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May 04, 2007

Hollywood Loves A Movie About Tyranny And Political Oppression

Kinda-sorta.

Depends on who's doing the tyrannizing and oppressing, of course.

One would think that the blood-stained history of the Soviet Union, or its courageous dissidents condemned to Siberian death camps, would provoke a movie here or there. You'd be wrong. Hollywood loves movies about Naziism and British colonialism; about the Soviets, who butchered many more people than Hitler? Not so much.

Good article from TCS:

But where are the anti-communist movies? Oh, sure, there have been some, from early Cold War propaganda films to such artistic achievements as The Red Danube, Ninotchka, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, The Killing Fields, East-West, and Before Night Falls. But considering that National Socialism lasted only 12 years in one country (and those it occupied), and Communism spanned half the globe for 75 years, you'd think there'd be lots more stories to tell about Communist rule.

No atrocities, maybe? Nazis and Brits were vicious, but Communists were just intellectually misguided? Well, that seems implausible. They murdered several times as many people. If screenwriters don't know the stories, they could start with the Black Book of Communism. It could introduce them to such episodes as Stalin's terror-famine in Ukraine, the Gulag, the deportation of the Kulaks, the Katyn Forest massacre, Mao's Cultural Revolution, the Hungarian revolution, Che Guevara's executions in Havana, the flight of the boat people from Vietnam, Pol Pot's mass slaughter—material enough for dozens of movies.

And what's more interesting is that, at least in the thirties and forties and fifties, this just wasn't some run-of-the-mill liberal bias at work. It was actually a conscious, coordinated conspiracy among like-minded communists to block anti-Soviet screenplays and books from ever being filmed, as this 2000 article in Reason notes:

Dalton Trumbo (Kitty Foyle), a Communist Party member and for a time the highest-paid screenwriter in town, described the screenwriting trade as "literary guerrilla warfare." The studio system, in which projects were closely supervised, made the insertion of propaganda difficult if not impossible. Hollywood did not become a bastion of Stalinist propaganda, except as part of the war effort, when Russia was celebrated as an ally. Ayn Rand, then a Hollywood screenwriter and one of the few in the movie community who had actually lived under communism, was to point out that, in their zeal to provide artistic lend-lease, American Communist screenwriters went to extraordinary and absurd lengths. In such wartime movies as North Star and Song of Russia (both 1943), they portrayed the USSR as a land of joyous, well-fed workers who loved their masters. Mission to Moscow (also 1943), starring Walter Huston, went so far as to whitewash Stalin's murderous show trials of the 1930s.

But if Comintern fantasies of a Soviet Hollywood were never realized, party functionaries nevertheless played a significant role: They were sometimes able to prevent the production of movies they opposed. The party had not only helped organize the Screen Writers Guild, it had organized the Story Analysts Guild as well. Story analysts judge scripts and film treatments early in the decision making process. A dismissive report often means that a studio will pass on a proposed production. The party was thus well positioned to quash scripts and treatments with anti-Soviet content, along with stories that portrayed business and religion in a favorable light. In The Worker, Dalton Trumbo openly bragged that the following works had not reached the screen: Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon and The Yogi and the Commissar; Victor Kravchenko's I Chose Freedom; and Bernard Clare by James T. Farrell, also author of Studs Lonigan and vilified by party enforcer Mike Gold as "a vicious, voluble Trotskyite."

Even talent agents sometimes answered to Moscow. Party organizer Robert Weber landed with the William Morris agency, where he represented Communist writers and directors such as Ring Lardner Jr. and Bernard Gordon. Weber carried considerable clout regarding who worked and who didn't. So did George Willner, a Communist agent representing screenwriters, who sold out his noncommunist clients by deliberately neglecting to shop their stories. On a wider scale, the party launched smear campaigns and blacklists against noncommunists, targeting such figures as Barbara Stanwyck, Lana Turner, and Bette Davis.

As Goldstein says, this all sounds vaguely... what's the word, what's the word... McCarthyite to me.


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posted by Ace at 05:54 PM

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