After viewing Affleck's future Oscar-winner recently, I got stuck on a few items of semi-importance. None of them will go away. Argo deserves high praise from cynics. The fact is, major American films are usually so pointless and forgettable that when something makes you not want to talk about where to eat afterwards, you know it's taken hold.
Argo, for the Cliff's Noters, is a recently "unclassified" story of six terrified American bureaucrats hidden away in Iran's Canadian embassy during the hostage crisis of the '70s. With the CIA's help, they pretended to be sci-fi filmmakers scouting for locations to save themselves from being slaughtered for fucking with the Iranians.
Here is what I took away from something that would never have been made if a major movie star hadn't thrown his full force behind it. Okay, some fool would have made the story into an allegory we'd soon forget, but no one else would have chutzpah and power to make something that unapologetically shows how government officials act like idiots at all times. In the usual suspects' compromising hands this would been a cartoon, like Wag the Dog.
1. America's only export that matters is the movies. Even our fashion is more import than export. Here, in Iran, during the most terrifying revolution in its history, we got to see how every culprit, crook and corrupter stopped terrorizing to pay attention to goings-on of a film production company! That has to be the nadir of Hollywood's hold on the world. I guess you could make this stuff up, but show me a screenwriter talented enough.
2. How refreshing not have mobile phones as plot twists. I love tension rising when a character has to wait for someone to return and answer a lowly desk phone. In all those Kate Hudson rom coms --she stars in pretty much everything -- you muddle through countless pretend phone calls in each convoluted scene. Here, phones ring in rooms you have to enter; there are no answering machines nor voicemail takers; people are not answering till the 10th ring. It's the communication stone age! (Although all those telexes in Argo were a Faustian memory device that transported me back to an innocent communication held in your hand; one no one else saw.)
3. Short attention spans are stopped from dimming by a mix of history and drama, or so we were taught by Gore Vidal. In the best of these, we feel proud of our country without being jingoistic. Yet for some dumb reason, the Argo marketing team wanted this to be Rambo XIII: another exciting action-adventure film of despair -- then rescue -- then yawning. That's not what this is. Argo is a comedy that would have made Preston Sturges proud. It's goofy, surprising and hip in the best sense of that word. This being sold like a movie-of-the week on steroids -- like every crappy movie based on a trueish story -- is insulting and typical.
4. Films with a vision are rare gems at the multiplex. This is not just a terrific storyline -- it is a gigantic story brought to life by someone driven to make it his way. For a change we get to see a mainstream movie that is not committee-driven. You know what I mean, everything seems to be pieced together in a big room by those people who concocted Michael Bublé! I am sure Affleck used whatever clout he has collected over the decades and lent his marquee name to get crap movies green-lit for other fools. I'm thinking he rolled over on anyone who did not simply let him make a masterpiece (yes, masterpiece) he can rest his laurels upon.
5. With that, we can no longer laugh at Ben Affleck of the Matt-and-Ben days. He's been erased. (However, please continue to mock J. Lo. with all your might.) The man and his team took pains to check every teeny details -- and we're not talking cans of Tab -- but strange expressions that we really used, but really forgot. There are scant directors who can balance comedy and action -- these corporate mishaps end up clumsy or contrived -- but, here is sentimental source material that hasn't been schmaltzed up like Spielberg with those heartstrings. This is also the first Ben Affleck movie where Ben Affleck is playing a full-dimensional character with real emotions and fallacies. To think thatBenjamin Géza Affleck-Boldt has located a director who chose not to cast him as a macho buffoon! To boot, this is the only movie of '12 that made me laugh out loud. The Dictator didn't take me there.
6. I realize, sadly, how the Hollywood elite who use "picture" instead of "movie" will all die out. The Allens and Scorceses are always gabbing about "this picture" and "my picture" and "the picture" -- it's all so old world and genteel. In Argo, the period piece set in long ago 1979, every film person talked like this. I'm gonna miss these alta cochers.
7. I gotta say it. Dick jokes about Warren Beatty will never go out of style.