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Last Updated
Monday 23 January 2017, 16:44 pm.
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Back stage

Help making a fake movie
Argo (2012) has been showing at the New Capitol Cinemas. This is the film that walked off with Best Picture and Best Director at the recent Golden Globes. In Hollywood at the 2013 Academy Awards Argo had nine nominations including Best Picture, but not one for best director for Ben Affleck. It did earn three Oscars, picture, editing and best adapted screen script. Argo is the kind of film that the people who make the awards like - it is about them.
By Staff Writer Tue 24 Jan 2017, 05:04 am (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Back stage








Argo is a human heist flick; a film within a film; a rescue of the hostages drama; and an escape from Iran caper.It is also a thank you note to Canada for all that they did to help save the lives of seven Americans (including one CIA operative) who were caught in Tehran at the Canadian ambassador's residence in early 1980.

The big hostage drama, involving over 52 Americans lasted 444 days until the release of the Americans held in the US Embassy that had been occupied by Iranian militants - that ended on the 21 January 1981, six months after the Shah of Iran had died in Egypt. Because that hostage drama was ongoing and commanded the news channels the escape of the "Canadians" stayed just quiet and what really happened was not released to the public until 17 years later when President Bill Clinton declassified that rescue. Argo has been criticised as being a film that glorifies the CIA. I would say it honours an unusual agent who spoke Farsi, knew the situation in Tehran inside and out, and was willing to risk his life to save the lives of six others. It also honours Hollywood.

There were two key sources on which scriptwriter Chris Terrio based his text for Argo. The first is a book by Antonio J Mendez called The Master of Disguise. The second is an article that appeared in Wired Magazine by Joshuah Bearman called The Great Escape. From the start of this film you know they all get out alive, but it is still a tense thriller. If you compare the two sources to the movie you will see the movie is exaggerated for viewers. The movie reminded me of our experiences getting out of Idi Amin's Uganda when we were wanted, right up to the last minutes on the plane before the pilot announced "alright, we are in international air space" and he took off - but he said this as the wheels of the plane were still on the ground at Entebbe Airport, at the end of the runway after he had come back to talk to us - vhe had been radioed and ordered to return to the airport and disgorge us.

Argo begins with a capsule history of Iran up to 1979, including the CIA/British backed over throw in 1953 of the legitimate elected leader Mohammad Mosaddegh, the Shah's regime and his decline. It then presents events on the 4th of November 1979, when the American Embassy was occupied by militants.Compared to what was going on inside the American Embassy, Operation Hollywood, as it was officially known, was a minor effort, where six Americans and their extractor, Antonio "Tony" J Mendez (acted by Ben Affleck at his bearded quiet best), were given Canadian passports and identities to make a trumped up film called Argo.

Officially they had been in Tehran for only a few days seeking permission and looking for a site to make their movie. In reality the six Americans, soon to become Canadians, had been two months with the Canadian Ambassador. Ken Taylor (played by Victor Garber) in his Residence (the six are acted by Clea DuVall, Tate Donovan, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham and Kerry BishŽ). Their agony over these days is caught on this film.

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Suspicion was building up with the conservative supporters of Fundamentalist Iran, people who embraced their leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini. Operation Hollywood had to deceive the Iranians to be able to make an escape from the country - not through a head-on rescue or violent retaliation. Success would depend on patience and wit, not action and brawn.

What was outlandish was that Argo was in reality a script for a science fiction film that had been rejected in Hollywood. In Washington, DC, after the consideration of some crazy and doomed rescue scenarios, Tony Mendez came up with the idea of using the cover of a Canadian film production crew and giving new identities and new passports to the six Americans and himself. As outlandish as it seems, it was a better long shot to affect the rescue than any of the other schemes that they had so far devised, so in desperation the caper was approved at the highest levels in Washington, and assisted along by Tony's superior officer at the CIA, a tense and ambivalent Jack O'Donnell (acted by Bryan Cranston).

Tony then headed out to Los Angeles where he enlisted the support of a producer, Lester Siegel (played with great verve by Alan Arkin), and John Chambers (an amusing John Goodman) a large and imaginative make-up artist whom Tony had worked with before. His best line is, "You can teach a rhesus monkey to be a director in a day". Is that why Affleck didn't get a statuette? Operation Hollywood would also create a new image and identity for them as Canadians.  Lester is so astounded by Tony's proposal that he actually embraces it. The Hollywood section of Argo is full of comedy.  In Hollywood, to make it all look real, a lot of detailed work was done and went with Tony when he flew into Tehran. It included sci-fi storyboards, even a Variety Magazine piece on the forthcoming Argo movie, the whole lot, to make it absolutely real. They told the Iranian authorities that the film required desert locations and would look like Star Wars. The bait was at first swallowed.

What is surprising about this film is that even though you know in advance that the seven escaped (and others, including the Canadian Ambassador and his wife) the tension still builds up and you sit on the edge of your seat in anticipation of a tragedy. Argo slowly takes us through all the stages of this elaborate hoax. Except for the scenes in Istanbul, the film was made mainly in California, with some shots at the Ontario California International Airport and in the Warner Brothers Burbank Studios, with a few other scenes that were filmed in Washington, DC.

Argo is two hours. It is rated 16+. The director is Ben Affleck.  The adapted script is by Chris Terrio; it is based on stories by Antonio J. Mendez and Joshuah Bearman. The cinematographer is Rodrigo Prieto. The editor is William Goldenberg. The music is by Alexandre Desplat. Note in the closing credit where it reads, "some scenes and dialogue in this film have been fictionalised for dramatic purposes".  In his published account Mendez says it went, "As smooth as silk". The 2012 Argo team couldn't resist jazzing the last day in Tehran all up. sasa_majuma@yahoo.co.uk

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