Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The ARMSTRONG Lie and the RUMSFELD Lies - Venice Film Festival

The Armstrong Lie by Alex Gibney
(Venice, Italy) Yesterday, I saw The ARMSTRONG Lie, Alex Gibney's documentary about Lance Armstrong, and started writing this post. Then I saw The UNKNOWN KNOWN, Errol Morris' documentary about Donald Rumsfeld. Armstrong and Rumsfeld have so much in common, it was riveting to watch. They are not only trying to manipulate everyone around them, THEY ARE LYING TO THEMSELVES and don't seem to have the slightest clue they are doing it. Both are arrogant, both are bullies, and both keep trying to rewrite their own narratives. Just the fact that both were willing to go on camera and allow the world to see their profound character flaws illustrates how deeply in denial they continue to live.

The Unknown Known by Errol Morris
But what really struck me is that neither of them would have been able to get away with the immensity of their lies if they didn't have enormous, powerful organizations behind them, and a whole bunch of people who profited from their lies. Both men are the public faces of organized crime.

And now both men are the subject of documentaries by Academy Award-winning filmmakers.

The ARMSTRONG Lie
 "I didn't live a lot of lies, but I lived one big one." In 2008, Academy Award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney set out to make a documentary about Lance Armstrong's comeback to the world of competitive cycling.

Personally, the sport held no interest for me, but in May of 2009, the Giro d'Italia was held in Venice -- out here on the Lido where I sit right now, typing, as a matter of fact. A fellow I was dating was one of the timekeepers, so I came out to the race. The entire scene was surreal. Much of the crowd was made up of off-duty American military, who were peeved that they were not allowed behind the scenes. As the day went on, I found myself standing directly behind Lance Armstrong. I wrote about the experience here:

Lance Armstrong in Venice

 
Alex Gibney
Gibney said he made two films -- the one about Armstrong's comeback that was never released, and this one. The original agreement was that he would have unprecedented access to Lance -- who would take a cut of the movie's "back end" in exchange -- as Armstrong set out to prove that he was still the best cyclist in the world.

Gibney said he had heard and seen so much that the only way to get the information across was to put himself in the story, and that so much was Lance Armstrong "lying to my face." He said he was naive, but not stupid, and knew about the doping charges, but really believed that Armstrong was clean in 2009. Gibney said that when you're close to someone, you start to root for them, and he was rooting for Armstrong in 2009. When he found out the truth, there was a disappointment, and "I was pissed off."

The ARMSTRONG Lie
 From Variety:

“This is not a story about doping; it’s a story about power,” one interviewee shrewdly notes, and “The Armstrong Lie” zeroes in on the cynical realities of a sport where victory falls to those with the best medical and financial resources, and where the lure of sponsorships, massive publicity and millions of dollars in cancer-fighting research can encourage even the head of the Intl. Cycling Union to look the other way. The film also taps into the warped mentality of a professional sport where everyone of consequence is assumed to be doping under a code of collective silence, making it easy enough for a cheater to convince himself he isn’t gaining an unfair advantage so much as staying competitive.

After the movie, I asked Gibney if Lance Armstrong still gets a cut of the film's back end. Gibney nodded. "He does."

The Unknown Known
Watching Donald Rumsfeld's mind work was like taking a trip through the Looking Glass. In fact, Danny Elfman wrote the score for The Unknown Known, which made listening to Rummie even more rabbit-holey. Academy Award-winning director Errol Morris focuses on Rumsfeld's "snowflakes," what Rummie calls the tens of thousands of "white paper" memos he wrote throughout his career.

Rumsfeld, Ford, Cheney
As the film went on, I realized that Rumsfeld and his big-business buddies have been influencing the United States government most of my life. At the age of 30, he was elected to Congress in 1962, and hand-picked by Richard Nixon for a Cabinet-level position at age 37. When he was Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity in 1969-70, he brought the 28-year-old Dick Cheney on board. Among his other positions, he was Secretary of Defense under both Ford and George W. Bush. The documentary makes it clear how Rumsfeld controlled the Ford White House, and had presidential ambitions himself.

And for nearly 50 years, Rumsfeld wrote thousands and thousands of memos -- snowflakes -- and whipped them off to everybody -- his staff, his colleagues, even the president. When he was forced out of the government in 2006, he wrote a snowflake for everyone -- including those who may never have gotten a memo before -- informing them that the blizzard had stopped. Morris uses these memos to delve into Rumsfeld's mind. When asked if he had been manipulated by Rumsfeld, Morris said that the documentary was a portrait of a person, and he much preferred to let Rumsfeld contradict himself, which he does endlessly. He becomes lost in a sea of words. "I do not think that Rumsfeld has been left off the hook."

The snowflakes are freaky, as is Rumsfeld's obsession with the dictionary definition of words, his dictionary of preference being the Pentagon Dictionary, not Websters. (Why does it not surprise me to learn that the Pentagon has its own dictionary?) To make the case to invade Iraq, Rumsfeld says, "The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."

According to Rumsfeld, Pearl Harbor was a "failure of imagination." He seems to believe that the USA has an obligation to imagine every insane thing that every nut job on the planet can imagine, and then act to prevent it. You imagine the worst, and treat it as if it's really going to happen.

Errol Morris
Morris says that what he found fascinating about Rumsfeld was his use of philosophy, and his obsession with words. Not just the way he manipulates other people, but also manipulates himself.  During the press conference, Morris agreed that many politicians say one thing one day and something different the next, but he found Rumsfeld unique: "Within seconds he can say the exact opposite of what he just said. I found it strange."

The film opens with Rumsfeld reading a memo:

"There are known knowns.

There are known unknowns.

There are unknown unknowns.

But there are also unknown knowns -- that is to say, things that you think you know that it turns out you did not."

By the end of the film, Rumsfeld will declare that the memo is backwards, and that the real definition of unknown knowns is: "things that you possibly may know that you don't know you know."

I thought the film was genius. Because it is not only a glimpse into the mind of Donald Rumsfeld, it is a glimpse into the scary apparatus of the United States of America itself.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

1 comment:

  1. Yesterday, I saw The ARMSTRONG Lie, Alex Gibney's documentary about Lance Armstrong, and started writing this post. Then I saw The UNKNOWN KNOWN, Errol Morris' documentary about Donald Rumsfeld. Armstrong and Rumsfeld have so much in common, it was riveting to watch. They are not only trying to manipulate everyone around them, THEY ARE LYING TO THEMSELVES and don't seem to have the slightest clue they are doing it.

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