actually been repaired in 1978, prior to the events in the film.
+ In real life, CIA officer Tony Mendez was part-Mexican, leading some critics to argue that Affleck should have cast an Hispanic actor, not himself, in the role.
These days, with US - tail between legs - leaving the Middle East, when it faces Nth Korean nuke threats and growing tension with China, it's morale needs reassurance that it's 'smarter than the average bear'. Argo, with its factual manipulations, is such reassurance.The US public needed a US film about US heroics, to take its mind off being butt-kicked. Again. Argo won three Oscars because it stroked the US ego and didn't let the facts get in the way of a good story!
And as for insulting anyone else involved? Pah, that doesn't matter: they ain't Americans!

PS: 13 March 2013: Argo outrage reaches Parliament...

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