General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait
Directed by Barbet Schroeder
At this remove, few people remember how big Idi Amin Dada was in the 1970s. He wasn’t just an African dictator, he was the African dictator. Richard Pryor spoofed him on TV (“My name is Idi Amin Dada. That’s 3 A’s, 2 D’s, and one gun.”) He made the cover of Time magazine, back when it actually mattered. Never mind that Uganda is only the ninth most populous nation in Africa, or that Amin was arguably less murderous than (to name but a handful of African dictators) Haile Mengistu of Ethiopia, Francisco Macías Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, and possibly half a dozen others. Amin was well known in the 1970s, while the others remained obscure to all but foreign policy wonks.
I suspect that Barbet Schroeder’s documentary, General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait, had a lot to do with that. It’s a fascinating film about a man who was a ruthless dictator, giving access to a film crew in expectation that it would make a fine piece of propaganda, unaware of how nakedly it would reveal the vast gulf between his own self-image and reality. Amin was a man of limited intelligence and limitless ego, who would eventually adopt “”His Excellency President for Life Field Marshal Al Hadji Dr. Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular” as his preferred title.
I knew that Idi Amin was crazy, but until I watched Schroeder’s documentary, I didn’t realize he was nine different types of crazy.
The film follows Amin around to several official and unofficial functions: reviewing troops in parade formation and field maneuvers, giving speeches, watching (and occasionally participating) in musical and dance performances, conducting a waterway nature tour, and conducting a cabinet meeting. All more-or-less normal for a modern head of state, except all these scenes play out differently than they would in a First World country. Amin watches paratroopers descend playground slides. He leads a mock assault on the Golan Heights with a force so small and ill-equipped it would have trouble capturing a 7-11. His cabinet meeting is filled with meaningless platitudes (“You should not be weak, like a woman”), and a voiceover tells us that the Minister of State Amin criticized ended up dead in the Nile two weeks later. He sends inexplicable letters to other heads of state (“If you were a woman, I would marry you,” he says to the President of Tanzania). He says he has prophetic dreams, including one telling him the time and place of his own death. He tells us he’s obtained a secret Israeli policy manual: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
And yet, despite all that, and despite knowing what a monster he was, the film also displays a playful, charismatic side to Amin. Like Dwight said while we were viewing it, “he’s like a big kid with the world’s biggest toybox.” He loved firing guns and riding boats and having jets fly overhead. He was a competent accordionist and an enthusiastic dancer.
It’s amazing that Amin let Schroeder film this. There was an hour version of this broadcast on Ugandan TV, and a 90 minute version released in the west. When Amin’s agents transcribed the longer film, the dictator only asked for about two and a half minutes of cuts. When Schroeder refused, Amin rounded up some 500 French citizens in Uganda, put them in a hotel surrounded by his troops, and gave them telephones and Schroeder’s phone number. The director caved to this censorship by hostage, but restored the footage once Amin was deposed.
Stop-motion animation legend Ray Harryhausen has died at age 92.
I’m pretty sure your average SF movie blogger can offer a more heartfelt and insightful obituary than I can, so instead, here’s a short documentary about how Harryhausen helped created the special effects in the underrated Valley of the Gwangi.
I know it may come as a shock to some, given the painstaking technical accuracy evident in other SyFy films like Mansquito and Arachaquake, but Chupacabra Vs. The Alamo does, in fact, take certain liberties. As such, to avoid disappointment among those visiting San Antonio for the first time, and given that it’s Cinco de Mayo, which plays an important role in the film, I want to offer up some clarifications on errors made in the film.
The Mexican border is southwest of San Antonio, not southeast. Southeast is the Gulf of Mexico.
There are no green mountains near San Antonio. Unlike, say, Vancouver.
Many people in Texas ride motorcycles, but they do so on roads, not against badly-composited bluescreens.
DEA Agents in Texas do not typically ride motorcycles with unsecured shotguns.
DEA Agents generally drive to crime scenes in cars, not motorcycles.
Especially not riding on the back of another DEA agent’s motorcycle.
People do not typically need to wear jackets in San Antonio in May. Unlike, say, Vancouver. (Though this year may be an exception…)
Animals the size of a Scottish Terrier are not typically capable of dragging away 200 pound police offers in full SWAT gear.
As the seventh largest city in the United States, San Antonio has a large, modern police force. They would not need a random assortment of DEA agents and rogue gang members to take out a few hundred wild dogs.
While many San Antonians are bilingual in both English and Spanish, seldom do they pepper their English with the very most common Spanish words, as though to say “Look, ese, I speak Spanish!”
Police interrogation rooms do not generally look like small business conference rooms.
Most Hispanic gang members in San Antonio don’t look vaguely Asian, and don’t speak with a slight Brooklyn accent.
It is very doubtful that repeating long rifles can be found in display cases at the Alamo, as the Spencer Repeating Rifle was not invented until 1860.
Even if they were in said display cases, it is very unlikely that they would be stored with live ammunition, ready to be used by anyone who broke open the case.
Even if the gunpowder hadn’t gone bad after almost two centuries.
There is no secret escape tunnel underneath the Alamo. If there was, I’m pretty sure 177 years of urban infrastructure development would have found it.
Especially if it was wide enough for 10 people to walk abreast.
Especially if it lead to a giant metal hatch in a parking lot near the Alamo. (Or, more specifically, a stage in front of a bad bluescreen projection of a parking lot near the Alamo.)
Chupacabras or not, DEA agent or not, if you blow up the Alamo, expect to spend a lot of time in jail.
As the 7th largest city in the U.S., San Antonio also has a large, modern Fire Department, so if you did blow up the Alamo, it would not still be giving off a plume of digital smoke well into the next day.
I hope this has cleared up any confusion anyone might have about San Antonio or the Alamo. Happy con-going!
I’m sure you’ve read about Roger Ebert’s death from cancer. I don’t have much to add to the many tributes being offered (though I do want to note that he was a science fiction fan before a movie critic), so instead here’s Ebert and Gene Siskel eviscerating Rob Reiner’s North.
What is it with Shoegaze bands and surreal Communist-era Eastern European films? First No Joy used the Czech film Daisies. Now here’s Mirage in the Water’s “Chimera Panorama,” whose video features clips from the 1973 Polish film The Hour-Glass Sanatorium, which looks extremely weird and interesting.