Filming Politics: Communism and the Portrayal of the Working Class at the National Film Board of Canada, 1939-1946
Manley, John, British Journal of Canadian Studies
Malek Khouri, Filming Politics: Communism and the Portrayal of the Working Class at the National Film Board of Canada, 1939-1946 (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2007), ix + 278 pp. Paper. £20.99. ISBN 9-781552-381991.
Malek Khouri, a professor of film at the University of Calgary, states that his 'new reading' (p. 1) of the National Film Board (NFB) of Canada films about workers and the Second World War is 'driven by' (p. viii) a commitment to the honest depiction of the working class in Canadian cinema. Rejecting the argument that the NFB's wartime output amounted to authoritarian pro-government propaganda of little historical significance, he claims that the NFB was engaged in the construction of a pro-working class 'counter-hegemonic discourse', which, though it was contained by the Cold War and consumerist individualism, played a seminal but almost entirely forgotten role in making a 'sense of collective social responsibility' a taken-for-granted aspect of Canadian national identity (p. 223). Khouri further challenges tradition by according an honoured role to the Communist Party of Canada (CPC). Its Popular Front values, he argues, 'virtually patterned the counter-hegemonic thrust of [NFB] films'.
Filming Politics is an interesting and useful work, but it fails as historical scholarship. The author, claiming that the 'role and weight of individuals in shaping history' has been exaggerated and that biography 'does not serve the goal of understanding the complexity of any discourse' (pp. 4-5), consciously decided to leave biographical examination of the NFB's fascinating dramatis personae (John Grierson, Stuart Legg and Jane March, to name but three) to future researchers and to devote only brief attention to the actual organisational connections between the NFB and CPC. …