Friday, September 29, 2006

The Last King of Scotland

Yesterday afternoon, I dragged Jon Babc0ck down to Houston Street to see the movie version of The Last King of Scotland. I paid for both of us since we're both still not paid by the same client. I'd finally lost my nerve watching my overdraft balance skyrocket and written myself a credit card check. Sad--I know--but I digress...

Some of you (Pernille) already know what this film is about. But many people won't know. It's a look at the murderous regime of Idi Amin though the eyes of his fictional personal physician, a young Scot who the audience can empathize with in spite of his lack of self-control and constant serious mistakes.

The film takes great liberties with the Giles Foden book. I suppose this was to make it fit into a film format, and also to make a complex plot into something understandable. I read half the book in Uganda and half in Namibia, and was surprised at how simplified the plot had become for the movie. But it's still a highly entertaining film, though much of this is due to the great acting of Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin.

One thing that made me laugh was how 1970s the film looked. The filmmakers really nailed it, the clothes and haircuts, a semi-disco aesthetic in party scenes, and free love with no thought of HIV. I can't imagine how they cleared out downtown Kampala to fill it only with 70s autos and shoot footage. What a traffic nightmare that must have been! I was kind of a Uganda geek, poking Babc0ck and whispering "That's the post office" or "That's the parliament." Like he cared.

After the movie, I had to buy coffee beans. Porto Rico didn't have anything Ugandan, so I bought Tanzanian beans instead. It seemed like the next best thing since it was a 1979 war with Tanzania that brought down Amin.

It seems stupid to have to point this out, but people who go to the movie need to remember that this took place in the 70s. Remember Nixon and Watergate, doing the Hustle, and the Iranian hostage crisis? America's Bicentennial? I barely remember lots of that. It seems like another lifetime. Obviously, Uganda has changed a lot since then, just like America and every other country. It always bugged me that all anyone knew of Uganda was Idi Amin. That's like all anyone talking about in relation to America being Watergate! Well, not exactly the same since Amin and his cronies killed 300,000 Ugandans and brought Uganda's economy to its knees, but you get the point.

In Uganda, I once read a review of the Giles Foden book in The Eye. The reviewer suggested you find a Ugandan over the age of 40, buy them a drink, and ask them about the 70s. You'd get some horrific and seemingly unbelievable tales of Amin's reign. But for those of you who don't have a favorite Ugandan over the age of 40, the book or movie will have to do.


Marie Javins said...

Just drinking some of that Tanzanian coffee... very nice.

In other news, my apartment's heat just automatically turned on. Sad... the weather is turning cold early this year.

Anonymous said...

I'll mail some Ugandan coffee (some of the real good Mbale coffee) if you get me the DVD ... ;-)

Anyway, thanks for the review. I know of several people who took part in the making, i.e. getting the cars from the 70ties, playing the parts as the Israeli hostages, and people in the UN system who met Forest for receptions (and had never heard of him before).

The point about asking a Ugandan for their version is a good idea. I have learned that Idi Amin is a VERY nuanced topic.

Marie Javins said...

If I see a DVD, I will pick it up for you! Though I suppose it will make it to Kampala pretty quickly.