Films That Get Attention, Both “Argo” Stories


From l, Ben Affleck and Bryan Cranston star in “Argo” from Warner Bros.

I was duped, bamboozled, and outright lied to by the CIA and the U.S. government. Yeah, I know, what a surprise! Even the White House had a hand in the deception. They were all in on the ruse, and I wrote about “it.” It was the movie Argo.

Yes, there’s a movie about that movie that is now playing in theaters everywhere. But I wrote about it for the January 25, 1980 issue of The Hollywood Reporter. I sat at the editor’s desk, often wading through bogus press releases from suspect publicity people who would do anything to get their clients in the daily trade paper. But for Argo I was approached by reps from the studio, and two noted Hollywood makeup artists who were going to produce a science fiction fantasy Star Wars type movie called Argo. Certainly with their credentials there was a legitimate story behind it.

So I got quotes for the story about the Studio Six production, from the producers, Robert Sidell, in the business more than 20 years, and John Chambers, an Oscar winner for his makeup work on Planet of the Apes. They talked about the project, with Sidell noting 100% of the filming was to be done overseas, backed entirely by foreign financing.

I quoted Sidell as saying that some shooting would be done in the south ofFrance, then move to theMideast“depending on what it’s like politically.” Everything seemed reputable and it was a good article with all the details of the production. Ah, but more than three decades later I discovered I was hoodwinked.

The real story behind that Argo has come to light now, thanks to Ben Affleck’s political thriller Argo. It has become the topic of conversation throughoutHollywood, and the Oscar buzz has started for the film itself, plus Affleck’s directing and acting.

It is based on an incredible subterfuge that was referred to as “the best bad idea we have” in the movie. The CIA tried to rescue six Americans who were hidden at the home of the Canadian ambassador in Tehranduring the height of the Iranian hostage crisis. The idea was to have CIA agent Tony Mendez go to Iran posing as a Canadian filmmaker scouting locations for the film Argo, and leave with the six Americans who would have cover stories as members of his production team.

It’s part of history now, and the Canadian government and heroic ambassador deserve a big thank you for their tremendous help in making it work.

The true movie about the fake movie stars Ben Affleck as Mendez, Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) as his CIA boss, Victor Garber as the ambassador, plus Alan Arkin and John Goodman as producers Sidell and Chambers who pulled the con on me. That’s OK; it was for a noble cause.

Now for the best place to get a heads up on all the movies worthy of Oscar-buzz, join the KCET Cinema Series (for information call 747-201-5800). It’s hosted by film expert Pete Hammond who has a knack for selecting the best from all the film festivals and markets, and there always seem to be future Academy Award winners in the mix. Starting Tuesday, Oct. 23, and running through December, this fall’s KCET Cinema Series, screened at the Academy of Television Arts & Science in North Hollywood, has the James and Paula Coburn Foundation as the presenting sponsor, and City National Bank as the corporate sponsor. Great major new films will be previewed prior to their first run local release. Silver Linings Playbook, Lincoln, Quartet, and Anna Karenina are among the films in the lineup. AndHammond has fascinating Q&A’s with the filmmakers and/or stars afterwards, many of whom go on to Oscar glory in the New Year.

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