Left of Hollywood: Cinema, Modernism, and the Emergence of U.S. Radical Film Culture

Left of Hollywood: Cinema, Modernism, and the Emergence of U.S. Radical Film Culture

Left of Hollywood: Cinema, Modernism, and the Emergence of U.S. Radical Film Culture

Left of Hollywood: Cinema, Modernism, and the Emergence of U.S. Radical Film Culture

Synopsis

In the 1930s as the capitalist system faltered, many in the United States turned to the political Left. Hollywood, so deeply embedded in capitalism, was not immune to this shift. Left of Hollywoodoffers the first book-length study of Depression-era Left film theory and criticism in the United States. Robé studies the development of this theory and criticism over the course of the 1930s, as artists and intellectuals formed alliances in order to establish an engaged political film movement that aspired toward a popular cinema of social change. Combining extensive archival research with careful close analysis of films, Robé explores the origins of this radical social formation of U. S. Left film culture.

Grounding his arguments in the surrounding contexts and aesthetics of a few films in particular--Sergei Eisenstein's Que Viva Mexico!, Fritz Lang's Fury, William Dieterle's Juarez, and Jean Renoir's La Marseillaise--Robé focuses on how film theorists and critics sought to foster audiences who might push both film culture and larger social practices in more progressive directions. Turning at one point to anti-lynching films, Robé discusses how these movies united black and white film critics, forging an alliance of writers who championed not only critical spectatorship but also the public support of racial equality. Yet, despite a stated interest in forging more egalitarian social relations, gender bias was endemic in Left criticism of the era, and female-centered films were regularly discounted. Thus Robé provides an in-depth examination of this overlooked shortcoming of U. S. Left film criticism and theory.

Excerpt

The aim of the book is [to] gather for scholars and labor etc.
people, especially the young, in one place some basic facts and
areas of experience I am tentatively calling
A Missing Chapter
in American Film History: Social and Political Films of the
1930s.

TOM BRANDON TO HIS EDITOR, JUNE 11, 1975

Deep within the archives of the Museum of Modern Art rests Tom Brandon’s incomplete manuscript of A Missing Chapter in American Film History: Social and Political Films of the 1930s. Back in 1970, when Brandon initiated the project, A Missing Chapter was to be the first booklength study to chronicle the emergence of U.S. Left film criticism during the 1920s, its developments throughout the 1930s, and its relation to radical and progressive Depression-era film groups like the Film and Photo Leagues, NYKino, and Frontier Films.

In many ways, Brandon was well positioned to write this history. Not only had he meticulously collected thousands of Left film reviews, along with related brochures, mimeographs, and paraphernalia, but he had also served as a cameraman, producer, lecturer, and programmer for the New York Film and Photo League (NYF&PL) during the white-hot years of the Depression, 1930 to 1935. During Brandon’s tenure, the league represented the front lines of radical filmmaking in the United States, countering the reactionary subject matter and form of commercial newsreels with its own montage-inflected documentaries that brilliantly illuminated the flashes of social protest that were being ignited across the country but banned from its mainstream screens. As the radicalism of the early decade became tempered into the populism of its later half, Brandon established his own distribution company, which specialized in foreign, documentary, and orphan films. Through this company, he gained the rights to key Left films of the 1930s. Armed with both an intimate, firsthand knowledge of the NYF&PL and a vast collection of primary sources concerning U.S.

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