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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Amin: The Rise and Fall (1981) review


Joseph Olita (Idi Amin), Thomas Baptiste (Dr. Michael Oloya), Leonard Trolley (Bob Astles), Geoffrey Keen (British ambassador), Louis Mahoney (Ofumbi), Andre Maranne (French ambassador), Tony Sibbald (Davis, Canadian ambassador), Norbert Okare (Kiwanuka), Ka Vundla (Malyamungu), Denis Hills (himself), Gordon Gardner (Israeli ambassador), Alf Joint (American ambassador)

Directed by Sharad Patel

***WARNING! This review contains graphic images of both real life atrocities and those in the film***

The Short Version: This pseudo-documentary, quasi-exploitation movie about Idi Amin 'The Butcher of Uganda', one of history's most sadistic despots, is strikingly accurate; yet it never quite goes too far in showcasing the extremes Amin and his secret police got up to during their mass murder spree that lasted eight grueling years. Joseph Olita is incredible, espousing his dialog as over the top as possible. The violence is extreme in some cases, but is overshadowed by the wide ranging horrors the real Idi Amin perpetrated on the Ugandan people for nearly a decade. AMIN: THE RISE AND FALL is all shock value, and the Cliff Notes version of its title tyrant.

"You know, we prayed and prayed Amin would go away. We had almost lost hope. Then it happened. It's a miracle, a dream come true." -- S.T.M. Mugamba, Sydney Morning Herald, April 18th, 1979.

The dictatorial madman, Idi Amin Dada seizes power in Uganda in a coup that ousts former president, Milton Obote. Between 1971 and 1979, Amin, glutton for power and control of a nation, descends further into insanity decimating an economy, and torturing and murdering hundreds of thousands of people. After a failed attempt to invade Tanzania in the South, the Tanzanians, along with Ugandan rebels, finally topple Amin's cruel regime.

"I don't like the taste of human flesh. It's too salty for me." -- The exiled Idi Amin in an interview from 1997.

Producer and director Patel's biographical exploitation is surprisingly well made and accurate in its depiction of one of history's most sadistic tyrants. A huge box office success during its theatrical run, AMIN: RISE AND FALL (1981) is like a 'Greatest Hits' package of the Muslim madman's tirades, murder sprees, ethnic cleansing tactics, and imperial decrees. At 95 minutes, Patel's picture glosses over his horrific eight year reign of terror in an attempt to pack in as many of Amin's atrocities as possible.

As a dramatic piece, characterizations are merely peripheral, and it's too gruesome for mainstream appreciation. We are introduced to a handful of characters, but outside of a doctor concerned for his brother and the innocent people in Kampala, no one else lives longer than a few minutes to get to know them.

"All women love Big Daddy... the sex champion!"

However, the film inadvertently falls into black humor (no pun intended) at times due to Joseph Olita's voracious gulping of every scene he's in. He delivers his lines (and there are so many memorable ones) with the utmost conviction. The acting elsewhere is hit or miss, but since 95% of the film is built around Olita, all eyes are on him, and he's mesmerizing in the role; not to mention he fits the part well being 6'5" tall (the real Amin was 6'4"), and having a similar build.

"Doctor! For an African, you are looking very white!" -- Dr. Oloya discovers frozen severed heads residing in Amin's freezer. 

Other than a brief bit of opening narration, we do not get any insight as to Amin the man and his transformation into a monster. Once the film begins, he dives headlong into depravity; his jovial exterior occasionally concealing his penchant for savagery. Amin allegedly loved joking around, and enjoyed cartoons -- TOM AND JERRY being his favorite. His lighter, humorous side is seen in the film, but it's of a dark nature. His love-hate relationship with Western conventions isn't expounded upon to a great degree. Here, Amin hates everybody equally -- displaying contempt towards the West, Caucasians, Asians, Israelis -- virtually anyone who isn't Ugandan and non-Muslim. Just like the real Amin, Olita's version loses nearly all his allies and so-called friends before the film ends. His close relationship with former Obote associate Bob Astles (see insert) is given much screen time, though.

Joseph Olita's increasingly demented portrayal is so convincing, he would play the Ugandan madman once more in the 1991 drama, MISSISSIPPI MASALA starring Denzel Washington.

"I am the hero of Africa." -- Idi Amin in Newsweek, March, 1973

In other strange news, reports around the globe (even in Nairobi) broke the story in July of 2013 that Joseph Olita was selling bootlegged copies of his movie at a Buruburu shopping center in Kenya! Some news speculated he had fallen on hard times, and was doing this to make ends meet; while some local Kenyan news sites were praising the pirating Olita was undertaking! Apparently licensing laws with production companies is a non-issue there. At any rate, Olita is magnificent in his role. It's surprising he hasn't appeared in more motion pictures.

A co-production between British company Intermedia Productions and Film Corporation of Kenya, the budget was most likely a modest one, but it's slickly shot and directed. Christopher Gunning's score is rousing, and is one key element that makes AMIN a difficult movie to classify. The handful of battle sequences are on a larger scale than what would normally pass for a gratuitously violent movie. Patel and his crew were probably not intending to make an exploitation film, yet their picture was marketed as one. The trailer showcases nearly all the gruesome highlights.

Unlike the propagandized political sleaze of CIA SECRET STORY (1975), the crimes shown ordered and committed by Idi Amin in this movie aren't made up; in fact, it doesn't go quite far enough in exploiting more of the repugnant behavior Amin and his forces indulged in.

At one time Milton Obote's Deputy Commander, Idi Amin took control of Kampala, Uganda on January 25th, 1971. Thousands were overjoyed and anxious for this new, allegedly democratic era in Ugandan history. Sadly, the smiling faces and jubilation quickly turned to fear and screams of pain and death. Almost immediately, President Amin went on a "cleansing" spree -- he slaughtered anyone who had previously been aligned with Obote; this included most of his army that was rapidly replaced by his own militia of murderers and thugs. Amin showcased his penchant for savagery early on during the Mau Mau Uprising of the 1950s, but his acts were ignored till it was too late. Little did any of Amin's (temporary) allies know what was coming, nor brewing inside this giant of a man. For all the progress and economic vibrancy that had been accomplished, Amin would ruin lives, destroy the economy, and transform Uganda into an impoverished wasteland that didn't show signs of recovery till the 1990s.

Amin had a special place for his prisoners that was christened The State Research Bureau -- a name so ironic, it would be laughable it weren't so horrific. One of the infamous wings of this torture dungeon was nicknamed 'Singapore'. There, every torture and death imaginable would occur within those literally blood-caked walls. Arms, legs were broken followed by death by evisceration, decapitation, etc; prisoners had bayonets thrust into their rectums or genitals; vast numbers of women were taken from their homes and raped, their reproductive organs set ablaze while they were alive; mass shootings; prisoners were forced to kill each other with sledgehammers; other captives were killed with slow death/torture by having their flesh sliced off and force fed to them just enough to keep them alive. While all this and worse was going on, most on the outside were unaware of Amin's travesties against humanity. 

"This demonstration shows I am not a racist at all. Why did these Europeans carry me on their backs all the way here? Because they love me! They consider me a brilliant, tough, African leader. Thank you very much. And thank you very much, indeed!" -- at a dinner, Amin is brought before his guests on the shoulders of white diplomats as seen in the film, and in a photograph from the real thing. See insert photo below.

He wasn't a very learned man where schooling was concerned, but preferred sports and a military career. Regarding "achievements", Amin had no problem awarding himself made up medals for whatever captured his fancy. Likely his most famous attribution of self-gratification came in the form of the title he gave himself, 'His excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Dr. Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, Conqueror of the British Empire in General and Uganda in Particular'. He also declared himself the King of Scotland in 1974, famously writing a letter to Queen Elizabeth in 1975 that stated, "I would like you to arrange for me to visit Scotland, Ireland and Wales to meet the heads of revolutionary movements fighting against your imperialist oppression." 

Despite being unpredictable and overtly paranoid, Amin had a jovial exterior, and enjoyed joking around; but this seemed to thinly veil the psychopathic behavior that would inevitably emerge. His paranoia over the loyalty of his people got so severe, he consulted witch doctors to find out who his enemies were (Amin's mother was believed to be a sorceress). This resulted in more senseless slaughter. He was a pathological liar, a narcissist, a megalomaniac who used his charms and charisma to manipulate and murder anybody over the slightest provocation. A promise of freedom always ended in death. Also, anyone asking too many questions, or attempting to find the truth of what was happening were killed -- such was the fate of two American journalists, Nicholas Stroh and Robert Siedle. 

His obsession with loyalty was clearly in evidence in a 1975 photograph (see above) that showed 13 white men and one white woman kneeling before him in a ceremony pledging allegiance to the Ugandan Army to fight against South Africa. One can only imagine what their fate might have been had they refused. Amin was simply following in the footsteps of one of his idols, Adolf Hitler.

"Toilet paper?! You call Ugandan money shit money?! Take the governor here outside and show him what we do to shit!" -- Amin orders the death of the bank manager when he explains the worth of the Schilling if they continue to print more money.

Once the most financially stable economy in East Africa, Uganda was steadily going bankrupt as early as 1972 -- barely a year into Amin's dictatorship. He began making demands on Britain and Israel for weapons of war, and ammunition with which to use them. Of course, he had no money to pay for them. Naturally, Amin hated the British and the Israelis, but this goes back to his love-hate relationship with anyone who wasn't Ugandan, or subservient to him (and considering the treatment he gave his own people, you'd think Amin hated everybody but himself).  The insert photo shows four dictators of the apocalypse, Hafez al-Assad, Idi Amin, Anwar El Sadat and Muammar Khadafi.

A devout Muslim, Amin converted Christian churches into Mosques. In 1977, Amin was said to have personally assassinated Archbishop Janani Luwum -- whom was previously tortured by his State Research Bureau -- shortly after taking photographs with him. This seething animosity towards all things foreign grew and grew till he had destroyed his relationships with virtually all outside governments; all save for a soon to be alliance with Khadafi and the Palestinians.

With all monetary resources dried up, he forced the Bank of Uganda to print millions of Ugandan dollars to pump into the economy. Naturally, this made the schilling worthless. On the other side of the coin, Amin kept the US reserves for his own personal use. The country was "saved" for a time in early 1972 when Amin forged an alliance with Muammar Khadafi and the Libyan money that kept the country afloat. 

Since Israel refused to simply hand over weapons and planes to Amin, and since Khadafi -- to put it mildly -- wasn't too keen on them in the first place, he ordered that all Israelis leave the country. Amin made the same proclamation to the Asian community in Uganda; but their assets remained in Kampala for Amin's use. He then went about handing over the now empty stores to various militants under his employ who had no experience running a business. It wasn't long before the store shelves, and streets were barren once more.

Amin compensated by sending his State Research Bureau employees on missions of wholesale butchery -- killing hundreds of Ugandans then acting as the 'Body Finders' for the distraught relatives who forked over their money to know what became of their family members. If ever there was a case of murder for profit, this was it. Often when bodies were taken to mortuaries, signs of mutilation AFTER death were evident. They'd be missing various organs both internal and otherwise. If you drove a nice car, had a nice house, had a good looking wife or girlfriend, it was open season on you by Amin and his ministers of murder. Eventually, the massacre of civilians got so out of control, the Owens Fall Dam became clogged with corpses resulting in blackouts. Routinely, Amin and his men would dump still living captives and cripples into the Nile as food for crocodiles watching them die, and taking great pleasure in it.

"You bitch! Chop her arms and legs off! This wife of mine was unfaithful... so she has not paid for her sin. Nobody makes fool of me... Big Daddy!"

Amin's wives weren't free from his insane hands, either. His third (some sources state fourth) wife Kay was killed in repulsive fashion over an alleged affair with a doctor. Sources differ on where her body was found, but all agree on the nature of her death -- her body was dismembered and the various parts were stitched back on in a crude, if highly macabre fashion. Her head was sewn on backwards, while her legs were attached to her shoulders, and arms to her pelvis. AMIN: RISE AND FALL covers this, but merely shows a partially dismembered body.

"Hitler did the world a favor in getting rid of so many Zionists! He should have killed more. I am going to put a statue of him at the heart of Kampala!" -- Amin in the film reveals his adoration for Hitler, much like the real Idi Amin.

Amin also had a thing for decapitated heads, too. When prisoners weren't being forced to kill one another, they were decapitated on live television. He even kept the severed heads of his enemies in his freezer -- occasionally displaying them during his palace dinner party rages. One such time, he brought out the head of Brigadier Suleiman Hussein, shouting and throwing implements at it. He also was a huge fan of Adolf Hitler, and thought his near extermination of the Jews was justified. Amin even drew up plans to erect a statue of his Nazi idol in Kampala.

"... Just kill a few of our people... then, we will say that Tanzania attacked us first! Then, Nyrere will have no choice but to fight me in the boxing ring. Muhammad Ali can be referee, you know? I will fight Nyrere with one arm tied behind my back. For Amin is the greatest. I do not fear death, for I have survived nine attempts. I am invincible!"

The Ugandan madman and his co-killer in arms, Malyamungu finally went too far after a failed invasion of Tanzania. Some 30,000 Tanzanian soldiers and Ugandan rebels crushed Amin's forces. The man who thought he was invincible (the terrorized Ugandan people thought he was, too) quickly fled to Libya. Ten years later, he ended up in Saudi Arabia where he was granted asylum (so long as he remained silent on political fronts) living in exile for the remainder of his life. Amazingly, this merciless despot has his defenders; some of which lay blame for his crimes on the shoulders of the British. One man who has tried to show -- believe it or not -- a positive side to Idi Amin is his son, Jaffar, who broke his silence in a 2007 interview.

Unfortunately for those that died under his rule, Idi Amin Dada lived an opulent life till the end. He died from organ failure July 21st, 2003. In an ironic turn, it was reported that his family searched for a kidney donor to save him. The numbers of those who perished during his reign fall between 300,000 and 500,000. It's truly a misfortune that Amin never paid for his crimes, nor did he ever show remorse for any of the horrors he perpetrated on his people. In one of his last interviews, the 'Big Daddy' had no regrets for what he'd done, only nostalgia.

Idi Amin Dada has been the focus of, or featured in a smattering of movies and documentaries over the years. The first was a 1974 documentary entitled GENERAL IDI AMIN DADA: A SELF PORTRAIT. It's of great interest mainly because it was made with the participation of the megalomaniac himself.

Two Made For TV movies on the Operation Entebbe rescue were made in 1976. VICTORY AT ENTEBBE was the first out of the gate in December of '76 followed by RAID ON ENTEBBE not quite a month later in January of 1977. Julius Harris portrayed Amin in the former, while Yaphet Kotto took the mantle for the latter.

In 2006, Forest Whitaker played the dictator in the award winning THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND. The title refers to Amin's self-declaration as the 'King of Scotland' in 1974 when he announced his leadership to free Scotland from British rule. Of course, the Scots that resided in Uganda were made to carry Amin around in a chair akin to the crowning of a king.

AMIN: THE RISE AND FALL (1981) is a fascinating curio of the 1980s. The filmmakers chose to show Amin at his worst; but judging from history, there really was no other side to show but the monster he unleashed during his eight year murder spree. According to director Patel, a copy of his film got into the hands of Idi Amin himself. Shortly thereafter, he received a phone call from the former Butcher of Uganda that he enjoyed it very much. Patel's movie was successful during its theatrical release, but remains largely forgotten today save for cult film fans who have discovered it via mail order services, and those who remember both it, and its psychopathic subjects near decade long reign of terror.


Crankenstien said...

Nice! I had a similar problem with my review, the reality kind of outshines the film, even though it's decent.

venoms5 said...

I'll have to check yours out, Crankenstein. Hopefully a remastered version with extras will surface at some point.

Crankenstien said...

I can't imagine one will, check out this goofy trailer we made

Anonymous said...

That bastard is right where he belongs burning in HELL with the rest of the mass murderers'

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