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Exodus (1960)
The drama and the passion of one of the epic events of the twentieth century !
Filmmaker(s): Otto Preminger

Ari Ben Canaan, a passionate member of the Jewish paramilitary group Haganah, attempts to transport 600 Jewish refugees on a dangerous voyage from Cyprus to Palestine on a ship named the Exodus. He faces obstruction from British forces, who will not grant the ship passage to its destination.

Exodus (1960)

Stalled Ship

I wonder what damage we are doing to ourselves by writing false history.

All history is fictional. It must be because it abstracts single narratives from the hubbub of life. We hope that the narrative models something that can be traced back to facts, can be proved to be what we call true.

But movies, popular movies I mean, have so many constraints on narrative that by the time we get through tumbling the story, we end up with an attractive enough narrative. But it floats above reality with very little connection. Yet this is how we see the world.

Here we have an interesting story. The real story I mean, a story about men determining that a nation should exist, a nation in the modern sense, and then doing whatever necessary to bring that about.

This has happened hundreds, thousands of times, and may be the primary force in how we see ourselves. Looking at this one case is a great opportunity to examine what an artificial thing nationhood is, to highlight the effort, the yearnings to establish and resist the meme.

But Hollywood wants human drama instead. Love stories. Attractive leads (no, never dark). Unambiguous motives. Goodness must exist somewhere and drive the story, necessitating evil somewhere else.

In the end, this movie is something like “Schindler’s List”, slick production, competent storytelling on the human side, an ennobling association. And very bad history. A very damaging simplification, taking away all the things we might learn if we were confronted with real art.

So one might watch this for lessons in the history of film rather than the history of societies.

And that is a pretty interesting story. Preminger was an intelligent filmmaker. The year before, he made the remarkably astute “Anatomy of a Murder”. It was a small story, with all sorts of cinematic richnesses: amazing staging and few good performances.

Meanwhile at this time, David Lean was a hack, producing big, bold Hallmark greeting cards. Yet Preminger makes this empty, boring, incoherent mess of posturing posing as nobility. And Lean makes a glorious essay on the essentially the same subject that has scope as wide and ambiguous as the random formation of a nation. Interestingly, it happens to be more or less the people depicted here as savages.

Well, yes, I suppose. And I suppose they still are, but how hollow this film seems. How true ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ seems. How history is written!

Posted in 2005

Ted’s Evaluation — 1 of 3: You can find something better to do with this part of your life.


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