Director: Kevin Macdonald
Cinematographer: Neve Cunningham and Alwin H. Küchler
by Jon Cvack
Spielberg’s Munich was a great portrayal of this tragic event, and yet, as with some films like Lone Survivor, upon learning more about the event, I was surprised to see how much it excluded. I had forgotten about the tragic conclusion, in which all of the hostages were killed and the bulk of their captors were burned alive after a grenade was tossed into a plane, while poorly positioned snipers were unable to neutralize the situation. I’m not sure why I don’t recall this from Spielberg’s film, even after seeing it twice. For some reason I thought that, with the exception of the few athletes who were killed in the complex, most got away.
For those who don’t recall, with the ongoing feud between the Palestine and Israel, a group of PLO terrorists broke into an athletic complex during the 1972 summer Olympics where eleven Israeli athletes were housed. Given Germany’s recent Nazi history, the government decided to avoid stationing any official German Police, instead creating unarmed security personnel, wearing light blue colored outfits, looking straight out of a cheesy 1970s sci-fi film. And so it wasn’t all that difficult for the terrorists to sneak into the building, take the hostages and demand the release of 234 Palestinians and non-Arabs jailed in Israel. The inevitable “we don’t negotiate with terrorists” prevented any of these goals, and after numerous botched attempts to take down the terrorists, resulting in the murder of a few of the athletes, they headed out on a bus, heading to an airport in order to fly out via helicopter.
What the film does a fascinating job with is exploring the hints of possible anti-semitism (a degree of racist-lite), where given the tragic situation that was occurring, the Olympic Committee continued to host the games. In one devastating single shot, with a news camera positioned on top of one of the buildings, we start with the armed police and terrorists positioned on the terrace and pan over to another section of the complex where the other athletes are sunbathing, playing ping pong, and otherwise enjoying themselves, seemingly ignoring the entire situation. Rather than shutting the down the event entirely with athletes unifying around the hostage release, it was as though - both literally and symbolically - the Jewish people were on their own once again in dealing with the situation.
When the terrorists reach the airport, the direction takes a more questionable turn. As Ebert publicly condemned, he didn’t appreciate the nonstop action sequences and recreations of the event playing to exciting music, which seem to exploit the event for entertainment purposes rather than informative. It goes on for a bit too long, discussing the position of snipers with elaborate graphics, showing the line of fire and where people were stationed. It makes me wonder if the reason Spielberg’s film so briefly touched on this moment was due to Ebert’s condemnation. It’s one of those rare true life instances where it played as though ‘straight out of a movie’, but unfortunately that doesn’t mean it needs to be recreated or told as such. Added was director Kevin MacDonald’s refusal to allow any Academy member to see the film openly, reserving the screenings for a few private events and thus increasing his chances for winning the award. Fellow documentarian Joe Berlinger (of Paradise Lost ['96] fame) joined in Ebert’s criticism, in that these two factors were morally questionable.
It was this event which led to the complex spy mission that took out many of those involved, portrayed in Spielberg’s Munich. Still, one of the most jaw-dropping moments is when German authorities staged another terrorist plot on one of its commercial airliners Lufthansa, using it as a way to release the remaining Palestinian prisoners who were captured from the event. While at first the situation sounds conspiratorial, nearly all of the experts in the film agree on what actually happened. Germany didn’t want to face another terrorist plot in the future and used this event to mitigate their chances, once again demonstrating an offensive at-best/anti-semitic at-worst position.
There’s still one terrorist alive, interviewed throughout the film, living in refuge with his wife and kids, proud of what they accomplished. With the ongoing dispute between the two Nations, it’s easy to see the passions on both sides. But when eleven athletes who are doing nothing more than playing for their country - and in an event that’s meant to unify the world - are brutally slaughtered, I think all politics go out the window. The fact that many of the terrorists were considered martyrs highlights this fact. I won’t go into my own personal opinions on the current and ongoing conflict, other than that there are culprits on both sides. But to expand those tragedies toward those who are meant to serve as a gesture of peace is despicable. To think that the passions on either side could either agree with what the terrorists did, or on the flip side, to observe that all Palestinians supported these actions, is unfair and just goes to show that there is a long way before peace is established.
BELOW: Not much on YouTube, so here's a short doc on the tragedy
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