Afghanistan in the Cinema
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: University of Illinois Press
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This book could not have been written without the kindness and generosity of many people from all over the world. From Afghanistan there was Roya Sadat in Herat and Ibrahim Faizi in Kabul, who shared with me Sadat’s remarkable film. From the United Kingdom, Corinne Fowler and Jude Davies made their scholarship available to me, ...
Introduction: Haunted Eyes
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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. ...
Part 1: Imperialist Nostalgia
1. Getting in Touch with Our Inner Savage: The Horsemen
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Before the 1970s, Afghanistan did not exist in the cinematic dreamworld of the West. Afghans featured briefly in lowbrow “Rule Britannia” films like King of the Khyber Rifles (1953) and Carry On . . . Up the Khyber (1968), but Afghanistan itself did not become the subject of a Western feature film until John Frankenheimer’s The Horsemen (1971). ...
2. Butch and Sundance in Afghanistan: The Man Who Would Be King
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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 ...
3. The New Great Game: Rambo III, The Beast, and Charlie Wilson's War
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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 ...
Part 2: The Burqa Films
4. Land without Images: Kandahar
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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. ...
5. Afghan Gothic: Osama
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The cover of Edward Said’s Orientalism bears what is possibly the most unpleasant image to ever grace a scholarly tome: a reproduction of Jean-Léon Gérôme’s painting The Snake Charmer. Its primary focus is a naked boy, his body encircled by a sinuous snake, performing for a motley group of cut-throats, presided over by a gray-bearded man in a green turban. ...
Part 3: Border Crossings
6. The West Unveiled: In This World
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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. ...
7. The Poetry of Silence: Ellipsis
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Films like Kandahar and Osama played 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, ...
8. A Way to Feel Good Again: The Kite Runner
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Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 novel The Kite Runner was 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, ...
Conclusion: Ending Charlie Wilson's War
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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. ...
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Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2010