Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fiend of Dope Island: "Catch Me If You Koran," or, Muslims make crap movies too

NEWS BRIEF: DOPE ISLAND SACKED BY MUSLIMS - (AP) The `Dope Island' portion of the Cleveland Movie Blog is under siege by rioting Islamic militants, preventing blogger Charles Cassady Jr. from writing one of his semi-regular Dope Island columns while he remains barricaded inside his burning embassy.

According to Mideast authorities, the riots began yesterday. Frenzied Mohammedan worshippers poured out of mosques to attack after Cassady posted and widely promoted a YouTube short subject entitled "In No Sense of Muslins," a fabric and fiber-arts how-to lesson that explains sewing techniques for those with muslin allergies, who must for medical reasons avoid exposure to loose-woven cotton cloth.
Over a failing phone connection, Cassady said there must be some terrible misunderstanding about the content of "In No Sense of Muslins."
Meanwhile, Cleveland Movie Blog editor Bob Ignizio has accepted this guest column from Elyria filmmaker Chip Karpus, to substitute for Charles Cassady's usual mordant column on the current cinema scene.

Besides making the deadline, it will also buy Mr. Ignizio valuable employee-outsourcing cred in case Mitt Romney becomes president.

Now over to Chip Karpus...

With the Youtube-produced epic INNOCENCE OF MUSLIMS adding another chapter to the dynamic and always-entertaining history of grassroots Islamic film criticism, it's high time to revisit one of the most unique and bizarre interactions between fundamentalist Islam and the silver screen.

Most people remember the Pakistani INTERNATIONAL GUERILLAS, if they remember it at all, because of a network news story that aired at the time of the film's release. The story featured a couple of minutes of footage from the spectacular climax (Hey Brokaw, how about a spoiler alert!) that left viewers with the did-I-dream-that impression unique to films from that part of the world. Fans of copyright-free Turkish cinema will be familiar with the sensation.

Produced in Lahore in 1990, a few scant months after rioting in the streets of Islamabad over the publication of The Satanic Verses left several protestors dead at the hands of police, the INTERNATIONAL GUERILLAS was intended to capitalize on the region-wide outrage stirred up by the Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa against author Salman Rushdie. An almost indescribable amalgamation of Pakistani pop filmmaking (kind of a low-rent Bollywood), Muslim propaganda, and large-scale action, the plot involves three brothers (the "guerillas" of the title) who set off on a holy crusade to assassinate Rushdie in fulfillment of the dying request of their sister who was killed in the rioting - actual footage of which is edited into the film.

The eldest brother, a serious-minded policeman who has become disenchanted by the corruption of his department by Israeli operatives, is the leader of the expedition. The younger brothers are lusty, lovable rogues in the Bollywood tradition.

With a conventional three-hour running time the episodic plot includes multiple raids by the trio (one while inexplicably dressed in Batman costumes!) on Rushdie's headquarters, a luxurious island villa guarded by the Israeli army. Interspersed are several musical numbers. A scene in which one of the brothers is assigned to kill his lover, who has been exposed as an Israeli agent, explodes in a particularly tasteless song-and-dance. There are also two ludicrously stereotypical Arab sheiks who serve as comic relief.

But the real draw here is the depiction of Rushdie himself as a James Bond-type supervillain bent on destroying Islam through his master plan for opening a chain of casinos and discotheques throughout the Muslim world. The author is portrayed as an evil sadist who takes delight in personally executing attempted assassins, one of whom is first tortured by being forced to listen to a reading of The Satanic Verses. The actor playing Rushdie bears no physical resemblance whatever to the author. In fact one of Rushdie's biggest objections to the film seemed to be the choice of wardrobe: "a rather ugly range of pastel safari suits", he said in an interview.

The film certainly drags at times, with the Arab sheiks being especially tedious, but dedicated viewers will be rewarded for sticking it out. The apocalyptic climax in which the wicked novelist gets his comeuppance is part RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, part LIFE OF BRIAN, and part fanatical wish fulfillment. Producer Sajjad Gul claimed recently that the movie was intended as a joke from the beginning and that Middle Eastern audiences were expected to recognize the outlandishness of it all. That may be so, but no one who has seen the ending could be convinced that it was produced in anything but a spirit of deadly earnestness.

The film was supposedly a smash hit in its homeland, but plans for an international release fizzled after a disappointing performance in England. Part of its failure may be due to Salman Rushdie himself who declined the opportunity afforded by strict English anti-defamation laws to block its premiere in cinemas in the Pakistani districts of London. Having had some experience with the phenomenon, he reasoned shrewdly that the controversy would make it the hottest ticket in town. With no objections raised, the movie died quietly.

International video rights were sold to the owner of a Pakistani video store in London who seems not to have acted on them. Bootleg DVD's are available with English subtitles, presumably from the British release prints. My own copy appears to be a VHS dupe that originated with Video Search of Miami and includes a note from the translators who felt compelled to warn their clients that it was the worst movie they had ever seen.

So with Rushdie taking full advantage of the current unrest to promote his new book on the morning talk-show circuit, the question should be asked whether INTERNATIONAL GUERILLAS can still play some part in world affairs. Provided western audiences can be persuaded to accept it as more than a humorous oddity, it could only serve as an unflattering look into street-level agit prop movie-making, a glaring contrast to our government's edifying apologetics. And who in the Muslim world could (with a straight face, need it be said?) advance the feeblest challenge. Salman Rushdie might not approve but he would certainly get it.

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