Tuesday, September 20, 2016

'Snowden' - An Oliver Stone Film Every American Should See (Minor Spoilers)

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Since I saw the first trailers  for the movie 'Snowden' five months ago, and also read the details (in NY Times magazine)  of how difficult a project it was for Oliver Stone, I've wanted to see this film.  The first thing that struck me from the Times piece was that no major studio would touch the film, take it on. This is really no surprise since the corporate matrix has close associations with the national security matrix as well as Neoliberal security statists (like Obama and Hillary) who would frown if they did a biopic on a guy considered a "traitor".   That left Oliver to do it with 'Open Road' Productions, and at first he felt somewhat chagrined, let down until someone reminded him they had produced last year's Best Picture, 'Spotlight'.

Many reviewers, such as Anne Hornady of the WaPo, also expressed wonder that Stone had turned his sights away from conspiracy fare, such as in JFK. But they appear to forget - or never processed in the first place- that the bases for the two films are radically different. In the case of 'JFK', even by the time Stone's movie came out in 1991,  there were still precious few files released, other than what the bastardized Warren Commission and the subsequent House Subcommittee on Assassinations (HSCA) wanted released. Thus, Oliver felt it incumbent upon him to "fill the information" hole with what he called a "counter myth" to the "Warren Commission myth" of the assassination."  Stone, in multiple interviews before the film's release (e.g. on CNN's 'Larry King Live') never claimed 'JFK' was factual, or historical.

But the corpora-media, so eager to reinforce Americans' somnolence, went nuts. Indeed, almost exactly four years ago I noted how the WaPo spinoff mag NEWSWEEK, in its Dec. 23, 1991 cover -  fairly screamed: The Twisted Truth of 'JFK': Why Oliver Stone's Film Can't Be Trusted'  

The actual article, bordering on the hysterical and penned by a Kenneth Auchincloss, lambasted Stone for attempting to "recreate history", and concluded that anything which does , "distorts history".  But time, and the release of millions of files under the JFK Records Act (in the wake of demands made in the aftermath of 'JFK') have proven Stone correct in many aspects. For example, on the existence and basis of National Security Action Memorandum 263. Hence, it was clear that Stone was spot -on correct in his prescient selection of at least one motive for the assassins.  Egg on the face? All over Auchinchloss and cohort.

In the case of Snowden, the how and where to do with  his feat of exposing  NSA's gargantuan bulk data collection program has been massively documented, as by The UK Guardian and The Washington Post. Much of this was already presented for the general viewer in the Oscar-winning documentary 'Citizen Four' by Laura Poitras, e.g.

Referencing the blowback from Snowden's disclosures some six months after he made his way to Hong Kong, Federal Circuit Judge Richard Leon averred  that the mass collection of phone metadata, revealed by the Guardian in June, was "indiscriminate" and "arbitrary" in its scope.  He also wrote:

"The almost-Orwellian technology that enables the government to store and analyze the phone metadata of every telephone user in the United States is unlike anything that could have been conceived in 1979,"

The film itself opens with Snowden (incredibly played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt)  meeting up with 'Citizen Four' documentary producer Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald in his Hong Kong hotel room. There, after taking precautions from snoops, he meticulously relates his story and this is where we jump through the fact to fiction 'looking glass'. In the words of NY  Times critic A.O. Scott "it could be described as a fictional making of feature about Citizen Four."  A verdict with which I must wholeheartedly concur. Hence, the movie 'Snowden' is told via progressive  flashbacks as part of the 'Citizen Four' backstory.

For those unfamiliar with it Snowden's personal history then unfolds from ca. 2004 to the near present. It begins with his recounting why he joined the Army that year to fight against the "bad guys". Spurred by 9/11 he wanted to do something to help his country. His Army ambitions (Special forces)  came to a halt because of health issues and instead he ended up in the intelligence services, first working for the CIA, then for the NSA, and finally as a contract worker for the latter. The story follows him from his first intel post in Geneva, Switzerland, then to Tokyo, then Ft. Meade (NSA HQ near Columbia, MD) and finally the NSA operation base known as "the Tunnel" on Oahu.  All this time he is also trying to maintain a relationship with gf Lindsay Mills .played by Shailene Woodley (of 'Divergent' series fame).

What every citizen really needs to see, is the extent of spying shown on the assorted CIA, NSA screens that Snowden and cohort are privy too.   Let us acknowledge that some cinematic license is taken here in the interest of time compression, convenience and cinematography - but also acknowledge this does not detract from the basic truth of how the programs, systems worked. During one scene, where the young target had foolishly left her laptop web cam exposed, wifey turned to me and whispered: "See, that's why I always put solid tape over that web cam eye!"  The scene then unfolds as we watch the girl on the screen strip, and Snowden  - nicknamed 'Snow White' - could scarcely believe his eyes.
The images showing the bulk data phone collection and how just "three jumps" can lead to 2.5 million potential targets (most of them innocent) will also blow viewers' minds.  Not long after we see Snowden's NSA handler (Corbin O'Brian)  barking: "Americans don't want liberty, they want security!" Really? And what kind of Americans are those? Two year olds still in nappies and sucking on sippy cups?

It has also  been hilarious (and somewhat infuriating)  to read the offal that passes for some reviews, like this garbage from one at The Toronto Star:

"With his gripping new docudrama Snowden, which just had its world premiere at TIFF, Stone is totally on the side of Edward Snowden, painting the fugitive ex-CIA and National Security Agency whistleblower as an American patriot, not the evil “hacker” that U.S. President Obama dismissed Snowden as when it all blew open in 2013."

Let me say here that ANY genuine patriot or sentient being, cognizant of the extent to which the NSA grabbed data, on everyone, would also back Snowden. The very notion of "bias"  in a film producer would be incomprehensible. This is because the level of deceit and despicable overreach in grabbing records - especially across the globe- beggars the imagination and desecrates the moral temperament.  We are talking here of ALL the following information which had been fair game for collection without a warrant, including:

the e-mail addresses you send to and receive from, and the subject lines of those messages; the phone numbers you dial, the numbers that dial in to your line, and the durations of the calls; the Internet sites you visit and the keywords in your Web searches; the destinations of the airline tickets you buy; the amounts and locations of your ATM withdrawals; and the goods and services you purchase on credit cards

Are reviewers, a majority of Americans or others, really ok with this bullshit/? Seriously? Then they can't have any complaints if the spooks turn the planet into a real panopticon.
So maybe the Canuck reviewer can be excused on the ground the Canadians don't really care about specific warrants for searches, as embodied in our 4th amendment.  (After all,  they sided with the British in the Revolutionary War.) Other reviewers complained about  "taking liberties"  with reality but they also have it wrong. A more sober take is the one by NY Times film critic A.O. Scott referencing Stone "embellishing the record in the service of drama and suspense". The fictional aspects - such as Snowden's use of the Rubik cube to conceal the micro SD card with critical files on it (9.4 mb worth) -  was merely to enhance the drama of what is a film - not a documentary.

In other words, like all great story tellers Stone had the good sense to grasp if he told the Snowden story straight - no embellishments -  he'd send most of the audience to sleep within twenty minutes or so.  This is why I also have problems with nitpicking twaddle such as appeared at Slate.com, i.e. "Snowden is a bad movie, stuffed with myth, short on drama".. Don't believe this claptrap - likely penned by an NSA or CIA media hack - for a nanosecond.  Indeed, such balderdash immediately caused me to rank Slate alongside rag blogs like Politico. It also jaundiced me in respect of ever trusting the judgment of a review on Slate.com again. If they could get this so wrong, what about any other films?

Near the end of the film we see and hear former NSA and CIA director Michael V. Hayden predicting that Snowden will waste away in Moscow.  In any case, whatever small tribulations Snowden has to endure in Russia are nothing compared to the despicable spectacle he'd face (in a military, Kangaroo-rigged court) if he ever returned to the U.S. He'd also likely be found guilty and suffer an even worse fate than Bradley Manning. They'd probably keep him naked in a solitary cell, fed only bread & water,  and water-boarded every 6 hours-   so enraged they'd be at how he exposed the underbelly of the national security state. (Which recall had no compunctions about blowing JFK's brains out on a Dallas' street.)

We all owe Snowden a debt of gratitude and those who say otherwise or call him a "traitor"  have no business calling themselves patriots or Americans. They belong to the same class of vermin as Joseph Goebbels, Herman Goering, and the other Nazi scum who used (via the Gestapo) their own extensive methods to grab up power more than 70 years ago.
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