Political Film Society - Newsletter #284 - August 1, 2007

August 1, 2007


Rescue Dawn In 1997, Werner Herzog produced a documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly about a German born in 1938 in Schwarzwald who was inspired to become a pilot when he saw an American airplane overhead as World War II ended. Dieter went to the United States, became an American citizen, became a Navy pilot, served in a secret mission over Laos, was captured by the Pathet Lao until he escaped, then picked up by a helicopter, and eventually became a San Francisco Bay Area resident. Rescue Dawn, directed by Herzog, is a biopic that is mostly close to the actual events of his capture and escape. After his capture, he is chained on a trek to an outdoor prison in a remote location surrounded by jungle. Dieter (played by Christian Bale) is tortured en route by being hung upside down and dragged by an ox. A star on the uniform of an official indicates that North Vietnam is running the show. When he arrives in the prison, attended by teenage Lao guards, he and his fellow are fed undelectable rations and are placed side by side in legstocks during the night, when unwelcome excrement emerges. One of his fellow prisoners is insane, several are Lao or Thai, and the only sane one is Duane Martin (played by Steve Zahn). Dieter dreams of a rescue from time to time, thus undergoing the psychological malady that has perhaps overcome all of his fellow prisoners but Duane. As a onetime mechanic, Dieter designs a way to extricate the prisoners from their legstocks, and he next makes an escape plan at a time when the prison guards are contemplating shooting them all so that they can go home to get enough food to eat, as food supplies shrink before the rainy season starts. Only Dieter and Duane pull off the escape plan; the rest chicken out. Tracked down by their captors, Duane is decapitated but Dieter is rescued by a helicopter in the jungle and ultimately reaches Thailand (where the filming takes place). The Americans attend to his medical needs, but CIA interrogators so hound him in the hospital that he is rescued (again!) by Navy personnel, who fly him back to his ship to the accolades of his fellow service buddies. The subtexts of Rescue Dawn seem clear: Secret missions are a staple of American power projection; longtime harsh confinement, whether in Laos or Guantánamo, can indeed scramble one’s brain; and CIA operatives can do similar damage through psychological means. As for the real Dieter Dengler, he died in 2001--before Rescue Dawn was released on July 4, 2007. MH

Goya's GhostsDirector Milos Forman fills the screen with a montage of Francisco Goya’s grotesque paintings, both at the beginning and at the end, but between the artistic bookends is a very odd story, though Goya in Bordeaux (2000) is a more accurate portrayal of the famous artist. Chronologically, the film begins with Spain reviving the Spanish Inquisition in 1792 to suppress rumblings emerging from the French Revolution of 1789. Some fifteen years later, Napoleon’s armies conquer and occupy Spain to bring the universalistic “rights of man” in the form of governmental repression and debauchery by soldiers. The Duke of Wellington invades in 1812, driving the French from Spain by 1814, and the Spanish monarchy is restored. During the entire chaotic period an uncharacteristic apolitical, asexual Goya (played by Stellan Skarsgård) depicts the horror on his sketchpads. The fictional story focuses on Ines (played by Natalie Portman), an innocent girl who is tortured and even raped by opportunist priest-cum-quisling Lorenzo (played by Javier Bardem). But the parallel between France’s conquest of Spain and America’s takeover of Iraq teaches a profound lesson, as the endgame is a restoration of tyranny after the hypocritical occupiers are driven out. MH