One Of The Hollywood Ten
(Director: Karl Francis, Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Greta Scacchi, Angela
Molina, certificate 15)
Jess Wynne is gripped by McCathyism
Funded almost entirely by the Welsh Arts Council and BBC Wales and
not a sheep in sight. Instead the story concerns McCarthyism and the witch
hunts of the cold war era. Jeff Goldblum plays Herbert Biberman, one of
the Hollywood ten - a group of anti-nazis made up of writers and directors
working within the movie industry. The liberal leanings of Biberman and
co are misconstrued as communist sympathies resulting in incarceration
and blacklisting for members of the league who will not co-operate with
the government investigations. The unemployable Biberman becomes involved
in directing a film - Salt of the Earth - secretly in New Mexico,
which portrays the oppression and rebellion of the Mexican underclass.
It is difficult to criticise a film when it is introduced by its director/writer
who obviously feels passionate about its content and the idealism it offers.
It has taken Karl Francis seven years to make, but it has been a worthwhile
struggle. In fact 'worthy' seems a fitting epitaph for the film as a whole.
The central arguments of the film - the individual's right to freedom
of speech, creativity and political persuasion - may seem overly familiar
to the audience. The climate for this sort of film is perfect at the moment
- the popularity of programmes such as The X-files reveals that
distrust of the government and its supposed machiavellian designs is rife.
However, this content obviously does not make mainstream cinema; as this
film will undoubtedly attract a liberal minded minority, an element of
'preaching to the converted' is involved. Nevertheless any movie that
reminds us of America's fascist tendencies and paranoid attitudes towards
other nations (particularly with the instatement of Bush as president)
has got to be applauded.
One of the Hollywood Ten is fairly typical of its genre; it makes
use of actual footage, black and white filming and full screen shots of
newspapers to add authenticity to the period it represents. Its message
also appears black and white - the lead characters could have 'integrity'
stamped on their heads and it would make no difference to the viewer's
perception of them, and the real villain of the piece, Rifkin of the FBI
(played by Christopher Fulford, reprising his role in The Matrix),
is the epitome of evil. The working class Mexicans are all long suffering,
noble and forgiving. This is all very charming and inspiring; you probably
agreed with the film's arguments anyway but now you agree with conviction!
What saves the film from its didacticism is the central relationship between
Biberman and his wife Gale, acted by Greta Scacchi. The sense that theirs
is a complex and passionate marriage which is damaged by Biberman's righteous
crusades personalises the subject matter.
All the performances within the movie are assured. There are several good
cameos by British actors and faces and characters are given to big Hollywood
names such as Howard Hughes and Jack Warner which have the effect of enlivening
the proceedings. Only the portrayals of a well known figures seem suspect
- the presentation of Bogart distracted from the film's plausibility.
Scacchi was particularly good as a glamorous actress holding on to her
values, her home and family whilst her husband pursued his aims. Goldblum's
performance was somewhat subdued and understated, as would be expected
for a serious role. He can certainly play creative/intellectual types
but his acting style, or overacting style, (depending on your opinion)
tends to result in expectations concerning the arrival of spaceships or
the hideous transformation into bug-eyed freaks. Oh well; the problems
of baggage but at least he played the piano very nicely.
All in all a fairly decent treatment of some serious subject matter. Slow
to get going, a then a little long - it has all the flaws often found
in political, fact-based genre films. However the picture is redeemed
by several funny lines and, in particular, a timely slur against Walt
Disney. Not the sort of film you would want to watch twice but well worth
© Jess Wynne
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