Monday, August 11, 2014

At the FSLC--Thom Andersen & Noël Burch's RED HOLLYWOOD: a different twist on that "blacklist"

TrustMovies has never seen anything quite like the documentary that opens for a week's theatrical run this Friday in New York City at the Film Society of Lincoln Center as the lead-in to a program entitled Red Hollywood and the Blacklist. The filmmakers -- Thom Andersen (at right, of Los Angeles Plays Itself) and Noël Burch (below) -- explain to us right upfront that theirs is a "compilation film about the film work created by victims of the Hollywood Blacklist to isolate their contribution to Hollywood cinema. It is not about their politics or their martyrdom. Credits are limited to screenwriters and directors."

Called simply RED HOLLY-WOOD, and running two hours, what a compilation this is! Beginning with a scene from Big Jim McLain, the John Wayne/James Arness-starrer celebrating the House Un-American Activities Committee, and ending with a series of films starring John Garfield in which filmmakers the likes of Robert Rossen and Abraham Polonsky were involved, Andersen and Burch show us shafts of and snippets from, by my count, nearly 50 films -- from the 1930s through the early 50s. Most important, I think, is how they have divided up their enormous content: into themes such as Myth, Class, The Sexes, WWII, The Holocaust, Race, Religion, Crime and, finally, showing us how movies were presented and perceived during the actual time of the blacklist.

This last and rather short section was one of the documentary's most eye-opening for me -- learning how so many women were shown as villains in these films, while, suddenly, informers often played the heroes. What? Yes.

You may be, as was I, brought up short by this alternate view of a film classic like On the Waterfront. And then, of course, you realize that this film was written by Budd Schulberg and directed by Elia Kazan: HUAC informers both.

The other great source of pleasure, as well as education, to be found in the documentary comes from hearing and seeing how political ideas and notions crept (or were sometimes smashed) into movies of all stripes -- from soap operas to musicals. Watching this great compilation, you cannot come out of it unmoved by this look at the progressive ideas that so many of Hollywood's writers and directors had during these times. (The shot below is from Marked Woman, co-written by Rossen.

Yet another blast of bleak humor is found in seeing how American films looked -- depending on what was happening over there -- at Russia during this extended period: first as helper and savior and then as the unalloyed source of all evil.

Watching the documentary should have you jotting down some little known movies you'll want to see, while realizing that perhaps you need to take a look at some of the others for a second time, now that your consciousness has been, well, raised a bit.

The film also includes interviews with some of the writers -- Polonsky, Paul Jarrico, Alfred Lewis Levitt (who co-wrote The Boy With Green Hair, above) among them -- who worked during this time and were still alive when Andersen and Burch shot the film in 1996. Mr. Polonsky is a lot of fun. At one point, discussing the making of crime movies, he explains, "All films about crime are about Capitalism. At least, that's what I used to think. Now, I'm convinced."

Red Hollywood makes a terrific entryway into this entire series, all the films of which can be found by clicking here. It's an odd array -- Zulu? Well, director Cy Endfield was one of the blacklisted -- but an interesting one, featuring several films you probably have not ever seen. Here's your chance, and up on the big screen for a change.

The week-long run of Red Hollywood, with the other series films wedged in between, can be seen at either of two of the FSLC's several theaters: Saturday, August 16, and Wednesday, August 20, the film will show at the Francesca Beale Theater; all remaining days of its Friday, August 15, through Thursday, August 21 run, it will play at the larger Walter Reade Theater.  Special note: there will be a personal appearance and Q&A with filmmaker Thom Andersen at the Walter Reade on Friday, August 15, at 6:30pm, and on Saturday, August 16, at 6:15pm at the Francesca Beale. You can access the FSLC's site and purchase your tickets by clicking here.

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