Posted by Danielle Berrin
Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln," a film about the passage of the 13th amendment abolishing slavery, garnered the most Academy Award nominations of any film this year, including Best Picture as well as nods in three major acting categories, achievement in directing for Spielberg and best adapted screenplay for playwright Tony Kushner.
Upsets this year centered mainly in the directing category, with "Zero Dark Thirty" director Kathryn Bigelow, "Django Unchained's" Quentin Tarantino and "Argo's" Ben Affleck notably left out.
But don't shed too many tears for the jilted directors: "Zero Dark" and "Argo" still scored Best Picture nods and Tarantino was nominated in the original screenplay category for his "Django" script (all three films, in fact, scored writing nods).
Also worth noting is love for "Beasts of the Southern Wild," the little film that could about a 6-year-old girl and her father as they struggle to survive in the storm-riddled, under-developed Louisiana bayou. Benh Zeitlin, the film's 30-year-old director and co-writer seems to be at the beginning of a promising career, as does his star, the 9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis, who this morning became the youngest actress ever to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
In the documentary category, "The Invisible War," a searing investigation into the US military's epidemic of sexual assault, received a well-deserved nomination. Producer Amy Ziering is a Los Angeles native.
In an interview last year, she told The Jewish Journal that, as the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, she has particular empathy for victims of violence. “I think my father’s Holocaust background has always made me acutely interested in, and sensitive to, trauma and second-degree trauma, and working through trauma, and what all that means, so that has been an influence on my life and my preoccupations in work," she said.
The film "5 Broken Cameras," a Palestinian-Israeli co-production, continues to win acclaim. Co-directed by Palestian Emad Burnat and Israeli Guy Davidi, it is an unflinching portrait of life in the West Bank village Bilin shot entirely from the perspective of a Palestinian farmer (Burnat) who lives there.
So far, "Lincoln" looks to be the favorite on Oscar night with its easy moral and contemporary political currency. The film's focus on the politics involved in the passage of a bill -- to say nothing of that bill's definitional significance in enforcing the ultimate American value -- has given a distant period piece added cultural relevance.
Will this year reward the story of a small triumph or a large one?
Tune in to the 85th Academy Awards on Sunday, February 24 on ABC to find out...
Full Nominations List:
Performance by an actor in a leading role
Bradley Cooper in "Silver Linings Playbook"
Daniel Day-Lewis in "Lincoln"
Hugh Jackman in "Les Misérables"
Joaquin Phoenix in "The Master"
Denzel Washington in "Flight"
Performance by an actor in a supporting role
Alan Arkin in "Argo"
Robert De Niro in "Silver Linings Playbook"
Philip Seymour Hoffman in "The Master"
Tommy Lee Jones in "Lincoln"
Christoph Waltz in "Django Unchained"
Performance by an actress in a leading role
Jessica Chastain in "Zero Dark Thirty"
Jennifer Lawrence in "Silver Linings Playbook"
Emmanuelle Riva in "Amour"
Quvenzhané Wallis in "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Naomi Watts in "The Impossible"
Performance by an actress in a supporting role
Amy Adams in "The Master"
Sally Field in "Lincoln"
Anne Hathaway in "Les Misérables"
Helen Hunt in "The Sessions"
Jacki Weaver in "Silver Linings Playbook"
Best animated feature film of the year
"Brave" Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman
"Frankenweenie" Tim Burton
"ParaNorman" Sam Fell and Chris Butler
"The Pirates! Band of Misfits" Peter Lord
"Wreck-It Ralph" Rich Moore
Achievement in cinematography
"Anna Karenina" Seamus McGarvey
"Django Unchained" Robert Richardson
"Life of Pi" Claudio Miranda
"Lincoln" Janusz Kaminski
"Skyfall" Roger Deakins
"Argo" Screenplay by Chris Terrio
"Beasts of the Southern Wild" Screenplay by Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin
"Life of Pi" Screenplay by David Magee
"Lincoln" Screenplay by Tony Kushner
"Silver Linings Playbook" Screenplay by David O. Russell
"Amour" Written by Michael Haneke
"Django Unchained" Written by Quentin Tarantino
"Flight" Written by John Gatins
"Moonrise Kingdom" Written by Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola
"Zero Dark Thirty" Written by Mark Boal
Achievement in directing
"Amour" Michael Haneke
"Beasts of the Southern Wild" Benh Zeitlin
"Life of Pi" Ang Lee
"Lincoln" Steven Spielberg
"Silver Linings Playbook" David O. Russell
Best motion picture of the year
"Amour" Nominees to be determined
"Argo" Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck and George Clooney, Producers
"Beasts of the Southern Wild" Dan Janvey, Josh Penn and Michael Gottwald, Producers
"Django Unchained" Stacey Sher, Reginald Hudlin and Pilar Savone, Producers
"Les Misérables" Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward and Cameron Mackintosh, Producers
"Life of Pi" Gil Netter, Ang Lee and David Womark, Producers
"Lincoln" Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, Producers
"Silver Linings Playbook" Donna Gigliotti, Bruce Cohen and Jonathan Gordon, Producers
"Zero Dark Thirty" Mark Boal, Kathryn Bigelow and Megan Ellison, Producers
Achievement in costume design
"Anna Karenina" Jacqueline Durran
"Les Misérables" Paco Delgado
"Lincoln" Joanna Johnston
"Mirror Mirror" Eiko Ishioka
"Snow White and the Huntsman" Colleen Atwood
Best documentary feature
"5 Broken Cameras"
Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi
Nominees to be determined
"How to Survive a Plague"
Nominees to be determined
"The Invisible War"
Nominees to be determined
"Searching for Sugar Man"
Nominees to be determined
Best documentary short subject
Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine
Sari Gilman and Jedd Wider
"Mondays at Racine"
Cynthia Wade and Robin Honan
Kief Davidson and Cori Shepherd Stern
Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill
Achievement in film editing
"Argo" William Goldenberg
"Life of Pi" Tim Squyres
"Lincoln" Michael Kahn
"Silver Linings Playbook" Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers
"Zero Dark Thirty" Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg
Best foreign language film of the year
"A Royal Affair" Denmark
"War Witch" Canada
Achievement in makeup and hairstyling
Howard Berger, Peter Montagna and Martin Samuel
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"
Peter Swords King, Rick Findlater and Tami Lane
Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell
Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score)
"Anna Karenina" Dario Marianelli
"Argo" Alexandre Desplat
"Life of Pi" Mychael Danna
"Lincoln" John Williams
"Skyfall" Thomas Newman
Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song)
"Before My Time" from "Chasing Ice"
Music and Lyric by J. Ralph
"Everybody Needs A Best Friend" from "Ted"
Music by Walter Murphy; Lyric by Seth MacFarlane
"Pi's Lullaby" from "Life of Pi"
Music by Mychael Danna; Lyric by Bombay Jayashri
"Skyfall" from "Skyfall"
Music and Lyric by Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth
"Suddenly" from "Les Misérables"
Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg; Lyric by Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boublil
Achievement in production design
Production Design: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"
Production Design: Dan Hennah; Set Decoration: Ra Vincent and Simon Bright
Production Design: Eve Stewart; Set Decoration: Anna Lynch-Robinson
"Life of Pi"
Production Design: David Gropman; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
Production Design: Rick Carter; Set Decoration: Jim Erickson
Best animated short film
"Adam and Dog" Minkyu Lee
"Fresh Guacamole" PES
"Head over Heels" Timothy Reckart and Fodhla Cronin O'Reilly
"Maggie Simpson in "The Longest Daycare"" David Silverman
"Paperman" John Kahrs
Best live action short film
"Asad" Bryan Buckley and Mino Jarjoura
"Buzkashi Boys" Sam French and Ariel Nasr
"Curfew" Shawn Christensen
"Death of a Shadow (Dood van een Schaduw)" Tom Van Avermaet and Ellen De Waele
"Henry" Yan England
Achievement in sound editing
"Argo" Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn
"Django Unchained" Wylie Stateman
"Life of Pi" Eugene Gearty and Philip Stockton
"Skyfall" Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers
"Zero Dark Thirty" Paul N.J. Ottosson
Achievement in sound mixing
John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Jose Antonio Garcia
Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson and Simon Hayes
"Life of Pi"
Ron Bartlett, D.M. Hemphill and Drew Kunin
Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom and Ronald Judkins
Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell and Stuart Wilson
Achievement in visual effects
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"
Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton and R. Christopher White
"Life of Pi"
Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott
"Marvel's The Avengers"
Janek Sirrs, Jeff White, Guy Williams and Dan Sudick
Richard Stammers, Trevor Wood, Charley Henley and Martin Hill
"Snow White and the Huntsman"
Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, Philip Brennan, Neil Corbould and Michael Dawson
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11.24.13 at 12:15 pm | Meet the woman who turned Suzanne Collins' young. . .
11.21.13 at 11:48 am | What I found transcendent about Handler’s. . .
11.9.13 at 12:57 pm |
10.29.13 at 6:31 pm | Zusak talks about choosing “Death” as a. . .
10.25.13 at 3:22 pm | Reflections on my FIDF gala report
11.27.13 at 2:54 pm | Rabbis Adam Kligfeld and Ari Lucas answer probing. . . (1191)
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January 9, 2013 | 1:16 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
So what if the Les Mis cast of characers are thoroughly Christian and utterly French -- there's still Torah to be found in Victor Hugo's epic tale of redemption, writes Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, a liberal-minded Orthodox rabbi in West Los Angeles. "[A]lthough Jean Valjean’s fall and rise is a great Christian drama of grace and self-sacrifice, Jews can easily enough transpose it into a story of profound teshuva, repentance. The sort of teshuva that Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik described as 'redemptive,'" Kanefsky writes.
After tackling Hugo's epic novel and seeing its latest incarnation on screen, Kanefsky penned a lovely note on the Jewish lesson he encountered in the Christian tale, but alas, one that didn't make the Oscar-hopeful's final cut. He writes of a scene early in the story when a bishop treats Jean Valjean with incredible grace, allowing him to keep candlesticks he had stolen before being caught by the French police. Instead of prosecuting the desperate man, the bishop sends him on his way, telling him he is good and that his soul belongs to God. But moments later, Valjean finds himself torn between good and evil yet again, when a destitute child drops a coin and Valjean stomps upon the lucre, ignoring the child's pleas to have it back. Soon enough, remorse overwhelms him...
Jean Valjean searches frantically for the child, screaming his name like a wildman and asking every passer-by if they had seen him. But all this proves futile, and the child is nowhere to be found.
"…his legs suddenly gave way beneath him as if an invisible power had suddenly bowled him over with the weight of his guilty conscience. He dropped, exhausted, onto a big slab of rock, his hands balled into fists and buried in his hair, his head propped on his knees, And he cried, “I am a miserable bastard”.
He burst into tears. It was the first time he had cried in nineteen years."
And the story of course pivots right there. This is teshuva’s primal essence.
All of us have felt regret over particular deeds that we’ve done. But how often do we part the clouds and see that it’s not the deeds, but the doer that is twisted and corrupt. How often does our introspection and reflection bore through the layer of specific actions we wish we could retrieve, and touch the heart the matter, the person who we are?
January 9, 2013 | 11:33 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
My friend Omri Marcus, a writer and content creator based in Tel Aviv has written a clever "TV Guide" of sorts to Israeli politics. It's a fun little map of Israel's copious and distinctive political parties -- with commentary TV buffs will know and understand.
"Here is a news flash," Marcus writes. "[N]othing is going to change after the Israeli elections in a few weeks...The right wing parties will stay in power, and the Israelis will show once again that they want peace, just not with Arabs."
Here is a very quick guide to Israeli politics that will make everything less confusing -- but not in the least bit less crazy.
Likud- Beitenu: A buy-one-get-the-other thing. One ballot for two parties fused together:
(1) Likud (literally "Unification") -- A right-of-center party which, based on current polls, is going to remain the ruling party. In a way, it's the Israeli version of the Republican Party. Representing an ignorant racist center, with a very thin crust of dignity and pretty words on top.
TV show: Honey Boo-Boo
(2) Israel Beitenu (literally "Israel is our Home") -- An extreme right wing party and the proud producer of Israel's version of Extreme Makeover: Gaza Edition. Well maybe not the whole show, but at least the first half where you take poor people from their house and tear it to the ground, although apparently taking them out of the house was optional.
Kadima (literally "Forward") -- currently the biggest party in parliament, and the leader of the opposition. This center party made so many mistakes over the past four years that almost all its members left it to other parties and from being the biggest party in parliament, it's now struggling to get a seat in the elections. TV show: The Walking Dead
HaAvoda (literally "Labor") -- It's called the Israel's Labor party even though the only laborer you can find there is the cleaning lady, and she's going to vote for the Likud. TV show: Lost
Yesh Atid (literally "There is A Future") -- a new party, headed by an Israeli journalist. He is sexy, he speaks nicely but never about controversial topics. So far the party is doing great in the polls. People are going to vote for him without ever actually seeing his platform or agenda.
TV show: The Voice
Hatnua (literally "The Movement") -- This party was established in such a rush that they couldn't even find a name. It's a central party, composed of leaders of other parties that lost in their primaries.TV show: The Biggest Loser
Habait Hayehudi (literally "The Jewish Home") -- An extreme right wing party with a surprising ecological agenda. They are in favor of transferring all the Arabs out of the country -- but insist this will be done in hybrid trucks.
TV show: Wipe Out
Hadash (literally "New" and also an acronym for "The Democratic Front for Peace and Equality" but no one in Israel knows that) -- An extreme left wing party that supports the complete withdrawal of Israel from all occupied territories, and proposes sending a "So Sorry" card to all the Palestinians. Anything for a peace treaty.
TV show: Two and a half men (this is the amount of voters they have)
Read the rest at The Huffington Post
January 8, 2013 | 11:19 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
In his review of Herman Wouk’s latest book, “The Lawgiver” Julian Levinson writes in the Jewish Review of Books about a genre he calls the “Jewish Hollywood novel.” Included in this canon he counts various works from Leon Zolotkoff’s 1932 novel “From Vilna to Hollywood” to Nathanael West's “Day of the Locust” (1939) to Budd Schulberg's “What Makes Sammy Run” (1941) to Leslie Epstein’s more recent, “San Remo Drive” (2003).
They each function at some level as fable, Levinson writes, with the underlying moral that “financial success is precarious and often gained at the price of one's soul.” Indeed, many of these works feature Jewish characters who abandon their roots for fame and fortune and must ultimately pay a price.
“Jews are not alone in their fascination with the mythical allure of Hollywood, of course, but they have been among the most adept at crafting moral fables that decry its corrupting force,” Levinson writes.
He counts Wouk’s latest in this camp, since it has overtly Jewish content and is squarely set in Hollywood. The plot hinges upon the wishes of an Australian uranium tycoon named Louis Gluck, a Hasidic Jew, to finance a movie about the life of Moses. Exacting in his vision, he enlists the help of a writer named Herman Wouk to oversee the screenplay. Wouk, meanwhile, is at work on his own Moses project, so rather than guide the young screenwriter hired to write Gluck’s movie, (the fictional) Wouk is instead intimidated by her scope and speed. Margot Solvei, it turns out, isn’t just any enterprising, young screenwriter; she possesses a “deep intimacy with Torah” which, we are to assume she inherited from her father, the esteemed Bobover Rebbe of Passaic.
Solovei’s roots have added significance here because they signal a shift in perception of the Hollywood-Jewish hero(ine). In the past, Jews who endeavored to succeed in Hollywood typically abandoned their roots, so as to become more fully American. But here, though the heroine distances herself from her former religious life, it continues to act upon her psyche, informing and enriching everything she writes without serving as a source of shame.
Margot has absorbed her father's teachings but cannot abide his literal understanding of the text...This rebellion enables her to discover her true calling as a Jewish American screenwriter with a properly ambivalent relationship to tradition. Her first success was an Off-Off Broadway parody of her father's world called "Bobover Bobover." Now she is ready to return to Torah on her own terms, as a creative writer, and her passion for the project becomes the driving force in the narrative.
Levinson is not alone in drawing parallels between Margot, Wouk's 21st century Hollywood screenwriter, and Marjorie Morningstar, Wouk's 1930's aspiring actress (a character that real-life Jewish actress Scarlett Johansson exclaimed to Charlie Rose, "I am Marjorie!"): "Margot is in many ways a more talented and scholarly Marjorie Morningstar," Levinson writes,"or, even better, a kind of Herman Wouk in reverse."
Whereas in real life [Wouk] reclaimed the Orthodoxy of his youth, she's escaped it; whereas he's contemplating mortality, she's filled with guileless verve; whereas he can't write the story of Moses, she can. In the process, Margot also succeeds in rescuing the story of Moses from Cecil B. DeMille, whose The Ten Commandments is pilloried in the novel as a counterfeit, anglicized version of the true story. Margot's Moses is psychologically complex, a believer in God who cannot believe in himself. And her God is properly Jewish, speaking Hebrew, not pompous pulpit English.
In Wouk's version of the Hollywood story, then, we discover the triumph of the Jewish American storyteller: she feels Torah in her bones, but she's free enough from the past to recreate the tradition in her own words. In so doing, she reclaims Hollywood as a space for genuine Jewish self-expression.
...In this Hollywood novel, dreams are realized, parents and children are reconciled, love blooms, and Jews triumph while still remaining Jews.
Though in "The Lawgiver" Margot is the hero and not (the fictional) Wouk, she is the real Wouk’s triumph because she is his revelation; the product of his dizzying journey through the labyrinth of Jewish American life. It is through Wouk’s own struggle with Judaism that he is able to write such a clear-minded Jewish character, one who learns to use her Judaism rather than forsake it. Between sacred and secular, there need not be such a struggle, Wouk seems to be saying. Deep Jewish engagement -- whether intellectual, spiritual or communal -- has a role to play, even a "place" in secular life. The two need not be separated, but integrated.
At 97-years-old, Wouk has let faith triumph. He is finally able to see it as the core of his character (and his characters). When Vanity Fair recently interviewed him for their famous Proust Questionnaire, he was comfortably self-revealing:
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Monogamy, with the right lady. (Sheer luck.)
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Betty Sarah Wouk, no contest.
When and where were you happiest?
Anywhere with her, while she lived.
Where would you like to live?
Ideally, Jerusalem. Realistically, Palm Springs.
What is the quality you most like in a man?
Being a mensch.
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Silent, steadfast love.
The poet Marianne Moore once wrote that the deepest feeling always expresses itself in silence. Though Wouk’s legacy is hardly a silent one, he has quietly revealed his abiding passion for faith -- faithfulness in tradition and faithfulness in love.
January 7, 2013 | 1:07 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
[Read part I here]
The Oscar-hopeful film “Zero Dark Thirty,” about the ten-year manhunt for Osama bin Laden, has been the source of intense debate over its depiction of American use of torture.
Filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow, the film’s director and screenwriter Mark Boal have both been accused of promoting the effectiveness of torture, albeit misleadingly, as well as deeper insults such as artistic moral blindness.
The film’s impact has reverberated in the press and in the corridors of power in Washington, igniting debate about the role “coercive” interrogation played in the eventual revelation of Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts. Last week, the Senate Intelligence Committee launched an investigation into the contact between the filmmakers and their sources at the C.I.A., citing “inappropriate” and misleading exchange of information.
But outrage at the filmmakers’ depiction of torture, and its questionable usefulness, is misdirected. Though some allege that the U.S.’s controversial interrogation program caused convulsions throughout the halls of government, the compromised behavior of the country during the ceaseless War On Terror was not only evident in its application of so-called “enhanced interrogation.”
To truly discern the country’s post 9/11 values in action, one need not focus on movie scenes of torture (that may or may not have helped find Osama bin Laden), but on the actual sequence of events that occurred during Operation Neptune Spear, just around Zero Dark Thirty, the night bin Laden was killed.
Since that fateful night almost two years ago, various and often contradictory accounts have emerged to explain the sequence of events leading to the death of the world’s most wanted terrorist. Early accounts from the White House, as well as the New York Times, depicted a valorous tale of U.S. bravery in the face of unmitigated danger. But as more information surfaces and more individuals step forward with firsthand accounts, a different, more complicated picture arises.
In his review of Mark Owen and Kevin Maurer’s book, “No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama bin Laden” (Owen is a pseudonym for retired SEAL Matt Bissonnette who participated in the raid) Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Steve Coll writes in The New York Review of Books that “there might be more to the subject of bin Laden’s killing than a straightforward story of justice delivered.”
In his essay, he pieces together numerous accounts and statements that unveil the potential moral hypocrisy of the U.S. strategy -- a strategy carried out by both the Bush and Obama Administrations -- claiming to want bin Laden “dead or alive.”
Coll suggests that although the U.S. government had stated its willingness to capture bin Laden alive, even claiming it as a goal, the facts suggest this was a dubious proposition: “a fig leaf created mainly for appearances’ sake.”
In his insightful and revelatory article, Coll points to the various moral and political dilemmas counterterrorism has imposed on the Obama administration, leading it to wrestle with the perdurability of American values. For example, Coll explains, both the public and political risks of putting terrorists on trial ultimately “led [the] White House to discover that ‘killing was a lot easier than capturing,’” a phrase coined by journalist Daniel Klaidman who used it to title his book “Kill or Capture.”
How to ethically and responsibly handle the capture of terrorists proved a heavy burden. The failure, for example, of the Obama Administration and Congress to engender enough political will to shutter the prison at Guantánamo Bay is probably the most salient emblem of the its political usefulness, even though its existence exacts a moral cost.
President Obama...never said publicly whether he favored putting bin Laden on trial or killing him. In early 2009, in a speech at the National Archives, Obama announced that he would end the policy of using interrogation methods judged to be torture by the International Red Cross, and that he would close Guantánamo’s prison. He indicated that he would be open to trying some terrorists before military commissions, rather than dispatching all of Guantánamo’s inmates to federal courtrooms, but he declared that we “cannot keep this country safe unless we enlist the power of our most fundamental values.” He promised policies based on “an abiding confidence in the rule of law and due process.” He added that “fidelity to our values” is the “reason why enemy soldiers have surrendered to us in battle, knowing they’d receive better treatment from America’s Armed Forces than from their own government.”
And yet, Coll claims that the values propounded above are inconsistent with some of the actions the government has taken -- particularly on the night Osama bin Laden was killed, a drama that constitutes the climax and conclusion of “Zero Dark Thirty.” Here, again, as in the film’s early scenes of torture, the filmmakers have chosen to treat certain details with disturbing ambiguity.
Coll does a great service in attempting to reconcile Bissonnette’s firsthand account with other “official” accounts. And he goes not shrink from addressing the veracity of Bissonnette’s claims:
Typically, the authors of such memoirs submit their manuscripts before publication for official review, to scrub the works of classified information. Bissonnette declined to do so; he writes that he eliminated all secret information from his book on his own. The Pentagon has declared that Bissonnette is in breach of his legal obligations, but so far the government has taken no action against him.
The main thrust of Coll’s argument is this: Early reports of the raid claimed that a “firefight” took place between bin Laden and members of SEAL Team 6, that he used women’s bodies as shields during a gunfight -- thusly implying there was a struggle and bin Laden was “justly” killed. But revelations from Bissonnette’s book depict a scene in which none of that happened; he claims there was no firefight with bin Laden and that he was unarmed when he was killed. Coll recounts: “Bin Laden had stored a gun on a shelf nearby but it contained no ammunition; there has been no evidence that he tried to get hold of it; he was neither armed nor aggressive at the moment of his death.”
Nevertheless, the following is Bissonnette’s description of how bin Laden died:
The point man’s shots had entered the right side of [bin Laden’s] head. Blood and brains spilled out of the side of his skull. In his death throes, he was still twitching and convulsing. Another assaulter and I trained our lasers on his chest and fired several rounds. The bullets tore into him, slamming his body into the floor until he was motionless.
Though the SEAL Team commendably held their fire earlier in the raid when a woman exited the compound carrying a baby, their approach to bin Laden was altogether different. It seems this was due to orders.
"Having chosen to go in on the ground," Coll writes, "Obama evidently did not wish to design a mission that precluded the theoretical possibility that bin Laden might surrender. Instead, he approved rules of engagement that made bin Laden’s surrender all but impossible."
Coll adds that in Klaidman’s book, “Kill or Capture,” a Pentagon official is quoted as saying, “The only way bin Laden was going to be taken alive was if he was naked, had his hands in the air, was waving a white flag, and was unambiguously shouting, ‘I surrender.’”
Thus, the question about protocol arises, and whether or not that protocol was in line with American values of due process, enemy surrender, and other principles enumerated in Obama’s National Archives speech. Furthermore, it makes the issue of torture’s efficacy -- and the subsequent Congressional fury over a movie portrayal -- seem beside the point.
Again and again, the filmmakers of “Zero Dark Thirty” have claimed they did their best to recount events as they happened, without offering commentary or critique. It is the film's strength and its weakness. But to blame them for excising a moral debate about torture when the U.S. government's position is frightfully tenuous seems misguided.
In the end, “Zero Dark Thirty’s” brilliance is in its blankness. In presenting a decade-long sequence of events that will likely go down in history as the most pivotal and world-changing ten-years of the 21st century, the filmmakers are inviting audiences to think deeply and to reflect; not to garner meaning but to impose their own on the film’s morally blank slate. Seen that way, the vigorous responses to “Zero Dark” are quite refreshing, even promising, if in some way they indicate that true values can’t be prescribed by politics or presidents, but are gleaned through human instinct.
January 7, 2013 | 11:22 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
With Academy Award nominations just days away, the Oscar-winning team that includes director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal continue to endure harsh ignominy for their portrayal of torture in the Oscar-hopeful movie “Zero Dark Thirty.”
Over the past year and a half, they have been accused of various improprieties by the press, the left, and the right, including but not limited to: obtaining classified information from acting CIA operatives, using their extensive access to make a film that might boost Obama’s re-election campaign, and then, when the film’s release date was pushed from October 2012 to December 2012 (effectively cloistering it in the dark during the November election), the revelation of its content brought forth angry charges that the film promotes torture’s efficacy. Adding insult to injury, the film’s unflinching and uncritical presentation of torture prompted yet more accusations of moral equivalency and even moral bankruptcy.
Who said pursuing an Oscar was easy?
The conversation reached fever pitch over the last month with the film’s release and subsequently, the commencement of online voting for this year’s Oscar nominations. But although the film has captured national attention, it has been a Pyrrhic victory.
In Washington, lawmakers are incensed at the film’s alleged intimation that coercive interrogation aided in the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden. As if the use of torture wasn’t bad enough, the suggestion that it might work prompted the Senate Intelligence Committee to call for an investigation into the communications between the filmmakers and their C.I.A. contacts.
At the behest of its chairwoman, California Senator Dianne Feinstein, the bi-partisan committee, which also includes Senators Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), contends that the C.I.A.’s cooperation with the filmmakers was “inappropriate” and “misleading.” In their view, the filmmakers were granted information that they should not have been granted and came to conclusions they should not have come to.
In a Dec.19 letter to Michael Morell, acting director of the C.I.A., the committee unequivocally states that the revelation of bin Laden's hideout was not at all an outcome of employing torture:
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s recently-adopted Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation program concluded that the CIA did not first learn about the existence of the bin Laden courier from CIA detainees subjected to coercive interrogation techniques and that the CIA detainee who provided the most accurate information about the courier provided the information prior to being subjected to coercive interrogation techniques.
The film has struck both political and moral nerves. But its turn from being seen as campaign season agitprop (Obama got bin Laden!) to inspiring political shame and moral outrage (torture is evil and pointless!) has more to do with political preening and posturing than the film itself.
The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer provides the worst indictment, eloquently accusing the film of having "zero conscience" and Bigelow of “milk[ing] the U.S. torture program for drama while sidestepping the political and ethical debate that it provoked.
"In her hands," Mayer writes, "the hunt for bin Laden is essentially a police procedural, devoid of moral context.”
In reality, the C.I.A.’s program of calibrated cruelty was deemed so illegal, and so immoral, that the director of the F.B.I. withdrew his personnel rather than have them collaborate with it, and the top lawyer at the Pentagon laid his career on the line in an effort to stop a version of the program from spreading to the armed forces. The C.I.A.’s actions convulsed the national-security community, leading to a crisis of conscience inside the top ranks of the U.S. government.
Mayer’s beef is: How dare the filmmakers show lurid scenes of bodily abuse and human degradation without showing the concomitant agony involved in inflicting it.
The filmmakers have defended themselves by insisting their only goal was to make a realistic film without an agenda. “The film doesn’t have an agenda, and it doesn’t judge,” Bigelow told the New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins. But according to the film’s production notes, distributed to the press at a recent screening, the filmmakers were very much aware of the moral sensitivities surrounding their subject matter:
The film encompasses sweeping events spanning nearly a decade, journeying across multiple countries and involving a precisely chosen cast of hundreds...whose objective was to capture the on-the-ground reality of this mission as truthfully as possible. To that end, it pulls no punches in documenting the moral lines -- including torture -- that were crossed. The intention was to create a cinematic work with the sweep and human emotion of a historical novel.
The difference it seems, might be one of semantics. What do they mean by “crossed”? Judging by the film, crossed might just mean “happened.” But according to Mayer, “crossed” should mean crossing a boundary.
The filmmakers have also been accused of boundary-pushing when it comes to the truth. Mayer also unloads on them for “distort[ing] history,” in particular, the film’s alleged claim that torture helped obtain intelligence that led to the courier that led to Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad hideout. This reasoning seems to cohere with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s view that not only is torture inhumane and immoral (and embarrassing), it is ineffective.
But in other circles, torture’s usefulness is still a matter of debate. When C.I.A. acting director Michael Morell responded to the Senate Intelligence inquiry, he wrote: “Some [intelligence related to bin Laden’s location] came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques, but there were many other sources as well.” Furthermore, according to the New York Daily News, Morell has also said: "Whether enhanced interrogation techniques were the only timely and effective way to obtain information from those detainees, as the film suggests, is a matter of debate that cannot and never will be definitively resolved."
As Mayer points out, whether or not torture “worked” is not the most important issue in this debate (she also subtly suggests that any defense of torture likely comes from “self-serving accounts of C.I.A. officers implicated in the interrogation program”). But what no one -- including Mayer -- seems to want to say is that all this rage at the filmmakers is sorely displaced. Regardless of agenda or implication, the filmmakers included torture in their movie because America has included torture in its war on terrorism.
Is all this outrage really about Hollywood’s misunderstanding of American wartime conduct -- and/or its refusal to denounce it? Or is it sadness and shame at America’s failure to enforce its own values in a bind?
To truly discern the country’s post 9/11 values in action, one need not focus on movie scenes of torture -- that may or may not have helped find Osama bin Laden -- but on the actual sequence of events that occurred during Operation Neptune Spear, just around Zero Dark Thirty, the night Osama bin Laden was killed.
Read Part II
January 3, 2013 | 1:34 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
In retrospect it was a gross misnomer and an audacious assumption to call the Titanic “unsinkable.” But in theory, the notion that such a designation should apply to a water vessel is rather basic and logical, and can probably trace its origins to the biblical story of Noah.
When God promises to bring flood waters upon the earth so vanquishing they will “destroy all flesh under the sky,” he instructs Noah to build an ark to withstand it.
Said ark is made of gopher wood, various compartments, and according to God’s instruction, measures about 450 ft x 75 ft x 45 ft. It is completely enclosed, saved for “an opening for daylight” and in fact weathers the calamitous storm intended by God to reset life on earth.
For remarkable feats to occur in the Bible, though, is really unremarkable. It often seems the bible’s very purpose is to imbue the many miserable conditions of human life with a sense that the miraculous is possible. In reality, for anything to be as “unsinkable” as Noah’s Ark would require both superlative (or supernatural) design and the unintended (or preordained?) kindness of nature.
In no small feat of irony, a Hollywood film about Noah and his Ark had the right mix of the aforementioned blessings. The Darren Aronofsky-directed movie which stars Russell Crowe as Noah was filming on location in Oyster Bay, Long Island when Hurricane Sandy hit last November. The actress Emma Watson, who also stars in the film, then tweeted: “I take it that the irony of a massive storm holding up the production of Noah is not lost.”
According to the New Yorker, who reported from the set in late November, “Aronofsky’s ark stood fast against the winds of Hurricane Sandy, even as they ripped up more than three hundred trees from the surrounding arboretum."
Perhaps that’s because, as production designer Mark Friedberg explained to the magazine, the crew closely followed the biblical dictates. As the New Yorker’s Julian Sancton noted, the ark looked like a “gigantic windowless log cabin crudely slathered in pitch.”
“The Bible itself lays out the dimensions of what this thing is,” Friedberg told him.
Per Genesis, Friedberg built the ark with three levels: one each for birds, reptiles, and mammals. Insects will bunk with the reptiles. “At first there weren’t going to be insects, for budget reasons, Friedberg said, “but Darren decided, ‘We can’t not have insects.’” (Friedberg made cheap bugs out of Lucky Charms cereal, bulgur wheat, and coffee beans.) Instead of the Biblically prescribed gopher wood, which appears nowhere else in the Scriptures or in any botanical almanac, Friedberg’s team used pine and carved foam.
At a time when the ark could have been rendered digitally, Aronofsky’s insistence on a life-size set was equated as a “Herzogian extravagance,” but the filmmakers aspired to as much verisimilitude as possible. And also: artistry.
According to the article, the ark’s design is influenced by the German painter and sculptor Anselm Kiefer, who is not Jewish, but whose work is said to bear the influences of Jewish mysticism, the Old Testament and especially the German history of the Holocaust, among others.
Aronofsky, who is Jewish, has said that making this film is the realization of a lifelong dream. Last July, when he first laid eyes upon his modern-art-modern-ark, he tweeted: “I dreamt about this since I was 13. And now it's a reality. Genesis 6:14.”