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This ended up being more personal than I wanted, but at the end of the day, it was the only review I could write, and it seemed worth saying even if that meant playing the "this is about me!" card. 

 

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Desert One is Kopple’s chronicle of the Iranian hostage saga, with a clear focus on the aborted rescue mission that cost eight military men their lives. It earns a thumbs up from me — how could it not — because these men deserve to have their story told, and there were details about that story that I didn’t know. Nevertheless, the film frustrated and angered me in spots, and I left uncertain of its point of view even while appreciating the central forty-five minutes or so that chronicled the details of the fatally flawed mission.

 

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  • 4 months later...

Ken, I waited to read your review till I'd seen the film myself, and I think it's one of the more affecting reviews you've written, made better by including yourself and your family in the narrative.

Like you, I felt the film was flawed, but I think it's still essential viewing (along with Coup 53) for understanding late 20th Century history and U.S. foreign policy.  I actually didn't object to Kopple declining to take a clear position; I think the ending makes it clear that the film was a labor of love to honor the men who served in the failed rescue mission.  Similarly, her editing choice to first have the Iranian translator gush over the hostage-captive bond, followed by the hostage's discussion of sleeping with bound hands and living with an unwiped ass, gives the lie to the captors' claims of decency. 

What troubles me most was Kopple's choice to include very graphic footage of the aftermath of the failed rescue; I have to think that the surviving rescuers and their family members would be profoundly traumatized by it.  I'd love to hear yours and others' take on this point.  

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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16 hours ago, Andrew said:

What troubles me most was Kopple's choice to include very graphic footage of the aftermath of the failed rescue; I have to think that the surviving rescuers and their family members would be profoundly traumatized by it.  I'd love to hear yours and others' take on this point.  

I think that is probably why she included it. Looking back over my review, I realize that the film itself is not necessarily non-editorial, but Kopple trusts the audience to pick up on these points rather than pushing back. That's maybe old school? Post 2016, I think journalist have had to learn to push back on self-serving answers or obvious lies.

I remember Kopple doing a Q&A for Running from Crazy (one of my favorites of her films) and saying that when she met with Hemingway, she told her, the only way this works if if you are prepared to be 100% truthful. But she had in Hemingway someone who had the perspective and maturity to do that. By contrast, my two least favorite Kopple films are Gun Fight and Gigi Gorgeous. I think both really need someone to not just film the subjects but interrogate them...something Kopple maybe is less inclined to do? (I've seen her do at least a half dozen appearances, and she is a master at inclusion, sharing the stage, eliciting other people to speak. She strikes me as a sharer rather than a debater.)

Regarding her choice of showing the charred remains and the celebrations over them, I can't speak for the family of the men themselves, but I'll say it didn't bother me, because

  • I had seen that footage before.
  • It was released at the time to traumatize and thus says something about the Iranians that contradicts the narrative they are trying to tell about themselves.
  • If you've been around special forces (or even standard military) you understand how that engendered or solidified feelings towards the Iranians. 

This is a really bizarre non-sequitur, but what your question reminded me of was when my brother had been murdered four years earlier, my parents had an open casket at the funeral. (How the morticians managed to make the body presentable remains a mystery to this end.) I'm sure they were criticized for that decision, but I still remember vividly (it's one of my earliest memories) touching the body, feeling the rigor mortis. I don't know how to explain it, but I knew intellectually that he was dead, but seeing the body and touching it provided a kind of closure that I didn't understand until decades later when another person I loved died and was cremated before I ever saw the body. (I was reminded decades later by my best friend that he and his sister did not attend the funeral in part because of the open casket is not normal in Judaism.) One never knows because everyone is different, but as horrible as those scenes were in the movie, I think it is possible that seeing them helps in some ways those who are going through it to move towards closure. Or maybe it is just the case that our imagination can always conjure up things that are even more horrible than what we actually see. Or maybe I've just been inured by decades of TV and movie violence. 

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On 8/28/2020 at 10:39 AM, kenmorefield said:

Regarding her choice of showing the charred remains and the celebrations over them, I can't speak for the family of the men themselves, but I'll say it didn't bother me, because

  • I had seen that footage before.
  • It was released at the time to traumatize and thus says something about the Iranians that contradicts the narrative they are trying to tell about themselves.
  • If you've been around special forces (or even standard military) you understand how that engendered or solidified feelings towards the Iranians. 

This is a really bizarre non-sequitur, but what your question reminded me of was when my brother had been murdered four years earlier, my parents had an open casket at the funeral. (How the morticians managed to make the body presentable remains a mystery to this end.) I'm sure they were criticized for that decision, but I still remember vividly (it's one of my earliest memories) touching the body, feeling the rigor mortis. I don't know how to explain it, but I knew intellectually that he was dead, but seeing the body and touching it provided a kind of closure that I didn't understand until decades later when another person I loved died and was cremated before I ever saw the body. (I was reminded decades later by my best friend that he and his sister did not attend the funeral in part because of the open casket is not normal in Judaism.) One never knows because everyone is different, but as horrible as those scenes were in the movie, I think it is possible that seeing them helps in some ways those who are going through it to move towards closure. Or maybe it is just the case that our imagination can always conjure up things that are even more horrible than what we actually see. Or maybe I've just been inured by decades of TV and movie violence. 

That's some helpful perspective; I appreciate it.  My response is definitely colored by the years I worked with combat veterans, and repeatedly hearing how they were triggered by watching graphic war films.  

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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