After listening to the Dick Gordon podcast of one of the houseguests in Iran (they weren’t hostages) only then did I realize the role that Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor played in both keeping the Americans safe and in enlisting the CIA to get them home. I get that Argo tells the story from the point of view of Tony Mendez and I get that Mendez never got any credit for that mission because it was classified but the movie makes it out like Mendez was the hero and not Taylor.
So you can see why Ken Taylor, after seeing the film in Toronto (I’m guessing this is maybe the reason Argo didn’t win the audience award) is miffed. I’d have been miffed too if I’d spent many months sheltering and sometimes driving the guests to a different location when Iranians were coming to call. I’d also be pissed if, the way the guy tells it to Dick Gordon, it wasn’t that big of deal, this fake movie business, and all they really did was go to the airport and get a plane. Sure, they were scared — but they were told to look at Mendez’ face and see if he smiled or frowned. He smiled, they got on the plane and flew away.
But did Taylor huff and puff and demand that Affleck “change the movie” just as Oscar ballots were sailing into voters mailboxes? Did he say that Affleck has “tarnished the reputation of Canada forever!” Did he get a Maureen Dowd shout-out or have every outlet online cover the story? He did protest but very quickly after that Ben Affleck met with Taylor, added a note at the end of Argo, invited Taylor and his wife to the premiere and such — it seemed as though the issue was handled.
By contrast, the Spielberg camp never approached Joe Courtney to try to try to work out any compromise but probably because Courtney came out guns blazing, talking to anyone who would listen and making a big deal about the part in the movie where a Connecticut congressman votes no instead of yes on the 13th amendment.
The press feasted on the Spielberg story but the part about it taking place right as ballots were being sent out to Oscar voters? Nothing. Flatline. No one wanted to rain on the Argo parade, least of all the American press. Only Melena Ryzik at the NY Times and Steven Zeitchik at the LA Times even thought to ask about the Oscar angle.
It isn’t the role of any politician, even one endorsed by Ben Affleck, to keep quiet in hopes of not ruining 13 years of hard work by Spielberg, 6 years of research and writing by Tony Kushner — Courtney felt its his duty as a citizen to expose Spielberg before Oscar voters are tricked into voting for that movie! Courtney was not obligated to care. But the differences between the two men and how they handled themselves this year, and perhaps how the different film campaigns themselves handled the whipped up “controversies,” is striking.
Does it make Argo a worse movie because it wasn’t really telling us the truth? No. Does it make Lincoln a worse movie because Connecticut actually voted yes on the amendment? Nope. At the end of the day Argo is about Tony Mendez. The movie only had room for one hero. Argo is more of an original screenplay based very loosely on real events, most of it is made up from whole cloth. It’s not about the truth – it’s about painting the CIA and Hollywood as good guys who saved the day once in the 1970s. It had to create the kinds of myths Hollywood movies are made on – one rogue CIA agent doing the right thing and bringing the Americans home. And looked at how well it worked – it’s about to make Academy history by winning Best Picture.
Lincoln is partly about the historical events surrounding the 13th amendment but it is much more about our lives today, here in America. It is about what equality means, how hard it is to recognize first and then how hard it is to fight for it. It is about changing minds by first changing the law. No one in Connecticut at that time and for a very long time after believed in equality — voting yes or no on the amendment doesn’t change that.
Do we really want our artists now to not tell these stories for fear of Joe Courtney or Maureen Dowd beat-down if the facts aren’t 100% correct? Do we really want to choke yet more life out of American storytellers until there really is nothing left but the most bland of useless films that take no risks at all for fear of ensuing hysteria?
Every year I hear dirt on Oscar contenders. I see things I shouldn’t see. I know things I shouldn’t know. Those things are usually kept quiet until long after the Oscars – breakups, affairs, divorces, tax fraud. Oscars are about perception and the fleeting delusion that “best” can really be determined in such a short time. If the Oscars were about the movies there wouldn’t be ads. Contenders wouldn’t need to kiss babies. But we all know it is about more than that. So congratulations to Joe Courtney on his October surprise.
Affleck is bewildered by Ken Taylor speaking out about it now, “I admire Ken very much for his role in rescuing the six houseguests. I consider him a hero.In light of my many conversations as well as a change to an end card that Ken requested I am surprised that Ken continues to take issue with the film,” he said. “I spoke to him recently when he asked me to narrate a documentary he is prominently featured in and yet he didn’t mention any lingering concerns.I agreed to do it and I look forward to seeing Ken at the recording.”
From my perspective they’re lucky to have dealt with a guy like Taylor. It could have been much, much worse.
Maybe no one takes the Oscars seriously enough to be bothered with the dirty tricks. After all, what does it matter in the end? The rich get richer, the movie stars get a lot of publicity and the rabble gets to look on in wild worship at all of their beautiful heroes. The stakes are low and the egos are high. But I’ll walk away from Oscars 2012 knowing the difference between a Ken Taylor and a Joe Courtney.