Saturday, May 12, 2007

One of the reasons that the movies were regarded as such an important art was that there were always examples of movies which became wildly popular and led to reforms. This was the case with a lot of the early Warner Brothers films, such as "I Was a Fugitive From a Chain Gang". A film which appears to make a political statement (such as the anti-lynching "Fury", directed by Fritz Lang and written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz) can make that film seem to have dimensions (and meanings) which might be far more complex than a simple "entertainment". I use words like "appears" and "seem" because, of course, a film like "Fury" is powerful, but the Expressionistic movements of the crowds during the lynching scene are so effective, but is it different from the crowds in Lang's earlier "Metropolis"? Stylistically, it's similar, but the effect is suppsoed to be different, because one film is science fiction, the other film is social realism.

Yet it's interesting to see what's remembered. In 1950, Joseph L. Mankiewicz directed two movies. One is remembered as a highlight of Hollywood cinema, the other is often barely noted. Yet Mankiewicz was always proud of "No Way Out", his 1950 drama about racial tensions. It's an amazing movie (i can barely bring myself to watch it again, because the tensions and the anger are still so potent; the riot at the end is almost a relief), but Hollywood seriousness is now derided. Of course, his other 1950 movie, "All About Eve", was the one which won all the awards at the Oscars, and is considered a Hollywood classic.

But in the late 1960s, the whole problem of artists straining to be political was very acute, and it affected a lot of people's careers. Jean-Luc Godard, of course: his whole"Dziga-Vertov" period, mostly in collaboration with Jean-Pierre Gorin. What was depressing for me a few years ago was that a lot of people i know came out of the revival of "Battle of Algiers" and talked about how the film didn't hold up. Well, i think the film did hold up, but i think a lot of people used their disillusionment with the current state of politics as a way of dismissing Pontecorvo's film, as if the film had disappointed them, rather than the current political situation. Pontecorvo's "positivism" seems naive, and that's what people were reacting to, though i think that Pontecorvo was aware of the ambiguities of the situation, and wasn't just proclaiming a positive spin on the coming revolution.

Interestingly, Bertolucci's rather gaga optimism for psychosexual revolutionary fervor was derided by most people in "The Dreamers" but Philippe Garrel's more languid pessimism about political action was applauded by the same people in "Regular Lovers". Yet neither film really captures the true intensity, passion, and (yes) humor of the situation, which (i think) were captured so acutely in Godard's "Masculin Feminin" and "La Chinoise", and Peter Whitehead's "The Fall". (Interestingly, younger people seem not to understand - at all - what "La Chinoise" is about, and can't discuss the movie in terms of its meaning, but resort to cliches about its "minimalist" style.)

But i'm thinking this because a lot of artists i know are struggling to find a way to make a statement in these times, because the situation is so perplexing (i don't want to use the ord "hopeless"). Bush's approval ratings have dipped below 30%: he is now one of the most unpopular presidents in the last century. Yet he refuses to acknowledge anything, he continues to believe he's "the decider" and he is marching so many to war (and death) for reasons which remain obscure. How can you say you're bringing freedom to the Iraqi people, when you're bombing them left and right, and you've destroyed the entire fabric of Iraqi society? The hideous thing about a number of the documentaries at Tribeca, such as "I Am an American Soldier", was seeing the troops, whose feelings of confusion and hurt have gotten to the point where their impulse (which they are proud to share) is simply to shoot any Iraqi on sight, since they're all the enemies. If we continue to kill the people we're supposed to protect, what kind of liberating force are we? Well, Americans aren't a liberating force, Americans are an imperialist force that just wants to wipe out the Iraqi population, and secure the oil fields.

And Bush refuses to acknowledge anything.

But it's great to see that people really are trying to do something. Somehow, that's something positive in the midst of this morass. So signs like "For Life, Against the War... Again!" are welcome, and needed at this time.


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