[Marxism] Hollywood Blacklist - NYT Aug 7 article

Red Arnie redarnie at gmail.com
Tue Aug 12 21:53:35 MDT 2014


I was waiting for Louis, the movement's film critic, to post this but I
didn't see it. Although the political viewpoint is rightist and leaves out
important background, it has some information that I found useful.  I wish
I was in NYC to see the films.  UC Berzerkley has useful bibliographic info
on the topic at http://lib.berkeley.edu/MRC/blacklist.html.  I read on
Portside that Norma Barzman (The Red and the Blacklist, autobiography) at
93 is still fighting the good fight and kicked off a UCLA film festival in
July -
https://portside.org/2014-08-01/blacklisted-writer-norma-barzman-kicks-ucla-film-series
If my post is too long for this list, please let me know so I don't make
this mistake again.
Red Arnie
 ***

*Movies *

*Screen Voices, Banished but Not Silenced*

*The Blacklist, at Lincoln Center and Anthology Film Archives*

By J. HOBERMAN         AUG. 7, 2014


-Picture omitted. The screenwriters Dalton Trumbo, left, and John Howard
Lawson, hoisted aloft by supporters in June 1950, before serving time for
contempt of Congress. Credit Marty Lederhandler/Associated Press-


The close-up, the big screen, the eternal klieg light of unending media
coverage: Motion pictures, especially those made in Hollywood, are a
technology of magnification. How else to explain that the tale of the 300
or so movie studio employees whose political associations cost them their
jobs has come to dramatize the repressive hysteria of the McCarthy era?


A real-life film noir featuring danger, betrayal, selflessness and close
encounters with movie stars, the Hollywood blacklist is a juicy narrative
and remains an enduring object of fascination. New scholarly histories roll
off academic presses, most recently “Hollywood Exiles in Europe
<http://rutgerspress.rutgers.edu/product/Hollywood-Exiles-in-Europe,5055.aspx>”
by Rebecca Prime and “Film Criticism, the Cold War and the Blacklist
<http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=9780520280670>” by Jeff Smith, with
more on the way. This month, Anthology Film Archives and Cineaste magazine
will initiate an ambitious three-part series, “Screenwriters and the
Blacklist <http://anthologyfilmarchives.org/film_screenings/series/42990>:
Before, During and After.” And on Friday, the Film Society of Lincoln Center
<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/f/film_society_of_lincoln_center/index.html?inline=nyt-org>
revives “Red Hollywood,”
<http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/294302/Red-Hollywood-Movie-/overview> the
influential 1996 documentary by Thom Andersen and Noël Burch, giving it
context with screenings of eight features chosen by Mr. Andersen that were
directed or written by blacklisted artists.


-Picture omitted. Dean Stockwell in “Boy With Green Hair” (1948), directed
by Joseph Losey, who was later blacklisted. Credit RKO/Photofest-


“A policy of nonemployment for known Communists,” as it was characterized
by The New York Times when it was implemented in November 1947, following
the House Committee on Un-American Activities hearings on Communist
influence in the movie industry, began with the contractual termination of
the “unfriendly witnesses” — eight writers, one director and one producer —
known as the Hollywood 10. Political theater of the highest order, the
hearings directly involved and furthered the careers of two future
presidents, Richard M. Nixon
<http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/nixon-early/>
and Ronald Reagan
<http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1985-08-26/news/8502250710_1_fbi-informant-hollywood-independent-citizens-committee-fbi-agent>,
even as nonemployment accelerated in Hollywood with additional committee
hearings in the early 1950s.


Blacklisting had a pronounced effect on movie content and was not
restricted to Communists. Progressives like Charlie Chaplin and Orson
Welles were effectively driven out of the country. Although the ban ended
in 1960 when the credit for Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood 10, flashed
on the screen in two liberal-minded superproductions, “Exodus”
<http://movies.nytimes.com/gst/movies/titlelist.html?v_idlist=16326;302624;416531;448939&inline=nyt_ttl>
and “Spartacus,”
<http://movies.nytimes.com/gst/movies/titlelist.html?v_idlist=45948;306481&inline=nyt_ttl>
some on the blacklist would not work in Hollywood for another decade or
more, and others would never return.


Conventional wisdom has it that they were a marginal and mediocre lot.
“Only two had talent,” Billy Wilder claimed of the 10. “The rest were just
unfriendly.”

The Anthology series, which features a number of credible movies written by
members of the 10, means to dispel that assertion as well as another that
is directly addressed by “Red Hollywood
<http://www.filmlinc.com/films/on-sale/red-hollywood>”: the argument
advanced, for different reasons, by both blacklisted screenwriters and
their blacklisting bosses, that politically minded progressives had little
effect on the content of Hollywood movies.


This wasn’t the F.B.I.’s initial assumption. The bureau not only
burglarized the offices of the Los Angeles Communist Party, during World
War II and afterward, but also received reports from confidential
informants (Ayn Rand apparently among them) who monitored movies for
possible propaganda. “The Best Years of Our Lives”
<http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/4943/The-Best-Years-of-Our-Lives-Movie-/overview>
and “It’s a Wonderful Life”
<http://movies.nytimes.com/gst/movies/titlelist.html?v_idlist=25590;450109&inline=nyt_ttl>
were two such subversive films. Still, as the F.B.I. director J. Edgar
Hoover realized, his agents were not film critics. The most efficient way
to purge and discipline Hollywood would not be to attack individual movies
but rather to stigmatize individual moviemakers. As the committee, privy to
F.B.I. files, investigated successive waves of known and suspected
Communists, studios stopped employing those who refused to acknowledge
their political history or identify erstwhile comrades (and even some of
those who did admit party membership and inform on others).


-Picture omitted. John Garfield in “Force of Evil” (1948), directed by
Abraham Polonsky, who was blacklisted a few years later. Credit
MGM/Photofest


What was the threat? With the exception of the 10, jailed for contempt of
Congress
<http://www.nytimes.com/2000/11/02/movies/ring-lardner-jr-wry-screenwriter-and-last-of-the-hollywood-10-dies-at-85.html>,
and the actress Dorothy Comingore
<http://lareviewofbooks.org/essay/destroyed-by-huac-the-dorothy-comingore-story>,
arrested on a possibly trumped-up moral offense, no Hollywood Communist
seems to have ever been charged with a crime, let alone treason. (The lone
Soviet operative in the movie colony appears to have been the musical
director Boris Morros, who quickly turned F.B.I. informant.) No less than
in World War II, the studios wanted to affirm their patriotism. More than a
few of the filmmakers who contributed so enthusiastically to the struggle
against the Nazis found themselves on the wrong side of the fence in a new
mobilization against Communism.


The story of Hollywood leftists is a generational one. The movie industry’s
Communists and their sympathizers were largely products of the Great
Depression
<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/g/great_depression_1930s/index.html?inline=nyt-classifier>.
Their activism was rooted in the 1930s creation of the Screen Writers Guild
and channeled by the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League. They were united behind
Roosevelt in the 1944 election and, along with their faith in a socialist
future, shared a utopian belief in movies as popular art and a force for
change.


Analyzing the work of blacklisted artists (some of whom would sell scripts
through proxies called “fronts”), the documentary “Red Hollywood” provides
an alternative way of looking at classic Hollywood, or even a new form of
auteurism. It’s no coincidence that French cineastes were among the first
to draw attention to the work of the Communist directors Joseph Losey and
Abraham Polonsky, featured in both series, who, even into the early 1950s,
made downbeat, politically aware crime movies that Mr. Andersen calls “film
gris.” Cy Endfield is another director, with two movies in the Lincoln
Center series, re-evaluated in good measure because he was blacklisted.


That Hollywood movies might once have been vehicles for social criticism is
a potent romantic notion. Contacted by email, Richard Porton, a Cineaste
editor and one of the programmers of the Anthology series, emphasized that
those on the blacklists were not simply victims but “successful radicals.”
Dennis Lim, director of programming at the film society, made a similar
point, citing the appeal of “rebel artists working within a thoroughly
commercial sphere.”


Drawing on both series, you could assemble the syllabus for a course on the
concerns of the American left during the ’30s and ’40s. The threat of
gangster capitalism is articulated by Polonsky’s “Force of Evil
<http://anthologyfilmarchives.org/film_screenings/calendar?view=list&month=08&year=2014>”
and the lesser known “I Stole a Million
<http://www.filmlinc.com/films/on-sale/i-stole-a-million>,” directed by the
party member Frank Tuttle from a script by the Communist sympathizer
Nathanael West. American nativism is criticized in “Three Faces West
<http://anthologyfilmarchives.org/film_screenings/calendar?view=list&month=08&year=2014>,”
a 1940 John Wayne vehicle made by two Communists: Samuel Ornitz, one of its
screenwriters, and Bernard Vorhaus, its director. Homegrown Nazism is
attacked in “Northern Pursuit
<http://anthologyfilmarchives.org/film_screenings/calendar?view=list&month=08&year=2014>,”
one of two movies in the Anthology series directed by Raoul Walsh, a
Republican, from screenplays by Communist writers. The democratic ideology
of World War II is celebrated in “Pride of the Marines
<http://anthologyfilmarchives.org/film_screenings/calendar?view=list&month=08&year=2014>,”
written by the Hollywood 10 member Albert Maltz and starring the
progressive paragon John Garfield.


Racial prejudice and fear of nuclear war are synthesized in Losey’s first
feature, “The Boy With Green Hair
<http://anthologyfilmarchives.org/film_screenings/calendar?view=list&month=08&year=2014>,”
while Polonsky’s 1969 comeback, “Tell Them Willie Boy Was Here
<http://www.filmlinc.com/films/on-sale/tell-them-willie-boy-is-here>,” a
western inflected by the writings of the Third World psychologist Frantz
Fanon, provides a New Left addendum. Although the 1959 heist thriller “Odds
Against Tomorrow
<http://www.filmlinc.com/films/on-sale/odds-against-tomorrow>” (co-produced
by one of its stars, Harry Belafonte, and contributed to by Polonsky
through a front) provides a measure of racial awareness, missing from the
syllabus is the subject that Hollywood Communists most wanted and were
least able to address, known in party jargon as “the struggle against white
chauvinism.” That interest should be covered in the last installment of
Anthology’s series with post-blacklist Hollywood movies by Jules Dassin (
“Uptight” <http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/115324/Uptight-Movie-/overview>)
and Herbert Biberman (“Slaves”
<http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/110575/Slaves-Movie-/overview>).


Each movie in these series has three narratives: its fictional story, its
back story and its place in American history. All of them make the same
point. Our past is preserved in our films, predicated on shared fantasies
and projected larger than life.


A version of this article appears in print on August 10, 2014, on page AR10
of the New York edition with the headline: Screen Voices, Banished but Not
Silenced.

End of Hollywood Blacklist post



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