Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Brian Brivati, Movie Critic

Or the Decent War on Drama, part whatever. Dr Brivati gives a five-shoe review (that is, he hated it) review to HBO's The House of Saddam.

Hold it, he can't criticize HBO! HBO is the sole producer of good and decent drama, unlike all the filth that contaminates British screens. Ah, it was produced with the BBC. As you were.

I haven't seen the series, and it's possible that HBO are guilty of mis-selling with the poster image on their site, the one that says above the title, He built an empire on the blood of a nation. (Now, if Saddam smiled, he'd have looked like this.) Brivati:

The series shows Saddam Hussein as a naive diplomat trying to defend his country from the aggression of others, a leader who misread signs and pursued wars which he lost but then declared he won. It shows him as a tough politician capable of murdering his best friend with his own hand to demonstrate his desire for power. It managed to portray him as a man whose only demand was complete loyalty and whose only concern was for his family and his country (though it also showed him as an unfaithful husband living a life of material luxury while his people suffered from sanctions).

Not having seen it, I can't imagine how Saddam's "only concern was for his family" while he was being unfaithful. In fact, I'd argue that a contradiction can't be shown.

Shorter Brivati: why didn't they show Saddam's horns? Why must they show him as human?

Historical note: "Only then do we see Iraq attack Iran. When Iraq loses that war, Saddam declared a victory and went after Kuwait after ruining his own country." The Iran-Iraq war "ended when Iran accepted United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 598, leading to a 20 August 1988 cease-fire." From the same page: "In the fall of 1988, the Iraqis displayed in Baghdad captured Iranian weapons amounting to more than three-quarters of the Iranian armor inventory and almost half of its artillery pieces and armored personnel carriers." "The threat of rocketing the Iranian capital with missiles capable of carrying chemical warheads is cited as a significant reason why Iran accepted a disadvantageous peace agreement." Iraq started the war and didn't make an useful gains from it; but it's a stretch to claim that they 'lost' it. Brivati is a history professor and should know better.

Thanks to Malky Muscular for finding this.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Shorter Brivati: why didn't they show Saddam's horns? Why must they show him as human?'

This is no exaggeration. Brivati says that they 'humanise' a human being. Isn't that a bit of a solecism?

But I loved this bit:

'If you took this series as a text on international history, you would walk away thinking that Saddam based his foreign policy on defending his country.'

Personally, I believe everything I see on TV. There are some silly bookworms who claim that Braveheart and that film about Thermopylae are not entirely accurate. But I know better.


'More important, the movie does not explain that the Iranian revolution represented a threat because it might have inspired Iraq's Shia to overthrow their shackles.'

Awful of them not to provide this context. But how is it that someone who writes 'overthrow their shackles' is writing a culture column for a broadsheet newspaper?

'The reality is that within 10 years, Saddam invaded two neighbouring countries in unvarnished wars of aggression.'


Anyway, happy Christmas

12/24/2008 02:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"the movie does not explain that the Iranian revolution represented a threat because it might have inspired Iraq's Shia to overthrow their shackles"
had it done so, of course, it would have been lambasted for portraying the vile genocidal holccaust denying neo-Nazi regime in Iran as a force for inspiring liberation from tyranny.

12/24/2008 03:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm waiting with breath baited for the day that Aaro Watch publishes one of its characteristically smug responses to a telly article without including the phrase "I didn't see the programme, but.."

...somehow I suspect if Aaro himself commented on a programme he hadn't seen, the writers here would be notably less forgiving.

12/24/2008 04:01:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I'm waiting with breath bated for when AW receives a comment like that with a name attached to it.

12/24/2008 04:13:00 PM  
Blogger flyingrodent said...

Well, I saw a bit of it, and the unequivocal message I came away with was Saddam Hussein was a total bastard.

Admittedly, I may have seen the only part in which that was so and the rest might've been about Saddam's love of children and animals, hence this slice of tedious Decent kulturkampf.

While I'm on the subject of ideologically-fixated TV reviews, a brief bit of self-promotion... might have inspired Iraq's Shia to overthrow their shackles.

Hark yonder, I believe that the fascist octopus is about to sing its swansong, or something.

12/24/2008 05:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What ejh said.

The occasional appearance of anonymous Decents here too ashamed to show their face is a curiosity.

12/24/2008 06:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I should be used to it by now, but the level of philistinism in the world of Decency always shocks me.

the series repeatedly portrays Saddam asking how the people feel toward his regime, when we know from the regime's internal documents that the Saddamite leadership perceived entire categories of men, women and children – Kurds, Shias and even many Sunnis – as internal enemies who were best addressed through terror and not good governance.

This paragraph makes absolutely no sense. It's more or less an alternative version of the 'terrorism is bad' argument (copyright decentpedia).

If you took this series as a text on international history

Who on earth would do that?

Gerard Alexander of the University of Virginia contributed to this article.

never really a good sign. et voila. Powerline, eh... At least Brivati has made some cash out of this in the end. One wonders why UK-dwelling Brivati only watched it on American TV. It was on the BBC ages ago...

and finally...

This cinematic attempt to normalise him is a disgrace.

Well it's not really cinematic, it's a TV miniseries. But in any case, what was the Decent response to Downfall?

12/24/2008 07:43:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Anon, I agree with Organic Cheeseboard: it's the philistinism of Decency which surprises and shocks me. Yes, it's a minor thing, but as I'm against ideological/religious censorship ('The Satanic Verses', 'Jerry Springer' etc), I carry that through to ideological criticism of the arts. Sure, it's only television, but I don't think an artistic work has to pass some test of merit to be above religious/ideological criticism.

Anyway, OC has reminded me of a criticism I left out. Brivati: "The mini-series begins in 1979 – a third of the way through Saddam's career..." Now, I can't imagine the Iranian revolution getting any positive spin from the states for a long time to come. To American eyes, if Saddam saw 'that the Iranian revolution represented a threat', point to Saddam. (Why do you think Rumsfeld sold him weapons?) As OC says, 'Downfall' doesn't deal with Hitler: The Bierkeller Nights or the anti-semitism. And what do these dramatist chappies know? Starting a story about arms and the man in the middle of things? The horror. What we need is drama written by Professors of contemporary history, which start at the very beginning and work tediously through every minor detail, perhaps with footnotes on the accompanying websites.

12/24/2008 08:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The great Harold Pinter is dead, so Harry's Place are celebrating:

Messages such as 'Sizzle in Hell, Harold' are at the more extreme end. Looking forward to them arguing that Eartha Kitt was responsible for forging the Protocols...

12/26/2008 03:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read up to:

Marko Attila Hoare
25 December 2008, 7:59 pm

I’ve never seen or read any of Pinter’s plays. And I never will.

Merry Christmas to everyone.

I can now confirm that simultaneously laughing and puking is a uniquely uncomfortable experience, and therefore will not be reading that comment thread any further.

12/26/2008 04:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(I also note from the timestamp that Marko had only a minute after posting that comment to rush downstairs and catch the start of Wallace & Gromit - I do hope he made it).

12/26/2008 04:46:00 PM  
Blogger frunobulax said...

That depends - have W&G ever proven their 'anti-ethnic cleansing credentials'? I recall once a raised eyebrow from Gromit that was certainly suggestive of support for an independent Kosovo, but that might not be enough for Marko.

12/26/2008 06:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems clear to me that Iraq lost the war with Iran, considering Iraqi war aims were the defeat of that country and annexations of territory; both of which they failed to do, at a cost of hundreds of thousands dead. Just because the Revolutionary Guard didn't parade into Baghdad hardly means it wasn't an Iranian victory. For the invaded, status quo ante is often a victory; for the invader, its often a defeat.

12/27/2008 04:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The great Harold Pinter is dead, so Harry's Place are celebrating"

I shouldn't havew looked. I really, really shouldn't have looked.

"This year my grandson did ‘The Homcoming’ for for one of set his plays at school. To help him discuss it, I read it for the first time, and then again, and then again, and felt increasingly repelled by the work, the story line, the characterisaton, the language. Because of the task in hand, I did my best to coolly assess the merits of what Pinter was up to, but I hope I’m to read - far less watch - any other work by him.

Next, I laughed out loud when I started to read the second set play, ‘Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ I’m don’t ask why wierdos write such plays, buy I do ask what weirdos pick them for the exam curriculum? My grandson feels he has to respect them because they’ve been picked!!"

I suppose Pinter's death is somewhat tailor-made for the more barking species of Decent, providing as it does the opportunity to condemn the man's Very Evil Politics while simultaneously exhibiting that muscular philistinism of which they seem so proud.

Von Pseud

12/27/2008 05:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a good job they didn't realise that Oliver Postgate was a member of CND.

12/27/2008 07:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

et voila:

probably the single worst part:

Pinter was adamant that the Serbian national socialist was a victim rather than a victimiser. In a sentence as sinister as any in his fiction, he insisted that we should turn our eyes from the author of the first concentration camps Europe had seen in 50 years and recognise that the real enemy was an America which was telling the world: "Kiss my arse or I'll kick your head in."

Perhaps it was for this that the Swedes gave him the Nobel Prize for Literature.

dear god.

12/28/2008 10:13:00 AM  
Blogger The Rioja Kid said...

Hmmmm, in general I don't think that's a bad piece; it's not ungenerous to Pinter and although I am hugely opposed to the Kammite practice of writing shitty obituaries, any obituary of Pinter probably does have to mention that he backed the wrong horse in the Balkans. And Cohen did say the same thing to his face so I think he gets a pass here.

On the subject of whether "Kiss my arse or I'll kick your fucking head in" is deserving of a Nobel Prize, I have a piece in the Guardian blog story queue, currently being rather studiously ignored, which attempts a defence of Pinter's poetry, which I personally think is totally underrated. If it gets the definitive "Hallelujah! Now fuck off" from the Guardian subs I'll put it up here.

12/28/2008 11:27:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Islington set: I see your point, but I disagree. I accept that Saddam failed in his war aims, but that's not the same as 'lost the war'. Sorry, for me the fact that 'the Revolutionary Guard didn't parade into Baghdad' does mean 'it wasn't an Iranian victory.'


Seeing that their country was exhausted and isolated, Iranian officials urged Khomeini to accept a ceasefire.
When he finally did so, in July 1988, he likened it to drinking a cup of poison.

Granted that it was a long time ago, but I don't recall anything to suggest the Iranians regarded the ceasefire as a victory.

Essentially, I'm accusing Dr Brivati of simplification: taking a dark shade of grey and calling it black. The Guardian should insist on greater nuance. Facts are sacred, as they're very careful not to say these days.

12/28/2008 11:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pinter didn't back the wrong horse in the Balkans so much as actually thought Milosevic had the right to a fair trial as well as that calling him the new Hitler was a bit much.

It's funny how Cohen and Hari both concentrate their fire on Pinter supposed defense of Milosevic and sort of slide over any awkwardness regarding Iraq. [1] It shows how much the War on Serbia is still thought of as a good war even now.

[1] Though Cohen does make a valiant attempt at making out that Pinter's opposition to that war was purely driven by anti-americanism.

12/28/2008 11:41:00 AM  
Blogger The Rioja Kid said...

Hmmmm no I don't agree here; I seem to remember HP supporting Milosevic's Yugoslavia from quite early on, on the same grounds as a lot of people I like who later regretted doing so - that if you screwed up your eyes and squinted, you could sort of see a socialist state there.

I also fundamentally agree with Nick Cohen's analysis of why HP picked and chose his developing world liberation movements; I wouldn't call it mindless anti-Americanism, but Pinter did actually believe that US imperialism was the single biggest threat to the world and that most other political concerns were subsidiary to that big picture (not a point of view I personally share, but not by any means an obviously wrong or stupid one).

What Nick doesn't quite see though, is how his own view of the world is shaped by a totally mindless pro-Americanism; he's decided that Islamism is the GISOOT and the only thing worth worrying about, and has allowed that to push him into some much sillier places than Pinter ever did, and also to destroy his talent as a writer.

12/28/2008 01:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, I thought that was a fair piece from Nick, and Kamm's Times article wasn't altogether terrible either. I'd certainly draw a line between those two and the celebratory article on Harry's Place.

12/28/2008 04:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Me, forgetting to put my name in the box, there)

12/28/2008 04:44:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Pinter did of course call Milosevic "ruthless and savage", which strikes me as being some way short of an endorsement of the chap.

12/28/2008 05:33:00 PM  
Blogger frunobulax said...

Notwithstanding Pinter's evident suspicion (putting it mildly) that the US is not always motivated by the highest of ideals, it's not implausible that he had a genuine belief that the ICTY was indeed a 'kangaroo court'.

John Laughland is hardly the type to see Serbia through rose-tinted 'socialist' spectacles, so his take on the Milosevic trial is perhaps to be given more credence than some of the others - a review of 'Travesty' here:

Even the redoubtable MAH and fellow HP (that is, Harry's Place) cronies seem loathe to have much of a go at Laughland's depiction of the trial (one piss-poor attempt not worth repeating). Marko simply protests (wearily) that Slobo was evidently guilty because his books said so. I guess we're left to wonder just how well Marko's material stood up in court...

12/28/2008 08:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Frunoblax: "John Laughland is hardly the type to see Serbia through rose-tinted 'socialist' spectacles"

Hang on, if someone walks up to me and asks me to name a guy who actually fits the Decent caricature of a leftist anti-imperialist, I'd probably answer "Laughland". Perhaps it's just me.

Chris Williams

[Above pause a homage to Pinter]

12/28/2008 11:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm still upset about Harold. Fuck.

Pinter did actually believe that US imperialism was the single biggest threat to the world and that most other political concerns were subsidiary to that big picture (not a point of view I personally share, but not by any means an obviously wrong or stupid one).

Hmm, not too far distant from my own position...

FWIW, I actually did oppose Slobo and did so at much closer quarters than Kamm, Hari or Cohen. Which made it slightly annoying to fetch up in London and be accused repeatedly of being an apologist (and on at least one occasion a paid agent) of said Slobo.

When I was in Serbia a little while ago, I took a bit of an unscientific survey re the Karadzic case. There are still some small Save Radovan rallies, but most of the people on those are Bosnian refugees who have their own axes to grind. Few people I spoke to were eager to defend Karadzic and most agreed that he belonged behind bars, but people would have preferred to see him tried in Serbia. There's an awful lot of bad feeling towards the ICTY, notably since it's been making something of a specialism of letting off Muslim and Albanian warlords with plenty of blood on their hands (the Oric and Haradinaj cases). This creates the unfortunate impression that the ICTY exists not to punish war crimes as such, but to punish Serbs.

Of course, most Decents tend to agree with this view, but reckon it's a good thing.

HP Sauce, though. This sort of thing is why I can't read it any more, and I salute Malky's indefatigability.

12/29/2008 08:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should have seen the 1,500 word smear article about the guy who threw his shoe at George Bush. 1,500 words - you have to admire anyone who devotes that much time and effort to being a total wanker.

12/29/2008 10:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a shame you guys won't read the Pinter thread over at HP, or you could enjoy frunobulax's duel with Marko. He attempted the cunning plan of relying upon the expert opinion of a certain Neil Clark to tackle our leading Balkan historian. The outcome was as tragic as it was inevitable...

12/30/2008 09:19:00 AM  
Blogger frunobulax said...

It ain’t the day job, mate. Anyway, to recap, Laughland may have been invoked as ‘expert witness’, however, Neil (bless) wasn’t. Neil’s CiF post was a shameless wind-up, which worked before and did again for the simple reason that he mentioned a few Sybil Fawlty ‘special subject’ items. For all Marko’s footnotes, no really-smokey smoking gun ever appeared at the trial. And no, I’m not going to get embroiled in a footnote war with Marko - life is too short [1].

Doubtless, some of what happened in Kosovo could have, and should have, been pinned on Slobo. The trial blew it because they wanted to pin *everything* bad that happened in the Balkans since 1990 on him. For all Marko’s bluster about Laughland, the court was: loaded, stuffed with amateurs, and plainly failed in the task it was created to carry out. Yes, Slobo “cheated justice” by dying, but he did hang around a good few years first. As noted, letting off a few nasty pieces-of-work with a slapped wrist hardly helped.

[1] May also be a harmful distraction for the experts involved:

Stop press. Crikey it doesn’t take much to get Marko to rattle off a few thousand words - a glorious twofer on the ICTY and Pinter from Nigel Irritable-Indefatigable:

12/30/2008 03:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We may not much like the Decents here at AW(i'WoD'), but that doesn't mean we support Milosevic. We may not much like Marko, but at the end of the day, he's basically right about Slobo.

Only a complete twat would cite Neil Clark as an authority on the Balkans. And only a cunt thinks Slobo is innocent or was unfairly tried.

Why don't you piss off, Frunobrulax, you're embarrassing us.

12/31/2008 04:23:00 PM  
Blogger frunobulax said...

FAO: Frunobollox

Myself, my relatives, and most of their friends as far as I can tell have been anti-Milosevic - including going on protest marches.

Do your anti-Slobo credentials extend to any extra-mouse activities?

I don't personally know anyone that wishes he was still around. And, as I have said before, I *don't* see Neil as an authority. Neil is hapless and often sticks his neck out when he shouldn't, but that one CiF post of his did rattle quite a few cages for the simple reason that a number of the widely held perceptions of Slobo bear little resemblance to the reality. Not because Slobo wasn't a ruthless git, or indeed guilty of crimes, but because the fug of the more widespread demonisation that was ongoing clouded matters to the degree where it actually seemed to stall the process at the ICTY.

Had the ICTY been more about justice and less about politics it might have done a better job. As is hinted at in Marko's latest, there may well be some further falling out between the various parties involved at the ICTY as they blame each other for the balls up. Marko's reasons for the failure are certainly Biden-esque. But that's to be expected.

Pinter won't be around to witness that if it happens, but he wasn't alone in believing that justice was going be poorly served by the ICTY.

Rather more than your comment deserved, but I'm still on holiday. I have to confess that 'frunobulax' is likely to venture out only occasionally during holidays (the day job usually ends up the evening and night job also). So I may well "piss off" by default rather than in response to your polite request.

Cheerio and a Happy New Year!

12/31/2008 05:50:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Is it really worth registering names that exist only to make fun of other people's names?

For what it's worth, re: "only a cunt thinks Slobo is innocent or was unfairly tried", the first of these propositions is quite likely true, but the second is a little less clear*.

[* which means "a little less clear", not Milosevic is my hero", not that the distinction is generally allowed to exist.]

1/01/2009 12:49:00 PM  

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