State of Siege
I’ve been thinking and calling around about Steven Spielberg’s “Untitled Munich Project” for the last couple of days, and decided it’s in the cards for it to be something more than a revenge flick. I’m thinking it pretty much has to be.
It’s about the 1972 murders of Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympic games, partly…but mainly the response to this atrocity by Mossad, or Israel’s CIA. And the moral and ethical mucky-muck that results, I gather.
A member of Black September standing on balcony of Israeli athletes’ condo in Munich’s Olympic Village during September 1972 hostage stand-off.
This will be the heart of it, I presume. It can’t just be a Black Sunday-like piece about killing Palestinian terrorists. It might be this, I suppose, but I can’t see the humanist New York playwright Tony Kushner (Angels in America ) writing a get-the-bad-guys procedural. Can you?
That recent rumor about the Munich project having a working title of Vengeance isn’t true, but it explains why some people are thinking it’s about payback.
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This will be Spielberg’s second major-league feature having to do with lethal aggression against Jews, the first being Schindler’s List, and he knows this latest effort will be compared to his 1993 Oscar winner, so he’s got to…you know…make it complex, high-minded, morally probing.
Spielberg and his team will be shooting the Munich project in various European and Middle East locations starting in late June (just as Spielberg’s War of the Worlds opens worldwide, on 6.29), and Universal is planning to open it on 12.23, in a clear angling for Oscar gold.
I’m guessing it’ll be a super-charged, early-William Freidkin thriller about the futility of seeking revenge, with a theme that says, in so many words, “If we all keep taking an eye for an eye, pretty soon the world will be blind.”
This line comes from a 1986 TV movie, Sword of Gideon, which was based on the same true-life story the Spielberg-Kushner film is apparently about.
Spielberg’s spokesperson Marvin Levy will only say it’s about the “aftermath” of the ’72 killing of 11 Israeli athletes during the Munich games by the Palestinian terrorist group called Black September.
Two athletes were killed during a hostage-taking and stand-off situation with German authorities at Munich’s Olympic village. Nine more were killed by a grenade blast at Munich’s Furstenfeldbruck airport when authorities tried to shoot it out with the terrorists.
I haven’t read Kushner’s script, but one of the film’s vantage points is that of “Committee X,” a high-ranking group of Israeli officials, chaired by Israeli premiere Golda Meir and Defense Minister Mosha Dayan, and the assassination campaign they ordered Mossad to carry out — to murder every strategist and supporter known to have in some way supported Black September’s Munich operation.
The operation was known in some circles as Operation Wrath of God.
The idea behind the campaign, which was known as the kidon (Hebrew for bayonet) and run by senior Mossad agent Mike Harrari, was to strike terror in the hearts and minds of the plotters. It was primarily for the sake of revenge, I’m sure, but also to try and psychologically deter similar operations.
Remnants of charred helicopter at Munich’s Furstenfeldbruck airport, on the morning after the killings of nine Israeli athletes.
Mossad started with a list of 11 names, but the people they wound up killing numbered 18, by one count.
Harrari’s plan was to be absolutely precise and avoid collateral damage, and yet people who had nothing to do with the Munich killings — a Moroccan waiter, a Russian KGB agent, an Arab-looking bodyguard in Gibraltar, three Arab-looking guys who made the mistake of pulling out guns during a raid in Switzerland — died at the hands of the kidon killers. Seven in all.
Were some of these people innocent? One was, and some of the others may have been.
The Harrari figure was called “Avner” in Sword of Gideon, and was played by Steven Bauer (Traffic, Scarface). It appears that Eric Bana (Troy, The Hulk), who’s been cast as the lead in the Spielberg film, will play Harrari, or a character based upon him. (Levy told me he’s not playing a Black September guy, so that narrows it down.)
The IMDB says Daniel Craig (Layer Cake, Undying Love) has also been cast. (Probably as one of the villains, right?) The usual Spielberg team — producer Kathy Kennedy, dp Janusz Kaminski, editor Michael Kahn, composer John Williams — have signed on. (Williams worries me. His music could have a gauzy effect.) Barry Mendel is also producing.
Eric Roth (The Insider) and Charles Randolph (The Life of David Gale ) worked on the Munich project before Kushner came aboard (I think) sometime last year.
Untitled Munich Project screenwriter Tony Kushner
Art is in no way obliged to tow the current political line, but I wonder what impact, if any, the Munich project may have upon the political ebb and flow, especially if it turns out to be good and popular and deserving of awards.
There’s been some movement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process lately, especially since the death of Yassir Arafat, with Israel giving back territory and whatnot. And the Munich movie could, at least in terms of the straight action elements, revive feelings of hate in certain quarters.
I would assume that Spielberg and his crew will have to be fairly careful with security issues when they’re shooting this summer, especially in the Middle East.
“What I find interesting about this is that it seems simple on its face…a good and evil story,” said Democratic strategist and West Wing consultant Lawrence O’Donnnell.
“This is not something anyone can predict, but I’m sure Tony Kushner will find the complexity in the story. I don’t think it would be premature to have an expectation for something great here. This will not be Raid on Entebbe.”
“Steven was pretty clear even last year that he did not want any preconceptions about what this [film] would be,” Levy said yesterday.
I know, I know…I should just shut up until someone slips me a copy of the script.
If You’re Interested…
There’s a pretty good blow-by-blow about the Munich murders and the Mossad revenge on a website called Special Operations.com. Here’s the link .
The mini-history, written by Thomas B. Hunter, is based on a book by Alexander Calahan called “Countering Terrorism: The Israeli Response to the 1972 Munich Olympic Massacre and the Development of Independent Covert Action Teams,” (Marine Corps Command and General Staff College, April 1995).
You have to hand it to Spielberg this year — he’s really kicking ass with the finishing of the visually revved-up War of the Worlds (Martian space ships…c’mon), and then shooting, editing and wrapping the Munich project in just six months…July to December.
And then right into that Liam Neeson Abraham Lincoln biopic, right? I can’t wait for that one. Neeson will kill as Honest Abe.
When I say fast shoots I really mean fast post-production periods. I can only think of three or four off the top of my head.
James Stewart (right) and Goerge C. scott (seated) in Anatomy of a Murder.
Million Dollar Baby, of course, began shooting in the summer of ’04 and was done by last November. Remember that Spielberg put both Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List into theatres, so I guess the latter was a fairly fast one.
For some reason I recall that the making of Floyd Mutrux’s American Hot Wax (1978), was fairly fast, or at least was in theatres only three of four months after finishing principal photography.
The fastest big-studio movie I’ve ever read about was Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder (1959), the Jimmy Stewart courtroom drama. According to the liner notes on the DVD, Murder shot for eight weeks and wrapped on May 15, 1959. It opened in big-city theatres about six weeks later, on July 2nd.
Andy and Larry Wachowski have gotten so caught up in their hiding-away syndrome that they’re producing V for Vendetta, an apparently thoughtful, Matrix-resembling action drama they wrote and developed years ago, rather than expose themselves to the threatening immediacy of being on the set and yelling “action!” and “cut!” and dealing with grips and best boys.
In their place, they’ve hired a talented flunky — James McTiegue, who worked as first assistant director on the Matrix trilogy — to “direct” the film. This strategy will allow the brothers to give McTiegue guidance (i.e., explain exactly what to do) as they keep a watch on things, perhaps from some heavily-fortified cyber-bunker several hundred feet below the streets of Berlin.
V for Vendetta is about to start shooting for ten weeks or so in Berlin.
The Wachowski’s will never be free from the fish net of their own making until they drop the super-secretive routine and stop cowering and “come out” and embrace (or at least accept) the occasionally rude and insensitive rough-and-tumble of the business, including dealing with the press and walking down streets and going into drugstores to fill their own prescriptions.
V for Vendetta star Natalie Portman and director James McTeigue at last week’s press conference in Berlin.
Larry can wear anything he wants and be anyone he wishes to be, but the boys can’t be Glenn Gould or Thomas Pynchon any longer. After a certain point the hiding of one’s face becomes tedious.
V for Vendetta, a tale about violent revolution in a futuristic London under the boot of a totalitarian government, is being filmed in Berlin with Natalie Portman in the lead role of “Evey.” Unfortunately, Portman will be losing weight and shaving her head for the role. James Purefoy is costarring.
The story is about “the people” helping to bring down an oppressive government, with Evey being a sort-of terrorist type with an ambiguous strain — i.e., is she good or bad or…?
“It√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s a very human story and because it√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s human it√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s not black and white,” Portman said at a Berlin press conference last week. “It is much more complicated and ambiguous than one person is good, one person is bad, the government is good, the people are bad, or the government is bad the people are good…it√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s a lot more complex.”
Silver was asked about the Wachowskis’ game plan and general reclusiveness.
“When they wrote the script it was before they had directed anything, so maybe they were thinking at some point they would [direct it],” he answered. “Their intention following The Matrix was to take some time off from directing so they√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢re producing the picture with us.”
The Wachowskis were last seen by the public in the summer of ’03 when Matrix Reloaded opened to vague and then growing disappointment, and they damn sure haven’t been seen since Matrix Revolutions opened later that year and the whole mythology came crashing down in an anguished heap, with the spirit of the first Matrix film having been totally abandoned and traded in for something else.
“They√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢re here [in Berlin] and they√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢re very involved and they√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢re kind of support for James and they√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢re very anxious for James,” Silver said about the brothers.
They may be anxious about James McTeigue, but the plan is not fundamentally about supporting him or even his gifts as a director — the plan is about Larry and Andy needing to work in the shadows.
Their screenplay is based on the V For Vendetta graphic novel by Alan Moore and illustrator David Lloyd, which was originally published by DC Comics as a ten-part series in 1988.
Warner Bros. will open V For Vendetta on 11.4.05.
Believe it or not, I’m on my way to Argentina today (Wednesday) and the Mar del Plata Film Festival, where I’ll be poking around for a grand total of four days.
The festival organizers have invited me down to cover, and to also moderate a “Master Class” session on Saturday with director Hugh Hudson (I Dreamed of Africa, Chariots of Fire, Greystoke). I’ll run some photos and whatever stories I can come up with.
I’m also going to work in an exploration of Buenos Aires for a few hours on Sunday. When opportunity knocks, it’s usually a good idea to grab it. I would never have managed a trip down there on my own dime. I’ve never really wanted to, I mean.
Any Argentinan journalists or filmmakers who may be in Mar del Plata for the next few days are invited to get in touch. I’d like to know what’s doing.
I wonder if Fabian Beilinsky, the director of Nine Queens whom I met in Toronto two or three years ago, will be in the neighborhood?
I had to shut down the chat room after getting hacked twice over the Christmas holidays, but we have a new server now and new composing software (i.e., Movable Type), and I’m told by Brian Walker, Hollywood Elsewhere’s Man in Ohio, that the message boards and maybe even a chat-room screen will be back up by the end of the week.
I hope everyone gets into the habit again. I’ll do what I can to visit more often and get involved with whatever’s being chewed on and batted around.
Sorry for taking the thing down but getting hacked like that was awful…awful….and chat rooms are the most vulnerable spot in a site like this, and I didn’t want to risk any further invasions.
There’s also a new column coming soon by Sweden’s Nic Kockum (there’s been talk about calling it “Viking Gangbang”) and an L.A. socio-political industry column by the great Flint Wainess, a screenwriter and founder of the always fascinating www.breakupnews.com.