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Movie Critic Article: The Imperialist Design of Khartoum 1966

Movie Critic Article: Part Three

The Imperialist Design of Khartoum

Summary and Film Specifics:

Khartoum (1966) UK, 127 min. Color. Cinerama (wide screen).
Available DVD and VHS.
United Artists. Director Basil Dearden; Producer Julian Blaustein; Screenplay Robert Ardrey; Camera Edward Scaife; Editor Fergus McDonell;
Music Frank Cordell; Art Director John Howell.
Khartoum has a prestige cast made of great actors:
Charlton Heston as General Gordon, Laurence Olivier as the Mahdi, Richard Johnson and Ralph Richardson as Gladstone the British prime minister.
1966: Academy Award Nomination: Best Original Story & Screenplay.
Set in the year 1884, filmed in Egypt and finished in England, Khartoum is a masterpiece both in cinematography and acting. The historical twist to allow for a dramatically impactful meeting of the two main characters, although artistically justifiable, was used to mal-represent the character of the Mahdi and depict him as a mad savage.
The story, without spoilers, is that a certain General, with experience in crushing national uprisings against the British as imperialist aggressors, was sent to put off the Mahdi movement in Sudan in the late 1880s. But the Mahdi prevails as he did several times before the General’s campaign.
Below is the peak of the drama and height of performance, more so from Charlton Heston.
Unfortunately this confrontation is fake. The two adversaries never met!

"They say the Nile still runs red from the Battle of Khartoum!" A tagline. 

Article by: Muhsin Khalid

Part Three
All this epic consolidation of images, lighting and music; this substance of the savage dialogue; the curious suggestive tools; jars filled with severed heads, covered with sackcloth; rivers from hell that flow for hundreds of miles with the taste of blood; all this peaks at the moment when the Mahdi stretches out his hands atrembling with Mercy to bring unto Gordon’s hands the amputated hand of a victim while asking him: Is it not your honouring?
Come honor me then, Gordon for I am the priest of Death and his highest messenger. Come so that I fingerprint you in blood in advance from now. The reference buried underneath the scene of the severed hand, besides being to criticism of corporal punishments in the Islamic Penal Code,
is to the secret role of this scene which will unfold later.
When the Mahdi stains the hands of Gordon with blood from the severed hand, while wearing a monster's frown, and then, curiously hands him a handkerchief to wipe the blood (imagine! a monster offering a handkerchief!) it is meant that the Mahdi has paptized Gordon, who was a devout Christian, in blood as a martyr. Just like what the Jews did to the Christ of Nazareth. Thus Gordon shall be another Christ, as long as he has failed to be a successful delegate of the “ Empire upon which the sun never sets.” The bitter truth for the English was that the balloon of this phrase was deflated by the Mahdi who did not lose or come out even in any battle. All were bright victories for him over the Turks and the coalition of the Turks and (the then) Turkish Egypt with the Empire, itself, on “which the sun never sets.”

The contentious dialogue between the Mahdi and Gordon, even before we are shown the holdings of the Mahdi's museum of human limbs and parts, ends up in an open and purely religious militant dialogue that establishes, fully and clearly, the issue of 'baptizing' Gordon.   
Gordon, as revealed in the dialogue, assumes the position of someone serving the teachings of his Lord. In return, the Mahdi appears to serve his own god! To this effect, following their discussion of the impending attack on Khartoum of about a hundred thousand Mahdi fighters and his worries about the 'invented' atrocities, Gordon asks his adversary: So when that happens, what!? Who will be remembered from Khartoum, your God or Mine? Who will be remembered "read: will remain" in Khartoum, your God or mine? The referral here is for all the blood to be spilled in the taking of Khartoum by the Mahdi; blood that will gush through the streets and into the Nile turning it into red Draculean wine that flows for hundreds of miles; blood of women and children who will be converted under the hoofs of horses into tomato paste; all these false concoctions are not referred to a causation by the individual behavior of the wild and psychopathetic Mahdi but to the god of the Mahdi and the relegion of Islam! Our fellow secular westerners who produce such movies that support the subordination of ethnicity, regions and religions really need education and rehabilitation that salvage them from these contemporary apostasies. I certainly liked a lot of the components of the film from a purely artistic perspective.  Nothing harms such a work of art other than naieve and humorist bias. For lying is basically a failure at making humor. Lying inherently lacks custody of success and therefore cannot grant it. Lawrence Olivier was a great actor. An insightful person. You will learn about his capabilities in a number of cinematic works based on Shakespearean Theatre. His role here is bound to a limited type of foolishness designed to accompany the figure of the Mahdi all through the movie. Olivier stretches this foolishness during his dialogue (as the Mahdi) with General Gordon by exaggerated bodily movements. Watch this clip:

While it is supposed that Gordon’s body would be pulled out and crucified like the Messiah, or his head would be stuck on the tip of a spear or held high on a bayonet by the victorious Mahdi fighters, we see nothing like that. As a matter of honour, definitely! Just as they would do with the face of Ali bin Abi Talib in an Egyptian movie. Contemplate how lying and advocating for the miserable history of colonialism make contemporary and secular western artists intersect with the visions of the Third World of the arts and the sacred. I have called it a modern day secular apostosy! To be continued.


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