Saturday, November 04, 2006

An Inconvenient Man, The Sequel

(This originally ran on Dec. 7, 2005, when I thought that Saddam Hussein was sure to embarrass us with his antics and revelations during his trial; I offer it up here as a premature eulogy for a man scheduled to become the most conspicuous sacrifice to the Bush Administration's political designs, a sacrifice that threatens to convulse the teetering Iraqi nation in one last, perhaps fatal, spasm of violence)

Read Part I here.

It's funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen.
Alex, A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess

Saddam is ready for his close-up.
Of the many ill-considered aspects of the war in Iraq none has more comic potential than the trial of Saddam Hussein. According to the script he would meet his demise in the rubble of the opening sequences of "shock and awe." Saddam was only supposed to appear in a series of flashbacks—not even a speaking role. He was to be no more vocal than Frankenstein’s monster, glowering and grunting in hazy, skewed camera angles.
He, however, never signed on for the role of heavy. He always viewed himself as the leading man type, hankering to play Saladin, hero of the Arab world. That’s the role he’s been studying. Maybe the agents weren’t talking to one another, but the amateur screenwriters who sold a president historically ignorant of history on their script treatment didn’t anticipate Saddam would be around to force a rewrite. In fact, by this point the blockbuster production was to have concluded its theatre run, having assured the president’s re-election, and was to be readying for the big video release coinciding with the 2006 mid-term elections.

Filmmaker Haskell Wexler made a name for himself by using the streets outside the1968 Democratic Convention as the real world set for his film Medium Cool. The unanticipated violence surrounding the protests there provided him with a dramatic windfall of sorts, his actors moving about and improvising amidst the disarray; creating a surreal imposition of the real world into cinematic fiction. The would-be reality filmmakers of the Bush White House thought Iraq would be an ideal set for the epic sequel Persian Gulf II: Clear and Gathering Danger. The script treatment looked good on paper:

American president, relatively young with a regular guy persona, think Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan, in a somber briefing learns of an imminent threat from the Middle East. Here we’ll have a great plot point illuminating scene: in a dimly lit conference room the president is briefed as his loyal Chairman of the Joint Chiefs (big, broad shouldered African American, think John Amos in West Wing) lays out the disturbing news: Saddam has nukes and the terrorist connections to deploy them within the U.S.:

How soon can he deploy this weapon?

He may already have.

Concerned, resolute, he raises his chin from where it had been resting between thumb and forefinger in a contemplative pose.

Of course in the ideal movie version the president himself suits up and goes to battle. The politically ambitious architects of current White House policy figured they could approximate that scene well enough with the now infamous “Mission Accomplished” farce, wherein our president, having campaigned on the promise to bring dignity back to the office, played dress-up in a flight suit complete with a crotch that looked suspiciously enhanced.

When President Bush used the term clear and gathering danger he wasn’t only seeking to alarm the public with the description of a threat he assumed would be made plausible once Hussein’s army was quickly dispatched and enough evidence was dug up; he was purposely invoking the emotional, mystifying, naturally propagandistic language of cinema. President Bush’s use of the phrase sounded suspiciously reminiscent of Clear and Present Danger, the title of a film from our other reality (a title itself lifted from Oliver Wendell Holmes’ famous definition of constitutionally unprotected speech which included the example of shouting fire in a crowded theatre, and I can’t help but think mine’s a perverse mind to find that ironic).
It takes real nerve to steal so openly, but a White House bold enough to embark on a massive war the purpose of which was political gain justified by the risible pie-in-the-sky fantasies of the neocons wasn’t about to blush over a little Hollywood-style creative incest.
But this wasn't really theft; this was the homage paid when one work of art references another. You were supposed to think of the film. It would be a convenient shorthand, an abbreviated, simplified language that would appeal to a populace still trying to understand a terrifying new reality; instantly activating the complex of false memories and associations we've all acquired watching endless reels of film and countless hours of television; the message contained therein that we're always right and we always win.
They intended no irony, but when amateurs put on a show, unintentional humor has a way of embarrassing them: both the film and the real life production would feature clueless presidents led about by their subordinates.

What the White House hadn’t planned on was the physical world’s tendency to behave unpredictably. Their production and theatrical release were one and the same, transpiring in real time, so they couldn’t afford to get it wrong. Now the production is out of control, way over budget, long past its scheduled deadline, having gone through so many directors and with so many producers involved nobody’s sure who’s in charge.

They still haven’t written a third act, and along comes Saddam Hussein, sending everyone to their scripts, didn’t we kill this guy off in scene one?, and he’s improvising up a storm. The cameras are rolling and can't be stopped, yet another oversight; the screenwriters are working furiously attempting to inject another incongruous flashback scene or perhaps to find some plausibility in the mind numbing unreality of it all, but they can't get it into the script, now taking on a life of its own; cut to our youthful president, now looking tired and forgetting his lines.
The cameras have taken over like some sinister intelligence all their own and the heavy not only hasn’t got the script revisions he never got the script in the first place; now he's shown up having written for himself some sort of unlikely character transformation; no longer the sinister potentate but now an eccentric old man, cranky, possibly crazy. This is not good. This guy threatens to become sympathetic in the eyes of the key Muslim/Arab demographic. This could sink the whole franchise and the third installment (working title, Clear and Gathering Danger III: Shi'ite Showdown) was this close to a greenlight.


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