Argo Artifacts in CIA Museum

StudioSix
While you can’t visit the CIA Museum in person, you can experience the collection online.

The rescue of the “Canadian Six” is the true story made into the movie Argo.

On 4 November 1979, militant Islamic students took over the US Embassy in Tehran, Iran, and took hostage the 66 US personnel inside.  Avoiding capture that day were six US State Department employees who took refuge in the homes of Canadian Embassy officers.  The US Government developed several major operations to address this national crisis.  Among them was a scheme developed by a small team of CIA disguise and false-documentation specialists to exfiltrate the “Canadian Six” (as they became known) from the country….

After careful consideration of numerous options, the chosen plan began to take shape.  Canadian Parliament agreed to grant Canadian passports to the six Americans.  The CIA team together with an experienced motion-picture consultant devised a cover story so exotic that it would not likely draw suspicions—the production of a Hollywood movie.

The team set up a dummy company, “Studio Six Productions,” with offices on the old Columbia Studio lot formerly occupied by Michael Douglas, who had just completed producing The China Syndrome.  This upstart company titled its new production “Argo” after the ship that Jason and the Argonauts sailed in rescuing the Golden Fleece from the many-headed dragon holding it captive in the sacred garden—much like the situation in Iran.  The script had a Middle Eastern sci-fi theme that glorified Islam.  The story line was intentionally complicated and difficult to decipher. 

The CIA Museum also houses paraphernalia created for the mission:

“Studio Six Productions” accountrement:

“Studio Six Productions”, was the dummy studio set up by CIA to rescue the six Americans trapped in Iran at the Canadian Ambassador’s home…

“Studio Six Productions” logo items

…The CIA team set up “Studio Six Productions” and titled its new production “Argo.”

To lend credibility to the ruse, Studio Six Productions set up offices on the old Columbia Studio lot formerly occupied by Michael Douglas, who had just completed producing The China Syndrome.  A logo was created, and cards, stationery, and other logo items were produced.

Artists’ concerpts for “Argo”

The script had a Middle Eastern sci-fi theme that glorified Islam.  The story line was intentionally complicated and difficult to decipher.  Shown here are the artist’s concepts for the “film.”

Argo ads in Variety

Ads and articles were placed in Variety.  The ads proclaimed Argo to be a “cosmic conflagration” written by Teresa Harris (the alias selected for one of the six Americans awaiting rescue).

Argo Picks Up Momentum

Oscar handicappers are calling Argo the best bet to win the Academy Award since it captured Best Picture at the SAG Awards:

As the last cup is drained at the SAGs, and a big awards weekend comes to a close, "Argo" emerges as a stronger frontrunner than even Affleck imagined, given his stunned walk up to the stage with his joyous ensemble.

That makes three times now Argo has beaten the field — at the Golden Globes, and the Producers Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild awards.

Which also means it’s time for haters to get busy, right? Like Slate’s Kevin B. Lee who says the emperor has no clothes:

Now that Ben Affleck’s Iran hostage drama Argo has garnered seven Oscar nominations to add to its mantle, upon which already sit $110 million in domestic box office, near unanimous acclaim from critics, and even a whisper campaign for Affleck to run for John Kerry’s soon-to-be vacated Senate seat, it needs to be said: Argo is a fraud.

Lee tells in detail why Argo is offensive to Iranians, historians and, undoubtedly, Iranian historians. Then Lee goes straight for the film’s Hollywood jugular —

Argo is ostensibly about how a fake movie saves lives, and thus about the redemptive power of movies at large. But since it’s about a fake movie, it’s not really about moviemaking—it’s about the power of Hollywood bullshit. Instead of a real filmmaker, we get Alan Arkin’s wise-guy hack producer dispensing chestnuts over how to create hype and attention to make it seem like a film is important— lessons Argo’s promoters no doubt took to heart.

I don’t share many of Lee’s objections to the movie that are principally complaints about what American popular culture is willing to accept. They are not problems with Argo taken on its own merits.

But I do wonder why my personal favorite, Lincoln, is losing to Argo, which I truly enjoyed though don’t feel it is in the same league as Spielberg’s project. Lee’s comments about Hollywood reinforce my suspicions that the movie industry is really congratulating itself with these Best Picture awards.

[Thanks to David Klaus for the story.]