Saturday, February 23, 2013

Argo Bargle

Former Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor is in the news again today, this time saying that if Argo wins best picture at the Oscars tomorrow, "it will reflect poorly on Ben Affleck if he doesn't say a few words about Canada's role".


Hopefully I am not the only one for who this seems deeply ironic: a Canadian asking for more credit for something accomplished three decades ago, and for which he (and we) enjoyed almost sole credit until details about the exfiltration became declassified.

Before seeing Argo, I was concerned that the Canadian ambassador and embassy staff who found and hid the Americans who managed to avoid being taken hostage would be portrayed as conflicted hand wringers or hapless tag-alongs witnessing CIA heroics. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to see Taylor played by Victor Garber, in an understated confidence that mirrored my own impressions of how such clandestine transactions are carried out. The movie picks up the story of the escapees after they have been living as 'the house guests' of the Canadian ambassador for some time, struggling with both legitimate paranoia and cabin fever. Ben Affleck's character, Tony Mendez, arrives to deal with the most complex element of the operation: moving the Americans from the basement of a house in a Tehran suburb and over the Iranian border, under the eyes of not only the military, but also the secret police and an outraged public.

Since the story is that of Tony Mendez and is based on his memoirs (and also an excellent article from Wired magazine), there is neither time nor reason to give any additional attention to the role played by the Canadians. At the end of the day, the movie is an entertaining recollection based on actual events, not a slavish recreation of them. In fact, more of the movie is devoted to the creation of the ersatz Hollywood sci-fi epic Argo, which in real life was supposed to be an adaptation of Roger Zelazny's "Lord of Light", than to either Canadian bravery or American ingenuity.

The Canadian perspective on the Iranian Escape had its own adaptation: in 1981 Escape From Iran: The Canadian Caper saw Taylor portrayed by national film icon Gordon Pinsent, albeit in a more modest TV-movie. I haven't seen this version, but I am curious as to how much attention was paid to the machinations involved in creating a fake movie so convincingly that it fooled insiders in Tinseltown. I have my own ideas how it might have been alluded to:

Taylor: How do you plan to get them through the airport?

Mendez: I've got cover identities for them as workers with a movie production company.

Taylor: (nods sagely) Hmm.

Taylor's indignation apparently originated with an ending which implied the Canadian involvement was overstated due to political reasons, as well as the classified nature of the scheme itself. Fair enough; Affleck added an end-title card recognizing the Canuck contribution and thanking them. That said, I do share Taylor's disappointment that no mention was given to embassy deputy John Sheardown, who was the first to take some of the escapees into his own home, but again, it's not my picture. After the meeting with Taylor and addition of the card, Affleck thought the matter resolved, but Taylor keeps piping up whenever an opportunity presents itself, in a most unbecoming fashion. In a related note, if you read the comments section of the CBC article linked above, it is staggering just how indignant our normally rational countrymen can be with regard to a movie that they not only have not seen, but clearly state they will not see.

Furthermore, the Academy Award for Best Picture is normally awarded to the film's producer, not director. Since Affleck failed to garner a nomination for Bet Director (which I am comfortable in calling a brutal oversight), he is unlikely to receive anything at the Oscars except maybe a little overdue recognition for his skill at moviemaking.

A complex story such as this will have a nearly infinite number of potential perspectives; apparently we can look forward to Iran's cinematic response sometime later this year. This is hardly unexpected, but Taylor's constant whinging about Canada's lack of credit in this particular variation of the tale displays a lack of humility bordering on vanity that brings its own poor reflection on our normally self-effacing nation.

In the meantime though, I didn't find Lincoln as boring as most other folk apparently did, so if either it or Argo wins Best Picture, I will be pretty happy, despite their numerous historical inaccuracies and the liberties taken in pursuit of a good movie.


1 comment:

  1. Silly me, not realizing Affleck had a producer credit on this film! I was glad to see it win, and glad that he managed to fit in a reference to Canada in his excellent and sincere acceptance speech. What a shame he didn't get a director nomination this time around, but I am confident we will see him at the Oscars again.