Political Film Society - Newsletter #101 - April 15, 2001

April 15, 2001


It was in Honolulu during the last week of March 1986 that the idea for the Political Film Society was approved during the first meeting of the now-defunct Hawai`i Political Studies Association (HPSA). Within two weeks, the Society was launched with the same membership as the HPSA, but word spread throughout the political science profession, and membership increased even beyond the academic world, making the Society an international organization. When HPSA folded, the Political Film Society continued, providing newsletters to members and awards to outstanding filmmakers for raising political consciousness through film. In 1998, the headquarters moved from Honolulu to Hollywood, where the Political Film Society was incorporated as a nonprofit under California law, developed a website, and for the first time offered a syndicated program on the American Radio Network

On December 31, 1999, the government of Panamá took control of the Panamá Canal after eight-five years of American sovereignty over the Canal Zone. A clause in the reversion agreement, negotiated to appease conservative Senators who were otherwise reluctant to ratify the treaty, provides that the United States has the authority to resume control in the event of a civil emergency. The Tailor of Panama, based on a 1996 novel of the same title by John Le Carré, begins in Britain, which lost the Suez Canal in 1956 when Washington opposed the Anglo-French-Israeli attempt to seize the canal from Egyptian nationalization. Ever since, Britain has deferred to American policy in order to pretend to be an empireless superpower. Andy Osnard (played by Pierce Brosnan), a member of MI6 (Britain’s equivalent of the CIA), after being scolded by his superior officer for botching an operation in Spain and sleeping around, is assigned to Panamá, presumably to cool his heels. After a flight that features aerial views of the canal and the suspension bridge that links North America with South America across the canal, Osnard checks into a hotel and contacts Harry Pendel (played by Geoffrey Rush), a tailor who makes the best English suits in the country and thus is personally acquainted with the ruling class as well as opposition leaders.

When Osnard presses Pendel for information about the political situation, threatening to expose Pendel’s previous criminal record to his American wife Louisa (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) while offering him cash to help pay back an overdue loan, the tailor makes up a story about a "silent opposition" led by Mikie Abraxas (played by Brendan Gleeson), whose past opposition to Bush’s pet dictator Noriega cost him imprisonment and torture. Osnard then reports to the British Embassy to take up his post, meeting Ambassador Maltby (played by John Fortune) and two political officers, Luxmore and Francesca (played by David Hayman and Catherine McCormick). The staff naturally resents Osnard’s arrival, believing that they know everything about the country, whereupon Osnard mentions that he has already heard about the "silent opposition." Nevertheless, Luxmore conducts the standard briefing for Osnard, informing him that George Bush, as CIA Director, brought Manuel Noriega to power, but later arranged to depose him early in his presidency during 1989 so that those who rule Panamá will always know that they must play ball with the United States or suffer the same fate. After touring the town to see the gap between rich and poor, hearing that the city's skyscrapers are known as Cocaine Towers and that the eighty-five international banks are called Launderettes, Osnard soon learns that the tailor secretly sides with those who are dissatisfied with the status quo. Accordingly, after getting more information about political realities, Osnard concocts a scheme that will provoke the Americans to salivate about prospects for yet another military intervention. Suspense builds. Rather than summarizing the scheme, which is the most delightful part of the movie, suffice it to say that Osnard plays Don Juan, swindles the Americans and his MI6 boss of $15 million, provokes Abraxas to a needless suicide, and leaves the country before American marines arrive to eliminate the nonexistent "silent opposition" after he pays off the British ambassador, the only one in the story who figures out his scheme. The director, John Boorman, won a Political Film Society award for Beyond Rangoon (1995). The film clearly raises consciousness about the ruthlessness of the Bush clan, albeit too late to have an impact on the outcome of the American election, but presumably not too soon to warn the British public about the folly of being lap dogs of American neo-imperialism. Therein may lie an explanation for the failure of Columbia Pictures to give more publicity to the film, which should make a tidy profit in international distribution, especially among those who are cynical about American foreign policy. MH