Cinematic Story

the beast feature

Alex Gordon remembers his role in The Beast.

I don’t like movies as a genre. I don’t watch movies, I don’t know actors, I prefer reading books. I belong to the minority of non-movie lovers. There are different minorities: religious, national, sexual. I belong to a cultural minority of film haters. And I was the one who, despite my dislike of the film genre, had to star in the American Columbia Pictures movie The Beast, released on September 16, 1988.

Of all the kinds of movies I don’t like, I dislike war movies the most because I am a man of peace who hates bloodshed. But it was me, a man of peace, who had to take part in the shooting of a film about the Soviet war in Afghanistan, about the events that took place in 1981. Of course, I was no longer living in the Soviet Union when the Soviet-Afghan war was going on. The point is different. I served in the IDF in the area of biblical Sodom. I and another soldier were assigned to guard an Israeli military helicopter in Sodom, or rather where Sodom was supposedly located. The reader will not find my name in the credits of the film, for I was only an observer and discussant. I wrote about the introduction to my discussion of events in Afghanistan in my military service diary, in the following passage:

“On the western shore of the Dead Sea lie the remains of two scorched cities, Sodom and Gomorrah – Gomorrah at the foot of Mount Massada and Sodom at the foot of the mountain of the same name. According to the Bible (Genesis chapter 19), these cities were destroyed because of the monstrous sins of their inhabitants by God, who sent fire and brimstone from heaven. The site of Sodom and Gomorrah lies at the juncture of two tectonic plates which move in opposite directions. Probably for this reason there was a major earthquake here four and a half thousand years ago. During the earthquake, methane accumulations under the Dead Sea may have ignited, turning the soil of Sodom and Gomorrah into quicksand. Then there may have been a tectonic shift that washed both cities into the sea. The sins of the Sodomites and Gomorrahites were so great that only one pillar of salt, once the wife of Lot, remains of them at best. On my first tours of Israel around the Dead Sea, I visited Sodom and saw several pillars of salt there, each claiming to be the wife of the biblical Lot. Traces of Sodom’s sinfulness…”

I came to Sodom under dramatic circumstances and found myself witnessing a different type of sin being committed. While on active duty on the Jordanian border, I was assigned to guard a military helicopter rented by the Israeli army to an American film and television company, Columbia Pictures, which was making a movie in Sodom about the Soviet war in Afghanistan. The film was called The Beast. By “the beast,” the filmmakers obviously meant my former compatriots, the Soviet soldiers who were war criminals in Afghanistan, and their Afghan opponents, violent fanatics and probably no lesser war criminals. American actors in Soviet uniforms, so unlike Soviet soldiers, bustled around me, a former Soviet citizen. I stood at my post and dutifully guarded a national helicopter playing the role of a Soviet helicopter from the Americans. My helicopter covered me with Jewish sand as I ascended and landed. Sprinkled with sand, exhausted by the Sodom heat, I watched in horror the atrocities of the Soviet soldiers and the heinous acts of the Afghan resistance. The cradle of Sodom’s sins was chosen by the American film industry to depict Soviet and Afghan sins.

With the defeat in the Afghan war began Perestroika, which ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Taliban began their march to power in Afghanistan, and the U.S. began to approach war with the Taliban. A series of wars led to Iraq. The Middle East, with its Islamic heartland, was behind the scenes of that Afghan war and was calling for new wars. War begets war. Sodom was the scene for the Afghan-Soviet war, but the footage of the American film already reflected the rapidly advancing destructive tornado of Islamic resistance to heretics. The Soviet leadership at that time believed that it had extensive experience in managing the Islamic population in the Central Asian republics and that it could easily cope with the Afghans. It suffered a fatal defeat: Lenin’s case died in confrontation with Islam.”

I wrote this piece a long time ago, but the discussion that suddenly arose in Sodom was not included because the episode seemed uninteresting to me at the time. On the set of the film, in the arena, white wicker chairs were arranged for the American actors to rest. We Israeli soldiers were not allowed to sit in these chairs, but I was so tired that I sat down in one of the chairs with my rifle, wearing my IDF uniform and the patches on it. Although I was a professor, in the IDF, I served as a corporal. I think I was the only professor in the Israeli army who was not a former officer – if military service cannot be avoided, I prefer to be in the shadows.

Suddenly I noticed an American actor approaching me. I got up from my chair to make way for him. He beckoned me to continue sitting. I was somewhat embarrassed and found nothing better to do than to tell him that they looked nothing like the Soviet soldiers I had seen in large numbers since I had lived in the USSR. He began to criticize the Soviet Army for its actions in Afghanistan. I had no intention of defending the Soviet Union from waging war in that country, especially since I knew nothing about it. But I criticized the U.S. for supporting the Mujahideen, the forerunners of the Taliban. The U.S. and the Soviet Union, two empires, took part in a war that took place outside their borders. It was their rivalry and a test of their weapons. The Taliban emerged five years after the Soviet army left. So, we can assume that they came out of the mujahideen milieu financed and supported by the Americans. It seems that the United States was at the root of the Taliban movement, with which they fought a fierce war. Was it worth supporting the Mujahideen just because they were fighting the Soviet army? When I spoke with the American actor I did not yet know anything about the Taliban, but I expressed my critical opinion about American support for the mujahedeen, who had committed war crimes. I felt that both the U.S. and the Soviet Union were wrong in this war. I am a civilian, although I wore a military uniform when I made this militaristic film. I notice, however, that the biggest warmongers of wars wear civilian clothes.


Alex Gordon is a native of Kiev (Soviet Ukraine, USSR) and graduate of the Kiev State University and Haifa Technion (Doctor of Science, 1984).
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