Argo Fuck Yourself

So Kevin B. Lee decided to publish a total #slatepitch of an article on the terribleness of Argo. It doesn’t really need to be argued with, but I already wrote most of this, so here we go.

Kevin Lee has completely missed the point. Argo is not a film about the Iranian Revolution, nor is it a film about Operation Eagle Claw, nor is it an attempt to explore the rule of the Shah or the CIA’s complicity in it. It’s essentially a heist movie, with a historical backdrop, “inspired” by a real event. And it’s truly only about one event: those US embassy personnel who fled to the Canadian ambassador’s residence and the clever deception operation through which they were later exfiltrated.

All these other movies that Kevin Lee talks about? None of them are the film that Affleck sought to make. None of them are the film that he made. If someone else wants to make those, fine (and they probably should be made). But I absolutely hate it when filmmakers get criticized for not telling “the whole story” when the entire *point* of finding a small story in a much larger one is to make for a more compelling narrative.

You can make a World War II movie without addressing the Holocaust. Gladiator never directly confronted Roman slavery. Charlie Wilson’s War ends on a downer but without elaborating on subsequent events in Afghanistan (some of which remain pretty important) Black Hawk Down is a fine film without exploring the complete collapse of Somali central government. Air Force One certainly didn’t need to delve into the machinations of Serbian genocide and pan-Slav sentiment to be entertaining.

Sometimes history is fun, and makes for an enjoyable movie, regardless of surrounding events. Sometimes history is terrible, and we get Schindler’s List – a very good film unto itself. But not every film set in 2012 needs the Syrian Civil War as a backdrop, and Argo certainly doesn’t distance itself from the Revolution.

As one of my compatriots put it so succinctly, the tl;dr of Lee’s argument is “I wanted someone to adapt one of Chomsky’s books into a film! Now I’m going to have a temper tantrum because it wasn’t Ben Affleck!”

Oh, side note: Argo is a ton of fun, and you should see it.

45 thoughts on “Argo Fuck Yourself

  1. Well said. Congrats on Fresh Press. Read Mendez’ book on Argo — it’s as good as any fiction spy thriller.

  2. Too bloody true. These “fanatics” don’t know what they’re talking about sometimes!

    Good on you for setting them straight. I loved the film for what it was – a bit of escapism 🙂

    • The problem is, “a bit of escapism” is not what this movie is considered. It won the golden globe… also, there are massive historical overtones that help to elevate the immediacy and intensify the drama. This is why people, myself included, may be upset with the film: it largely hinges on the influences of approximate governments, but, over simplifies it… meanwhile they are making demonizing portrayals of people.

      • I agree that there are people out there who will take that view; they’re perfectly entitled to their opinions on how the film portrays people and the situation. I guess what I’m trying to say is – for those of us who use film as a means of escape, not as an over-accurate portrayal of the world as it is warts-n-all, then it’s a good yarn, and it’s a good form of escapism precisely for the same reasons that you find yourself upset by it.

        When did film have to become a mirror on life? I thought film was meant to be entertainment, not a way of intensifying what we already know (if we have half a brain cell!). Personally, I don’t go to the cinema to have the world as it is shoved down my neck. I go to avoid for a few, grateful moments, being confronted with the world.

        I do understand your grievance, and I hope you understand my stance. Not all of us take what we get in the media – in the news, the cinema, on the TV, on the radio – at face value, and we do generally tend to have a more acute sense of the world which is exactly why we tend to appreciate the less realistic forms of distraction 🙂

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  4. We saw Argo over the weekend, and really enjoyed it. I don’t know enough about the history to evaluate the movie’s accuracy, but it sure made me curious to learn more. The actors were great and the script was engaging. It was nice to see Affleck in such an understated role.

  5. “…the entire *point* of finding a small story in a much larger one is to make for a more compelling narrative.”
    True enough. Even Ken Burns’ 10-part ‘Baseball’ anthology is testament to that. (Or his ‘Civil War’, or his ‘Dust Bowl’, or his ‘Jazz’, or his ‘The War’…

  6. I agree that historical films don’t have to delve too deeply into every historical fact or cover the bigger picture to tell an interesting and more intimate story, but what’s your view on films such as Argo blatantly falsifying history for entertainment purposes? Would a film perpetrating the myth that the Americans were turned away from the British Embassy (and besmirching the reputation of a senior diplomat) equally suffer damage to its reputation? I don’t know. “Based” on a true story is a pretty convenient cop-out. I say, feel free to tell the story as you want and focus on a particular aspect of a bigger picture if you want, but when dealing with real people and their reputation, tread carefully and respectfully, otherwise, fictionalise their character.

  7. Very good point regarding the difference between the focus and the backdrop of a film. It would make for a comparatively limited selection of plots were historical films to be all centric on the background.

  8. Congrats on being freshly pressed. I greatly enjoyed the movie. There’s a huge difference between “based on a true story” and “a true story.” If the movie ended with all the Americans going uneventfully through the airport, the reviewers would be crying foul for lack of conflict or climax.

  9. I’m sorry but I can’t agree with you. The movie starts with a controversal moral question which spoiled my interest at the beginning. The cruel and inhuman shah and a huge amount of money -that is stolen from the Iranian folks- are let into USA which upset Iranians. I’d feel the same…Nonetheless, Americans become the positive people while Iranian shown as bad people. Of course a jew (the producer bloke) helps finally. It is just too b&w for me. I understand that the movie supports the actual political interests but I think life and truth are much more colourful. I understand the timing of the movie regarding the current Iranian conflict too…but it is too much American (etc) point of view. For me. I had the impression after watching the movie that Iranians are all evil but Americans are all heros. But what to expect from an American movie??!!:))) …and it was boring too..

  10. Great movie – very exciting! I was on the edge of my chair the whole time, even though I knew how it would turn out! That’s often the challenge of a historical movie. I thought Lincoln did a good job of that, too. Totally different kind of movie, but built suspense.
    Congrats on the FP!

  11. Thanks for the article – it’s good to see real people talking ‘realistically’ about real stories… The movie Argo is fun, entertaining and somewhat true to the facts… Obviously, it’s a movie, so things have to be taken with a grain of salt, but all in all, very good. We are a family in the US foreign service, and it was a pleasure to see the positive feedback the movie brought to our expat community…. It was nice watching Ben Affleck acknowledging the ones in the Service… It’s our daily duty, it’s our life, it’s who we are… Nobody is evil, no countries are out there to ‘get us’… it’s a job, a style of living, it’s a career choice…. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed, btw! Greetings from our ‘nomad family’! :p

  12. Some people tend to forget that cinema is a form of entertainment,and not every story has to be an ernest pursuit for greater knowledge.I’ve not seen Argo yet,but will tomorrow,and I look forward to it,even more so now!

  13. I totally agree. The matrioska of meaning is a virus. John Lennon once said: I simply write songs. Then critics explain me what I meant with them.

  14. Argo was my favorite film of the year…over Zero Dark Thirty, Les Mis, Skyfall, Dark Knight Rises, etc. I thought it was brilliantly entertaining…an edge of seat drama mixed with moments of humor…terrific characters…just a truly well done film really worth seeing. It blows my mind that Affleck didn’t get the nomination for a Best Director Oscar.

  15. Congrats on FP. Agree, Although I have not seen Argo.. yet I did see the movie Lincoln. This is another example of what you speak of…a story within a story. For got sakes you can’t cover the entire civil war and all events in one movie. well you know the saying “some people lie to hear themselves talk and talk and talk” 😉

  16. I can’t agree more. I did get the ‘heist movie’ impression. I also didn’t see eye to eye on some of the arguments that critics were trying to make. Especially Kevin Lee’s delusional arguments on how he thinks a movie should be made.

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