Mata Hari: The Seductive Spy (2005)

I have a confession to make. I have a really poor memory. It is because of this that I can watch so many spy films over and over again. They always seem fresh and new to me. When I am watching the same old plot – you know the one, where a scientist is kidnapped, and his daughter teams up with a super spy to track him down – I don’t think ‘here’s that hoary old chestnut again’ – I tend to get totally drawn in.

Previously, I posted a review for Sylvia Kristel’s Mata Hari (1985). When I wrote that review I did a little bit of research on Mata Hari. There a great condensed biography on Mata Hari by Denise Noe on this Website: Crime Library. On this website, you’ll also find very good articles on Sidney Reilly (Reilly: Ace Of Spies) and the Cambridge Spies.

At this time I also watched the Biography Channel’s Mata Hari: The Seductive Spy. I didn’t think very highly of the documentary (and didn’t bother to write a review). The documentary tells you ‘what’ Mata Hari did, but never explains ‘why’. And as such, I felt it was a fairly shallow overview of Mata Hari’s life.

Here it is six months later, and all the information I had pumped into my tiny brain has dissipated. I no longer have the encyclopaedic recall about the facts of Mata Hari’s life. And recently I have re-watched Mata Hari: The Seductive Spy. And I must admit I quite enjoyed it. It is a very good introduction for those wanting to learn more about Mata Hari. Sure it doesn’t fill in all the details, but it does explain what all the fuss was about. And it does whet your appetite to find out a little bit more about Mata Hari. With a run time of only 50 minutes, I guess it is very difficult to cram in every fact about her life, and what the Biography Channel has done is taken a straight forward linear look at the events that lead to Mata Hari’s execution.

One thing I would have also liked explored, is Mata Hari’s effect on popular culture. Mata Hari’s life may have come to a premature end on the morning of October 15, 1917, but her legend, or possibly a better word, ‘myth’ lives on. Multiple films and mini-series have been made by the French, Germans, and in the US (more than I can list here), and I believe she is even a character in a video game. Generally they don’t even attempt to tell the true story of Mata Hari. They concentrate on the ‘myth’. Her name has become synonymous with ‘Sex’ and ‘Spying’. As a final insult to her name and her legend this has been taken to the extreme with the release of two films: Codename Mata Hari: The Fountain Of Youth and Codename Mata Hari 2: Sex Is Not Enough. Quite simply they’re pornography. Please note, I will not be reviewing these particular movies, but for those who want a quick overview, here is what May 2006 Australian edition of People magazine had to say:

‘…they’re better than yer average pornos (there are a few very cool animated inserts), but the dubbing from…er, European to English is worse than a chop-socky flick from the 70s.’

It sounds like I am getting sleazy. But really, I am pointing out the extreme manipulation and distortion of Mata Hari’s story in today’s popular culture.

I would say she has almost become a poster child for the ‘sex industry’ but the truth is most people would not even recognise her from a photo (maybe if she was in costume, perhaps). So it is only her ‘name’ that conjures up this misconception.

But back to Mata Hari: The Seductive Spy. Expecting an in depth look at her life and how her legend has entwined itself through modern culture is a bit too much to ask. But as an introduction to the ‘real’ Mata Hari, then this documentary is a good place to start, and may even pique your interest enough that you go out and find out a bit more about Mata Hari for yourself. Highly recommended.

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