VIEW FROM VENICE ON FILMS AS PROPAGANDA
This is a 2,700 word article about the use of Hollywood films as propaganda. 16 photos are attached.
VIEW FROM VENICE ON FILMS AS PROPAGANDA
I last visited Venice some 30 years ago, the year the Vietnam War finally ended, the year West Ham beat Fulham 2-0 in the FA Cup final and the year of the infamous food summit in Rome. It was there that US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger nefariously said after his caviar that by the end of the century no child in the world need to go to bed hungry. Five years into the new millennium and in spite of all the spin from the G8 conference in Gleneagles this year so little has changed.
I write this from the Lido in Venice; St Marks, the Rialto and Grand Canal are all still here and so is the Venice film festival which finished just a couple of weeks ago. The major awards of the 62nd competition were as follows:
Best Film: Brokeback Mountain by Ang Lee
Silver Lion for Best Director: Les Amants réguliers by Philippe Garrel
Special Jury Prize: Mary by Abel Ferrara
Coppa Volpi for Best Actor: David Strathairn in Good Night, and Good Luck by George Clooney
Coppa Volpi for Best Actress: Giovanna Mezzogiorno in La Bestia nel cuore by Cristina Comencini
Osella for an Outstanding Technical Contribution: William Lubtchansky for the photography in Les Amants réguliers by Philippe Garrel
Osella for Best Screenplay: George Clooney and Grant Heslov for Good Night, and Good Luck by George Clooney
"Marcello Mastroianni" Award for Best Young Actor or Actress: Ménothy Cesar in Vers le sud by Laurent Cantet
Venice itself of course has been the setting for many famous films including `Don't look now` with Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland, `Death in Venice` with Dirk Bogarde and Joseph Losey's often overlooked classic `Eva` starring Stanley Baker, Jeanne Moreau and Virna Lisi.
Eva is one of my personal favourites and was set in Venice and Rome and directed by Joseph Losey who had been hounded out of Hollywood during the McCarthy period.
The question arises as to what the cinema is really for, is it just mass entertainment or do films carry overt or subliminal messages?
Hollywood has long has a close relationship with the US Department of Defense with films such as John Wayne's `The Green Berets`, the Somali set `Black Hawk Down` and more recently `No True Glory` all being made in conjunction with the Pentagon. `No true glory` is a film about the US assault on Fallujah when 4 Black Water security mercenaries, constantly called `civilian contractors` by the media were killed and their bodies strung up. This prompted a ferocious response from the US military whose subsequent flattening of the town resulted in two thirds of the population of a city the size of Cardiff or Coventry having to flee their homes. 600 or more died in the first assault and the dead ended up being buried in football pitches.
The film, which is due out next year, will star Harrison Ford as Jim Mattis, the General who led the US assault on Fallujah following the murder of the four American `contractors`.
No True Glory: The Battle for Fallujah" was written by former marine and assistant secretary of Defence for international security affairs Bing West. Now a foreign correspondent covering Iraq, West will write the script for the movie with his son Owen, a marine rifleman who left the service for a job in the financial world but returned to serve in Iraq for a year.
This is what West says about Fallujah:
"This week I have been writing about Marines in the Fallujah battle. In response, I received several e-mails taking me to task for writing about men who are killing Iraqi men and, some correspondents implied, perhaps women and children. In response, I'd like to address briefly both operational and strategic aspects of the war in Iraq.
At the operational level, battle is about killing until the enemy forces are destroyed or surrender. The columnist Patrick Graham, who has reported from the insurgent side, recently wrote in the Guardian that "the U.S. Marines are the world's most lethal killing machine." In my view, that should be a source of pride to Americans. For 229 years (Nov. 10 was the Marine Corps' birthday), Marines have been at the forefront in our nation's battles, implacable in the attack. Training and tradition mold that attitude, which is essential in battle.
About one in 300 young Americans chooses to join the Marines. Most say they join for the discipline or to belong to a tough unit. These riflemen are a cross section of America. If they are at all different, it is because they have acquired the experience to be forbearing and to do their job of killing while retaining a keen appreciation for the sanctity of life and the tragedy of war."
The film is likely be a load of jingoistic nonsense seen from the perspective of the Americans yet I have a dread of people queuing up round the block to see Harrison Ford single handedly saving the world from the evil Fallujans.
What did the majority of people ever know about the awful effects of the sanctions on Iraq? How about the issue of depleted uranium, which goes virtually unreported in the mainstream media.
At present most Iraqis do not have access to reliable water or electricity supplies and the security situation is dreadful with dozens of people being killed and maimed every day in suicide attacks, which did not exist before the invasion.
The House Un American Activities Committee (HUAC) effectively hounded many notable directors out of Hollywood in the 1940's and 50's and the witch hunts of Joe McCarthy. Cy Endfield, Sam Wanamaker and Joseph Losey were all effectively exiled to Europe.
Losey's eclectic work are emotional instability, emotional and physical violence and perverse sexual power plays. There is not one conventional love story in his films. He has a mania for settings that express states of mind, and his camera movements are always abnormally sensitive and skittish. He has been attacked as a case of style over substance, but this misses the point. If Losey had been a writer his deficiencies would make him a minor figure, but he was from first to last a film director, and, at least for directors who don't write their own material, style is substance. Circumstances beyond his control (the Hollywood blacklist and heavy British taxation) forced Losey to wander, and this wreaked havoc on his already nervy, vulnerable style. Constant uprooting meant that he never really had time to settle down and concentrate for an extended period on any particular place. He grappled with America, understood England down to the ground and largely passed on France.
One of Losey's masterpieces, which is often forgotten today, is the film `EVA` made in 1962. Based on a potboiler by James Hadley Chase it starred Stanley Baker as plagiarising Welsh novelist Tyvian Jones and Jeanne Moreau as avaricious courtesan Eva Olivier. Losey described his uncut version as `almost an orgasm` but the Hakim brothers who produced and financed the film ruthlessly cut the original version. Losey was furious but he went on to gain critical acclaim the next year for `The Servant` starring Dirk Bogarde as a seedy butler.
`Eva` starred Stanley Baker as the lead male Tyvian Jones. Baker was cast against type here in an intellectual role when he was used to playing square jawed tough guys in British matinees in the 50's like `Hell Drivers` and `Sea Fury`. His performance was admirable though it was Moreau who stole the show with her unique portrayal of the man eating Eva.
JEAN SEBERG AND COINTELPRO
60's actress Jean Seberg was a popular star on both sides of the Atlantic and her relationship with the Black Panther movement caused the FBI and its boss J Edgar Hoover many sleepless nights.
Jean, like her contemporaries Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave, was politically active in the late 60's and was particularly supportive of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People). She spoke out after the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King in 1968 and was friendly with the Black Panthers to whom she is reputed to have donated $100,000 [around $1 million in today's money]. While Jane Fonda was dubbed `Hanoi Jane` and Redgrave's career suffered because of her support for the Palestinians it was Seberg who was to pay the heaviest price when she fell foul of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover, `the boss` from 1924 till his death in 1972, saw Jean as a particular threat because of her popularity on both sides of the Atlantic. These were the days of an FBI campaign, sometimes forgotten today, called COINTELPRO meaning Counter Intelligence Programme. Briefly COINTELPRO was a series of programmes of political harassment directed against black and socialist organisations such as the Black Panthers, the Civil Rights movement, the Socialist Workers Party and the burgeoning 1960's peace movement. Not lawful investigation, but actual criminal acts committed by the FBI designed to deny the black population (along with Native Americans, the anti-war movement, and the early feminist movement) their civil rights. It involved widespread and illegal wiretapping, the use of smear campaigns, infiltration and outright violence against those groups deemed to be a `threat` to the American Apple Pie way of life. The White Anglo Saxon Protestant US ruling class including Hoover had a particular dislike for the Black struggle especially militant or uncompromising organisations like the Panthers. According to a former Los Angeles based FBI agent (M. Wesley Swearingen) a culture of racism had permeated the bureau and their venom was particularly directed towards the Panthers and the white women who associated with them. Hoover was reputed to have said he was going to 'take care of those two bitches' - meaning Jean and Jane Fonda. But Hoover said it was Seberg who kept him awake at nights. When a high profile blonde actress like Jean devoted much of her money and time to them Hoover singled her out for exceptionally harsh treatment. On April 27th 1970, just seven weeks after the New York release of Airport, SAC [Special Agent in Charge] in Los Angeles Richard Held sent a memorandum to headquarters requesting permission to smear Jean: It reads: "Bureau permission is requested to publicize the pregnancy of JEAN SEBERG, well known movie actress, by [DELETED] Black Panther Party (BPP) [DELETED] by advising Hollywood `Gossip-Columnists` in the Los Angeles area of the situation. It is felt that the possible publication of Seberg's plight could cause her embarrassment and serve to cheapen her image with the general public"
Richard Held is purported to have said: " I wonder how she'd like to gobble my dick while I shove my .38 up that black bastard's ass." This was a reference to Panther theorist Raymond `Masia` Hewit with whom Jean was supposedly having an affair.
Hoover said that Seberg deserved to be `neutralised` because of her financial support for the Panthers. He gave his authorization with the proviso that the implementation be postponed for approximately two months until the pregnancy became more visible and also to protect the secrecy of wiretaps the Bureau had installed in the Los Angeles and San Francisco BPP headquarters. The schedule was accelerated however and on June 6th Held sent Hoover a letter with a newspaper cutting demonstrating the success of the operation. The cutting showed an article by Los Angeles Times gossip columnist Joyce Haber laying out the Bureau fiction of Jean [here referred to as `Miss A`] being pregnant by a prominent Black Panther. The article was syndicated to over a hundred newspapers including the International Press and `Newsweek`.
Held and Hoover knew Jean to be emotionally unstable before the smear and the effect on her was to attempt suicide with an overdose of sleeping pills. Though she survived, the trauma of the event caused her to go into premature labour and the resulting baby girl Nina died just two days later on August 25th 1970. Jean was devastated and never fully recovered, for every one of her remaining 9 years she tried to kill herself on the anniversary of the miscarriage.
She called a press conference at which she presented shocked journalists with the foetus of her dead white child and at the funeral she insisted on a glass coffin. In her 1993 book `Make Believe` Diana Athill recounts how "after the baby died Jean became obsessed with it. She had photographs taken of it in its coffin and tapes made of the funeral, and these she brooded over, and made other people brood over, for hours on end."
Jean attempted suicide by throwing herself under a Paris metro train but miraculously survived and even had thoughts of a comeback. She was apparently enthusiastic about a possible but then unconfirmed role that would have reunited her with her "Bonjour Tristesse" co-star David Niven. The film, "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square", was eventually remade in 1980 with German actress Elke Sommer taking the role Jean was meant to play.
Jean went missing in August 1979 and to the consternation of her fans could not be found. Their worst fears were confirmed when on the evening of Saturday 8th September 1979 her Renault car was discovered by an off-duty policeman in the Rue du General Appertin, in a smart residential district near the Champs-Élysées. The policeman noticed the car by the kerb, covered with leaves and dust. On opening the door he saw a big bundle on the floor at the back, wrapped in a blanket. It was the body of a blonde woman. Near the body were several empty pill bottles and a half empty bottle of mineral water. From the badly decomposed state of the corpse it was believed that her death probably occurred shortly after her disappearance. Jean had left a note addressed to her son, and only child, Alexandre Diego. She complained about depression and wrote: " I can't live any longer with my nerves."
The day after her funeral the London Daily Telegraph reported that the FBI admitted it spread the rumour that destroyed Jean. This revelation consisted of two and three quarter inches on page 19. The London Times of November 20th that year printed a somewhat longer piece, all of nine and three quarter inches on page 9, which was headlined `FBI agents blamed for Jean Seberg suicide` and which mentioned the word COINTELPRO.
After her death came the documentary Jean Seberg: American Actress (1995), and the docudrama From the Journals of Jean Seberg (1995), with Mary Beth Hurt, ironically also from Marshalltown,
as Jean. Jean had outlived both J Edgar Hoover by seven years and COINTELPRO by eight.
Speaking in 1975 Congressman Don Edwards had said: "Regardless of the unattractiveness or noisy militancy of some private citizens or organisations, the Constitution does not permit federal interference with their activities except through the criminal justice system, armed with its ancient safeguards. THERE ARE NO EXCEPTIONS. [Emphasis added] No federal agency, the CIA, the IRS, or the FBI, can be at the same time policeman, prosecutor, judge and jury. That is what constitutionally guaranteed due process is all about."
It is to be hoped that these sentiments still apply today though the Patriot Act and recent FBI surveillance on the anti-war movement in the United States are warnings that the ghost of COINTELPRO may still linger on. However George Clooney, Susan Sarandon, Mike Farrell, Dustin Hoffman, Michael Moore, Tyne Daly, Sean Penn and Martin Sheen were among many celebrities who spoke out against the 2003 attack on Iraq and to date none have suffered seriously for it. I wonder what would Jean have made of it?
There is no doubt that Hollywood films are not just about entertainment but do carry a hidden message that the American way is the bets way. Yes, this may be true to an extent with film of other nations notably Britain, France and Italy and there is `Bollywood` in India, but no dream factory has the global reach of tinsel town films. I for one will be giving `No true glory` a miss.
16 photos are attached.
Word count 2,705 words
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