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Movie Critic Article: The Imperialist Design of "Khartoum" 1966

The Imperialist Design of Khartoum (1966)

Part One
Article by: Muhsin Khalid

For those interested, in particular intellectuals, allocating a national budget for the production of cinematic depictions of historical events, such as the Mahdia era, safeguards against foreign attempts to rewrite history from a foreign prespective. This is because present generations have come to rely on and believe in the authenticity of visual representations of history without examining the stakes or reviewing.
An example for the effectiveness of this provision for a national budget when it comes to the documenting history is that of "Omar Mucktar",
a movie financed by Libya about its own hero which was deemed largely fair in its display of the historical events.

The British movie Khartoum (1966) stands as a model of the falsification of history.Written by Robert Ardrey (an American who also wrote the book: The Territorial Imperative) it comes as an addition to other British falsifications such as how they handled the history of America or their struggle with the French and Portuguese and also how they expressed their struggle with the Africans and the Dutch in the Boer wars. This article is a call for attention and for critical and cognitive review of such works that tackle important historical facts to rule out conspiracy and ill-intentions.
Certainly, Muhammad Ahmad's claim that he was the Mahdi had nothing to support it.
It was false because it was built on the Islamic political system- a system which is faulty at its epistemological core. As such, no wonder why and how it failed in the hands of Torshain, the
Mahdi's successor. But, regardless, nothing permits the transcendence of true and authentic history.
Note, for example, that the battle of Shaikan (Kashgil) in this movie takes place in the desert when
in fact it was in the heart of the Shaikan forest. This was meant to deny the Mahdi any military or tactical capability and portray him as a lucky person who was in no way equal to the British.
Also note that in the fabricated dialogue with General Gordon (which never took place in real life) the Mahdi vows to kill women, the elderly and children in contradiction with the cognitive theory of Islam which particularly prohibits putting this triad in harm's way. The purpose was to lead western viewers into believing that those people were wild and bloodshedding brutes and therefore no wonder that the forces of imperialism invaded their land to exterminate them.

The film alleges that General Charles Gordon loved the Sudan. A love no one would know how it came about from a man who spent most of his life murdering and exterminating the peoples of Asia, particularly the Chinese who nicknamed him Chinese Gordon!
Two objects are thrown away as being rendered useless in the context of the film narrative as a consequence of the chaos that befell the thirst-stricken army. A canon cart rolls and drifts away and a camel collapses on its knees from thirst.  After the battle ends these two banished objects are back in camera focus. One of the Dervishes (correctly known as Ansar) straightens the overturned cart and another one helps the camel to stand up. The whole scene conveys the hidden meaning that what the Mahdi and his Ansar had acquired from the battle was 'given' to them by the condition of thirst and not because they were efficient or competent to deservingly take away supplies by force.
The film narrator wonders at the opening scene of the movie why were things so big outside? Larger than life? Was it vanity or vision? He was accompanied by long shots of huge statues on the banks of the Nile river, some of them erected in the river bed. He then concludes that vanity was always mixed up with vision.
But the answer to the question why things looked big will be found in the fabricated scene when the Mahdi, portrayed as a clear-cut psychopath, meets General Gordon. I will address this point later through a reading of the Mahdi's personality in the entire film.

When cinema tells history how to say it

What matters now is that the physical stature of the Mahdi is meant to appear shorter than Gordon. It is known that the Mahdi was as tall as a huge Kochite statue. The narrator at the beginning tries to isolate this 'appearance as larger than life' from reality to conclude that the Mahdi was the product of the mixing of false visions with sick pride who vows to kill women, children and the elderly and thus his stature as a fanatic savage should dwindle infront of Gordon, the civilized. This is how to bestow heroic qualities on a character through symbolizing which is known in cinematic expression.
We have seen this in the peronality of the Gladiator (Russel Crowe) who was relatively shorter than the other gladiators or in Super Man or Hellboy. Characters that the screenplay want them to prevail. Here the filmmakers want Gordon's figure to overwhelm claiming that it has the right on its side in the face of a psychopathetic personality that embraces a false vision and is driven by undeserved human pride and vanity.
It is very important to know that the Mahdi was more concerned than any other person about the life of Gordon and that no harm be inflicted on him. Why? Because he wanted to use him as a bargaining chip to free the Egyptian leader Ahmed Orabi who was detained by the British at that time. How could the makers of the movie dispense as worthless all this regional and cultural awareness?
Hardly did the filmmakers show a frame or scene that gives the Mahdi's supporters (Ansar) any credit for a skill or an artful deed. All smart and artful shots in the movie were reserved for the British!
The dervish who opens the gate gets a surprise bullet from a British soldier and dies with both his eyes pierced! Another dervish who darts naked like a fish from the depth of the ocean is gracefully but fataly caught by a shot from the British officer's firearm. The one who tries to throw explosives from above is tackled by a sniper in a dramatic way that is almost comic.
Despite their numerous known victories, the Mahdi supporters were not able to do anything that could be considered intelligent or in the way of professional combative skills or even just funny!

Ansar wear (Jibba)

All along the whole movie you see the Mahdi's Ansar as impulsive people who scream crazily as though unaware of the reality. They look more like animals than gladiators who are focused on the battle they are fighting.
Is this sensible? Is there any logic in this? How did they defeat you then if they were this stupid and tactless? Or who was stupid and tactless?
The pre-Islam Arabian hero and poet Antarah ibn Shaddad (525-608) smartly said that he only "takes the boldest of warriors." Here are some of the verses from his famous long poem translated to English by E.J.W. Gibb:
"Many a warrior, clad in a suit of mail, at whose violent assault the boldest men have trembled,
who neither had saved himself by swift flight nor by abject submission,
Has this arm laid prone with a rapid blow from a well-straightened javelin, 
firm between the knots". Read the whole poem in the link below:
 Thus maintains the true warrior his post of courage and skill above that of the boldest of
his enemies.Another poet described himself as a "lion when he is assaulted and when he assaults".
 The defect in perspective and artistic treatment, let alone the logic in this movie, resides in the questionWhat is the value of chivalry in the face of the poor, weak and feeble-minded
Defeating a competent and intelligent antagonist is not equivalent to defeating a dumb and incompetent one. So where do the makers of this film derive this sense of pride from? 
It is the fact that they were not victorious in any battle that makes them belittle the victory of

those who won all the battles.
End of Part One
Khartoum (1966) 134 min, Color, Cinerama (70mm-6 track)
Genre: Drama, Action, Adventure (!)
British Production
Stars: Charlton Heston (as General Charles Gordon), Laurence Olivier (as the Mahdi)
Richard Johnson (as Col. Stuart)
Written by: Robert Ardrey
Cinematography: Edward Scaife
Original Music: Frank Cordell
Directed by: Basil Dearden and Elliot Elisofon
Good News: The movie is free on youtube.


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