Panic Street Lawyer: Three Academic questions

Sunday, 24 February 2013 06:00 AM Written by  Jay Hornack

20130224wap oscaraward150Last week’s PSL included references to one Best Original Song and two Best Documentary Feature nominees for Oscars at this Sunday’s 85th Academy Awards. And while “the week that was” was full of Pittsburgh drama – the announced resignation of a police chief, the likely resignation of a local jurist from the state Supreme Court after criminal jury guilty verdicts – PSL today looks at Hollywood drama.

Below, I ask semi-legal questions about three of the nominees for Best Picture in 2012: Argo, Lincoln, and Silver Linings Playbook. Spoiler alert:

Spoiler alert: if you have not watched these movies and if you have been successful thus far in somehow avoiding mention of the hostage-escaping, amendment-passing, and girl-gets-boy endings to these movies, then you should have stopped reading after the first paragraph. Sorry.

20130224wap 480x250argoJohn Goodman, left, Alan Arkin, center, and actor-director Ben Affleck in a scene from "Argo."
Claire Folger/Warner Bros. Pictures

1. Has the Central Intelligence Agency made any actual films?

The CIA successfully executes a plan to get six U.S. embassy staffers out of Iran in 1980 by convincing those in control that the staffers are part of a sci-fi film production crew. Argo lays out the ruse in painstaking detail, and the agency spares no expense to make it look very real.

Back during the height of the Cold War, the CIA funded an actual movie. In 1954, the agency gave financial support to UK animation company Halas and Batchelor to make a cartoon version of the George Orwell book Animal Farm. It is now being reported that a new film version of Animal Farm is coming out next year (also from the UK), although this time presumably with no CIA funding.

CIA project involvement, by its very nature, is kept secret at the time. The 1980 Iran hostage escape plan detailed in Argo was not made public until 1997. But one recent project, getting a great deal of attention at Senate hearings for CIA director nominee John Brennan, is considerably more controversial than propaganda films or hostage rescues: killer drone strikes.

20130224wap 480x250lincolnDaniel Day-Lewis as President Abraham Lincoln in this scene from "Lincoln."
David James/DreamWorks, Twentieth Century Fox

2. What happened after Congress proposed the 13th Amendment and Lincoln was assassinated?

Some of my observations last fall about Lincoln the movie pertained to the U.S. Constitution. But I did not discuss Article V, which states that an amendment proposed by Congress must be “ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several states …” before it can be added to the Constitution.

Lincoln the president was assassinated in April 1865, less than three months following the House of Representatives’ vote to propose a 13th Amendment to the Constitution (and one year following the Senate’s vote to propose) abolishing slavery. The “several states” total of 36 at the time included the 10 Confederate states, whose rebellion officially ended in April 1865. So the “three fourths” total required for ratification of the 13th Amendment was 27.

State number 27 in December 1865 was one of the Confederate Ten (Georgia). Additional states – from both the North and South – ratified after the 13th Amendment was added but before March 1870. Only three states in existence in 1865 failed to ratify the 13th Amendment until the 20th century: Delaware, Kentucky, and – it was thought -- Mississippi.

Then it was recently discovered that Mississippi failed to file the necessary paperwork when its legislature voted for ratifying the 13th Amendment in 1995. The state became the butt of jokes on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and all over social media this month, because the paperwork was filed and its ratification vote finally became official -- on February 7, 2013!

There is no truth to the rumor (started by me, here) that the Mississippi license plates slogan will now be changed from THE HOSPITALITY STATE to BETTER LATE THAN NEVER.

20130224wap 480x250silverliningJennifer Lawrence, left, and Bradley Cooper in this scene from "Silver Linings Playbook."
JoJo Whilden/The Weinstein Company

3. Is the one work of fiction in this group of three nominees connected to a real-life disability story?

David O. Russell could potentially have the biggest night of anyone at the Academy Awards this year. He has been nominated for two individual Oscars – Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay – for Silver Linings Playbook.

Although the novel from which he adapted the screenplay (The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick) is a work of fiction, Russell has stated in interviews that he was drawn to the story because of his experience with his teenage son, Matthew.

The lead male character in the book/film (Pat Solitano, Jr., played by Bradley Cooper) has bipolar disorder, as does Russell’s son (Matthew Russell has a small role as Ricky D’Angelo in Silver Linings Playbook). David O. Russell has publicly expressed his appreciation for the education that his son has received from The Glenholme School in Devereux, CT.

The school’s website states that it provides a “comprehensive learning environment [which] supports the success of students with Asperger’s, ADHD, OCD, Tourette’s, depression, anxiety and various learning differences.” The challenges David says he faces raising Matthew are not unique, but I am always pleased when “celebrity” parents decide to discuss those challenges – as well as the rewards (Neil Young is another who comes to mind).

Director/writer Russell will also consider it a big night if Jennifer Lawrence wins the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Tiffany in his film. Jennifer was 23 years old on the release date of Silver Linings Playbook (just a few years older than Matthew Russell). The scene where Ms. Lawrence rattled off the wins and losses of 2008 Philadelphia Eagles reminded me of the scene in My Cousin Vinny where the character played by Marisa Tomei (age 27 at the time of that film’s release) testified as an automobile expert witness. And we all remember who won an Oscar for “Mona Lisa Vito” twenty Academy Awards ago …

(Top image: An Oscar statue in front of the Oscar Green Room for the 85th Academy Awards in Los Angeles earlier this week. Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)


The Panic Street Lawyer is a personal opinion column by attorney Jay Hornack. Contact him right here at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and follow Jay on Twitter: @panicstlawyer

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