"Un-American" Hollywood: Politics and Film in the Blacklist Era

"Un-American" Hollywood: Politics and Film in the Blacklist Era

"Un-American" Hollywood: Politics and Film in the Blacklist Era

"Un-American" Hollywood: Politics and Film in the Blacklist Era

Synopsis

The book reopens the intense critical debate on the blacklist era and on the aesthetic and political work of the Hollywood Left.

Excerpt

This collection of essays on the films and television programs made by those caught up in the Communist witch hunts of the 1940s and 1950s represents a move to better understand the role of progressive politics within a capitalist media industry. In part, the essayists have written in recognition of the extraordinary if controversial output of the historian of left-wing American culture Paul Buhle and his collaborators Dave Wagner and Patrick McGilligan. Throughout the collection the authors acknowledge Buhle's work on reopening debate on the Hollywood Left and the blacklist, as well as the attention paid to the blacklistees and their films in the left-oriented screen journal Cineaste. The insights and information contained here further develop this work and that of Larry Ceplair and Steven Englund in their rigorously researched 1979 history The Inquisition in Hollywood: Politics in the Film Community, 1930–60. While Buhle and company aimed to chart the involvement of left film practitioners, especially screenwriters, in an enormously wide range of films, they do not always present convincing arguments about how the political sensibilities of such creative personnel actually impacted, if at all, upon the movies to which they contributed. This present volume, by contrast, attempts a more focused scrutiny of particular case studies and contexts involving the blacklist generation.

“Un-American” Hollywood closes with a reprint of Thom Andersen's seminal 1985 essay “Red Hollywood,” together with a new afterword by the author commissioned for this volume. Through his conception of film gris, Andersen called for a more considered approach to the work of the Hollywood Ten and their fellow travelers. Rather than reject the notion propagated by the witch hunters that Communist and ex-Communist filmmakers had insinuated their progressive political ideas into mainstream genre productions, Andersen's analysis confirmed the findings of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). A number of the contributors in this collection take his essay as their starting point. Working against the received idea that Hollywood always manufactures a politically conservative product, all the contributors set out to show how progressive political ideas and positions were incorporated into certain Hollywood films.

Like the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and the 1947 National Security Act, the un-American hearings were a Cold War containment initiative that sought to co-opt allegiance and muzzle dissent. FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover, no stranger to . . .

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