16 November 2010

Raid on Entebbe

In cooperation with some of the finest movie blogs I know, Lost Video Archive is proud to contribute this post to Kotto Week, an event focusing on the long, extensive and diverse career of this underappreciated actor. A full list of participants follows this post.

United States - 1976
Director - Irvin Kershner
Thorn EMI Home Viedo, 1984, VHS
Run Time -1 hour, 53 minutes

Raid On Entebbe is a made for television historical dramatization of Operation Entebbe/Thunderbolt which took place on 4 July, 1976.  Seven days earlier a group of 4 hijackers had taken over a plane headed from Athens to Tel Aviv Israel and flew it to Lybia and subsequently to a Uganda suffering through its fifth year of Idi Amin’s dictatorship. Israeli commandos flew all the way to Entebbe to pull a surprise raid on the airport where the remaining hostages were being held.

Contrary to what I’m sure was a tense situation in reality, it is pretty dull here, and at 40 minutes I feel like a hostage of a thinly scripted glorification of Israeli military valor and absolution from responsibility for violence. With an excessively hefty cast that includes Charles Bronson, John Saxon, Peter Finch, James Woods, Martin Balsam, Horst Bucholtz and yes, Yaphet Kotto, there is enough time to parade each actor across the screen, but not enough to give any of their characters depth. Raid on Entebbe is a film that is a prisoner of its precise moment in time, for without a knowledge of the events, it makes little sense. Nevertheless, Kotto manages well with his few minutes of screen time as Idi Amin.

Unfortunately this seems to be typical of the roles played by Kotto. His talents are restricted to supporting characters (where he nevertheless frequently outperforms the leads). Historians of blacks in film have repeatedly pointed out that Hollywood has had a very difficult time coping with a fully humanized strong black male lead. This may be why Kotto took to television, where the work was more frequent if not more empowering for his roles, but that’s only my theory. It’s simply sad that Kotto so rarely had a chance to apply his skill to a character with real human depth. Subsequently, I think there is an interesting theoretical connection between Kotto and his role here as Idi Amin. Amin was perhaps the perfect dramatic foil for the period in the mid 70’s. He was a crazy black man at a time when American culture had just exhausted itself on the Civil Rights movement and The Great Society. White people needed a reason to believe they had, and to be seen as having "done enough", to feel that they had atoned for their guilt, and that anyone who wasn't satisfied, who still wanted more, or who simply refused to be quiet were baaaaad niggers.

I’m not trying to recast Amin as merely a victim of bad press, he was very much a real tyrant. However, because his sociopathic egotism was largely meted out upon his own people it made him easier to dismiss in the West. He could be treated as a pitiable, posturing “martinet”, and exemplified as a "type". The white status quo didn’t (and still doesn’t) know how to deal with forceful and assertive black characters who act bigger than the britches they have been given, so it continues to disempower, mock and stereotype them, including by relegating them supporting or comedic roles in film and history.

Aside from pointing out that Israeli commandos are good (and they were, but  even that is boring in this film), Raid on Entebbe manages to not say much at all except that Idi Amin was unstable and vindictive. Any film about Amin practically begs comparison to other performances of this unique and bizarre historical figure. Joseph Olita’s in Amin: The Rise and Fall, Julius Harris’s in Victory at Entebbe, Forest Whittaker’s in Last King of Scotland, and the real deal himself in Barbet Schroeder's documentary Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait which feels as much like an elaborate put-on as any of the others. In the few minutes of screen time he is afforded as Amin (this film is really about Israels political image), Yaphet Kotto manages to better the first two and come damn close to the second two. It is ironic that Yaphet Kotto makes Amin the most interesting and complex character in an otherwise boring film.

This VHS cover (?) comes from Amazon U.K

This poster I got from The Warsaw Jewish Film Festival site is the creation of artist John Solie, his signature appears on the far left next to the C-130 aircraft. Solie was responsible for innumerable posters in the golden age of poster art. You can read my blurb about him here.

This poster courtesy NYCJunta.

Visit these other participants as Kotto Week progresses:
Monday Nov. 15th
Unflinching Eye - Alien
Raculfright 13's Blogo Trasho - Truck Turner
Tuesday Nov. 16th
Lost Video Archive - Raid on Entebbe
Manchester Morgue - Friday Foster
Wednesday Nov. 17th
Booksteve's Library - Live and Let Die


Stacia said...

Terrific write-up on a movie I REALLY want to see now!

I hope you don't mind, but I posted an entry on my own blog pointing to Kotto Week. Any chance I can get in on some future action?

Cyberschizoid said...

I watched this movie many years ago and enjoyed it. Wasn't there another similar film or two made around the same time?

The Goodkind said...

Yes, Victory at Entebbe starring Julius Harris as Amin. Kotto and Harris worked together on at least two other movies covered this week, Friday Foster and Live and Let Die.

Aylmer said...

Forest Whittaker's Amin tops my list, but Kotto's here isn't far behind. Agreed that despite the awesome cast here, this movie is pretty flat.

That Solie poster is a beauty by the way.

The Goodkind said...

I initially picked this up years ago because of Bronson, but was intrigued enough by Kotto's performance as Amin to do some relatively serious research into both.

I like the Solie poster too, but all the faces look a bit puffy, Kotto looks more like a young James Earl Jones to me.

Cheap Flights to Entebbe said...

There are certain scenes that would awe an atheist into belief, without the help of other argument.