As my wife belongs to SAG, we get SAG screeners. One of them is the new Bryan Cranston movie Trumbo, a biopic of one of the Hollywood Ten. I’ve decided that I’m not watching it. Yes, that’s right, I’m judging a movie before I’ve seen it, phillistine that I am.
Here is why:
- How many Blacklist pietas Does Hollywood Need to Make? Joe McCarthy is dead. The blacklist is over. It was over almost as soon as it began. Anyone who was aware of the blacklist while it was happening is old enough to be collecting Social Security. So why does Hollywood need to keep going back to this well? Are they this desparate to testify to their martyr’s righteousness and political relevance?Keep in mind, this schtick whs already become risible, and was so even a decade ago. Back in 2005, Iowahawk responded to the ocean of self-congratulation released by Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck with a satirical stab at how Hollywood was planning to rebound from terrible box office numbers that year with more smug, preachy dreck, such as:
Silenced Wood: George Clooney stars and directs in this drama about the climate of fear among ventriloquists during radio’s notorious Charlie McCarthy era.
Fearful Silence: Courageous What’s My Line? contestant (Leonardo DiCaprio) refuses to answer panelist questions in this gameshow drama set against the McCarthy-blacklist era. With William H. Macy as Bennett Cerf and Kevin Spacey as Kitty Carlisle.
Fearful Deadly Fear: Blacklisted 1950’s screenwriter Damon Runyan (Tim Robbins) writes a secret screenplay about the the McCarthy-era blacklists, in this 1950’s blacklist drama set against the background of the McCarthy era blacklists.
Silence 1984: Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris interviews the survivors of Hollywood’s notorious Reagan era ‘Year of Fear,’ when only three McCarthy-themed movies were released.
How many different cuts of the same bloody shirt are they going to wave?
- Trumbo was No Martyr for Free Speech. Ron Radosh, co-author (with his wife, Allis) of Red Star over Hollywood, has documented that Dalton Trumbo had no problem silencing others for ideological reasons. He was more than prepared to use his influence to prevent films and books that attacked the Communist Party from being distributed.
As he explained in 1954 to a fellow blacklisted writer, the Communist party had a “fine tradition . . . that whenever a book or play or film is produced which is harmful to the best interests of the working class, that work and its author should and must be attacked in the sharpest possible terms.”
Goose. Sauce. Gander. Some assembly required.
- Even Trumbo got over the Blacklist. According to Radosh, Trump broke ranks with the Party – and the orthodox narrative of the blacklist — not long after the blacklist went down. In a 1958 unpublished article, he contradicted much of the established story on why the blacklists happened:
He concluded that the blacklist took place not only because of the Committee, but because of the antics of the CP itself. In this article, he wrote that “the question of a secret Communist Party lies at the very heart of the Hollywood blacklist,” which is why Americans believed the Communists had something to hide. They lived in the United States, not Stalin’s U.S.S.R., and should have openly proclaimed their views and membership so that the American people could judge them for what they believed. Instead, they formed secret Leninist cells. The CPUSA should have been open and its members all known, he wrote, or the Communists in Hollywood should “not have been members at all.”
Moreover, Trumbo also wrote that his fellow Red screenwriters failed to get work not because they were blacklisted as Communists, but because they were “mediocrities,” who failed to show “competence, ability [and] craftsmanship.” And as for the informers shown as pitiful reactionaries in the movie, he acknowledged that many of them in fact testified against the Communists because the Party tried to “meddle with the ideological content” of their screenplays, which gave them good reason to oppose the Party.
If the new film covered any of this, it would be a welcome reappraisal of the old tired morality play. Since it doesn’t, it’s selective reading of history can be dismissed as mere propaganda. As P.J. O’Rourke put it, the dog is dead but the tail still wags.