[Marxism] Film Thoughts: "Conspiracy"

Hunter Gray hunterbadbear at earthlink.net
Mon Jan 10 06:21:14 MST 2005

Doing the Desert Island thing:  Assuming the magical presence of electric or
related power, what films would a stranded Me want on a desert island?
Traditionally, I've always said Shane and Salt of the Earth.  I now add
another, Conspiracy.

A little more than a year ago, I had fallen asleep -- or somehow lost
consistent consciousness in the context of my Lupus illness -- while I sat
in the very  early morning hours in front of our television.  I've never
been a great television person but, slowly, I realized the presence of a
highly unusual film:  15 men, some well dressed civilians and some high and
equally well dressed military, seated around a table in a meeting presided
over by a thoroughly chilling but charming Nazi SS general.  As I faded in
and out, I did retain chunks of the film -- and its title, Conspiracy.
Months later, we easily secured a VCR copy locally and played it on Josie's
magical machine. I was given it in DVD for this Christmas. Many good people,
I am sure, saw this absolutely fine and bone chilling film long before I --
but I do feel obligated to say some words about it.

Shane [1953], which especially influenced a whole generation of Western
young people, involves a gun fighter well aware of Changing Times who rides
into the Wyoming side of the Teton Basin around 1889 -- great photography of
that range -- and becomes involved on the side of embattled homesteaders
under attack by big cattle interests, themselves essentially unaware that
socio-economic things are never static.  A professional gunman from
Cheyenne, imported by the cattlemen, dressed appropriately in black [and
with a black Stetson] adds a thought of "the devil himself, come riding down
the trail."  Most of the homesteaders falter in the face of cruel violence,
save Shane's hostman, who unrealistically indicates his intention to take on
the villains single-handedly.  Shane, to save his friend who would be surely
killed, knocks him unconscious -- and then takes care of the situation
himself.  He then, wounded, rides over the Tetons toward our part of Idaho.
This whole scenario is probably taken very vaguely from Wyoming's Johnson
County War.  Change to Dakota Territory in the 1870s and 1880s and you have
a maternal great grandfather of mine from Ontario accumulating a very large
land holding indeed for horse ranching purposes -- using force and violence
to keep the homesteaders at bay.  Shane never came and my voracious kinsman
became, to put it mildly, well-to-do. [In the bitterly cold isolation of
Dakota winters, he was known to throw things -- like blacksmith anvils -- at
his eleven children, the oldest of whom was my grandfather.  Fortunately,
the old man always missed.]

If Shane is the gutty gunfighter as "lone wolf organizer,"  [or vice versa],
Salt of the Earth -- the great Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers film of
1953/54 -- is a fine and enduring testimonial to courageous collective
action and solidarity of inter-ethnic and inter-gender strikers in the face
of the brutal hostility from zinc bosses and their sheriff/deputies
sycophants.  Based, with a very few somewhat fictional digressions, on the
historic and predominately Chicano [and ultimately successful] Empire Zinc
strike in Southwestern New Mexico's Grant County in 1950-1952, most of the
workingclass acting in Salt is done by the local people [men and women]
themselves.  Blacklisted Hollywood actors play the "other side." [David
Sarvis, who depicts the Eastern mine high muckety-muck, was the nephew of
Ethel Mae Taylor, a Tougaloo teaching colleague of mine, who sometimes held
and jiggled Baby Maria.]  Salt was systematically blacklisted in the United
States for years, playing only in union halls and church basements and
academic settings as the Sixties emerged.  [We used it in the Jackson
struggle.]  Salt did play successfully over much of the world, won many top
awards, and several years ago was picked by the Library of Congress as one
of the 100 most significant films ever made in this country.

But Conspiracy -- Dark Art of Horror -- is something else again.

In this splendidly acted film, Sex -- hardly to the fore in Shane or Salt --
is totally absent and the only women present are domestics.  The setting is
Wannsee, a large "elegant" rectangular estate on the edges of Berlin. Gentle
snow is falling.  The time is 1942, at a point where the War, especially to
the East, is going unpredictably and even badly for the Nazi forces.
Fifteen mid-level Nazi honchos are convened in an essentially secret meeting
presided over by top SS General Reinhard Heydrich [soon to be known as the
"Butcher of Prague"].  His faithful assistant is the ultimately equally
infamous Colonel Adolf Eichmann.  Conspiracy is not, in any sense, a
fictional treatment -- but is based with essential accuracy on the one
surviving transcript of this fateful meeting kept -- against Heydrich's
instructions -- by a participant named, interestingly, Martin Luther [but
with none of the saving graces of that Great Heretic.]

Heydrich, obviously acting on Hitler's veiled instructions, is mandated to
work out the hideous-beyond-words "Final Solution" to the "Jewish Problem."
The prime motivants are "Racial Purity" coupled with the perceived economic
drain being placed on Germany by the rapidly expanding number of Jewish
people encompassed not only in Germany itself but by its increasingly
widening imperialistic domain.  The genocidal meeting is pleasantly polite,
[with the usual ego ventures and personal hustling of agendas], but with
only a few faint and short-lived reservations from a very few -- and
Heydrich is masterly in his fast moving  maneuvering [of the group and
individuals] toward the goal:  the elimination of all Jews, "from Lapland to
Libya, Vladivostok to Belfast." [The cuisine and drink, served by topflight
waiters, are obviously excellent.]  About six million Jews are targeted
initially, with the broader goal of eleven million.

How to eliminate the Jews?  There is a fascinating little discussion of
defining Jews, and blood quanta [no stranger to Native Americans] is bandied
about  -- but the ultimate definition is extremely broad and encompassing
indeed.  Evacuation and sterilization are discussed as methodologies, but
Heydrich, soon enough pointing out that "death is the most reliable form of
sterilization" next shifts the focus into the realm of "how to."  Shooting,
injections, cyanide gas are quickly considered, but, again, Heydrich's
chosen approach -- bathing and then carbon monoxide -- win out, of course,
and with the "global triumph of German culture"  ostensibly safeguarded.
"Do they [Jews] have a Hell?" wonders one participant and Heydrich, with his
most cynical smile, responds, "We make their Hell."

The meeting is cordially adjourned and the prime movers have a final drink.
[A brief epilogue gives the fate of the participants:  Heydrich is soon
enough assassinated by Czech patriots -- and murderous Nazi retaliation
immediately takes thousands of lives.  Eichmann, a successful runaway for
many years, is ultimately executed by Israel in 1962.  A tiny number of the
others are imprisoned and even fewer executed, but most are discharged "for
lack of evidence."]

Their fate sealed in a few short hours, at least six million Jews ultimately
die.  In addition to those specific victims, no Native person, nor Black,
nor human of any kind can see this film without hideous and freezing
personal fascination.

The deeper question, of course, hangs in the Dark and Bloody Mists.  Are any
of us, whoever we are, really immune -- under "unique and special
circumstances" -- from supping and supporting this kind of Ultimate Horror?
I would like to think so, but after seeing Conspiracy, I cannot help but

HUNTER GRAY  [HUNTER BEAR]   Micmac /St. Francis Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
and Ohkwari'

In our Gray Hole, the ghosts often dance in the junipers and sage, on the
game trails, in the tributary canyons with the thick red maples, and on the
high windy ridges -- and they dance from within the very essence of our own
inner being. They do this especially when the bright night moon shines down
on the clean white snow that covers the valley and its surroundings.  Then
it is as bright as day -- but in an always soft and mysterious and
remembering way. [Hunter Bear]

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