153 General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait

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Martha
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153 General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait

#1 Post by Martha » Sat Feb 12, 2005 8:44 pm

General Idi Amin Dada

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In 1974, Barbet Schroeder went to Uganda to make a film about Idi Amin, the country's ruthless, charismatic dictator. Three years into a murderous regime that would be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Ugandans, Amin prepared a triumphal greeting for the filmmakers, staging rallies, military maneuvers, and cheery displays of national pride, and envisioning the film as an official portrait to adorn his cult of personality. Schroeder, however, had other ideas, emerging with a disquieting, caustically funny brief against Amin, in which the dictator's own endless stream of testimony—charming, menacing, and nonsensical by turns—serves as the most damning evidence. A revelatory tug-of-war between subject and filmmaker, General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait is a landmark in the art of documentary and an appalling study of egotism in power.

DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION:

• New, restored 2K digital transfer, supervised by director Barbet Schroeder, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
• New interview with Schroeder
• New interview with journalist and author Andrew Rice about Idi Amin’s regime
• PLUS: An essay by critic J. Hoberman

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nyasa
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#2 Post by nyasa » Tue May 16, 2006 10:47 am

This release deserves a bit of love, and now is as good a time as any - with the £2-off link and £2-off voucher, UK residents can snap it up for £9.99 at CD Wow.

From our current perspective, Idi Amin may appear to be an anachronism of 1970s post-colonial Africa. But the final sentence of the narration (which was cut on Amin's instructions, and hasn't been restored - though Schroeder mentions it in the interview included among the extras), makes clear the continuing relevance of Amin's tyrannical rule: "After a century of colonization, let us not forget that it is partially a deformed image of our own selves that Idi Amin Dada reflects back at us."

My own appreciation of this film is heightened by the fact that when it was made, in 1974, I was at school in neighbouring Kenya. When Idi Amin came on an official visit, we demonstrated against him. (I remember holding a placard on which I had written 'Idiot Amin'). As the motorcade passed us, Amin instructed the driver to slow down so that he could read our placards. I remember seeing his big shoulders heaving with laughter.

Schroeder's movie is full of laughter, both Amin's and ours - laughing at absurdity upon absurdity. But it also captures the evil of Amin's regime. We see a bizarre cabinet meeting in which the foreign minister is berated - two weeks later he is found dead in the Nile.

Documentaries about African dictators have become something of a sub-genre. Herzog's Echoes from a Sombre Empire, for instance, about the CAR's self-styled Emperor Bokassa. Or the Belgian-made epic documentary about the life of Mobutu Sese-Seko of Zaire.

I'm not sure that this is the best of these, but it certainly provides a three dimensional portrait of Amin, showing him as part jovial buffoon, part murderous tyrant. I don't think he necessarily reflects us, but we can see in him aspects of some current world leaders - which is a very scary thought.

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#3 Post by nyasa » Mon Dec 18, 2006 5:48 pm

The Last King of Scotland in the cinemas, and still no interest in this Criterion release?

Come on, y'all - surely somebody has seen this and feels it's worthy of comment.

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#4 Post by Matt » Mon Dec 18, 2006 6:07 pm

Well, I've seen it and it's not only a better portrait of Amin than The Last King of Scotland, it's also more entertaining. I mean, if you want to pass your evening with a mass murderer, you could do worse than to watch this film.

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#5 Post by Gordon » Mon Dec 18, 2006 6:14 pm

I acquired the Criterion a few months back and I wrote a fairly long post, but a browser error caused the post to be lost. It is a very strange documentary, presenting a gregarious buffoon waving to elephants like Eddie Murphy in Coming to America, who is in fact a ruthless tyrant for whom disposing of 'enemies' or 'traitors' is a matter of course. It is impossible to imagine such a documentary of such a head of state being made today. Idi's jaunty accordion score adds what has to be one of oddest counterpoints to any film. A unique film and sadly, one of Criterion's most maligned releases.

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#6 Post by domino harvey » Mon Dec 18, 2006 6:24 pm

I NetFlixed it over the summer. It was interesting only in as much as the man at the center was interesting. As a film, it was pedestrian at best.

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#7 Post by Gordon » Mon Dec 18, 2006 6:30 pm

domino harvey wrote:I NetFlixed it over the summer. It was interesting only in as much as the man at the center was interesting. As a film, it was pedestrian at best.
You could say that about almost every single biographical documentary ever made! :wink:

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#8 Post by Napoleon » Tue Dec 19, 2006 6:05 am

domino harvey wrote:I NetFlixed it over the summer. It was interesting only in as much as the man at the center was interesting. As a film, it was pedestrian at best.
Much as I Like the film I have to agree. Considering this is only 90 minutes long and factoring in how entertaining/macabre Idi is, this shouldn't drag as much as it occasionally does.

It is a miracle that Shroeder was able to commit to film the swimming race (where Idi shamelessly cheats to win) and the ‘attack' on the Golan Heights.

I think that this is essential viewing.

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#9 Post by HistoryProf » Thu Jan 04, 2007 4:19 am

Napoleon wrote:I think that this is essential viewing.
Agreed...given Saddam's recent demise, I thought of this film again and will have to revisit it. I agree that we are unlikely to ever see anything like it made again.

Oh, and this just in: Francisco Franco is still dead ;)

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#10 Post by BusterK. » Thu Jan 11, 2007 8:58 pm

This is one of the most surreal documentaries i've ever seen. I think Amin Dada is the embodiement of true horror. Of course, Barbet Shroeder is sensible enough not to show us his atrocities, but that makes it even more shocking because Amin is such a funny, charismatic and gentle clown.

One truly astonishing scene is when Amin is giving a ridiculous lecture to some intellectuals (LMAO). When a doctor stands up and asks him a legitimate question, Shroeder stays put on Amin as we see him getting extremely nervous, as if he wanted to strangle him in front of everyone. Truly one of the scariest shot i've ever seen!

I really doubt that poor doctor ever survived that scene... :-s

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#11 Post by Gordon » Fri Jan 12, 2007 12:26 pm

Yeah, that scene is intense. Amin was clever, but he was a bullshitter of the highest order - I mean, he proclaimed himself King of Scotland! He was an expert on everything, it seems - like Nicolae CeauÅŸescu, who would often tour factories and hospitals in Romania and implore skilled and vastly experienced people how to do their job. He got what was coming to him, though - and his wife, too! A film of thier last days is long overdue.

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#12 Post by colinr0380 » Fri Jan 12, 2007 2:21 pm

BusterK. wrote:One truly astonishing scene is when Amin is giving a ridiculous lecture to some intellectuals (LMAO). When a doctor stands up and asks him a legitimate question, Shroeder stays put on Amin as we see him getting extremely nervous, as if he wanted to strangle him in front of everyone. Truly one of the scariest shot i've ever seen!
Gordon wrote:Yeah, that scene is intense. Amin was clever, but he was a bullshitter of the highest order - I mean, he proclaimed himself King of Scotland! He was an expert on everything, it seems - like Nicolae CeauÅŸescu, who would often tour factories and hospitals in Romania and implore skilled and vastly experienced people how to do their job. He got what was coming to him, though - and his wife, too! A film of thier last days is long overdue.
Aren't these things normal with any politician or boss though? Getting upset at being questioned, and telling people what to do without any experience yourself seem to be essential qualifications for the position! (Does this sound bitter - it should :D !)

It just amazes me that some of these horrible world leaders are shot or ushered onto the gallows while you get someone else overlooked. For example Pinochet being allowed to die in comfort and given a state funeral or, as with Slobodan Milošević, have things drawn out so much you can die of natural causes before the uncomfortable business of having to be brought to justice. It all makes a sharp contrast with how Saddam Hussein's feet never touched the floor (literally at the end!), so fast was his verdict pushed through. It doesn't do anything to persuade me from thinking that 'justice' is just the pretext used to settle old grudges by people with the power to end life. It might be a nice irony to see these dictators at the other end of the gun or rope, but it doesn't make the actual executions any more pleasant.

What happened with Amin? Was he ever 'brought to justice', or was he allowed to live out the rest of his days until his death in 2003? Was there any attempt made to put him on trial, or was he another beneficiary of the hypocritical justice of the West not being bothered about him, because the people he killed weren't seen as so 'important' somehow?

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#13 Post by Gordon » Fri Jan 12, 2007 3:36 pm

Amin was exiled in Saudi Arabia and the Ugandan government were satisfied with this. The Saudi goverment gave him a stipend, probably to keep him quiet and not tarnish the image of Islam. He tried to return to Uganda in 1989, wishing to lead the people again and he had a guerilla army, but he only got as far as Kinshasa, Zaire where Mobutu sent him packing back to Saudi Arabia. In 2003, one of his wives asked the Ugandan government to allow the comatose Amin to return, die and be buried in his homeland, but they said that if he did, that he would "answer for his sins," which is an bizarre statement. Amin is now a myth - one of many political abberations of the 20th Century and a dark warning to the people of Africa of where not to place power.

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#14 Post by aox » Tue Sep 02, 2008 3:51 pm

I haven't seen this (my copy from the NYPL is on its way), but I have read a lot about the man and of course I have seen what I consider, the mediocre Last King of Scotland.

I read at some point that the only reason Amin allowed this documentary was for a public relations campaign to help his image around the world and in Uganda. It apparently, didn't work. From what I read, it is fair, which would obviously be a problem for someone like Amin.

Did Amin ever respond to the film? Did he ever voice a criticism or write an article giving his condemnation of the film? Or, did he think it actually showed him in a positive light?

This is from Wikipedia and there are no sources:
Influence and participation of Idi Amin

Director Barbet Schroeder has characterized the film as a "self-portrait" by Amin. While Schroeder and cameraman Nestor Almendros were given unprecedented access to Amin's daily life, the documentary makes it plain that many of the events (including the residents of a garrison town turning out en masse to greet Amin) were staged for their benefit. In several sequences, Amin actively directs the cameraman to particular points of interest, at one point shouting to "film that helicopter!"

However, Amin's influence as a "director" went beyond the actual filming of Idi Amin Dada. As per his agreement with Amin, Barbet Schroeder made two versions of his documentary : the first, an hour-long cut, was released in Uganda and delivered directly to Amin, who was apparently pleased with the result. The second version was released only outside Uganda and contained an additional half-hour of footage and narration.

According to Schroeder, Amin dispatched his agents in Britain to watch the film and write down a full transcript of its contents. Amin soon sent a letter to Schroeder requesting additional cuts to the film, but Schroeder refused. In response, Amin rounded up almost 200 French citizens living in Uganda and confined them to a hotel surrounded by the Ugandan army, supplying them with Schroeder's home telephone number and explaining that their release was conditional on Schroeder's acquiescence. In the face of this dilemma, Schroeder made the requested cuts, replacing the 2½ minutes of excised footage with title cards crediting the gaps to Amin. On Amin's fall from power, Schroeder restored the missing material, and most versions seen today contain the full footage.

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#15 Post by Mr Pixies » Thu Sep 04, 2008 1:29 am

the source is from Barbet Schroeder who talks about it on the Criterion dvd

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#16 Post by aox » Thu Sep 04, 2008 10:16 am

thanks! :D

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Re: 153 General Idi Amin Dada

#17 Post by swo17 » Fri Sep 15, 2017 5:23 pm


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Re: 153 General Idi Amin Dada

#18 Post by DeprongMori » Fri Sep 15, 2017 5:54 pm

There seems to be some messed up HTML in the pinned post.

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Re: 153 General Idi Amin Dada

#19 Post by domino harvey » Fri Sep 15, 2017 5:58 pm

I feel like the only time anyone ever guessed this would be an upgrade was as a joke

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Re: 153 General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait

#20 Post by chucktatum » Fri Sep 15, 2017 9:34 pm

This is what I get for randomly deciding to buy the DVD during the last B&N sale.

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Re: 153 General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait

#21 Post by Ribs » Fri Sep 15, 2017 9:36 pm

When was the last time if ever Criterion gave a previous release a new title?

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Re: 153 General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait

#22 Post by aox » Sat Sep 16, 2017 9:54 am

Isn't this the correct title and they got it wrong the first time?

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Re: 153 General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait

#23 Post by CSM126 » Sat Sep 16, 2017 10:07 am

… They haven't changed the title at all. It was exactly the same on the old cover.

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Re: 153 General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait

#24 Post by swo17 » Sat Sep 16, 2017 10:10 am

It didn't change as much as this thread title did, but it is slightly different.

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#25 Post by Zinoviev » Mon Sep 18, 2017 2:20 am

When the upgrade was announced I thought about this "lost" line from the haunting final shot. Would love to see it restored, even if only as an extra, because the indictment of colonialism/imperialism is critical to Schroeder's larger message. I may be in the minority on this one, but I'm very excited for the upgrade (though I prefer the original cover).
nyasa wrote: From our current perspective, Idi Amin may appear to be an anachronism of 1970s post-colonial Africa. But the final sentence of the narration (which was cut on Amin's instructions, and hasn't been restored - though Schroeder mentions it in the interview included among the extras), makes clear the continuing relevance of Amin's tyrannical rule: "After a century of colonization, let us not forget that it is partially a deformed image of our own selves that Idi Amin Dada reflects back at us."

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