A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

a fiction stranger than fiction: Blackline

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 27, 2009

This past weekend I spent some time hunting for videos to watch online while finishing an article that was due – well, overdue – to a very patient publisher. One of the online streams that kept me company while I wrestled with bad prose (mine) and awkward transitions (ditto) was CNN’s Inside the Middle East, which has a nice “best of 2008” trio of stories up on its website.

My favorite was a rather guilty pleasure: a piece about the “surreal” experience of filming a US action movie in Beirut. (You can watch the video segment here.) It brought back memories of a small but intense burst of news about the movie (now called Blackline: The Beirut Contract) last February, when nearby residents alarmed by the sounds of gunfire alerted the Lebanese Army to “action” that turned out to be more cinematic than real.

As you may recall, February 2008 wasn’t the least tense of times, and I remember the story inducing a few eyeball rolls among my friends. But if it was a relief in Lebanon, it proved titillating elsewhere: the story was picked up by several international news outlets, including the New York Times, which ran this piece:

Lebanon is a country on edge, with every side warning about foreign interference and the spark that could lead to factional war.

So when explosions and gunfire broke out in an abandoned building east of Beirut the other day, two Lebanese Army platoons quickly surrounded the site, guns drawn.

“Cut!” yelled a frightened American voice. The sounds of gunfire stopped abruptly.

It was a foreign film crew, not a militia. And if life sometimes imitates art, this was something stranger: The crew was making a movie about a group of armed foreigners who come to Beirut and almost set off a factional war by mistake.

(The NYT story continues here.)

I can see how tempting it would be to write a piece (or ten) about the irony of shooting a war film in Beirut, and CNN’s video clip was fairly interesting. But it featured this doozy of a quote by one of its producers, a man named Kirk Hassig:

We wanted to be the first movie to shoot in Beirut in 30 years, he said. There’s value to that. Those kind of things are added value in the way people perceive our movie.

Ugh. First of all, how could the interviewer not challenge him on his “first movie” claim? The first American movie, perhaps. But feature and documentary films were shot in Lebanon all throughout the civil war, not to mention during the past 18 years since it ended. What an ignorant claim.

As for the “added value”, I’m sure he’s right: I’m sure that this movie has already attracted disproportionate attention thanks to its on-site filming, and I’m sure that the “authentic” setting will drive ticket sales as well. But I think its rather bald of him to acknowledge this so cavalierly – and a bit disingenuous to pretend that filming a movie in Lebanon is either a pioneering act or one of bravery.

Count me in for a ticket, though. Even if all I do is fuss about the stereotypes that I am sure pepper the plotline (its about rescuing a hostage, after all), my eyes are longing for a little Lebanese scenery.

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