Comments on recent and not so recent radical movies
Have people seen John Sayles new movie, "Men With Guns." It's set in a LA country and involves a naive well-to-do doctor who sends a bunch of students into the countryside to help the poor. He sees one of them in the city and asks him what he is doing back in the city when he is supposed to be in the countryside. He tells the doctor that he is very ignorant and that he should go out and find one of the students to learn what is really going on in the country.. The doctor goes on a quest to find his students, who all turn up dead. We discover a lot about the brutal lives of the peasants who Sayles implies are caught between soldiers and guerillas, the men with guns. I had mixed feelings about the film. Some of the doctor's actions strain our credulity and Sayles seems to put the soldiers and the guerillas on the same footing. On the other hand, some of the scenes are startlingly horrific and provide a lot of food for thought. I'd like to hear the views of others on the list.
I have heard of "Men with Guns", and seen short bits of the making of the film on cable (just before the local company yanked it away from us -- we had it illegally, I guess...). My wife and I just rented "Land and Freedom" and watched it last night. This is a Ken Loach film from a year or two back about the Spanish Civil War. I know shamefully little about the era and the war, and was captivated by the film. Along the lines of the thread regarding soldiers and guerillas being on the same footing, "Land and Freedom" makes the pitch that the Stalin-backed communist forces in Spain really undermined the revolutionary effort in Spain by dissolving the P.O.U.M. (in my ignorance, I don't even know what POUM stands for). The leftist -- largely communist and anarchist -- militias were first not given sufficient support and then were finally dismantled, rather violently in the closing scenes of the film, by "comrades" whose ultimate backing was the Soviet Union. I bring all this up because I know very little about the war, and after seeing the film, am very interested in learning more. From the little I got from the film, it looked as though there was a *real* chance there; the revolution coming very close to being. Still, Loach does make the argument that Stalin, ultimately, was to blame for the failure to defeat Franco and the fascists. I know nothing about Loach, other than I have heard him referred to as a more overtly political John Sayles from England. Has anyone else seen the film? Can anyone suggest a good book with which to start learning about this war? I hope this message finds you all well. In solidarity,
I have just finished reading Deborah Rosenfelt's 1976 book on Salt of the Earth. The film was shown on public television here recently and also on a local station. I have a poor quality copy of it. It was produced by Paul Jarrico, directed by Herbert Biberman ( One of the Hollywood Ten) and had music by Sol Kaplan. I wonder when last so many Irish people worked together on a movie. I have been tutoring this semester on a course on American Film and Society and we have covered a fair bit about the Hollywood Ten and anti-communism. However we did not deal with Salt of the Earth, mainly because we did not understand its significance. What astonishes me about the film is how progressive it was on issues such as race, and women and how it so brilliantly weaves this into an overall pattern along with class issues. It is as if someone had got hold of Bhaskar's idea of the ensemble of master-slave relationships that oppress us. In my class I have a couple of female students who resist progressive ideas.
One of them is very bright but she is young and wants the full catastrophe - husband, house and children. We showed Kazan's On The Waterfront and she admired the role of the woman. She described it as a great role. But in the film Edie ("the heroine") is raped by a "real" man and marginalised by "real" men and she is grateful for it. Kazan's film was such atavistic crap. Brilliant of course in its way but deeply reactionary. The contrast between Edie and Esperanza (the hero of Salt of the Earth) astonishes me. I am still puzzled over the meaning of what it meant to smash the CPUSA. When the communists were crushed women and racial minorities were crushed with them. I explain that by arguing that to defeat Communism and radical thought generally the Capitalist class had to form an alliance with reactionary (pre-capitalist and conservative) elements in society. So we had a joining up of the forces of the Right and the Far-Right.
The Right is usually described now as "post-traditional conservatives" or economic rationalises. But this description is hopelessly inadequate. To call them conservative at all fails to capture the radical nature of the Right which comes from the fact that capitalism is in essence revolutionary. (All that is holy is profaned. All that is solid melts into air) To describe them as "rational" also fails to describe the deeply irrational nature of the capitalist market values that they promote. The best description that I have come across is "late low liberals" What was sacrificed in the linking up of the Right (the late low liberals) and the Conservatives was the cultural project of modernity. And this project springs directly I think from the Enlightenment's promise of full rights to all its citizens. In all my classes I have tried to squeeze in Jefferson's great words in an attempt to get the students to understand something of the truly radical nature of the bourgeois revolutions.
This is especially important I think in a country like Australia which has never had a revolutionary bourgeoisie. I say these words to the students and ask them to think what it would be like to live in a country where they were truly acted out in every day life. I also ask them to think of what kind of social and cultural values would be prominent in such a country. We hold these truths to be self evident. All men are created equal. That they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The irony of history is that it was the CPUSA that was the heir of the bourgeois revolution and the guardian of its radical promises. So the destruction of the Left in the Cold War had its price for women, blacks, Latinos and of course gays. Here in Australia, their greatest filmmaker, the communist Cecil Holmes, had his passport seized and could not get the money to make a film.
Cultural modernity which had its roots in the Communist Party of Australia was virtually destroyed. It was not until the Beatles arrived in the 60s and rooted half of Melbourne's Establishment (the female half) that there was a cultural breakthrough. I am giving a talk next weekend on Lindsay Anderson's Film "If". It is part of a series of talks on the meanings of the 60s. I will try and interpret it all in the light of the destruction of Marxism in the 50s. I will argue that following the victory of conservative pre-capitalist values the 60s was inevitably anarchistic or unfocussed in its rebellion. "If" seems to me to fit perfectly into this mode. The rebellion is universal and ultimately non-threatening. though I do like it as a film and the sweet sequence of the young boys sleeping together along with the massacre of the teachers make it a personal favourite.