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Afghanistan in the Cinema

Afghanistan in the Cinema

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Afghanistan in the Cinema
    Book Description:

    In this timely critical introduction to the representation of Afghanistan in film, Mark Graham examines the often surprising combination of propaganda and poetry in films made in Hollywood and the East. Through the lenses of postcolonial theory and historical reassessment, Graham analyzes what these films say about Afghanistan, Islam, and the West and argues that they are integral tools for forming discourse on Afghanistan, a means for understanding and avoiding past mistakes, and symbols of the country's shaky but promising future. Thoughtfully addressing many of the misperceptions about Afghanistan perpetuated in the West, Afghanistan in the Cinema incorporates incisive analysis of the market factors, funding sources, and political agendas that have shaped the films. _x000B__x000B_The book considers a range of films, beginning with the 1970s epics The Man Who Would Become King and The Horsemen and following the shifts in representation of the Muslim world during the Russian War in films such as The Beast and Rambo III. Graham then moves on to Taliban-era films such as Kandahar, Osama, and Ellipsis, the first Afghan film directed by a woman. Lastly, the book discusses imperialist nostalgia in films such as Charlie Wilson's War and destabilizing visions represented in contemporary works such as The Kite Runner. _x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09139-1
    Subjects: History, Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Haunted Eyes
    (pp. 1-8)

    Her name, as if that matters, is Sharbat Gula. For nearly twenty years, no one outside of Afghanistan knew who she was. But they knew her face. I don’t think I’ve ever been in an Afghan restaurant where I didn’t see her staring at me, either from a photograph or a clumsily painted facsimile. Originally seen on the June 1985 cover ofNational Geographic,Steve McCurry’s photograph of Sharbat Gula has become, especially now with the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan, the new Afghan icon, the very embodiment for Westerners and Afghans alike of her long-suffering nation.

    It is...

  5. PART 1: Imperialist Nostalgia

    • 1 Getting in Touch with Our Inner Savage: The Horsemen
      (pp. 11-21)

      Before the 1970s, Afghanistan did not exist in the cinematic dreamworld of the West. Afghans featured briefly in lowbrow “Rule Britannia” films likeKing of the Khyber Rifles(1953) andCarry On . . . Up the Khyber(1968), but Afghanistan itself did not become the subject of a Western feature film until John Frankenheimer’sThe Horsemen(1971). Scripted by Academy Award winner Dalton Trumbo,The Horsemenwas the first (and only) twentiethcentury American feature film ever to be shot in Afghanistan itself, with the cooperation of Afghan Films, the national production company. At the time that Frankenheimer was making...

    • 2 Butch and Sundance in Afghanistan: The Man Who Would Be King
      (pp. 22-35)

      As the United States escalated its war in Afghanistan in the first years of the twenty-first century, Western commentators struggled to frame the conflict. To bring up the immediate cause of the devastation naturally drew attention to the Russian invasion. But to do that would require admitting the embarrassing fact that the same terrorists who were now our targets had previously been our allies, equipped and trained by our own intelligence agencies. In order to avoid any taint of association with the new enemy, the institutional memory of the press had to reach further back in time to make sense...

    • 3 The New Great Game: Rambo III, The Beast, and Charlie Wilson’s War
      (pp. 36-56)

      The defeat in Vietnam was not the only political and cultural calamity to befall the United States in the 1970s. A series of epochal events in the Islamic world dealt serious blows to U.S. power and prestige and set the stage for many wars to come. The oil embargo, a protest against U.S. support of Israel in the Arab-Israeli War of 1973, hit Americans close to home with gas shortages and inflated prices, paving the way for the Japanese triumph against domestic automobile manufacturers. Several years later, the Iranian Revolution and its ensuing “hostage crisis” humiliated and traumatized the United...

  6. PART 2: The Burqa Films

    • 4 Land without Images: Kandahar
      (pp. 59-84)

      With the Russians gone, the mujahedeen armies soon began jockeying for power over what remained. Promptly abandoned by the world community, Afghanistan was left to descend into the anarchy of civil war. Fundamentalism metastasized into a plethora of ethnic armies, now intent on using their salvaged Kalashnikovs in the service of racial hatred. What had once been a tribal federation of Pashtuns, Panjshiris, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Nuristanis, and many more soon disintegrated into a spiraling whirlpool of factions and counterfactions, supported by various world powers eager to take their turn at playing the New Great Game.

      The cost of the...

    • 5 Afghan Gothic: Osama
      (pp. 85-110)

      The cover of Edward Said’sOrientalismbears what is possibly the most unpleasant image to ever grace a scholarly tome: a reproduction of Jean-Léon Gérôme’s paintingThe Snake Charmer.Its primary focus is a naked boy, his body encircled by a sinuous snake, performing for a motley group of cutthroats, presided over by a gray-bearded man in a green turban. Lounging against an exquisitely decorated but chipped wall, the old man stares at the boy intently.

      This pedophiliac image makes a fitting illustration for a book in which Said explores the ways that the Muslim world has been stereotyped as...

  7. PART 3: Border Crossings

    • 6 The West Unveiled: In This World
      (pp. 113-129)

      We live in a world of borders, barriers, and walls. New states continue to proliferate, splintering from larger ones, all eager to share in the splendors of nationalism. Since the events of September 11, 2001, Westerners have developed an increased need to demarcate themselves from the rest of the planet. Paramilitary organizations in the United States patrol the U.S.-Mexican border, eager to prevent an “invasion” of illegal immigrants. Pundits applaud the Israeli construction of a wall in occupied Palestine to fence in the Arabs. Eastern Europeans build similar walls around Romany neighborhoods. Spaniards in the North African enclaves of Ceuta...

    • 7 The Poetry of Silence: Ellipsis
      (pp. 130-145)

      Films likeKandaharandOsamaplayed important parts in creating a visual discourse that, whether inadvertently or not, legitimized the war in Afghanistan that began on October 7, 2001. Like its cinematic counterparts, the televised bombardment of Kabul and other cities provided a blitz of antinarrative, a spectacle in every sense of the word, replete with explosions, crowds cheering their American liberators, and, most important, one Afghan woman after another lifting her blue burqa.

      ThusKandahar’sobsession with the burqa finds its way to the cover ofTime’sDecember 3, 2001, issue, one among many that furnished photographs of women...

    • 8 A Way to Feel Good Again: The Kite Runner
      (pp. 146-164)

      Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 novelThe Kite Runnerwas a sleeper of a book. Published only two years after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, it attracted a smattering of attention in the critical press when issued in hardcover. But in between its debut and its trade paperback publication, a plethora of Afghanistan tales fertilized the market, from the release ofOsamato the onslaught of Afghanistan documentaries, historical novels, and burqa-clad women’s memoirs. With the way paved,The Kite Runnerachieved critical mass at an astonishing speed, spread by word of mouth through the reading circles of America. Hosseini’s story soon...

  8. Conclusion: Ending Charlie Wilson’s War
    (pp. 165-168)

    Clearly Afghanistan has become a hot property, politically and culturally, the place more than any other where the resurgent victory culture of the United States stakes its future. Many Americans feel they have come to know it intimately, thanks to native informants like Nelofer Pazira and Khaled Hosseini. Afghanistan has served as a backdrop for action in liberal political films likeLions for Lambsand right-wing superhero twaddle likeIron Man,as well as for critically acclaimed documentaries likeThe Beauty Academy of KabulandTaxi to the Dark Side(which won an Academy Award). Elsewhere, Bollywood has chimed in...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 169-180)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 181-192)
  11. Index
    (pp. 193-196)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 197-198)