[Marxism] Re: Alienated images

DLVinvest at cs.com DLVinvest at cs.com
Sun May 30 16:39:09 MDT 2004

In a message dated 5/30/04 2:29:56 PM Mountain Daylight Time, lnp3 at panix.com 
> What would compel a director working in 1998 to recycle themes from the 
> immediate post-WWII period?
> It is not really too hard to figure out. When Spielberg is not turning 
> out escapist fantasies like the lovely "ET" or "Close Encounters of the 
> Third Kind," he is functioning as a latter-day Frank Capra spinning out 
> morality tales to mold public opinion.
> Movies like "Amistad," "Schindler's List" and "Saving Private Ryan" all 
> basically put forward the same message, namely that the wealthy and the 
> powerful are the ultimate guardians of what's decent and humane.

I think it more likely that Speilberg was Searching for Private Profit than 
marketing a particular ideological message to the masses. Divining his motive 
beyond the pecuniary is a little more slippery. By the time of Schindler's List 
he could have made any movie he chose: Why this? Perhaps as much to expiate 
his own feelings of shame as a relatively privileged suburban kid who 
discovered his Jewish "roots" -- and chose as his vehicle the contradictory portrait of 
the "good German" capitalist who saves "his own" profit-producing Jewish 
workers but eventually hires more of them than he "needs" for his own survival as 
a capitalist under contract to the Nazi war machine. But imputing motives to 
directors is not the same as analyzing the product and its effects. 

Thomas Kenneally's novel, based on the real-life case, is worth a closer 
look. Schindler got his memorial among the Righteous Goyim at Yad Vashem and 
Spielberg did plow some profit from his spiel back into his Shoah Project to record 
first-person accounts of the Holocaust. List is more problematic:  The 
characterization of the camp commandant played by Ralph Fiennes "balances" his 
murderous impulses with taboo lust for a Jewish girl; it's his wife who embodies 
the "pure evil" of the "pure" Aryan while the SS officer is conscience-stricken 
to suicide.

We might usefully ask what Spielberg might have produced had he made a movie 
based on Ben Hecht's Perfidy, a polemic against the Ashkenazi aristocracy that 
founded Israel, based on the mission in which Robert Kastner was dispatched 
to Hungary by Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir to rescue Jews; he negotiated the 
ransom from SS Eichmann and Becker of several thousand, including some of his own 
kin and notables, but over 200,000 were left to the tender mercies of the Nazis 
and sacrficed at Auschwitz. The Soviets were closing in -- that's why Hitler 
chose to invade when the fascist government of Admiral Horthy wavered. But it 
has been argued that this part of the genocide might have been prevented or 
slowed had the Zionist leadership chose to fight instead of cutting a deal to 
send fighters to Palestine.

> There is no doubt that Spielberg decided to make such a patriotic movie 
> because he is concerned about the widespread erosion of confidence in 
> elected officials in American society. Warren Beatty, another Hollywood 
> mover-and-shaker, tackled the same job in "Bulworth." "Bulworth" 
> attempts to restore people's belief in the system by holding up a 
> "contrary" politician as an example. This politician decides to tell the 
> truth no matter what. This, of course, is pure Capra territory.
Even Capra Territory is not so pure: There's a long way from Mr Smith Goes to 
Washington (Jimmy Stewart fights corruption of his mentor an dpatron, played 
with oily glee by the unctious Claude Rains, with a boy scout idealism and a 
crew of boys), or Preston Sturges's Meet Jon Doe (plutocrats try to manipulate 
a naive but honest populist neophyte played by Gary Cooper) and the line of 
explicitly political movies that runs from Redford as glib but vacuous liberal 
in The Candidate to Altman's Nashville to Tim Robbins's sermonizing folk-rocker 
Bob Roberts or Beatty's cyncial Bulworth or Mamet's version of Wag the Dog.. 

It's probably not good political analysis, let alone film criticism, to judge 
actors by the actions of the characters they play.Beatty, Robbins and Redford 
are all accepted as Hollywood stars because lots of people have bought their 
products, that is their acting, enough to give them some control over 
production. But in other corporate media, all three are branded as "outsiders" and 
pariahs in that social milieu for their politics. As a playwright fascinated by 
con-men and con-games as metaphors for capitalist behavior (House of Games, 
Spanish Prisoner, Glengarry Glen Ross), even if he doesn't label it as such, 
Mamet is at once more evasive and more directly apprehended: Wag the Dog was 
attacked by some liberals precisely because it was a parody of Clinton's foray into 
the Balkans to keep television eyes, if not detached minds, off his sexual 

When he fears he has become so scandalously corrupt he is unelectable, 
Bulworth decides to tell the truth, not to get elected but as a gambit to get 
himself assassinated, in order to collect on an insurance policy he's taken out on 
his own life. That way he can leave something besides a legacy of failure to 
the kid he has ignored for the sake of his own ambition. Capra, eat your 
bleeding heart out: Assuming he will alienate his constituency by defying his 
unprincipled advisers, he makes himself dangerously subversive to the bigger lie of 
the duopolistic electoral game. When the candidate tells the truth -- Isarel is 
oppressing Palestinians -- to a fundraising party of Hollywood producers, you 
know the con is real. And all the while the con-man pol is conducting an 
illicit miscegenizing alliance with hip-hop Halle Berry. Forced into hiding to 
escape his own campaign manager's muderous designs, Beatty rapping in Fubu gear 
is a hoot, especially when he's down wit' da brotherz against racist cops.  The 
backfire backfires when he's taken literally and becomes more popular, 
provoking the hit from his own former allies, then has to betray his own lying 
version of the truth to save himself and his new friends.

Socialist realism it ain't, but it's hardly designed to restore anybody's 
faith in the system.

Douglas L. Vaughan, Jr.
for Print, Film & Electronic Media
3140 W. 32nd Ave. 
Denver CO 80211

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