FILM - RED FLICKERS
is a time for catching up - with friends, the pile of unread books and
favourite movies. Word of mouth can still be more effective than the
$50m promotional budgets behind Hollywood blockbusters. So, here follows
a ramble through political films I should like to see again, partly to
decide whether my memory has played me false.
was the art of the twentieth century, one more strand in the revolution
that continues to upend every aspect of living. All culture has some
political effect, but political films will be confined here to those
dealing with public power. Hence, I shall say nothing about such
delights as the recently restored The
Sentimental Bloke (1919), Harold
and Maude (1971), Dream of
Passion (1972) or Belle Epoque
(1992) which carry us into the heart of human relationships. All three
are highly recommended.
am I laying down a list of the greatest, which would begin with
Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1927) and include Pontecorvo’s The
Battle of Algiers (1965). Neither am I offering my small-scale
favourites from the proto-Vichy La Kermesse Heroique (1935) to the Popular Front’s Casablanca
the following reminiscence concerns features I wish I could watch again.
Were we talking about documentaries, I would begin with Harlan
County, USA (1976) about the struggle between the mine workers and the coal companies
in West Virginia.
last, we reach the top of my catalogue of desires with The
Simple-Minded Murderer, a Swedish film from
1982. The story is set in the countryside during the 1930s
depression. The village idiot becomes attached to the lame daughter of a
tenant farmer. The landlord drives the family off and, I seem to recall,
rapes the girl. The youth is inspired by the drawings of avenging angels
in his religious texts. The title gives you some idea of the ending.
the local, I look forward to Sunday,
Too Far Away (1977) set in the shearers’ strike of 1955. Jack
Thompson was the gun shearer who throws the first punch after the
barmaid utters the fighting words: “We don’t serve scabs here”.
French triumphed yet again with their 1995 rewrite of Les
Miserables, starring Jean-Paul Belmondo as the illiterate who gains
a political education as he pieces together Victor Hugo’s version of
crime and punishment in a society ruled by the rights of property. Here,
post-Modernism is a creative force, not a sterile seminar or formulaic
counter-narrative. Inter-textuality rules!
similar vein but on a smaller budget was a surprise at the 2004
Melbourne Film Festival was the South African gay movie, Proteus.
Evocative of the recent struggles, it is set in the early days of Dutch
rule. Its imaginative deployment of limited resources matches the spirit
of survival of its inter-racial leading characters.
(1970) was a comedy, a genre that wears less well than tragedy. A male
chauvinist white racist from middle American goes through his daily
routines at home and work. Next morning, he wakes to find that he has
turned black. The tone of the story from there on is captured in an
exchange with his wife as he tries to shed his blackness.. “Don’t be
so militant”, she snaps. To which he replies: “I’m not militant,
I’m white”. It has the kind of ending that Socialist
Worker readers would have written.
Land and Freedom (1995)
has engrossing passages, notably when the peasants discuss how to divide
up the land. Like much Left romancing about the Spanish Civil War, Ken
Loach avoids the discipline of a war of position. The image of women
going out with rifles to hold back the fascists appeals to audiences who
have never heard a shot fired in anger. The Spaniards have a keener
understanding of the fate of women fighting the fascists. So the movie I
ache to revisit is Las Libertarias
of films have explored revolution from the point of view of the
powerful. Visconti’s The Leopard
(1963) shows the Prince learning that his feudal world has to change so
that he can retain power. Allonsanfan
(1973) follows some Italian Liberals as they try to restart the
revolution immediately after Napoleon’s defeat. Pontecorvo’s Burn (1968) gives a rebel a chance to speak but the lessons in
Marxism 101 come from the British agent of sugar imperialism, played by
Marlon Brando. Even Bertolucci’s 1900
presented the rise and fall of fascism through the life of the landowner
rather than his peasant friend.
of the few features about a revolution to take a foot soldier as its
protagonist is the 1972 Duck you
Sucker (aka A Fistful of
Dynamite) with Rod Stieger as the barefoot bandit who gets swept up
the Mexican revolutions when what he wants to do is rob banks. This
funny, stylish and tense study in betrayal and brutality comes with a
haunting Morriconi score and the warning that a “revolution is not a
laid out that fact of struggle in Battle
of Algiers that, unless you are prepared to blow up the infant who
is eating the ice-cream in the cafe, you have no right even to fantasise
about other people’s armed struggle.