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.
While plumbing the depths and breadths of YouTube for suitable Shoegazer Sunday entries, sometimes I stumble across something interesting that doesn’t fit in the Shoegaze label. Today let’s take a look at Japanese band SpecialThanks.
The first 20 seconds of silence is just to mess with you.
So a pop-punk band with a deadly cute female lead who sings in English that sounds like a cross between Blink-182 and [Insert Current Teenage Female Pop Sensation Here]. This is the sort of Japanese cross-cultural pop artifact that Bruce Sterling circa 1992 would have been all over. As it stands, I’m pretty sure some canny American record label would make millions signing them over here…