[Marxism] WSWS review of "Catch a Fire"

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Sat Nov 11 07:43:28 MST 2006

The World Socialist Website always provides something usetul to think
about. It's movie writers are intelligent, they're well-informed and have
actually seen the movies they write about. Not everyone commenting 
on movies can say that. Both the reviewer, and I, have actually seen
the film, so we have that one thing in common. I found the review 
helpful and informative.

Alas, the review also typifies the Stalinoid style of movie reviewing
which occurs so widely on the political left where the political line of 
the organizing where the revie is posted is counterposed to the 
actual history of events depicted in the movie. Trotskyist, Stalinist,
or whatever, a weakness in many reviews in left-websites share a
unfortunate preference for complaining about the movie itself, rather
than taking the movie on its face, and discussings its pros and cons
within the framework of the goals the movie sets for itself.

Here are a few typical examples:

In rendering Patrick Chamusso’s transformation from servile careerist
to ANC activist, Catch a Fire presents a fascinating and vivid tale.
Noyce and Shawn Slovo convincingly treat the details of this
political and moral evolution as an important historical episode.
(One of the film’s subtexts is its parallel to the present situation
in Iraq and Afghanistan—i.e., the torture of innocent people
ultimately rebounds against the oppressor, as the victims are likely
to become enemies of the given regime or military force.)

Unfortunately, the film provides only a fleeting glance of South
Africa’s increasingly restive black working class. Catch a Fire is
mainly preoccupied with the process of how a somewhat privileged,
apolitical man is inadvertently thrust into the arms of a militant
anti-government movement, developing as he does the strength to make
the necessary sacrifices. The talented Luke (Antwone Fisher) as
Patrick and newcomer Mbuli as Precious bring intelligence and grace
to the project.
Catch a Fire, despite its artistic merits, promotes the illusion,
articulated by Noyce in an interview, that the ANC set the stage for
a post-apartheid South Africa, in which everyone is “just looking
forward to an extraordinary bright future.” At this point, only an
insulated, upwardly-mobile elite can look to the future with such

Such critics as this complain that the movie which was made isn't
the movie which the critics would have preferred that the movie-
makers should have made instead of the one they DID make.

It's reminiscent of the old saying that those who can, do while
those who can't teach. In this case, they criticize. Criticism is an
important part of cultural development. No artistic protections is
exempt from discussion and criticism, or should be thought to be.
We can always learn from criticism, whether well-intended or, as
in this case, mean-spirited and factionally-based.

Like many other sore losers in politics, the World Socialist Web Site
refuses to fact the fact that the overthrow of the racist apartheid
system in South Arica was led by the African National Congress in
a coalition with the South African Communist Party and others, and
not whowever the now-forgotten offshoots of the WSWS might have
been. They probably played their own role, though a subordinate one.

I remember well asking my good friend Peter Camejo, back in about
1962, to explain what had happened to the Chinese Trotskyists, and
why, since they had the correct program, they ultimately played 
little role in the Chinese Revolution. Peter told me -- and I remember
these words still, that "they were wrong for the right reasons." This
was something I always found perplexing, but put aside back then.

The masses of Blacks, with their white, colored, Indian and white
allies provided the power, but the leadership was given by the ANC.
No amount of hostile reviews by the members of the Sour Grape Club
can alter that fact.

The fall of apartheid has not brought about socialism in South Africa.
Today the capitalist system prevails, filled with deep social conflicts.
In time new movements will arise to press the liberation process 
further. These realities are well-depicted in such South African films
as TSOTSI and others. 

But to read the endless criticisms the of dissatisfied critics, nothing
of any importance or significance took place with the fall of apartheid.
That is why these complainers continue to grind out their repetitive
attacks on what has already been accomplished.

Walter Lippmann
Los Angeles, California


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